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Sunday, 26 January 2014

WWI - Lenin's theory of imperial war

Lenin's theory of imperial war went deeper than the division of the world's territory among the colonial powers - it pointed to the most profound developments in the western capitalist system itself, including the transformation of the capitalist econony into finance capitalism, and the more or less complete 'colonisation' of the state - or, rather, fusion of class and state - by big business.

Significantly, Lenin also was vexed by the more or less complete capitualtion to 'war fever' among the parties of the international socialist movement - including Germany's socialists and Britain's Labout party (apart from a handful of leaders such as Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden) - and the trade union organisations. He noted the political and economic significance of a 'labour aristocracy' based on the superprofits of colonial rule and the superexploitation of the poorest in the colonising states.

Below is a basic analysis of Lenin's approach to imperialism and war, and the 'betrayal' by working class parties of their class.


Lenin undertook his detailed study of Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism in 1916, basing it on the research of an English economist named JA Hobson.
Lenin saw capitalism evolving into a higher stage. The key to understanding it was an economic analysis of the transition from free competititon to monopoly.

Lenin provides a careful, 5-point definition of imperialism: "(1) the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life; (2) the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this "finance capital", of a financial oligarchy; (3) the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance; (4) the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves, and (5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed. Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed."

Imperialism is enormously profitable. Hobson estimated that in 1899 it had provide Great Britain an income of 90 million to 100 million pounds on the basis of its foreign capital, "the income of the rentiers." As Lenin emphasized, "The income of the rentiers is five times greater than the income obtained from the foreign trade of the biggest "trading" country in the world! This is the essence of imperialism and imperialist parasitism... The world has become divided into a handful of usurer states and a vast majority of debtor states. 'At the top of the list of foreign investments,' says SchuIze-Gaevernitz, 'are those placed in politically dependent or allied countries: Great Britain grants loans to Egypt, Japan, China and South America. Her navy plays here the part of bailiff in case of necessity.'"

In another article around the same time, War and Revolution, Lenin was more specific about the fact that imperialism uses its military as the "bailiff": "Peace reigned in Europe, but this was because domination over hundreds of millions of people in the colonies by the European nations was sustained only through constant, incessant, interminable wars, which we Europeans do not regard as wars at all, since all too often they resembled, not wars, but brutal massacres, the wholesale slaughter of unarmed peoples."
Writing in "Who Stands to Gain?"on the eve of World War I, Lenin saw the arms race as a source of super-profit for capitalist investors: In Europe, "the states that call themselves 'civilised', is now engaged in a mad armaments hurdle-race. In thousands of ways, in thousands of newspapers, from thousands of pulpits, they shout and clamour about patriotism, culture, native land, peace, and progress - and all in order to justify new expenditures of tens and hundreds of millions of rubles for all manner of weapons of destruction - for guns, dreadnoughts, etc. ... the renowned British firm Armstrong, Whitworth & Co ... engaged mainly in the manufacture of 'armaments' declared a dividend of 12. percent. Dividends of 12.5 per cent mean that capital is doubled in 8 years. and this is in addition to all kinds of fees to directors, etc."

In a second article, "Armaments and Capitalism", Lenin elaborates on this theme: "we find that admirals and prominent statesmen of both parties, Conservative and Liberal, are shareholders and directors of shipyards, and of gunpowder, dynamite, ordnance and other factories. A shower of gold is pouring straight into the pockets of bourgeois politicians, who have got together in an exclusive international gang engaged in instigating an armaments race among the peoples and fleecing these trustful, stupid, dull and submissive peoples like sheep."

War, for imperialism, is not only used to conquer and control the colonies and to prevent the development of socialism, but also to compete with other imperialist powers. Periods of peace, says Lenin, are "nothing more than a 'truce' in periods between wars." World War I, to Lenin, could only be understood as an inter-imperialist war. And a few years later, in a speech on December 6, 1920, Lenin would foresee that a second inter-imperialist war was brewing that would pit Japan against the United States and Germany against the rest of Europe.

The superprofits of imperialism enable the capitalists to buy off the workers in the home country. Lenin points out that this had been foreseen by Engels in a letter to Marx as early as 1858, "The English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois ... For a nation which exploits the whole world, this is of course to a certain extent justifiable." Lenin confirms that this trend had continued to develop and was accompanied by opportunism on the part of many working class leaders and socialist writers.

According to Lenin, companies in the developed world exploit workers in the developing world where wages are much lower. The increased profits enable these companies to pay higher wages to their employees "at home" (that is, in the developed world), thus creating a working class satisfied with their standard of living and more inclined towards imperialism and war.

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