Does imperialism exist?

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Anonymous
Feb 21 2011 18:56
Does imperialism exist?

I don't think it does, I'm not sure it ever did in the way it's described by people on here (I prefer to use colonialism to describe the European empires of the 19th century). The role of the state is to protect private property and facilitate capital accumulation, I don't think there is anything inherent in the form of the nation state that suggests they are "imperialist". Anyway, I'd be interested in hearing what other people think.

slothjabber
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Feb 21 2011 19:20

Some of us think all nation-states are 'imperialist'. They promote their own interests at the expense of rivals; they compete for larger markets for their own national capitals. Some (those who can get away with it) are militarily adventuristic; the biggest are global adventurers (eg the USA, Britain, France, China) and the smaller are local adventurers (Israel, Iran, Morocco); and the really weak 'merely' support terrorist movements in other countries.

In the early 20th century, the emerging communist movement (Lenin, Luxemburg, Bukharin) identified imperialism as the policy of capitalism when the capitalist world had divided up the globe into different 'spheres of influence' of the great economic and military powers. Since that point, there hasn't been a fundamental change of world capitalism, merely changes of constellations among the organisers. But states that have lost a measure of superiority, eg Britain and France, are still imperialist, and so are all the smaller/weaker states that are busy persuing their own interests at the expense of their neighbours, or hanging on to the coat-tails of the bigger powers, or, more usually, both.

no1
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Feb 21 2011 19:27

For this thread to make any sense you need to define what you mean by imperialism first.

slothjabber
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Feb 21 2011 20:02

I disagree, I think all nation states act in the interest of their own national capital, and not in the interests of other national capitals (except in so far as they might run hand-in-hand). Why on earth would (let's say) Chinese capitalism do things to benefit German or American capitalism?

Competition is inherent in capitalism; with the rise (from about 1880 onwards) of joint-stock companies, financialisation of capital, what Engels caled 'the national capitalist' (and most of us I think would call the beginnings of state capitalism), followed by the colonial carve-up of the world and the attempt by the 'late comers' to re-divide the world (World Wars One and Two), and the globalisation of both capitalism and its crises, such as the 1929 Crash and Great Depression, it seems evident to me at least that competition is not just between individual firms but between nations too.

When we're not being exhorted to go to war for democracy and humanitarian ends, it's in in defence of 'British interests' which means British capitalism. The 'national interest' of any country is the interest of that national capitalism.

Sometimes these interests go hand-in-hand with another country's, or at least do not go contrary to it, and those countries may ally or agree seperate spheres of interest; but if they conflict then they'll compete, however they can, which often means militarily. All countries do this. How could they not? That's what countries are for.

slothjabber
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Feb 21 2011 21:45
slothjabber wrote:
...except in so far as they might run hand-in-hand...
Sometimes these interests go hand-in-hand with another country's, or at least do not go contrary to it, and those countries may ally or agree seperate spheres of interest...

And sometimes trade deals and investment in each others' countries. Why not? Capitalism's drive is to make a profit. If someone sees a profit to be had by investing in another country, why would their own government stop them? They'll end up getting more back than they put in, they help to extend their own country's diplomatic and economic reach.

On the other hand, why would the government of the other country object? They're getting someone to invest in their country after all - that still means that someone's going to be paying wages and taxes. And there may be other benefits too - backscratching and reciprocal trade deals and whatnot.

Investment in the UK strengthens the UK economy. Money now please, you buy up our shipyards, printworks, spoon factories or whatever, we'll pay you back with interest later. What's the problem with that?

Von Clausewitz's maxim that war is diplomacy by other means equally applies in reverse, diplomacy is just war by other means. Diplomatic missions are thinly disguised trading ventures, trading ventures are thinly disguised diplomatic missions, and all are about moving Risk pieces around on the board.

Autarky is impossible. 'Capitalism in One Country' is as ludicrous as Socialism in One Country. Capitalism is an international system. That's one of its contradictions. Were it not the case, it might work. But as it is the case, the logic it dictates is that individual countries compete (or collaborate where they see shared interest) to maximise their interests - in defence of their national capital. Else, what else is national interest?

slothjabber
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Feb 21 2011 22:17

No, they've done it to see their power increased - 'in their national interest' as you so rightly put it. And these are the new arenas in which national capitals compete. Hence the trade wars when people break the rules. Why would any country want to diminish their own power?

And, how do you define 'national interest'? If you mean something other than the geo-political and economic reach and strength of a country, what do you mean?

slothjabber
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Feb 21 2011 22:33

How is it not national capitals acting to protect their position? If international capitalism was a great homogenous many-tentacled leviathan controlling everything, why did every state desperately try to get the others to adopt its own policy? Each state took the action it considered as being in its national interest. The Germans and French had one policy, the British and Americans another policy, because they're all trying to protect their own national interest (ie economy) from the effects of the crisis. What's the problem?

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Feb 21 2011 22:44

The bourgeoisie is one country is not unified, so a nation state within which the multiple factions of the national and international bourgeoisie are fighting for influence will not necessarily act in the best interests of its national bourgoisie (and almost never in the best interests of all of it).
I think Tommy Ascaso is right in that Capital is so mobile now that it is less restricted to its own nation and so does not need to indulge in expensive imperialist ventures when it can simply exert influence in other ways (again there is a wide spectrum of ways of exerting influence, as has been mentioned)

It seems to me that imperialism is just one of the strings to their bow and they'll use it as and when it is effective. States do not have to engage in imperialist actions but they will if they can/need to.

baboon
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Feb 21 2011 22:55

Yes, I agree on national interest being the main factor in imperialism and national interest doesn't mean that the ruling class is motivated to look after "its" workers - they can go to the wall. I agree with the contradiction that Sloth points to - capitalism as an international system but the highest levels of the bourgeoisie are expressed in the national state. The bourgeoisie of the world cannot cooperate and the "highest" expression of its competition is imperialism. This doesn't have to take the form of open warfare - though it often does - and can take more or less hidden forms. Britain's support for Islamic fundamentalism in the 80s and 90s for example against the interests of France. This while these two countries were "allies" in the Serbian War against German interests and which also saw these two countries in an alliance with Russian interests in the region against those of Germany and the US. None of these countries were openly at war with each other but all their actions were driven by their imperialist interests.

On the question of the relationship between diplomacy and war: the recent al-Jazeera leaks show the role of diplomacy over the Palestinian question in setting up the Palestinian Authority as an adjunct to the interests of British and then US and Israeli imperialist interests. The plotting and planning was done in the British embassy by MI6 and diplomatic agents in conjunction with the Egyptian secret services. Similar for the interests of US imperialism in its Pakistani embassies and missions.

It's almost impossible for nation states to cooperate even in the most trying circumstances; faced with a significant working class force they will - temporarily. But even faced with the near collapse of the world economy just over two years ago all we've seen since are nation states trying to get some advantage over their rivals that is now giving rise to concerns over protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbour economic policies. The IMF is dominated by American imperialism and the UN is a den of competing thieves and spies completely incapable of any effective cooperation. NGO's have long since been used to advance the imperialist interests of the countries that they belong to as ex-US Secretary of State Colin Powell freely admitted.

Other significant imperialist involvements are Afghanistan, where all the major powers are involved, Africa, where imperialist interests mainly coming from the major powers is sowing death and destruction like never before, the imperialist basket case of Pakistan, the insane proliferation of nuclear weapons, denounced here, supported there by rival imperialisms, the list is as wide as the world. And events in the Middle East and North Africa today, central to the imperialism of the major powers, can only raise further tensions between the competing major nations and the nations of the region in the coming period.

China and the US are locked into an economic dance of death that is riven with imperialist tensions. And while the former extends its appetites right up the USA's back yard, both countries are involved in an arms race that threatens to get out of control. It was trying to keep up the arms race with the USA that largely caused the economic collapse of the Soviet Union and broke up a large bloc of imperialist rivalries into a myriad of competing interests from the Caucasus to the British-made Afghan border and spreading out through the Balkans.

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Feb 21 2011 22:59
slothjabber wrote:
The Germans and French had one policy, the British and Americans another policy, because they're all trying to protect their own national interest (ie economy) from the effects of the crisis. What's the problem?

I think the problem is the mystifying discourse on globalization. I posted this earlier in the news section. It's an dissection of the (imperialist) policies/strategies of the EU states today:

http://www.econ.uoa.gr/UA/files/2128615581..pdf

With references to Bismarck and all.

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Feb 21 2011 23:00
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The nation state was vital for the development of global capitalism but its power within it has been diminished through globalisation

see

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Feb 21 2011 23:07
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
So you're trying to tell me I can't accept Lenin and thousands of other leftists since were right about something because I'm mystified. Nice, but also nonsense.

Although you probably don't realise you're siding with Kautsky over Lenin wink

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Feb 21 2011 23:11

It's more of a Luxemburgian analysis wink

baboon
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Feb 21 2011 23:13

I'd summarise the text posted by Noa as showing that the supposedly cooperative EU is nothing but a nest of competing national and thus imperialist interests.

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Feb 21 2011 23:18
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
I've got no intention of reading Kautsky but I would be interested in hearing what you think!

I just edited in a link to the relevant Kautsky wikipedia... I'll reply properly when I'm not posting from my phone.

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Feb 21 2011 23:19
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
Noa Rodman wrote:
It's more of a Luxemburgian analysis ;)

Really? Shit. :(

Don't worry, there's no decadence.

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Feb 21 2011 23:22

I thought of starting a similar thread, about why world war one happened (Samatnof on the other thread said it the was in part because of increased workers' strenght).

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Feb 22 2011 00:15

ok, can type on a keyboard now...

I don't find imperialism to be a very useful concept, but not because of the supposed 'decline in national sovereignty' which i think is very much overstated.

In terms of the Marxist theory, Lenin was responding to Kautsky, who'd argued in principle that war and imperialism could be abolished by an ultraimperialist alliance in the interests of global capital accumulation. That's not dissimilar to many liberal positions which see commercial interdependence as a force for peace.

Lenin slated Kautsky, synthesising the liberal Hobson with Bukharin to argue that the concentration of capital in oligopolies (monopolies in his terms), and the merger of banking and industrial capital into finance capital ('the highest stage of capitalism') meant no such 'ultraimperialist' alliance was possible as the imperialist powers (those with finance capital monopolies) competed to divide up the world market.

Negri and Hardt were saying Lenin's obsolete, based on a massively premature reading of the 'unipolar moment' of the post-cold war world shifting and decentralising sovereignty to supranational institutions (UN) and networks (transnational capital). this view was fashionable for a while but is massively exagerated. the UN's as toothless as ever and states mostly choose to deregulate capital flows as the best (or least worst) option. This is a bit like ultraimperialism revived, but with some realpolitik (e.g. Machiavelli) thrown in to point out this supposed new form of global sovereignty is 'drenched in blood' as inter-state wars are replaced with global police action. like i say, i think this is at best overstated, but mainly just a crock of shit. (and don't get me started on 'immaterial labour', 'multitude' etc).

tbh i actually think political realism's a better place to start than Marxism (which mostly relies in reductionist/closed readings of Capital to deduce the political superstructure from the 'laws' of the economic base). e.g. E.H. Carr: "Nationalism, having attained its first objective in the form of national unity and independence, develops almost automatically into imperialism."

Problem is at that point imperialism is just geopolitics, i.e. what happens when multiple polities co-exist without any soveriegn power above them ('international anarchy') and therefore might makes right. i mean, it's only a point of departure, realism is rightly criticised as being ahistorical (it sees only geopolitical anarchy, not the changing nature of the system and its parts). Certainly the periods of free trade imperialism, formal colonialism, decolonisation, post-Bretton Woods etc represent different regimes of international relations, but i'd say the national interest characterises them all, even if national interests sometimes converge temporarily and/or durable alliances are formed (e.g. the EU).

the liberal ideal of economic interdependence probably plays a part in that, and one Marxist critique (from an academic at Sussex) argues that realism is the logic of the international political system while liberalism is the logic of the international economic system, and the incommensurability of the two reflects real contradictions and tensions in the international system itself. i think that kind of Marxism ploughs a more productive furrow than the various theories of imperialism.

baboon
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Feb 22 2011 10:20

Karl Kautsky made a significant contribution to the workers' movement but turned his back on revolutionary marxism when he came up with the idea that because of the global nature of capitalism (globalisation occured over a hundred years ago Jim) it could then overcome its inherent divisions and contradictions and henceforth go forward acting in a peaceful, cooperative manner. That position is implicit in the one you are defending Jim in rejecting "imperialism". It is an illusion that has been contradicted every day of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

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Feb 22 2011 10:41

Things that are actually happening: how about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? How about the Israeli occupation of Palestine? How about the skirmishes between India and Pakistan? What you think those are about then Jim?

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Feb 22 2011 11:10
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
Well Iraq and Afghanistan aren't colonies

what does that mean? They have been invaded and are occupied by foreign powers - predominantly the US and UK, who are making sure that lucrative contracts and resources go to their companies. Is this not imperialism?

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, the situation in Palestine seems kind of unique

you're accusing people of not looking at real events, but instead repeating mantras. This kind of one line dismissal of a significant real event doesn't really make it look like you are basing your position on the real world.

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and I don't think border skirmishes prove the theory of imperialism works as is.

well how do you explain it then? If all the bourgeoisies work together for the interests of global capital why do they mess up business by fighting each other sometimes? Kashmir would probably be in a better position to develop and get investment if people weren't killing each other, so why do they if not because two rival powers have claims on it?

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Was thinking about this a bit this morning and I think the crisis at the moment is probably more useful to look at as it shows states being forced to act in the interests of global capital, maybe that's marked a turning point?

in what way? What kind of turning point do you think we have passed?

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Feb 22 2011 11:27
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
I'm replying on my phone from my desk at work, I can't type anymore than one liners on different points without it either taking ages or stopping me getting any work done and I've got loads to do. I'll come back in more detail when I'm sat at a pc. Afghanistan is occupied by NATO does that mean the whole of NATO is imperialist?

what you think NATO is? An afternoon tea club?

Sure, I'll wait till you get to a PC for the rest

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Feb 22 2011 12:13
Steven. wrote:
They have been invaded and are occupied by foreign powers - predominantly the US and UK, who are making sure that lucrative contracts and resources go to their companies. Is this not imperialism?

the problem with this line of argument is it assumes that national self-determination/sovereign nation-states were ever more than a legal fiction/ideal, whereas states have been violating each others' sovereignty constantly (Europe mostly left each other alone from Waterloo in 1815 to WWI in 1914, but this coinicded with a massive colonial expansion, arguably the heyday of 'imperialism'!).

so that leaves several choices. you start from the realist view that national self-determination tips over into imperialism as soon as it is achieved, since the power to rule a given territory requires the ability to project power beyond your borders to defend it - thus all states are imperialist, and imperialism is just another name for geopolitics, a property of the international system. or you could use it as specifically delimited term referring to a historical phenomenon whereby one set of capitialist/becoming capitalist states more or less respected each others' sovereignty and carved up the rest of the world between them.

if you're a leftist, imperialism is something done by capitalist/powerful/baddie states (tankies excluded the USSR as 'anti-imperialist' for instance). i think that's useless terminology. but if all states are imperialist, why use the word? how does it differ from geopolitics per se?

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Feb 22 2011 12:25

admin: strange comment which may constitute flaming removed. This is a no flaming forum.

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Feb 22 2011 12:33
Joseph Kay wrote:
Steven. wrote:
They have been invaded and are occupied by foreign powers - predominantly the US and UK, who are making sure that lucrative contracts and resources go to their companies. Is this not imperialism?

the problem with this line of argument is it assumes that national self-determination/sovereign nation-states were ever more than a legal fiction/ideal, whereas states have been violating each others' sovereignty constantly (Europe mostly left each other alone from Waterloo in 1815 to WWI in 1914, but this coinicded with a massive colonial expansion, arguably the heyday of 'imperialism'!).

not completely sure what you mean here, but maybe that doesn't matter:

Quote:
so that leaves several choices. you start from the realist view that national self-determination tips over into imperialism as soon as it is achieved, since the power to rule a given territory requires the ability to project power beyond your borders to defend it - thus all states are imperialist,

that would be my view, yes

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and imperialism is just another name for geopolitics, a property of the international system.

or a big aspect of geopolitics, certainly. But Jim's argument seems to be that it doesn't exist, not that the terminology is not particularly useful. In terms of the terminology being useful, I would agree, it's not really a term I use other than in relation to arguments about national liberation, pointing out that all nations are inherently imperialist.

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Feb 22 2011 12:43

Yes, I agree with Steven.

Another way of looking at it is that the term 'imperialism' has referred to the manoeuvrings of the great powers and other states since the 1600s at least, whereas the term 'geopolitics' was invented 100 years ago. So 'geopolitics' is just another term for 'imperialism'. Why use 'geoplitics' when the perfectly serviceable term 'imperialism' pre-exists it?

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Feb 22 2011 13:06
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I also take the view that nation states aren't inherently imperialist which is something outlined in Against Nationalism

actually, I think that against nationalism says the opposite of that (got to go out now though so not time to check)

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Feb 22 2011 13:17
Jim wrote:
Well I don't think its implicit as its not what I'm arguing, I'm saying that I struggle to accept that imperialism exists, or that all nation states are inherently imperialist.

Surely imperialism is historically defined, and not subject to the divinations of this or that leftist thinker.
In that sense, it is less important what Lenin, Kautsky, or even Marx thought about imperialism, than understanding how empires actually changed since capital came to dominate social relationships. Even the British Empire was not a single monolithic entity; the "first empire" (lasted until the American revolution) was different from the "second" (classical period, incorporation of India, etc.).
If imperialism exists today, it will obviously be manifested in significantly different ways than 200 or even 100 years ago. Some instances of outright invasion and occupation for the purpose of economic expansion are clearly visible today (Iraq and Afghanistan being the two most popular examples); most imperialism today, I would argue, is however carried out through the framework offered by the multinational corporation (which could be seen as almost a throwback to the earliest strategies of imperialism when corporations like the East India Company, not the state per se, controlled imperial expansion). In what sense is that imperialism and not just old fashioned capitalism? I don't think you can divorce the one from the other. The quest for cheaper labour and bigger profits will invariably lead capitalists to use the imperial power of their nation state, insofar as it is at all substantial; that has remained relatively unchanged throughout history.
"Undeveloped" countries must be "opened up" at any cost. Therein lies the imperialism. It is not a moral judgment ("imperialism is wrong and should not be" - this implies capitalism can do without it), or an assumption of the reality of the nation state (imperialism forges and abolishes nations all of the time)

Joseph Kay wrote:
the problem with this line of argument is it assumes that national self-determination/sovereign nation-states were ever more than a legal fiction/ideal, whereas states have been violating each others' sovereignty constantly (Europe mostly left each other alone from Waterloo in 1815 to WWI in 1914, but this coinicded with a massive colonial expansion, arguably the heyday of 'imperialism'!).

I disagree. I don't think that the recognition of imperialism as a core strategy of capital implies the recognition of nation states as "natural" or the scapegoating of "baddie states." Certainly that is one way of looking at it, but not the only way. I don't think imperialism is either a "stage" or a "side effect" of capitalism. It is simply a time tested strategy for maximizing profits, much like union busting if you will.
As for the word itself, personally I think it sounds much less doublespeaky and vague than "geopolitics."

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Feb 22 2011 13:44
Steven. wrote:
not completely sure what you mean here, but maybe that doesn't matter

it was a bit clunkily phrased. i was saying the problem about describing particular inter-state interactions as imperialist is it implies imperialism is a violation of the norm of national self-determination/national sovereignty (as opposed to an inherent aspect of it). obviously you don't think this, but that's why i don't find 'imperialism' to be a very useful concept, and like you i only really use it when someone's being 'anti-imperialist' to point out their 'goodies' are just a weaker version of the same thing.

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Feb 22 2011 13:45
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
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The quest for cheaper labour and bigger profits will invariably lead capitalists to use the imperial power of their nation state, insofar as it is at all substantial; that has remained relatively unchanged throughout history.

Couldn't you argue that capitalists will use the power of nation states, I don't see why it has to be 'their' one.

Well correct me if I'm wrong but Halliburton didn't lobby the Belgian government for the forceful opening up of the Iraqi oil market; it lobbied "its own", American government.

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Feb 22 2011 13:48
slothjabber wrote:
Another way of looking at it is that the term 'imperialism' has referred to the manoeuvrings of the great powers and other states since the 1600s at least, whereas the term 'geopolitics' was invented 100 years ago. So 'geopolitics' is just another term for 'imperialism'. Why use 'geoplitics' when the perfectly serviceable term 'imperialism' pre-exists it?

well, geopolitics is used to describe everything from the Pelopenisian Wars to the Thirty Years War and Westphalian settlement to today, so as a generic term i think it's more useful and less loaded. i think 'imperialist!' is used by leftists in much the same way as 'fascist!', to substitute emotional charge for analytical rigour. that doesn't mean it can't be used, but it's about as useful as describing all illiberal tendencies as fascism imho.