100 Years of Lenin’s Essay “Imperialism is the higher stage of capitalism”
Swadesh Kumar Sinha
Lenin wrote his famous essay “Imperialism is the higher stage of capitalism” from January - June 1916 in Zurich, Switzerland. Lenin had seen the new features emerging with the development of capitalism much before the First World War broke. Before the eighth decade of 19th century, capitalism was at the stage of free competition. After this the free competition smoothly transformed into monopoly at a fast pace. In his essay, Lenin proved that the First World War (1914-18) was actually an imperialist war from both sides. This war was fought for the division of the world, re-investments, enlarge the fiscal capital influence areas, capital distribution and redistribution among the imperialist powers. This war was the result of the modern monopoly capitalism and it proved that as far as there exists a private ownership of the means of production, imperialist wars are inevitable. “Capitalism today has evolved into a new world order of venomous financial grip of colonial loot and exploitation of vast colonial population of the world by a handful of ‘developed nations’. The booty of the loot is being distributed amongst two or three (America, Britain, Japan) most powerful dacoits backed by large military and lethal weapons.” They are dragging the entire world into this war of dividing this loot (This part is quoted from Lenin’s essay “Imperialism is the higher stage of capitalism”)
The rise of imperialism and its economic, political characteristics
Summing up and compiling this entire world’s historic development process, some major facts can be underlined in the form of few distinct characteristics of this period. Firstly, capital governed the entire world. Secondly, a capitalist world developed through a combination of western Europe, America and Japan. Thirdly, in these countries Capitalist National States’ rose. Fourthly, the world was divided into dominions. Nations of Asia, Africa, Latin America became dominions of some or the other capitalist nations. Fifth, during this process the capitalist nations completed a whole journey of colonial loot to capital export generated from business. Capital entered the dominions and literally broke the thousand years of running natural economy; a new colonial setup was started whereby capital generation techniques and processes were developed in such a limited and restrictive manner only to an extent which were beneficial to the colonialists. These countries colonialism actually converted into half-feudalism. Both orders continued, however colonialism ruled supreme. Sixth, during this time three types of socio-economic structures existed. First, capitalist social economic structure, which existed in western Europe, America and Japan. Second was a capitalist socio-economic structure with strong feudal remains. This was prevalent in eastern Europe, Russia, Spain, Portugal and Greece. In these capitalist national states were in the process of rising. Third one was the colonial social structure in which the capitalist framework was very much existing. Towards the end of this period the stage of Capitalism got converted to Imperialism. In this period, in February 1917 Burjua populist revolution started in Russia and in October, the same year under the leadership of Sarvhaara, world’s first socialist revolution happened. Here it is of prime importance to know that Russia was not a developed capitalist country yet. Contrary to the speculation of Karl Marx, the first socialist revolution took place in Russia instead of France, Britain or Germany where production powers were backward and a national market was under the process of formation. Russian revolution left a deep imprint upon the world. It greatly influenced and strengthened the struggles for national liberation in colonies against imperialism or feudalism.
With the Second World War, Britain who was competent enough to maintain its dominating position and influence in the First World War began losing its power. In the end of Second World War Russia, whose red army had defeated the fascist powers of Germany, emerged as a super power. On the other hand, after the war America replaced Britain & Europe from the leading position in the capitalist world. Germany, Japan and Italy were ruined and most of Europe was devastated. Britain had suffered great loss and was on the verge of Bankruptcy. Only America came out safe from the fire of war, except the bombardment of Pearl Harbor by Japan. Continuous supply of arms and ammunitions by America to its friendly nations contributed for emerging the world out of recession of the fourth decade and in forgetting the nightmares and pessimism of those years. American industries were prospering because they were saved from the destruction of war, rather getting others for the supply of arms and ammunitions during the war. After the war devastated Europe, especially Germany and Japan, were the opportune sites for the American investment capital.
This varied economic reality and power balance was codified in the “Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944”. The power of dollar gold standard was applied in the global finance system. Power of dollar was recognized by the capitalist world. On the other side after the war, a strong socialist block was established whose power was increasing fast. The victorious Russia, who had defeated the fascist Germany, was now a great power. People’s democratic states were formed in the countries of Eastern Europe. In 1949 under the leadership of Mao Tse Dung, a national democratic revolution took place in China. This was the first revolution in a backward and underdeveloped country by a party with peasant’s leadership. Here it is to be noted that all the countries of Asia, China, North Korea, Cambodia, Laos and Cuba, a Latin American country, wherever revolution succeeded, were backward, underdeveloped and not developed, capitalist countries. Russia itself was under the process of capitalist development at the eve of revolution.
In the decade of nineties, in Soviet Russia and all the countries of Eastern Europe, socialist states were declined. In 1976, with the death of Mao Tse Tung Ki, capitalist restoration occurred in China too. There is no socialist block in the world today. Of course, state of Cuba and North Korea are known to be socialist states, but they also cannot be said basically socialist. Their sovereignty actually depends only on their military power.
Today, America has emerged as the only Super power of the unipolar globe, but it is to be kept in mind that within one or rather say half century, the world has changed completely. After the independence of ‘South Africa’ and ‘Namibia’, the age of direct colonialism has ended completely. Today it is impossible to make an old type colony and neither is it needed. In some exceptional countries like Iraq and Afghanistan too, colonialist America could not maintain its direct power for long. In today’s world, the colonialism is totally obsolete and the new world structures are born based on the ‘Independent Sovereign State’. In these independent nation states, feudal structures are broken and capitalist structures are formed. Capital is running smoothly throughout the globe, having no obstacles in the way. It is for the first time that capitalism has spread its roots in every nook and corner of the world. In these countries, feudal values are present deep in the superstructures of course, but those are not an obstacle for the capital flow. On looking at the main features of today’s imperialism we see the below mentioned tendencies to be prominent.
The birth of Sovereign nation states:
Nation states are politically independent today. Situation of twisting hands, imposing sanctions, threats by imperialist countries occur occasionally, but this is not the main aspect. Dominance of America over the world as a military power is a reality, but it is also a fact that it is the biggest debtor country in the world. Countries like China, India, Mexico and Brazil have emerged as big economies. They also are partners in the loot of Asia, Africa and Lain America. Many companies and corporations of China and India are becoming vast multinational corporations rapidly. In 2015 itself Indian multinational companies have invested 15 Arab dollars in America, creating 91,000 jobs there. Several Indian corporate companies are participating in the loot of Africa. The people of Africa are fighting against the loot of some of these companies. The all powerful America has faced humiliation by such small countries as Iran, Cuba and North Korea. Inspite of sanctions imposed by United Nations backed by America, North Korea is still going ahead with its ‘atomic and missile programs.’ America is compelled to lift the sanctions from the ‘long range missile programs’ of Iran according to their terms and conditions. Thus we see that the nations are neither the comprador nor the commission agents of imperialism, as many leftist thinkers and political parties say.
Globalization of Capital:
By the 90s, most of the independent nations of third world have opened their door for flowing in the foreign capital smoothly, removing all the border restrictions. This opening was named as globalization. We can understand it much easily in reference to India. After the liberation from the colonial enslavement, the capitalist of most of the newly independent countries needed savings of their people for initial capital formation. For this, the mixed economy, blending public and private capitalism, was established. According to this, huge Public Enterprises were incorporated with people’s money (public finance). By the 90s, people’s private capitalists were now full of confidence and mixed economy was no more needed, rather it was now an obstacle. So in the decade of 90s, policies of quota and permit of Nehru – ages was abandoned and, in the name of structural adjustments all the hurdles from the way of multinational capital were removed. Special economic zones (SEZ) were established in countries like India and China. No normal laws, inducing labor laws are binding here. Infact, middle class has grown in these countries, which is bigger than the total population of Europe. The investment opportunities in the western world are vanishing fast, but in the third world countries there is a wide scope for capital investments. Twenty five years of liberalization have passed away and a majority population of farmers, shopkeepers and other members of the lower middle class are dispossessed and have got ruined. But all the national and regional parties promote these policies, leaving some minor disputes aside. A big chunk of middle class also supports their policies, as they have been actual beneficiaries of this liberalization.
Expansion of the capitalist democracy:
No system is better than the democracy for the uninterrupted expansion of capital and keeping the people unrest under control. In 2011 and 2012, the Jasmine revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and other Arabian territories were aimed at establishing there, the capitalist democrats. Its wind is blowing in whole of the world today. Ruling class of many military ruled states and other repressionary regimes are compelled to give their people democracy rights.
Rise of protectionism, religious fundamentalism and fascism:
All these three tendencies are visible simultaneously in the contemporary world. It is an expression of expanding economic and social crisis of imperialism. In Europe and America, rise of extreme rightist parties of its own kind is visible. In about a dozen countries, blind nationalist parties and leaders have become strong. Not considering the real reason behind the pessimism cloud and doubt, these party leaders are declaring some pseudo enemy, the actual culprit. They are making noise about the flood of immigrants, the weakening of free competition in trade, the danger to the national boundary and national culture from these immigrants and other intruders. Donald Trump in America, National Party front and its leader Marine Leapen in France, Girt Bildars of Nederland, Vlams Block of Belgium, freedom party of Austria, Sweden democrats and Denis party of Denmark are among these parties and leaders. Popularity of such type of parties is increasing rapidly in Poland, Hungary and Turkey also. In America, “Donald Trump” who is far ahead in the process of the selection of the republican candidate for president ship, is demanding the ban upon Muslim immigrants naming them as dangerous for the civil security and American cultural identity. Today, in western Asia, Middle east and Africa, Islamic orthodox extremist movement ‘Boko-haram’, ‘Al-Qaida’, ‘Islamic State (IS)’ have created instability from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan to Syria, Iraq, Libya, Turkey, Tanzania, Egypt. These organizations and their terrorist activities have created in whole of these areas, a frightening crisis. In Myanmar (Burma), Buddhist extremists are rising fast. The Buddhist extremist leader ‘Viratu’ is called the ‘Osama bin Laden’ of Myanmar. His followers are killing Muslims on a large scale.
Fascism and extremism are easily cultivated in capitalist democracies. In history, we have seen this in both Italy and Germany. Today India is a notorious example of this phenomenon. Here, the fascist party BJP of RSS family has become victorious and is in power today. It is sowing deep, the seeds of hatred against the leftist, rationalists and minorities in full speed. Many a leftist organization and thinkers believe that America and Western Europe are the only responsible countries for the spread of Muslim fundamentalism in west Asia and whole of the world. Though, this thought is one sided, however it is true that, in the 90s, America was supplying arms and ammunition to Taliban and Al-Qaida in Afghanistan against the Soviet military and helping them to fight out the soviet army. But we must not forget the Shia-Sunni tussle in Islamic world of 14th Century as a source of Islamic States and Al-Qaida. Today terrorists of Islamic State are the killing Kurds and Shia Muslims on a large scale. If these terrorists are dreaming of a Sunni Khalifat, one must see that behind the curtain, Iran and Saudi Arabia are playing their Shia-sunni Cards. Many a leftist organizations take them as the enemy of imperialism and asked to support them. They must not forget the lesson of 1979, when in Iran, communists had supported the orthodox Khumaini for the Islamic revolution against Shah, who just after coming to power suppressed and assassinated the communists. Today collaboration of America, Britain and other western powers together with Russia are bombarding heavily the power zones of Islamic State, using ultra-modern fighter plane and drones, in Syria, Libya, Iraq and thus pushing the world towards a grave crisis.
Rise of information and Cultural Imperialism:
in last 2 decades, in the developed capitalist countries, especially in America, Computer, Tele-communication, Internet and mobile phones have revolutionized the face of the world. The world has become a ‘global village’ due to ‘Information Technology’. The use of this technology in war especially that of man less drone, has changed the whole scenario of the war. Many sociologists are naming this phenomenon as the ‘Information Imperialism” or “Cultural Hegemony’. The western world is imposing a culture, language and thoughts of its own kind on whole of the world. Round the clock running television channels are promoting consumerism globally. But if the imperialists are getting advantage of this information technology, the agents of social change are also using it. In the recent years, the movements for democracy in Arabian world too were benefited with the same information technology.
The probabilities of the struggle against imperialism today:
By thoroughly analyzing the state of the world today, it is quite clear that Lenin’s explanation of imperialism given in 1916 is still valid today in its economical aspect. Monopoly of Capital has been expanded manifold. All imperialism is not a monolith, even today. It is infected with serious contradictions. Deepening contradictions and quick repetitions of recession continuously are worsening the crisis. Feudalism and colonialism are being rubbed off from the canvas and capitalism has actually engulfed the world. All the previous revolutions, whether in Russia, China or other countries of Asia and Latin America, succeeded during the periods of worst crisis of the capitalism. But today the situation has been changed. Wherever the next great revolution will succeed, it will be the first revolution, directly against capitalism and against a democratic state of this or that kind. Lenin wrote that ‘Imperialism means war.’ Today too, this is a true saying. Today regional wars and civil wars are a norm in the entire world, which are nothing less than a world war destruction and pain. The grave problem of refugees from the war torn areas of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Tanzania, Sudan etc. is reflecting this reality well. The imperialist system of hyper exploitation under the American leadership (which is engaged in armed intervention and drone war in more than a dozen countries simultaneously and which is planning to invest about 200 Arab Dollars in the next decade for modernizing it’s nuclear war heads) is creating a dangerous volatile situation at the global stage endangering probability of various kind of wars. Even change in climate and environment deterioration is enhancing the probability of wars. Though only the climate change may cause the total devastation of our planet and human civilization. In the words of Lenin, in this situation, it is the duty of left that, they “face not only the economical but the political, national and all other contradictions, struggles, anger too,” which are continuously becoming the norms of our time. It means to create and expand such bold and militant global movement from ground level, whose main challenge will be to save the human society from the total destruction viz. imperialism which is understood as the foundation stone of capitalism of our times.
In the ‘communist manifesto’ written by Marx and Engels in 1848, Marx had called the proletariat to wage a war, against the regimes of capitalism in their countries, aiming at the building of a horizontal, equalitarian peaceful and stable social system, controlled by the united producers of the world themselves.
(This essay is based upon the writer’s own study and deliberations with other scholars. Readers are invited to participate in the discourse on the topics and matters raised in the essay)
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