Re: [OPE] fascism / opposing imperialist military intervention in Libya

From: Jurriaan Bendien <>
Date: Fri Mar 25 2011 - 19:19:44 EDT


Thank you for your reply. It is certainly true I think that in the last
quarter of the 19th century many corporations grew much bigger in size, qua
assets, employees, and output. But by the same token the total population
and workforce also strongly increased.

*There is no evidence as far as I know that, before say the 1870s,
corporations with a big market-share in each sector were absent, or that
before the 1870s there was no close connection between industrial capital
and bank capital. Joint-stock arrangements and corporate bonds were already
well established. The main thing that changed structurally, in the last
quarter of the 19th century, was the formation of integrated capital
markets, principally on a national scale, but also, more and more,
internationally. This refers to the expansion and growing sophistication of
the credit system and the market for loan capital. When Marx was writing
about the "levelling out of profit rates through competition", he was
anticipating the kind of integrated capital markets which, in the 1860s,
really were not so developed yet.

*There is also no evidence that prior to the 1870s (capitalist) countries
were not imperialist, because they were. To take one indicator, the number
of colonies increased tangentially from the late 1400s century to the 1760s
(from near zero to about 130 colonies), dropped to about about 80 colonies
in 1820, and thereafter again increased tangentially to about 165 colonies
at the eve of world war 1 (Bergesen & Schoenberg 1980, p. 236, based on
Henige 1970). So we can say with confidence that imperialism was bound up
with the whole era of the growth of the capitalist mode of production. We
can even go further than that: before that time, i.e. before the 15th
century, imperialism rarely assumed such a large and pervasive character.
Why? An important factor, leaving aside technologies, was that the state
funds required to mobilize, equip and maintain large armed forces were
lacking. To quote Geoffrey Parker,

"Between 1530 and 1710 there was a ten-fold increase both in the total
numbers of armed forces paid for by the major European states and in the
total numbers involved in the major European battles... the major waves of
administrative reform in western Europe in the 1530s and at the end of the
seventeenth century coincided with major phases of increases in army size.
(...) The numerical expansion of armies was also dependent on certain
elementary technological improvements such as mass-production of food, mass
transport, construction of tent camps, roads, causeways and bridges. (...)
In the eighteenth century, roads even began to be used as an instrument of
imperialism, as they had once been by the Roman empire|Roman,
History of China#Imperial era|Chinese and Inca empires... there had
to be a certain level of wealth in society before heavy and prolonged
military expenditure could be supported; second, there had to be ways of
mobilizing this wealth. It would seem that between 1450 and 1600 the
population of Europe almost doubled; and there is little doubt that,
over the same period, there was a notable increase in the total wealth of
Europe. (...) This new prosperity was tapped everywhere by taxation, either
indirectly through excise duties upon consumer goods or directly by a
variety of levies on land, capital, and (very rarely) income. Government
revenues increased everywhere in the sixteenth century, delving ever deeper
into the pockets and purses of the taxpayers. However, no government could
pay for a prolonged war out of current taxation: the income which
sufficed for a peacetime establishment could in no way prove equal to the
unpredictable but inevitably heavy expenses of a major campaign. The state
therefore had to spread the costs of each war over a number of peaceful
years... or by spending in advance the income of future years with the aid
of loans from bankers and merchants. (...) It was the Dutch people|Dutch
who first perfected techniques of war finance capable of sustaining an
enormous army almost indefinitely. The cost of the war with Spain from
1621 until 1648 steadily increased... but there was not a single mutiny or
financial crisis. On the contrary, in an emergency, the Dutch Republic
could raise a loan of 1 million florins at only 3 percent in two days. The
key to this effortless financial power was, in part, the enormous wealth of
Amsterdam, which by 1650 was the undisputed commercial and financial
capital of Europe; but it was equally the good faith of the Dutch
government, which always paid interest and repaid capital on time. This
combination enabled the Dutch to raise an army and go on fighting, whatever
the cost, until they got their own way: something no previous government had
been able to do. (...) Thanks to all these improvements, by the first decade
of the eighteenth century the major wars of Europe involved some 400,000 men
on each side, and major battles involved up to 100,000." - Geoffrey Parker,
''Spain and the Netherlands 1559-1659''. Fontana/Collins, 1979, pp.

Theoretically, Adam Smith, Ricardo and Marx explained that "monopoly" and
"competition" are twins, insofar as competition begets monopolies which try
to block competition, and monopolies beget competitors which try to break
the monopoly. So both competition and monopolies always co-exist. For this
reason, the concept of "monopoly capital" doesn't make much theoretical

When Lenin tried to theorize "the most recent stage of capitalism", he was
clearly thinking of new developments of capitalism which were not fully
anticipated in Marx's "Capital". Yet, his diagnosis of quantitative and
qualitative changes is not really linked at all to Marx's analysis of
capital, it is more a sort of empirical description. Point is, even as an
empirical description it simply isn't very good, other than e.g. that the
world was being carved up into "spheres of influence" etc. (but that process
was also already ongoing before the 1870s). The majority of criteria
which Lenin chose to periodize his imperialist epoch have been shown to
be erroneous by historians.

The main difference between Lenin/Luxemburg and Kautsky/Schumpeter was that
for the latter, imperialism was essentially a state policy and, as such, a
political option, a political choice. For Schumpeter, in fact, imperialism
had non-capitalist or pre-capitalist sources, it could in fact be considered
a sort of abberation for the functioning of the capitalist economy.
Lenin/Luxemburg aimed to explain, that the imperialist state policy wasn't
simply an option, but a necessary and inevitable political outcome of the
expansion of the capitalist mode of production and the world market.
If business expanded internationally, the bourgeois state had a stake in
foreign territories, it had interests abroad to defend, and it could not
very well not defend them.

But from this it does not follow that imperialism is a "stage in the
of capitalism" and not a state policy. Namely, imperialism is inextricably
bound up with the whole history of capitalism, and the assertion of
imperialism occurred primarily by commercial and military methods which were
sanctioned or facilitated by the state. Without state power foreign
commercial interests could not be secured and defended.

Patrick O'Brien, the conscientious British historian, complained that
Marxist theories of imperialism do not hold water, for example because the
British state never made money out of the empire and in fact lost money (the
empire cost more money than it yielded) - so the story that money-making was
a motive for imperialism must be wrong. But of course British business and
its business partners made a lot of money out of it. It's the same today.
The Democrats headed by Stiglitz said the Iraq war will cost the US state $3
trillion in total, an enormous loss of funds which could have been better
spent. But of course what they forget is that that three trillion is also
for numerous capitalists, including Democratic capitalists.
The war is lucrative and job-creating, it's a whole new market,
and on that ground alone it would get support, even although in the end the
taxpayers foot the bill. It is merely a special case of "privatising gains
and socialising losses" where how you view things depends on how you do the
account. If there are more losses than gains, that is very sad, but if the
are mine and the losses are yours, I am quite happy although maybe I
can pink a tear sympathising with your loss.

I agree that there can be "many narratives" about imperialism which can
all have a kernel of truth, I don't deny this obviously. But I think that
by the time that veteran self-proclaimed Marxists recommend supporting
the imperialists as an anti-imperialist strategy, the narratives have
an absurdity. It's like "cutting your nose off to spite your face".

Suppose you work for a boss who exploits you to the bone. A fight
breaks out between the boss and his manager because the boss thinks that
the manager is doing a lousy job, and the boss fires the manager in order
to appoint a new manager and restructure business operations. What are
you going to say: "I love my boss, because he is graciously providing
me with a new manager"? Or are you likely to think: "a plague on both
your houses, this conflict only means more work and trouble for me"?.
By the time veteran Marxist professors offer themselves as dildo's
for Hilary Clinton's "inclusive foreign policy", I think there is something
gone badly wrong.


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Received on Fri Mar 25 19:20:45 2011

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