[OPE-L:1477] imperialism

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 14 Oct 1999 19:19:55 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 15 Oct 1999 00:24:16 +0100
From: Jurriaan Bendien <djjb99@worldonline.nl>
Subject: Re: [OPE-L:1476] Re: imperialism

Hi Jerry.

Just came back in one piece, from a discussion about socialist policy on
architecture and environmental design with some ex-party members, and I
just wanted to respond to a point you made about imperialism.

I wrote:

>> Real capitalism didn't get off
>> the ground without imperialism.
You said:

>I guess that depends on how you are defining "imperialism" here. As a
>historical process, capitalism required the "original" (or "primitive")
>accumulation of capital. This, however, is not normally understood as
>"imperialism" by Marxists who have been influenced by Lenin's
>understanding of that subject. But, I'm open to hearing why you think
>that imperialism -- as however *you* define it -- was systematically
>required for capitalism to become airborne.

The concept of imperialism for me has different aspects - political,
economic, cultural-ideological. Basically what I mean politically by
imperialism is the domination of one nation by another nation, such that
there are imperialist nations and imperialised nations (colonies,
semi-colonies, semi-industrialised dependent countries). This domination
can take the form of annexation and direct colonisation, or more "subtle"
forms of control such as political, military or economic dependence
(through investments, trade restrictions and debts). We can and should
refine that more, but that is the essence of the matter.

Marxists traditionally argue that modern imperialism is not just a question
of state policy, but a necessary outcome of the development of capitalism
on the planet (Hilferding, Lenin, Luxemburg etc.). That is, the state
policy follows the developmental path of capitalism, it isn't an
"abberation" of politicians whom we don't like. Domination is complemented
with systematic economic exploitation. This exploitation may take all sorts
of different forms: plundering, robbery, slavery; unequal exchange in
trade; preventing the dominated country from producing specific goods;
state indebtedness; reliance on foreign investment etc. etc.

The cultural aspect refers to how the imperialist country imposes its
culture/values/ideology on the imperialised country. I don't want to go
into that here, but we can if we want to, from Freire to Fanon.

All I am really saying regarding the economic aspect is that in the
formative period of the capitalist mode of production in Western Europe,
the growth of capital through exploiting wage labour was accompanied inter
alia by the growth and concentration of capital through direct, systematic
plunder of foreign countries (Mexico, Peru, Indonesia, India etc. etc.).
And I consider this stolen capital was quantitatively crucial for the
accumulation of the merchant capital and money capital in Western Europe
that itself created conditions favourable for the "industrial revolution".
I do not have my books anymore here, they are with friends in New Zealand,
but I can give you some scholarly evidence if necessary. Now anyway what
was this adventure of conquest and pillage by us Europeans in Latin
America, Africa and Asia in the 16th-18th century if not imperialism ? I
don't think you have to be Bill Warren or Immanuel Wallerstein to see the
point. Of course you could argue as against my "political aspect" of
imperialism that the idea of a "nation" is a strictly European invention
related to the formation of a unified domestic market, but that seems a
Eurocentric concept of a "nation" to me.

As regards Lenin, he wrote one small pamphlet analysing imperialism as a
necessary outcome of capitalist development, one tiny pamphlet, based a lot
on Hobson and Hilferding. He makes a lot of valuable points in that
pamphlet, but I think it is quite insufficient as a theoretical framework,
certainly these days (although it is perhaps a good thing to have around
when the neo-liberals argue imperialism was and is "for the best" after all
- with some version of the slogan "there's no gain without pain" or more
vulgar and crass statements).

To form an "integrated theory" of imperialism from a Marxist point of view,
I think you need far more than Lenin. You need L. Trotsky, E. Mandel, M.
Barratt-Brown, H. Pirenne, A. Shaikh, H. Magdoff, K. Busch and so on and so
forth (I name just a few of the authors that seemed important to me when I
last studied this in the 1980s). But you also need time, good library
access and office space, something to pay the bills with, somewhere to live
and to love etc. And I don't have much of that just now - as I explained I
didn't even finish my Phd - so my theory of imperialism will, like my
theory of the state and my theory of productive labour, have to sit and
percolate a while... while I think of a better way of original accumulation
consistent with my (still somewhat shellshocked) personality.

In solidarity


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