Re: [OPE] On Rereading Lenin's Imperialism: A Rejoinder [Cyrus Bina'sResponse to Paula Cerni's post]

From: John Milios <>
Date: Mon Jan 25 2010 - 15:20:40 EST

Dear all,

Paula addresses important questions. We deal with most of these issues
in our book. In what follows we shall be brief.

For Marx capital is a social relation. This is quite clear to all of
his readers. It has many crucial consequences to the understanding of
“competition” and capitalist state.

What we actually attempted to say is that capitalist competition and
the consequent tendency towards a uniform rate of profit is not just a
formal prerequisite to the movement of individual capitals, as occurs,
for example, in the analyses of Classical Political Economy. On the
contrary, it corresponds to a structural process that imposes the
terms for the existence of capital as a ruling class and regulates the
functioning of individual capitals. Capitalist competition in the
final analysis reflects the totality of laws regulating the
coexistence of individual capitals and their merger into social

The concept of the social capital points to the unity of the bourgeois
class and so to the social nature of the capitalist state, whose
ultimate purpose is to secure the long-term strategic interest of the
bourgeoisie. In this connection, there can be no conception of
individual capital without it being an element of social capital.
(Capitalist state and capital are aspects of one and the same
historical form of class domination and the concept of social capital
stresses exactly this thesis). Otherwise, we have to admit that
capital is a “thing.”

However, capital is not a “thing” and this means that irrespective of
the formal “legal” owner (shareholder), EVERY INDIVIDUAL CAPITAL IS
understand this thesis? The functions of the individual capitalist,
the decisions that he/she is required to “take,” are in the final
analysis derivable from the dynamics of capital as a social relation
and not from some psychological, legal or institutional
characteristics which a particular “group” of people is supposed to

Unfortunately, the classical theories of imperialism (some aspects of
Lenin’s intervention are exceptions) and the directly subsequent
dependency analyses (in their several variants) accepted that when
individual capitals cross national borders they retain their NATIONAL
identity. Such a conception has two immediate consequences.

First, and contrary to Marx, who consciously demarcated himself from
historicist conceptions of the capitalist enterprise, avoiding
comprehending the latter as an autonomous entity, they implicitly
regard the capitalist enterprise to be an entity constituted
autonomously and externally from competition. In other words, they
reject the concept of social capital and thus Marx’s argument on
capitalist competition.

Second, they think of capitalism as a global system in the sense that
the ‘laws’ of the system operate on a world scale. If individual
capitals are “things” with national “origins,” it cannot be denied
that they perform a critical mediating function: they constitute an
international economic sphere, more or less homogeneous, investing it
with a relationship of NATIONAL dependence and probably unequal
exchange. This process, pushing class struggle into the murky
background, implies a certain conception of the capitalist state
which, in advanced capitalist countries is obliged to be extrovert,
following the movement of individual capitals. In “dependent”
countries the state is regarded as an appurtenance of 'monopolies' and
the developed capitalist states.

Consequently, all these approaches conceptualize imperialism as a
relation of non-correspondence between capital (which becomes
'global') and the national capitalist state.

This conception transpires that the global processes have priority
over the national processes, and that development (and the
underdevelopment of the periphery) is determined by the development
options of the imperialistic metropolis, with the result that the key
fact about social relations at the periphery is their dependent
character. And for many reasons, it finally ends up to be closer to
the notion of one global or transnational empire.

Our view attempts to deal with all these problems: to rethink
imperialism when capital is to be conceived as a social relation.

There is one basic corollary to all the above: the economic
development of capitalism does not depend on the “desire” of the
powerful, or of the “imperialist” national capitals but on the class
struggle as reproduced within the various national state links, which
through their inter-articulation comprise what we have designated as
the global imperialist chain. This latter notion, deriving from
Lenin’s intervention, is a way of conceptualizing the complex
economic, political and ideological links that develop between the
different capitalist social formations. Imperialism, as the
expansionist tendency of every social capital (depending, of course,
on the specific economic, political, military, etc. strength of each
capitalist social formation or link of the imperialist chain)
over-determines class struggle but never acquires priority over it.

Marx's theory of the capitalist mode of production necessarily
constitutes an abstract theoretical object – a concept – presupposing
ONE social capital and ONE state. But in actually-existing capitalism
there are many social capitals and capitalist national states (just as
there are similarly likely to be non-capitalist modes and forms of
production within a social formation). Therefore, by adopting the
concept of the imperialist chain we assign due significance to the
only concept that does not abolish social capital and succeeds in
taking into account the many-faceted character of the international
reality. This does not mean that there is a global empire, either in
the form of a supranational global mechanism or in the sense that a
certain national link is imperial in character.

Much remains to be said about the structure of the imperialist chain
and the historicity that characterizes the relations between the
unequal links. The manifold character of the unequally developing
aggregate social capitals involves the prerequisites for its
reproduction (e.g. modification of international competition), without
this meaning that inequality between countries is not dynamic in its
character. The inequalities between the links are not static; the
correlations between them fluctuate over time, even at the level of
the capitalist superpowers. Class struggle is always the decisive

We have to stress that this historicity of the international relations
within the imperialist chain is reflected inside the unequally
developed social formations. In fact, the complex game within the
parameters of the imperialist chain also operates reflexively when it
comes to its effect on the links. In a nutshell, this formulation
differentiates us one the one hand from the conservative realists and
on the other from the world system theorists and the post-modern
analyses of the retreat of the capitalist state.

On Fri, Jan 22, 2010 at 2:13 AM, Paula <> wrote:
> In reply to John Millios' and Dimitris Sotiropoulos' contribution.
> If I understand correctly, this perspective is quite close to my own. In
> particular I wish to draw attention to the notion of a complex and unequal
> 'imperialist chain' that IMO extends to all present capitalist states  -
> though there seems to be some ambiguity on this issue in Millios' and
> Sotiropulos' formulation, so I would appreciate their clarification.
> Aside from this I raise only a few minor doubts and questions.
>> Classical approaches to imperialism were based on a profound rejection
>> of Marx’s conceptualization of ‘competition’.
> Not sure how profound this rejection really was, since the classical
> approaches understood monopoly capitalism as arising out of free
> competition.
>>The relationship of ‘interiority’
>> between state and capital represents a twofold condition. On the one
>> hand it precludes the self-diffusion of statist linkages into a global
>> ‘empire’ that purportedly supervises homogeneously global economic
>> structures. On the other hand it prevents capital that moves beyond
>> the national borders from retaining a ‘certificate of origin’.
> Not convinced that this 'certificate of origin' is really lost, or at least
> completely lost. Consider for example the current dispute concerning
> Google's operations in China.
>> We find Bina’s reading of Marx’s concept of competition misleading. In
>> fact, what he actually has in common with the classical Marxist
>> theories is the rejection of the Marxian concept of social capital.
>> This is an important differentiation from Marx’s analysis.
> In my article I don't use of the concept of social capital either, but as
> you describe it I do not see it as in any way contrary to the classical
> theories of imperialism.
>> In this sense, the only authentic ‘empire’
>> is the imperialist chain in its entirety.
> Is there a danger that this formulation concedes too much ground to the
> notion of one global or transnational empire (in the Hardt and Negri sense,
> etc)?
> Paula
> _______________________________________________
> ope mailing list

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