From 21-23 October 1997, at the invitation of the Communist Party of Cuba, the Revolutionary Communist Group attended a conference in Havana to pay homage to Che Guevara: Socialism in the 21st Century. More than 200 delegates from 97 organisations participated in three commissions: ‘The reality of contemporary socialism’, ‘The validity of Marxist-Leninist thought’ and ‘Imperialism at the end of the century’. Below is the RCG’s paper on ‘Lenin’s Imperialism and the split in the working class – its relevance for rebuilding the socialist movement in imperialist countries today’ in the commission on Marxist-Leninist thought. It was presented by David Yaffe.
Capitalism is failing the vast majority of humanity. 1.3bn of the world’s population live in absolute poverty. Inequalities are rapidly widening between rich and poor nations and within all nations whether rich or poor. Britain has registered the greatest inequalities in wage levels since statistics began in 1886. Yet in imperialist countries like Britain, no political parties have so far arisen to represent the interests of the growing numbers of poor working class people. There are few signs, as yet, of the revival of the socialist movement.How can this be explained and what possibilities exist for changing this? How can socialism be revived in imperialist countries like Britain? What forms of organisation can meet this challenge? Are existing labour organisations adequate for this purpose? What attitude should communists take towards them? In this contribution we will advance a number of propositions which can serve as a basis for discussing these issues.
1. The division of the world into imperialist and non-imperialist states
Lenin’s standpoint on imperialism and the split in socialism is as relevant today, in all its essential aspects, as in his own day. The world is divided up into imperialist and non-imperialist countries, between oppressor and oppressed nations. At the turn of the century Lenin argued that a small number of other imperialist countries joined Britain in exploiting the whole world:
‘A handful of wealthy countries… England, France, United States and Germany – have developed monopoly to vast proportions, they obtain superprofits… , they “ride on the backs” of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people in other countries and fight among themselves for the division of the particularly rich, particularly fat and particularly easy spoils…’
Globalisation today means we live in a world of competing imperialist power blocs; the US, Japan and the European Union and their cluster of allied countries, divide the world according to economic power, with multinational companies banks and financial institutions the driving force in this process . These multinationals are in the main tied to and supported by particular imperialist countries or are part of one of the three power blocs. Britain is an major imperialist power – one of the five countries responsible for two thirds of foreign direct investment and for spreading poverty, destruction and death around the world. While investment in Britain is stagnating, British investment abroad is booming. In 1993, following the 1990-92 recession, British investment overseas (direct and portfolio) at £101.9bn, was greater than the total capital investment in Britain at £94.2bn and more than eight times the investment in manufacturing industry. Such a relationship between the export of capital and investment in Britain last occurred in the period before the first imperialist war. Lenin’s categorisation of imperialism as parasitic and decaying capitalism has never been so appropriate. The British state is the defender, in the last analysis, of British imperialist expansion and exploitation. It cannot be otherwise under capitalism.
2. The split in the working class
Imperialism not only divides the world into oppressed and oppressor nation but divides the working class into a privileged minority of ‘labour aristocrats’ and the mass of the working class. This privileged stratum of the working class is the social basis of opportunism and chauvinism in the working class movement. Lenin saw his position on the split in the working class as a development and generalisation of Marx and Engels’ position on the working class in Britain in the last half of the nineteenth century.
At the time of England’s unchallenged monopoly (‘1848-1868, and to a certain extent even later’), it was possible to bribe and corrupt the working class of one country for decades out of the superprofits of imperialism. In 1916 when inter-imperialist rivalries had turned into imperialist war, Lenin thought this had become improbable, if not impossible. On the other hand ‘every imperialist “Great” power can and does bribe smaller strata (than in England in 1848-1868) of the “labour aristocracy”. So that bourgeois labour parties (to use Engels’ term) are now ‘inevitable and typical in all imperialist countries.’ Lenin thought it improbable that these parties could prevail for long in a number of countries. For while the existence of trusts, financial oligarchies, and high monopoly prices etc., in short imperialism, enabled the bribery of the top layers of the working class, it was also ‘oppressing, crushing, ruining and torturing the mass of the proletariat and semi-proletariat.’ Nevertheless, the history of the labour movement would be determined by the outcome of the struggle between these two opposing tendencies; between imperialism’s effectiveness in sustaining ‘the political privileges and sops’ of the top layers of the working class represented by bourgeois labour parties, and the resistance of the increasingly oppressed masses who bear the brunt of imperialism and imperialist war. The important point is that, economically, the desertion of the labour aristocracy to the bourgeoisie is an accomplished fact. A split has occurred in the working class and ‘the opportunist trend can neither disappear nor “return” to the revolutionary proletariat.’ The split in the working class is irrevocable.
Lenin’s optimism concerning the demise of bourgeois labour parties, of course, was not borne out and capitalism with its bourgeois labour parties was to survive two world wars and fascism. This has occurred with a continual change in the nature of the privileged strata of the working class over the last 100 years (in Britain 150 years). At first it was composed of skilled manual workers, now it is mainly made up of highly-paid white-collar workers in the public and service sectors. Workers formerly amongst the most privileged sections of the working class – engineers, miners, steel workers – were thrown into the ranks of the unemployed as the economy was restructured to serve the rapacious needs of capital accumulation. New privileged workers took their place in the labour organisations which had been created to sustain the political influence of a privileged minority of the working class and undermine spontaneous working class opposition to capitalism.
A change in the character of the labour aristocracy, however, in no way makes it redundant:
‘To see this as the end would be to miss the whole essence of the labour aristocracy, to see it purely descriptively, in just one of its forms, and ignore its historical role and development: as the active process by which labour’s class organisation was purged of anti- capitalist elements and made safer for economism and spontaneity.’
The effectiveness of this ‘active process’, of the elevation of new sections of the working class to a level of privilege previously enjoyed by skilled workers, is tied to the ability of imperialism economically to sustain these privileged layers and their political influence over the working class movement through recurring crises in the capital accumulation process.
3. Bourgeois democracy and imperialism
In an imperialist country, the ruling class could not stay in power and maintain the facade of bourgeois democracy without winning the allegiance of a section of the working class to its side. But not just any section: it must be a stratum which controls the principle organisations of the working class and which can constantly exclude any revolutionary element from these organisations – make them ‘safer for economism and spontaneity’. That is, act as the ‘labour lieutenants of capital’.
To win and retain the allegiance of this section of the class, capitalism must be able to offer it both a political and economic stake in capitalism’s survival. Without this support and the ability of this section of the class to control the organisations of the working class, imperialism could only maintain its rule by violent means, through its control of the apparatus of the capitalist state, by military rule or fascism.
The importance of this opportunist current for the development of the working class movement and the damage done to the interests of the working class through its control of ‘labour’ organisations was expressed forcefully by Lenin at the Second Congress of the Communist International (1920) when he said that:
‘Opportunism is our principal enemy. Opportunism in the upper ranks of the working class movement is not proletarian socialism but bourgeois socialism. Practice has shown that the active people in the working class movement who adhere to the opportunist trend are better defenders of the bourgeoisie than the bourgeoisie itself. Without their leadership of the workers, the bourgeoisie could not remain in power’
It is in situations where the privileges of the ‘labour aristocracy’ come under severe pressure or, when its influence is thoroughly discredited, that the class character of the imperialist state becomes thoroughly exposed to workers in the imperialist country itself. This happened in Britain during the 1926 General Strike and to a lesser degree during the 1984/5 miners’ strike. That the opportunists, by collaborating directly with the ruling class, retained their control of British working class organisations during these periods of intense class conflict led not only to the defeat of the working class in both these strikes but set back the working class movement in the following decade.
4. How do communists combat opportunism?
Underlying the Marxist standpoint on the labour aristocracy is the understanding that the working class is a revolutionary class because of its position in capitalist society. Its revolutionary opposition to capitalism is first expressed in its actions and subsequently in its consciousness. Mass struggles and revolts of an oppressed and persecuted working class are the necessary preconditions for revolutionary opposition to capitalism. But they do not guarantee the revolutionary transformation of society. That is only possible when such spontaneous struggles are turned into politically conscious ones to overthrow the existing order. Lenin, in expressing this position, spoke of the importance of an all-sided and all-embracing political agitation which ‘brings closer and merges into a single whole the elemental destructive force of the masses and the conscious destructive force of revolutionaries.’
The fusion of the spontaneous, popular movement of the working class with a revolutionary socialist movement was vital for effective working class revolt against capitalism. Lenin brings out the practical political implications of his argument. Engels, he says, ‘draws a distinction between the “bourgeois labour party” of the old trade unions the privileged minority and the “lowest mass”, the real majority, and appeals to the latter, who are not infected by “bourgeois respectability”. This is the essence of Marxist tactics!’ Because the proportion of the proletariat who are following and will follow the opportunists will be revealed only in struggle, it is the duty of socialists to ‘go down lower and deeper, to the real masses; this is the whole meaning and whole purport of the struggle against opportunism.’
Unless a ‘determined and relentless’ struggle is waged all along the line against the bourgeois labour parties or such groups and trends, ‘there can be no question of a struggle against imperialism, or of Marxism, or of a socialist labour movement.’Communists in imperialist countries, therefore, have to concentrate their work among those sections of the working class with no stake in the capitalist system, fight for their interests and wage a relentless struggle against ‘bourgeois labour parties’ and official trade union organisations that represent the interest of the ‘labour aristocracy’. At the centre of communist politics, and as a vital part of this struggle, must be opposition to the imperialist state, fighting its brutal exploitation and oppression of the peoples of oppressed nations, its racism and its militarism in short, the fight against imperialism.
5. The relevance of Lenin’s position in imperialist countries today
Lenin’s ideas are vital to our situation today. In Britain we have a bourgeois Labour Party, recently elected to government, and a trade union movement led by opportunists representing the privileged layers of the working class.
The Labour Party came to power with the support of significant sections of multinational capital, with the electoral backing of the middle classes and the labour aristocracy. It has promised the multinationals a ‘crusade for competitiveness’, with flexible labour markets designed to make Britain a central player in the globalisation stakes. It has promised the middle class and labour aristocracy that it will not increase taxation. The result of both these promises is that millions more workers will face crushing poverty and drastic cuts in state welfare, healthcare and education.
Crucial to all this is the maintenance of Britain’s imperialist exploitation of the Third World. The Labour Government is a driving force behind this exploitation. The Chair of British Petroleum is a member of this Labour Government. British Petroleum employs police and paramilitaries to protect its oil interests in Columbia by brutalising workers and their families. The Labour Government will export Hawk jets to Indonesia – jets used against the liberation fighters of East Timor – as part of its determination to sustain an arms industry and export weaponry to the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world.
The effects of Labour’s programme are already being felt. The National Health Service and state education are in crisis and millions of workers are being forced into casual and temporary jobs paying poverty wages.
This has been the experience of Liverpool dockers sacked for opposing casualisation and the Hillingdon hospital workers sacked for refusing to accept a huge pay-cut resulting from privatisation. These workers, fighting for over two years to regain their jobs, have been abandoned by their trade unions. This is not surprising given that trade unions in Britain are run by opportunists, and represent and primarily organise the more privileged sections of the working class.
These trade unions are run like capitalist businesses. Their leaders are paid £60-80,000 per year, more than four times the average wage. They have enormous assets – nearly £600 million – and gross income of more than £700million. Their income continues to rise despite a fall in their membership. Unions have invested heavily in the capitalist system, on the stock market, in pension funds and other financial institutions. Unions and their officials have an important stake in the capitalist/imperialist system.
The British trade union movement supported the war against Argentina in the Malvinas and the imperialist conflict in the Gulf. Because 1 in 10 workers in Britain work in ‘defence’ industries, trade unions take no action against the criminal arms trade and often defend that trade to protect jobs. The trade union movement supports immigration controls, a racist standpoint in an imperialist country.
Their political role is to tie the working class to the bourgeois Labour Party and its economic and political programme. The Labour Party has already announced that it will leave the most serious anti-trade union laws in place.
With millions of workers being thrown into poverty, we have to adopt the standpoint of Marx, Engels and Lenin, and “go down lower and deeper into the real masses”. Political organisation of the masses will require a relentless struggle against the Labour Party and all those who want to tie the working class to the interests of the bourgeoisie through links with that party.
We will have to organise amongst the workers who have been thrown into poverty and whom the trade unions have abandoned. We will only rebuild the communist movement in Britain on a programme which represents the independent interests of the mass of the working class.
The continued existence of Cuba as a socialist country is vital to the independent interests of the working class internationally. By upholding the banner of Marxism-Leninism, by defending and giving practical expression to the ideas of Che Guevara, Cuba is providing inspiration, example and education to communists throughout the world. It has become a cornerstone for the rebuilding of the communist movement internationally.
1. Lenin, Imperialism and the Split in Socialism, Collected Works volume 23, p115.
2. Ibid, p116.
3. Ibid, p117-8.
4. John Foster, ‘Imperialism and the Labour Aristocracy’ in ed. J Skelley, The General Strike 1926 (1976) p31.
5. Lenin, Collected Works volume 21 p242.
6. Lenin, Collected Works volume 5 p512.
7. Imperialism and the Split in Socialism, op cit, p120.
The above paper is taken from the site of the Revolutionary Communist Group, here.
Further reading: Lenin’s theory of imperialism
Lenin’s Imperialism was written as a propaganda pamphlet during time of war. Its not a serious and finished economic analysis of the global capitalist system, even for the times it was written 100 years ago, let alone for the much changed world of today. Lenin’s pamphlet was actually analysing a world that was already collapsing at the time it was written. It is actually an analysis of colonialism not imperialism.
Take one of Lenin’s central theses in the pamphlet that the division of the world into these colonial empires in which the colonial power exerts control. Lenin claims its the consequence of the development of finance capital, as defined by Hilferding. But, as Bill Warren argues in his book “Imperialism – Pioneer of Capitalism”, the world was divided into the main colonial empires, long before the stage of monopoly capitalism, and the kind of finance capitalism that Hilferding describes was really specific to Germany, Japan, and the US, the countries that had the fewest such colonies. Britain which had the largest does not fit at the time Hilferding’s description of finance capital.
In fact, after WWII, its the US that acts as one of the main drivers of breaking up the old colonial empires, because US multinational industrial capital needs such a break-up so as to ensure its ability to get into those markets, and have access to their reserves of potential labour-power. The kind of colonial empires with the kind of political control that lenin talks about,a nd which the Theses on the National and Colonial Questions was established to address had gone by the 1960’s. Indeed, many former colonies such as India and China are today’s major economic players.
Lenin hedged all of the economic propositions in Imperialism with so many provisos that they are pretty meaningless, and as Warren says should be taken as being simply a first draft. The idea that capital was being forced to expand into these overseas colonies because of the law of falling profits, and inability to realise profits at home was simply wrong. As marx describes in Capital and Theories of Surplus Value, capital needs no other incentive to invest abroad than that it can make higher profits by doing so, just as it invests in some new line of production because it can make larger profits from doing so.
But, even the observation was wrong, because the fact then and still today is that “imperialist” states did not invest the bulk of their foreign investment in these “colonial” countries, but in other developed capitalist economies.
Marxist texts are not bits of Scripture to be worshipped and preserved in aspic. They should act as means of illustrating the method of Marxist analysis. Some of the propositions in Imperialism are worthy of consideration, such as lenin’s opposition to things such as “anti-monopoly alliances” and reactionary attempts to prevent capitalist development, or to turn the clock back to more primitive forms of capital, but in terms of economic analysis of imperialism, it was pretty flawed even at the time it was written. It is next to useless for analysing imperialism today.
Bill Warren’s analysis was simply bizarre. It was he who confused imperialism with colonialism. The *colonial plunder* of large chunks of the world was not imperialism although, as Marx taught, it was certainly a key necessary condition for the development of capitalism. Lenin understood this perfectly well.
The idea that Lenin’s pamphlet on Imperialism was simply “a propaganda pamphlet in time of war” is also bizarre. It was a well thought-out work, informed by a substantial amount of research – see, for instance, the Notebooks on Imperialism. He spent six months on the book, not something you’d do with a mere “propaganda pamphlet”. And propaganda pamphlets are not based on the kind of research that Lenin did for Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism.
We wouldn’t argue that everything in the book was right. Lenin used a substantial body of research but didn’t have access to a lot of British material, so he over-estimated the development of finance capital (of the kind described by Hilferding) in the British case. But what is more important is what he got right.
In any case, the paper presented by David Yaffe is about Lenin’s ‘Imperialism and the Split in Socialism’, which was written in October 1916 and published in a Russian socialist journal in December of that year. In it, Lenin examines *the material basis* for opportunism. I think he presents a pretty convincing case.
I realise that you are somewhat obsessed with attacking Lenin’s work on imperialism and that you find the work of Bill Warren more politically palatable; but this tells us more about where *you* are situated than about Lenin’s work. The division of the world into imperialist countries and oppressed countries remains highly relevant – indeed, it is a key feature of the global economy and world politics today. People in the oppressed countries could tell you how important it is – and, after all, the bulk of the working class globally is now in these countries.
But this kind of understanding is vital in the imperialist world itself. Without seeing themselves as a detachment of a global class, the working class in the imperialist countries will not be able to go beyond advancing their own sectional interests. Not recognising the existence of imperialist countries also leads to allowing all kinds of reactionary nationalist politics in those countries: immigration controls, economic nationalism etc.
Warren’s book, btw, was shaped by his involvement in BICO, which argued that imperialism had a progressive mission in Ireland. Warren’s book was driven by this. So he makes claims that backward capitalism in the Third World is not the result of imperialist domination, but the fault of the populations of these countries themselves. In one place (p113), he even claims that the problems in these countries “stem from population growth”. And this is supposed to be more profound than Lenin!!!
Put Bill Warren’s apology for imperialism aside, Arthur – go read John Smith.
In terms of imperialism and under-development, this is a useful piece too: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/how-capitalism-under-develops-the-world-2/
You haven’t really addressed any of the substantive points here. The fact is that much of the background data in Imperialism comes from Hilferding’s work on Fiannce Capital as you admit, but also from the work of the british Liberal Hobson. Lenin’s pamphlet was a propaganda pamphlet, written mostly in opposition to Kautsky, whose theory of ultra-imperialism that Lenin attacks, was actually a much better description of the trends of global capital after WWII, than were the predictions made by Lenin.
You simply have not addressed the main facts of the flaws of Lenin’s theory, such as the division of the world into colonial empires occurred prior to the rise of industrial capitalism, and its consolidation into monopolies; that the main colonial powers were not those where this monopoly and finance capital were dominant and so on. You have not addressed the fact that the majority of overseas investment by “imperialist” countries was not into colonial or less developed economies, but overwhelmingly into other advanced economies.
The concept of underdevelopment is also rather wacky, and is relevant to a period of mercantilism and colonialism not imperialism. The concept of underdevelopment goes along with the ideas of unequal exchange and super-exploitation much loved by Third Worldists and Stalinists to justify their popular fronts with reactionary third world regimes against “imperialism”, which thereby ties the workers of those countries to their immediate oppressors, the reactionary ruling class of their own country, and often on a reactionary agenda of resisting further capitalist development promoted by external “imperialist” capital. It is also a convenient apologia for such ideological trends to claim that the rapid economic development and rise in workers living standards across the globe has nothing to do with the accumulation of capital, and rise in productivity, but is somehow, inexplicably all the result of squeezing yet more profits out of desperately poor people across the globe – even more inexplicable given the sharp rise in the living standards of those poor people too, and the rise of many of these “underdeveloped” economies such as India, China, South Korea etc. into the front rank of global economies.
Given the size of the work to be analysed, and given the conditions of war under which Lenin was writing, and given the reliance on the work of others such as Hilferding and Hobson, six months is hardly an indication of thorough and substantial theory.
Looking at Lenin’s work what do we see,
“Certainly, monopoly under capitalism can never completely, and for a very long period of time, eliminate competition in the world market (and this, by the by, is one of the reasons why the theory of ultra-imperialism is so absurd). Certainly, the possibility of reducing the cost of production and increasing profits by introducing technical improvements operates in the direction of change. But the tendency to stagnation and decay, which is characteristic of monopoly, continues to operate, and in some branches of industry, in some countries, for certain periods of time, it gains the upper hand.”
Just look at all the provisos! Monopoly cannot, either completely or for any length of time eliminate competition. A fact that Marx had made clear in the Poverty of Philosophy against Proudhon. As Marx puts it, Monopoly begets Competition, which begets Monopoly, which begets Competition at a higher level. Lenin recognises that the potential for reducing costs and raising profits by introducing technical improvements works in exactly the opposite direction of the decay he had just described! And, what have we seen in the period since WWII, is precisely that Monopoly Competition has raised the level of competition to ever new heights. Not competition to lower prices, though that has been a necessary consequence of the massive increases in productivity – but one of the roles of Central Banks has been to ensure that it is only real rather than nominal prices that fall – but precisely what Lenin describes here. These large Monopoly firms have competed by seeking to continually raise productivity through large scale investment, economies of scale, the introduction of better machines and systems such as Taylorism, and Toyotism etc. It has been precisely this competition to reduce costs, and extract Relative Surplus Value, that has driven rapid technological change of the kind that Lenin hedges his statement about decay with here! But, Lenin ends the paragraph about decay with the provisos of all provisos. This decay is neither ubiquitous, nor permanent! Rather it may only operate “in some branches of industry”, and only in “some countries”, and then only “for certain periods of time”!!!! It is on this theoretical rock that you would build your church!
Moreover, all of those claims about monopolies holding back technological developments have also been proved wrong. When I was first buying cars back in the 1970’s, they rotted away after three years, today those problems have disappeared, fuel consumption has been driven ever lower, and so on. The classic example given in the past of the supposed holding back of development was lightbulbs, but what do we have, not only energy efficient long life bulbs, but now the development of LED lighting and so on.
And one of the main arguments of Lenin against Kautsky was the theory of ultra-imperialism, yet after WWII, we had the development of the EU, we had the development of global para-state bodies such as the IMF, World Bank.GATT/WTO designed to regulate global capitalism. We have had the development of other EU type bodies in ASIA, Latin America, Africa. On nearly all counts the propositions that Lenin put forward were factually incorrect at the time he was writing, and the conclusions he drew from those incorrect facts and theories have also proved to be disproved by history. Why would anyone tie themselves to such a flawed document, other than if their view of Marxism is the uncritical adulation of ancient texts, as though they were works of Scripture?
Actually, I spent more time addressing the key points than your arguments deserved. For instance, the division of the world between imperialist powers and countries oppressed by imperialism was in Lenin’s time – and remains in ours! – a key feature of global geo-politics. People who don’t understand this end up drawing an equals sign between the imperialists and the countries oppressed by them, which has thoroughly reactionary political consequences.
Your claim that monopolies today are engaged dramatically in increasing surplus-value is also flawed. Actually in key capitalist countries there has been a *partial but significant shift* to absolute surplus-value. Making workers work harder, longer, faster. And increasingly utilising massive amounts of labour-power in the Third World where absolute surplus-value is a very important factor in profit-making. We also see a pronounced *lack of investment* in production and engagement in investment in the commercial and financial spheres, in share-buying and exchanging and all kinds of other activities outside production and which don’t produce surplus-value, simply move it around.
It’s also odd that you use the development of bodies like the IMF to argue against Lenin. These bodies are *imperialist bodies* – they regulate the conflict between rival imperialisms to prevent inter-imperialist shooting wars and they copper-fasten the blood-sucking control of the imperialist powers over the rest of the world. They are the imperialists’ response to the problems that Lenin identified, but the imperialists – ultimately – can’t solve these problems.
Your repetition of Bill Warren’s praise for imperialism today is duly noted. But time has disproven Warren. Indeed, the 21st century world looks *rather more* – not *rather more*, not the same – like that analysed by Lenin a hundred years ago. The corrupting influence of imperialism in terms of the left and workers’ movement in the imperialist world, which is one of the key points in Lenin’s document on ‘Imperialism and the Split in Socialism’, is a good example of this.
There is no church and no approach to Lenin as scripture. (Actually this seems to be your approach to Warren’s work.) But nor do we go to the opposite extreme – feeling it necessary to rubbish Lenin’s work on imperialism because left-liberals, reformists, opportunists, various pseudo-left academics and so on don’t like it because it has *revolutionary implications*.
Lastly, the paper that Yaffe was introducing is not about Lenin’s book on imperialism; it is about Lenin’s smaller work on ‘Imperialism and the Split in Socialism’. If you want to address something, *that* is what you should be addressing ie *the actual topic of the RCG paper* we’ve reprinted.
“Actually, I spent more time addressing the key points than your arguments deserved. For instance, the division of the world between imperialist powers and countries oppressed by imperialism was in Lenin’s time – and remains in ours! – a key feature of global geo-politics.”
The point is that this division occurred long before the “imperialism” based upon monopoly and finance capital that Lenin describes existed. Lenin puts the date of that Imperialism at the end of the 19th century/start of 20th century. His argument is that it reflects that capital has run its course in the developed economies, is unable to produce or realise surplus value, and must then export capital to survive, and must carve the world into empires so that the competing “imperialist” powers have protected markets. A neat and convenient propaganda point in the middle of an imperialist war to explain why it was happening, and why world revolution was necessary, but completely factually and theoretically wrong! It is also 100% different to what Lenin himself argued previously against the Narodniks.
The carving up of the world into colonial empires started even before the onset of industrial capitalism in Britain. It began in the late stages of feudalism, when the old landed aristocracy was in a symbiotic relationship with the rising merchants class, and bankers. The wars over control of India, Canada, and so on waged between Britain and France occurred in the 18th century, not the 19th century. They were indeed examples of the world being divided up between these colonial powers to serve the interests of landlords who sought new areas of land from which to obtain rent, merchants who sought new areas of the world from which they could make profits via unequal exchange, by selling into them at high prices, and buying from them at low prices, and bankers who sought to extract interest by lending money to finance the whole business. So, the point is that the actual carving up process cannot possibly be explained by something that Lenin sets out only occurred 200 years later!
This wrong theory led to wrong political conclusions being drawn. For example, still thinking that the underlying dynamic was this carving up of the world, Trotsky at the start of WWII, argued that Britain would allow Hitler to do what he wanted in Europe, provided Hitler agreed to keep his hands of India and the rest of the Empire. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Hitler did, in fact, offer to keep his hands off the Empire if Churchill would allow him free rein in Europe. Why? Because in an era of imperialism where it is industrial capital that dominates not merchant capital, both Hitler and Churchill understood that if Hitler consolidated an advanced European industrial capital, it would quickly overwhelm Britain and its colonial empire, in the same way that industrial capital overwhelmed merchant capital, that the city overwhelmed the country. In the age of imperialism it is not a search for unequal exchange or absolute surplus value that is significant, but the production of relative surplus value, and the need to raise productivity, and to draw in ever new supplies of labour-power, not by “underdeveloping” areas of the world, but precisely by industrialising them, so as to set more labour to work, so as to produce more surplus value!
As Marx puts it,
“Given the necessary means of production, i.e. , a sufficient accumulation of capital, the creation of surplus-value is only limited by the labouring population if the rate of surplus-value, i.e. , the intensity of exploitation, is given; and no other limit but the intensity of exploitation if the labouring population is given.”
And that is the characteristic of industrial capitalism in the age of imperialism. Firstly to raise productivity to create a relative surplus population whenever capital has expanded to a degree where existing labour supplies have become in relative short supply, pushing up wages, and secondly to develop other areas of the globe, so as to draw in new supplies of exploitable labour-power. By so doing far from underdevelopment, we have seen since WWII, massive rises in industrialisation across the globe, we have seen hundreds of millions rescued from the idiocy of rural life, as Marx puts it, as they have been transformed into industrial workers, the basic requirement for socialism. Similarly, far from decay, we have seen one of the fastest paces of technological development in Man’s history, since WWII.
“People who don’t understand this end up drawing an equals sign between the imperialists and the countries oppressed by them, which has thoroughly reactionary political consequences.”
Which would be fine if we still lived in a world that was divided into colonial Empires. But we don’t. In fact, its another example of where Lenin was completely wrong. Instead of the development of those colonial Empires, we saw them broken apart. Roosevelt even offered Stalin an alliance to break apart the remaining colonial empires of Britain and France, and a condition of US finance after the War, was that the colonies be disbanded. Why, because the US, and large scale industrial monopolies had no interest in continuing those closed protected markets, but sought new areas of the world where there were potential new supplies of labour-power. Continuing with very expensive colonial overheads held no benefits for industrial capital, whose main source of profit came from ever increasing amounts of relative surplus value extracted from industrial workers, as rates of productivity were continually increased as a result of technological development.
What has thoroughly reactionary consequences is the support that sections of the left have given to thoroughly reactionary regimes and forces across the globe, who are the immediate oppressors of workers in those particular countries, not imperialism. And, ironically, part of the basis of that is that precisely because Lenin’s theory about the division of the world into colonial empires was wrong and shown by history to be wrong, it led to those who treat Marxism as being like some kind of religion, and the writings of its prophets being treated like Scripture, is they have had to perform logical acrobatics to try to pretend that the world conforms to the theory even when quite clearly it doesn’t. So, despite the fact that the colonial empires all collapsed and were disbanded after world war II, the idea of “neo-colonialism” was developed to pretend that nothing had changed, and the theory still held!
And, of course, some weak economies are dominated by stronger economies, and so in that sense can be described as “oppressed”. But they are not oppressed in the way Lenin was describing as being politically subordinated to the colonial power, nor even are their economies dominated by some single imperialist power. They are dominated only in the way that a weak capitalist firm is dominated by larger more powerful capitalist firms. But again, ironically what has arisen from that? It was the Stalinist idea of the “anti-monopoly alliance”, which is one of the Kautskyite concepts that Lenin attacks vehemently in Imperialism itself. Yet, the “anti-monopoly alliance” is ideologically a twin of the “anti-imperialist alliance” that the Stalinists et al have adopted as the centre of their agenda in attempting not to transcend capitalism, but to hold its development back, for example with their opposition to the EU etc. In fact, Britain outside the EU, will find itself economically “oppressed” in the same way, as its smaller economy will be squeezed by the larger EU economy. Its already being seen in May’s approaches to Trump et al.
In the same way that they propose a popular front with small capitalists against big capitalists in the anti-monopoly alliance, so they propose popular fronts with the reactionary regimes like Iran against imperialism, or with reactionary forces such as Hizbollah against imperialism. It means subordinating the struggle of workers against those regimes to the struggle against imperialism.
And ironically, that is against the position of Lenin himself developed after he wrote Imperialism.
“second, the need for a struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements in backward countries;
third, the need to combat Pan-Islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc…
fifth, the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations”
Where is your evidence that the main source of increasing surplus value is from increasing absolute surplus value? As Marx describes, in Capital, and Engels was later even more emphatic about it, the reason that capital moved to relative surplus value as opposed to absolute surplus value towards the end of the 19th century, is that absolute surplus value is extremely limited as means of increasing the rate of exploitation. In the Third World, a lot of the production that has been transferred from more developed economies is in those areas of production, where the product cycle is in a mature phase, and where mechanisation has already been well developed, so that all that is required is unskilled or semi-skilled labour-power, and where, low wages, therefore, play a role in raising profits. But, that means that it is precisely in areas where large scale investment in mechanisation has already taken place!
Is there a “pronounced lack of investment”? Since WWII, there has been massive global investment of capital. In fact, even since the 1980’s, there has been such a level of investment that the global working class has doubled. It has risen by a third just in the last fifteen years. And as a result of that global investment and rise in the global working class, we see large rises in global living standards. Has there been large scale engagement in financial speculation? Absolutely, and particularly in the last decade or so. But, you fail to ask the question of where the funds came from for that speculation. After all, if the Third World has been increasingly underdeveloped over the last 300 years, and given its initial poverty, should it not by now have been drained completely of any potential for further transfers of value, from unequal exchange?
Moreover, there is nothing unusual about periods of financial speculation. They were common in the 18th century, as with the South Sea Bubble, and repeated bank runs. They are seen in the financial crises of 1847 and 1857. They are usually associated with periods when massive amounts of surplus value has been produced, and realised as money capital, which drives down interest rates. And so again, the question you have to answer is where these masses of surplus value, and realised profits have come from, if capitalism is supposed to have reached its limits.
The IMF etc. are precisely examples of the kinds of structures that Lenin had said was impossible, in criticising Kautsky’s concept of super-imperialism, just as he had earlier said that a United States of Europe was impossible, but eventually agreed with Trotsky that it was. The IMF etc. are examples of global para state bodies that regulate global capitalism. If their intention was to preserve the blood sucking role of imperialist countries preserved in some fixed frozen state in opposition to “oppressed” countries then they have done a bad job, given how many of those “oppressed” countries like India, China, Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and so on have seen massive rates of growth and development, and now stand in the front rank of the global economy, at the same time that economies like Britain go rapidly backwards relative to them!
The world today looks nothing like Lenin predicted or described 100 year ago. I only praise imperialism in the same way that Marx and Engels did, and indeed as Lenin himself did, when he was attacking the economic romanticism of the Narodniks. It was Lenin, speaking of the undeveloped state of Russia, for example, who wrote,
“And from these principles it follows that the idea of seeking salvation for the working class in anything save the further development of capitalism is reactionary. In countries like Russia, the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism. The working class is therefore decidedly interested in the broadest, freest and most rapid development of capitalism. The removal of all the remnants of the old order which are hampering the broad, free and rapid development of capitalism is of decided advantage to the working class.”
Lenin – Two tactics of Social Democracy In The Democratic Revolution, Chapter 6
The main weakness of the working-class movement in recent decades has been its adoption of Stalinist and Third Worldist concepts, and the pernicious role of nationalism on those politics. In large part that stems from the adoption of Third World nationalism as the primary goal of sections of the Left, rather than a struggle for socialism against the reactionary third world regimes and forces. It is also reflected into a collapse into the kind of Sismondist, economic romanticism of the Narodniks criticised by Lenin, which places its emphasis on being “anti-capitalist”, or “anti-imperialist”, rather than being pro-socialist, by seeking to drive forward the most rapid development of capitalism as set out by Lenin above, and to thereby create the best conditions for the growth of the working-class and of those objective requirements needed for its transcendence.
Its rather difficult to address the question of Imperialism and the split in socialism without addressing the relevance and validity of Lenin’s theory of Imperialism, which is its basis!
Arthur, you say, “The main weakness of the working-class movement in recent decades has been its adoption of Stalinist and Third Worldist concepts, and the pernicious role of nationalism on those politics. In large part that stems from the adoption of Third World nationalism as the primary goal of sections of the Left.” This is just extraordinary. The imperialist world, which is where you and I live, don’t have working class movements under the hegemony of ‘Stalinist’ and ‘Third Worldist’ ideas. The working class movement in the imperialist centres is dominated by social-democratic and imperialist ideology. It acts as a sectional movement, preferring import and immigration controls over internationalism (by and large).
Citing ‘Two Tactics’ won’t help you in your support for the development of capitalism in the Third World because Lenin *moved on* from ‘Two Tactics’, in both his view of the way forward in Russia and in terms of his views in relation to the development of the oppressed countries and imperialism. Indeed, Marx and Engels moved on from the earlier position that British rule was developing countries like India and Ireland.
Your understanding is not just wrong, it works against any sort of revolutionary project in the working class in the imperialist centres today because it cannot understand (or even recognise) the political backwardness of most of the working classes in the imperialist countries or the material basis for the political backwardness and because it downplays the centrality of anti-imperialism.
In speaking of the main weakness of the working-class movement, I was speaking of the weakness of its most conscious elements, and the political organisations that lead it. The adoption of a programme of import and immigration controls stems from the role of Stalinism in the labour movement, and its promotion of ideas of national socialism, represented in the various “national roads to socialism”. It was those ideas which were behind the Alternative Economic Strategy of the 1970’s, and along with it the collapse of the Left, including most of the revolutionary left, in the 1970’s, from the internationalist position it had held over the Common Market, into the nationalist Little Englander calls for British withdrawal, and which have continued to today, as seen in the ridiculous calls for Lexit, which if anyone had paid them any attention would also have to take their share in the blame for the rise in racist attacks and other reaction following the vote for Leave.
But, the same is true of the “anti-imperialist” movement, which places its emphasis on nationalism and nationalistic solutions. In the same way that import and immigration controls, and reactionary calls for socialism in one country by withdrawal from the EU, involve not only a popular front with British bosses, and the implication that in some way British capitalism and the British state is preferable to European capital and the European state, so these “anti-imperialist” movements have formed uncritical popular fronts with the most reactionary forces and enemies of the working-class on the planet. Its most hideous form has been that of the SWP, but large sections of the left have been little better.
The adoption of such a stance has meant the left have been in no position to challenge the nationalistic cross class ideas of the social-democrats.
As far as Lenin’s views moving on in relation to the need for capital to develop in less developed economies and elsewhere as rapidly as possible, I don’t know exactly what texts you are referring to, but for example, even nearly on his death bed, Lenin in his adoption of the NEP, and in his attempt to do deals with foreign capital such as with Armand Hammer’s Occidental Petroleum, was desperate to attract foreign capital to Russia, not only because Russia lacked that capital, but also because it lacked the expertise, which Lenin hoped to be able to obtain from their involvement. In the same way, in lenin’s 1924 speech and pamphlet on Co-operation, he makes clear that the main mistake he saw with hindsight was not that they had restored the market, but that they had not put enough effort into developing workers and peasant co-operatives, and that it was necessary to develop all of the capitalist skills of buying and selling etc.
And Trotsky certainly continued in that view. In his response to the Second Six Year Plan in Mexico, for example, Trotsky writes, in relation to industrialisation:
“In this area the program becomes extremely vague and abstract. In order to collectivise the common lands in six years an enormous outlay for the production of farm machinery, fertiliser, railroads, and industry in general would be necessary. And all of this immediately, because a certain technological development, at least on an elementary level, should precede collectivisation, and not follow it. Where will the necessary means come from? The plan is silent on this point except for a few sentences about the advantages of domestic loans over foreign loans. But the country is poor. It needs foreign capital. This thorny problem is treated only to the extent that the program does not insist on the cancellation of the foreign debt and that is all.
It is true that the realisation of the democratic agrarian revolution, i.e., handing over all the arable land to the peasantry, would increase the capacity of the domestic market in a relatively short time; but despite all that, the rate of industrialisation would be very slow. Considerable international capital is seeking areas of investment at the present time, even where only a modest (but sure) return is possible. Turning one’s back on foreign capital and speaking of collectivisation and industrialisation is mere intoxication with words.
The reactionaries are wrong when they say that the expropriation of the oil companies has made the influx of new capital impossible. The government defends the vital resources of the country, but at the same time it can grant industrial concessions, above all in the form of mixed corporations, i.e. enterprises in which the government participates (holding 10 percent, 25 percent, 51 percent of the stock, according to the circumstances) and writes into the contracts the option of buying out the rest of the stock after a certain period of time. This government participation would have the advantage of educating native technical and administrative personnel in collaboration with the best engineers and organisers of other countries. The period fixed in the contract before the optional buying out of the enterprise would create the necessary confidence among capital investors. The rate of industrialisation would be accelerated.
And in relation to state capitalism and this development he continues.
“The authors of the program wish to completely construct state capitalism within a period of six years. But nationalising existing enterprises is one thing; creating new ones with limited means on virgin soil is another.
History knows only one example of an industry created under state supervision – the USSR. But,
a) a socialist revolution was necessary;
b) the industrial heritage of the past played an important role
c) the public debt was cancelled (1.5 billion pesos a year).
Despite all these advantages the industrial reconstruction of the country was begun with the granting of concessions. Lenin accorded great importance to these concessions for the economic development of the country and for the technical and administrative education of Soviet personnel. There has been no socialist revolution in Mexico. The international situation does not even allow for the cancellation of the public debt. The country we repeat is poor. Under such conditions it would be almost suicidal to close the doors to foreign capital. To construct state capitalism, capital is necessary.”
And, of course, you seem to have forgotten one important matter. When Lenin and the Comintern developed their attitude to the national and colonial questions it was in the context of a revolution having occurred in Russia, of an expectation of a global socialist revolution that would link in with these colonial revolutions in the same way that an essentially bourgeois peasant war in Russia had been harnessed for the purpose of socialist revolution, and in the context of the USSR being able to provide assistance to these colonial revolutions. That is still obvious in Trotsky’s approach to Mexico.
But, you seem to have missed the fact that not only is the USSR a thing of the past, along with its satellites, but even as early as the late 1920’s, the USSR under Stalinist control, along with their control of the Comintern was actually a force that was holding back global revolution, that began this disastrous policy of forming popular fronts with people like Chiang Kai Shek in China purely on the basis of an “anti-imperialist” struggle.
I actually agree with a chunk of what you have said today, but the bulk of it is NOT an argument against Lenin’s analysis of imperialism. The position of the Third International on national liberation struggles did not in any way suggest subordinating CPs to bourgeois-nationalist parties like Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT in China. Indeed, quite the opposite.
A key problem that the Third International faced was that the new CPs came out of social-democratic organisations whose majorities had essentially reactionary positions on “the colonial question”, especially when it came to their own ruling classes. Today, a lot of the ostensibly revolutionary left remains weak politically (and organisationally) when it comes to the interference of their own ruling class in other people’s countries. This is particularly so in Britain – and also in NZ, as it so happens.
I didn’t say that the Comintern policy on the National and Colonial Questions WAS suggesting subordinating CP’s to bourgeois-nationalist parties like the Kuomintang. I said quite the opposite.
What I pointed out was that the Comintern policy set out at the Second Congress was premised upon the fact of the Russian Revolution having happened, and within the context of a perspective of an unfolding world revolution. I pointed out that those conditions do not exist today.
More importantly, if we examine many of those organisations of the left whose focus is upon “anti-imperialism” as opposed to being pro-socialist, the fact is that the Theses may as well never have been written, because their policy IS based upon such uncritical subordination of their politics and programme not only to bourgeois-democratic nationalist forces, but often to the most reactionary forces in the less developed countries. Slogans such as “We are all Hezbollah Now”, are a crass example of it, but the SWP is simply the worst example of the same approach across large sections of the Left.
My point was that already by the late 1920’s, the Comintern under Stalin WAS proposing such subordination of CP’s to forces such as Chiang Kai Shek etc. And that approach has been adopted by large sections of the left, even those that claim to be Trotskyist. It was also what was behind the ideas of “under-development” and dependency theory. And the Left often swallowed that Stalinist concept, developed in the interests of the USSR bureaucracy’s global strategic aims, in not only opposing imperialist military intervention, but even “imperialist” economic investment in and development of less developed economies. Its an example of what Trotsky once described as a need to “Learn To Think”.
For example consider Trotsky’s approach to imperialist intervention during the Balkan Wars. He set out clearly that socialists had to oppose the military intervention of their own nations, but he made a clear distinction between that, and economic activity, along the same lines as set out above in relation to Mexico. He writes,
“This means that European democracy has to combat every attempt to subject the fate of the Balkans to the ambitions of the Great Powers. Whether these ambitions be presented in the naked form of colonial policy or whether they be concealed behind phrases about racial kinship, they all alike menace the independence of the Balkan peoples. The Great Powers should be allowed to seek places for themselves in the Balkan Peninsula in one way only, that of free commercial rivalry and cultural influence.”
I have already set out the obvious deficiencies in Lenin’s Imperialism, and my previous post was not intended to pursue that further, though I am happy to do so, as their is plenty of material for criticism. What my previous post was doing was responding to your points about the Left, and your Sismondist views on the role of capital in developing economies, as opposed to the view of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky that such a role is not only progressive, but a necessary condition for the development of the working class, and of the productive forces in those countries, so as to make the transition to socialism possible.
Sismondist? Seriously? Engels pointed out that British rule over Ireland had not merely stunted Irish development but *thrown it centuries backward*. Marx first thought British capital had helped develop India but, subsequently, changed his mind and concluded the opposite to be the case. Your attempt to suggest imperialism has a positive role in the oppressed countries is an argument that derives not from Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky, but from the Second International. The dominant elements of that International made these arguments. This was one reason why Lenin and Trotsky put special efforts into making sure that the Third International wasn’t just a bunch of Europeans with its base primarily in the imperialist countries.
Citing silly British SWP slogans about Hezbollah doesn’t do your case any good, as the SWP is notorious for such grab-onto-anything-that-moves politics. We are talking abut the obligations of marxists in the First World to support *national liberation movements* against our own bourgeoisies. This was, of course, a condition of membership in the Third International. Condition 8, to be precise.
” Engels pointed out that British rule over Ireland had not merely stunted Irish development but *thrown it centuries backward*. Marx first thought British capital had helped develop India but, subsequently, changed his mind and concluded the opposite to be the case.”
Please explain how that is possible on the basis of your understanding of Lenin’s “Imperialism”. According to Lenin’s Imperialism, Imperialism did not begin until the last decade or thereabouts of the 19th century. In other words, until after Marx was dead, and Engels was in his last days. How could either, therefore, have explained what happened in Ireland or India in the previous 200 years, as being the result of a phenomenon that according to Lenin and “Imperialism” did not arise until after their death???? There is dialectics based upon contradictions in reality, and then there is just plain and simple contradictions in your argument, of which this is a glaring example!
And your argument is Sismondist for the reasons that Marx described as against Sismondi and his supporters, and as Lenin described against the Narodniks, that is that you point to all of the negative aspects of capitalist development, and instead of seeing them as part of the necessary process of development that must be pushed forward as quickly and effectively as possible, you instead settle for holding them back so as to avoid the negative aspects of them.
You claim that Marx changed his view that the only social revolution that occurred in India was the one brought about by British Colonialism, but you have given no evidence to support your claim. Marx certainly set out later that the devastation that British colonialism had brought was greater than he previously thought, but that did not at all change Marx’s view that it was a part of an historically progressive process. It didn’t change his view about the progressive role that introducing the railways etc. had wrought.
And, it was on those views that Lenin criticised the Narodniks who also wanted to avoid the negative aspects of capitalist development by avoiding capitalist development itself, especially capitalist development brought by foreign capital. Yet, of course, it was precisely that foreign capital that set up huge factories, where the most advanced Russian workers arose, and provided the support for the Bolsheviks, and was the bedrock of the revolution.
The other day, you claimed that you supported most of what I had written in a previous post, but now you want to forget that and go back to claiming that Lenin and Trotsky did not argue the need for foreign capital to be invested in developing economies as a means of facilitating their development. It was not the Second International, but Lenin who advocated the NEP, who formed an alliance with Armand Hammer of Occidental Petroleum to try to bring western capital to the country to facilitate its development, it wasn’t the Second International, but Trotsky who made the argument for the same approach in Mexico!
“We are talking abut the obligations of marxists in the First World to support *national liberation movements* against our own bourgeoisies.”
But, the point is precisely what constitutes a “national liberation movement”, and what “support means! Are Hezbollah or Hamas or ISIS “national liberation movements”, despite the fact that they enslave the people of those countries, and particularly the workers in those countries? Are the mullahs in Iran a “national liberation movement”, or are they the immediate oppressors of the Iranian workers?
You criticise the SWP, but you have not yourself made any distinction in relation to any of these usually medievalist, reactionary clerical-fascist movements, and a genuine revolutionary national liberation movement. Nor do you set out any demarcation between your own politics and theirs, as the Theses on the National and Colonial Questions demands, and you conflate imperialist military intervention with investment from capital based in “imperialist” countries, so that your policy becomes a reactionary Sismondist policy of attempting to hold back capitalist development, in countries where such development is most required.
If such investment acts to retard development then why did Lenin seek it in Russia, why did Trotsky seek it in Mexico?
You criticise the SWP, but you seem to have yourself forgotten the Theses on the National and Colonial Questions, which also says,
“fifth, the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations. The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if it is in its most embryonic form;”
“first, that all Communist parties must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in these countries, and that the duty of rendering the most active assistance rests primarily with the workers of the country the backward nation is colonially or financially dependent on;
second, the need for a struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements in backward countries;
third, the need to combat Pan-Islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc.”
Where is any of that reflected in your “anti-imperialism” that basing itself on Lenin’s 100 year old pamphlet, describing a completely different world of colonial empires, still tries to present the world as having not changed! Where are those colonial empires that the world was supposed to be increasingly divided into according to “Imperialism”? They have all gone, and largely because they represented a capital of the 18th and 19th century when commercial and financial capital dominated, and when industrial capital was still fighting for supremacy over them.
In your support for “national liberation movements” there is no distinction between genuine revolutionary national liberation movements – and given that the colonial empires have disappeared the question is national liberation from what? – and the kind of reactionary movements that the Theses describes, it is the duty of communists to fight against!
In an attempt to try to make the world fit the picture of colonial empires and enslavement depicted in Lenin’s Imperialism, you have put yourself in the position of trying to oppose a colonialism that no longer exists, and of finding proxies for it, which means opposing ANY involvement in developing economies by capital from “imperialist” economies, which is as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky described a progressive historical function, and means of speeding up the process of development in those countries of revolutionising the forces of production, of creating large working classes which is a precondition for Socialism. In short your programme is the same kind of reactionary programme as that advocated by Sismondi and the Narodniks, based upon Economic Romanticism. By acting to hold back capitalist development, it is reactionary, for the reasons Marx describes in the Manifesto, and that Lenin describes in Two Tactics.
Btw, here’s a classic example of the lack of productive investment in the imperialist world today: https://economicsofimperialism.blogspot.co.nz/2017/07/apple-concentrate.html
What does this have to do with the validity of Lenin’s theory from 100 years ago? If you want to provide some validation of Lenin’s theory, show that in the last 100 years there has been a lack of productive investment. Show that imperialism acted as a break on technological development. Can you do that? Of course not, no more than could the Stalinist economists of the USSR in the 1950’s and 60’s show that their claims about falling living standards of workers in the West had any substance whatsoever!
Even by the 1930’s capitalism was seeing huge technological developments in consumer electronics, petro-chemicals, the development of aviation, radio and so on. Had lenin been alive, I’m sure he would have had something to say about them that would have been quite contrary to what he had jotted down in a propaganda pamphlet twenty years earlier, at a time when the old world did appear to be coming to an end.
But, the developments of the 1930’s, were surpassed, rather than being a high watermark, by the developments of the 1980’s, with the introduction of the microprocessor, of space technology, and subsequently of biotechnology, genetic technology and so on. And the pace of development has been such that not only does the world today produce a larger quantity of manufactured products with a fraction of the workforce, as in all developed economies the majority are now employed in service industries, not only has that resulted in a doubling of the global working class to the extent that it is now for the first time the largest class on the planet, but the scale of production is now truly outstanding.
In the first decade of this century 25% of what Man has produced in his entire history on the planet was produced. And across the globe it is resulting in substantial rises in living standards for millions of people, along with high levels of literacy and numeracy, and continually falling ages of infant mortality, and rising life expectancies. These are the benefits of capitalist development, its historic mission as marx called it, and what Trotsky referred to in The New Course, as the building blocks upon which we can build Socialism the more easily the more capitalism develops.
We have a peculiar situation at the moment after 2008, because of the political power of the money-lending capitalists, the share and bondholders, whose wealth is held almost exclusively in the form of fictitious capital. The capitalist state in an attempt to protect that paper wealth has pumped additional liquidity into the purchase of financial assets that has kept asset price bubbles inflated, which in turn has such money out of the real economy and real investment. As marx sets out in Capital III, that cannot be sustained, and central banks are currently starting to try to withdraw the support for those asset price bubbles.
Yet, even despite that we have still had significant technological developments in health science cybernetics, genetically based treatments and so on, that look set to increase significantly in the period ahead. We are witnessing the end of the internal combustion engine, with electric vehicles set to dominate in the next decade, and with the age of private vehicle ownership possibly also to be a thing of the past, as driverless cars are developed that can be picked up and dropped in the same way that currently happens with Mobikes, except in the case of a car it will come directly to you when you want it.
I see no indication that capitalism is holding back technological development, quite the contrary. If anything its not large scale industrial capital that presents a problem, which was the basis of “Imperialism”, but the political role of money-lending capital, which has temporarily caused money-capital to be sucked into speculation. That is not something new. It happened in 1847 with the Railway Mania. By 1848, the industrial boom was back on.
Incidentally, the claim in the blog post that Apple produces nothing is ridiculous. 90% of the value of an iPhone is produced in the US, as a result of the highly complex labour used in the development of the hardware and software, design etc.
But, of course, if you want to support the nationalist policies of Donald Trump, and advocate that all of the actual assembly work on those iPhones be done in the US, thereby making 1 million Foxconn workers in China redundant and significantly reducing their standard of living, go ahead. It rather proves my point about the policies of large sections of the left falling into the kind of crude economic nationalism of the Stalinists and their national roads to Socialism, and advocacy of import controls, controls on capital movements, immigration controls etc.
??? Anti-imperialism, of course, means opposing import controls, economic nationalism etc etc in the imperialist world. So your post trying to make some kind of amalgam between us and Trump when we stand for the opposite of what he does – eocnmically and politically – is bonkers.
So, exactly what was your point in posting the link to Tony Northfield’s post that complains that Apple does not produce anything because it has transferred the actual assembly work to China where its undertaken by a million Chinese workers?
Do you support Apple’s having that work done in China or not? Do you support the implication of Tony Northfield’s argument or not? I didn’t say that you were supporting his position whose implication is that Apple should bring the work back home to US workers as Trump also says, I only said “if you want to support the nationalist policies of Donald Trump, and advocate that all of the actual assembly work on those iPhones be done in the US, thereby making 1 million Foxconn workers in China redundant and significantly reducing their standard of living, go ahead”.
But, if as you say you oppose such a course, that means opposing the implication of Tony Northfield’s argument, which is that in order to fulfill some weird concept that capitalist production is only material production, rather than the production of exchange value, and surplus value, Apple should not just produce the 90% of the value of an iPhone, by employing highly paid complex labour in the US, but should also ship back all of the unskilled/semi-skilled assembly work from China to the US, and thereby make 1,000 Chinese workers unemployed.
Of course, it would also satisfy that other criterion of those whose “anti-imperialism” trumps their socialism, which is that workers in developing economies should not have the benefit of employment and development of the productive forces, where it is the result of investment by multinational companies in “imperialist” countries.
Incidentally, in respect of Ireland, would you say that the actual investment of capital in Ireland in the actual age of Imperialism, as opposed to Colonialism, has held back or advanced its development? In other words, under colonialism, Ireland was used as England’s bread basket. But, with the dominance of industrial capital in Britain, i.e. the real basis of imperialism as opposed to colonialism, heavy engineering industries like shipbuilding were developed.
One of my friend’s at University in the 1970’s came from Ireland, and at the time he grew up, the backwardness of the still largely rural economy in the South was still apparent. However, in the last thirty or forty years, Ireland has seen large scale “imperialist” investment in the country, particularly in high value, jobs in technology. Many of the Irish workers who left the coutnry in previous decades, have flooded back to the country.
Should Irish workers have been opposed to this economic development, on the basis you propose that imperialist investment only acts to hold back development, a view based, it seems, solely on a vain attempt to prove that what Lenin wrote in “Imperialism” 100 years ago, in any way has relevance today.
Again, this is bizarre. Tony is not suggesting where capitalist production is or should be done – he’s stating a simple fact about imperialism and that workers in China are super-exploited. The logic is to end that exploitation – ie overthrow capitalism.
What you say about Ireland brings home the reformist political consequences of your argument. In Ireland the pro-Moscow Sticks (Workers Party) supported imperialist investment for precisely the reasons you give. But the choice was no imperialist investment or no investment. Completely missing from that approach is the overthrow of capitalism. Not waiting until some magical figure of output has been reached and the industrial working class has grown to be a certain percentage of the population. All thanks to imperialism.
The problem is revealed: your pro-imperialism trumps your socialism.
Its what you are saying that is bizarre nonsense. Firstly, you cited Tony Northfield’s vacuous comments which were purported to show that capitalism in the age of imperialism is a drag on development and production. It showed no such thing. It showed that Apple invests in complex development of technology in the US, and subcontracts the assembly work to Foxconn in China. Tony’s comments were not about super-exploitation of Chinese workers but an attempt to show that as a result of imperialism firms do not engage in “real” material production, but only in financialisation. The logical conclusion to be drawn from his example, which you referenced, was that if Apple were to engage in “real” production it should return that employment to the US.
Your argument that the alternative here is not between then a return of that work to the US, which would overcome Tony’s criticism, or that his criticism is meaningless, because capital was undertaking the production where the most profit could be made – which is the nature of capital not only of imperialism – but is rather the overthrow of capitalism is, to use Trotsky phrase, “mere intoxication with words”. Exactly, how do you expect a working class to overthrow capitalism unless a working-class itself has first been created? How do you expect a working-class to be created without there first being an accumulation of capital?
Its the kind of ultra-leftism that Lenin railed against in Russia, but at least the ultra-lefts there that wanted to skip necessary stages of development had the benefit for their argument that they were talking about a society where a social revolution had taken place! If we apply the logic of your argument, you should be telling workers not to bother with trades unions, or fighting for improvements in their condition, because the only real answer to their problems is to overthrow capitalism! Total millenarianist stuff that comes from people totally removed from reality, as witnessed by your attempts to cling to ancient texts as though they were Holy Writ.
And, in what way are the workers in China “super-exploited”?
You protest that your words are being used to place you in an amalgam but the fact is that your own words put you in that position, and then you seek to recoil from the implications of your argument. You say that Tony, who you referenced was not calling for the Foxconn workers jobs to be returned to the US, but you then go on to complain about such jobs being created in China, or Ireland – which also directly contradicts your claims “imperialism” holding back development and even “under-developing” such economies – from which we can only assume that you would prefer such jobs not to be created! Instead we should according to your argument tell the Foxconn workers, or the Irish workers working in high paid technology jobs, “don’t be bought off, go back to your subsistence peasant plots and miserable living conditions, go back to the idiocy of rurla life, and wait for the great day when capitalism is overthrown and the socialist revolution provides you with the only real solution to your problems”!!!!
Then you say,
“But the choice was no imperialist investment or no investment. Completely missing from that approach is the overthrow of capitalism. Not waiting until some magical figure of output has been reached and the industrial working class has grown to be a certain percentage of the population. All thanks to imperialism.”
Exactly what is “imperialist investment” as against any other investment by capital? Was it non-imperialist investment or imperialist investment that Lenin sought for Russia after the revolution, when he teamed up with Armand Hammer, it was quite clearly “imperialist” investment, if by imperialist you mean investment from capital based in the “imperialist” countries, that Trotsky argued in favour of in Mexico. So, are they now in your ultra-leftist dreamworld also reformists?
Your version of socialism appears increasingly not just Sismondist, but effectively Maoist, calling not upon a developed working-class to fight for Socialism on an international basis, but for effectively peasants to strive for such a transformation, which could necessarily only be conducted on a national basis, once again underscoring the essentially nationalist perspective you adopt.
If that is your vision of Socialism then to paraphrase Marx, it is indeed trumped by my “pro-imperialism”, because capitalism and imperialism is historically progressive compared to it.
The simple question is this, has investment in Ireland by multinational corporations created a modern working-class, or not? Is this working-class capable of organising itself as a class in a way that the Irish peasants that preceded it were not? Is this Irish working-class able to join with workers across the EU to fight for the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by a Workers Europe, and a Socialist United States of Europe? Does Ireland today conform to the ideas portrayed in Lenin’s “Imperialism, of a colony? Has development in Ireland been held back, by foreign investment or has it been advanced?
In what way do you think that the ideas about a world being divided into colonial Empires, about production and development being held back in any way reflect current reality?
[…] the last post Boffy alerted me to a debate he has had on imperialism, the last few comments of which brought up the question of Ireland and […]
Arthur Bough writes: “Your version of socialism appears increasingly not just Sismondist, but effectively Maoist, calling not upon a developed working-class to fight for Socialism on an international basis, but for effectively peasants to strive for such a transformation, which could necessarily only be conducted on a national basis, once again underscoring the essentially nationalist perspective you adopt.”
See, here we have you in a nutshell. There is nothing anywhere on Redline – in our 1,663 articles – that suggests we think peasants are the leading force in the struggle for socialism. Not one.
The majority of the working class today exists in the Third World. They are the *leading force* in the struggle for socialism. This may offend some leftists in the First World, but it is a simple fact.
The notion of imperialism playing a progressive role in the oppressed countries is a Second International idea, pushed by the reformists there. Marx and Engels had already rejected this idea much earlier and Lenin and Trotsky also rejected it. Lenin, of course, was a great admirer of the 1916 rebellion – not of greater imperialist investment in Ireland!!!
I’m not a Trotskyist, but I agree wholeheartedly with big chunks of Trotsky, like this:
“The Socialist who aids directly or indirectly in perpetuating the privileged position of one nation at the expense of another, who accommodates himself to colonial slavery, who draws a line of distinction between races and colors in the matter of human rights, who helps the bourgeoisie of the metropolis to maintain its rule over the colonies instead of aiding the armed uprising of the colonies; the British Socialist who fails to support by all possible means the uprisings in Ireland, Egypt and India against the London plutocracy – such a Socialist deserves to be branded with infamy, if not with a bullet, but in no case merits either a mandate or the confidence of the proletariat.”
It’s interesting, if somewhat depressing, to see that pro-imperialism is still kicking on the English left.
My suggestion is that people read Lenin’s ‘Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism’ and the works related to it, including the ‘Notebooks on Imperialism’ (which give readers an idea of the amount of research and thinking which went into the book) and then read John Smith’s ‘Imperialism in the 21st Century’. And, for people that are really keen, read ‘Marx and Engels on Ireland and the Irish Question’.
And there I end things.
“There is nothing anywhere on Redline – in our 1,663 articles – that suggests we think peasants are the leading force in the struggle for socialism. Not one.”
The problem being that the ideas expressed in all those articles, in this regard, are divorced from the real world, and are themselves contradictory in their implications. In fact, I’m reminded of what marx wrote about James Mill’s attempts to defend the Ricardian system of value against criticisms of its deficiencies by its opponents. In order to defend the system against those criticisms rather than overturning it, Marx says, Mill was forced to increasingly deny reality, which everyday contradicted its conclusions, and even within the confines of the theory itself, Marx says, Mill and the other Ricardians became increasingly embroiled in yet further contradictions from which they were unable to disentangle themselves.
So, for example, you say,
“The majority of the working class today exists in the Third World. They are the *leading force* in the struggle for socialism. This may offend some leftists in the First World, but it is a simple fact.”
First of all this is not entirely true, and hides a vast array of differences and examples of combined and uneven development. Even in China, around 55% of the population are still peasants.
Yet, you seem incapable of recognising that in those places like China that have experienced rapid industrialisation in the last thirty years, and which has created a rapid growth of a working class, a significant element in that industrialisation, and development of that working-class resulted from the opening up of the country to foreign direct investment under Deng, as opposed to the starvation of millions, and economic stagnation that existed for decades before under Mao! You seem incapable of recognising the real world and the causes of that growth in the working-class, because you prefer instead to try to defend the prognostications and theory contained in a pamphlet written by Lenin 100 years ago, and which, if lenin were alive today, he would undoubtedly have cast into the dustbin of history.
You are unable to accept reality because it contradicts your dogmatic adherence to that Scripture, and the notion that the world is fixed frozen into colonial empires, and that capital from “imperialist states” only acts to “underdevelop” and “super-exploit” such colonies. You seem unable to put together the two contradictory aspects of what you say about the growth of this working-class and how it then contradicts your calls for the thing that brought it about, foreign investment to be rejected, because of its “imperialist” nature!
“The notion of imperialism playing a progressive role in the oppressed countries is a Second International idea, pushed by the reformists there. Marx and Engels had already rejected this idea much earlier and Lenin and Trotsky also rejected it. Lenin, of course, was a great admirer of the 1916 rebellion – not of greater imperialist investment in Ireland!!!”
Exactly where does Lenin say that he is opposed to foreign investment in ireland. Why would he do that when he called and pleaded for such investment in Russia so as to facilitate its economic development, and all of his previous writings were based upon a rejection of the Sismondist ideas that sought to hold back capitalist development. And as I said above even in the late 1930’s, Trotsky was spelling out the need for such “imperialist” investment in Mexico as a means of speeding up such development.
Nor are your claims in respect of the views of Marx and Engels true either. As Umberto Melotti says, in “Marx and the Third World”, although Marx revised his view on the extent of the destruction wreaked by British colonialism in India, it did not change to the end his view of the historic role that British colonialism played in creating a social revolution in India, and the same was true in relation to China. And Connolly also illustrates the weakness of those who put opposition to imperialism above the fight for Socialism when he wrote,
“The English capitalist class, with that hypocrisy that everywhere characterises the class in its public acts, used the misery of the Irish as a means to conquer the opposition of the English landlord class to free trade in grains, but in this, as in every other measure of the famine years, they acted consistently upon the lines of capitalist political economy. Within the limits of that social system and its theories their acts are unassailable and unimpeachable; it is only when we reject that system, and the intellectual and social fetters it imposes, that we really acquire the right to denounce the English administration of Ireland during the famine as a colossal crime against the human race. The non-socialist Irish man or woman who fumes against that administration is in the illogical position of denouncing an effect of whose cause he is a supporter. That cause was the system of capitalist property. With the exception of those few men we have before named, the Young Ireland leaders of 1848 failed to rise to the grandeur of the opportunity offered them to choose between human rights and property rights as a basis of nationality, and the measure of their failure was the measure of their country’s disaster.”
As Connolly describes, criticism of British colonialism was a good cover for support of Irish capitalists and landlords, and a feature we have seen repeated in subsequent anti-imperialist popular fronts with the bourgeoisie of third world countries, even in a world in which colonialism is non-existent.
You quote Trotsky’s comment,
“The Socialist who aids directly or indirectly in perpetuating the privileged position of one nation at the expense of another, who accommodates himself to colonial slavery, who draws a line of distinction between races and colors in the matter of human rights, who helps the bourgeoisie of the metropolis to maintain its rule over the colonies instead of aiding the armed uprising of the colonies; the British Socialist who fails to support by all possible means the uprisings in Ireland, Egypt and India against the London plutocracy – such a Socialist deserves to be branded with infamy, if not with a bullet, but in no case merits either a mandate or the confidence of the proletariat.”
All very good and all that, but what relevance is it to what is under discussion? Of course, socialists should oppose imperialist aggression, whether it is the invasion of Iraq, threats against Iran, the bombing of Libya, or whatever, but what does that have to do with direct investment of capital in any of those countries, direct investment which helps to industrialise the country, and to develop that very working-class of which you were eulogising in your opening paragraphs?
This is after all the same Trotsky who advised Mexico to seek foreign investment from those same “imperialist” sources, and th same Trotsky who wrote in relation to the Balkan Wars that socialists should oppose intervention by the Great Powers who advocated that “The Great Powers should be allowed to seek places for themselves in the Balkan Peninsula in one way only, that of free commercial rivalry and cultural influence.” So, what then on your reading should Trotsky have shot himself in the head???
All your arguments here are just strange. Connolly was an anti-imperialist because he was a revolutionary socialist. No-one here has suggested the struggle in Ireland is or should be confined to a nationalist struggle. You are simply the other side of the coin – nationalists argue for leaving out the struggle for socialism, you argue for leaving out the struggle against imperialism; you’re two sides of the same coin.
Your arguments about imperialism are precisely those used by the reformists in the Second International. They presented the same one-sided/one-dimensional view in relation to the role of imperialism in the countries oppressed by imperialism.
As I said above (and you weirdly partly disagreed with, even though it is simply an established fact), a majority of the working class today live in the Third World, not the First World. And that has big implications for the struggle for socialism in the 21st century, implications you have not begun to come to terms with because of your *absolutely doctrinaire* adherence to the approach of Bill Warren and the approach of the Second International.
Moreover, Lenin didn’t plead for imperialist capital to play an imperialist role in the Soviet Union! Capital investment would be under the control of the revolutionary state – entirely different from imperialist plunder of India or Egypt or Ireland etc.
You even accuse us of failing to distinguish between reactionary and democratic movements in the Third World! Anyone with any familiarity with Redline knows this is entirely untrue. Moreover, anyone can check our coverage of, say, Palestine; they’ll find plenty of stuff there in support of the PFLP and nothing in support of Hamas. You really do yourself no favours by just blatantly making up stuff like that claim.
And there we really do leave it.
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