[OPE-L:1485] Re: Re: imperialism

Jurriaan Bendien (djjb99@worldonline.nl)
Sat, 16 Oct 1999 14:11:10 +0100

Hi Jerry.

I will try to respond to your points.

>1) In your definition of imperialism below, you place great emphasis on
>the rivalry among the imperialist and the "imperialised" nations.
>Curiously, there is no recognition of rivalry among advanced capitalist
>nations (*inter-imperialist* rivalry).

In my comments I did not advance a general theory of imperialism , nor did
I make any remarks about "rivalry" whatsoever. I just kicked off with some
basic definitions. I am well aware of the existence of imperialist rivalry,
and in fact Prof. Mandel said a lot about it both in his scholarly and
political writings (see for example his book Europe vs. America from the
late 1960s, and his debate with Martin Nicolaus in NLR around 1971, which
are readily available).
>2) The definition you outline below has the "virtue" of being very similar
>to that used by mainstream sociologists, political scientists, and
>economists. I suppose it might be considered a virtue if we could use some
>of the same definitions.

I don't think you have to be Marxist to use the term imperialism, and I am
not trying to sound radical by using it. Lots of historians who are not
Marxists accept the term. But the term came into disrepute I think because
it was abused by the Stalinist and Maoist communists in their political
caricatures of geopolitics in terms of opposed "camps". So the term did not
mean anything anymore other than the US government doing nasty things in
other countries, it became just a term of abuse.

For me, the problematic of imperialism is really about the uneven and
combined development of capitalism on a world scale (or, if you like, the
real evolution of the world market), about the international division of
labour and the inequality of nations which results from this, and about how
the development of some countries occurs at the expense of the development
of other countries (why so-called "backward" countries cannot industrialise
or only industrialise extremely unevenly or experience an absolute drop in
net output). The analysis of these phenomena assumes some analysis of the
operation of the law of value on a world scale.

I studied about imperialism when I lived in New Zealand mainly because
there was a lengthy controversy there between the Maoists, Stalinists and
Trotskyists about whether New Zealand is an "imperialist country" or a
"semi-colonial" country. Capitalist New Zealand is an interesting case,
because it started off as a settler-colony which already quickly gained a
large measure of political autonomy, although remaining economically
dependent on Britain. The New Zealand state engaged in "petty imperialist"
activities in the Pacific region even in the late 19th and early 20th
century (e.g. Samoa), when New Zealand was still a colony of Britain. New
Zealand became a dominion after world war 2 and then formally developed an
independent foreign policy. By that stage, it had a fully capitalist
economy but an unevenly developed one - it lacked any developed heavy
industry sector, most fixed equipment goods (and some industrial raw
materials) had to be imported; also, it was dependent for its national
income on the export of a relatively small range of primary commodities. So
anyway there was this debate among leftists about whether "foreign capital"
was the real enemy or whether it was the New Zealand state itself.

 With the
>definition that you suggest, imperialism has *always* existed under
>capitalism. Indeed, from your perspective, the process of the original
>(primitive) accumulation of capital was an imperialist process. Yet, this
>fails to recognize how the character of capitalism can change over time
>and how capitalism can be divided into different "periods".

I am saying imperialism existed through the history of capitalism from its
very origins, and that the plunder of other countries was an important
stimulus for the initial development of the capitalist mode of production.
I am also saying that original accumulation of various kinds goes on all
the time under capitalism.
 I don't think this is very controversial really, I think it can be proved
without any doubt. I did not get as far as periodising epochs of capitalist
development in my previous comments. I do not think there is only one
correct periodisation, however, it depends on what the research question is
that is being asked. However I agree with Mandel's distinction between the
existence of private capital and the existence of the capitalist mode of
production ("capitalism"). So I would not project the existence of
"capitalism" back as far into history as Wallerstein and Gunder Frank do.
>3) If one conceives of imperialism as both inter-imperialist rivalry and
>descriptive of a relationship among advanced capitalist nations and less
>developed capitalist nations within the context of a *world market*, then
>one could indeed make the argument that imperialism (so understood) is an
>integral moment (period) in the development of capitalism.

I would basically go along with that, although I would argue (1) that
imperialism pre-existed the formation of the capitalist mode of production
proper, (2) that the current "globalisation" process doesn't mean the
disappearance of imperialism.
>It seems to me, then, that the drive to imperialism is a
>*necessary* consequence of the accumulation of capital (and the
>attendant centralization, concentration, and internationalization of
>capital). Indeed, one could argue that the drive to imperialism is a
>consequence of the valorization process in the context of the uneven and
>combined development of capital (to use Trotsky's expression)

Again, I would agree with that, I am merely adding the premiss that
imperialism was not only a consequence of capitalist expansion
internationally, but a cause of it as well.
>4) On the question of "nations" existing before the advent of capitalism,
>I think -- again -- that we should be concerned with the particular form
>that nations took under capitalism. That is, our concept of "nation"
>should be specific to the character of capitalism even if nations in some
>_other sense_ existed prior to capitalism. Relatedly, "cities" existed in
>the ancient world. Yet, it is nonetheless true that the development of
>capitalism and cities are linked (just as the development of capitalism
>and nation-states are linked).

I use the concept of a nation more flexibly perhaps because for me it is
linked to the national question. Nations for example exist within the
former Soviet Union which were not really recognised as such and which had
never experienced capitalist development. Some of these exist as nations
today. In Africa and the Middle-East the imperialist powers divided up
territories into separate "nations" but this often did not have much to do
with how the peoples living there saw the boundaries of their nation.
>What is unfortunate is a tendency by some Marxists -- especially those,
>it seems, who write on the Net -- to treat Lenin's pamphlet as --
>essentially -- the "last word" on the subject of defining and
>understanding imperialism. Perhaps one reason for the difficulty in
>sustaining a dialogue on this subject among Marxists is (as Makoto seemed
>to suggest) that the understanding of this subject is linked to the
>political programme of Lenin and others -- before and since his time.

I think you are probably correct there. But that in my view is just arcane
dogmatism of the type which Lenin himself vigorously opposed, just as he
opposed the notion of "Leninism". Who can seriously argue today that what
Lenin wrote is a fully correct description of the world situation today, or
even of his own time ? Today we can know much more about foreign trade, the
world market and the history of imperialism than Lenin ever did.

Incidentally, in the "ideological-cultural aspect" of imperialism which I
mentioned, I should have included the ideological justification of

In solidarity


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