Re: (OPE-L) Re: 1, 2, 3, how many imperialist powers?

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@T-ONLINE.DE)
Date: Sat May 31 2003 - 09:53:22 EDT

Cologne 31-May-2003

gerald_a_levy schrieb Fri, 30 May 2003 09:22:16 -0400:

> Michael E wrote on Wednesday, May 28:
> > This and Allin's comment show that the concept and phenomenon of
> > imperialism are by no means clear.
> Allin's post in this thread concerned the meaning of empire and
> imperial powers rather than imperialism and imperialist powers.

Yes, there seems to be a strange use of language going on, if imperialism is
semantically detached from empire and is supposed to mean something entirely

> > Capitalist colonialism more or less dissolved after WW II.
> What was the cause of the dissolution of colonialism?  Weren't
> the de-colonial (national liberation) struggles within the colonies
> a major --even decisive -- cause of that dissolution?

Sure. There was a worldwide wave of resistance to throw off the ties of direct
political dominion by Western powers.

> >To call what comes
> > after, neo-colonialism seems to be a paucity of concept.
> A better instance, I think, of paucity of concept is to claim that
> calling 'what comes after' neo-colonialism is a paucity of concept
> _without explaining why_.   At least Nkrumah and others who
> used the term "neo-colonialism"  _explained why_ they were using
> that expression.

As ever, we are not on the same page. You are on the ontic page, and I am on the
ontological page, i.e. ultimately I am interested in getting a view of a concept
of imperialism (or whatever) adequate to the phenomenon. The trouble with all
"neo-" concepts (such as neo-liberalism) is that they rely on a base concept
which is said to "recur", and this base concept is invariably itself not well
thought through.

> > The "export of capital" to other countries cannot be any criterion for
> > "imperialism", especially since most foreign investment is made among the
> > rich capitalist countries investing in each other.
> Yes, a high proportion of the investment by corporations from
> imperialist nations is within other imperialist nations.  This in no way
> undercuts Lenin's theory of imperialism, since it was a process that he
> (and Hilferding, Luxemburg,  Bukharin, Preobrazhensky and others)
> understood well.
> > Lenin says straight out, "Cartels become one of the foundations of the
> > whole of  economic life. Capitalism has been transformed into
> > imperialism. Cartels come  to an agreement on the terms of sale,
> > dates of payment, etc. They divide the  markets among themselves.
> > They fix the quantity of goods to be produced. They
> > fix prices. They divide the profits among the various enterprises, etc.
> > ... > Monopoly! This is the last word in the 'latest phase of capitalist
> > devlopment'"
> > (Lenin, _Imperialism. The highest stage of capitalism_ in Selected Works
> > Vol. 1 > Progress, Moscow 1970 pp.684, 690).
> > This identification of imperialism with the tendency toward the formation
> > of  large monopolies and cartels seem highly unsatisfactory.
> I agree that the trend towards cartelization that Lenin highlighted has not
> been a major trend in world markets for many decades.  So, to the extent
> that there is this "identification", then I agree that it is no longer
> satisfactory.

Ontically (i.e. if one is concerned with historical trends as studied by the
social sciences) one can say Lenin's at al concept of imperialism is "no longer"
satisfactory. Ontologically (i.e. as a concept which adequately articulates the
phenomenon it is aiming at defining) Lenin's et al concept of imperialism was
never satisfactory.

> OTOH, one can argue that there is a long-term trend -- a consequence of
> the concentration and centralization of capital -- for markets to become
> increasingly dominated by *oligopolies*.  Oligopolies are not (to use a
> mainstream  economists' expression) 'pure monopolies' (and they are not,
> typically,  cartel members),  but they do have 'monopoly power' (i.e. market
> power resembling that of monopolies).
> btw, I think that Lenin (and the others cited above) used the expression
> 'monopoly' more broadly than it is used today by mainstream economists.
> I.e. for Lenin, and other Marxists writing at the same time or before, there
> could be more than one monopoly in a market and rivalry could exist
> among monopolies in the same market.  Thus, Lenin and many other
> Marxists considered monopolies to be more like what was later called
> oligopolies -- although the dynamic of product differentiation as a
> competitive strategy was not highlighted by Lenin and others whereas
> it became an essential, defining characteristic of  oligopolies within the
> tradition of writers on that subject.

I agree. Lenin's concept of monopoly is really that of oligopoly. But then why
not speak of oligopoly capitalism? What is the justification for using a
political concept (imperialism) to capture an economic phenomenon (large

I think there is an unclarified series of conceptual (i.e. ontological) problems
here, namely:
What is the concept of power? (cf. _dynamis_)
What is the concept of power of money? (cf. _allagae_)
What is the concept of economic power in capitalist society?
What is the concept of political power in capitalist society? (cf. _archae_)
What is the conceptual relationship between economic power and political power?

> > Furthermore, in the meantime (since 1916), there has been a big
> > move against the formation of capitalist cartels, trusts and monopolies
> > overseen by the capitalist state and international organs have been set up
> > for  the purpose of restricting monopoly practices.
> Anti-trust policies within advanced capitalist nations are typically
> directed at cartels and 'pure monopolies' (which are rare) rather than
> oligopolies (which are common).

Agreed. Behind this state and international control of oligopolies lies a
conception of fair competition. This conception is an aspect of the Western
understanding of freedom. And, as I said before, fairness has long been at the
basis of Western conceptions of justice.

> > Imperialism implies some sort of exploitation of foreign parts. If these
> > foreign parts are not directly subjugated (i.e. through the medium of
> > political  and ultimately military power), then the exploitation must
> > amount to some kind  of unfair capitalist competition. That is, the
> > countries in which capitals from
> > rich, developed capitalist countries are invested must be at some kind of
> > structual or 'essential' disadvantage in the capitalist competition.
> > To claim simply that the investment of rich capitalist countries in poor
> > countries is already imperialism because a foreign workforce is exploited
> > presupposes that capitalist investment is exploitative in itself, i.e. it
> > presupposes the orthodox LTV and its associated TSV.
> One has to examine the transfer of surplus value internationally and
> rent to more concretely make the connections and explain this process.
> One also has to, relatedly, consider different national and regional
> standards for SNLT including different standards for labor intensity
> and the value of labour-power.  This study implies -- indeed requires
> -- a comprehension of the history and dynamics of class struggle in
> different nations and regions. The state, foreign trade  and the world
> market and crises also have to be systematically comprehended.

Such a project is an ontic social scientific project which presupposes the
validity of the LTV and TSV. These latter raise contentious ontoloogical issues
connected with the concept of value. I wrote about this confusion in Marxism in
my dissertation twenty years ago, where I used the terminology
"logical-historical" vs. "logical" or "systematic" or "dialectical" instead of
ontic vs. ontological.

Backhaus has explored in depth the issues surrounding "logical-historical" vs.
"logical" in relation to _Capital_,  although, as a pupil of Adorno, he would
most probably reject the terminology ontic vs. ontological. (For Adorno,
'ontology' was a "disgusting term" cf. _Negative Dialektik_).

> One has to remember that Lenin's pamphlet was a self-described "popular"
> work in which he explicitly recognized -- and called for -- the need for
> more  research to  be done (he singled out Bukharin as one of those who
> needed to investigate imperialism further).  So, in that sense _Imperialism_
> was not  a very advanced  "theoretical" work (nor did it claim to be).
> Rather, it was an attempt to comprehend what was in that time the "latest"
> stage of capitalism.


> Whether the "imperialism" that Lenin described is  (essentially) the
> "imperialism" of today (or even, as you ask, whether there is imperialism
> today) are serious questions that need to be grappled with.  There is indeed
> a whole literature among Marxists that attempts to answer these questions,
> e.g. Bill Warren's _Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism_ (Verso, 1980) and
> critiques of Warren's book.
> Sorry, but I don't have time for more now.

I have invariably been disappointed by the Marxist literature because the
ontological dimension does not appear on the radar screen.

To conclude on a very ontic note:
If we're talking about imperial powers and empires, then the most prominent
imperial power and
empire in the twentieth century should not be overlooked, namely, Russia and its
so-called Union
of Soviet Socialist Republics.

This empire was based on direct political domination backed by military force.
The satellite
countries were forced to pay economic tribute to Moscow. E.g. in East Germany,
perhaps the
richest of the Eastern bloc countries, people could not get their hands on even
elementary things
like house paint and roofing tiles. The uniformly grey or drab facades of
residential blocks just crumbled away with time. If the roof of a block of flats
got a leak, there was no way to fix it. The top floor was simply vacated, and
one waited until the next storey was rain-affected. I saw lots of signs of decay
and dilapidation in Halle of this kind in 1990, before reunification, and
friends told me what living in the GDR had been like. The main street of the
city was in such a state of disrepair, you could easily break a leg trying to
cross it. Student acquaintances of mine lived in a broken-down, rat-infested
house... (I don't think that the rats were CIA agents, nor that the lack of
house paint in the GDR was a plot hatched by US imperialism in Washington D.C.,
despite existing Marxist explanations along these lines.)

East Germany was called the German Democratic Republic. The USSR had the word
"Soviet" in
its name. Strange, the inversions that took place under socialism. George Orwell
made much of
these inversions.

_-_-_-_-_-_-_-  artefact text and translation _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_- made by art  _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ _-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

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