I was born in 1951. I was in my early teens when the American war in Vietnam started to become news. I just missed out on being old enough or exposed directly enough to be fully caught up in the 60s radicalisation, but it was the 60s all the same that framed the picture of the world that I gazed upon and eventually engaged with. The 60s was a period of multiple, myriad, kaleidoscopic, even hallucinogenic angles of gaze and questioning. Engagement with social and political realities exploded with militant protest movements, subversive culture and the sharing of songs hitherto without voices.
Imperialism & Monopoly Capital
The contemporary world economy has become more highly integrated than ever before. Supply chains for complex products can sometimes span dozens of countries. Yet the benefits from this global production system still fall mostly to the capitalist rulers of just a handful of rich, imperialist countries. As a result of their monopolistic position in global production and world trade the imperialist societies have secured levels of wealth, income and social development immensely higher than all other countries – the so called “Third World”.
Speaking at a rally in Florida in May 2019, United States President Donald Trump told his supporters, “We won’t back down until China stops cheating our workers and stealing our jobs. And that’s what’s going to happen. Otherwise, we don’t have to do business with them. We can make the product right here, if we have to, like we used to.”
Almost 100 years after it was written, Lenin’s classic Marxist theory of imperialism, principally articulated in his book Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, remains the best framework to understand capitalism’s international political economy. Subsequent capitalist development shows the key aspects of Lenin’s thesis to be correct.
In a December 1915 introduction to Bolshevik theorist Nikolai Bukharin’s book Imperialism and World Economy, Lenin wrote: “There had been an epoch of a comparatively ‘peaceful capitalism’, when it had overcome feudalism in the advanced countries of Europe and was in a position to develop comparatively tranquilly and harmoniously, ‘peacefully’ spreading over tremendous areas of still unoccupied lands, and of countries not yet finally drawn into the capitalist vortex. Of course, even in that epoch, marked approximately by the years 1871 and 1914, ‘peaceful’ capitalism created conditions of life that were very far from being really peaceful both in the military and in a general class sense.
”The three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy [are] to prevent collusion and maintain security among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.”. This statement was not made by an official in the ancient Roman imperial bureaucracy. It was made by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a central figure in the US foreign policy elite, national security adviser to us President Jimmy Carter and chief architect of Washington’s policy of creating a network of fanatically anti-communist Islamic terrorists to spearhead the counter-revolutionary war against the Afghan workers and peasants’ government in the late 1970s.
”The three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy [are] to prevent collusion and maintain security among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.”1 This statement was not made by an official in the ancient Roman imperial bureaucracy. It was made by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a central figure in the US foreign policy elite, national security adviser to us President Jimmy Carter and chief architect of Washington’s policy of creating a network of fanatically anti-communist Islamic terrorists to spearhead the counter-revolutionary war against the Afghan workers and peasants’ government in the late 1970s.
During the first imperialist world war, a trend began to emerge among the Russian revolutionary Marxists that argued that since national oppression could not be abolished without an economic revolution against imperialism and capitalism, Marxists did not need to concern themselves with the problems of a political revolution to achieve democracy. Instead, the “nascent trend of imperialist Economism” (as Lenin characterised it) argued that all that was needed to abolish national oppression was the anti-capitalist economic revolution, i.e., the socialist revolution.
A lot has been written, and will doubtless continue to be written, about how Marx’s theory of capitalist development is a relic of a bygone era, irrelevant for understanding the complex dynamics of the “globalised”, “post-industrial”, “financialised” capitalism that is supposed to have emerged only at the end of the 20th century. Contemporary capitalism, however, can only be scientifically understood using Marx’s theory of capitalist development.
The term “imperialism” came into common usage in England in the 1890s as a development of the older term “empire” by the advocates of a major effort to extend the British Empire in opposition to the policy of concentrating on national economic development, the supporters of which the advocates of imperialism dismissed as “Little Englanders”. The term was rapidly taken into other languages to describe the contest between rival European states to secure colonies and spheres of influence in Africa and Asia, a contest that dominated international politics from the mid-1880s to 1914, and caused this period to be named the “age of imperialism”.