Lenin established in his brilliant book called “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”, written in 1916, that global capitalism had entered a new epoch by the end of the 19th century. He enumerated five characteristic features of capitalism at its highest stage of imperialism. These are: i) concentration of production and capital leading to the domination of monopolies; ii) rise of finance capital and a parasitic financial oligarchy; iii) export of capital, as distinguished from and to a greater extent than the export of commodities; iv) formation of international monopoly capitalist associations which share the world markets and fight for control over the sources of raw materials; and v) completion of the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest colonial powers leading to inter-imperialist conflicts to re-divide the world. (For more details see Box on Characteristic Features of Imperialism).
(Please note that Part I appeared in the 1-15 April issue of Mazdoor Ekta Lehar)
Characteristic Features of Imperialism
Concentration and Monopoly. In its early stage, capitalism was characterized by competition among numerous capitalists, with each having a miniscule share of the overall market. By the end of the 19th century, the accumulation and concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands had led to the emergence of a handful of big capitalists together controlling the lion’s share of the market for most commodities, with the majority of smaller players being at their mercy. Capitalist competition had developed into domination and control by the monopolies.
Dominant Role of Finance Capital. Just as industrial monopolies grew out of the competition between industrial enterprises, banking monopolies came into being through the competition among banks. The high degree of concentration of banking capital increased the dependence of industries on a handful of banks. Such banks no longer merely played an intermediary role but started intervening in directing the enterprises to which they had advanced credit. This process led to the merger of giant banks and industrial monopolies, resulting in the rise of finance capital. It led to the emergence of a financial oligarchy, a parasitic section of capitalists who control finance and impose their dictate on society.
Export of Capital. In its earlier stage, the growth of capitalism was characterized by the export of commodities from the industrially advanced economies to the under-developed and colonised countries. In its highest and final stage of imperialism, capitalism is characterized by the export of capital to wherever raw materials and labour power can be bought at the cheapest rate.
Inter-monopoly rivalry. The drive of monopoly capitalists to secure the maximum possible rate of profit through maximum degree of exploitation and plunder on a global scale leads to intense rivalry between them. They form conglomerates and various associations of monopolies to gain control over sources of cheap raw materials and to dominate the most lucrative markets.
Struggle for re-division of territories. By the end of the 19th century, the leading capitalist powers of the world had already captured and colonized all available territories. Further expansion meant that they had to seize territories from one another through inter-imperialist wars.
Source: Imperialism, Highest Stage of Capitalism – by V. I. Lenin
Lenin discovered the law of uneven economic and political development of capitalism in the epoch of imperialism. He showed with facts and figures that the development of enterprises, trusts, branches of industry and individual countries proceeds not evenly – not according to an established sequence, not in such a way that one trust, one branch of industry or one country is always in advance of others, while other trusts or countries keep consistently behind the other. Development proceeds unevenly and spasmodically, with interruptions in the development of some countries and leaps ahead in the development of others. Under such circumstances, the 'quite legitimate' striving of the countries that have slowed down to hold on to their old positions, and the equally 'legitimate' striving of the countries that have leapt ahead to seize new positions, lead to a situation in which armed clashes among the imperialist countries become an inescapable necessity.
Lenin pointed out that imperialism is the final stage of capitalism, when all the contradictions of the system come to a head – between the exploiters and exploited within capitalist countries, between imperialism and the oppressed nations and peoples, and among the imperialist powers. He concluded that imperialism is the eve of the proletarian revolution.
Lenin argued that the growth of contradictions within the world system of financial oppression and the inevitability of armed clashes lead to the world front of imperialism becoming easily vulnerable to revolution, and to a breach in this front becoming probable. This breach is most likely to occur at those points, and in those countries, where the chain of the imperialist front is weakest, that is to say, where imperialism is least consolidated, and where it is easiest for a revolution to break out.
The imperialist chain did break at its weakest point in 1917, in Czarist Russia. The successful construction of socialism in the Soviet Union was a powerful vindication of Lenin’s theory of imperialism and proletarian revolution.
The validity of Lenin’s analysis is being reconfirmed by the dangerous trajectory of the imperialist system today. In the face of declining relative economic strength, US imperialism has been waging one unjust war after another in the present period. Lies have been concocted and spread to justify armed aggression and occupation of independent countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya; armed intervention in Syria, Ukraine and Yemen; and continuing drone attacks in Pakistan. The real aim behind these wars is to hold on to the dominant position of the United States over world affairs, maintain the hegemony of the Dollar over international trade and weaken potential threats to US domination including China and Russia. Wars have also become necessary to keep the US economy growing faster than those of Europe.
There is growing worldwide resistance to imperialist wars and to the capitalist offensive against labour, and against human rights and the environment. Nations and peoples around the world are seething with anger and fighting back the imperialist plunder of their economies and fascistic repression by pro-imperialist regimes. Masses of working people are opposing the onslaught on their fundamental right to a secure livelihood and a life of dignity. They are refusing to accept a system in which a financial oligarchy accumulates its wealth by robbing and exploiting the toiling majority, and periodically plunges the whole society into deep crisis.
The global phenomena reveal that the three major contradictions of the imperialist system that Lenin identified are all becoming more acute – between the exploiters and exploited within capitalist countries, between imperialism and the oppressed nations and peoples, and among the imperialist powers. It means that the conditions are ripening for a second round of proletarian revolution. It is precisely the fear of revolution breaking out and putting an end to their paradise that is driving imperialism and the reactionary bourgeoisie to resort to brute force as well as massive disinformation and ideological subversion of anti-imperialist movements.
A stage and not a policy
Lenin exposed the erroneous view that imperialist aggression and wars are the preferred policy of particular governments. He emphasized that imperialism is a stage of capitalism. In other words, internal reaction and external aggression are inherent to capitalism at this stage. The notion that there can be a non-aggressive and less evil policy on the part of an imperialist power is an illusion.
Similar illusions continue to be spread to this day. For instance, the illusion was spread in 2008 that the unjust wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the result of the policy of the Bush administration, and that the election of Obama and the Democratic Party would bring about a change. However, facts have revealed that a change of party and leader has made no dent in the aggressive and warmongering drive of US imperialism. The reactionary and dangerous character of US imperialism stems from its very nature. It is the result of a highly militarized economy that is dominated by a financial oligarchy, which thrives on war and depends on war for its continued global domination.
India within the imperialist system
India is a capitalist country that is growing faster than the US and Europe, next only to China among large countries of the world. The capitalist class of our country, headed by the monopoly houses of Reliance, Tatas and others, is eager to get ahead in the imperialist race and for India to become part of the elite club of imperialist states that dominate the world. It is playing a dangerous game, placing the fate of the toiling millions and the future of the country at risk in its aggressive imperialist pursuit.
Far from acting in defence of the sovereignty of all nations and condemning the imperialist states that have violated national and human rights, the ruling class of our country is acting in the most opportunistic manner. Both the previous Manmohan Singh regime and the present Modi regime are strengthening military, economic and intelligence collaboration with the United States, hoping that this would assist Indian imperialist aims. Joint production of arms and armaments are on the cards, which is a recipe for embroiling India in unjust imperialist wars. Facts and phenomena show that the Indian bourgeoisie is on a dangerous imperialist course.
The responsibility to combat the growing fascistic capitalist offensive and unjust imperialist wars falls upon the working class and broad masses of people who are the victims of the present dangerous course. We communists must carry out our duty of providing ideological and political leadership to the anti-imperialist struggle. In particular, we Indian communists must carry out our internationalist duty of exposing the Indian bourgeoisie as a factor in favour of imperialism and war; and not a factor for peace and social progress. We must reject and oppose any form of conciliation with official justifications for dragging India into an imperialist war, whether it is “fight against terrorism”, “defence of national unity and territorial integrity” or some other pretext.
The biggest danger to humanity at this time is not from some so-called “non-state actors” but from the imperialist system and the leading powers which defend this system. Imperialism is the source of terrorism, fascism and war. Only the struggle of the proletariat and toiling majority of people to end the capitalist-imperialist system can bring about lasting peace.
It remains the task of Communist Parties in all countries to prepare the working class to lead a social revolution in alliance with all other oppressed strata, guided by the Leninist theory of proletarian revolution. Preparing conditions for proletarian revolution is the only way to combat the growing fascism and imperialist wars. The imperialist chain is bound to break once again, opening a new chapter in the history of the movement for socialism and communism.
Long live Leninism!