[OPE-L:1480] Re: imperialism

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Fri, 15 Oct 1999 08:56:33 -0400 (EDT)

Re Jurriaan's [OPE-L:1477]:

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).

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. There are problems, though, with such a (what I
would call) "trans-historical" definition. The chief problem being that
there is no delineation between "imperialism" in the pre-modern
(pre-capitalist) period and an "imperialism" associated with the
character of capitalism (or a "period" of capitalist history). 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".

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.e. just as capital exists not only as simple unity, but as diversity
(competition) and unity-in-diversity, so too when we consider the state,
there is not a single state, but many states with distinct ands separate
interests. Of course, capitalist nations also have common interests
(unity-in-diversity) that include the extension of capitalist relations
globally and the suppression of revolutionary movements of the working
class. 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)

Yet, this needs to be drawn out more. And it needs to be drawn out more at
levels of abstraction associated with the state, foreign trade, and the
world market and crisis. (I know: I must sound like a broken record).

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).

5) I agree with the thrust of your remarks on Lenin's _Imperialism_.
It has to be remembered that it was intended as a "popular outline" rather
than a major theoretical work. Also, I have been told that a more accurate
rendering of the translation of the title of Lenin's pamphlet is
_Imperialism: The Latest Stage of Capitalism_. Note that the difference
in translation between "latest" and "last" is significant.

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.

In solidarity, Jerry


> 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.

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