V. I.   Lenin

Preface to N. Bukharin’s Pamphlet, Imperialism and the World Economy

Published: First published in Pravda No. 17, January 21, 1927. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, UNKNOWN, [19xx], Moscow, Volume 22, pages 103-107.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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There is no need for any special explanation to show that the subject dealt with in Bukharin’s paper is topical and important. The question of imperialism is not only one of the most essential but is probably the most essential question in that sphere of economic science which traces the change in the forms of capitalism in modern times. Anyone interested not only in economics but in any aspect of con temporary social life must certainly acquaint himself with the facts pertaining to this sphere which the author has collected in such abundance from the latest material. It goes without saying, that there can be no concrete historical assessment of the current war, unless it is based on a thorough analysis of the nature of imperialism, both in its economic and political aspects. Otherwise, it would be impossible to arrive at a correct understanding of the economic and diplomatic history of the last few decades without which it would be ridiculous to expect to work out a correct view of the war. From the standpoint of Marxism, which states most definitely the requirements of modern science on this question in general, one can merely smile at the “scientific” value of such methods as taking the concrete historical assessment of the war to mean a random selection of facts which the ruling classes of the country find gratifying or convenient, facts taken at random from diplomatic “documents”, current political developments, etc. Plekhanov, for instance, must have completely parted with Marxism to substitute the angling after a couple of little facts which delighted Purishkevich as much as Milyukov, for an analysis of the essential properties and tendencies of imperialism, as the system of economic relations of modern highly developed, mature and rotten-ripe capitalism. The scientific concept of imperialism, moreover, is reduced to a sort of term of abuse applied to the immediate competitors, rivals and opponents   of the two imperialists mentioned, each of whom holds exactly the same class position as his rivals and opponents! This is not at all surprising in this day of words forgotten, principles lost, philosophies overthrown, and resolutions and solemn promises discarded.

N. I. Bukharin’s paper has especially high scientific value because he examines the main facts of the world economy relating to imperialism as a whole, as a definite stage of development of the most highly developed capitalism. There was an epoch of relatively “peaceful” capitalism, when it had completely defeated feudalism in the leading European countries and was free to develop with the utmost—relative—tranquillity and smoothness, expanding “peacefully” over the vast expanses of the as yet unsettled lands and the countries not yet irrevocably drawn into the capitalist maelstrom. Of course, even in that period, roughly between 1871 and 1914, “peaceful” capitalism created conditions of life that were a very far cry from actual “peace”, both in the military and the class sense. For nine-tenths of the population of the leading countries, for hundreds of millions in the colonies and backward countries, that epoch was not one of “peace” but of oppression, suffering and horror, which was the more terrible, possibly, for appearing to be a “horror without end”. This epoch is gone for good, it has given way to an epoch which is relatively much more violent, spasmodic, disastrous and conflicting, an epoch which for the mass of the population is typified not so much by a “horror without end” as by a “horrible end”.

In all this it is extremely important to bear in mind that this change has been brought about in no other way but the immediate development, expansion and continuation of the most profound and basic trends in capitalism and in commodity production in general. These main trends, which have been in evidence all over the world for centuries, are the growth of exchange and the growth of large-scale production. At a definite stage in the development of exchange, at a definite stage in the growth of large-scale production, namely, at the stage which was attained towards the turn of the century, exchange so internationalised economic relations and capital, and large-scale production assumed such proportions that monopoly began to replace free competition.   Monopoly associations of entrepreneurs, trusts, instead of enterprises, “freely” competing with each other—at home and in relations between the countries—became typical. Finance capital took over as the typical “lord” of the world; it is particularly mobile and flexible, particularly interknit at home and internationally, and particularly impersonal and divorced from production proper; it lends itself to concentration with particular ease, and has been concentrated to an unusual degree already, so that literally a few hundred multimillionaires and millionaires control the destiny of the world.

Abstract theoretical reasoning may lead to the conclusion at which Kautsky has arrived—in a somewhat different fashion but also by abandoning Marxism—namely, that the time is not too far off when these magnates of capital will unite on a world scale in a single world trust, substituting an internationally united finance capital for the competition and struggle between sums of finance capital nationally isolated. This conclusion is, however, just as abstract, simplified and incorrect as the similar conclusion drawn by our Struvists and Economists of the nineties, when they drew conclusions from the progressive nature of capitalism, its inevitability and its final victory in Russia that ranged from the apologetic (admiration for capitalism, reconciliation with it, and glorification instead of struggle), and the apolitical (that is, a denial of politics or a denial of the importance of politics, the probability of general political upheavals, etc., a mistake specifically Economist), to the outrightly “strike-ist” (the “general strike”, as the apotheosis of the strike movement, brought up to a point where other forms of movement are forgotten Or ignored ,and capitalism is over come solely by a “leap” from it to a strike, pure and simple). There is evidence that even today the indisputable fact that capitalism is progressive, when compared with the semi-philistine “paradise” of free competition, and that imperialism and its final victory over “peaceful” capitalism in the leading countries of the world are inevitable—that this fact is still capable of producing an equally great and varied number of political and apolitical mistakes and misadventures.

With Kautsky, in particular, his clear break with Marxism has not taken the form of a denial or neglect of politics, or of a “leap” over the political conflicts, upheavals and   transformations, so numerous and varied in the imperialist epoch; it has not taken the form of an apology of imperialism but of a dream of “peaceful” capitalism. That “peaceful” capitalism has given way to non-peaceful, aggressive, cataclysmic imperialism Kautsky is forced to admit, because that is something he had admitted as far back as 1909 in the paper[1] in which he last produced some integrated conclusions as a Marxist. But if it is impossible. to toy in rude, simple fashion with the dream of a straightforward retreat from imperialism to “peaceful” capitalism, why not let these dreams, which are essentially petty-bourgeois, take the form of innocent speculation on “peaceful” “ultra-imperialism”? If the international integration of national (rather nationally isolated) imperialisms is to be called ultra-imperialism, which “could” remove the conflicts, such as wars, political upheavals, etc., which the petty bourgeois finds especially unpalatable, disquieting, and alarming, why not, in that case, make an escape from the present highly conflicting and cataclysmic epoch of imperialism, which is the here and now, by means of innocent dreams of an “ultra-imperialism” which is relatively peaceful, relatively lacking in conflict and relatively uncataclysmic? Why not try to escape the acute problems that have been and are being posed by the epoch of imperialism that has dawned for Europe by dreaming up the possibility of it soon passing away and being followed by a relatively “peaceful” epoch of “ultra-imperialism” that will not require any “abrupt” tactics? Kautsky says precisely that “such a [ultra-imperialist] new phase of capitalism is at any rate imaginable”, but that “there are not yet enough prerequisites to decide whether or not it is feasible” (Die Neue Zeit,[2] April 30, 1915, p. 144).

There is not a whit of Marxism in this urge to ignore the imperialism which is here and to escape into the realm of an “ultra-imperialism” which may or may not arrive. In this formulation, Marxism is recognised in that “new phase of capitalism” which its inventor himself does not warrant can be realised, while in the present stage (which is already here) the petty-bourgeois and profoundly reactionary desire to blunt the contradictions is substituted for Marxism. Kautsky swore to be a Marxist in this coming, acute and cataclysmic epoch, which he was forced to predict and recognise   very definitely in his 1909 paper on this coming epoch. Now that this epoch has most definitely arrived, Kautsky once again swears to be a Marxist in the coming epoch of ultra-imperialism, which may or may not arrive! In short, any number of promises to be a Marxist in another epoch, not now, not under present conditions, not in this epoch! Marxism on credit, Marxism in promises, Marxism tomorrow, a petty-bourgeois, opportunist theory—and not only a theory—of blunting contradictions today. This is something like the internationalism for export which is very popular today with ardent—oh, so ardent!—internationalists and Marxists who sympathise with every manifestation of internationalism—in the enemy camp, anywhere, but not at home, not among their allies; they sympathise with democracy—when it remains an “allied” promise; they sympathise with “the self-determination of nations”, but only not of those dependent on the nation which has the honour of having the sympathiser among its citizens. In a word, it is one of the 1,001 varieties of hypocrisy.

Can it be denied, however, that a new phase of capitalism is “imaginable” in the abstract after imperialism, namely, ultra-imperialism? No, it cannot. Such a phase can be imagined. But in practice this means becoming an opportunist, turning away from the acute problems of the day to dream of the unacute problems of the future. In theory this means refusing to be guided by actual developments, forsaking them arbitrarily for such dreams. There is no doubt that the trend of development is towards a single world trust absorbing all enterprises without exception and all states without exception. But this development proceeds in such circumstances, at such a pace, through such contradictions, conflicts and upheavals—not only economic but political, national, etc.—that inevitably imperialism will burst and capitalism will be transformed into its opposite long before one world trust materialises, before the “ultra-imperialist”, world-wide amalgamation of national finance capitals takes place.

V. Ilyin

December 1915


[1] Kautsky’s pamphlet, Der Weg Zur Macht (The Way to Power), published in Berlin in 1909.

[2] Die Neue Zeit (New Times)—the journal of the German Social-Democratic Party, published in Stuttgart from 1883 to 1923. In 1885-95, it carried some articles by Engels, who often gave advice to its editors and sharply criticised them for any departures from Marxism. Beginning with the late nineties, after Engels’s death, it made a regular practice of publishing articles by revisionists. During the First World War, it adopted a Centrist, Kautskyite stand, and supported the social-chauvinists.

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