Some notes on our last meeting… comments, amendments, and additions are welcome!
Notes from Marxist Reading Group on Sept 20th, 2011
Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism
Panitch and Gindin, Capitalist Crises and the Crisis This Time
In this session, we returned to Lenin’s writings on imperialism to ask the question: to what extent is Lenin’s analysis of imperialism relevant to our own time? The following notes are just some of the points and questions that came up during that discussion.
Panitch and Gindin argue that there has been a shift from ‘predominantly monopoly capital’ to ‘predominantly financialized capital.’ Such financialization has entailed finance capital reaching down to the worker as consumer, with home mortgages and credit card debt. They further claim that Lenin’s emphasis on inter-imperialist rivalries have shifted in an age of a uni-polar world under US hegemony
Lenin was writing at a time when the total territorial division of the world at the beginning of the twentieth century was central to his analysis. After this, there could only be re-divisions of the earth’s surface—the basis for inter-imperialist wars. This being the culmination also of centuries of colonial rule, the analytical distinction between colonialism and imperialism becomes important. [see David Vine, Island of Shame]
It is important to think about the interstate system here. Is there a shift from the inter-imperialist wars that Lenin wrote about to an international order based on hegemony of a single dominant world power? Furthermore, many of the states that constitute the Third World were not states at the time when Lenin was writing. How does imperial or hegemonic power relate to the Third World states at the current moment? What is the relationship of such Third World states to finance capital flowing from hegemonic financial centres? In our age, is it more about the control of regimes in the Third World as opposed to direct control over territory? And how do such Third World states relate to their own populations even as they have a tenuous relationship with the inter-state system? [see Arrighi, Geometry of Imperialism]
Questions were raised to whether such a framing of Lenin’s relevance today misses the point. Is such framing sufficiently attentive to Lenin’s method? Lenin understands imperialism as a totality. His text was written as a political pamphlet, meant to convince workers of the correctness of a particular political project. It must be understood in this context. Is Lenin using the concept of “state” in the way we are assuming? Should the questions we pose about our current moment be grounded in the current moment, while drawing inspiration and the element of praxis in Lenin’s writing? [see Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language]
In light of the ongoing global economic crisis, how do we understand the legitimacy and future of neoliberalism? Is neoliberalism, to borrow from Lenin, a latest stage of capitalism? How do we distinguish imperialism from neoliberalism, both as concepts and processes? How do we understand the collapse of neoliberal regimes with the Arab Spring even as we find differing imperial (hegemonic) responses to such changes? Are these important question for us to think through?
Ahilan and Neil