By Steve Dobbs, reproduced from issue 3 of the journal

Lenin wrote his pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (A Popular Outline) in the first half of 1916, and it was subsequently published the following year. His theory of imperialism had, and continues to have, huge implications for the Marxist movement. An accurate understanding and presentation of the theory is therefore vitally important.

Pete Glover’s article from issue 2 of Marxist World, ‘Who the f**k are you to say the Leader of the Russian Revolution was Wrong?’, is a welcome addition in the search to rediscover the true meaning and content of the works and ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. It is absolutely right that we should not take the works of these authors as holy writ, but should instead critically evaluate them, both on their own terms and in light of more recent historical developments. Furthermore, I particularly welcome Pete’s contribution because it offers a basis on which a more rigorous review of Lenin’s theory of imperialism can be built.

I believe that Pete’s article, in presenting his interpretation of Lenin’s work, has committed a number of errors and distortions, however unwittingly. Pete also does not elaborate on the practical conclusions of rejecting Lenin’s theory of imperialism. This is unfortunate because the debate around imperialism is not academic, but actually shapes the core principles, strategies and tactics of Marxists today. For example, what is our relation to the Left trade union leaders and the Labour Party? Do we support or oppose the European Union? What is our attitude to national liberation movements in countries like Palestine?

In this article I will challenge Pete’s understanding of imperialism and begin to draw out some of the practical conclusions of accepting or rejecting the theory.

Lenin’s definition of imperialism
Before we can begin to ascertain whether Lenin’s theory of imperialism is valid, and therefore to what extent Pete’s criticisms of it are valid, we first have to clearly define what Lenin meant by imperialism. Lenin provides such a definition in his article from October 1916, ‘Imperialism and the Split in Socialism’, which is worth quoting at length to gain a well-rounded view:

We have to begin with as precise and full a definition of imperialism as possible. Imperialism is a specific historical stage of capitalism. Its specific character is threefold: imperialism is monopoly capitalism; parasitic, or decaying capitalism; moribund capitalism. The supplanting of free competition by monopoly is the fundamental economic feature, the quintessence of imperialism. Monopoly manifests itself in five principal forms: (1) cartels, syndicates and trusts—the concentration of production has reached a degree which gives rise to these monopolistic associations of capitalists; (2) the monopolistic position of the big banks—three, four or five giant banks manipulate the whole economic life of America, France, Germany; (3) seizure of the sources of raw material by the trusts and the financial oligarchy (finance capital is monopoly industrial capital merged with bank capital); (4) the (economic) partition of the world by the international cartels has begun. There are already over one hundred such international cartels, which command the entire world market and divide it ‘amicably’ among themselves—until war redivides it. The export of capital, as distinct from the export of commodities under non-monopoly capitalism, is a highly characteristic phenomenon and is closely linked with the economic and territorial-political partition of the world; (5) the territorial partition of the world (colonies) is completed.

Imperialism, as the highest stage of capitalism in America and Europe, and later in Asia, took final shape in the period 1898–1914. The Spanish-American War (1898), the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) and the economic crisis in Europe in 1900 are the chief historical landmarks in the new era of world history.

The fact that imperialism is parasitic or decaying capitalism is manifested first of all in the tendency to decay, which is characteristic of every monopoly under the system of private ownership of the means of production. The difference between the democratic-republican and the reactionary-monarchist imperialist bourgeoisie is obliterated precisely because they are both rotting alive (which by no means precludes an extraordinarily rapid development of capitalism in individual branches of industry, in individual countries, and in individual periods). Secondly, the decay of capitalism is manifested in the creation of a huge stratum of rentiers, capitalists who live by ‘clipping coupons’. In each of the four leading imperialist countries—England, U.S.A., France and Germany—capital in securities amounts to 100,000 or 150,000 million francs, from which each country derives an annual income of no less than five to eight thousand million. Thirdly, export of capital is parasitism raised to a high pitch. Fourthly, ‘finance capital strives for domination, not freedom’. Political reaction all along the line is a characteristic feature of imperialism. Corruption, bribery on a huge scale and all kinds of fraud. Fifthly, the exploitation of oppressed nations—which is inseparably connected with annexations—and especially the exploitation of colonies by a handful of ‘Great’ Powers, increasingly transforms the ‘civilised’ world into a parasite on the body of hundreds of millions in the uncivilised nations. The Roman proletarian lived at the expense of society. Modern society lives at the expense of the modern proletarian. Marx specially stressed this profound observation of Sismondi. Imperialism somewhat changes the situation. A privileged upper stratum of the proletariat in the imperialist countries lives partly at the expense of hundreds of millions in the uncivilised nations (Lenin 1916b).

We can now attempt to summarise Lenin’s definition of imperialism into succinct points:

  1. Imperialism is a stage of capitalism characterised by the supplanting of free competition with monopoly.
  2. Monopolies are created due to the ongoing concentration and centralisation of capital.
  3. The merging of monopoly productive capital with banking capital forms finance capital.
  4. Shareholding capitalists, who have no role in production (and hence are parasitic and superfluous to society) live off the proceeds of finance capital.
  5. The interests of finance capital, via the big banks, direct economic and government policy, resorting to war with other nations if necessary.
  6. The export of capital to other countries, as distinct from export of commodities, is a characteristic phenomenon.
  7. Imperialism leads to unequal relations between nations, such that the imperialist countries dominate the less-developed countries. This creates a privileged upper stratum of the proletariat in the imperialist countries (a labour aristocracy) which lives partly at the expense of the super-exploitation of workers in the oppressed nations.

Pete argues Lenin’s concept of imperialism as a new stage of capitalism is wrong. He asserts that ‘the term “imperialism” appears nowhere in Marx’s Capital and it hardly ever crops up in the rest of his work’ (Glover 2016, 23). However, whilst the term itself does not appear in Capital, all the major features and tendencies of imperialism are found within it. This is because Capital does not describe a static system, but one that is in movement. The tendencies Marx elaborated within Capital show the direction of the capitalist mode of production.

Monopolies and the rate of profit
One of these tendencies of the ‘immanent laws’ of capitalism is the concentration and centralisation of capital into the hands of an ever smaller group of capitalists who ‘monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation’, such that this ownership of capital becomes a ‘monopoly’ and a ‘fetter upon the mode of production’ (Marx 1867). This monopoly ownership is a ‘fetter’ because it prevents the laws of capital from manifesting as smoothly as under more competitive conditions. For example, in Chapter 10 of Capital Volume III, Marx explains how competition between different businesses equalises the general rate of profit, since capital is continuously withdrawn from sectors where there is a low rate of profit and ‘invades others’ where a higher rate of profit can be achieved. He notes:

The incessant equilibration of constant divergences is accomplished so much more quickly, 1) the more mobile the capital, i.e., the more easily it can be shifted from one sphere and from one place to another; 2) the more quickly labour-power can be transferred from one sphere to another and from one production locality to another. The first condition implies complete freedom of trade within the society and the removal of all monopolies with the exception of the natural ones, those, that is, which naturally arise out of the capitalist mode of production [my emphasis] (Marx 1894).

The free formation of a general rate of profit presupposes ‘the removal of all monopolies’. This was the level of abstraction Marx was applying at this stage in conceptualising capital. This suggests that where monopolies do exist, they gain a rate of profit that is, to a degree, independent of (i.e. higher than) the general rate of profit, thus retarding the application of the Law of Value. Marx makes this explicit at the end of this chapter:

Our analysis has revealed how the market-value embraces a surplus-profit for those who produce in any particular sphere of production under the most favourable conditions … A surplus-profit may also arise if certain spheres of production are in a position to evade the conversion of the values of their commodities into prices of production, and thus the reduction of their profits to the average profit [my emphasis] (ibid).

The process by which a commodity’s value is converted into a price of production redistributes the surplus value across all capitals that produce the same commodity, and thus averages out the rate of profit. Some businesses can use their ‘favourable conditions’ to ‘evade’ (for a time) the laws of capital and the averaging out of their rate of profit. Pete says that ‘[m]onopoly… does not… negate Marx’s Law of value’ (Glover, 21), but neither Lenin, Marx nor I have claimed that this invalidates the Law of Value. The Law of Value is still the fundamental law of capital, but it can be, and is, retarded and modified in real life. It is partially negated, but can never be overcome within the framework of a capitalist economy.

Marx’s method of abstraction and the Law of Value
Pete also argues against the ‘pervasive view on the Left that Marx analysed a “chemically pure” laissez-faire capitalism of the 19th century’ (ibid). But this is also slightly disingenuous.

Of course, the starting point for Marx’s analysis can only have been the conditions that actually prevailed during his time. Thus he amassed reams of empirical data on prices, wages, sales, circulation etc over a period of decades. But the task he set out upon was to discover capital’s inner laws which would exist regardless of the specific form that capitalist society took.

Marx conceptualised capital at various levels of abstraction, some of which were more ‘concrete’ than others. His method of ‘rising from the abstract to the concrete’ (Marx 1857) meant that he made many simplifying assumptions in Capital Volume I in order to show the inner laws of capitalist production, without the unnecessary ‘baggage’ and complications of other (very real) aspects of capital. These conceptual foundations were progressively built upon, with many of those simplifying assumptions discarded in Capital Volume III to give way to higher concepts. In Hegelian terms, the simpler concepts were sublated (German: Aufheben). For example, in the first chapter of Capital Volume I, Marx assumes

…each individual commodity, in this connexion, is to be considered as an average sample of its class. Commodities, therefore, in which equal quantities of labour are embodied, or which can be produced in the same time, have the same value (Marx 1867).

Since value is the basis of commodity exchange, this assumption is repeated by Marx in a different form in Chapter 17:  ‘I assume (1) that commodities are sold at their value; (2) that the price of labour-power rises occasionally above its value, but never sinks below it’ [my emphasis] (ibid).

If we were to assert that this assumption in Capital Volume I was not just a simplifying factor to allow Marx to build a conceptual model, but was in fact a feature of actually existing capitalism, the only concrete conditions that would guarantee all commodities exchanged at their values would be precisely a ‘chemically pure laissez-faire capitalism’… which has never existed in real life and never will. Marx made this ‘unrealistic’ assumption precisely to show that surplus value was not created through what the economists of his day called ‘profit upon alienation’ (buying cheap and selling dear in the market) but was extracted from the working class despite the formally equal exchange of labour-power for wages. As Marx noted in Theories of Surplus Value, the shift from an economy based on simple commodity production to a capitalist economy based on the mass employment of wage-labour caused major headaches for the economist Adam Smith and his ‘labour theory of value’:

It is Adam Smith’s great merit that it is just in the chapters of Book I (chapters VI, VII, VIII) [of the The Wealth of Nations] where he passes from simple commodity exchange and its law of value to exchange between materialised and living labour, to exchange between capital and wage-labour, to the consideration of profit and rent in general—in short, to the origin of surplus-value—that he feels some flaw has emerged.  He senses that somehow—whatever the cause may be, and he does not grasp what it is—in the actual result the law is suspended: more labour is exchanged for less labour (from the labourer’s standpoint), less labour is exchanged for more labour (from the capitalist’s standpoint).  His merit is that he emphasises—and it obviously perplexes him—that with the accumulation of capital and the appearance of property in land—that is, when the conditions of labour assume an independent existence over against labour itself—something new occurs, apparently (and actually, in the result) the law of value changes into its opposite [my emphasis] (Marx 1863).

In other words, the Law of Value, originating from simple commodity exchange, is modified (‘suspended’, ‘changes into its opposite’) with the introduction of labour-power as a commodity.

Later in Capital Volume III, Marx drops the assumption that commodities are sold at their values. He introduces the concept of the transformation of commodity values into prices of production, which occurs within the context of competition between different capitals and the formation of an average rate of profit. This again further modifies the Law of Value and causes production prices to diverge from their values. But this does not invalidate or ‘negate’ the Law of Value. The same is true of monopolies, which Marx begins to deal with more in the second half of Capital Volume III.

Monopoly rent in Capital Volume III
In Marx’s time, the most obvious monopolies were those over nature, predominantly land. Monopoly ownership impedes the circulation of capital and allows the owner to charge rent above the average price, allowing the owner to gain a surplus profit above the average profit:

The singularity of ground-rent is rather that together with the conditions in which agricultural products develop as values (commodities), and together with the conditions in which their values are realised, there also grows the power of landed property to appropriate an increasing portion of these values, which were created without its assistance; and so an increasing portion of surplus-value is transformed into ground-rent (Marx 1894).

Marx primarily analyses two types of rent, differential rent and absolute rent. Differential rent is obtained either through the fact that some land naturally produces a greater crop yield than average, or that the organic composition of capital employed is higher. Both result in additional profit being transferred away from other landowners. Absolute rent stems from the fact that the value produced on the land does not enter into the average rate of profit, allowing the landlord to directly appropriate that value rather than it being distributed amongst capitals.

However, Marx does mention in passing a third type of rent, one based on an ‘actual monopoly price’:

These two forms of rent [differential and absolute] are the only normal ones. Apart from them the rent can be based only upon an actual monopoly price, which is determined neither by price of production nor by value of commodities, but by the buyers’ needs and ability to pay. Its analysis belongs under the theory of competition, where the actual movement of market-prices is considered (Marx 1894).

In other words, a monopoly price can also form at the level of market competition due to limited supply relative to demand. This price appears to negate the Law of Value at this level because it is ‘determined neither by prices of production nor by value of commodities’! However, at the aggregate level, the Law of Value still holds. This is only mentioned in passing because Marx’s level of abstraction in Capital Volume III is not dealing with market competition, and so the analysis of market-prices belongs in a subsequent book on the ‘theory of competition’ which was never written.

This market price is a modification of the cost-price of a commodity, which is its price of production plus average profit as covered in Capital Volume III. The price of production is, in turn, derived from the transformation of its value into price within the context of competing capitals, and its value is derived from socially necessary labour-time as explained in Capital Volume I. So we have a whole series of conceptual stages, starting with an individual commodity’s value, until we reach the final form of market-price. Each stage progressively builds upon (and moves away from) the Law of Value, but never fully negates it.

Banking and finance capital in Capital Volume III

The role of banking, credit and finance is key to Lenin’s definition of imperialism, and yet Pete does not mention these aspects at all, other than in reference to a single quote from Bukharin. But prior to the Bolsheviks, it was Marx who recognised the role of finance in developing the capitalist mode of production:

Production on a large scale and for distant markets throws the total product into the hands of commerce; but it is impossible that the capital of a nation should double itself in such a manner that commerce should itself be able to buy up the entire national product with its own capital and to sell it again. Credit is, therefore, indispensable here; credit, whose volume grows with the growing volume of value of production and whose time duration grows with the increasing distance of the markets. A mutual interaction takes place here. The development of the production process extends the credit, and credit leads to an extension of industrial and commercial operations.

When we examine this credit detached from banker’s credit, it is evident that it grows with an increasing volume of industrial capital itself. Loan capital and industrial capital are identical here. The loaned capital is commodity-capital which is intended either for ultimate individual consumption or for the replacement of the constant elements of productive capital. What appears here as loan capital is always capital existing in some definite phase of the reproduction process… [my emphasis] (Marx 1894).

Marx’s recognition of the intertwining of banker’s loan capital and industrial capital is essentially what Hilferding conceptualised as finance capital. Lenin broadly agreed and offered a slight correction to Hilferding’s concept in Imperialism:

‘A steadily increasing proportion of capital in industry,’ writes Hilferding, ‘ceases to belong to the industrialists who employ it. They obtain the use of it only through the medium of the banks which, in relation to them, represent the owners of the capital. On the other hand, the bank is forced to sink an increasing share of its funds in industry. Thus, to an ever greater degree the banker is being transformed into an industrial capitalist. This bank capital, i.e., capital in money form, which is thus actually transformed into industrial capital, I call “finance capital”.’ ‘Finance capital is capital controlled by banks and employed by industrialists.’

This definition is incomplete insofar as it is silent on one extremely important fact—on the increase of concentration of production and of capital to such an extent that concentration is leading, and has led, to monopoly. But throughout the whole of his work, and particularly in the two chapters preceding the one from which this definition is taken, Hilferding stresses the part played by capitalist monopolies.

The concentration of production; the monopolies arising therefrom; the merging or coalescence of the banks with industry—such is the history of the rise of finance capital and such is the content of that concept (Lenin 1916a).

Again, it was Marx who originally identified the role that finance capital, in the form of stock companies, played in superseding capitalism in Chapter 27 of Capital Volume III:

This is the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself, and hence a self-dissolving contradiction, which prima facie represents a mere phase of transition to a new form of production. It manifests itself as such a contradiction in its effects. It establishes a monopoly in certain spheres and thereby requires state interference. It reproduces a new financial aristocracy, a new variety of parasites in the shape of promoters, speculators and simply nominal directors; a whole system of swindling and cheating by means of corporation promotion, stock issuance, and stock speculation. It is private production without the control of private property (Marx 1894).

The development of finance, monopolies, the role of the state and a ‘new financial aristocracy’, all contributing to the ‘phase of transition to a new form of production’ essentially describe the main features of Lenin’s imperialism. The difference is that when Marx was writing Capital Volume III in the 1860s, these features of capitalism were still developing and had a secondary importance when considering the development of capitalism on a world scale. Approximately fifty years later, leading Marxists recognised that this tendency had begun to qualitatively change the functioning of capitalism on a global scale. This phase of transition, of ‘decaying and moribund capitalism’, is imperialism.

Marx & Engels on the labour aristocracy
Pete states that ‘Lenin’s theory that an aristocracy of labour had arisen as a consequence of the rise of imperialism has consequences for the idea of the possibility of a peaceful socialist transition in Western Europe’.

This statement is disingenuous for several reasons. Firstly, the theory of an aristocracy of labour was neither developed by Lenin nor was it simply a whimsical idea, but an accomplished fact recognised by Marx and Engels! Secondly, Pete implies that acceptance of this theory leads directly to denying the possibility of peaceful socialist revolution. Since Pete has preconceptions on imperialism and the nature of socialist revolution (which I will deal with in more detail later), he thus seeks to discredit the concept of the labour aristocracy in order to discredit imperialism and ‘non-peaceful’ revolution.

The basis for Marx and Engels’ concept of an aristocracy of labour stems from the prolonged economic upswing in England that occurred after the 1848 crisis, and the domination of other countries which helped facilitate this boom. This is evidenced by a number of letters and articles written by them. In 1878, Marx wrote to Wilhelm Liebknecht:

The English working class had been gradually more and more deeply demoralised by the period of corruption since 1848 and had at last got to the point when they were nothing more than the tail of the great Liberal Party, i.e., henchmen of the capitalists. Their direction had gone completely over into the hands of the corrupt trade union leaders and professional agitators (Marx 1878).

Engels explains the roots of this political ‘corruption’ of the workers’ movement in his article ‘England in 1845 and 1885’, which had been commandeered by an upper stratum of the working class. According to Engels, the basis for the labour aristocracy was the surplus profits gained from England’s monopoly over the economies of other nations and the subsequent concessions the monopoly capitalists could afford to make. However, ‘these benefits were very unequally parcelled out’ and ‘the privileged minority pocketed most’. These ‘benefits’ of imperialism fuse the interests of a section of the workers with the monopoly capitalists, and take political expression in the form of ‘corrupt trade union leaders and professional agitiators’:

And the condition of the working class during this period [after 1848]? There was temporary improvement even for the great mass. But this improvement always was reduced to the old level by the influx of the great body of the unemployed reserve, by the constant superseding of hands by new machinery, by the immigration of the agricultural population, now, too, more and more superseded by machines.

A permanent improvement can be recognised for two ‘protected’ sections only of the working class, Firstly, the factory hands. The fixing by Act of Parliament of their working day within relatively rational limits, has restored their physical constitution and endowed them with a moral superiority, enhanced by their local concentration. They are undoubtedly better off than before 1848…

Secondly, the great Trades’ Unions. They are the organisations of those trades in which the labour of grown-up men predominates, or is alone applicable. Here the competition neither of women and children nor of machinery has so far weakened their organised strength. The engineers, the carpenters and joiners, the bricklayers are each of them a power, to that extent that, as in the case of the bricklayers and bricklayers’ labourers, they can even successfully resist the introduction of machinery. That their condition has remarkably improved since 1848 there can be no doubt, and the best proof of this is in the fact that for more than fifteen years not only have their employers been with them, but they with their employers, upon exceedingly good terms. They form an aristocracy among the working class; they have succeeded in enforcing for themselves a relatively comfortable position and they accept it as final. They are the model working men of Messrs Leone Levi and Giffen, and they are very nice people indeed nowadays to deal with, for any sensible capitalist in particular and for the whole capitalist class in general.

But as to the great mass of working people, the state of misery and insecurity in which they live now is a low as ever, if not lower…

And the working class? If even under the unparalleled commercial and industrial expansion, from 1848 to 1868, they have had to undergo such misery; if even the great bulk of them experienced at best a temporary improvement of their condition, while only a small, privileged ‘protected’ minority was permanently benefited, what will it be when this dazzling period is brought finally to a close; when the present dreary stagnation shall not only become intensified, but this intensified condition shall become the permanent and normal state of British trade?

The truth is this: during the period of England’s industrial monopoly the English working-class have, to a certain extent, shared in the benefits of the monopoly. These benefits were very unequally parcelled out amongst them; the privileged minority pocketed most, but even the great mass had, at least, a temporary share now and then. And that is the reason why, since the dying-out of Owenism, there has been no Socialism in England. With the breakdown of that monopoly, the English working-class will lose that privileged position; it will find itself generally – the privileged and leading minority not excepted – on a level with its fellow-workers abroad. And that is the reason why there will be Socialism again in England [my emphasis] (Engels 1885).

This is summarised more explicitly in a letter from Engels to Bebel, where he states: ‘Participation in the domination of the world market was and is the economic basis of the political nullity of the English workers’ [my emphasis] (Engels 1883).

Marx lays bare this ‘political nullity of the English workers’ with regards England’s imperialist domination of Ireland in a letter to Engels in 1869:

For a long time I believed that it would be possible to overthrow the Irish regime by English working class ascendancy. I always expressed this point of view in the New York Tribune. Deeper study has now convinced me of the opposite. The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland. That is why the Irish question is so important for the social movement in general (Marx 1869).

Marx repeats the same sentiment the following year in a letter to Meyer and Vogt, but reveals his reasoning:

After studying the Irish question for many years I have come to the conclusion that the decisive blow against the English ruling classes (and it will be decisive for the workers’ movement all over the world) cannot be delivered in England but only in Ireland

But the English bourgeoisie has also much more important interests in the present economy of Ireland. Owing to the constantly increasing concentration of leaseholds, Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class.

And most important of all! Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the “poor whites” to the Negroes in the former slave states of the U.S.A. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this [my emphasis] (Marx 1870).

This letter is extremely important given the confusion and multitude of positions on the Left with regards to issues such as immigration, internationalism and even the EU referendum in June 2016.

The domination of the English bourgeoisie in Ireland retarded its capitalistic development by maintaining it as an agricultural outpost for the mainland. Due to lack of employment in Ireland, many Irish workers migrated to England and increased the supply in the labour market, allowing the English capitalists to drive down wages. This created hostility between the English and the immigrant Irish workers, which was in turn whipped up and fostered by the bourgeoisie and the media. As British imperialism continues to share in the super-exploitation of nations around the world, unsurprisingly this sounds very familiar today and remains the ‘secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power’.

In fact, super-exploitation of workers abroad was recognised by Marx in Capital Volume III as a means to raise the rate of profit:

[C]apitals invested in colonies, etc., may yield a higher rate of profit for the simple reason that the rate of profit is higher there on account of the backward development, and for the added reason that slaves, coolies, etc., permit a better exploitation of labour (Marx 1894).

When Marx said ‘[t]he Irishman pays [the English worker] back with interest in his own money’, he meant that the English worker, at least in part, benefitted from the super-exploitation of Ireland and the cheap food it supplied. So imperialism ‘nullified’ the English working class from working class unity and socialist revolution by both providing a material basis for supporting the continued dominance over Ireland and creating hostility to those same Irish workers in the labour market, the latter further reinforcing the former.

We can reasonably conclude from all this that Marx and Engels saw England’s domination of other countries and the subsequent rising living standards of the English workers, the creation of a labour aristocracy and the ‘political nullity’ of the working class as all part and parcel of the same thing, all of which was incorporated into Lenin’s concept of imperialism.

Bukharin’s Imperialism and World Economy
Yet Lenin’s Imperialism should not be seen as the main theoretical work setting out his ideas. Indeed, the 1917 book is subtitled A Popular Outline. It is not meant to be a lengthy theoretical document in the Marxist tradition but simply a popularisation, mainly because Bukharin had already done that previously in the form of Imperialism and World Economy, the bulk of which was written in 1915 (although not published until 1917). In fact, Lenin actually wrote the book’s introduction in December 1915! Bukharin’s Imperialism and World Economy was evidently the primary theoretical basis for Lenin’s Imperialism, and yet Pete makes no mention of this essential document.

Lenin’s introduction is revealing because he considers how Bukharin has simply followed through the tendencies within the capitalist mode of production that Marx elaborated in Capital:

The scientific significance of N.I. Bukharin’s work consists particularly in this, that he examines the fundamental facts of world economy relating to imperialism as a whole, as a definite stage in the growth of most highly developed capitalism. There had been an epoch of a comparatively ‘peaceful capitalism,’ when it had overcome feudalism in the advanced countries of Europe and was in a position to develop comparatively tranquilly and harmoniously, ‘peacefully’ spreading over tremendous areas of still unoccupied lands, and of countries not yet finally drawn into the capitalist vortex. Of course, even in that epoch, marked approximately by the years 1871 and 1914, ‘peaceful’ capitalism created conditions of life that were very far from being really peaceful both in the military and in a general class sense. For nine-tenths of the population of the advanced countries, for hundreds of millions of peoples in the colonies and in the backward countries this epoch was not one of ‘peace’ but of oppression, tortures, horrors that seemed the more terrifying since they appeared to be without end. This epoch has gone forever. It has been followed by a new epoch, comparatively more impetuous, full of abrupt changes, catastrophes, conflicts, an epoch that no longer appears to the toiling masses as horror without end but is an end full of horrors.

It is highly important to have in mind that this change was caused by nothing but the direct development, growth, continuation of the deep-seated and fundamental tendencies of capitalism and production of commodities in general. The growth of commodity exchange, the growth of large-scale production are fundamental tendencies observable for centuries throughout the whole world. At a certain stage in the development of exchange, at a certain stage in the growth of large-scale production, namely, at the stage that was reached approximately at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, commodity exchange had created such: an internationalisation of economic relations, and such an internationalisation of capital, accompanied by such a vast increase in large-scale production, that free competition began to be replaced by monopoly. The prevailing types were no longer enterprises freely competing inside the country and through intercourse between countries, but monopoly alliances of entrepreneurs, trusts. The typical ruler of the world became finance capital, a power that is peculiarly mobile and flexible, peculiarly intertwined at home and internationally, peculiarly devoid of individuality and divorced from the immediate processes of production, peculiarly easy to concentrate, a power that has already made peculiarly large strides on the road of concentration, so that literally several hundred billionaires and millionaires hold in their hands the fate of the whole world [my emphasis] (Bukharin 1917).

This summary by Lenin of Bukharin’s concept of imperialism is inferred and derived from Marx’s Capital and subsequent real world developments, and sounds just as fresh today as it was over a century ago – ‘literally several hundred billionaires and millionaires hold in their hands the fate of the whole word’.

One important feature of imperialism is the export of capital, as opposed to simply the export of commodities. Bukharin explains how the export of capital is the result of overproduction of capital at home and the search for higher rates of profit abroad:

The general direction for the movement [export of capital] is, of course, indicated by the difference in the rates of profit (or the rate of interest): the more developed the country, the lower is the rate of profit, the greater is the ‘over‑production’ of capital, and consequently the lower is the demand for capital and the stronger the expulsion process. Conversely, the higher the rate of profit, the lower the organic composition of capital, the greater is the demand for it and the stronger is the attraction (Bukharin 1917).

Bukharin sets out that how the monopolies gain super profits – through unequal exchange and differences in the rate of profit: ‘We have in mind the formation of super-profit under the conditions of commodity exchange between countries having different economic structures’ (ibid).

After quoting Capital Volume III on the formation of surplus profit, Bukharin writes:

Marx, proceeding from the theory of labour value, gives here an explanation of super-profits. From this point of view, additional profit has its source in the difference between the social value of the goods (understanding under ‘society’ world capitalism as a united whole) and their individual value (understanding under ‘individual’ the ‘national economy’). Furthermore, Marx foresaw and explained cases where a certain fixation of additional profit goes on, namely when a certain territory is dominated by monopoly organisations – cases that are particularly important in our times.

It is thus obvious that not the impossibility of doing business at home, but the race for higher rates of profit is the motive power of world capitalism. Even present-day ‘capitalist plethora’ is no absolute limit. A lower rate of profit drives commodities and capital further and further from their ‘home’. This process is going on simultaneously in various sections of world economy. The capitalists of various ‘national economies’ clash here as competitors; and the more vigorous the expansion of the productive forces of world capitalism, the more intensive the growth of foreign trade, the sharper is the competitive struggle [my emphasis] (Bukharin 1917).

Bukharin also explains how monopolies extract their superprofits from the non-monopolies in their sector via the transfer of value due to differences in the rate of profit:

For monopoly organisations can overcome the tendency towards lowering the rate of profit by receiving monopoly superprofits at the expense of the non-trustified industries. Out of the surplus value created every year, one portion, that which has been created in the non-trustified branches of industry, is being transferred to the co-owners of capitalist monopolies, whereas the share of the outsiders continually decreases. Thus the entire process drives capital beyond the frontiers of the country (Bukharin 1917).

According to Bukharin’s analysis, glowingly endorsed by Lenin, it is differences in the rate of profit between monopolies and non-monopolies, both within nations and across nations, that form the source of monopoly super-profits and hence the production and reproduction of monopoly capital, the most essential aspect of imperialism.

Now that I have analysed the relevance of Marx and Engels to imperialism and given a summary of Bukharin and Lenin’s definition, I can now begin to reflect on Pete’s criticism.

Militarism and the state
Pete claims that ‘Lenin’s concept of imperialism … affected his calculations for the prospects of a peaceful socialist revolution in Western Europe’ (Glover 2016, 18). He says the term imperialism is ‘…abstract and therefore not very specific’ (ibid). But Pete plays down the economic tendencies that form its essential definition, and instead focuses on the role of the state. He attempts to show Lenin was wrong on the growth of the ‘military-bureaucratic’ state in order to reject imperialism and thus the likelihood of workers to use force in a socialist revolution.

However, the ‘military-bureaucratic’ state was the specific historical form of appearance of the state when Lenin was writing. Imperialism can operate, in some instances, without the use of military force. For example, the Troika of the IMF, the ECB and the EC have utilised political and economic measures against the Greek state and society in order to extort rent and interest on behalf of finance capitalists like Goldman Sachs and the imperialist state of Germany. Such EU-enforced austerity measures have crippled Greek society, reducing it the level of a so-called Third World country.

Pete also argues ‘the growth of state control was not, however, an economic tendency within capitalism’ (Glover 2016, 18). Again, Pete is focussing on appearances rather than fundamentals. Whilst formal state ownership of the economy has declined in the traditional sense of nationalisation, the fusion of the interests of capital and the bourgeois state are very clear. An obvious example is the bank bail-outs of 2008, where trillions of pounds and dollars of public money across the advanced capitalist countries were used to keep the major banks solvent and the financial system operational. Rather than the state controlling capital, the bourgeois state acts on behalf of finance capital. Another example of this is the recent revelation around Obama’s administration, courtesy of Wikileaks, as the World Socialist Website points out:

One month before the presidential election of 2008, the giant Wall Street bank Citigroup submitted to the Obama campaign a list of its preferred candidates for cabinet positions in an Obama administration. This list corresponds almost exactly to the eventual composition of Barack Obama’s cabinet (WSWS 2016).

Export of capital
In another attempt to discredit the notion of imperialism, Pete attempts to show how it relies on underconsumption theory, something which Marxist World has been a staunch opponent of. Pete cites the following sentence as ‘evidence’:

The need to export capital arises from the fact that in a few countries capitalism has become “overripe” and (owing to the backward state of agriculture and the poverty of the masses) capital cannot find a field for ‘profitable’ investment (Lenin 1916a).

Pete seizes on this single parenthetical remark to claim that Lenin’s theory of imperialism depends on underconsumption theory! It is this obtuse ‘method’ that allows some to claim Marx was an underconsumptionist when, despite everything else he wrote on crises, they quote Chapter 30 of Capital Volume III and the infamous line ‘The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses’ (Marx 1894).

We have to say that even if Lenin believed the need to export capital abroad arose from the poverty of the masses at home, this in itself does not invalidate the fact that capital was being exported abroad – it simply means that Lenin’s reasoning as to why this was happening was incorrect. However, as I mentioned previously, Lenin entirely accepted the ideas of Bukharin’s Imperialism and World Economy and the fact that the main driver for the export of capital was a higher rate of profit due to a lower organic composition of capital! Another bourgeois economist writing in the mid 19th century, John Stuart Mill, recognised the role of the rate of profit in capital export:

This brings us to the last of the counter-forces which check the downward tendency of profits, in a country whose capital increases faster than that of its neighbours, and whose profits are therefore nearer to the minimum. This is, the perpetual overflow of capital into colonies or foreign countries, to seek higher profits than can be obtained at home. I believe this to have been for many years one of the principal causes by which the decline of profits in England has been arrested. It has a twofold operation. In the first place, it does what a fire, or an inundation, or a commercial crisis would have done: it carries off a part of the increase of capital from which the reduction of profits proceeds. Secondly, the capital so carried off is not lost, but is chiefly employed either in founding colonies, which become large exporters of cheap agricultural produce, or in extending and perhaps improving the agriculture of older communities. It is to the emigration of English capital, that we have chiefly to look for keeping up a supply of cheap food and cheap materials of clothing, proportional to the increase of our population; thus enabling an increasing capital to find employment in the country, without reduction of profit, in producing manufactured articles with which to pay for this supply of raw produce. Thus, the exportation of capital is an agent of great efficacy in extending the field of employment for that which remains: and it may be said truly that, up to a certain point, the more capital we send away, the more we shall possess and be able to retain at home (Mill 1848).

We can only speculate as to why Lenin would include this parenthesised remark, but it seems that it relates to Lenin’s lack of access to written material and his use of Hobson’s Imperialism as reference material. However, we must remember that Lenin’s Imperialism was subtitled A Popular Outline – it was not meant to be a major theoretical exposition of imperialism (which had already been largely achieved by Bukharin) but a popularised outline and a polemic aimed at the traitorous Second International and their main theoretician Karl Kautsky who opposed the Russian Revolution and supported the imperialist war.

Monopolies and competition
Pete objects to ‘Lenin’s erroneous view’ of how monopolies affect technical progress. He quotes Lenin:

Since monopoly prices are established, even temporarily, the motive cause of technical and, consequently, of all other progress disappears to a certain extent and, further, the economic possibility arises of deliberately retarding technical progress (Lenin 1916a).

Pete says:

Lenin’s conclusion about the retardation of technical progress is, in reality, an argument that presupposes an end to the process of accumulation of capital. If the new ‘imperialist’ capitalism rules out technical change or progress, then it also rules out accumulation (Glover, 22).

Pete builds up a straw man argument on the basis that Lenin is ‘rul[ing] out technical change or progress’. But Lenin does no such thing. What Lenin says is that ‘the motive cause of … progress disappears to a certain extent’ [my emphasis], i.e. progress slows but is not halted. What Lenin is dealing with here, just like Marx in Capital, are not absolutes but ongoing processes, or tendencies. This would have been obvious if Pete had quoted the rest of Lenin’s paragraph:

For instance, in America, a certain Owens invented a machine which revolutionised the manufacture of bottles. The German bottle-manufacturing cartel purchased Owens’s patent, but pigeon-holed it, refrained from utilising it. Certainly, monopoly under capitalism can never completely, and for a very long period of time, eliminate competition in the world market (and this, by the by, is one of the reasons why the theory of ultra-imperialism is so absurd). Certainly, the possibility of reducing the cost of production and increasing profits by introducing technical improvements operates in the direction of change. But the tendency to stagnation and decay, which is characteristic of monopoly, continues to operate, and in some branches of industry, in some countries, for certain periods of time, it gains the upper hand [my emphasis] (Lenin 1916a).

In relation to Bukharin and Lenin, Pete says that ‘the idea that the capitalist “no longer competes” is completely wrong’ (Glover 2016, 25). But neither claimed this. What Bukharin said is that ‘a system of collective capitalism is created, which to a certain extent is opposed to the entire structure of capitalism in its earlier forms’ [my emphasis] (Bukharin 1917). The reduction of competition is relative, not absolute.

Supporting Lenin’s position against Pete, several studies have shown that the prevalence of patents and the threat of litigation favours investor funding for existing monopolies and hinders competition from new firms, as Investopedia reported in 2015:

A study from PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that more than two-thirds of patent lawsuits are filed by patent trolls – firms that don’t really do anything except for hoarding patents and making more money than the actual practicing firms. This results in an uneven playing field, which discourages open and healthy competition.

An MIT research study indicates that patent litigations lead to reduced venture capital funding and a decline in the creation of startups. It also results in an overall decline in business confidence and unfair market practices, which discourage entrepreneurs from taking risky ventures (Investopedia 2015).

The split in the working class

One of the major political implications of the concept of imperialism is the recognition of a social stratum in the working class that are ultimately allied to the maintenance of imperialism and the bourgeois state. This stratum is what Marx, Engels and Lenin called the labour aristocracy. In fact Lenin does not talk about the whole labour aristocracy, but rather ‘the labour leaders and the upper stratum of the labour aristocracy’ [my emphasis] who are ‘bribed … in a thousand different ways, direct and indirect, overt and covert’ (Lenin 1916a).

Pete says ‘there is no evidence that better paid and organised workers in the UK were less militant than those who were worse off, and there is no mechanism through which a transfer of super-profits to the better paid workers could be allocated’ (Glover 2016, 19). However, Lenin is not referring simply to workers on higher wages, otherwise he wouldn’t claim that these workers were ‘bribed … in a thousand different ways, direct and indirect, overt and covert’. Unfortunately, Lenin does not elaborate on what these bribes are in his book, but he does in his article ‘Imperialism and the Split in Socialism’:

The bourgeoisie of an imperialist ‘Great’ Power can economically bribe the upper strata of ‘its’ workers by spending on this a hundred million or so francs a year, for its superprofits most likely amount to about a thousand million. And how this little sop is divided among the labour ministers, ‘labour representatives’ (remember Engels’s splendid analysis of the term), labour members of War Industries Committees, labour officials, workers belonging to the narrow craft unions, office employees, etc., etc., is a secondary question….

On the economic basis referred to above, the political institutions of modern capitalism—press, parliament associations, congresses etc.—have created political privileges and sops for the respectful, meek, reformist and patriotic office employees and workers, corresponding to the economic privileges and sops. Lucrative and soft jobs in the government or on the war industries committees, in parliament and on diverse committees, on the editorial staffs of ‘respectable’, legally published newspapers or on the management councils of no less respectable and ‘bourgeois law-abiding’ trade unions—this is the bait by which the imperialist bourgeoisie attracts and rewards the representatives and supporters of the ‘bourgeois labour parties’.

The mechanics of political democracy works in the same direction. Nothing in our times can be done without elections; nothing can be done without the masses. And in this era of printing and parliamentarism it is impossible to gain the following of the masses without a widely ramified, systematically managed, well-equipped system of flattery, lies, fraud, juggling with fashionable and popular catchwords, and promising all manner of reforms and blessings to the workers right and left—as long as they renounce the revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of bourgeoisie. I would call this system Lloyd-Georgism, after the English Minister Lloyd George, one of the foremost and most dexterous representatives of this system in the classic land of the ‘bourgeois labour party’. A first-class bourgeois manipulator, an astute politician, a popular orator who will deliver any speeches you like even r-r-revolutionary ones, to a labour audience, and a  man who is capable of obtaining sizable sops for docile workers in the shape of social reforms (insurance, etc.), Lloyd George serves the bourgeoisie splendidly, and serves it precisely among the workers, brings its influence precisely to the proletariat, to where the bourgeoisie needs it most and where it finds it most difficult to subject the masses morally (Lenin 1916b).

These bribes were not higher wages per se but included the creation and/or support of ‘soft’ jobs, such as positions in government ministries and committees, public sector and office employment, pro-government newspapers, class collaborative trade unions etc. In addition, the state granted social reforms such as sick pay and unemployment benefit. As Lenin pointed out, all these reforms were granted so that sections of the working class would ‘renounce the revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of bourgeoisie’ (ibid), but these reforms were only possible on the basis of the taxes gained from the monopoly super-profits. Politically, this helped tie the ‘respectable’ workers’ movement to the maintenance and defence of imperialism. In the UK, the vehicle for both reformism and chauvinism has historically been the Labour Party. It is impossible to understand the class nature of the Labour Party and the role it plays in the workers’ movement without an understanding of the labour aristocracy.

By denying the existence of the labour aristocracy, Pete denies the existence of a material basis for opportunism in the working class and workers’ movement. The implication is that Pete wants to smooth over the differences between the chauvinist, reformist workers and the anti-imperialist revolutionaries, which can ultimately only mean adopting a reformist perspective and programme. This explains Pete’s rather long-winded justification for his implied (although never explicitly spelled out) endorsement of parliamentary reformism to achieve socialism. This is further reinforced when Pete claims that the police are no different from other workers, because they ‘…have to sell their labour power in the market’ (Glover 2016, 24). On that basis, even a Chief Executive of a multinational is a worker since he has to ‘sell [his] labour power in the market’! This blurring of the distinctions between the different strata of the working class, representatives of the bourgeois state and even outright bourgeois is completely indefensible for a Marxist. In modern capitalist society, the working class is not some homogenous down-trodden mass but is heavily stratified. This is not to say that there is an automatic, one-to-one relationship between social position and political outlook. There is no iron correlation between income and propensity for socialism. After all, both Marx and Engels were originally from the bourgeoisie themselves. There will always be exceptions, but there are clearly general trends and tendencies that we can identify.

Peaceful revolution?
Towards the end of his article, Pete cites Hungary 1919 as an example of a peaceful socialist revolution, as Lenin also proclaimed it to be at the time. But was this an accurate representation of what happened?

Following the end of World War I and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Hungarian People’s Public, a bourgeois democracy of sorts, was declared in November 1918, headed by the liberal Karolyi. However, the victorious Allies were intent on carving up Hungary and delivered an ultimatum on March 20, 1919 to surrender large tracts of Hungarian territory. If they did not comply, military hostilities against Hungary would resume in 10 days. Neither option was palatable for the Hungarian bourgeoisie who feared both revolution from below and military defeat at the hands of the Allies. It is in this context that the government resigned and called upon the biggest and most popular party in Hungary at the time, the reformist Social Democratic Party, to govern. In turn, the Social Democrats called upon the newly formed Hungarian Communist Party to enter coalition with. Desperate for ‘left cover’, the Social Democrats formally agreed to the Communist’s programme and eventually the two parties merged into the ‘Party of Hungarian Socialist-Communist Workers’. However, it was the Social Democrats, along with the existing bourgeois state apparatus, that held the power, as former Militant Editorial Board member Alan Woods explains:

The Hungarian soviet republic, which had conquered power with such ease, now found itself in a weak position to resist the onslaught of reaction. The government itself was made up of 13 members, of which only four were Communists. They imitated all the external forms of the Russian Revolution (something Lenin had warned them against doing) including the creation of a peasants inspectorate, and even made Lenin “Honorary President” of the Budapest soviet! On the other hand, the Red Army, established by decree on 30 March was really the old army under a new name, placed under the control of the Social Democrat Pogany and staffed by officers of the former regime. Most of the commissars attached to the army were Social Democrats, including the commissar-in-chief, Moor.

The Red Militia included whole detachments taken over lock stock and barrel from the old police and gendarmerie. In this way, instead of completely destroying the old state apparatus, important elements of it were preserved under the new labels. Only gradually were the army and militias purged of the old reactionary elements. In the meantime, priceless time was being lost in the fight against reaction (Woods 1979).

While the Romanian army marched on Hungarian territory, the Social Democrats continued to undermine the Hungarian Soviet government from within and demoralised supporters of the revolution. Despite the initial successes of the Hungarian Red Army in pushing back the Allies, the Social Democrats campaigned for ‘peace at any price’, and on 26 June the Red Army began to withdraw. The Allies demanded that a new government of ‘responsible labour leaders’ be formed, excluding the Communist Party, who subsequently resigned ‘to avoid bloodshed’. What was the result of this ‘peaceful revolution’?

The new Social Democratic government hastened to undo all the measures carried out by the revolution. Nationalised firms were handed back to their former owners. The gains of the workers and peasants were wiped out. Many CP members were arrested, while counter-revolutionary elements were released from the prisons. In their reformist blindness, the right-wing labour leaders imagined that these actions would endear them to the Whites and enable them to make their peace with triumphant reaction. Vain illusion! On 6 August, the new government was itself overthrown by a handful of military adventurers. Disoriented and leaderless, the heroic proletariat of Budapest was helpless to offer resistance.

With the entry of the Rumanian army into Budapest, a reign of terror began against the Hungarian working class. The landlords and capitalists took their revenge for the fright they had experienced with no vacillations or qualms of conscience about ‘ruthless acts of cruelty.’ Wounded Red Army soldiers were dragged from the hospitals and murdered. The Whites used the most barbarous, medieval methods of torture, 5,000 people lost their lives in this period. And the Pontius Pilates of ‘gradualism’, those reformist labour leaders who had protested loudly at the alleged “’excesses’ of the workers and peasants now looked the other way, justifying murder and repression in the most cowardly way in return for the retention of their jobs and privileges (Woods 1979).

A similar scenario occurred in Chile following the election of self-declared socialist Salvador Allende in 1970 as part of a centre-left coalition on a programme of workers’ control of industry and nationalisation. As bourgeois opposition to Allende’s policies sharpened, the Radical Left Party and Christian Democrats joined the opposition, with the latter even calling for the military to intervene against the government. Allende’s government was eventually overthrown on 11 September 1973 by a US-backed coup carried out by Chilean General Pinochet and his supporters in the army, leading to the deaths of thousands of socialists and a long period of right-wing reaction in Chilean politics.

When Marx and Engels were talking about the possibility of peaceful revolution over 130 years ago, the world was a completely different place. Today, declining rates of profit and the imperialist domination by a handful of countries and their multinational corporations over most of the world means that they will quite literally fight to the death in order to preserve and extend their profits. The idea that a mass working class movement will not be met with any resistance or force on behalf of the ruling class is very dangerous and does not prepare workers for what is to come.

The state is not a neutral instrument but one of class rule. For a socialist revolution to be consolidated, the capitalist state apparatus and its various appendages must be smashed, with political and military power resting with the revolutionary workers. Some use of force and therefore violence is inevitable.

I have shown that Pete’s rejection of imperialism is based on selective quotations, misinterpretations and a lack of overall context. We live in a world where ’83 percent of the world’s manufacturing workforce lives and works in the nations of the Global South’ (Smith 2016). All the consumer goods we take for granted, such as our clothes, mobile phones and computers are almost exclusively produced abroad in the less developed countries by super-exploited labour. This is a direct result of falling rates of profit and the fact that, ‘in the US, for example, worker compensation still makes up nearly 80% of total domestic corporate income’ (Roach 2003), whereas ‘[w]age rates in China and India range from 10% to 25% of those for comparable-quality workers in the US and the rest of the developed world. Consequently, offshore outsourcing that extracts product from relatively low-wage workers in the developing world has become an increasingly urgent survival tactic for companies in the developed economies’ (ibid).

The struggle for socialism is international. As long as British banks and multinationals dominate the exploited countries, many British workers will be drawn into supporting ‘their’ ruling class because their living standards are, in part, tied to the success of imperialism. We can draw several conclusions from this:

Firstly, a revolutionary movement in this country will not be based primarily on the labour aristocracy but on those workers most oppressed by capitalism. In Britain, the main political representation for the labour aristocracy is the Labour Party and economically the major trade unions. Whilst as revolutionaries we work in both, we must have no illusions that they can be converted into revolutionary organisations. Our task should be to win the rank and file to revolutionary Marxism, and unite them with the most oppressed proletariat in this country and internationally.

Secondly, as revolutionaries in an imperialist country, the best way we can help the working class in the exploited countries is to deal blows to our own ruling class, banks and multinationals. As Engels noted, we will only overcome the ‘political nullity’ of the workers in this country when they are unshackled from the proceeds of imperialism.

Thirdly, that we should be more supportive, although not uncritical, of progressive, liberation and revolutionary  movements in the exploited countries and provide workers in this country with a global analysis and programme in order to understand unfolding events and the tasks for revolutionaries around the world.

Bukharin. 1917. Imperialism and World Economy
Engels. 1883. Letter to Bebel
Engels. 1885. ‘England in 1845 and in 1885’.
Investopedia. 2015. ‘How Patent Trolls Hurt Competition’.
Marx. 1857. Grundrisse. Chapter One.
Marx. 1863. Theories of Surplus Value Part I.
Marx. 1867. Capital Volume I.
Marx. 1869. Letter to Engels.
Marx. 1870. Letter to Meyer and Vogt.
Marx. 1894. Capital Volume III.
Mill, John Stuart. 1848. Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy.
Lenin. 1916a. Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism: A popular outline.
Lenin. 1916b. ‘Imperialism and the Split in Socialism’.
Roach, Stephen. 2003. Outsourcing, Protectionism,and the Global Labor Arbitrage. Morgan Stanley.
Smith, John, 2016. Imperialism in the 21st Century. Monthly Review Press
Woods, Alan. 1979. ‘The Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 – The Forgotten Revolution’.
World Socialist Web Site (WSWS). 15 October 2016. ‘Citigroup chose Obama’s 2008 cabinet, WikiLeaks document reveals’.


1 Comment

    • Gerry Downing

      Excellent piece, the concentration on BUKHARIN’S WORK and its influence on Lenin explains the April Theses and coming together with TROTSKY’S permanent revolution. the concentration on the essence of imperialism prepared by Marx is well theorised. Very refreshing also to see the attention paid to Ireland and to the refutation of the notion of peaceful revolution. GLOVER’S Blunder in citing Hungary 1919 as AN example of peaceful revolution is exposed thoroughly.

      The long concentration on the composition of capital at the START seemed a digression until suddenly the reason became clear and the reasons for the export of capital and imperialism itself were explained. THAT SOURCE as the origin of the aristocracy of labour is well LAID out. an excellent Marxist document.

      PS the references at the end are not numbered, one quote ends with “Our emphasis” but there is no emphasis. and there is a reference to superseding capitalism that I thought should say superseding the previous free COMPITION form of capitalism before its imperialist stage.


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