Re: [OPE] fascism / opposing imperialist military interventioninLibya

From: Jurriaan Bendien <>
Date: Wed Apr 06 2011 - 19:52:59 EDT

Hi Paula,

Imperialism is I think essentially about an unequal power relationship between different countries which permits one or more of them to dominate others. People know very well that such a relationship exists, and that is why they keep referring to "imperialism", in particular of course where national sovereignity seems to be under attack.

I don't pretend though that my very brief and general "definition" of the concept of imperialism constitutes anything like an "analysis" of imperialism. Nor do I believe that analytical rigour resides merely in a close definition of terms. In order to understand imperialism, you have to look very specifically at how a people or a nation seeks to impose its will, interests, influence on subject nations or peoples. You have to explain how that unequal power relationship arises, and what maintains it. And this has not just economic aspects, but involves political, cultural, legal, military, technological and even geographical aspects.

Let's say you want to explain the decision to bomb Libya and invade that country. It would be absurd to attribute the cause simply to the "logic of capital", although business interests worth billions of dollars are an obvious candidate for consideration. It involved a whole range of other considerations - military, geostrategic, geopolitical, moral, commercial, communicative etc. The state makes a certain "concrete analysis of the concrete situation", decides a policy out of available options, and then wraps the policy in a suitable rhetorical package justifying it to the general public.

That is to say, that any "abstract" consideration of imperialism really does no justice at all to the real "making of history" for which you need to know a lot of factual details. At most the abstract definition can provide some guidance in studying the developments, and suggest how the facts ought to be ordered and interpreted for their significance.

A good question to ask, I think, is: if imperialism is the answer, what is the question? What is it that needs to be explained, and what does the explaining?

I htink Lenin aimed to explain that (among other things):

- capitalism necessarily leads to imperialism,
- imperialism necessarily ushers in an era of wars and revolutions
- imperialism is the biggest obstacle to the solidarity of the global working class
- capitalist imperialism follows a specific pattern of unequal development related to te contingencies of capital accumulation
- understanding imperialism is of critical importance for a correct policy on the national question in many regions of the world

Nobody disputes that Lenin highlighted important trends. The dispute is rather about whether the criteria which Lenin uses to mark out an "imperialist stage" of capitalism are scientifically defensible. And it turns out that they are not, meaning that Lenin didn't in truth define so well the specificity of the epoch, since the characteristics he mentions are not only specific to that epoch, or don't quite have the significance he assigns to them.

The question which the New Left tried to explain was primarily why rich countries are rich, and poor countries are poor. This was in the context of a burgeoning field of "development economics" which emerged after decolonization.

Generally, from the bourgeois point of view, imperialism ended when colonies gained their independence. The dispute then is whether imperialism can exist without colonies. Many New Left theorists have argued that it can and does exist - a sort of neo-colonialism occurs (there are different intellectual traditions offering various arguments).



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Received on Wed Apr 6 19:54:45 2011

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