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It seems as if this text seeks to maintain the concept of imperialism simply through over-wrought rhetoric. But the more over-wrought the rhetoric, the less it shows any coherent analysis of the current world. The question that it really falls down on is the PURPOSE of theory.

The point of political economic theories is not simply the prediction of one or another grand events of history. The ultimate purpose is to see the conflict between two historical classes, the capitalist class and the proletariat.

Both the capitalist class and the proletariat develop on a world, though each is somewhat relegated to particular nations. WWII, for example, could be explained as either an inter-imperialist war or a war for the solution of capital’s global crisis.




> Why do we need a theory of imperialism? Imperialism is really a matter of power. That power is expressed in many ways, including weapons and military structures, and its ultimate expression is war, world war. Global supremacy is the shared aim of all, even though historical reality has established that alliances and power blocs of various different powers are usually necessary in order to secure and retain such supremacy.


I would agree with this preamble. But I would go to say this exactly why we Marxist don't need a separate theory of imperialism. It comes down to the question of why we Marxists rest our position on a political-economic basis and not on a purely political basis.

States have indeed held the ultimate keys of power since before capital. The importance of capital isn’t in its naked power but its indirect hold on power.


> The history of capitalism for the last hundred years or more has been the stuggle of competing nation states fighting for global supremacy, developing alliances and power blocs with others when necessary. It is the history of each state pursuing the agenda of furthering its nation's 'national interests'.


Hmm, now this is certainly the history as written by the capitalists. The history of capital at the level of power has certainly included, as well, the proletariat’s struggle for power and capital’s direct and indirect efforts against it. Remember the NAZI fought WWII in the name of anti-communism; the cold war was also fought in the name of this as well. It is natural that capital filters its idea of its enemy as the Stalinist version of communism. But it is significant that capitalist nations have focused a reasonable activity portion of their activity on fighting the forces they view as enemies of their system.

But this is history still on the level of direct power. The history of the social transformation of daily life throughout the world is equally important in my mind, especially if we describing a “history of capitalism”. And here, the integration of world blocks has been increase a-pace. Modernization has involved many transnational blocks of capital as well as the transnational movement of raw materials, people and goods.


>In the framework of an international competitive struggle, those 'national interests' are always to be dominant in all relations with as many of one's competitors as possible; with all relations including all military, diplomatic, and economic relations between countries. Thus, national interests include economic interests, the interests of capital based in the nation state in question. Even if much of financial capital today is not necessarily tied to any one nation state in its pursuit of maximum profit around the globe, most of non-financial capital, and much of industrial capital especially, is so tied to its nation state.

Depending on how your defining things, this is either ridiculous or true merely by definition.

Have national interests always predominated in the decisions of various capitalists companies? Certainly not.

In the computer industry, where I am employed, bosses think nothing of systematically replacing “patriotic American” programmers with programmers from East Asia. Such behavior is not particularly in the interest of America as a whole but it is certainly intended to help the investors of the company. Companies are just as eager to move entire manufacturing facilities to China and this clearly doesn’t serve any immediate interest of the American nation. Just as much, the business of ripping-off “Uncle Sam” in corrupt military contracts also shows business quite ready to sell-out the “national interest”. One could make the point by default through

The Media industry today is dominated by transnational interests. Rupert Murdock and Vivendi have a tremendous level of control of American media and this rise has not occasioned a struggle for power.

Chrysler was bought by Daimler-Benz recently and this change in the control of basic manufacturing also did not occasion an Earthquake or power-struggle within capital as a whole.


> The (global) interests of such capital are a core part of the 'national interests' that the nation state pursues in its relations with other states. The interests of such capital cannot be separated from the interests of the state in which it is based because its ability to strengthen itself in its relations with other states is dependent on the well being of such capital.

The meaning of these sentences is quite obscure – it has more of a quality of rhetoric than clarity. The “it” referred to in the second sentence would have to be the state rather than the block of capital. But to say “cannot be separated” is bit much.

There is a big different between “cannot be separated” and “ultimately wind-up the same”. The interests of different managers at a single company are often distinct and occasion something of a power-struggle at times – it’s not true that these interests “cannot be separated”. Capitalist nations may think about the well-being of the capital within their boundaries but it quite common for particular capitalist interests to be in control of a state at any given moment – Enron had more reason to involve itself in the recent election than did General Motors or Intel. The Bushes are representatives of a particular fraction of capital, focused on energy capital.


Perhaps you are trying to say that nations have separate interests which they pursue while still having their commons in mind. If something that threatens their common interests appears, they will stop their fight and focus on this common threat. This is like the invasion of Russia by fourteen nations after the Russian Revolution or situations in Yugoslavia when one general would declare a cease fire so the other side could get more ammunition and continue the slaughter factory which was the war.

This statement is quite reasonable but I would point that this exactly where modern capitalism is different from the condition of “pure power”. The ability of wider interests to deflect the immediate interests of the state is important.


>State power needs to be funded and continually technologically developed in order to remain competitive with other states. Such financial and technological support comes from the capital referred to above. Thus state interests are inextricably tied to national capital interests.

This again has the ring of rhetoric. It is also essentially false.

If we are discussing military power, the state does not reinforce its military power merely through the strength of the capitalist within its border. Europe has perhaps equal economic and technological power to the US but has a clearly inferior military power. America supports its military power through high taxes, through specific military technological research supported and by not having a welfare state of a similar size to Europe.

During the last forty years of economic competition between Europe, the US and Asia, the American military expenditure has been seen as a not necessarily positive force. While it stimulates demand, it siphons off resources (educated people, capital investment) from productive, competitive industries into corrupt, inefficient and uncompetitive industries. (The present day high technology industry is not a great friend of government investment even though government research originally created the microprocessor. Those highly specialized skills, commodities and technologies which are now created by Department Of Defense contracts no longer make a contribution to an extremely large-scale civilian sector that is specialized in a different way. Just as much, defense contractors like Lockeed Martin don’t do much besides government contracting given its extremely specialized nature.)

Of course, if you mean state power that not military, then this is even less dependent on technological development. Stalinist nations have been able to keep huge repressive apparatuses going without economies worth mentioning. China’s economy was a basket case in the sixties yet it’s military served to keep the US at bay during the Korean War. One might argue that relative US military-technological advances have changed this or that China’s economy has been factor leading it’s military to improve but I’d say that’s too simple. I would say that China’s economic advances have given it the resources it needs to continue developing its non-productive military sector.


>And in order to understand the interests pursued by states in their relations with other states one must understand what the interests of such capital are.


> Economic and political interests are therefore intertwined on the international level. A theory of imperialism is necessary to explain the connections between these interests, what those interests are, and why states undertake the courses of action they do. Ultimately, a theory of imperialism is required to explain wars in this era, why they occur, what goals their perpetrators are pursuing, and what results they are likely to lead to. It was the reality of the First World War, a war of a then completely new magnitude and form, that forced revolutionary Marxists at that time to develop the first theories of imperialism, theories based on the understanding that capitalism as a global system had reached an impasse, in which continued 'harmonious' growth was imperiled, in which the whole planet has been fully carved up between the 'great powers' of the imperialist capitalist 'metropoles' of Europe, North America and Japan, in which the expansion of one could only come at the cost of the contraction of another, thus fuelling the flames of war, in which, in a word, capitalism had entered its phase of permanent historical decline, or 'decadence'.


Well, I can see the use of *A* theory of decadence. But the particular theory which claims that capital has been literally in permanent decline is clearly hogwash.

Capital indeed might be in metaphorical decline, it might be creating weaknesses and the seeds of its own destruction. Sure, I tend to believe this though we must be careful since such things are quite difficult to measure.

But capital has not literally declined since WWI. It has grown massively. Not only has production increased but more and more people exist within the world capitalist economy. Thus this conception is clearly false.


Such theories were developed and defended primarily by those tendencies involved in the 'Zimmerwald Left', Lenin, Bukharin and the Bolsheviks, and Luxemburg and the German Left. Even if all of those theories were mistaken, even in their own time, they all contained many truths about the new era that WWI ushered in. In particular, their falsity does not imply the falsity of the position that capitalism had entered its phase of historical decline, only that another, different theory is necessary to explain that position.


See above.


> The Second World War resulted in a modification of the imperialist world order and a modification of inter-imperialist relations, but it was not comparable to the change brought about by WWI. Capitalism as a world system was still in the same historical phase it had entered with the commencement of the first world war. However, the second war did result in the definitive winding down of the old colonial empires, of the beginning of the end of the colonialist phase of imperialism. The 'Cold War' era, from 1945 to 1990, left all the most economically advanced countries allied in one imperialist bloc, while Russia, after the forced state-capitalist military-industrial development pursued under Stalin, tried desperately to catch up with Western economic development in order to fund its gargantuan military machine, necessary to maintain military 'parity' with the West. The gap between the relatively undeveloped economy and productive forces, on the one hand, and the mounting demands of the military apparatus, on the other hand, could not be sustained indefinitely, and the extent of the crisis (or crises) of the 1980s finally led to the collapse of the Stalinist mode of both political and economic organization in the USSR and in its 'satellite' states.



Yes, the Russian military machine couldn’t be maintained indefinitely but it could be pursued for quite a while. (The theory that the end of the Soviet came merely from direct military-economic competition with the West is a bit dubious. The failure of pure Stalinism as model for capital in many ways laid the seeds for the Russian-Soviet ruling class itself to choose to end the Stalinist political-economic regime – though they didn’t imagine what a failure Russia’s efforts to integrate economically with the West would be). 

But in anycase, the situation of cold war clearly contradicts your earlier narrative with the Soviet Union are military competition but not economic competition for the US while the Japan and Europe have been economic competition without being military competitive. Things might “inevitably” go back to the same blocks are both military and economic competitors but that seem pretty unlikely even in the post-soviet era – the “bloc” organization of the world during the early cold-war involved virtually no trade between blocs. This would clearly harm the interests of all world capitalist powers today.


> Since 1990 and the collapse of the Russian imperialist bloc, there has occurred once again a significant modification of the imperialist world order and of inter-imperialist relations. In 1990, then US president George Bush referred to the new era being ushered in as the “New World Order”. What’s most significantly new about this era is the absence of a rival bloc of powers to the dominant, US-led alliance. Russia retains massive military capabilities, although those are much reduced from what they were prior to 1990, but its pathetic economic base remains incapable of modernizing its military at anywhere close to the rate at which its military competitors have been continuing to. Russia’s only hope would seem to be to develop an alliance with one or more economically viable global powers openly in opposition to US hegemony. So far, that has yet to happen and does not appear to be on the horizon.


> Since 1990, the dominant theme of international relations has been that of economic “globalization”, integration of economies, opening of trade barriers, reductions in burdens on the free movement of capital in all of its various forms, allowing global market forces to prevail over more and more economic activity. On the military level, the dominant theme (atleast up until September 2001) has been “humanitarian” intervention wherever the US has determined that an aggressive local power threatening a neighbouring country or an ethnic minority threatens regional stability, and thus also the interests of the US and its major allies (represented today by the G7). The result of various such military campaigns has been to reinforce US global supremacy, militarily and economically, via its military coalition over all powers outside of that coalition, but also within, over all the other powers that constitute the coalition.


> The principle means of maintaining imperialist domination during this period of accelerated globalization has been to control the political process of globalization, the rules being set for globalization, maintained through the US (and its major allies) dominated multi-national organizations directing the process, primarily the WTO, but also the IMF, World Bank,  Inter-American Development Bank, and all the “Free Trade” treaties the US has with all other countries. And, as noted above, military intervention under the rubric of “humanitarian assistance” and “defending threatened minorities” has served to reinforce this emergent “New World Order”, dominated by the US.



Actually, despite the massive power held by the US at the military level, one would be hard-pressed to find an equivalently *disproportionate* US domination of the WTC or other international bodies. These are bodies really do involve negotiations between a wide variety of capitalist forces, only some of which are connected to any state.

Recently the WTC ruled that a particular US export subsidy, an export-tax credit, violated free trade. This is major setback for US capitalist interests and could easily result in a less competitive US capitalist economic bloc. Such a ruling is quite hard to see coming out of a body dominated by the US.

The paragraph above seems to toss around the rhetoric and assumption of the traditional anti-American left. Saying “all the ‘Free Trade’ treaties the US has with all other countries” seems to imply that we can dismiss free trade efforts as being nothing but a sham and an extension of colonialism or neocolonialism. This is baloney; free trade also has a strong component of really allowing greater competition on all levels, up to allowing third-world countries to sell finished goods in developed nations. Indeed, *real* free trade is an important aspect of Neoliberalism since capital expects to be able to invest in those third-world industries which will be exporting to the first world (and sure these industries may be subsidiaries of first world companies but the location of the capital is very important here).

This doesn’t say that international bodies always support fair or free trade. There is certainly competition at the level of these international but this happens in the context of the ostensibly fair representation of capitalist interests.

Also, this certainly isn’t saying we should support such “globalization”.


> A theory of imperialism is required to explain all of this and much more.


Perhaps at least few examples of how a theory of imperialism would be explain these would be good. Also, it would important to describe what needs explaining here, what mystery are you discussing.

Certainly you can point to state domination. Then you can say “my theory is that this is imperialism”. I would endorse the “theory” that Vietnam was an imperialist war but where is the mystery here.


It seems as if sometimes you are using “theory of imperialism” to mean simply the term imperialism and sometimes you are meaning some specific Luxemburgist approach. Imperialism, corruption, environment destruction, energy crisis or exploding population can all be important factors modifying the operations of the world. That doesn’t mean that we need to work each or any of these factors into the basic Marxian framework.




>Eric R.


>January 2002