In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Is Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism?

Posted by smeddum on November 6, 2008

Is Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism?
by Paul Anderson
Let me go straight into the fray,
Lenin summarizes his definition of imperialism as follows:

“1) The concentration of production and capital developed to such a high stage that it created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life.
2) The merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital,” of a “financial oligarchy.”
3) The export of capital, which has become extremely important, as distinguished from the export of commodities.
4) The formation of international capitalist monopolies which share the world among themselves.
5) The territorial division of the whole world among the greatest capitalist powers is completed.”

Things have certainly moved since Lenin’s time, yet as a textbook, it has yet to be surpassed in terms of reputation. This vacuum on the left is one of the major reasons why it is more or less moribund in terms of analyses. Yet my purpose is not merely to bemoan the left but show
that there has been historical turn that it is now in the process of “correcting” itself and morphing imperialism in the process.
Firstly, what is noticeable about the “concentration of production” has been its mobility and that the main focus of concentration is cheap labour. Hence we have seen a large export of capital to
those countries where cheap labour has been readily available and have potentially large internal (emerging) markets, such as China, and India. However, what has been come clear is that this economic vandalism to the West has meant that imperialist power is now capable of turning “big nations” into “small nations” and vice-versa. Size here is a ratio of economic power.
Free market ideology  has no respect for boundaries and this has in turn has placed imperialist power itself in jeopardy.
Secondly, we have witnessed the decoupling of the financial oligarchy from industrial capitalism.
The supremacy of financial power was never a given in Marx and thus Lenin. To-day it has become clear that the financial oligarchy determines who succeeds and who fails, and through the IMF and World Bank have dictated the economies of whole countries through debt traps and in turn setting conditions for the export of capital towards cheaper labour.
This concentration of wealth in the financial oligarchy is the sum result of imperialism which has been largely policed by the might of the US State.

Things have changed.

Many on the left argue that they have not, Chomsky, Zinn, Petras, Ticktin have all claimed that the US is in firm control and see the rising multipolar alternative as merely a historical aside of some sort. Nor do they provide any perspective of US imperialist decline, in favour of the far off
somewhat distant, quasi-religious, revolutionary potential of the revolutionary proletariat. They see nothing progressive in the shifting ground of world power relations and merely a replacement of “old boss bad, new boss bad”.
Yet this is entirely a misreading of what has been happening since the end of the cold war, and the rise and fall of US triumphalism.
The financial crisis which has been fermenting for sometime had it’s roots in the thrashing of western industry. The USA’s main export is agriculture. The “safety net” has been in the housing market which had all the potential to go lopsided with deregulation, which produced the derivatives market which themselves attracted for investment mugs like General Motors.
The US debt is above 10 trillion dollars with more to come. Obama, like Brown has a spending agenda. The hope is that bailing out the banks will stimulate the economy somehow. Crony capitalism with no guarantees, except that the national debt shall increase.
The “answer” is to gain more credit. Brown has went begging to the Arab world and beyond for
the IMF. The real meaning of the Brown ‘bounce.’ Meanwhile the UK economy contracts.

Yet the real significance of this weakening of western imperialism, is that its ability to maintain itself as a military force has been undermined, not only in two wasteful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but it has lost all credibility as a world leader. This on a political level has brought a world that tiptoed around the United States unto the world stage. The playground bully has been stood up to, with Russia over Georgia and the missile shield, China giving interest free loans to African countries, even Zimbabwe has managed to resist western ploys for regime change. Yet, for many on the left, all capitalism is the same. Resistance to unipolar imperialism is neither here nor there.
As if the fate of Salvador Allende and Che Guevara ought to be forgotten or only to be remembered as history.
Yet far more a threat to US power than the nascent forces of world revolution is the drift away from neoliberalism that has seen Russia and China discuss ways to decouple from the US dollar.
France and Germany stalling the bailout process , with Sarkozy pushing towards direct regulation of the banks.
The multipolar power that is emerging is a post-imperialist bloc. US military power has dwarfed the leading powers imperial ambitions, their interests are now best suited as somewhat equal political partners to the nations of the world.
This historical turn is reminiscent of Lenin’s vision of a union of “free and equal” nations within the world. If not socialist at least free from imperialism.
The nightmare of the twentieth century , the cold war between two historical anomalies, asymmetric “socialism” and unipolar imperialism has a resolution, in bringing human evolution itself on a path more in tune with the course of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment , and all that emerged out of the dark ages to embolden man with hope. Not just from old Europe that swallowed up the worlds cultures but a new path towards free indigenous development so as to make real steps towards a world revolution, unafraid of the might of the US and the dollar.

4 Responses to “Is Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism?”

  1. jojo said

    yet people keep on shopping

  2. smeddum said

    Consumer confidence hit an all time low for October. One just needs to google “christmas spending” to see that people are not spending.

  3. inthesenewtimes said

    A lot of emotionally highly charged big words here, like Capitalism and Imperialism. But what do they mean exactly?

    For me capitalism would be the system established in England after 1688 based on the establishment of the Bank of England and the national debt. But the left always supported this “glorious’ revolution in most glowing terms as laying the very foundations of progress itself. As for imperialism, this was an imperialist system par excellence, allowing as it did the financing of endless wars of conquest. Indeed British imperialism was already well underway in Elizabethan times and not just in the activities of our pirates. John Dee had already coined the term British empire and layed its ideological foundations in the British-Israeli doctrine, namely that as one of the lost tribes of Israel we were a chosen people. The Virginia trading company was up and running soon after, displacing Indians with the helped of a freshly adapted version of Christianity.
    If capitalism is as Marx would have it the development of industrial capitalism in England in the 19th century then it succeeds imperialism as he implicitly concedes in Capital vol 1, chapter 31. Capitalism is then logically a stage in the development of imperialism; it wouldn’t have happened without the “opening up” of India providing a massive and captive market for textiles.

    The article implies,I think correctly, that we are now back on course for a development which had begun in the Renaissance, a development which centres around re-emergent nation states, and examines why the left remain unimpressed by this development.

    As I suggested above, as keen supporters of the post-1688 Whig oligarchy you wouldn’t expect them to celebrating their demise. But this is a bit unfair: they only support 1688 because it leads to capitalism , which they also oppose, but which they see as “progressive’ leading, as it inevitably must in their eyes to socialism. But capitalism in their view transcends and ultimately negates national development. In that sense, in my view, it is an imperialist construct since it lumps together diverse developments under a single schema. Thus, whatever distinctions there may be German. French and British “capitalism’, the important thing is that they are all “capitalist”. Lenin, writing in his imperialism, is caught in this contradiction as, in the process of trying to show the same stage of capitalism emerging in England and Germany, unwittingly shows the two to be quite distinct. This was a strange error for the man who liked to repeat Hegel’s dictum that “the truth is always concrete”. Through a deceptive overgeneralisation he relegated Germany to the role of one more capitalist power morphing into an imperialist one, instead of seeing its developmental, productivist model of “capitalism’ as being the victim of the British parasitic financier, imperialist model, as had been Paraguay and as would be Japan.
    Incidently, this bellittlement through generalisation has time-honoured pedigree in the annals of empire.”The rise of natural law as a universal system coincided with the rise of large empires and kingdoms in the Greek world” and the Romans used the notion of Natural Law in precisely the same way to lump together the nations which it absorbed and to negate their individuality and therefore, independence.

    The left is virulently hostile to the nation state and in this sense the neo-cons are a logical offshoot. For the left any nation is fair game because it is capitalist,( or not capitalist enough: they have to become capitalist in order to become socialist, remember!) But there is a deeper philosophical issue here beyond the imposition of unity on diversity: some, after all, argue for many, diverse ‘capitalisms”. Capitalism isn’t just counterposed as the general to the particular. There is a deeper counterposition: that of mode of production to political association or body politic.
    We are entering into the realm here of state of nature theory. This is most commonly associated with Hobbes and his famous quote:

    “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man”

    However, while falsely implying that man at some stage existed outside a framework of law, in a “state of nature” at least Hobbes’s state is recognised as necessary to ‘civilized’ life. But Marxism actually goes further relegating the state to a mere appendage of one party in a new characterisation of the struggle for existence, this times between classes, not individuals. In Hobbes the state of nature ends with the hegemony of the state: in Marx the hegemony of the state ends with the state of nature, appearing as an Arcadia in the future, rather than in the past as in the ancient world. That Marxism is a further reedition of “State of Nature ” theory seems to have been generally ignored reflecting the fact that this doctrine has only ever been subjected to the most superficial critiques, usually limited to comparing it to to its sister theory liberalism. But as Sir Henry Maine points out in his Ancient Law

    “the philosophy founded on the hypothesis of a
    state of nature has fallen low in general esteem, in so far as it
    is looked upon under its coarser and more palpable aspect, it
    does not follow that in its subtler disguises it has lost
    plausibility, popularity, or power.”

    Thus the central fact that the non-existence of a body politic, a political association a nation state(as the modern correlate of the city state) is axiomatic within Marxist theory is lost: they are
    , at best, merely products of divisions within “the bourgeoisie”. What surprise then that the Marxist left can find nothing at all positive in the reemergence of Russia, China, Venezuela as counterpoles to the empire. Indeed, they are showing growing hostility often verging on hysteria towards this development. Their ideology is deeply immersed in the ideology of empire itself, specifically in its “enlightenment’ reedition. Not only will they not update their ideology as the empire totters,it will go to the grave with it. They can’t think out of the box and consequently it will be the box in which their worldview will be laid to rest.

  4. […] Is Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism? […]

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