Monday, December 5, 2011
Imperialism, Highest stage of Capitalism
E. Germain studied "The Marxist Theory of Imperialism and its critics- August 1955"
Since the spring of 1916 when Lenin wrote his pamphlet Imperialism, that work has been a focal point of discussion by both Marxists and non-Marxist political economists. Many critics have attempted to prove that Lenin’s analysis of contemporary capitalism is essentially incorrect; others that it is partially incorrect, but not outdated. Lenin’s “official” defenders in Moscow have tried to prove that every word written in 1916 is still totally valid today, while Marxists have taken into account the developments and changes of the last 50 years, modifying and adding to Lenin’s theory in the light of these changes.
For the students of Lenin’s Imperialism, the two essays contained in this bulletin will serve as an introduction to the contemporary debate, indicating the questions which are being discussed and how they are being answered by both critics and defenders of the Marxist concept of imperialism.
The author of the first article, E. Germain, is one of the leading theoreticians of the Fourth International and the author of numerous essays on Marxist economics. The Theory of Imperialism and Its Critics was a lecture originally given more than ten years ago to a group of Marxist students already familiar with Lenin’s Imperialism. After discussing the historical development of the theory, Germain goes on to deal briefly with the most important contemporary critics.
Ernest Mandel, editor of the Belgian socialist weekly, La Gauche, and a leader of the Belgian Socialist Workers Confederation, is one of the world’s leading Marxist economists. His two volume Traité d’Economie Marxiste will soon be published in English by Monthly Review Press. The article reprinted here is a review of Michael Barratt Brown’s work After Imperialism, and first appeared in the June 1964 issue of the British periodical New Left Review.
To Marxists, “imperialism” is not simply the “trend towards expansion” or the “conquest of foreign lands,” as it is defined by most political scientists and sociologists. The word is used in a much more precise sense to describe the general changes which occurred in the political, economic and social activity of the big bourgeoisie of the advanced capitalist countries, beginning in the last quarter of the 19th century. These changes were closely related to alterations in the basic structure of this bourgeoisie.
Marx died too early to be able to analyze these changes. He did not see more than the preliminary signs. Nevertheless, he left some profound remarks in his last writings which later Marxists used as starting points for developing the theory of imperialism.
In studying the rapid development of limited liability corporations, Marx underlined, in the Third Volume of Capital (chap.23), that these companies represent a new form of the expropriation of a mass of capitalists by a small handful of capitalists. In this expropriation the legal owner of capital loses his function as entrepreneur and abandons his role in the process of production and his position of command over the productive forces and the labor force.
In fact, private property seems to be suppressed, says Marx elsewhere, it is suppressed not in favor of collective ownership but in favor of private ownership by a very small number.
Concentration of Capital
Marx foresaw the modern structure of capitalism as the final phase of capitalism resulting from the extreme concentration of capital. This was also the starting point taken by most Marxists, especially Hilferding and Lenin.
In a paragraph devoted to countertendencies to the trend toward a falling rate of profit (Capital, Volume III, chap.14), Marx also underlined the importance of the export of capital to backward countries. A little further on he generalized this idea by insisting that a capitalist society must continuously extend its base, its area of exploitation.
Engels added a more detailed elucidation to Marx’s comments. In his last writings, especially in his famous 1892 introduction to The Condition of the Working Class in England, he underlined other structural phenomena to which the theoreticians of imperialism attached great importance. Engels wrote that from the beginning of the industrial revolution until the 1870’s, England exercised practically an industrial monopoly over the world market. Thanks to that monopoly, in the second half of the 19th century, at the time of the rise of craft unions, English capitalism could grant important concessions to a section of the working class. But, towards the end of the 19th century the German, French, and American competition made inroads into this English monopoly, and inaugurated a period of sharp class struggle in Great Britain.
The correctness of Engels’ analysis was borne out as early as the first years of the 20th century. The trade union movement grew not only among the laborers and the masses of the unskilled, but also broke its half-century long alliance with petty-bourgeois radicalism (the Liberal Party) and founded the Labor Party, the mass workers’ party.