by Sam King
Almost 100 years after it was written, Lenin’s classic Marxist theory of imperialism, principally articulated in his book Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism remains the best framework to understand capitalism’s international political economy. Subsequent capitalist development shows the key aspects of Lenin’s thesis to be correct. Just as the basic ideas of Marx’s Capital have been proven correct by developments in contemporary capitalism, so too, have all the fundamentals of Lenin’s theory of imperialism. It remains an essential starting point for understanding the principal international developments today, such as“globalisation” and the “rise of China”.
This article is divided into three parts. The first outlines Lenin’s theory and the key ideas necessary to apply it in today’s conditions. The final section applies the Leninist theoretical framework to show that China is not a rising imperialist power, and that even its full development as a capitalist economy is blocked by imperialism.Before looking at China, however, it is necessary to dispense with misunderstandings that prevent Marxists from grasping Lenin’s theory and encourage us to dismiss Lenin as wrong, dated or marginal. There are many distorters of Lenin. Marxist academics, on the whole, are as guilty of this as any party. However, ideas held by politically active Marxists have the most important consequences. The International Socialist tendency (IST) is the strongest active Marxist tendency in the English-speaking world today (outside India). Thus the second section focuses on misunderstandings within that tradition and of various writers at one time associated with it.
Lenin’s theory in the 21st century
Lenin’s theory of imperialism revolves primarily around the systematic exploitation of the poor economies by monopoly capital based principally in the rich economies. Within Lenin’s framework, inter-imperialist wars are secondary to exploitation of the poor economies, as these wars are ultimately about redrawing the terms and conditions of that exploitation.
For Lenin, the key to understanding imperialism is monopoly. He argued: “If it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism we should have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism. Such a definition would include what is most important”. Lenin outlined five principal features characterising imperialism at the beginning of the twentieth century. Monopoly is at the core of all five. They were Read the rest of this entry »