The crisis of imperialism's imperative



We are now at the point of no return of Russia's questioning of American arrogance.

The crisis in Ukraine has many facets and, in general, it has been treated as an episode of “military occupation” by Russia, not that it is not, but two other aspects that seem to me to be highlighted and we seek here treat them, choosing some authors for their development: (i) capitalism as a phenomenon integrated to what the German author Paul Mattick called the “imperialist imperative”; (ii) the contradictions between the “new imperialism” and the emergence of national capitals, at this point we will develop the thesis of questioning the US “metropolitan exclusive” by Russia and the crisis of the US unipolar order.

We start from the classic work of Vladimir I. Lenin: Imperialism higher stage of capitalism, published in April 1916. From it, the historical aspects of the formation of capitalism in the XNUMXth century and its strong influence on present-day capitalism are problematized. In the following moment, we seek to visualize imperialism in the current capitalist conformation, having in Paul Mattick[I], David Harvey[ii], Eric Hobsbawm[iii] and Ellen Wood[iv] references for dealing with contradictions, the global intensity of “new imperialism” and Russia's own questioning of the US “metropolitan exclusive” order.


Capitalism and the “imperialist imperative”

The superiority of the small pamphlet written by Lenin in the spring of 1916 is highlighted by Giörgy Lukács.[v] According to him, the book by the Russian revolutionary made the “concrete articulation of the economic theory of imperialism with all the political issues of the present, transforming the economy of the new phase of capitalism into the guiding thread for all concrete actions in the conjuncture that was configured in that period” . This statement even coincides with a critical author such as Ellen Wood (2014) who considers that “capitalist imperialism” is characterized by “economic reach far exceeding its direct political and military control”.

The economic nature of imperialism is treated by Lenin[vi] since the recognition that capitalist production began to take place in the XNUMXth century in the form of monopolies and oligopolized companies, resulting from the process of concentration and centralization of capital, that is, greater control of the economy by a small number of large and concentrated companies, in terms of territorial control, in a small number of national states. Capitalism in its contemporary (imperialist) phase leads to the almost complete socialization of production in the most varied aspects, but the “appropriation of gains continues to be private”.

This characteristic of capitalism accelerates in the 2011th century and now in the 37st, including under the control of vast national territories by companies that belong to a handful of large associated capitalists. For example, in a study published by the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne in 147, in Switzerland, using data mining techniques and economic models of neural networks, based on 60 million companies and investors across the planet, revealed that 1 “super-companies” (integrated into a wide network of holding companies) control approximately 40% of all sales made worldwide, and, as the study concludes, less than XNUMX% of companies control XNUMX% of the network whole world of global companies, most of them banks[vii], not to mention the so-called AGOMAM system (Amazon, Google, Oracle, Meta, Apple, Microsoft), which controls a substantial part of the western system of production, storage and distribution of information.

From the process of concentration and centralization of capital, a financial oligarchy emerges that controls small capital, subordinating them to big capital. This oligarchy results in a change in the roles of banks, which cease to act as simple banking intermediaries and start to finance and control large companies, intertwining the interests of banking capital with industrial capital, fundamentally through the purchase of shares in large companies.

This fusion between bank and industrial capital constitutes the main process of the phase change from competitive to monopoly capitalism and gives rise to the current financial capital. This, in turn, increasingly submits industry and other sectors of the economy and state power, becoming hegemonic in the process of capital accumulation.

The change from the competitive phase of capitalism (characterized by the export of goods) to the monopoly phase (characterized by the export of capital) has as its ultimate objective the increase of monopoly profits, via loans or direct foreign investment in peripheral nations, where capitalism it is established on different structural bases, subordinated to the regulation of imperialist power relations. This dynamic of capital imposes the search for new spaces that allow the expansion of the radius of action of this capital, making its expansion reach greater fullness.

This process is characterized by five points, namely: (a) the export of capital; (b) centralized production and distribution in large companies; (c) the merging of “banking capital” with “industrial capital” in the form of “financial capital”; (d) the “geopolitical dispute between the capitalist powers”; and (e) wars as a recurrent phenomenon of this dispute. Lenin states that the concentration of production is connected with a monopoly phase that will be the highest phase of capitalism, which will be called “imperialism”.

Lenin stressed with a rare visionary capacity that capitalism would move towards the formation of “usurious states, whose bourgeoisie lives more and more at the expense of capital exports and the cutting of coupons” (profitability of securities invested in the stock exchange or public debt securities). However, he correctly observed that this will not necessarily lead to lower rates of growth for capitalism, but “this growth is not only increasingly unequal, but inequality is also manifested in the decomposition of the richest countries in capital”, at the time England, the USA today.

After the Second World War, it is observed that capitalist imperialism changes in the XNUMXth century and assumes an even more senile configuration in the XNUMXst century. A new imperialism is constituted whose center is the imperialist trilateral, constituted by the US hegemonic control power and surrounded by part of western Europe and by submissive Japan, has a fundamental gear in the so-called “empire rents”. These “empire rents” are nothing more than continuous transfer flows of wealth (economic surpluses) from the capitalist periphery, including Russia, to the Global North.

It is worth noting that, as much as Russia is a warlike and nuclear power, however, since the end of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and the process of national and social dismantling imposed by the USA with the end of the cold war, Russia has submitted to the international capitalist order and its system of “empire rents”. As Hobsbawm noted[viii] in his analysis of the end of the Soviet Union, the “economic disintegration helped to advance the political disintegration, and was fed by it”, which was complemented in the following years by the imposition of a strong “fiscal shock”, privatization of the State and disorganization of the social policies of the former Soviet state.

The relations between central and peripheral capitalist economies are maintained by the transfer or net flow of value (wealth) to the central countries, either through the classic mechanisms of remittance of dividends, interest and wages paid to the directors of the great imperialist companies and the growing debts of the countries underdeveloped countries, but also by the worsening of unequal exchange, especially established since the growing technological gap consolidated from the 2000s onwards, in all these aspects the economy and society of the Russian Federation is placed as part of the broad capitalist periphery, as shown by the data compiled by the World Bank. I suggest checking out the excellent text by Michel Roberts.[ix]

Capitalism is an open system of capital accumulation which, as Paul Mattick has observed, its structural transformations, "whether national or international, give rise to competition, crises, imperialism and war". The imperialist imperative denotes both the effort of economic control, both in order to maintain the profitability of capital in the central countries, and also to use political-military force “to guarantee the functioning of the indirect control methods”. The USA as a hegemonic center in the last thirty years as a “surplus imperialism”, whose international control was imposed as a universal logic, which now in the crisis of Ukraine seems to be entering a deep crisis.


Questioning America’s “Metro Exclusive”

In the last thirty years we have entered a new phase in the relations of world capitalism where the logic of integrated and politically subservient economic forms is revealed as the explicit face of a new imperialism, and the condition of insertion of various national economies has changed from then. The resumption of the analysis of the development of capitalism and, especially, its contradictions, crises and State actions constitute the center for understanding recent economic, political and military events at the international level, especially in Ukraine, but not only.

Eric Hobsbawm, in Globalization, democracy and terrorism, highlights three movements that gave substance to the maintenance of the US world empire: (i) the accelerated process of globalization since the 1960s, however with deleterious consequences of increasing or worsening economic and social inequalities between and hospitalizations, in addition to incapacity, even here, the realization of a globalization of politics; what seems to us to have been imposed in the last five years is precisely the growing power of the political empire, with Latin America constituting the backyard for experimentation with the political globalization of the decadent empire.

(ii) The collapse of the international balance of forces arising from the Second World War, especially the dismantling of the former USSR and the disappearance of divergent forces necessary for the balance of the system of forces; (iii) the crisis of sovereign national states and/or the weakening of these agents in the face of other agents of accumulation, such as the mega transnationals, as explained above, become a practically hegemonic force worldwide, establishing a transnational ruling class. The logic here seems to be that of a new race for control of strategic natural resources, thus the radical subordination of Latin America, Africa, including Russia and Ukraine, to the control of stocks of natural resources such as oil and minerals constitutes the center of the imperialist escalation of the last years and her Siamese sister who forms the dependency of these companies.

David Harvey, in the new imperialism, points out that certain characteristics of American society (USA), such as the “inflexible competitive individualism”, added to the patterns of economic, political and military dominance of this imperial power, to impose the current dangerous game of international dominance, whose latest victims were a set of countries, and the siege of Russia through NATO troops and its territorial proximity constitutes part of the pattern of imperialist dominance or imperative, the problem is that, as old Garrincha reminded us, US imperialism did not combine with the Russians.

It is worth noting that since the end of the Cold War and with the complete subjugation of Russia and the discretion of Chinese diplomatic action, the US imperative power was in fact an "exclusive metropolitan", no limit was imposed on the actions of the imperialist imperative, it is worth remembering the various interventions across the planet and complete control over the global state system.

We can remember that when Barack Obama authorized the televised death of Bin Laden, he did so with the perception of making the action “Hollywoodian”, establishing since then a new standard of imperial action: the use of technology for maximum subordination of opponents, but coordinated from the unipolarity or “metropolitan exclusive” of the imposition of military and economic sanctions, in any point of the planet.

David Harvey observes that from the end of the XNUMXth century onwards, the USA gradually began to mask the explicit character of territorial conquests and occupations under the cover of a universalization of its values, a discourse that would culminate in the rhetoric of globalization and the “global defense of freedom”. and democracy” which, as Paul Mattick states, are expressions of “American chauvinism on the inside and its imperialism on the outside”.

Eric Hobsbawm, however, already emphasized that the world, because it is too big, complex and plural, prevents any possibility that the United States, or any other single power, could establish lasting control, even if they wanted to, over the world economy. This observation by the English historian is key for us to think about the changes that are underway, including the Russian opposition to the US imperialist imperative and NATO's intervention in its proximity territory.

The current moment is heading towards the inevitable question of how the US hegemony will be questioned or whether the current crisis already demarcates the field of the future of US imperialism and its decay. It is worth mentioning that the time of US unipolar hegemony seems to be coming to an end. An aspect already denoted is that the US “metropolitan exclusive”, considering its almost unilateral power to impose military escalation and economic sanctions, seems to have reached a critical point of questioning.

As much as war is a criticizable way of imposing sovereign interests, Russia was forced into this position by the US imperialist imperative, and we are now at the point of no return of questioning US arrogance.

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad He is a professor at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences at UFPA. Author, among other books, of Agenda of debates and theoretical challenges: the trajectory of dependence (Pakatatu).



[I] Paul Mattick. Marx and Keynes: the limits of the mixed economy. Lisbon: Antigone, 2010.

[ii] David Harvey. the new imperialism. Sao Paulo: Loyola Editions, 2004.

[iii] Eric Hobsbawm. Globalization, democracy and terrorism🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2007.

[iv] Ellen Wood. The empire of capital. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2014.

[v]  Gyorgy Lukacs. Lenin, [1924], 2012. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2012. p. 61.

[vi] Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. Lisbon: Edições Progresso. 1986.

[vii] See:, accessed on: 17/03/2021.

[viii] Eric Hobsbawm. Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1995.

[ix] See:

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