The Leninist Theory of Imperialism, the Guide for the Struggle of the Communists
Certain issues related to Lenin’s work “Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism” on the occasion of its 100th anniversary this year.
By Giorgos Marinos, Political Bureau, KKE
The complexity of the economic and political developments at an international and national level is borne out on a daily basis and requires a more serious, systematic effort to develop the theoretical work on the part of every communist party and to form a robust infrastructure that will have the capacity to support the independent ideological-political struggle of the communists, the struggle inside the trade unions, inside the labour-people’s movement.
A permanent task for communists is the study of the development of the imperialist-capitalist system and its components, the capitalist states, the precise assessment of the position each state has in the imperialist system so that the formation of a revolutionary strategy and tactics is based on the real objective data that highlight that our era is the era of the passage from capitalism to socialism.
The CPs have a major advantage, they hold in their hands the irreplaceable work of Marx-Engels-Lenin and are guided by the Marxist-Leninist worldview.
One such valuable resource is Lenin’s work “Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism”, which was written in 1916, two years after the start of the 1st Imperialist World War, utilizing a plethora of data regarding the course of capitalism and its contradictions, the changes brought about by its development. In particular, the changes brought about by the crisis of 1873 in relation to the concentration of capital and the creation of a higher economic unit, the monopoly, led Lenin to come to the scientific conclusion that we had entered a new period of capitalism, its imperialist stage.
Lenin, with his scientific accuracy, studied the political issues that arose and focused on the historical position of capitalism in its final imperialist stage, teaching us the necessary connection between politics and the economy, providing the CPs and the working class with a priceless resource.
What Is Imperialism?
First, imperialism is capitalism in the historical era that began at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century and according to the briefest definition provided by Lenin “imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism”. He noted that this definition is not sufficient to express its essence and content in its entirety.
In his work “Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism”, Lenin provided a comprehensive definition, highlighting its five basic economic features:
“(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. “
On this crucial issue, what is imperialism?, an intense ideological struggle is being waged within the communist movement. In the framework of the ideological retreat and strong impact of bourgeois and opportunist views, a number of CPs understand imperialism as only being the aggressive stance of the USA or other powerful capitalist states towards other states with a subordinate position in the imperialist-capitalist system, using economic, political and military means.
This is a very serious problem that leads communist parties to being unable to analyze the developments with the actual data as they approach the capitalist system and its laws in the new final imperialist stage in a one-sided way, seeing them only as an aggressive foreign policy of powerful capitalist states which-as is said-leads to the weakening or loss of sovereignty of smaller states, the loss of independence.
This approach, which is unable to see the imperialist (capitalist) system as a totality made up of capitalist states that are not the “same’ and “equal” due the unevenness of their economic, military and political strength and have a different position in the system-imperialist pyramid, cannot understand the basic issue: that the capitalist countries in the era of imperialism which have formed a monopoly economic base have entered the imperialist stage.
This does not mean that Greece is the same as Germany or that Mexico is the same as the USA. Nor does it mean that each capitalist state and alliance have the same goals, nor does it negate maneuvers and compromises that can take place at various historical moments, always with the permanent goal of advancing the interests of the monopolies.
Capitalist unevenness and inequality in economic-political relations is a basic law of capitalism and each bourgeois state serves the interests of the monopolies, whether it is in a higher position in the system or in a lower subordinate one.
In addition, the bourgeois class itself chooses the path of ceding sovereign rights e.g. to an imperialist alliance like the EU or NATO, or even to inter-state relations in order to safeguard its more general class interests, to find support and to perpetuate its power. Consequently, the problems of “sovereignty” have a class basis and their resolution is connected to the elimination of their causes by overthrowing bourgeois power.
The identification of imperialism only with the aggressive foreign policy of powerful capitalist states and the detachment of politics from the economy (i.e. the monopoly domination of the economy) leads to the deeply mistaken separation of the anti–imperialist from the anti-capitalist struggle.
It is also leads to “prettifying” the role of the bourgeoisie of “smaller states”.
The most serious problem is the one related to the changing of the CPs’ goal. The utopian quest for strategies to restore sovereignty and independence in the framework of capitalism replace the struggle to overthrow capitalism-imperialism. This is accompanied by transitional political formations, so-called “left” “progressive” governments to manage the bourgeois system, with negative results for the course of the class struggle leading to the reinforcement of the capitalist camp.
The example of states in Latin America is characteristic and the analysis of the CP of Mexico regarding the damage caused by so-called “progressivism” and “21st century socialism” is an important contribution to the struggle of the communist movement. These approaches operate within the framework of capitalism, maintain bourgeois power, capitalist ownership of the means of production, the law of monopoly profit, capitalist anarchy that leads to crises.
Taking into account the seriousness of the problem, Lenin’s emphatic warning that “Unless the economic roots of this phenomenon are understood and its political and social significance is appreciated, not a step can be taken toward the solution of the practical problem of the communist movement and of the impending social revolution. »
Secondly, Lenin, on the basis of the economic essence and contradictions that permeate imperialism, studied and highlighted its political characteristics, demonstrating that imperialism is the final stage of capitalism, the eve of the socialist revolution.
The Decisive Importance of the Sociaization of Production and Labour
Lenin noted in 1916 that:
“Capitalism in its imperialist stage leads directly to the most comprehensive socialisation of production…Production becomes social, but appropriation remains private…When a big enterprise assumes gigantic proportions, and, on the basis of an exact computation of mass data, organises according to plan the supply of primary raw materials to the extent of two-thirds, or three-fourths, of all that is necessary for tens of millions of people; when the raw materials are transported in a systematic and organised manner to the most suitable places of production, sometimes situated hundreds or thousands of miles from each other; when a single centre directs all the consecutive stages of processing the material right up to the manufacture of numerous varieties of finished articles; when these products are distributed according to a single plan among tens and hundreds of millions of consumers (the marketing of oil in America and Germany by the American oil trust)then it becomes evident that we have socialisation of production”
Based on the above, it is worth examining the Leninist methodology, focusing our thoughts on the years that have passed since 1916, noting that today the socialization of production and labour has increased exponentially.
The Political Tasks of the CPs
“Imperialism is the eve of the social revolution of the proletariat. This has been confirmed since 1917 on a world-wide scale” (from the preface to the German and French edition of the work of V.I. Lenin “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”
What is the basic feature that demonstrates this important truth and allows the communist parties to take a daring step forwards, to disentangle themselves from strategic choices that not only have not been borne out but refer to historical periods when the bourgeois class was the leading social force against feudal system?
The Great October Socialist Revolution shows the way. The socialist revolution at the beginning of the 20th century in a relatively backward agricultural country where (however) the material preconditions for the construction of the socialist society had been created.
The necessity of socialism has drastically intensified in our period, as capitalism has greatly developed and has formed a strong economic (monopoly) base, a high level of infrastructure, technological means that allow for the rise of labour productivity.
Maturation of the material preconditions. This is the basic issue that the development of capitalism in its imperialist stage solved and it determines the character of our era as the era of the passage from capitalism to socialism.
The study of the developments and the substantial discussion that took place at the 19th Congress of the KKE (Spring 2013) established that Greece is in an intermediate position in the international imperialist pyramid, with dependencies on the USA and EU.
In the Programme of the KKE, which was approved by the 19th Congress it is noted that:”On this basis, the KKE has come to the conclusion that the Greek people will be freed from the shackles of capitalist exploitation and the imperialist unions, when the working class together with its allies carries out the socialist revolution and proceeds to the construction of socialism-communism.
The strategic goal of the KKE is the conquest of revolutionary working class power, the dictatorship of the proletariat, for socialist construction, as the immature phase of the communist society.
The revolutionary change in Greece will be socialist.”
Our party does not restrict itself to proclaiming the necessity of socialism, but on the basis of the study of the economic-social developments stresses that socialism is the only alternative socialism, necessary and very timely.
The chronic, unresolved and sharpening problems faced by the working class are rooted in the dominance, the strengthening and expansion of monopoly capital into all sectors of the economy and social life. Capital accumulation is at unprecedented levels, there is a major increase in labour productivity.
The outbreak of the economic capitalist crisis in 2008 even further highlighted the historically outdated and barbaric character of the capitalist system, the timeliness and necessity of socialism, the need to regroup the international communist movement and emancipate the labour and people’s movement.
It contributed to the sharpening of the inter-imperialist contradictions (which is the basis for imperialist wars), to changes in the correlation of forces and realignments in the international imperialist pyramid.
Our party focuses its attention on strengthening and regrouping the labour movement and constructing a powerful people’s-social alliance that expresses the interests of the working class, the semi-proletarians, the self-employed and poor farmers, the youth and women from the working class and popular strata in the struggle against the monopolies and capitalist ownership, against the country’s assimilation in the imperialist unions, e.g. in the EU and NATO.
The programme of the KKE mentions that: “The rallying of the majority of the working class with the KKE and the attraction of leading sections of the popular strata will pass through various phases. The labour movement, the movements of the urban self-employed and farmers and the form that their alliance takes on (the People’s Alliance) with anti-monopoly and anti-capitalist goals, with the vanguard activity of the KKE’s forces, in non-revolutionary conditions, constitute the first form for the creation of the revolutionary workers’ and people’s front in revolutionary conditions. “
“In the conditions of the revolutionary situation, the revolutionary workers’ and people’s front, using all forms of its activity, can become the centre of the popular uprising against capitalist power. ..”
On the Decay of Capitalism
The Leninist position concerning the decay of capitalism in its imperialist stage is confirmed by the experience of the capitalist states themselves. The phenomena of decay, the scandals etc are multiplying, but we must be careful because it is obvious that this decay does not automatically lead to the overthrow of capitalism. The system defends its power with all means available to it. And consequently there needs to be an intensification of the efforts of the CPs and the strengthening of the ideological, political and mass struggle to shape the class consciousness of the working class with a strategy that favours the development of an antimonopoly-anticapitalist struggle so that the systematic efforts to concentrate and prepare working class-popular forces in a direction of rupture and overthrow takes place on a solid basis.
Lenin’s Criticisim of the Renegade Kautsky
Lenin demonstrated in practice that the struggle against opportunism is a necessary component of the struggle against imperialism-capitalism and for its overthrow.
The exposure of the mistaken positions of the renegade Kautsky is of particular importance. Kautsky argued that:”Imperialism is a product of highly developed industrial capitalism. It consists in the striving of every industrial capitalist nation to bring under its control or to annex all large areas of agrarian [Kautsky’s italics] territory, irrespective of what nations inhabit it.”
The First World War was an imperialist war on both sides-the Entente (Britain, France, Russia etc) and the German alliance- a war between two coalitions of capitalist states over the territorial division of the world and the opportunist positions detached politics from the economy and saw imperialism as the policy of annexing territories by the powerful capitalist states.
Lenin stressed that the definition of Kautsky “is of no use at all because it one-sidedly, i.e., arbitrarily, singles out only the national question (although the latter is extremely important in itself as well as in its relation to imperialism), it arbitrarily and inaccurately connects this question only with industrial capital in the countries which annex other nations, and in an equally arbitrary and inaccurate manner pushes into the forefront the annexation of agrarian regions. Imperialism is a striving for annexations—this is what the political part of Kautsky’s definition amounts to. “
Because there is a discussion-ideological confrontation taking place in the communist movement, we would like to note that of course Lenin spoke at the beginning of the 20th century about a small group of states that had a leading position in the global market due to their trusts, cartels, colonies, in the inter-state relations between creditor-states and debtor states.
However, Lenin himself taught us that capitalism develops, that capitalist unevenness led and leads to important changes in the position of capitalist states in the imperialist system.
In reality, it has been demonstrated that the colonial system was overthrow and the former colonies acquired their independence as states thanks to the struggle of the peoples and the contribution of the Soviet Union.
Taking this reality into account, we believe the analysis that stresses that all the capitalist states where monopoly capitalism has already developed participate in the imperialist system correctly expresses the tendency of our era. Unequal interdependence is predominant in terms of the relations between these states and each country’s influence is determined by its economic, political and military strength and each seeks to represent and advance the interests of “its own” monopolies.
These features allow us to interpret, on the basis of class criteria, the role of each state and alliance. They allow us to take a position on the role of the alliances of capitalist states e.g. the EU, and also BRICS, the stance e.g. of Russia and China which act on behalf of the Russian and Chinese monopolies in the international competition with the USA, the EU and Japan etc for the control of the markets and the natural resources and today particularly for control of natural gas, oil, energy pipelines.
We believe that the communist parties must study the developments using the all the (unified) Leninist features of imperialism as their resource and elaborate their strategy on the basis of the important truth that imperialism is capitalism in decay and that our era is the era of the passage of capitalism to socialism.
We can overcome difficulties using Lenin’s work as a resource so that we can take a principled position against imperialist wars that are a result of the sharpening of the inter-imperialist contradictions and competition and fight against the pressure exerted by bourgeois and opportunist forces which leads to support for the interests of the bourgeoisie of “our country”, disarming the working class, condemning it to following a “false flag”, to choosing imperialist or imperialist alliance.
This position is not just related to the stance of the communists towards imperialist war but also to their stance towards the imperialist alliances and many other questions of the political struggle.
Recently the KKE in its statement on the referendum in Britain and the decision for a BREXIT mentioned that:
“The result of Britain’s referendum demonstrates the increasing discontent of the working class and popular forces towards the EU and its anti-people policies. However these forces must disentangle themselves from the choices of sections and political forces of the bourgeoisie and acquire radical and anti-capitalist characteristics.
The result records the evaporation of the expectations, which had been fostered by all the bourgeois parties-in Greece as well-together with the EU’s mechanisms that the peoples could allegedly be prosperous inside the framework of the EU.
The necessary condemnation of capital’s predatory alliance, the EU, the struggle for the disengagement of every country to be effective must be connected to the necessary overthrow of capital’s power by workers’-people’s power. The social alliance of the working class and the other popular strata, the regroupment and strengthening of the international communist movement are preconditions to pave the way for this prospect of hope.”
This conclusion, this direction truly shows the way for the overthrow of the system and not the positions that are constantly searching for “rungs” and “stages» on the terrain of capitalism and promote various substitutes, impeding the necessary anti-capitalist struggle for the overthrow of capitalist barbarity.
The experience of the communist movement shows that the ideological-political and organizational independence of the communist parties is a very important principle which when violated leads to deviations and opportunist mutations.
The ideological-political and organizational independence with a strategy that responds to the contemporary needs of the class struggle in the direction of gathering forces for the overthrow of capitalism and not trapping them in the rationale of intermediate stages that manage capitalism constitute very important tools for the struggle of the CPs and the regroupment of the communist movement.