Marx studied capitalism thoroughly but he did not live to see its transformation into imperialism. Lenin’s greatest contribution to Marxist theory is the research into and characterization of this particular, higher stage of capitalism. Practically all the great strategies of Leninism derive from this analysis of reality.
Lenin synthesises his analysis as follows:
“It is necessary to start by defining as exactly and thoroughly as possible what imperialism is. Imperialism is a special historic phase of capitalism that has three peculiarities, imperialism is (1) monopolist capitalism (2) it is parasitic or decadent capitalism (3) it is an agonising capitalism. The substitution of free trade by monopolies is a fundamental economic feature, the essence of imperialism. Monopolism is manifested in three main ways: 1) cartels, consortiums and trusts 2) monopolist substitution of banks 3) take-over of raw material sources by the trust 4) this is the beginning of the (economic) sharing out of world between the international cartels 5) This is the end of the territorial sharing out of the world (colonies).”1
All these elements have now reached the peak of their development during what has become known as “globalisation” without a qualitative change in the imperialist system : the domination of the world by transnationals is being completed with all the fury of neoliberalism, with three or four huge internationals dominating in each one of the main productive branches (petrochemistry, car engineering, informatics, weapons, food, etc.) The banks monopolise most of the profit of these companies, capturing “productive” capital but also “speculative”, which is the highlight of neoliberalism. The take over of raw material sources and the sharing out of the colonial world has already taken place and a sharing out is looming over the horizon in order to let the transnationals master the colonial and semicolonial countries more directly and thoroughly. What now appears in front of our eyes is the recolonisation of the world, and that has also been one of the guidelines of neoliberalism.
Imperialism is a world system of colonial oppression and financial strangling of the vast majority of the planet’s population by a handful of “developed” countries in the service of huge transnationals and a handful of magnates.
Internationalisation of production has reached a level never heard of before, using all the wealth of the globe to produce goods, all the productive processes are coordinated (within the scope of the transnationals, and yet not ending the anarchy of capitalist production) within the international milieu.
According to Lenin, this change in the stage from capitalism to imperialism represents also a change in the historic epoch, the step was taken from the childhood of capitalism (free competition) of a relatively peaceful development, to the adult (or rather senile) phase of the monopolies, of imperialism, an epoch of great class confrontations, wars and revolutions.
This system of exploitation and oppression, while it rests on private property of the means of production (private enterprise) cannot avoid wars that stem out naturally from wars for markets and raw materials. It is the power of the weapons what ultimately decides about the needs of the imperialist system. This has been proved with two world wars, in several counterrevolutionary wars and in colonial wars. For the latest evidence it should be enough to watch the invasion of Iraq in the service of the transnationals and American banks, whose owners on the day after Bagdad fell were clicking their heels in the air for joy.
Today this characterisation of imperialism seems simple, but at the turn of the XX century, there was an image, for example, that imperialism was a policy and that it did not have deep roots in the economy and the emerging of monopolies. Even then, many including Kautsky (as early as 1915) thought that the “orientation” could be changed. There are many today who wish to fight against neoliberalism without fighting imperialism, as if imperialism is not a system but an economic guideline that can be fixed by swapping Bush for Kerry. But they are wrong. Reformism is the general reason while they are out of government, but as soon as they reach the top they conclude that “globalisation is unavoidable” and bury the axe because they do not want to fight against the system.
In those days (1915-1929) the big fight was against reformist social democrats, the grandfathers of Blair, Shroeder and Lula, who were leaders of massive workers parties, especially the German party. Kautsky, one of the most important social democratic leaders in Germany, the fatherland of Marxism, challenged Lenin offering a different vision of the development of capitalism. His theory of “super imperialism” posed that the internationalisation of capital would bring forth peace among peoples as a result of harmonisation of world production conquered by the trusts (today’s transnationals). That is, the confrontation between different imperialisms about the distribution of the world’s wealth would be replaced by the general exploitation by financial capital united at an international level. What this theory did was attempt to prove what cannot be proven, that under the domination of financial capital contradictions would diminish instead of increasing. The reality of the world wars overthrew this illusion that has served to justify the treason of the leaders who supported “their” bourgeois in the imperialist wars.
Today the Italian Toni Negri follows the same path that Kautsky tread, in his opinion there is no more imperialism but an “empire of the capital” that no longer has nationality or home offices; that left its territorial base (national State) and no longer needs a state as a warrant for these enterprises which allegedly are no longer American, German of Japanese. The contradictions of the system are played down and we advance towards control by supranational organisations as superstructures of the “empire”. Again, these “theories” have little to with real life and represent a capitulation to imperialism, as they help to mask its domination.
The Imperialist state is vital to guarantee this dominion of transnational enterprises of which 85% are American and European. Force is essential to share out the world and colonise it and that is why imperial armed forces – including blue helmets of the UNO – are used more than ever to impose control over the planet’s sources of raw material. That is why the USA has troops in 180 countries today.
“Globalisation” is precisely “imperialism” according to Lenin’s scientific definition made in 1916. It is not a new stage of capitalism but a step towards the internationalisation of world production and a further step in decadence.
The new recolonisation of the world comes hand in hand with colonial wars which prove that Toni Negri’s argument is false. The National state is strong and valid as a guarantee of the domination of the world by transnational enterprises and banks. Also, governments are direct agents of these enterprises, examine the close relations between Bush and his staff with his oil companies.
“Imperialism is agonising capitalism”: many say that this is an exaggeration of Lenin’s that has been disproved over time. Those who say this either live in a bubble (those who live in the USA must notice the decadence and poverty of entire sectors of the population, especially Negroes and immigrants) or are fetishists who fool themselves with the beautiful facade of consumer society. In this case it is worth taking into account what Marx said, that in capitalism the beauty of the goods turns into the malnutrition of man and nature.
The alternative for today’s world is either socialism (destruction of imperialism by means of a violent revolution of workers from the cities and countryside) or the imperialist barbarism of war and destruction. It is enough to see the famines and epidemics in areas of Africa or the depth of poverty in all the large cities.
As a by-product of the imperialist assault against the peoples of the world. the recolonising greed and wars of colonial and class domination, a revolutionary situation is being spawned in the entire world and that places proletarian revolutions on the agenda for several countries beginning with colonial and semicolonial countries. Imperialism, for all its power, with the greatest military apparatus ever imagined, is unable to defeat countries such as Iraq or the Palestinian Intifada.
Workers movement divided into reformists and revolutionaries
The advent of imperialism changed the entire world. It transformed the “order” of things in all aspects of life. Imperialism corrupted part of the workers’ movement beginning with its summit, a sector of “worker aristocracy” and important segments of the intelligentsia. This bourgeoising, which began in England, was the result of the colonial looting of a small section which was distributed among the oppressed classes of imperialist countries. This created a veritable layer of “agents” of the bourgeoisie within worker movement. “It is the section bribed with surplus imperialist profit.”
“Bourgeoisie has already begotten, has created and insured reformist ‘bourgeois workers parties’ all over the world… from the economic point of view it has grown up and the passing from worker aristocracy to bourgeois has been fulfilled… On the economic base, political institutions of modern capitalism – press, parliament, trade unions, congresses, etc – have created benefits and political privileges in correspondence with the economic ones for respectful, meek, reformist employees… imperialist bourgeoisie lures and rewards representatives and followers of “bourgeois worker parties” with profitable and soothing posts in a government, parliament, commission, leadership of trade unions… The mechanism of political democracy acts in the same direction.”2
This purchased workers aristocracy has become the social base for the massive opportunist parties of the II International and in this way, the social support for the bourgeoisie. This was graphically verified when in 1914, the great European mass workers parties supported “their” bourgeoisies in WWI, forsaking the proletarian internationalism defined in the Communist Manifesto to defend the posture that workers should kill other workers in defence of “their” fatherlands.
The political guidelines of this opportunist trend can be summed up as follows: substitute class struggle with class cooperation, forsake dictatorship of proletariat and give way to “defence of democracy”, forsake revolutionary struggle and place the emphasis on “legal”, parliamentary actions and on scepticism about revolution.
Reformism is a trend planted inside workers and social movements in order to deceive the poor. When the bourgeoisie “grants” a reform, they will always try to remove it as soon as possible and use it to confuse, cheat and divide workers. No reform is sufficiently durable to keep its own under capitalism. Bourgeois will attempt to corrupt a section of the working class in order to perpetuate salaried slavery. Yet history has proven repeatedly that the great reforms were collateral products of struggles and revolutions, nevertheless under no circumstances have they been achieved through summit negotiations. For example, the revolutionary post-WWII ascent which jeopardized power across Europe, forced imperialism to “grant” the “welfare state”, that is still there and which European bourgeoisie is trying to erode and destroy.
Reformism (and reformists) never actually achieve serious reform, the opposite is true, they are the undertakers of reforms. Wherever we look we see bourgeoisie and members of parliament (reformist and neoliberal) negotiating the end of the reforms in exchange for 30 gold coins.
The new phase of capitalism, an epoch of wars and revolutions, with the corruption of a sector of the working class, generated a split in the workers’ movement which put an end to the days of “only one” working class party which prevailed throughout the whole period of “peaceful” capitalist development. Since then, the mass movement has divided into those who support the reformist parties (social democrats) with loose functioning and the emergence of revolutionary parties, with democratically centralised functioning. Apart from that, a whole span of intermediate trends appeared, whom Lenin called “honest” centrists or reformists, which is the worst type because with their “good” intentions they more easily cheat workers.
It is the centrists who are the last “barrier” keeping the revolutionary advanced guard away from the task of building a genuine Leninist party. As reformists are burnt out in the eyes of the masses because their treason to the proletariat becomes obvious, centrists try to attract those sectors who begin to break away from reformism and fool them with “semi-split”, reforms and bourgeoisie. These are the worst enemies that the workers’ revolutionary movement can have because they squeeze into the socialist, Marxist, revolutionary rank and file disguised with protective colours.
How does reformism manage to deceive workers?
“Reformism adapts itself to bourgeois parliamentarism, masking the bourgeois character of contemporary democracy and claiming only for its amplification, its full application”3
Today, this is the demand of all the “leftist” reformers and intellectuals: “radical democracy”, “extension of democracy”. Now the United Secretariat of the IV International has invented “unlimited democracy” and thus become the extreme left wing …. of bourgeois democracy!!!!!
The main lesson extracted by Lenin, the one that changes all the activity of any organisation of workers’ movement is that, ever since the emergence of imperialism and the corruption of part of the class by the bourgeoisie, another Marxist principle must be added to the fundamental Marxist principle of fighting against bourgeoisie and imperialism: the most dogged struggle against the agents of bourgeoisie inside the mass movement.
“There is no doubt that this struggle is the main immediate problem of the International. Struggle against imperialism that is not firmly linked to struggle against opportunism is a hollow phrase or a deceit.4 These elements are our class enemies. They have crossed over to the bourgeois camp… they are bourgeois inside the workers’ movement.5 They are “imperialists”.
That is why Lenin guided an international struggle not only to a political rupture, something that many would agree to in those days, but also a general split away from the viewpoint or organisation, form separate parties and a new International, the III, that was to replace the II International, which, a Rose Luxemburg put it, had become “a foul-smelling corpse”.
The split is so deep that it reaches – as it naturally is bound to – the very social base of the organisations. While the base of the reformist parties is workers’ aristocracy, the base of the revolutionary parties should e. according to Lenin, the uncorrupted “lower mass” and go “lower down, deeper, to the real grassroots”.
All this process of corruption that took place in the XIX century and beginnings of the XX was enlarged by the corruption and bureaucratisation of an entire world-wide advance guard by the “bureaucratic Workers States”. The defeat of the European revolution and the isolation of the USSR generated an internal “counterrevolution” linked to the usurping bureaucracy, who drove workers out of power and drove them into the service of the privileged of the parasitic “caste” living of the worker organisms – not capitalist yet, but already bearing a deep degeneration at all the levels.
Furthermore, there was the long process of “relative” peace in the imperialist countries (European post war boom and the domination of the world by the United States) that generated huge profit, stemming out of exploitation and destruction, backwardness and slavery in the colonies, a small part of which was distributed among sectors of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries in what was known as “welfare state”- These crumbs created the dominion of the social democracy and to show up “social peace” and democracy in those countries. Most of today’s left, mainly that of the imperialist “civilised world” is the product of those 55 years of “peace” and “welfare” in the advanced countries and is the legitimate child of these leftovers of the imperialist banquet and that is why they are so easily caught by the imperialist “democracy”.
This objective fact, which generates – even among the grassroots of the advanced countries – the defence of “this” democracy as if it were an achievement, is a sincere feeling and it influenced the grassroots of the former workers states who embraced the bourgeois “democracy”, which – as could not have been otherwise – came hand in hand with the restoration of capitalism.
It is the objective facts of such vast magnitude what spawned this “unanimous” capitulation of the world left to “democracy”.
It is such events what led a major part of the European Trotskyist left to cross the class barrier: today the United Secretariat of the IV International and other formerly Trotskyist sectors are talking about building “new type” parties called anti-capitalist parties where the differences between reformist and revolutionaries would be erased from the awareness of the grassroots, and consequently what would also be erased is one of the major teaching of Lenin: “the first condition for an authentic communist is to break away from opportunism”
A leap in the distribution of the world and colonisation
From his study of imperialism Lenin concluded that one of the fundamental guidelines of the system was the oppression and exploitation of colonies, , even generating world wars, in order to guarantee a distribution of these colonies between the different imperialist bands. That is where he derived the following conclusion for the programme:
“… the central point in a social democratic programme should be the division into oppressing nations and oppressed nations, a division that boils down to the essence of imperialism.”6
That is where he asserts a programme that bravely defends the right to national self determination, including independence. This practice was incorporated after the Bolsheviks seized power and the right to self determination was guaranteed against the great Russian chauvinism and was decisive at the time of building up a free union around the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR). In a telegram to Kamenev in 1922 Lenin said: ”I declare relentless war against Russian chauvinism. I shall chew it up with all my sound teeth… We must insist that the CEC of the Federation be presided over by turns: a Russian, a Ukrainian, a Georgian…. We must!!!!”
In this way, the national revolution (of national liberation)becomes part of socialist revolution, which begins by warranting democratic tasks (national independence, distribution of land, etc.) of the revolution and leads up to expropriation of bourgeoisie as part of international socialist revolution.
This revolutionary strategy was the great merit of Bolshevism and Lenin and became, since the Russian revolution, it became a landmark in the struggle of colonial people.
It is necessary to be able to tell the difference between the nationalism of an oppressing country and the nationalism of an oppressed country, between the nationalism of a big nation and the nationalism of a small nation… Whoever fails to understand this does not understand the veritably proletarian and revolutionary attitude in the face of the national problem.”7
In those days, many revolutionaries were reluctant to defend the oppressed “nation” because the reformists of the II International had betrayed the working class in the name of the “defence of the fatherland”. Only that in that case the fatherland was imperialist, oppressing. Lenin tried to struggle and convince the entire international movement that the defence of an oppressed nation against the oppressing nation was the bounden duty of communists. He even challenged the pacifists when he said that there were two types of legitimate war, that were our wars: the war for the national independence against imperialism and the civil war, a class war, a revolution.
During the early post war, in 1945, revolution forced imperialism to “accept” the independence of several colonies in the world. The old saw about giving up some rings in order not to lose your fingers. But, as under capitalism no reform is there to stay, capitalism is trying to get back and to share out the world and place even the smallest corner on earth under the control of their multinationals. This is the recolonisation of the world.
It is the colonial structure that prevails once more. Such well-known imperialist plans neoliberalism are there to make sure that the “new” colonial structure is imposed: the “poor”, “backwards” countries are to specialise in producing raw material (or in the best of the cases, can be used as a platform for exports) that are sold cheap and then have to buy industrialised products at a very high price. In specialised areas generating a massive deficit in the public accounts. All the national patrimony is sold out to the transnationals enterprises, the infamous “loans” come in form the imperialist banks to fill the “gap” thus generating extreme dependence on those loans while all the production and commercialisation of these countries is in the service of sending money to the imperialist centres. All this economic structures are entitled to is total submissiveness to the IMF, World Bank, WTO and so on, fit for any political structure of “backward” countries. The fiendish mechanisms of colonial slavery are here again.
The relation between imperialist countries and colonial countries is the most manifest evidence of the decadence of capitalist system. Ever since the beginnings of capitalism no poor country can have, within the system, an independent development. Any and every country can only develop from the economic point of view it splits away from capitalism and imperialism. The USSR was the first example when it left behind its backward feudal features and became (in the days of its splendour) the second power on earth. Something similar can be said of China, Cuba, etc
With imperialism, capitalism loses all the progressive features and becomes absolutely reactionary. Simultaneously, with the emergence of imperialism, bourgeoisie no longer plays a progressive role as far as their own “bourgeois democratic revolution”. History bears witness to the fact that only the proletarian, socialist revolution can ensure the independence of colonial countries and the development of the productive forces which will take place under the proletarian regime.
The anti colonial revolution and national liberation becomes part of social international revolution. National liberation and social revolution flow into a single revolution: proletarian and socialist, headed by the working class, towing the poor of the countryside and the cities behind it.
This is the experience of the XX century that was up to a great extent guided by Lenin, of the Russian Revolution and the III International that unified the colonial peoples behind their demands.
1 Lenin, C.W. tome 30 page 170
2 Lenin, C.W. tome 30 page 182
3 Lenin, C.W. tome 37 page 301
4 Lenin, C.W. tome 30 page 145
5 Lenin, C-W. tome 31 page 180
6 Lenin, C,W. tome 27 page 66
7 Lenin, C.W. tome 45 page 375