[OPE-L] Imperialism, from list to list

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Mon Dec 04 2006 - 10:34:32 EST

The following post from Loren Goldner has been making its way
from list to list.  It originated on a yahoo group and has
been re-sent at Loren's request to PEN-L and then on to
aut-op-sy and elsewhere. If you scroll down past the "Is
this not imperialism?" sections, you will see a short critique of
different theories of imperialism, including Lenin's and
Luxemburg's.  While not the main issue in the debate, I don't
recall Luxemburg suggesting that the 'primitive accumulation
of capital' is permanent.  Does anyone have any comments about
the following?

In solidarity, Jerry

On another list I'm on, an Italian comrade
dismissively referred not merely to Lenin's theory of
imperialism (which I also reject) but to the very idea
that there is or ever had been such a thing. This
following is my reply, heavily influenced by
Luxemburg, which I thought might interest some people
on this list as well.

Question for Antonio: if the U.S. is not imperialist,
or if, as you say, imperialism was only ever a theory
or an ideology, why does the U.S., long after the
supposed end of the Cold War (not including of course
the little lingering questions of China, North Korea,
Vietnam and Cuba) maintain a military presence, overt
and covert, in 110 countries?

Why did the U.S. become so involved in
counter-insurgency in Latin America and the Caribbean
in the 1980's (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala,
Honduras, the invasion of Grenada)? Why did it provide
military advisors to the Mexican government's military
action against the EZLN after 1994? Why,in 2002, did
it attempt to overthrow Chavez?

This is not imperialism?

How exactly would you characterize the various
"revolutions" backed overtly or covertly by the U.S.
in Serbia, Georgia and the Ukraine? Why does the U.S.
embassy in Kiev have 750 employees? Some of us think
that's connected to a geopolitical strategy aimed at
controlling the borderlands of Russia and China, a
classic remake of the 19th century "great game" Why
has the U.S. backed the extension of NATO to include
most of the former Warsaw Pact states? Why did the
U.S. (oops, sorry, I mean NATO) intervene in the wars
in ex-Yugoslavia and militarily humiliate Serbia?

This is not imperialism?

What was the meaning of the 1993 intervention in
Somalia? Why is the U.S., officially and unofficially,
so concerned about China's new presence in Africa,
particularly where oil is concerned? This great power
rivalry over raw materials in Africa, Asia and Latin
America--don't we vaguely remember this from an
earlier era?

This is not imperialism?

In East Asia, the U.S. maintains 35,000 troops in
South Korea, important bases in (and a close alliance
with) Japan, naval fleets ready to defend Taiwan, all
of this aimed at containing what the CIA openly
identified as the main future rival of the U.S.:

This is not imperialism?

And should I bother mentioning the Middle East?
Support to the hilt for Israel, helping foment the
(how short lived!) "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon,
close ties with NATO partner Turkey as a
counter-weight to Iran. The U.S. has more military
hardware in little Gulf State Qatar than in any other
country in the world except Germany.

This is not imperialism?

Turning away from the U.S. for a moment, what about
the French role in the French zone in Africa? Troops
in Chad and Mali and Ivory Coast? The French role in
the Rwandan bloodletting? The strong support for the
FLN government in Algeria during the civil war against
the FIS?

And the Japanese outsourcing system throughout
Southeast Asia?

This is not imperialism?

You will of course have noticed that I have limited
myself to the merely military and counter-insurgent
level. Let's not--without being reductionist or
vulgar, God forbid--forget the 200+ multinationals,
most of them American, which still constitute the
lion's share (and an increased share0 of world

The weight of the U.S. through "international"
institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, imposing
"structural adjustment" programs on 100 developing
countries, producing 60+ failed state or near-failed

The "fact" that the income ratio of the West to the
developing world has greatly INCREASED (I don't have
the exact figures) in the past 30 years, in spite of
important development in countries such as China,
Brazil, India during that time?

How do YOU explain such a phenomenon, if imperialism
no longer exists and (if I understand you) never did?

You ask what imperialism means when a country such as
China, with an average per capita income of $1200 a
year, has lent something like $1 trillion to the "lone
superpower", the U.S. while masses of people in the
U.S. have become impoverished?

Well, that's a very good question, and if you read
Michael Hudson's excellent book, Super-Imperialism
(1972; new edition 2002) you will see that U.S.
imperialism since World War II has not, indeed,
followed Lenin's model (which was always flawed), but
has perfected the strategy of "managing empire through
bankruptcy". You overlook the fact that that $1
trillion consists of little green pieces of paper
exchanged for real Chinese goods produced by the
exploitaiton of Chinese workers, pieces of paper then
re-lent to the U.S. consumer so he/she could buy those
goods. Nice system! Perhaps you think that $1 trillion
will ever be seriously repaid? Not if U.S. policy
makers get their way and the Chinese revalue to the
desired level of 4 renminbi=$1, cutting the value of
those reserves in half. Ask the Japanese, who saw
THEIR dollar holdings reduced in value by 32% by
dissolution of Bretton Woods in 1971.

Yes, Lenin's theory of imperialism is out of date, and
was seriously flawed even when it was written. So
having dispensed with the kind of military,
geopolitical and obvious phenomena that any vulgar
leftist could point to, and get down into the "deep"
economic questions.

I'm sure you throw Rosa Luxemburg's Accumulation of
Capital into the same historical dustbin as Lenin's
Imperialism. Well, I don't. I won't presume to guess
your reasons for this, but whatever her flaws, she was
absolutely right about the permanence of primitive
accumulation in capitalism. Primitive accumulation
means accumulation that violates the capitalist law of
value, i.e. non-exchange of equivalents. Perhaps you
think that the mathematical formulas in the first
partof vol. III of Capital adequately describe how
capitaalism works. They certainly do: IF the concrete
processes of social reproduction to which they refer
are in fact reproducing themselves. Rosa (and here i
follow her 100%) argued that this is not a matter of
mathematics, but of concrete analysis of real
processes. When Western capital sucks Third World
labor power whose costs of reproduction it did not pay
for into the world division of labor, whether in
Indonesia or in Los Angeles, that's primitive
accumulation. when capital loots the natural
environment and does not pay the replacement costs for
that damage, that's primitive accumulation. When
capital runs capital plant and infrastructure into the
ground (the story of much of the U.S. economy since
the 1960's) that's primitive accumulation. When
capital pays workers non-reproductive wages, that's
primitive accumulation too. Lenin never discussed
these things (if I recall, he never once mentioned
social reproduction) but Rosa Luxemburg wrote a whole
book about it. You want to dismiss these ideas with a
complacent wave of the hand?
Be my guest; it's your loss.

I could go on. I daresay that a good book illustrating
nothing but what I have mentioned could be written,
and there's a lot more, which we can get into if
Meltdowners take up the debate.

In conclusion, let me say that I posted the article on
Third World investment in the West precisely to get
some debate going with people who still defend the
Leninist view (and there are plenty). It never
occurred to me that there were people out there who
question the very idea of imperialism itself. So be

Let me be clear: I absolutely reject Lenin's model of
imperialist "super-profits" earned by "monopolies"
paying off an "aristocracy of labor". So did Rosa
Luxemburg, who in 1913 (how antiquated!) argued that
the taxation of workers to pay for armaments was part
of the imperialist project. Some aristocracy!

For several decades, I have been attempting to develop
an alternative view of imperialism to that of Lenin
(still upheld today by myriad Trotskyists, for
starters). Lenin's intention in 1916 was to explain
the "betrayal" of socialism by the Western European
parties of the Second International, thereby showing
that he believed their earlier avowed statist model to
have been "socialist"to begin with. The issue as I see
it is not so much imperialism, whose existence I never
questioned, but the ideology of "anti-imperialism",
which today enlists such "progressive" forces as
Chavez, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Iranian mullahs, the
Taliban, the Iraqi "resistance"  and perhaps now the
unreconstructed Stalinists of Belarus; yesterday it
included Saddam Hussein. For the Trotskyists, it's
anyone from outside the "charmed circle" of Western
powers of 1914 who points a gun at someone from within
the charmed circle. In my opinion, such a view, with
the contorted calls for "critical support" and
"military support"to the oddest political formations,
abandons the main thrust of the great Zimmerwald
Conference of 1915: the main enemy is at home. I know
perfectly well the arguments from the other side:
World War I was an inter-imperialist war, the
'anti-imperialist" wars are something else.

I believe (and the purpose of posting the Financial
Times article was to show) that post-1945 and
particularly post-1973 developments have been blurring
the lines on the old 'anti-imperialist' road map.
We see U.S. world hegemongy disintegrating faster than
we ever imagined possible (almost recalling the speed
of the collapse of the Soviet bloc). Out of this
disintegration, what will emerge? Proletarian
revolution? I hope so. But what could also emerge, as
the U.S. emerged in 1945 on the ruins of the British
empire, is a new center of world accumulation. My
favorite candidate for that new center is East Asia.
Suppose, in some yet to be imagined scenario, China
and Japan (who, despire rhetoric, have ever-closer
economic ties), along with the Tigers (e.g. Korea,
Taiwan) and the 'flying geese" (Malaysia, Thailand,
etc.) manage to constitute an economic bloc, an Asian
currency? It's hard to imagine this happening without
some equivalent of World War II. If this became the
basis of a new phase of capitalist expansion,
comparable to the U.S. centered expansion of
1945-1975, would it somehow be any more "progressive"
than the U.S. dominated phase?
No way.

The question, then, along the way, is how to situate
the various world forces in play as the U.S. declines.
Chavez recently made a world tour that included
Belarus, Russia, Iran and China. Latin America is
booming right now because of exports to China. Parts
of Africa are reviving for the same reason. I am
perfectly aware that as of now all this comes back to
the "indebted U.S. consumer" and a collapse of the
dollar empire would stop the music...for a while. But
as a Japanese minister, weary of the growing dollar
reserves in the Bank of Japan, said not too long ago:
"give us
15 years, and we won't need the U.S.". With the dollar
declining by the day on world exchanges, how much
longer will the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese,
the Middle Eastern oil sheiks, the Russians, the
Venezuelans, and the Medillin drug cartel--all major
holders of dollars--be willing to hold onto a
depreciating asset? And if out of this debacle emerges
a new pole of capitalist accumulation, whether or not
it includes "old" imperialist powers (e.g. Japan) will
it be "progressive"?

That, to me, is THE question today for the
theoreticians, still working off the Leninist model,
of "anti-imperialism" have to answer. How much longer
can the international left be offering "critical
support' or "military support" to the Taliban before
it finds itself, as so many times in the past, the
ideological midwife of a new reactionary


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