Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Imperialism: Plague on both houses

The Left-wing have just not been interested in any criticism of what has become a dogma in their circles: that socialists are duty-bound to support struggles for "national liberation". The "revolutionary" Left simply "trot" out the old anti-imperialism position of supporting the weaker country against imperialist aggression which refuses any real class analysis of war.

Lenin wrote a pamphlet which he entitled Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In it he argued that, through a process which had been completed by the turn of the century, capitalism had changed its character. Industrial capital and bank capital had merged into finance capital, and competitive capitalism had given way to monopoly capitalism in which trusts, cartels and other monopolistic arrangements had come to dominate production. Faced with falling profits from investments at home, these monopolies were under economic pressure to export capital and invest it in the economically backward parts of the world where higher than normal profits could be made. Hence, Lenin went on, the struggle by the most advanced industrial countries to secure colonies where such "super-profits" could be made. When, after 1917, Lenin became the head of the Bolshevik regime in Russia the theory was expanded to argue that the imperialist countries were exploiting the whole population of the backward areas they controlled and that even a section of the working class in the imperialist countries benefited from the super—profits made from the imperialist exploitation of these countries in the form of social reforms and higher wages, Lenin argued that imperialism was in part a conscious strategy to buy off the working classes in the imperialist countries. His evidence consists of one quote from arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes , and one from Engels to the effect that the workers of England "merrily share the feast" of its colonies.

Firstly his analysis is out of date when applied to the current situation. Perhaps more importantly Lenin's theory of imperialism Lenin's theory of imperialism pitted the working class of undeveloped countries against that of the developed ones. It led to upholding national interest against class interest. Lenin's position was not a mistake. The “labour aristocracy” theory had the political purpose of enabling the Bolsheviks to argue for the workers in the colonies to form united fronts with their local ruling classes against Imperialism. This in turn had the aim of dividing the working class internationally, and turning it into cannon fodder for capitalist war. Lenin's expanded theory made the struggle in the world not one between an international working class and an international capitalist class, but between imperialist and anti—imperialist states. The international class struggle which socialism preached was replaced by a doctrine which preached an international struggle between states.

The whole thrust of Marx's own analysis of capitalism was that the workers movement would first triumph in the economically advanced parts of the world, not in a relatively backward economic area like Russia. Lenin explained away this contradiction by arguing that Marx had been describing the situation in the pre—imperialist stage of capitalism whereas, in the imperialist stage which had evolved after his death, the capitalist state had become so strong that the breakthrough would not take place in an advanced capitalist country but in the weakest imperialist state. Tsarist Russia had been the weakest link in the chain of imperialist countries and this explained why it was there that the first "workers revolution" had taken place. This was tantamount to saying that the Russian revolution was the first "anti—imperialist" revolution, and in a sense it was. Russia was the first country to escape from the domination of the Western capitalist countries and to follow a path of economic development that depended on using the state to accumulate capital internally instead of relying on the export of capital from other countries.

In the early days of the Bolshevik regime, when Russia was faced with a civil war and outside intervention by the Western capitalist powers, Lenin realised that this was a card he could play to try to save his regime. Playing the anti -imperialist card meant appealing to the "toiling masses" of Asia not to establish socialism but to carry out their own anti-imperialist revolutions. The 'super-exploited" countries were to be encouraged to seek independence as this would weaken the imperialist states, who were putting pressure on Bolshevik Russia. This strategy was presented to the workers movement in the West as a way of provoking the socialist revolution in their countries. Deprived of their super— profits, the ruling class in the imperialist countries would no longer be able to bribe their workers with social reforms and higher wages; the workers would therefore turn away from reformism and embrace revolution.

After Lenin's death in 1924, this strategy of building up an "anti-imperialist" front against the West was continued by his successors. Because it taught that all the people of a colonial or a dominated country had a common interest in obtaining independence, i.e. a state of their own, it was very attractive to nationalist ideologists and politicians in these countries. They called on all the inhabitants of the country they sought to rule to unite behind them in a common struggle to achieve independence. As a result, in these countries "socialism" became associated with militant nationalism rather than with the working-class internationalism it had originally been. The political struggle there came to be seen as a struggle, not between the working class and the capitalist class, hut as a struggle of all patriotic elements— workers, peasants and capitalists together—against a handful of traitorous, unpatriotic elements who would have sold out to foreign imperialists. They called on all the inhabitants of the country they sought to rule to unite behind them in a common struggle to achieve independence. As a result, in these countries "socialism" became associated with militant nationalism rather than with the working—class internationalism it had originally been. The political struggle there came to be seen as a struggle, not between the working class and the capitalist class, hut as a struggle of all patriotic elements— workers, peasants and capitalists together—against a handful of traitorous, unpatriotic elements who would have sold out to foreign imperialists.

Marx and Engels had little to say on the subject of imperialism. Their remarks on colonialism and foreign trade, particularly the section on counter-tendencies to the tendency of the Falling Rate of Profit, have been used to give authority to other theories and blown up out of proportion (Capital Volume 3 ) These three pages were used to justify anti-imperialism, but all they basically say is that a national capital tries to avoid the crisis caused by the Falling Rate of Profit, which in turn is caused by the increase in the ratio of constant to variable capital, of machinery to workers, by investing in foreign countries. Briefly, The Falling Rate of Profit is explained by the fact that capitalists are forced by competition to produce cheaper goods by increasing the ratio of machinery to workers. Because labour is the only source of value, the rate of profit is given by dividing the proportion of living labour in the product by the proportion of dead labour, or machinery. This rate must fall as the proportion of machinery rises. Capital invested "at home", in production for foreign trade, can also yield a higher rate of profit "because it competes with commodities produced by other countries with less developed production facilities, so that the more advanced country sells its goods above their value". This enables the more advanced country to dominate the less advanced, by making more profit. Capital invested directly in production in the colonies also produces more profit: "the reason why this can yield higher rates of profit is that the profit rate is generally higher there on account of the lower degree of development, and so too is the exploitation of labour, through the use of slaves and coolies, etc." What this passage means is that a higher rate of profit is obtainable in countries where exploitation is less developed, where more variable capital (labour) is required to turn out a given quantum of value from a given unit of constant capital (machinery).

Marx doesn't make too much of this counter-tendency to the Falling Rate of Profit. He adds that though the more advanced country "receives more labour in exchange for less", it is all "pocketed by a particular class, just as in the exchange between labour and capital in general". Both foreign trade and capital export are just particular examples of capitalism in general. They are not qualitatively different from what capital does within its "home" country. The "super-profits" of anti-Imperialist theory are, in other words, simply larger quantities of ordinary profits. Taking over competitors with less developed production facilities by destroying them by selling cheaper goods, and taking advantage of these less developed facilities to make more profit, is part of capital's daily life. Moralistic protest about the unfairness of imperialism, as opposed to ordinary capitalism, is an attempt to confuse us about the nature of the beast. (The enslavement of Africans was qualitatively worse than the forced deportations of the English, Scots and Irish poor, but if a capitalist power is more savage and parasitic abroad than it is at home, that is only because the class struggle at home has restrained it. If "First World" workers have been "bribed", that is because they have forced the bosses to bribe them.)

Marxian economics does not measure the level of exploitation by how high or low wages are but by reference to the amount of surplus value produced as compared with the amount of wages paid, whether high or low. By this measure the workers of the advanced countries were more exploited than those of the colonies, despite their higher wages, because they produced more profits per worker. Lenin failed to understand why different rates of wages prevail in different countries. According to him, wages are higher in imperialist countries because the capitalists there bribe their workers out of the superprofits which they earn from exploiting the subjugated countries. Marx's explanation as to why wages were higher in these countries. Both productivity and the rate of exploitation (ratio of paid to unpaid labour) were higher there:
"The more productive one country is relative to another in the world market, the higher will be its wages compared with the other. In England, not only nominal wages but (also) real wages are higher than on the continent. The worker eats more meat, he satisfies more needs. This, however, only applies to the industrial worker and not the agricultural labourer. But in proportion to the productivity of the English workers their wages are not higher (than the wages paid in other countries)" (Theories of Surplus Value).

A lower rate of wages does not make any one country any less capitalist than another: The ruling class in all countries pay workers as much as they think they have to, calculated from:
a) the need for workers to stay alive and, to a greater or lesser degree, healthy,
b) the shortage or otherwise of workers capable of doing the job, and
c) the class struggle
(Where does a wage rise gained by struggle end and a bribe begin? Lenin's position implies that British workers should deduce what proportion of their pay checks are the proceeds of the exploitation of the colonies, and hand that proportion back to their employers, declaring their refusal to be bribed.)

"The different states of the different civilised countries, in spite of their motley diversity of form, all have this in common, they are based on modern bourgeois society, only one more or less capitalistically developed" (Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875).
A country may be highly industrialised or a developed agricultural one or the chief supplier of raw materials for industry or whatever. This happens due to the division of labour amongst the various capitalist countries.

Another member of the Bolshevik party, Nikolai Bukharin, presented a different theory of imperialism which paid lip-service to the labour aristocracy position, but placed more emphasis on the necessity for revolution. The reasoning behind Bukharin's theory was if it could be shown that capitalism was inevitably divided into war-mongering states, that hence the horrors of the first world war were going to be repeated until capitalism was overthrown, this would constitute a convincing case for revolution. Bukharin tried to show a contradiction between nation states and international capitalism. Capitalism has created the world economy, the material basis of communism, but "national economies" and "state capitalist trusts" contradict this, leading to imperialism and war. Nation states were the "forms" which helped develop the "forces of production", but now they are "fetters" on their further development. His book Imperialism and World Economy was intended to show that imperialism is an inevitable stage of capitalism, in order to refute the possibility of a peaceful solution to the first world war. This was in turn necessary in order to oppose the "Centrists" among social democracy, who were trying to sit on the fence on the question of the necessity of a proletarian revolution to end the war.

Lenin and Bukharin both claimed that Kautsky had completely abandoned Marxism, and now believed that capitalism could reform itself, eliminating its nasty bits, and evolve into a peaceful new world order. Kautsky actually said "What Marx said of capitalism can also be applied to imperialism: monopoly creates competition and competition monopoly. The frantic competition of giant firms, giant banks and multi-millionaires obliged the great financial groups, who were absorbing the small ones, to think up the notion of the cartel. In the same way, the result of the World War between the great imperialist powers may be a federation of the strongest, who renounce their arms race. Hence from the purely economic standpoint it is not impossible that capitalism may still live through another phase, the translation of cartelisation into foreign policy: a phase of ultra-imperialism, which of course we must struggle against as energetically as we do against imperialism ."

Of the two theories, imperialism and Kautsky's concept of ultra-imperialism which has best stood the test of time? Capitalism has proved itself more flexible than many of its critics realised. Is there any reason why single capitalist firms should be tied to one state? It is possible for capitalism to dissolve particular national states and replace them with larger entities, such as the European Community.

Rosa Luxemburg's contribution to the debate on imperialism was her opposition to the idea that imperialism could be opposed by supporting national liberation struggles. Luxemburg's arguments, based on the experience of the Polish working class in its struggle against "its" poor oppressed national bourgeoisie, have been largely forgotten yet a significant section of the Bolsheviks supported her views against Lenin's "right of nations to self-determination". Rosa Luxemburg accused Lenin as having "thrown the greatest confusion into the ranks of socialism," and goes on to state: "The Bolsheviks have supplied the ideology which has masked the campaign of counter-revolution; they have strengthened the position of the bourgeoisie and weakened that of the proletariat ... With the phrase about the self-determination of nations the Bolsheviks furnished water for the mills of counter-revolution and thus furnished an ideology not only for the strangling of the Russian Revolution itself, but for the planned counter-revolutionary liquidation of the entire World War." She describes how during the course of the Russian Revolution "Contrary to what the Bolsheviks expected, one after another the liberated "nations" took advantage of the freshly granted freedom to take a position of deadly enmity to the Russian Revolution, combining against it with German Imperialism... of course it is not the 'nations' by whom that reactionary policy is carried on, but only the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois classes ... who have converted the national right of self-determination into an instrument of their counterrevolutionary class policy."

But eventually Lenin's views won the day, and the Communist International supported national liberation movements and thus the defeat of the working class in China, Germany, etc. The most obvious reason for the success of Lenin's views was the power of the Bolshevik state. It had both the means and very good reasons for supporting national liberation struggles. The self-determination of countries national policy of Lenin did not prove fatal to Bolshevik rule although it was true that large areas remained separate from Russia and become reactionary States, but the power of the Bolshevik state proved stronger than ever. Bolshevik Russia existed not as what it was at the beginning, not as the starting point of the world revolution, but as a bulwark against it. Lenin's theory of imperialism had contained the seeds of such a shameful outcome from the start as it made the most significant struggle at world level not the class struggle but the struggle between states, between so-called anti— imperialist and progressive states and so— called imperialist and reactionary states. This was a dangerous diversion from the class struggle and led to workers supporting the killing in wars of other workers in the interest of one or other state and its ruling class.

Anti-imperialism is the slogan of local elites. Anti-imperialism is a doctrine long used by capitalists in relatively weak countries to try and pursue their own ends. We reject nationalism as anti-working class because it has always tied the proletariat to its class enemy and divided it amongst itself: the workers have no country.

Anti-imperialist nationalism is the ideology of an actual or aspirant capitalist class that seeks the way to its own independent state blocked by imperialism and therefore must mobilize the masses to help break down this obstacle.The logic of such movements is to subordinate the interests of workers to those of the bourgeois leadership and that such movements can tie their movement to presently supportive states that may well be prepared to use it as a bargaining chip in their pursuit of their own geopolitical interests. Different regimes that may now present themselves as anti-imperialist have a history of collaborating with imperialism. It is of the essence of bourgeois nationalists that, when imperialism prevents them for building their own independent capitalist state, they may lead struggles against it, but they are striving to carve out a place for themselves within the existing system, not to overthrow it. This means that, sooner or later, they will come to terms with imperialism. Successful anti-imperialism becomes imperialism. This is well illustrated by the example of Germany. The Communist International actually offered some support to the Nazis in the early twenties on the grounds that they were a national liberation struggle. Germany was an oppressed nation, occupied and looted by French and British imperialism. The Nazis fought the occupying troops, so the Comintern supported the former, militarily and politically. A decade later, this anti-imperialist movement had become German Imperialism. Israel was founded in a national struggle against the British Empire and resulted in the forced removal of Palestinians and the occupation of the Palestine. Indonesia does not remotely correspond to any precolonial domain, and possesses an enormous variety of peoples, cultures, languages and religions.The people at one end have far more in common with their neighbours across the national frontier than with their fellow "Indonesians", its shape was determined by the last Dutch conquests. We witnessed the result in East Timor. The bourgeoisie is a global class. Nations mostly emerged after capitalism. Consciously or not, and there are numerous examples of conscious strategy, capitalism created nations.

A key feature of global capitalism is that the world is organized into a system of states in which a few – the imperialist powers – dominate the rest economically, politically, and militarily and this poses the question "What stance Marxists should take when states fight each other?"

Either - since the conflicting parties are all capitalist states the left should, as a matter of principle, take no interest in who wins.
Or - to follow Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky and support wars that are judged to advance the interests of the international working class and support the country whose victory would be the least harmful to the interests of the international working class .

Yes, Marx and Engels did support certain nationalist movements and some wars - TO BRING CAPITALISM TO FEUDAL STATES, to usher the capitalist class into political power so they could create the pre-requisites of socialism; an actual working class within an industrialised society. Prussia against the Slavs. Britain and France against Tsarist Russia. Even Prussia against France so as to strengthen unification of Germany. But can anyone seriously think that such a policy is required in to-days world where capitalism is now the predominant system and its the working class thats the decisive class not the capitalists. What may have been right in the 19th Century for Marx and Engels, may not now be the right choice in this century under changed circumstances. What was perhaps provident for backward Russia in the eyes of Lenin or Trotsky need not be applicable or advisable for the rest of us. (Herman Gorter pointed this out in his Letter to Lenin back in 1920)

Almost every country is more powerful than another, and tries to dominate it, (apparently ignorant of Marx's advice that a nation which oppresses another can never itself  be free.) Even the smallest countries harbour designs on bits of their neighbours' territory. The tendency of nations to dominate others leads to the view that they are all imperialist, which renders the term anti-imperialism meaningless.

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