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«Empire» or imperialism ?

Center for Marxist Research (KME) – Greece

Mumbai, January 18, 2004

«Empire» or imperialism ?

During the last few years there has emerged and come to the foreground, in a variety of versions, the theory of the so-called «Empire», a theory which comes into complete opposition to the Leninist elaboration on imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. The nucleus of such perceptions is formed by the description of an assumed new socio-economic and political reality that has already been formed globally, of a new stage in the development of capitalism that has surpassed and replaced imperialism. The source of such theories, which are in their essence a repetition of older ideological constructs apologetic to imperialism, must be sought in their deeply mistaken perception regarding the nature of the productive forces in the present era.

In this vein, highly characteristic and indicative are the opinions that the economic reality today «is determined less by material objects that are constructed and consumed and more by co-produced services and relations» {Ibid, p. 87}, with the result that in the modern «informational» and «immaterial» economy the notion of private property over the means of production has lost its meaning, the working class «has almost disappeared from the face of the earth» {Ibid, p. 14}. On the basis of such mistaken estimations these theories describe the so-called «Empire» as a «global form of sovereignty, composed of a series of national and supranational organisations that are governed by the same logic of power» {Ibid, p. 15}. A sovereignty without a «territorial center of power» {Ibid, p. 258}, without conflicts and rivalries, with the power and the role of the nation-states diminished or altogether abolished, where the «history of imperialist, inter-imperialist and anti-imperialist wars has ended» {Data from “UNCTAD World Investment Report 1999”}.

Irrespective of the particular coloration of the one or the other use of the notion of «Empire», their partial or fuller view of global developments, all of these opinions promote inside the world working-class and popular movement the unacceptable estimation that the movement no longer needs to possess strategy and tactics. They create self-deceptions regarding the objective material reality of imperialism, they numb and disarm the movement in front of the class adversary. They substitute the necessity of the revolutionary vanguard, the Communist parties, with the spontaneous outbursts of the so-called «multitude».

It is for these reasons that we consider that there is a crucial need to ideologically confront these opinions, to reveal the timeliness of the Leninist theory of imperialism in the modern world and to place in the center of the movement the political demands that are set by the historical position of imperialism and that form the basis of the duties of the communist movement.

Imperialism: the reality of the development of capitalism today

In his seminal work «Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism» Lenin studies in a detailed way the laws governing the transition from the pre-monopoly to the monopoly stage of capitalism, imperialism. He describes not only the fundamental economic features of imperialism, but also its historical position as the highest, last stage of capitalism, whose historical continuity holds in store its revolutionary overthrow by socialism.

The modern reality of capitalist development confirms and corresponds fully to the fundamental economic features of imperialism as they were described in Lenin’s work.

*Since Lenin’s time the concentration and centralisation of production and capital have grown in leaps. Monopolies, particularly multi-sector monopolies, have predominated even more decisively in the national markets and in the world market, to the extent that today they control over 60% of world trade and the value of their production reaches approximately 25% of the value of world production (1999 data).

However, it cannot be argued, as the theories of «Empire» do, that monopolies «tend to convert nation-states to simple instruments of registering the flows of goods, money and populations, that they (i.e. monopolies) set in motion» {Hardt and Negri, op.cit., p. 60}. Monopolies, the powerful monopolistic unions, all have a determinant ‘national’ bond, first and foremost in the 3 imperialist centers. The data are revealing. Over 50% of the sales of monopolies are directed toward the local market of the country in which they are based, with Japan offering the extreme example here (75% for the industrial sector, 77% for the services sector for the years 1992-3) {Hirst, P. and Thompson G., “Globalization in Question” (Greek edition), pp 177-178}. Moreover, the mother companies control the assets of monopolies to the largest extent.

The result of the existence of this ‘national’ bond is that the terms of reproduction of monopolies (level of wages, of taxation, terms of credit, protectionary measures, state subsidies and financing, etc.) are primarily being shaped within the confines of nation-states, through state-monopoly regulatory measures. At the same time, however, sources of profit are also sought after in external markets, with the result that there is the material basis and need for the additional setting of the terms of capital reproduction through interstate agreements and regulations of a state-monopoly character.

Various confrontations between different sections of monopoly capital and between the states that support them develop as an iron necessity on the basis of capital’s needs. There emerges in full vigour the modern reality of monopoly competition and of competition between the dominant imperialist powers that has been described by Lenin. A recent, highly revealing example is the inter-imperialist conflict between the USA and Great Britain, on the one hand, and the so-called Franco-German axis on the other in Iraq, a reflection of the confrontation of the respective monopolies for the energy sources in the region.

The projection of opinions arguing that, within the confines of the so-called «Empire», monopolies «undermine the powers of the nation-states» {Hardt and Negri, op. cit., p. 412} that the nation-states have lost their autonomy «in the mediation of conflicts and in the reconciliation of the class struggle» {Ibid, p. 413} and that they now form «barriers» to development, constitutes therefore an obvious distortion of the objective reality of imperialism. Such opinions whitewash the bourgeoisies of the smaller countries and their political employees, shifting the responsibility for the application of the barbarous capitalist policies to supranational organisations (IMF, World Bank, WTO, European Commission, etc.). They distort the role of these supranational organisations as mechanisms for the global regulation of the reproduction of monopoly capital, but also as mechanisms for the imposition of the interests of the big imperialist powers. They mistakenly orient the working class and the popular strata towards struggling against some diffuse «global networks» of companies and organisations, instead of opposing the bourgeoisies of their countries and overthrowing them, with a combination of struggles at the national and international level.

*The export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities constitutes another basic feature of the age of imperialism. Here an important criterion for determining the level of internationalisation of production is the level of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). The data against the pseudo-theories that argue for a ‘new global reality’ are revealing here as well. The expansion of FDI that is observed, particularly due to the strong tendency toward mergers and acquisitions (8.3% of global GNP as product originating from FDI and around 5% as contribution to the creation of fixed capital) {“UNCTAD World Investment Report 1999”, op. cit} does not alter what prevails since the birth of capitalism. The largest part of the reproduction of social capital is carried out within the boundaries of the nation-state formation of the capitalist economy. Moreover, around 70% of FDI (data for 2001) are carried out toward the developed capitalist countries, reversing the situation that applied at the beginning of the 20th century {Data from “UNCTAD World Investment Report 2002”}.

*The proponents of a new socio-economic reality in the modern world, that transcends imperialism, frequently base their arguments on the so-called «autonomy» in the movement of the money capital relative to that of the manufacturing capital and on the consequent domination of its own institutions and structures over the global economy. Marx, since the time of «Capital», has hinted at the appearance of such a phenomenon through the development of the fictitious capital and the functioning of the stock exchange. Lenin studied the further intensification of the speculative character of capital, as a result of its increasing concentration and centralisation, of the merging of the industrial capital with the bank capital and the appearance of monopolies.

The phenomenon, therefore, of the speculative operation of money capital that has intensified in the modern world, of the extensive autonomy in its movement relative to real capital, is the direct result of capitalist development and of the role of finance in the reproduction of social capital. At the same time, it is an expression of the parasitic functioning of capitalist production, in historical conditions when the contradiction between the socialised character of production and the private ownership over the means of production is negated in an negative way (through the stock company) and not in a positive way (through social ownership). It has to be pointed out that the large volume of capital flows is controlled and directed by monopoly groups in the 3 imperialist centers, and not by some supposedly autonomous «global cities or cities of control» {Hardt and Negri, op. cit., p. 400}. In this respect and as a result of what was mentioned above, the struggle for the division of markets and of spheres of influence is intensifying, leading to an intensification of inter-imperialist conflicts and rivalries.

*A central role in the theories regarding the surpassing of the imperialist stage of capitalism by the so-called «Empire» is played by the arguments for a unification of the modern world through the evolution of the productive forces, for a «transition from a manufacturing to an informational economy» with a consequent «decentralisation and deterritorialisation of production» {Ibid, p. 396}. There are frequent references to the supposed central position that is assumed nowadays in capitalist production by the so-called «immaterial labour power (that is involved in communication, in co-operation and in the production and reproduction of feelings)», as distinguished from the production of material objects. The conclusions that such theories reach are deeply unscientific, they conceal the capitalist relations of exploitation and the historical task of the working class. They argue that «the notion of private ownership…is more and more deprived of meaning in the new conditions» {Ibid, p. 406}, that «exploitation cannot be localised nor quantified» {Ibid, p. 287}, that the working class has been substituted by the so-called «multitude».

These theories detach the development of the new technologies and of scientific knowledge in the present phase of the imperialist system from the overall development of the productive forces under capitalism. They conceal the fact that the accumulated development of the productive forces led each time to their new qualitative evolution, which, however, did not fundamentally alter the existing relations of production. They cloud the substantive issues:
  •  Who possesses the achievements of science and technology, capital or the working class? Are new technologies developing under the motive of human necessities or of capitalist profit?
  •  Does the development of technology alter the relations of production? Capital is a social relationship. Irrespective, therefore, of whether the final product of the production process is a metallic construction or a computer program, the relations of production remain in essence the same.
  •  The exploitation of the working class by capital, the production of surplus value and profit for the capitalist, not only remains the same, but is further intensified.
Marx has already pointed out that «sciences have been imprisoned in the service of capital», that the development of technology under capitalism has the purpose of «making commodities cheaper and of shortening that portion of the working day that the worker needs for himself, in order to lengthen the other part of the working day that is given for free to the capitalist. Machines are a means for the production of surplus value» {Karl Marx, “Capital”, Vol. 1 (Greek Edition), p. 386}.

The duties of the working class today

As a whole, these theories of «Empire» conceive in an absolute way and project as qualitatively new phenomena, the new dimensions of old phenomena or the new forms of their manifestation. Consciously or unconsciously, they conceal the fact that the present levels of internationalisation of production, of investments, of trade are the offspring and the internal elements of the development of capitalism. Such opinions constitute in their essence a rehash of ideological constructs of the beginning of the 20th century regarding the possibility of a peaceful «ultra-imperialism», a re-appearance of theories similar to that of Kautsky.

These ideological constructs, that were strongly opposed in their time by Lenin, are being refuted daily by the reality of the continuing barbarity of imperialist wars. The internationalisation of the capitalist economies, the widening and deepening of the world market, through the increasing mobility of capital, did not solve, nor could they solve the contradictions of capitalism, did not abolish its crisis. The relations that develop between capitalist economies express the tendency toward the unification of capitalism and always reflect the balance of force (politically, economically, and militarily). In no case, however, can they abolish the asymmetric development of capitalism, the conflicts between monopolies, the inter-imperialist confrontations and war. They presuppose the economic and political dependence of the weaker countries, they are accompanied by the reverse tendency toward the dissolution of relations and alliances between capitalist countries.

Interstate agreements and regulations do not abolish the capitalist nation-states. International decisions could not exist if nation-states and their respective governments did not exist. A handful of big powers put their determining imprint on these decisions, but at the same time, it is possible that many more countries actively support them and carry them out (for example, the 40 or so countries that helped the USA in Iraq).

In our days, imperialism, by socialising production on a gigantic basis, sharpens even more the fundamental contradiction of capitalism between the social nature of production and the private, capitalist form of appropriation. Under these conditions the struggle of the working-class and the popular movement should be a struggle against monopolies and imperialism, at the national and international levels. The words of Marx in the «Communist Manifesto» should never be forgotten, that «the proletariat of every country should deal first and foremost with its own bourgeoisie» {Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, “Communist Manifesto” (Greek Edition), p. 39}. At the same time, however, the working class should internationalise its struggle, through the development of the co-operation of the Communist movement on a world scale, with the struggle for socialism as its strategic goal.

Today, Lenin’s thesis that in the conditions of imperialism «the victory of socialism is possible in a few or even in a single, separately taken country» retains its extreme timeliness. «The victorious proletariat of this country, by expropriating the capitalists and by organising socialist production in its country, would rise against the rest of the world, taking with it the oppressed classes of the other countries…». And Lenin further emphasises that «The free union of nations under socialism is not possible without a more or less protracted, persistent struggle of the socialist democracies against the backward states» {V. I. Lenin, “Collected Works”, Vol. 26 (Greek Edition), pp 362-363}.

The struggle of the working class and the popular strata for the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of Socialism is inseparable from the existence and activity of a powerful Communist party in each country. Such a Party, armed with a scientific Marxist-Leninist analysis of the objective reality, would be able to formulate a coherent revolutionary strategy and tactics that could challenge capitalism. Communist parties that are struggling with consistency against imperialism, with their goal of socialism clearly defined are in a position to achieve a vanguard role in a broad anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist alliance. To unite in the common struggle forces that may disagree on issues of socialism, or which today do not profess socialism, but are nevertheless willing to struggle consistently against the forces of capital. In this direction an important role will be played by the coordination and common action of the international communist movement, a course that should also pass the test of dialogue around modern ideological problems and the ideological differences that existed in the past, but that became sharper as a result of the victory of the counter-revolution in the socialist countries.

Finally, the so-called «globalization», which is dressed up by some with the robe of the «Empire», is not a neutral process, but a deeply class-oriented one in favour of capital. It cannot be apportioned between the people and the bourgeois governments, even more it is not the result «of the wishes and the demands» of the working class { Hardt and Negri, op. cit.}. The struggle against imperialism can only be carried out by paving the way for the overthrow of the power of monopolies, for Socialism. «Another world is possible», but this world can only be SOCIALISM.

Center for Marxist Research (KME)
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