by Daphna Whitmore
The imperialism study group had its first discussion today. We linked up via Zoom to video conference across several time zones. Tony Norfield led the study with a 15-minute introduction to Lenin’s pamphlet Imperialism, and how it relates to today. That was followed by questions and discussion.
Tony’s notes for discussion sent out prior to the video conference are worth reading, and what follows are just brief notes from today’s video talk.
First off ,Tony noted we need to see Lenin’s description of imperialism as a holistic description and that the five key features need to be seen as part of a whole.
An important aspect is that imperialism is a world system of domination and hierarchy. Lenin saw you couldn’t understand what’s happening in a particular country outside of the context of the way it related to what is happening everywhere else. That is still important for today. For instance you can’t understand Syria by even looking at the history of Syria, you’d need to look at where it sits in the hierarchy of world power – obviously very low down in the hierarchy – and then look at who’s trying to do what to Syria. In the context of imperialism you can’t understand individual country developments outside of a broader approach of examining where different countries sit in the global system.
Tony also discussed monopoly and how Lenin viewed the monopolisitic features of a world economy; that it was not about particular monopolists dominating in a country. Further, monopoly is not just at the level of production but also for in commerce, commercial ties, tariffs, access to finance and so on. Monopolistic features of the world economy have an impact on all these things.
With regard to finance capital Tony discussed his view that Lenin adopts too much of Hilferding. Close connections between banks and industry was a big deal in Germany, to some extent also in US, but not so much in Britain.
On the export of capital he noted the form of capital export has changed over the past 100 years. We shouldn’t simply focus on capital export, as nowadays companies like Apple use commercial connections with suppliers, eg Apple doesn’t own factories in China, instead it gets supplying factories to do what it wants. Similarly with other large corporations such as Walmart.
The labour aristocracy will be discussed further when we look at the political aspects of imperialism, but Lenin’s description is too narrow for today, and probably was even in his time.
Despite developments a century on, broadly speaking the five features Lenin identifies as key to imperialism are still valid today. A future discussion will look more into the question of super-profits and exploitation of the developing countries.