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Issue #1805      November 29, 2017

Imperialism – Part 5

Beyond capitalism

In this, the final part of Anna Pha’s series on Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, she looks at how the biggest capitalist powers carved up the globe between themselves and the formation of internationalist monopolist associations. She then briefly covers changes since Lenin’s time and raises the question of the necessity of socialism.

One of the features that Lenin stated should be included in any definition of imperialism was the completion of the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers.

The economic interests of monopoly capitalists lie behind all of these coups, wars, invasions and regime changes.

During most of the 19th century free competition was dominant, reaching its limits in the 1860s and 1870s. “It is precisely after that period that the tremendous ‘boom’ in colonial conquests begins, and that struggle for the territorial division of the world becomes extraordinarily sharp. It is beyond doubt, therefore, that capitalism’s transition to the stage of monopoly capitalism, to finance capital, is connected with the intensification of the struggle for the partitioning of the world. (Lenin, V, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Progress Publishers, 1986, p 74)

Lenin continues, “The characteristic feature of the period under review is the final partitioning of the globe – final, not in the sense that repartition is impossible; on the contrary, repartitions are possible and inevitable – but in the sense that the colonial policy of the capitalist countries has completed the seizure of the unoccupied territories on our planet.

“For the first time the world is completely divided up, so that in the future only re-division is possible, i.e., territories can only pass from one ‘owner’ to another, instead of passing as ownerless territory to an ‘owner’.” (p 73)

The process of re-division continued throughout the 20th century.

For example, in 1919 the Versailles Treaty divided the spoils of war amongst the victors. Germany’s African colonies were taken over by France (Cameroon), Belgium (German East Africa – Rwanda and Burundi), Portugal (the Kionga Triangle) and South Africa (German South-West Africa – Namibia), and so forth.

Overthrow of colonial system

The upsurge of national liberation movements, in particular following World War II, resulted in more than 100 countries winning their national independence by the end of the 1970s. The people of these countries had successfully launched a struggle for freedom against imperialist occupation.

The imperialist powers faced the loss of a rich source of resources and slave labour. A number of socialist-oriented governments nationalised key industries and resources and addressed the serious structural imbalances in their countries arising from imperialist exploitation. The capitalist monopolies from the colonial powers had lost an important source of their income.

The liberation struggles had the generous support of the Soviet Union, socialist countries in east Europe and the People’s Republic of China.

The imperialist powers resorted to new methods – neo-colonialism to regain and retain the resources of these newly emerging independent states. They interfered in elections, funded candidates and spread propaganda and did all they could to install compliant puppets. They destabilised progressive and independent governments, attacked currencies, carried out coups and assassinations and occupied territories.

Whatever it took, governments that nationalised key resources, redirected funds to the benefit of the people or took an independent (of US imperialism) stance, had to go. Witness the invasions of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, the fomenting of a “civil war” in Syria, the US-backed coup in Chile against Salvador Allende, attempts to destabilise the government in Venezuela, illegal blockade against Cuba or the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of Congo (Zaire) following its independence from Belgium.

The economic interests of monopoly capitalists lie behind all of these coups, wars, invasions and regime changes. In Iraq and Venezuela oil is a first and foremost consideration and any government that nationalises resources and feeds the profits back into the community are on the hit list.

The present wars in the Middle East, Yemen, Afghanistan and preparations for war against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), the People’s Republic of China, Russia and possibly Venezuela have two things in common.

First, their governments decided to take an independent stand against US imperialism. Second, they have something that US monopoly capital want – resources. In some instances they are also of strategic importance, for example, Afghanistan is strategically situated on the border of Russia and China.

In Africa, diamonds, gold, precious minerals and other resources are highly valued by capitalist monopolies. In the case of socialist Cuba, it sets a dangerous example to other countries, that there is an alternative to capitalism, and its strategic location on the doorstep is also of great concern to the US.

Colonisation continues by other means, by neo-colonialism, where governments might have the semblance of political independence if they toe the line but still do not have economic independence.

The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, which is socialist-oriented, is still not in a position to nationalise the mass media or much of the infrastructure.

War industry

Wars are an important feature of neo-colonialism. Not just because of the outcomes in terms of regime change and control over resources or access to cheap labour and new markets, but because war and war preparations are highly profitable in themselves.

The largest military corporations are amongst the most profitable and corrupt monopolies of all, raking in money from governments and operating on lucrative contracts that allow prices to blow out beyond belief.

Four of the top five are US-based. Lockheed Martin in first place with total “defence” revenue in 2016 of US$43.5 billion. It is followed by Boeing with US$ $29.5 billion; BAE Systems from Britain US$23.6 billion; Raytheon Company with US$22.4 billion; and Northrop Grumman US$20.2 billion. (

Australia is set to spend $1 trillion over 20 years on war preparations and purchase much of its equipment from these and other leading corporations in the military industrial complex. The purchases are mostly from US corporations. This is to facilitate interoperability with the US’s forces.

In the US the military is very big business. One of its biggest customers is the US government which recently asked Congress for a 10 percent increase in its military budget. The US maintains a global network of over 1,000 military bases and other facilities in more than 130 countries. It annually conducts 170 military exercises and 250 port visits in the Asia-Pacific region alone.

Changes since Lenin

So much has changed since Lenin wrote Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. It is worth noting some of these changes:

  • Development has been uneven as predicted by Lenin
  • The former colonies, mostly underdeveloped by their colonisers have found “freedom”, but not complete independence and often dependent in new ways
  • The changes in technology and science have accelerated at a pace previously unimaginable
  • These developments are not being put to the benefit of people but to serve the interests of the wealthy and monopoly capital, in particular, the military or to spy and collect data on citizens
  • The concept of “free market competition” has become a myth with the global domination of financial capital and other monopolies
  • There has been a global division of labour with deindustrialisation of the wealthier nations and growth of service industries
  • Social and economic conditions for the working class are deteriorating
  • The gap is widening between the rich and the poor nations and their peoples. Even within countries the gap is widening with a large percentage of workers being robbed of past gains in the workplace
  • The trade union movement which peaked in the 1960s and 1970s in many countries, including in Australia, is a shell of its former self
  • Capitalism has found new ways of heightening the exploitation of workers – use of automation, casualisation, overseas workers, unpaid labour, wage theft, and so on
  • The ideological offensive of the capitalist class to dull class consciousness and legislation for laws to prevent industrial action and dissent are taking effect
  • The development of nuclear weapons and other powerful weapons of war threaten the future of humanity
  • The loss of the Soviet Union and socialist bloc in Eastern Europe has empowered and emboldened US imperialism, posing new threats to the future of humanity
  • The contradictions of capitalism have intensified with droughts, floods, famine, mass migration in the millions, avoidable disease, destitution and other crises as a result of capitalism’s blind pursuit of profits
  • The future of humanity and life on the planet as we know it is threatened by human- induced climate change.

They are just some of the changes since Lenin’s time. But one thing comes through with the above list – imperialism is capitalism; it is not some new system “beyond capitalism.”

Our future depends on defeating imperialism, on defeating monopoly capital through class struggle and revolution.

The nature of this struggle in the first instance is anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist and in support of democratic rights in all spheres – political, economic, ideological, cultural, environmental.

Capitalism has undergone qualitative changes within capitalism, with the growth of finance capital and the expansion of its tentacles into every facet of life. It has become even more powerful, its forms of exploitation more insidious.

The features and contradictions of monopoly capitalism that both Marx and Lenin pointed to have intensified to the point that if we do not move on to a higher socio-economic order – socialism – the human race is doomed. Only socialism can remove the profit-motive that drives the destructive forces of capitalism.

Next article – The “Condition of England Question”

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