Imperialism in the Second International



A historical and political reconstitution of the debates on the question of imperialism within the framework of the Second International (1889-1914).

Two French authors stated that “until 1914, Lenin's theory of the party lacked the same thing as Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution: the analysis of imperialism, an epoch of wars and revolutions, was of the world revolution of the proletariat”.[I] Now, in 1914 there were already studies on the economic and social bases of imperialism (and theories about it) and, during the world war, books by Bukharin and Lenin on the issue were published, but the divergences in Russian social democracy continued.

The question under debate was to specify the connection between a “geopolitical” phenomenon of increasing importance with the laws and general trends of capitalism. The debate over imperialism recast an issue that was more than half a century old: “[The term 'imperialism'] since its beginnings in the 1840s has changed its meaning twelve times, and no one of the present generation is aware of its significance. first meaning or the subsequent meanings that term had in the days of Palmerston and Disraeli.

Today, the word can be found applied to systems of control maintained in a territory by densely populated settlers of the dominant people, but also to the political influence exercised by military and administrative agencies, or even to the influence of commercial interests that managed to impose themselves in the dependent country. . So-called 'imperialist' rule may have originated in conquest or in treaties concluded with indigenous rulers. The practical value of dominance seems in most cases to materialize in financial returns. But imperialism can also be thought of as constantly concerned with securing advanced strategic international positions.”[ii]

In the past, colonialism had been closely linked to the international slave trade, which survived well into the mid-1860th century. In a letter to Engels (XNUMX), Marx stated that the struggle against slavery was “the most important thing that was happening in the world”. Karl Marx was not original because he highlighted the iniquities of African slavery, which was a consensus in the European “enlightened society”, but because he placed it in the context of the development of the capitalist mode of production: “In Brazil, in Suriname, in the southern regions of North America, direct slavery is the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery there would be no cotton, without cotton there would be no modern industry. It is slavery that has given value to colonies, it was the colonies that created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale mechanical industry. Consequently, Before the slave trade, the colonies provided very few products to the old world, and they did not visibly change the face of the world.. Slavery is consequently an economic category of supreme importance. Without slavery, North America, the most progressive nation, would have become a patriarchal country. Just scratch North America off the map of peoples and you have anarchy, the complete decay of modern commerce and civilization. But to make slavery disappear would be to scratch America off the map of the peoples. That is why slavery, being an economic category, has been found since the beginning of the world in all peoples. Modern peoples only knew how to disguise slavery in their own bosom and openly import it into the New World”.[iii] It was not the colonies that needed slaves (there were colonies without slaves), but slavery in the service of capitalist accumulation that needed colonies..

The situation was different at the end of the XNUMXth century: in England, all the great powers had enacted a ban on slavery; the new breakthrough European in Africa and in the colonial world was carried out, with other objectives, in the name of freedom of trade and investment. In 1843, when it was almost the only country to export capital, England owned public debt securities of the countries of America worth 120 million pounds sterling (twenty times more than the amount of British investments overseas in the largest 24 mining companies ). In 1880, the amount of these same bonds, from Latin America, the USA and the East, held by England, already amounted to 820 million pounds sterling, seven times more. The export of capital had not replaced, but accompanied, the growth of trade: from 1840 onwards there had been a strong expansion of British foreign trade; in 1860, English exports already represented 14% of the national income, a percentage that grew until reaching, on the eve of the world war, 40% of this income.[iv]

With regard to the financial aspect, in 1915, it was estimated at 40 billion dollars (200 billion francs), the capital exported by England, Germany, France, Belgium and Holland, a figure that comfortably and qualitatively surpassed those corresponding to the same red in the 1885th century. With regard to the strategic dispute, at the turn of the XNUMXth century, with the Berlin Conference (XNUMX) and the “colonial race” of the European powers, the debate on the issue ceased to refer to an imperial domination in particular (the British ) and increasingly to a work, based on an economic network and endowed with its own specific characteristics, linked to those of the capitalist mode of production, and in this sense it was the subject of discussion by socialist and Marxist authors. The question divided the Socialist International and the labor movement in the decade that preceded the world war confrontation. Placed at the forefront of international politics, it did not only concern socialists: the first classic study on imperialism (a model for many who followed him), written in the early XNUMXth century, was the work of the English liberal economist John A. Hobson, and referred to basically (though not only) to colonialism and the British “informal empire”.[v]

The motives were strong. The English empire experienced a fulminant development in the last quarter of the 1879th century. In XNUMX, England waged the Second Afghan War. In China, the British settled in Shanghai, Hong Kong and other coastal and insular points. In Africa, thanks to the initiatives of Cecil Rhodes, the dream of building an uninterrupted English empire between Cairo, Egypt, and Cape Town, South Africa was increasingly nurtured, which was partially achieved after the Conference of Berlin, which legitimized the English annexation of all territories along that corridor (Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Rhodesia – which took its name from the champion of the British Empire in Africa – and Transvaal). The English colonial-military expansion, however, already provoked negative reactions in the metropolis, including those of the bourgeois sectors that preferred a less costly and safer way of guaranteeing the profits arising from foreign investments and international trade: Hobson (member of the English Liberal Party ) proposed, at the end of the XNUMXth century, to the English ruling circles, the withdrawal of the country from India.

The acquisition of new African territories was a defensive measure of the expanding English world interests that were under attack from other powers. In the last decades of the 40th century, the English businessman Cecil Rhodes promoted the British project to build the railroad that would connect Cairo to the Cape, a project that was never carried out. Rhodes was one of the founders of the De Beers company, which at the end of the 90th century held XNUMX% of the world diamond market (it once had XNUMX%). His personal motto was "so much to do, so little time…” (So much to do, so little time…). The British South Africa Company was created by Rhodes through the merger of Central Gold Search Association, a company led by Charles Rudd, and Exploring Company Ltd, by Edward Arthur Maund. In a period of less than ten years, Rhodes and his company had invaded or driven British imperial authority to impose itself on a region corresponding to modern Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi, an area equivalent to three times the size of France.

Rhodes, in one of his wills, wrote: “I have considered the existence of God and have decided that there is a good chance that he exists. If he really exists, he must be working on a plan. Therefore, if I am to serve God, I must find out the plan and do my best to help in its execution. How to find out the plan? First, look for the race that God has chosen to be the divine instrument of future evolution. Unquestionably, it is the white race… I shall devote the remainder of my life to the purpose of God and to helping him make the world English.” Rhodes died and was buried in 1902 in the Matobo Hills of South Africa, where he had quelled a Matabele rebellion, who nevertheless came to bury him. The ceremony was Christian, but Matabele chiefs paid tribute to Rhodes according to his beliefs.[vi]

Within the framework of this colonial race, Africa lost any political independence. The French expanded into the interior and into South Africa, creating in 1880 the colony of French Sudan (now Mali); in the years that followed, they occupied much of North Africa and western and central Africa. Leopold II of Belgium, in turn, “used one of his states, the Congo, to strengthen his other state, Belgium. He dreamed of economic prosperity, social stability, political greatness and national pride. In Belgium, of course – charity understood starts at home. Reducing his enterprise to personal enrichment does no justice to the national and social motives of his imperialism. Belgium was still young and unstable; with Dutch Limburg and Luxembourg it had lost important portions of its territory; Catholics and liberals were willing to eat each other raw; the proletariat began to move: an explosive cocktail. The country looked like 'a boiler without an escape valve', according to Leopoldo. Congo has become this valve.”.[vii]

In Europe, Leopold II presented his colonial “work” with an aura of humanitarian altruism, the defense of free trade and the fight against the slave trade, but, in Africa, he expropriated the local peoples of all their lands and resources, with his private army, which put the population under forced labor. Repressive cruelty included murder, rape, maiming, and beheading. Ten million Congolese, estimated, lost their lives between 1885 (year of international recognition of the “Free State of the Congo”) until 1908 (some authors raise this figure to twenty million). Leopold II died in 1909; during his reign the population of the Congo was reduced by more than two thirds (from thirty to nine million native inhabitants). Congo's colonial history exposes one of the bloodiest genocides of the contemporary era.

In the penultimate decade of the 1885th century, the division of Africa accelerated. Threatened, African chiefs ceded power to European troop commanders. Others signed protection treaties, unaware that they were transferring sovereignty over their lands, wealth and inhabitants to foreigners: they thought they were leasing or ceding a certain territory for temporary use, as was customary when a foreigner asked for the privilege and honor of living and trade between them. They were astonished when two groups of white men speaking different languages ​​violently disputed this honor and this privilege, instead of sharing it. In 1878, Portugal managed to sign the Treaty of Aguanzum with King Glelê, from Danxomé, which established the Portuguese protectorate over the coast, giving it rights over the interior. The French, who had renewed the 1887 agreement with the same king on the cession of Cotonou, reacted promptly, forcing Lisbon, in XNUMX, to renounce its pretensions.

By the Berlin Conference, “the territories that today correspond to Rwanda and Burundi were assigned to Germany. Thus, in 1894, Count Von Götzen became the first white man to visit Rwanda and its court, and in 1897 he installed the first administrative posts and imposed indirect rule. However, in 1895 the mwami Rwabugiri, triggering a violent struggle for succession among the Tutsis. As a result, the leaders of the weaker clans began to collaborate with the German chiefs, who granted members of the Tutsi elite protection and freedom, which allowed them to consolidate possession of land and subjugate the Hutus”;[viii] and “the Berlin Conference was completed by another, even more sinister and threatening from the African point of view: that of Brussels, in 1890. It was symptomatically called the Anti-Slavery Conference, and the text that was produced is a violent colonizing program. All within the best political logic, since after all it was in the name of the fight against the slave trade and slavery that Europe had begun to occupy Africa. As the Europeans assumed, completely wrong, that in Africa there were no governments, the first article of the General Act of the Conference recommended the 'progressive organization of administrative, judicial, religious and military services in the territories under the sovereignty or protectorate of civilized nations'', the installation of forts in the interior of the continent and on the banks of the rivers, the construction of railways and roadways and the protection of free navigation along the waterways, even in areas over which the Europeans had not even mockery of jurisdiction”.

The same author continues: “One of the main provisions was the one that restricted the purchase of firearms by Africans, as they were instruments of enslavement. Once colonial rule was imposed, the European conscience no longer considered the end of slavery urgent. This continued to exist as a legal activity until 1901 in southern Nigeria, until 1910 in Angola and the Congo, until 1922 in Tanganyika, 1928 in Sierra Leone and 1935 in Ethiopia… The empires, kingdoms and city-states of Africa were non-existent political entities for European diplomats who participated in the Berlin and Brussels Conferences. They did not have them as interlocutors. But when their countries had to occupy the lands they divided up on the map, and their militaries had to put into effect protectorate treaties that for the sovereigns of Africa were land leases or loans, they faced resistance from states with firm structures of government and peoples with strong national feeling. They defeated them, thanks to the cartridge and bolt-lock rifles, the machine gun and the cannons on wheels, against which the Africans opposed the spear, the javelin, the bow and arrow, the flintlock or needle guns and fulminating capsule, which were loaded through the muzzle, and the old cannons immobilized on the ground or difficult to transport. They won because they knew how to play vassal peoples against lords and traditional enemies against each other. So the British used the Ibadan against Ijebu Ode and the Fante against the Ashanti. Thus, the French joined their troops with those from Queto, to fight Danxomé, and the Bambaras, to face Ahmadu's tucolors. They overcame us, but sometimes with great difficulty and after a long struggle”.[ix]

In the metropolises, the socialist parties opposed (they were the only ones to do so) the wave of colonialist incursions in Africa. In March 1885, after the British attack on Alexandria, the Socialist League English distributed throughout the country thousands of copies of a declaration which read: “An unjust and evil war has been unleashed by the ruling and propertied classes of this country, with all the resources of civilization, against a poorly armed and semi-barbaric people, whose only crime is that of having rebelled against foreign oppression, which the mentioned classes themselves admit to be infamous. Tens of thousands of workers, taken out of business in this country, were wasted to carry out a carnage of Arabs, for the following reasons: 1) So that East Africa can be 'opened' to the shipment of expired goods, bad alcohol, disease venereal, cheap knick-knacks and missionaries, all so that British merchants and businessmen can assert their dominance over the ruins of the traditional, simple and happy life of the children of the desert; 2) To create new and advantageous government posts for the sons of the dominant classes; 3) To inaugurate a new and favorable hunting ground for army sportsmen who find home life tedious, and are always ready for a little genocide of Arabs, when the occasion arises. on similar occasions? The classes that are looking for markets? Are they the ones that make up the troops of our army? No! They are the sons and brothers of our country's working class. Who are forced to serve in these trade wars for meager pay. They are the ones who conquer, for the rich middle and upper classes, new countries to be explored and new populations to be dispossessed…”.[X]

The declaration was signed by 25 English socialist and worker leaders, headed by Eleanor Marx-Aveling, youngest daughter of Karl Marx and probably the author of the document, as she was responsible for the international section of the English socialist newspaper. In the Socialist International, founded in 1889, however, positions that justified African (and other) colonization in the name of Europe’s “civilizing mission” gained strength. Revolutionary socialists, anti-imperialists, maintained that the colonial war was the way to maintain the privileges of the big metropolitan bourgeoisies and the condition for maintaining the standard of living of privileged portions of the European proletariat (Marx and Engels had already pointed out this fact with regard to the attitude of the English workingman towards the colonization of Ireland). In the colonizing metropolises, a new figure emerged, the “left-wing colonizer (who) does not hold power, his statements and promises have no influence on the life of the colonized. Furthermore, he cannot dialogue with the colonized, ask him questions or ask for guarantees... The colonizer who refuses the colonial fact does not find the end of his discomfort in his revolt. If he does not suppress himself as a colonizer, he installs himself in ambiguity. If he rejects this extreme measure, he contributes to confirming and establishing the colonial relationship, the concrete relationship of his existence with that of the colonized. It can be understood that it is more comfortable to accept colonization, to follow the path that leads from the colonial to the colonialist to the end. The colonialist, in short, is only the colonizer who accepts himself as a colonizer.[xi]

In reaction to the colonial division of Africa, at the end of the 1900th century, pan-Africanist thought emerged in the Americas, with two black leaders who linked Africa with its diaspora in the Caribbean: Silvestre Williams and George Padmore. The first was a lawyer, born in Trinidad Tobago. In XNUMX, he organized a conference in London to protest against the seizure of African lands by Europeans, which was the starting point of political Pan-Africanism, resumed by the African-American socialist leader WE Du Bois, from a Haitian family, in the USA, who wrote that "the great test for American socialists would be the Negro question." Marcus Garvey, born in Jamaica, founded the UNIA (Universal Association for the Overcoming of Negroes) in the USA, which opened more than a thousand branches in forty countries; against the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Garvey sought to deepen the distances between white and black workers, and to unify black workers and capitalists in the same economic and political movement. Marcus Garvey even presented himself as the true creator of fascism. The black movement expanded simultaneously in Africa, Europe and the Americas. A cultural hybridism, which has impacted world culture, developed out of the worldwide African diaspora, which preserved its roots and adapted them to the environment in which populations of African origin had been forced to move.

The reason was quite clear: “scientific” racism was a component of the colonial race of the powers, in a perfectly explicit way: “It was a doctrine with multiple aspects, seductive for its civil prospective modernity, which distinguished it from the long and brutal conquest of Algeria or the unpopular distant expeditions of the Second Empire. It rested on the total ignorance of the social and mental structures of the indigenous people, imagined ready to collaborate, and on the naive conviction that the only civilization was the Western one; 'inferior races' could only aspire to rise to it in order to enjoy its benefits. This meant that in France industrialists and bankers were willing to provide the necessary means for this”.[xii] In the United Kingdom, Rudyard Kipling famously popularized the idea of ​​the “white man's burden”, with its supposed “moral obligation” to bring civilization to backward and “uncivilized” peoples. Robert Livingston's expedition in search of the sources of the Nile took on the air of a civilizing epic.

The so-called “science of races” was in vogue in Europe and, in studies on the peoples of Central Africa, the Hamitic hypothesis, proposed by the English explorer John Hanning Speke, in 1863, prevailed. introduced into Africa by a white Caucasoid people of Ethiopian origin, descended from King David and therefore superior to the native blacks. For Speke, this “race” would be lost Christians… Thus, it was in the name of their “progress” that “the colonial powers divided Africa, quickly and without pain, during the last twenty years of the XNUMXth century, at least on paper”. . Things, however, were totally different on the African terrain itself. The wide spread of weapons among the local population, military codes of honor and a long tradition of hostility to all external control, made African popular resistance to European conquest much more fearsome than that of India. Colonial authorities strove to create states on a sparsely populated but turbulent continent, with technical advantages: firepower, mechanical transport, medical skills, writing. The states thus created were nothing more than skeletons to which African political forces gave flesh and life. Each colony had to develop a specialized production towards the world market, which determined an economic structure that survived the entire XNUMXth century”.[xiii]

Racism was explicit, and also publicly exposed. In the Acclimatization Garden, in Paris, and later in other European capitals, an exhibition of “savages” from different parts of the planet, especially Africa, was organized. The European craze for seeing “primitive” humans spread. Hunters specializing in bringing wild animals to Europe and the United States were instructed to look for “exotic” human life. So there were exhibits of Eskimos, Sinhalese, Kalmuks, Somalis, Ethiopians, Bedouin, Upper Nile Nubians, Australian Aboriginals, Zulu warriors, Mapuche Indians, Andaman Islanders of the South Pacific, bounty hunters from Borneo: “human zoos” spread. in Germany, France, England, Belgium, Spain, Italy and the United States. Representatives of exotic ethnic groups have become the centerpiece of “world's fairs,” in exhibits proposed as educational experiences by governments and the companies that profit from them.

African economic development was not deformed, but simply sunk and destroyed. African colonialism, however, was the late and final offspring of European imperialism. Competition between the powers led to conflicts between them: from the beginning of the 1880s until the beginning of the 1882th century, Anglo-French relations were never serene, both in relation to the colonial race and the geopolitical situation in Europe; their routes almost collided to the point of triggering a war between the two countries. Everything got complicated after the British occupation of Egypt in 1884. From 1884, France and England engaged in a growing naval race, which on the British side was associated with the possible loss of its Mediterranean line of communications and fears of a French invasion. through the English Channel. Even more persistent and threatening were the frequent colonial clashes, in relation to the Congo in 1885-1880 and in relation to West Africa during the 1890s and XNUMXs.

In 1893, the two countries appeared to be on the verge of war over Siam (Thailand). The most serious crisis occurred in 1898, when the sixteen-year rivalry over control of the Nile Valley came to a head in the clash between Kitchener's English army and Marchand's small French expedition at Fashoda. In the same year, native African resistance in the Gulf of Guinea came to an end with the defeat of the almamy Samori, who had raised “a formidable tata, which he named Boribana (the run is over). The French applied a new method to exterminate this irreducible enemy; henceforth, in the rainy season, no breaks to allow the almamy rebuild your strength. In addition, to reduce him to starvation, the method of scorched earth was applied around him... Certain sofas began to desert. But most of them surrounded him faithfully, more than ever”.[xiv] Samori was captured in September 1898: convicted and imprisoned in a faraway prison, he died two years later.

In the extreme south of Africa, in the Cape region, the English interest was in the strategic position that allowed oceanic communications with India. British imperialism encouraged the Transvaal English to demand special political rights. The English advance in Southern Africa ended with two armed confrontations in South Africa, which opposed the colonists of Dutch and French origin, the Boers, to the British army, which intended to take over the diamond and gold mines recently found in the territory. The Boers were under British rule, with the promise of future self-rule.[xv] This situation degenerated into a tough fight between the two parties in the period between 1877 and 1881, in which the English troops were beaten by those of the Boer president Paulus Kruger. The first “Boer War” was fought between 1880 and 1881: the victory of the settlers guaranteed the independence of the Transvaal Boer Republic. The Pretoria Convention, revised in 1884, was negotiated, which recognized the autonomy of the Transvaal, preserving English rights in terms of foreign policy. The truce did not last long. The discovery of diamond and gold mines led the United Kingdom to change its strategy, due to the new economic interests in the region. The English renounced the policy of concluding treaties with the natives and proceeded to annex new territories. This attitude was in line with the ideas of Rhodes, who later served as Prime Minister of the Cape. The bellicosity of the Boers increased.

In 1895, from the Atlantic coast to the east coast, all of southern Africa was controlled by England, with the exception of the two Boer republics: the Republic of South Africa (Transvaal), which emerged in 1853, and the Free State Republic of Orange, recognized by the United Kingdom in 1852. After the recognition of Boer independence, the situation in the territory had been compromised. The economic crisis was aggravated by the division of the country into two opposing political units (boer republics and British colonies). Problems multiplied with the arrival of Indian and Chinese workers, immigrants recruited for the Transvaal mines. In the years that followed, a long political duel took place between the Boer leader Paulus Kruger and the British colonialist Rhodes, with strong threats to each other. What was at the origin of the “Second Boer War” was the ultimatum given to the British by Kruger, demanding the dispersion of British troops that were along the borders of the Boer republics. Thus, the warring era of the 1899th century began in Africa. In October XNUMX, increasing British military and political pressure prompted the President of the Transvaal, Paulus Kruger, to issue an ultimatum demanding a guarantee of the republic's independence and a cessation of the growing British military presence in the Cape and Natal colonies.

The ultimatum was not taken into account by the British, and the Transvaal declared war on the United Kingdom, with the Republic of Orange as an ally, starting the war. The conflict began on October 12, 1899 and ended on May 31, 1902, with the deposition of the President of Transvaal. The British had mobilized nearly 500 white troops from across the empire, aided by an estimated 100 non-white workers. 45 people lost their lives in South Africa as a result of the war, and over 100 women and children were interned in British “concentration camps” in appalling conditions. 20% of those interned died, sometimes horribly. Lord Kitchener, the English military commander, moreover, indiscriminately burned African and Boer farms. The colonial authorities' scorched earth policy even provoked street protests in the British metropolis itself. Under the terms of the Peace Treaty, the two Boer Republics returned to their status as British colonies. King Edward VII was recognized as its rightful sovereign. The political (colonial) unification of South Africa was thus sealed: the British military victory led to the creation of the Union of South Africa through the annexation of the Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State to the British colonies of Cape and Natal.

The 1899-1902 war was the expression of the crisis of the “colonial race”, of the fact that it had reached the limits of its “peaceful” development (between the powers, and between these and the colonists). With regard to native populations, this race was never "peaceful": the devastation of the population of the colonial world combined direct and indirect violence - the population decimation as a result of the spectacular depreciation of living conditions -, which led Mike Davis to wonder why, in the century when famine disappeared forever from western Europe, it “increased so devastatingly in much of the colonial world? Likewise, how do we weigh up presumptuous claims about the vital benefits of steam transport and modern grain markets, when so many millions, particularly in British India, died by the side of railway tracks or on the steps of grain depots? And how can we explain, in the case of China, the drastic decline in the State's capacity to provide popular social assistance, especially in famine relief, which seemed to follow in step with the forced opening of the empire to modernity by Great Britain and the other powers… We are not dealing with starvation lands stuck in the stagnant waters of world history, but with the fate of tropical humanity at the very moment (1870-1914) when its labor and products were dynamically recruited into a world economy centered in London . Millions died, not outside the modern world system, but precisely in the process of violent incorporation into the economic and political structures of that system. They died in the golden age of liberal capitalism; indeed, many were murdered by the theological application of the sacred principles of Smith, Bentham, and Mill.”

As we have seen, the colonial conquest had its main ideological foundation in considerations of “civilizational superiority”, and produced victims in dimensions only comparable with the decimation of the Amerindian populations in the 1877th and 1889th centuries: “Each global drought was the green light for an imperialist race by the land. If the South African drought of 91, for example, was Carnarvon's opportunity to attack Zulu independence, the Ethiopian famine of 1890-1870 was Crispi's endorsement to build a new Roman Empire in the Horn of Africa. Wilhelmine Germany, too, exploited the floods and drought that devastated Shandong in the late 1890s to aggressively expand its sphere of influence in northern China, while the United States, at the same time, used the famine and disease caused by drought as a weapons to crush Aguinaldo's Republic of the Philippines. But the agricultural populations of Asia, Africa and South America did not go smoothly into the new Imperial Order. Famines are wars for the right to exist. Although resistance to the famine in the XNUMXs (southern Africa aside) was overwhelmingly local and turbulent, with few instances of more ambitious insurrectional organization, it undoubtedly had much to do with recent memories of state terror from repression. of the Indian Mutiny and the Taiping Revolution. The XNUMXs was an entirely different story, and modern historians have very clearly established the contribution of drought/famine to the Boxer Rebellion, the Korean Tonghak movement, the Indian Extremist uprising, and the Brazilian Canudos War, as well as numerous uprisings in eastern and southern Africa. The millenarian movements that swept the future 'Third World' in the late XNUMXth century drew much of their eschatological ferocity from the sharpness of these livelihood and environmental crises”.[xvi]

Devoid of any “pacifist” pretense, the colonial race continued into the 1912th century. In 1914, the French forced the Sultan of Morocco to sign the Treaty of Fez, making it another African protectorate of the European powers. French colonies and possessions comprised Algeria, Tunisia, French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, the Somali Coast and Madagascar. On the eve of the First World War, the recolonization of the African continent was almost complete. By 90, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Turkey had divided up almost all of Africa's territory among themselves. At the start of World War I, XNUMX% of African lands were under European rule. Capitalist imperialism was slow to be seen from the angle of its victims, the colonial peoples, especially in Africa. Colonization numbers do not fully express its human reality. The partition of Africa had unprecedented characteristics in the era of monopoly capital, when it served the objectives of the economic expansion of industrial and financial monopolies rather than the political expansion of colonialist states, although it included it as its instrument.

What was the attitude of the socialists to this? In 1902, in the same year of the publication of Hobson's initially cited essay, during the war that opposed Great Britain to the Dutch colonists in South Africa, a manifesto of the English labor current known as "Fabian" (name derived from Fabian Society) who stated that the conflict was an issue “that socialism could not solve, and that did not concern it”. The war, calculated not to extend beyond Christmas 1899, was, contrary to these expectations, the longest (almost three years in duration, ending in 1902), the most costly (over £200 million) and the deadliest ( 22 British soldiers, 25 “Boers” – Dutch colonists – and 12 African natives) and “the most humiliating” war that England fought between 1815 and 1914, the “British century”.[xvii] It marked with blood and horror a change of era: the birth during it of the noble institution of the “concentration camp” (an expression coined by the English forces), where 32 thousand people died, including the elderly, women and children, symbolized this. During the war, George Bernard Shaw, a leading Fabian socialist, published a pamphlet, Fabianism and the Empire, in which he justified English imperialism, based on the argument that the “advanced” nations had the right and the duty to conquer and subjugate backward peoples in the name of progress of these. In English literature, as we have seen, Rudyard Kipling echoed it, at the same time that, published in the same year of 1902, the novel The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad,[xviii] plunged into the human abyss of colonizers and colonized, in a novel that became a canon of Western literature.

“At home” (in the imperialist metropolises), socialism became a technique of legislative reforms within the framework of capitalism: what was the relationship between both phenomena, if any? Revolutionary Marxists tried to establish a direct, cause-and-effect relationship. For “Fabians” and Bernsteinian revisionists, the socialists' task was not to overthrow bourgeois society, but to accelerate, with gradual reforms, its march towards “collectivism”. They opined that Marx was wrong in almost all of his predictions. They rejected the thesis that capitalism would necessarily end up in a series of wars and catastrophic economic crises. Although the Fabian Society was not numerous, it managed to influence an increasingly important section of the British Labor Party. In 1906, Party Secretary Ramsay MacDonald[xx] laid out the principles of Labour Party in terms that reflected the influence of the Fabians: the party was to oppose any attempt to present it as a workers-only movement, given that the principles on which it was based were not the result “of a process of economic reasoning or of the working class”. This resembled much more the working-class “substitutionism” attributed by intellectuals to “Leninism” (or Bolshevism) by its opponents, than Lenin’s own formulations, which referred, in their most polemical or emphatic versions, to the role of intellectuals in the workers' party, not the class nature of the party.

Summarizing the political evolution of socialism, Lenin reported, in Two Epochs in the Life of the Second International, that “the works that led to the constitution of the Second International took place between 1885 and 1890. The rebirth of the international organization of workers after the ruin of the First International took place on the demarcation line of two epochs. Because the years 1880-1890 were a period of crisis and transformation in many ways; It was in those years that the era of modern imperialism opened, which reached its apogee during the first ten years of the twentieth century.

The history of the Second International can also be divided into two periods. The first goes from the Congress of Paris (1889) to that of Amsterdam (1904). The second period extends between (the Congresses of) Stuttgart and Basel. This is the meaning of the action of the Second International in the first period of its development. against imperialism was the main slogan of the International in its second period”.[xx] Lenin rescued elements from the development of the International to support the continuity of the labor movement; only later did he advance a hypothesis to explain why, far from disappearing, as Engels had initially predicted, the metropolitan “labor aristocracy” (a phenomenon to which Marx and Engels had already drawn attention), it spread with the development of monopoly capital. , although Lenin rejected, until 1914, the hypothesis of a political degeneration of the Socialist International with that social base and for that reason.

Did imperialist expansion result from the evolution and intrinsic contradictions of metropolitan capitalism? This was not the point of view of the main ideologue of the International, Karl Kautsky, who argued that “imperialism was not the product of an inherent economic necessity of capitalism at a certain stage of its development, but a contingent (hence, reversible) policy adopted by the bourgeoisie in a context characterized by colonial rivalries”.[xxx] What was that context? The economic and colonial expansion of the XNUMXth century saw the emergence, alongside Great Britain, of new competitors in sharing the world. United States and Germany were the most significant. But also France (already possessing an important colonial empire) and, to a lesser extent, Russia and Japan. In this competition for the world market and for colonial possessions, the main lines of the world military conflicts of the XNUMXth century were being prepared.

The metropolitan “new capitalism” was based on joint-stock companies, a much more plastic form of capital than that based on individual, family or limited corporate property; it allowed the circulation of capital to reach much higher levels, with the export of capital to finance undertakings and the public debt of the periphery of the capitalist world. The phenomenon had already been anticipated by the “founding fathers” of modern socialism. According to Engels “the Exchange modifies distribution towards centralization, enormously accelerates the concentration of capital and, in this sense, is as revolutionary as the steam engine”. Marx's companion underlined the need to “identify in the colonial conquest the interest of speculation on the Stock Exchange”; for Engels, the configuration of corporations based on shares, as the new dominant form of capital, negatively anticipated the future socialization of the means of production; the new expansion of capital was simultaneously related to the expansion of financial interests.

Engels, in the prologue to the first edition of volumes II and III of The capital, sought to place these phenomena in the context of the general development of capitalism: “Colonization is today an effective branch of the Exchange, in the interest of which the European powers divided up Africa, delivered directly as booty to their companies”. However, we were not yet facing the characterization of a new historical era of capitalist development: “More recent disciples of Marx, including Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Kautsky, would place imperialism at the center of their analyzes of capitalism; however, Marx himself, as had happened with his writings on imperialism in the 1850s, did not distinguish this connection”.[xxiii] At the same time, Marx and Engels took clear anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist positions in relation, especially, to China and India, but they analyzed the bloody episodes of the division of Asia and Africa between the metropolises as aspects of the geopolitical disputes between the European powers. . They never made any apology for the colonial expansion of these powers; they placed it within the framework of the worldwide expansion of capitalist production relations.

Theories about the “new imperialism” of the capitalist era originated and were inserted in the framework of a debate with the participation of Marxist and non-Marxist authors and also of the discussion within the labor and socialist movement, having as interpretative axes the decisive role of monopoly , the emergence of finance capital, as a product of the fusion of banking and industrial capital, and its hegemony over other forms of capital,[xxiii] the growing dominance of the export of capital over the export of commodities, the division of the world market between competing capitalist monopolies, and the completion of the territorial division of the world by the great powers. The debate narrowed in search of a global interpretation, which linked the world economic depression (1873-1895), colonial expansion, capital export, geopolitical disputes, xenophobic nationalism, racism, and, finally, world war. The various theories about imperialism were the touchstone of different and opposed political strategies.

Hobson wrote at the end of the XNUMXth century: “Nation after nation enters the economic machine and adopts advanced industrial methods, and with it it becomes more and more difficult for its producers and merchants to profitably sell their wares. The temptation increases for them to pressure their governments to get them the domination of some distant underdeveloped state. Everywhere there is excess production, excess capital looking for profitable investment. All businessmen recognize that productivity in their countries exceeds the absorption capacity of the national consumer, as well as that there is surplus capital that needs to find remunerative investment abroad. It is these economic conditions that breed imperialism.”[xxv] The economic bases of imperialism resided, for him, in the “excess of capital in search of investment” and in the “recurrent bottlenecks of the market”. European imperialism had transformed Europe into an area dominated by “a small group of wealthy aristocrats, who draw their income and dividends from the Far East, together with a slightly larger group of officials and merchants, and an even larger group of servants, transport workers and factory workers. Then the most important industrial branches disappeared, and food and semi-finished products arrived as a tribute from Asia and Africa”. He considered that the prospect of a European federation "not only would not advance the work of world civilization, but would present the very serious risk of Western parasitism under the control of a new financial aristocracy".

Hobson also referred to the new Japanese imperialism, whose irruption had shaken the world in the late 1904th century conflicts with China, and would manifest itself victoriously in the Russo-Japanese War (XNUMX). At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the perception was already clear that the growth of Japan's imperialist power would have a profound impact on the course of history: “This new chapter in world history depends a lot on the Japanese capacity to maintain its own financial independence”. After overcoming a first phase of dependence, “the great industrial power of the Far East could quickly launch itself onto the world market as the biggest and most valid competitor in the great mechanical industry, first conquering the Asian and Pacific market and then invading the western markets – thus pushing these nations towards a more rigid protectionism, as a corollary of a diminished protection”. Tsarist Russia, probably far less informed than Hobson, was to suffer the consequences of Japan's new role as an international protagonist.

The monopoly, product of the merger of companies, or the acquisition of small companies by larger ones, contributed to placing in the hands of a few entrepreneurs an enormous amount of wealth, creating a automatic saving. The investment of these savings in other industries contributed to their concentration under the control of the first merged companies. At the same time, the development of industrial society raised the demand of the population, with new social needs. The problem arose when the increase in national consumption was proportionally less than the increase in the savings rate, resulting in a production capacity greater than consumption. The solution would be a continuous reduction in prices until the smaller companies went bankrupt, favoring companies with better installations, causing more capital accumulation, an increase in the level of wealth and, consequently, greater savings. This would induce capitalists to look for other investments, to use the savings generated, since the market could not absorb such excess, leaving the capitalist to export goods where there was no competition, or to invest capital in more profitable areas.

“It may seem that the wide dominance of the concentration of capital in the pools, trusts and various associations, whose existence has been proven in various areas of the industry, is contradictory to the large volume of evidence regarding the survival of small companies. The inconsistency is, however, only apparent. In the whole area of ​​industry, neither the aggregate number of small enterprises nor the percentage of workers employed in them is in decline; but the economic independence of many types of small business is violated by organized capitalism, which is implanted at the strategic points of almost every productive flow, in order to impose taxes on the traffic towards the consumer”. This “organized capitalism” (a concept taken up by the Marxist Rudolf Hilferding, in his analysis of financial capital), in turn, was dominated by a specific, small and concentrated fraction of the capitalist class: “The structure of modern capitalism tends to launch a power increasing in the hands of the men who manage the monetary machinery of industrial communities, the class of financiers".[xxiv]

For Hobson, since David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, political economy had unduly focused its attention on the production and accumulation of wealth, neglecting the consumption and use of already accumulated wealth. Hobson rejected the economic essence of imperialism as undesirable; he saw patriotism, adventure, military spirit, political ambition as his driving force; but he did not conceive of imperialism as a profitable business for any nation, except for financial groups, stock exchange speculators and investors, which he called the “economic parasites of imperialism”, for placing abroad the idle surplus of capital that was not they could invest more profitably in their country, thus obtaining numerous advantages. To combat this, Hobson proposed a social reform, with a rise in wages and an increase in taxes and public spending.

He considered the “imperialist phenomenon” as a temporal maladjustment and a curable disease of capitalism at the time, associating colonial expansion and the capitalist development of the metropolises with excess savings and underconsumption, together with the political, ideological and moral aspects of the time. . For Hobson, Britain's new annexations had been costly and only capable of providing 'poor and insecure' markets. He also classified as imperialism the submission of the colonies to the absolute power of the metropolis. Officials, merchants and industrialists exercised their economic power over “the inferior races”, considered incapable of self-government. The only real advantage of imperialism, according to Hobson, was the outlet of England's industrial overpopulation; the migratory movement to the colonies had spared the great power from suffering “a social revolution”. On this last point, there were no differences between the liberal Hobson and the imperialist businessman Cecil Rhodes.

Hobson explained the “contradictions of imperialism” from the “recurrent crises of capitalism, when overproduction manifests itself in the main industries”. Hobson did not hide that the new capitalist imperialism, despite being a “bad deal for the nation”, was a good deal for certain classes, whose “well-organized business interests are capable of stifling the weak and diffuse interest of the community” and of “using national resources for their private gain”. On the other hand, he pointed out that “the terms creditor e debtor, applied to countries, mask the main characteristic of this imperialism. Since, if debts are 'public', credit is almost always private”. Within the capitalist class, the figure of the reindeer detached from production;[xxv] financial capital began to behave like a moneylender and, finally, like an international moneylender, creating an ever-increasing international debt system.

Behind these classes acted, according to obson, Hobson, Hobson, the great “cosmopolitan capital”, in the first place the heavy industry, directly and indirectly interested in the expenses of armament: "Aggressive imperialism, which costs the taxpayer dearly, is a source of great profits for the investor who does not find profitable employment for his capital in the interior". Arms development had, for him, economic reasons and political consequences. It led to “evil political demagogues controlling the press, the schools and if necessary the churches, to impose capitalism on the masses”. For Hobson, “the essence of imperialism consists in the development of markets for investment and not for trade”, not in “missions of civilization” (in the European ideological style) or “manifestations of destiny” (in the North American style).

The new imperialism was the result of the massive export of capital, a consequence of the economic “great depression”, which brought back, along with the problem of imperialism, the question of the theoretical status of the crisis in economic theory. India, according to Hobson's calculations at the end of the 20th century, was the destination of XNUMX% of British foreign investment worldwide. The expansion of investment meant that, in the last quarter of the XNUMXth century, the international front of English colonial wars extended into Hindustan, which was reprehensible and harmful to England itself, in the view of the author who, as we have seen, proposed to give a political end to this phenomenon.

From the point of view of the theory of crises, Mikhail J. Tugan Baranowsky, a Russian “legal Marxist” (current that differed from the “illegal Marxists”, the social democrats), sustained the following: 1) The capitalist system did not face realization problems and that, therefore, it could be reproduced indefinitely in an amplified way; 2) Since there were no realization problems, crises and imbalances should be interpreted as simple “disproportions” in investment; 3) If the system were to develop, the other theories of the crisis that Tugan believed he recognized in Marx's work, namely the theory of the downward trend in the rate of profit and the theory of underconsumption, would have to be considered false.[xxviii] Although much criticized, Tugan Baranowsky had a decisive influence on an entire generation of Marxists, who deduced the tendential balance of capitalism from the modification of Marx's expanded reproduction schemes.

in articles from Die Neue Zeit From 1901-1902, Karl Kautsky attacked Tugan-Baranowsky and similar theories, without attacking, however, the “theory of disproportionality” as the fundamental cause of crises, pointing out that all production has the final objective of producing consumer goods. The balance, in itself, would lack practical significance, since “the capitalists, and the workers they exploit, provide, with the growth of the wealth of the first and the number of the second, what certainly constitutes a market for the means of consumption produced by capitalist industry; the market grows, however, less quickly than the accumulation of capital and the increase in labor productivity. Capitalist industry must therefore look for an additional market outside its domain in non-capitalist nations and similarly situated strata of the population. It finds such a market and expands more and more, but not with the necessary speed... In this way, each period of prosperity, which follows a significant expansion of the market, is destined for a short life, and the crisis becomes its necessary end. ”.

There would then come a time when “overproduction will be chronic for all industrial nations. Even then, the ups and downs of economic life are possible and probable; a series of technical revolutions, which devalue the mass of the existing means of production, require the large-scale creation of new means of production, the discovery of new rich gold fields, etc. business. But capitalist production demands an uninterrupted, rapid expansion, so that the unemployment and poverty of the workers, on the one hand, and the insecurity of the small capitalist, on the other, do not reach an extreme tension. The continued existence of capitalist production endures even in this state of chronic depression, but it becomes quite intolerable for the mass of the population; this is forced to look for a way out of the general misery, and it can only find it in socialism”.[xxviii] Having outlined the theory of a “chronic depression” as the future of capital, Kautsky did not go much further: “Kautsky went little further than repeating Marx's concepts about the general dependence of production on the market for consumer goods”.[xxix]

And the export of capital? For Karl Kautsky, imperialism basically consisted of the colonization of agrarian countries by industrial countries, the inexorable product of the world advance of capitalism. The metropolitan capitalists were opposed, according to Kautsky, to the industrialization of the colonized or economically backward regions: “They intend to keep them as agrarian regions through unfavorable legislation, which prevents their industrialization”, which would turn them into competitors of the old metropolises. “Imperialism has replaced free trade as the means of capitalist expansion… Will imperialism be the only means of maintaining the necessary relationship between industry and agriculture within the limits of the capitalist system?” wondered the “pope of socialism”. And he replied: "The effort to conquer agrarian regions, to subject their populations to slavery, is so inevitable for the survival of capitalism that it prevents any capitalist group from seriously opposing it."

Let us see the development of the question in the Socialist International. At the Stuttgart Congress of the International, held in 1907, the debate on the colonial question was revealing. A sector of German social democracy (headed by Vollmar and David) did not hesitate to designate itself as “social-imperialist”. The thought of this current was reflected in the intervention of the Dutch leader Van Kol, who stated that the anti-colonialism of previous socialist congresses had been of no use, that social democrats should recognize the indisputable existence of colonial empires and present concrete proposals to improve the treatment of indigenous peoples. , the development of its natural resources, and the use of these resources for the benefit of the entire human race. He asked opponents of colonialism whether their countries were really prepared to do without the colonies' resources. He recalled that Bebel (one of the founders of German social democracy) had said that nothing was “bad” in colonial development as such, and he referred to the successes of the Dutch socialists in achieving improvements in the conditions of the indigenous people in the colonies of their mother country.[xxx]

The congressional commission in charge of the colonial question presented the following position: "Congress does not reject on principle at all times a colonial policy, which under a socialist regime can offer a civilizing influence". Lenin described the position as “monstrous” and, together with Rosa Luxemburg and Martov, presented an anti-colonialist motion, which would be the winner. The moment of truth also appeared for the only Latin American party present at the Stuttgart Congress, the Argentine Socialist Party. Party delegate Manuel Ugarte voted in favor of the anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist motion; a few years later he was expelled from the party, on charges of nationalism.[xxxii] The main leader of the PSA, Juan B. Justo, further described Lenin's theories about imperialism as “idiotic”. The comment that the anti-colonialist resolution received from him was: “The international socialist declarations about the colonies, with the exception of a few phrases about the fate of the natives, were limited to insincere and sterile denials. They did not even mention freedom of trade, which would have been the best guarantee for the natives, and reduced the colonial question to what it should be”.[xxxi]

The result of the vote on colonialism in the International was a sample of the existing division: the colonialist position was rejected by 128 votes against 108: “In this case, the presence of a negative trait of the European labor movement was marked, which can cause not a little damage to the cause of the proletariat. The vast colonial policy led, in part, the European proletariat to a situation in which it is not their work that maintains the whole society, but the work of the almost totally subjugated natives of the colonies. The English bourgeoisie, for example, obtains more income from the exploitation of hundreds of millions of inhabitants of India and other colonies, than from the English workers. Such conditions create in certain countries a material base, an economic base, to contaminate colonial chauvinism to the proletariat of those countries”.[xxxii] Capitalist colonialism was, for Lenin, a way of maintaining and increasing the profits of the big metropolitan bourgeoisie and the condition for maintaining or improving the standard of living of privileged portions of the European proletariat.

Marxist authors, in general, privileged economic relations and their international consequences in their analysis of the phenomenon of monopolies. The imbrications between economic and strategic reasons constituted, from the beginning, the core of the debate about capitalist imperialism. Rudolf Hilferding, in his Financial Capital, from 1910, analyzed in a pioneering way the new figure of capital, resulting from the fusion between banking capital and industrial capital. The era of the liberal illusion of the free economic entanglement of individuals had been replaced by the era of monopoly relations. Imperialism was beginning to be characterized by multinational production. The capitalist mystification of free competition between independent individuals gave way to large-scale production and the concentration and centralization of capital. The absorption of individuals to the laws of the capitalist mode of production could (and should) now be expressed directly as the subordination of one class to another, no longer appearing as a relationship between singular individuals. The alteration suffered by the concept of State accompanied the end of free competition capitalism. In monopoly capitalism, the prevailing ideology became the one that assured the nation itself of international domination, “an ambition as limitless as the ambition of capital to conquer profit”.[xxxv]

However, with regard to the crisis evidenced by the world depression, Hilferding maintained that, if produced in the right proportions, production could be expanded infinitely without leading to the overproduction of commodities. The crises could not be explained by scarce consumption. Hilferding attributed importance both to cumulative movements and to the effects of partial imbalances from different price exchanges, delays and institutional factors. He noted, for example, the effect of irregular increases in supply, which must be attributed to long investment maturation periods, and which, in turn, multiply the danger of overinvestment the longer the imbalance between supply and demand lasts. The export of capital seemed to be a palliative to this tendency.

In a text from 1913, the French socialist Lucien Sanial, based in the USA, characterized that the new “era of monopolies” had defined the hegemonic place of finance capital; it preceded the general bankruptcy of capitalism, though without explicitly linking this phenomenon with imperialism or the anti-revolutionary tendencies derived from it. The new historical era (his analysis centered on the US) was dominated by financial capital (banks) and replaced “competition with concentration”, in which “new machines and new production processes created conditions in fundamental branches of manufacturing that were not they only require considerable capital for their operation, but also make competition between powerful firms and corporations suicidal”; an analysis reminiscent of that carried out by Karl Kautsky. And he added: “In the natural course of capitalist development, the Banking Power obtained the supreme command of the nation's activities. In such a high position he lost all sense of economic responsibility, public duty and moral principles, corrupting the public powers and making them the instrument of his despotism... Nothing can save (the nation) from the consequences of his misdemeanors. Its collapse is inevitable… The last day of Banking Power will also be the last of the Capitalist System and the first of the Socialist Community”.[xxxiv]

Sanial lacked a “theory of imperialism [that] deals with the special phenomenal form that the (capitalist) process adopts at a particular stage of the development of the capitalist mode of production”.[xxxiv] According to Trotsky, the historical change brought about by this “particular stage” was opposed to the perspective initially outlined by Marx (“The most industrially developed country – wrote Marx in the preface of the first edition of The capital – does no more than represent the future image of the less developed”): “Only a minority of countries fully realized the systematic and logical evolution from labor, through domestic manufacture to the factory, which Marx subjected to detailed analysis . Commercial, industrial, and financial capital invaded backward countries from abroad, partly destroying the primitive forms of the native economy, and partly subjecting them to the industrial and banking system of the West. Under the immense pressure of imperialism, the colonies and semi-colonies were forced to give up the intermediate steps, while at the same time artificially supporting themselves on one level or another. India's development did not duplicate England's development; was nothing more than a complement to her".[xxxviii]

The characterization of the British Empire has been the subject of controversy. Two contemporary authors, Robinson and Gallagher, emphasized the continuity of British imperial policy throughout the nineteenth century, emphasizing that the strategy of British statesmen did not change at any time. Crises in the periphery led the British government to intervene in defense of Great Britain's economic and strategic interests, and this would be the basis of British imperialism. O scramble for Africa, they argued, was a result of Britain's defense of strategic routes on the continent in the face of growing rivalry from other European powers. According to these authors, the British “new imperialism” would have emerged as a result of Great Britain’s need to maintain the territories that were important for its strategic interests and not, as advocated by Hobson and Lenin, to vent the excess of accumulated capital. in the metropolis.[xxxviii] English imperialism would have had, for Robinson and Gallagher, more geopolitical than economic reasons.

A new generation of Marxist theorists faced the question, or rather the questions, of imperialism and crisis, and their links, in the 1910s. Capital Accumulation, Rosa Luxemburgo postulated that capital accumulation, to the extent that it saturated capitalist markets, required the periodic and constant conquest of non-capitalist spaces of expansion: as these were exhausted, capitalist accumulation would become impossible. The accumulation of capital, its expanded reproduction, would be impossible in a purely capitalist system: “The realization of surplus value requires, as a first condition, a stratum of buyers located outside capitalist society”, whether in the metropolises (peasants, small traders and small producers) or in the colonies.

For Rosa, therefore, imperialism was an ineluctable need of capital, of any capital and not necessarily of monopoly or financial capital, not being specific to a differentiated phase of capitalist development; it was the concrete form that capital adopted to be able to continue its expansion, initiated in its own countries of origin and taken, by its own dynamics, to the international level, in which the bases of its own collapse were created: “In this way capital prepares doubly its overthrow: on the one hand, by spreading at the expense of non-capitalist forms of production, the moment is approaching when all of humanity will effectively consist of workers and capitalists, a situation in which further expansion and, therefore, accumulation, will become impossible. On the other hand, as it advances, it exasperates class antagonisms and international economic and political anarchy to such an extent that it will provoke a rebellion of the world proletariat against its rule long before economic evolution has reached its ultimate consequences: domination absolute and exclusive form of capitalism in the world”.[xxxix]

Rosa Luxemburg's analysis was the object of all kinds of criticism shortly after its publication. The main one referred to the fact that Rosa implicitly maintained the assumptions of simple reproduction in order to analyze the expanded reproduction. For an economist as partisan as Rosa of the “collapse theory” of capitalism: “If supporters of Rosa Luxemburg's theory want to reinforce this theory by alluding to the growing importance of colonial markets; if they refer to the fact that the colonial share in the overall value of England's exports represented in 1904 just over a third, while in 1913 this share was close to 40%, then the argument they sustain in favor of that conception lacks substance. value, and, more than that, with it they achieve the opposite of what they intend to obtain. For these colonial territories really have more and more importance as settlement areas, but only as they become industrialized; that is, to the extent that they abandon their non-capitalist character”.[xl] Rosa came to the conclusion of an unavoidable trend towards standardization Valuation of the capitalist world. National differences within the world capitalist system were left in the background; entire countries were forced to integrate into capitalism in a dependent and associated manner, others imposed themselves as dominant and expropriating nations.

Lenin's famous text on imperialism was written three years after Rosa Luxemburg's, already in the middle of the world war, and strongly conditioned by it. The shortest definition of imperialism was, according to Lenin, “the monopoly phase of capitalism”. The relationship between the Stock Exchange (capitalist companies), colonial partition, and the development of bank capital was the axis of his interpretation, which associated the notions of monopoly capital, financial capital and imperialism: “Banks are transformed and, modest intermediaries, become powerful monopolies, which dispose of almost all of the money capital of the capitalists and small proprietors as a whole, as well as most of the means of production, and the sources of raw materials of a given country, or several countries. ”.[xi] Lenin was opposed to the idea of ​​Kautsky, for whom imperialism basically consisted in the colonization of agrarian countries by industrial countries; imperialism was not an optional international policy; it was the product of the monopolization and contradictions of capitalism in the metropolises. The diametrically antithetical conception to that of Lenin, detaching the imperialist phenomenon from capitalist laws, was later exposed by Joseph Schumpeter, a German economist of socialist origin, for whom imperialism was not an organic or necessary component of capitalism, but the fruit of pre- capitalists located in different spheres (political, cultural, economic) that opposed the logic of capital, being able to impose themselves politically, thus generating imperialist politics.[xliii]

Considering imperialism as an economic phenomenon linked to the monopoly phase of capital does not mean saying that it was not also an international political phenomenon, linked to: 1) the unprecedented interweaving between capital and the State; 2) the unequal strength of States on a world scale, which reached an extreme in relations between metropolises and colonies. The characterization of imperialism as a stage of capitalism did not have a conjunctural character; it marked a historical turning point in which free capitalist competition was transformed into its opposite, monopoly. The monopolization of the banking branch enabled and accelerated this process, through a policy of deposits and credits that made it possible to eliminate the competitors of the monopolies in formation, creating the new dominant form of capital: the financial capital. In Lenin's words: “The personal union of banks and industries is completed with their personal union with the government”, bringing decisive changes to the structure of the State and to political and social life. Along with the dominance of monopoly capital, the relationship between private interest and the State, supposed representative of the public interest, changed, subordinating the second to the first, and qualitatively transforming its function.

The “statization of social life”, with the State absorbing new disciplinary functions from society, was studied by Nikolai Bukharin in Imperialism and the World Economy (1916 work in which he used the image of the “new Leviathan” to refer to the imperialist State), prefaced by Lenin. The strengthening of the State was dictated by the new phase of the development of capital: “The stages of peaceful distribution are followed by an impasse in which nothing is left to distribute. The monopolies and their states then proceed to partition by force. To the World Wars inter-imperialists become an organic component of imperialism”.[xiii] Resorting to regional or international wars was dictated by the magnitude of the economic interests at stake. Bukharin summarized the characteristics of capitalist imperialism: “The development of the productive forces of world capitalism has taken a gigantic leap in recent decades. In the process of fighting for competition, big production emerged victorious everywhere, grouping the magnates of capital in an iron organization that extended its action to the totality of economic life. A financial oligarchy has installed itself in power and directs production, which is gathered in a single bundle through the banks. This organizational process started from below to consolidate itself within the framework of modern States, which became the faithful interpreters of the interests of financial capital. Each of the developed national economies, in the capitalist sense of the word, has turned into a kind of national state trust.

The contradictions of the previous phase did not disappear, on the contrary, they reached their paroxysm: “The process of organization of the economically advanced parts of the world economy is accompanied by an extreme worsening of mutual competition. The overproduction of goods, inherent to the development of large companies, the export policy of the cartels and the reduction of markets due to the colonial and customs policy of the capitalist powers; the growing disproportion between industry, which has formidable development, and agriculture, which is backward; finally, the immense proportion of the export of capital and the economic submission of entire countries by consortia of national banks, lead the antagonism between the interests of the national groups of capital to the paroxysm. These groups rely, as a last resort, on the strength and power of the State's organization and in the first place to fight of its fleet and its armies... such is the ideal dreamed of by financial capital”.[xiv]

Lenin similarly characterized imperialism by the new role of banks and the export of capital. This generated the need for a new division of the world between the capitalist groups, with their respective National States at the head: “Imperialism, as the superior phase of capitalism in North America and Europe, and later in Asia, was fully formed in the period 1898-1914. The Spanish-American (1898), Anglo-Boer (1899-1902) and Russo-Japanese (1904-1905) wars, and the economic crisis in Europe in 1900, are the main historical landmarks of this new era of world history”.[xlv] Lenin defined the economic basis of imperialism, and its historical consequences: “Capitalist imperialism was the result of the process of concentration-centralization of capital in the most advanced capitalist countries, where monopoly tended to replace free competition, as well as the export of goods. capitals to export goods, including towards the backward world, a change that gave rise to imperialism as the superior stage of the development of capitalism. In advanced countries, capital surpassed the framework of National States, replacing competition with monopoly, creating all the objective premises for the realization of socialism”.[xlv]

What closed, for Lenin, was the historical cycle of free competition capitalism and definitive passage to a new era marked by five fundamental traits: 1) the concentration of production and capital taken to such a high degree of development that it created the monopolies, which played a decisive role in economic life; 2) the fusion of banking capital with industrial capital and the creation, based on this “financial capital”, of the financial oligarchy; 3) the export of capital, unlike the export of goods, acquired a particularly great importance; 4) the formation of international monopoly associations of capitalists, who shared the world among themselves, and 5) the end of the territorial division of the world between the most important capitalist powers.

A new division of the world necessarily led to warlike confrontation, aggravating the conditions of existence of the working class and the poor masses of the colonial world: imperialism was a era of wars and revolutions. As the contradictions of the accumulation process in the advanced capitalist countries matured, the apparatuses, mainly warlike, of the States began to be used to guarantee the export of capital, that is, to guarantee the receptivity of international capital in the less developed regions and against its metropolitan opponents. The degree of receptivity of the underdeveloped regions was directly related to the size of the interest of international capital – and, therefore, of the ruling classes of advanced capitalist countries – in the coveted regions. These interests came from the need for capital exports plus the need for inputs and raw materials at lower prices.

Bukharin characterized imperialism as “the expanded reproduction of capitalist competition” and concluded that “it is not because the epoch of finance capitalism constitutes a historically limited phenomenon that one can, however, conclude that it has arisen as a deus ex machina. In reality, it is the historical sequence of the epoch of industrial capital, just as the latter represents the continuity of the capitalist commercial phase. This is the reason why the fundamental contradictions of capitalism – which, with its development, are reproduced at an increasing pace – find, in our time, a particularly violent expression”.[xlv] For Lenin: “The export of capital influences the development of capitalism in the countries where capital is applied, accelerating it extraordinarily. If for this reason such an export can bring about, to a certain extent, a certain stagnation in the development of the exporting countries, this can only be produced at the expense of broadening and deepening the development of capitalism throughout the world..[xlviii]

The new imperialism brought the world into a new era, that of transition from capitalism to socialism: “Capitalist imperialism was the result of the process of concentration and centralization of capital in the countries with the most advanced capitalism, where monopoly tended to replace free competition, just as the export of capital replaced the export of goods, including towards the backward world. , a change that gave rise to imperialism as the highest stage in the development of capitalism. In advanced countries, capital surpassed the framework of National States, replacing competition with monopoly, creating all the objective premises for the realization of socialism”.[xlix] This did not nullify the international political issues (national and anti-imperialist struggle) posed by imperialism. Differences and inequalities within the world capitalist system meant that some countries were forced to integrate into capitalism in a dependent and associated manner and others imposed themselves as dominant and expropriating nations. Exploring this trend, Trotsky highlighted the differentiated and unequal character of the development of nations, making this the basis for the theoretical formulation of the concept of combined development.[l] For him, the rationale for the proletarian revolution presented by Marx and Engels “was located at the exclusive level of the productive forces and made the exhaustion of possibilities for the development of capitalism an indispensable condition for placing its abolition on the order of the day” (“No social formation disappears before all the productive forces it contains have been developed”).

Trotsky interpreted this statement as relating to large productive systems on a world-historical scale (feudalism, capitalism) and not to isolated nations: “The theory of uneven and combined development is interesting not only for its contribution to reflection on imperialism, but also as one of the most significant attempts to break with evolutionism, the ideology of linear progress and Eurocentrism”.[li] A backward nation like Russia was obliged to incorporate the technical achievements of the advanced nations in order to maintain itself as an autonomous force and not be incorporated in the form of a colony of a power. Even on different bases, the colonies would also go through a process of incorporating the advanced technique of their rulers.

The technique incorporated by backward countries, in turn, would require the creation of production relations that corresponded to it, which meant the sudden, accelerated establishment of suitable forms of social organization. The process would occur through “historical leaps”, eliminating the stages that had characterized the economic and social evolution of the pioneering countries of capitalism: the new socioeconomic structure presented by the backward nation would not simply reproduce a previous historical stage of the advanced country. The technique and capitalist production relations incorporated on an archaic semi-feudal basis, in the case of Russia, created a new framework that could not be compared to that of an “old” capitalist nation. The theory of permanent revolution, developed on the basis of these premises, could be considered as “the expression of a new understanding of the theory of stages, understood as the general historical process of humanity”.[liiii] The bourgeois democratic stage had already taken place worldwide, making it necessary to open, starting from Russia, a new revolutionary path. If Russia was backward in relation to Western Europe, Europe as a whole, Russia included, was historically advanced in relation to the other regions of the globe, which meant that the revolution would, in fact, start from the most advanced world capitalist sector, although in the its most “backward” portion. The “combined development” and the possibility of the “historical leap” were determined as much by the persistence of backwardness as by the introduction of elements of advancement.[iii]

Imperialist and arms competition provoked “partial” wars (such as the Anglo-Boer War, the Boxer Revolt and the intervention of foreign powers in China, the Russo-Japanese War, the Italian-Turkish War, the Balkan War, the revolution and civil war in Mexico,[book] and a multitude of regional conflicts) and, finally, World War I; would imperialism, and the wars resulting from it, henceforth be necessary for the survival of capitalism itself? Kautsky replied in the negative: “There is no economic reason for the continuation of the great competition in the production of armaments after the end of the present war [which had just broken out – the article cited is from September 1914 – and which Kautsky, like most of his contemporaries, imagined of short duration]. At most, such a continuation would only serve to feed the interests of a few capitalist groups. Capitalist industry is threatened by disputes between different governments. Every far-sighted capitalist should call out to his associates: 'Capitalists of the world, unite!'.[lv]

With this wishful thinking regarding a possible “peacemaking” (although reactionary) world agreement between “sighted” capitalist-imperialists, Kautsky even formulated a theory of “super (or ultra) imperialism”, which asserted that imperialism was not necessarily the “final stage of capitalism”. Kautsky formulated the hypothesis that after the imperialist phase there could be a new capitalist phase based on understanding between capitalist groups and states: “From a purely economic point of view, there is nothing that prevents the creation of a Holy Alliance between imperialists”. Kautsky arrived at these conclusions by examining the consequences of armaments and wars on capitalist industry: military industries were favoured; the others, disadvantaged, were against the wars. Financial capital gained hegemony over industrial capital; Kautsky defined finance capital as “the most brutal and violent form of capital”. Through “ultra-imperialism”, the “world cartels of capitalists” sought to impose their own monopoly by defeating their competitors. When these, finally, were few and strong, they would prefer not to fight each other and would find an agreement in the form of the cartel or the world trust.

If this tendency could be verified among capitalist companies, it would be reasonable to assume that it would also be possible to verify it in the relations between States. Kautsky hoped that the arrival of “ultra-imperialism” would prevent the outbreak of new wars. This theory assumed the possibility of a maximum degree of economic monopolization that would lead, if not to the elimination, at least to attenuate the contradictions of capitalism, including competition between capitals and nations; this was equivalent to conceiving a process of concentration and centralization of capital tending to be without contradictions, which would overcome the antagonisms born of the competition between capitals and States. Bukharin opposed this interpretation, considering the process of capitalist accumulation as a whole: “The process of internationalization of capitalist interests imperiously compels the formation of a world state capitalist trust. Whatever its vigor, however, this process is thwarted by a tendency stronger the nationalization of capital and the closing of borders”.[lv] The years leading up to the First World War illustrated the trend exposed by Bukharin: they were distinguished by fierce competition between powers and capitalist companies for markets spread around the world.

For Bukharin and Lenin, capitalism, having fulfilled its historical function, to economically unify the world by tending to destroy previous modes of production, tended to develop its parasitic tendencies more prevalently: the possibility of fixing monopoly prices, for example, made disappear, even certain point, the tendency towards scientific and technical progress (even when this was expressed not as scientific or technological stagnation, but as ratio less and less use of the accumulated fund of scientific knowledge and potential technological innovations, or as an unproductive/destructive use of the same, through armament spending or the destructive economic irrationality of the environment); in backward countries, poverty tended to worsen, increasing the gap in social inequality between “rich” and “poor” countries.

The anarchic development of production also provoked a growing plundering and destruction of resources and the natural environment, as well as a relative and growing degradation of working conditions. Lenin also pioneered the transformations in the sphere of work caused by the spread of “Taylorism”, a work system that originated in the USA at the beginning of the XNUMXth century: “What an enormous gain in productivity! But the worker's salary has not multiplied by four, at most it has doubled and only for a short period of time. Once workers get used to the new system, their wages are reduced to their previous level. The capitalist makes an enormous profit, but the workers work four times as hard as before and wear out their nerves and muscles four times faster than before.”[lviii] Lenin concluded that the rationalization of work in factories was contradictory to the anarchy of the capitalist production regime.

By carrying out the unification of the world economy under the aegis of finance capital, imperialism also gave birth, as a consequence of the exacerbation of its contradictions and the tendency towards state intervention, the need for a world order to be preserved by supranational political means. The existence of a “world order”, which subordinated regional or national situations, derived directly from the role of the world market in the dynamics of capitalism: if the world market was not limited to the sum of national economies, the “world order” did not it could only consist of bilateral agreements between the different national States. The characterization of imperialism was constituted as the foundation of political options of global reach. Although laying the foundations for a new historical era, capitalist imperialism also continued previous trends: already in the first quarter of the XNUMXth century, the differentiated processes of industrialization and economic development influenced the division of power in the world system.

The "European Concert" was still at work in the partition of Africa in 1885, in the joint intervention in China against internal revolts, and finally, in 1912, in the international conference in London that prevented the escalation of tensions between Austria-Hungary and Russia. in the context of the Balkan wars. The significant peculiarities of international relations that marked the period 1871-1914 made the main debates in international politics focus on: a) The character of the international system and international relations; the existence of a balance of power or hegemony of Germany after 1871; b) The problem of the new European imperial expansion after 1870; c) From 1914, in the explanation of the causes of the First World War.

For Lenin, imperialism was a phase needed of capitalist development once it had reached its monopoly phase. The synthesis of the characteristics of imperialism (exploitation of backward actions, tendency towards world wars and the militarization of the State, alliance of monopolies with the State, general tendency to domination and subordination of freedom) led it to define the new historical stage as a time of “across the board reaction and exacerbation of national oppression”. The enormous development of the productive forces, the concentration of production and the unprecedented accumulation of capital made production increasingly social in the decisive economic branches. This was increasingly in contradiction with the private ownership of the means of production in the hands of a smaller and smaller number of capitalists, which marked the symptom of the transition to a new social system of production, socialism. The trend towards world war was therefore no more random than the economic crisis itself. The contradiction between the worldwide development of capitalist productive forces and the narrow framework of national states was the way in which the capitalist crisis assumed worldwide dimensions.

At the same time, monopoly capital dissolved the old productive relations and accelerated capitalist development in the backward countries, in the form of economic monopoly: the backward countries knew of capitalism only the disadvantages of its maturity, without getting to know the virtues of its youth. . The industrial proletariat that emerged from this capitalist penetration had a strong development, which was not related to the rickets of the national bourgeoisie of the countries before that date, which would determine the authoritarian political forms adopted by them in the XNUMXth century.

With the frequent use of production technology in the composition of new products with new materials, the possibilities of using components not yet developed showed the need for territorial reserves. As a result, financial capital did not restrict its interests only to known sources of raw materials, but also became interested in possibly existing sources in randomly diverse regions. The expansion of the domains of financial capital took place not only because of the need to maintain growing surpluses and influence over sources of production of low value-added goods (raw materials), but mainly because of the strategic guarantee of the constant possibility of exploring new resources. : “Hence the inevitable tendency of financial capital to enlarge its economic territory”. The “receptiveness” of underdeveloped regions was related to the political and economic formation of the “host” territory or country; the way in which capital expansion was processed varied according to the level of development of capitalism in these regions. The “independent” states of the periphery were doomed to subordination to finance capital, just like the colonial countries.

The worldwide expansion of capital was ideologically justified by the new concept of nation, where one could overcome others by considering itself “elected” among the others, based on the assertion of its superiority: “To maintain and expand its superiority, [monopoly capital] it needs the State to guarantee the internal market through the customs and tariff policy, which should facilitate the conquest of foreign markets. It needs a politically powerful state that, in its trade policy, has no need to respect the opposing interests of other states. Ultimately, it needs a strong State that can assert its financial interests abroad, that surrenders its political power to extort advantageous supply contracts and commercial treaties from smaller States. A State that can intervene in every part of the world to convert the whole world into an investment area for its financial capital”.[lviii] The concept of the State was modified to add the role of “aggregator” of inferior or backward societies, to “help them in their development”.

The role of the State remained basically the same, ensuring the hegemony of a social class in the maintenance of a set of property relations and class structures, but now worldwide. This last aspect refers to the social structure of these countries, that is, to the form of their internal property relations, as well as to the influence exerted by the property relations of the dominant social classes in countries with developed capitalism. The “national question” had not been eliminated by imperialism; it had, on the contrary, been sharpened and projected onto the world plane. For Lenin, capitalist imperialism redefined international relations in a world in which the central feature became the division of the world into oppressive nations and oppressed nations. In his comprehensive systematization of the matter, he wrote that “if it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism, it would have to be said that imperialism is the monopoly phase of capitalism. This definition would understand the main thing, since, on the one hand, finance capital is the bank capital of a few large monopoly banks fused with the capital of monopoly associations of industrialists, and, on the other hand, the partition of the world is the transition from colonial policy which extends without hindrance to regions not yet appropriated by any capitalist power for the colonial policy of monopoly possession of the territories of the already entirely partitioned globe”.[lix]

The so-called “neocolonialism” (differentiated from the “Old Colonial System”, which marked the beginnings of the Modern Era) emerged with the aim of subjecting less developed regions to the economic interests of more developed countries, but also with the aim of “closing” these regions to economic penetration of competing powers. In this initial phase of the “era of imperialism”, however, there was no convergence between the anti-imperialist resistance of the colonial peoples (already active, however) and the struggle of the metropolitan proletariat. The majority of the working class in the metropolises thought they could take advantage of colonial conquest (and indeed they did, at least their best-positioned strata, the so-called “labor aristocracy”).[lx] “If imperialism appeared, at the request of German Social Democracy, on the agenda of the Congress of the (Socialist) International which was to meet in Vienna in the last week of August 1914 [which was never held], the International Socialist Bureau decided, in the meeting held in London on December 13 and 14, 1913, not to include the colonial question on the agenda of the congress”.[lxi]

The colonialist bias of the “old International” had survived its official rejection at international congresses. The support of the majority of the metropolitan working class for the colonial onslaught of the European powers was cited as justification for the faltering positions of the Socialist International in the face of nationalist and colonialist pressures, which had manifested themselves in the support of various workers' parties for colonialism and manifested themselves when, on the occasion of the outbreak of the world conflict, the most important parties of the International (in the first place, French and German socialism) voted in favor of the request for war credits by their governments, and also the military mobilization of their countries. Lenin came to a conclusion about the reasons for the conduct of the Socialist International by analyzing the social bases of the “social-patriotism” prevailing in the organization when the first great world conflict broke out: “Imperialism has the tendency to form privileged categories also among the workers, and to divorce them from the great mass of the proletariat. Imperialist ideology even penetrates the working class, which is not separated from other social classes by a Chinese wall. The leaders of the Social-Democratic Party in Germany were rightly described as social-imperialists, that is, socialists in word and imperialists in fact.[lxii]

The Bolshevik Grigorii Zinoviev characterized the formation of a layer with its own and differentiated interests in the apparatus of workers' parties and unions in the most developed European countries, in this case in Germany: “In the index of all paid officials working for the party and free unions , with only their record of names, occupies 26 three-column pages, each printed in the smallest small type. According to our calculation, the total number of paid officials working for the party and the unions in 1914 is 4.010. In Greater Berlin alone, it is 751, in Hamburg, 390. The four thousand constitute a particularly unique company that has its own interests. To protect their corporate interests, they founded their own special union association of party and union officials. This association had 3.617 members in 1916 and had an income of 252.372 marks in dues. Interest on capital (and other income) provided the association with 475.521 marks in 1913. In addition, officials in individual branches of the labor movement formed yet other separate mutual aid societies. So, for example, an association of all employees employed in the cooperative movement. In 1912 this association had 7.194 members and its capital amounted to 2.919.191 marks.

“Employees of the Labor press, editors, correspondents, reporters, etc. they form a numerically large group in themselves; suffice it to point out that the unions spent 2.604.411 marks for their union bodies alone in 1912. If we add to this the 70 social democratic daily newspapers and all the numerous social democratic weeklies and monthly organs, the sum of the salaries received by all the employees of these publications amounts to millions each year. It is easy to imagine what a large number of journalists, secretaries, etc. lives off these millions. Participants in the work of this press have their own professional society, the 'Association of the Workers' Press', which has existed for over a decade. This association has worked out an entire salary scale for editors and editorial staff. An editor's salary, for example, must be at least DM 2.200 – with a semi-annual increase of DM 300 – up to DM 4.200. In reality, they are paid handsomely. but… The real power of the party does not reside in the hands of this relatively broad layer of 'representatives'. It is in the hands of a much smaller layer of party officials, its main bureaucracy. More than a thousand small-time employees and managers are directly dependent from an economic point of view on the leadership of the party and the union. In 1904, there were already 1.476 employees in the printing houses belonging to the social democratic party (the number of editors had reached 329). In 1908, 298 men worked in the printing house alone. Forward [German social democratic newspaper]. All these people are as dependent economically on the bureaucrats who occupy the highest offices as the workers are on any private entrepreneur”.[lxiii]

“Workers' aristocracy” of the imperialist countries, and the bureaucratic apparatus of the workers' parties and unions were, of course, two different concepts (and two social realities): occupying the same habitat, however, their interests (and policies) could eventually coincide, as the Dutch Marxist Anton Pannekoek observed: “German Social Democracy is a gigantic and firmly established organization, which exists almost like a state within a state, with its own officials, its own finance, its own press; within its own spiritual sphere, with its own ideology… The whole character of this organization is suited to the peaceful pre-imperialist era; the human agents of this character are the officials, the secretaries, the agitators, the parliamentarians, the theorists, who form a caste of their own, a group with separate interests that dominates the organizations, materially and ideologically. It is no coincidence that all of them, with Kautsky at their head, want nothing to do with a real struggle against imperialism. Their whole interest in life is of a hostile nature to the new tactic, a tactic that jeopardizes their existence as employees. Its silent work in the offices and editorial chambers, at conferences and advisory committee meetings, in writing learned and not-so-learned articles against the bourgeoisie and against each other – all this peaceful business activity is being threatened by storms. of the imperialist era.

“The bureaucratic-academic apparatus [acting in socialist political training schools and universities] can only be nullified by being removed out of the boiling pot, out of the revolutionary struggle, out of the mainstream of real life (and, consequently, in the service of its own bourgeoisie). If the party and leadership were to adopt the tactic of mass action, state power would immediately invade the organizations – the basis of all their existence and all their activity in life – and perhaps destroy them, confiscate their treasures, imprison the leaders. . Of course, it would be an illusion to believe that the power of the proletariat can be broken: the workers' organizational power resides not in the form of their corporate associations, but in the spirit of solidarity, discipline, unity; by these means, workers could create better forms of organization. But for employees it would mean the end of their specific form of organization, without which they could not exist or function. The desire for self-preservation, the interests of their craft group, must obligatorily impose on them the tactic of avoiding struggle and softening their position vis-à-vis imperialism.”[lxiv]

The bureaucratization of the labor movement, and the political co-option of important sectors of the working class for nationalist and colonialist policies in the metropolises, was therefore no secret to anyone; they were part of the calculations of leaders of all ideological colors and, above all, of the holders of the political regime. Regarding the first, the Italian-German sociologist and former socialist Robert Michels, disenchanted with the lack of internal democracy in the Italian Socialist Party, postulated in his best-known work an “iron law of oligarchization” of unions and workers' parties.[lxv] Regarding the second, a good part of the population of the imperialist countries believed, obviously due to their own and very concrete interests, that colonial domination was fair and even beneficial to humanity, in the name of an “ideology of progress” based on the idea of that there were peoples – Europeans – superior to others; low-level racism and pseudoscientific social Darwinism interpreted the theory of biological evolution in their own way, asserting the hegemony of some through natural selection applied to society.

These ideas went back to the beginnings of European colonialism, but they were expressed, in the first stage of colonial expansion, under a religious ideology, the need to convert indigenous populations (Asian, African or American) to the “true faith” (the Christian), granting crusaders of that faith (who generally cared little for it) the right to loot and exploit them economically. Racist “social Darwinism” (even when it was totally or partially hidden) reformulated these ideas in a secular era, the era of “investment imperialism”, in which, in the capitalist metropolises, the State tended to separate itself from the Churches , and the ideas of the dominant classes tended to be expressed in a non-religious, even “scientific” way, making use of the progress of science (including, and especially, biology) and philosophical theories, especially positivism, Comtian or Benthamian.

The union and party bureaucracy could approach these worldviews based on their interests, because they lack training or ideological firmness, or because of a combination of both factors. States fed a nationalist sentiment that affected not only the mentality of people subjugated to foreign domination (“internalizing it” as an idea or feeling of racial or cultural inferiority, as authors such as Frantz Fanon or Albert Memmi analyzed), but also the Independent states with a relatively homogeneous population (which favored racist attitudes in them), in which this ideology was translated by the desire to assert the power of the State and to increase its prestige and influence in the world. Economically and politically, the struggles of the great powers among themselves no longer focused only on restricted European issues, but also on markets and territories that extended throughout the world. Debates and political confrontations regarding these shocks permeated and preceded the general crisis that led Europe to war.

For Lenin and the revolutionary Marxists, imperialism translated a change of historical era: “The epoch of capitalist imperialism is the epoch of a capitalism that has already reached and passed its period of maturity, that enters its ruin, ripe to leave its space for socialism. The period from 1789 to 1871 had been the epoch of progressive capitalism: its task was to defeat feudalism, absolutism, liberation from the foreign yoke”; “Liberator of nations that capitalism was in its struggle against feudal rule, imperialist capitalism has become the greatest oppressor of nations. Capitalism, the old factor of progress, has become reactionary; after having developed the productive forces to such an extent that humanity has nothing left to do but pass over to socialism or suffer for years, even tens of years, the armed struggle of the great powers to artificially maintain capitalism through colonies, monopolies, privileges and national oppressions of every kind.”[lxvi] The First World War was the test of confrontational analyzes and strategies, based not on short-term empirical or impressionistic findings, but on a strong preceding theoretical debate.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books by Marx and Engels in History  (Shaman).


[I] Pierre Foulan (code name of Pierre Fougeyrollas and Denis Collin). Introduction to l'Étude du Marxisme. Paris, SELIO, sdp, p. 96.

[ii] Richard Koebner and Helmut Dan Schmidt. Imperialism. The story and significance of a political word, 1840-1960. London, Cambridge University Press, 1964.

[iii] Karl Marx. Letter to Pavel V. Annekov (1846).

[iv] Paul Bairoch. Industrial Revolution and Subdevelopment. Mexico, Siglo XXI, 1967, p. 285.

[v] John A. Hobson. L'Imperialismo. Rome, Newton & Compton, 1978 [1902].

[vi] Martin Meredith. Diamonds, Gold and War. New York, Public Affairs, 2007. A Rhodes Scholarship is a prestigious international scholarship for external students at the University of Oxford in England.

[vii] David Van Reybrouck. congo. Unite history. Paris, Actes Sud/Fond Flammand des Lettres, 2012, pp. 80-81.

[viii] Marina Gusmao de Mendonca. War of Extermination: The Genocide in Rwanda. Text presented at the Symposium “War and History”, held at the Department of History at USP, in September 2010.

[ix] Alberto da Costa eSilva. Brazil, Africa and the Atlantic in the XNUMXth century. Advanced Studies vol. 8, nº 21, São Paulo, University of São Paulo, May-August 1994.

[X] apud Yvonne Kapp. Eleanor Marx. Turin, Einaudi, 1980, vol. II, p. 50.

[xi] Albert Memmi. Portrait of the Colonized. Preceded by the portrait of the colonizer. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 2007, pp. 78 and 83.

[xii] Henri Brunschwig. Le Partage de l'Afrique Noire. Paris, Flammarion, 1971, pp. 34-35.

[xiii] John Iliffe. The Africans. Histoire d'un continent. Paris, Flammarion, 2009, p. 376.

[xiv] Joseph Ki-Zerbo. history of black africa. Lisbon, Europe-America, 1991, p. 55.

[xv] The English conquest of the Cape, initially colonized by the Dutch, dates back to the successful expedition of Admiral Pophan, at the beginning of the 1806th century. The English victory made Pophan a national hero, which led him to conceive of the possibility of replacing Spain in control of his American possessions. For reasons of proximity, he tried the company from the Viceroyalty of Plata, the closest to the Cape, invading Buenos Aires in 1806. The resistance of the population made this first attempt fail, which was repeated, with a military force eight times greater , in the following year, reaping a new failure, this time more resounding, which produced a serious political crisis in the English Parliament. The defeat of the “English invasions” of 1807-1810 was considered the determinant of the consolidation of an Argentine national conscience; the country was one of the bulwarks of the revolutions for the independence of the Spanish American colonies, which took place in 1833. England, in turn, renounced any project of a comprehensive colonization of the Iberian Americas, limiting itself to insular colonial possessions in the Caribbean, in America Central (Belize) and in the South Atlantic (the Malvinas Islands, occupied by England in XNUMX).

[xvi] Mike Davis. Colonial Holocausts. Climate, hunger and imperialism in the formation of the Third World. Rio de Janeiro, Record, 2002. According to Davis, “the only twentieth-century historian who seems to have understood that the great Victorian famines were integral chapters in the history of capitalist modernity was Karl Polanyi, in his 1944 book, The Great Transformation. “The real origin of the famines of the last fifty years”, he wrote, “was the free trade in grain, combined with the lack of local incomes”.

[xvii] Thomas Pakenham. The Boer War. London, Widenfeld & Nicolson, 1979.

[xviii] Initially published in 1899, as a serial for deliveries, in Blackwood's Magazine.

[xx] James Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) was one of the founders and leaders of the Independent Labor Party and the Labor Party (Labour Party); he was the first Labor leader to become prime minister of the United Kingdom, under George V. he was an illegitimate child and received his elementary education in the "free church". In 1881 he became a teacher becoming a clergyman's assistant in Bristol. In 1866 he made his way to London, gaining employment as a clerk and joining CL Fitzgerald's Socialist Union, which was struggling to advance social reforms through the English parliamentary system. On November 13, 1887, MacDonald witnessed Bloody Sunday (Bloody Sunday), in Trafalgar Square, and wrote the pamphlet Remember Trafalgar Square: Tory Terrorism in 1887. In 1892, he became a journalist. In 1893 he was among the founders of the Independent Workers' Party (ILP). He married Margaret Gladstone, of the family of William Gladstone, former prime minister, and Herbert Gladstone, leader of the Liberal Party. The two traveled to various countries, giving MacDonald the opportunity to meet with socialist leaders in other countries. In 1906 he was elected to parliament for the Labor Party. In 1911 he became leader of the Labor group in Parliament. He became both party leader and leader of the opposition, with strong criticism of the Conservative government. In 1924, he was asked by King George V to form a government when Stanley Baldwin's Conservative majority failed, starting the UK's first Labor term.

[xx] In: Vladimir I. Lenin. Selected Works. Vol. 1. São Paulo, Alfa-Omega, 1980.

[xxx] Manuel Quiroga and Daniel Gaido. The theory of imperialism in Rosa Luxemburg and her critics: the era of the Second International. Marxist Criticism nº 37, São Paulo, October 2013.

[xxiii] Jonathan Sperber. Karl Marx. A 2014th century life. Barueri, Amarilys, 502, p. XNUMX.

[xxiii] Envisioned by Marx in the form D-D', “inversion and materialization of production relations raised to maximum power”, “capitalist mystification in its most brutal form”.

[xxv] John A. Hobson. L'Imperialism. Rome, Newton & Compton, 1996[1902].

[xxiv] John A. Hobson. The Evolution of Modern Capitalism. São Paulo, Cultural April, 1983, pp. 158 and 175.

[xxv] See: Nikolai Bukharin. Political Economy of the Rentista. Barcelona, ​​Laia, 1974. In this text, Bukharin pioneered the “marginalist revolution” in economic theory as an indirect theoretical expression of the financial parasitism of monopoly capital.

[xxviii] Mikhail Tugan-Baranowsky. Les Crises Industrielles en Angleterre. Paris, Garden, 1913 (original: Studien Zur Theorie und Geschichte der Handelskrisen in England. Jena, Fischer, 1901). The author's basic ideas had been developed in articles published in the early twentieth century.

[xxviii] Karl Kautsky. Theory of the Crisis. Florence, Guaraldi, 1976 [1902].

[xxix] Paul Sweezy. Theory of Capitalist Development. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1976,

[xxx] Leopoldo Marmora (ed.). The Second International and the National and Colonial Problem. Mexico, Past and Present – ​​Siglo XXI, 1978.

[xxxii] The positions of Manuel Ugarte (1878-1951) in favor of “Spanish-American unity” were summarized in El Porvenir de América Latina, published in 1910. Ugarte became Argentina's ambassador to Mexico between 1946 and 1948, during the first government of Juan D. Perón.

[xxxi] Juan Bautista Justo (1865-1928) was a physician, journalist, socialist parliamentarian and writer, founder of the Socialist Party of Argentina, which he presided over until his death, of the newspaper La Vanguardia and the Cooperative El Hogar Obrero. He was a congressman and national senator. He undertook his medical studies at the University of Buenos Aires, working as a journalist, graduating in 1888 with an honors degree. He traveled to Europe, where he came into contact with socialist ideas. In Argentina, he was a surgeon at the Chronic Hospital. In the 1890s he began writing for the periodical The worker. In 1894, together with Augusto Kühn and Esteban Jiménez, he founded the newspaper La Vanguardia which, with the founding of the Socialist Party, would become its official organ and began to be published daily. Justo also founded the cooperative El Hogar Obrero, Obrera library and Luz Society. He participated in the congresses of the Socialist International held in Copenhagen and Bern. He criticized Marx's "dialectic", blamed, according to him, for having made him foresee, in the Communist Manifesto, proletarian revolutions on the horizon in 1848. In 1921 he married the feminist Alicia Moreau de Justo. As deputy and senator for the Federal Capital (Buenos Aires), he chaired the investigative commission of the trusts, participated in the debates of the University Reform (1918), and defended numerous projects of social laws, against gambling and alcoholism, and to eliminate illiteracy (Donald F. Weinstein. Juan B. Justo and his Season. Buenos Aires, Fundación Juan B. Justo, 1978).

[xxxii] VI Lenin. Los Socialistas y la Guerra. Mexico, Editorial America, 1939.

[xxxv] Rudolf Hilferding. Financial Capital. São Paulo, Abril Cultural, 1983, p. 314.

[xxxiv] Lucien Sanial. General Bonkruptcy or Socialism. New York, Socialist Party, 1913.

[xxxiv] Tom Kemp. Theorie dell'Imperialismo. From Marx to oggi. Turin, Einaudi, 1969, p. 29.

[xxxviii] Leon Trotsky. Nature and Dynamics of Capitalism and the Transitional Economy. Buenos Aires, Ceip, 1999.

[xxxviii] John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson. The imperialism of free trade. Economic History Review, vol. VI, nº 1, London, 1953.

[xxxix] Rosa Luxemburg. The Accumulation of Capital. Havana, Social Sciences, 1968, p. 430.

[xl] Henryk Grossman. Las Leyes de la Accumulación y el Derrumbe del Sistema Capitalista. Mexico, Siglo XXI, 1977.

[xi] VI Lenin. Imperialism, Higher Stage of Capitalism. Campinas, Navegando Publicações, 2011 [1916].

[xliii] Joseph A. Schumpeter. Imperialism and Social Classes. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1961.

[xiii] VI Lenin. Imperialism, Higher Stage of Capitalism, quote.

[xiv] Nikolai Bukharin. The World Economy and Imperialism. Sao Paulo, Nova Cultural, 1986.

[xlv] VI Lenin. Imperialism and the split of socialism. Complete works, vol. 30, Moscow, 1963.

[xlv] VI Lenin. Imperialism, Higher Stage of Capitalism, quote.

[xlv] Nikolai Bukharin. The World Economy and Imperialism, quote.

[xlviii] VI Lenin. Op. cit.

[xlix] VI Lenin. Imperialism, Higher Stage of Capitalism, cit.

[l] “Capitalism emerged much stronger in Europe and the United States than in Asia and Africa. These were interdependent phenomena, opposite sides of the same process. The low capitalist development in the colonies was a product and a condition of the overdevelopment of the metropolitan areas, which took place at the expense of the former. The participation of various nations in capitalist development was no less irregular. Holland and England took the lead in establishing capitalist forms and forces in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while North America was still largely in indigenous possession. However, in the final phase of capitalism in the XNUMXth century, the United States vastly outperformed England and the Netherlands. As capitalism enveloped one country after another in its orbit, mutual differences increased. This growing interdependence does not mean that they follow identical guidelines or have the same characteristics. The closer their economic relations become, the profound differences that separate them emerge. Its national development does not, in many respects, take place through parallel lines, but through angles sometimes diverging like right angles. They acquire unequal but complementary traits” (George Novack. The Law of Uneven and Combined Development of Society. Slp, Rabisco, 1988, p. 35).

[li] Michael Lowy. The theory of uneven and combined development. October nº 1, São Paulo, 1998.

[liiii] Denise Avenas. Theory and Politics in Trotsky's Thought. Lisbon, Delphi, 1973.

[iii] Leon Trotsky. Histoire de la Révolution Russe. Paris, Seuil, 1950.

[book] American journalist, later communist, John Reed covered the Mexican Civil War and wrote Insurgent Mexico before being posted as a correspondent in Russia, where he covered the 1917 revolutions (which resulted in his famous text Ten Days That Shook the World) and found with surprise, in loco, the scarce information that Russian socialist leaders, of all tendencies, had about Mexican events.  

[lv] Karl Kautsky. Der Imperialismus. In: Die Neue Zeit, Berlin, 32 (1914), vol. 2. In English: Imperialism and war. International Socialist Review, New York, November 1914 (Brazilian translation: O imperialismo ea Guerra. History & Class Struggle nº 6, Marechal Cândido Rondon, November 2008).

[lv] Nikolai Bukharin. op cit., P. 106.

[lviii] VI Lenin. The Taylor system – man's enslavement by the machine. Collected Works. Vol. 20, Moscow, Progress, 1972. Antonio Gramsci pointed out that the “Taylorist rationalization” pointed to profound psychophysical changes in the worker beyond the factory walls, “a morbid phenomenon to be fought”, wondering if it would be possible “to make the workers as a mass would undergo the whole process of psychophysical transformation capable of transforming the average type of the Ford worker into the average type of the modern worker, or whether this would be impossible, since it would lead to physical degeneration and the deterioration of the species” (Antonio Gramsci. Americanism and Fordism. Works. Turin, Einaudi, 1978).

[lviii] Nikolai Bukharin. op cit.

[lix] VI Lenin. Imperialism, Higher Stage of Capitalism, cit.

[lx] For an empirical check, see: Eric J. Hobsbawm. On the labor aristocracy. The workers. Studies in the history of working class. Rio de Janeiro, Peace and Land, 1981; the author states that the concept of labor aristocracy, in the English case, was supported by solid foundations.

[lxi] Georges Haupt and Madeleine Reberioux. La Deuxième Internationale et l'Orient. Paris, Éditions Cujas, 1976, p. 9.

[lxii] VI Lenin. Imperialism, Higher Stage of Capitalism, cit.

[lxiii] Grigorii Zinoviev [G. Sinowjew]. Die sozialen Wurzeln des Opportunismus. Der Krieg und die Krise des Sozialismus [1916].

[lxiv] Anton Pannekoek. Der imperialismus und die aufgaben des proletariats. In: Vorbote Internationale Marxistische Rundschau. Berlin, January 1916.

[lxv] Robert Michels. Sociology of Political Parties. Brasilia, University of Brasilia, 1982.

[lxvi] VI Lenin. Los Socialistas y la Guerra, cit.

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