V. I.   Lenin

A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism


3. What Is Economic Analysis?

Central to all the disquisitions of the self-determination opponents is the claim that it is generally “unachievable” under capitalism or imperialism. The word “unachievable” is frequently used in widely different and inaccurately defined meanings. That is why in our theses we insisted on what is essential in any theoretical discussion: an explanation of what is meant by “unachievable”. Nor did we confine ourselves to that. We tried to give such an explanation. All democratic demands are “unachievable” under imperialism in the sense that politically they are hard to achieve or totally unachievable without a series of revolutions.

It is fundamentally wrong, however, to maintain that self-determination is unachievable in the economic sense.

That has been our contention. It is the pivotal point of our theoretical differences, a question to which our opponents in any serious discussion should have paid due attention.

But just see how Kievsky treats the question.

He definitely rejects unachievable as meaning “hard to achieve” politically. He gives a direct answer in the sense of economic unachievability.

Does this mean,” Kievsky writes, “that self-determination under imperialism is just as unachievable as labour money under commodity production?” And he replies: “Yes, it means exactly that. For what we are discussing is the logical contradiction between two social categories: ‘imperialism’ and ‘self-determination of nations’, the same logical contradiction   as that between two other categories: labour money and commodity production. Imperialism is the negation of self-determination, and no magician can reconcile the two.”

Frightening as is the angry word “magician” Kievsky hurls at us, we must nevertheless point out that he simply fails to understand what economic analysis implies. There should be no “logical contradiction”—providing, of course, that there is proper logical thinking—either in an economic or political analysis. Hence, to plead a “logical contradiction” in general when what we are discussing is economic and not political analysis, is completely irrelevant. Both economic and political phenomena come within “social categories”. Consequently, having first replied directly and definitely: “Yes, it means exactly that” (i.e., self-determination is just as unachievable as labour money under commodity production), Kievsky dismisses the whole matter by beating about the bush, without offering any economic analysis.

How do we prove that labour money is unachievable under commodity production? By economic analysis. And economic analysis, like every other, rules out “logical contradictions”, takes economic and only economic categories (and not “social categories” in general) and from them concludes that labour money is unachievable. In the first chapter of Capital there is no mention whatever of politics, or political forms, or “social categories”: the analysis applies only to economic phenomena, commodity exchange, its development Economic analysis shows—needless to say, through “logical” arguments—that under commodity production labour money is unachievable.

Kievsky does not even attempt anything approximating an economic analysis! He conjures the economic substance of imperialism with its political tendencies, as is obvious from the very first phrase of the very first paragraph of his article. Here is that phrase:

Industrial capital is the synthesis of pre-capitalist production and merchant-usurer capital. Usurer capital becomes the servant of industrial capital. Then capitalism subjects the various forms of capital and there emerges its highest, unified type finance capital. The whole era can therefore be designated as the era of finance capital of which imperialism is the corresponding foreign-policy system.”

Economically, that definition is absolutely worthless: instead of precise economic categories we get mere phrases. However, it is impossible to dwell on that now. The important thing is that Kievsky proclaims imperialism to be a “foreign-policy system”.

First, this is, essentially, a wrong repetition of Kautsky’s wrong idea.

Second, it is a purely political, and only political, definition of imperialism. By defining imperialism as a “system of policy” Kievsky wants to avoid the economic analysis he promised to give when he declared that self-determination was “just as” unachievable, i.e., economically unachievable, under imperialism as labour money under commodity production![1]

In his controversy with the Lefts, Kautsky declared that imperialism was “merely a system of foreign policy” (namely, annexation), and that it would be wrong to describe as imperialism a definite economic stage, or level, in the development of capitalism.

Kautsky is wrong. Of course, it is not proper to argue about words. You cannot prohibit the use of the “word” imperialism in this sense or any other. But if you want to conduct a discussion you must define your terms precisely.

Economically, imperialism (or the “era” of finance capital—it is not a matter of words) is the highest stage in the development of capitalism, one in which production has assumed such big, immense proportions that free competition gives way to monopoly. That is the economic essence of imperialism. Monopoly manifests itself in trusts, syndicates, etc., in the omnipotence of the giant banks, in the buying up of raw material sources, etc., in the concentration of banking capital, etc. Everything hinges on economic monopoly.

The political superstructure of this new economy, of monopoly capitalism (imperialism is monopoly capitalism) is the change from democracy to political reaction. Democracy corresponds to free competition. Political reaction corresponds to monopoly. “Finance capital strives for domination, not freedom,” Rudolf Hilferding rightly remarks in his Finance Capital.

It is fundamentally wrong, un-Marxist and unscientific, to single out “foreign policy” from policy in general, let alone counterpose foreign policy to home policy. Both in foreign and home policy imperialism strives towards violations of democracy, towards reaction. In this sense imperialism is indisputably the “negation” of democracy in general, of all democracy, and not just of one of its demands, national self-determination.

Being a “negation” of democracy in general, imperialism is also a “negation” of democracy in the national question (i.e., national self-determination): it seeks to violate democracy. The achievement of democracy is, in the same sense, and to the same degree, harder under imperialism (compared with pre-monopoly capitalism), as the achievement of a republic, a militia, popular election of officials, etc. There can be no talk of democracy being “economically” unachievable.

Kievsky was probably led astray here by the fact (besides his general lack of understanding of the requirements of economic analysis) that the philistine regards annexation (i.e., acquisition of foreign territories against, the will of their people, i.e., violation of self-determination) as equivalent to the “spread” (expansion) of finance capital to a larger economic territory.

But theoretical problems should not be approached from philistine conceptions.

Economically, imperialism is monopoly capitalism. To acquire full monopoly, all competition must be eliminated, and not only on the home market (of the given state), but also on foreign markets, in the whole world. Is it economically possible, “in the era of finance capital”, to eliminate competition even in a foreign state? Certainly it is. It is done through a rival’s financial dependence and acquisition of his sources of raw materials and eventually of all his enterprises.

The American trusts are the supreme expression of the economics of imperialism or monopoly capitalism. They do not confine themselves to economic means of eliminating rivals, but constantly resort to political, even criminal, methods. It would be the greatest mistake, however, to believe that the trusts cannot establish their monopoly by purely economic methods. Reality provides ample proof that this is “achievable”: the trusts undermine their rivals’ credit through the banks (the owners of the trusts become the owners of the banks: buying up shares); their supply of materials (the owners of the trusts become the owners of the railways: buying up shares); for a certain time the trusts sell below cost, spending millions on this in order to ruin a competitor and then buy up his enterprises, his sources of raw materials (mines, land, etc.).

There you have a purely economic analysis of the power of the trusts and their expansion. There you have the purely economic path to expansion: buying up mills and factories, sources of raw materials.

Big finance capital of one country can always buy up competitors in another, politically independent country and constantly does so. Economically, this is fully achievable. Economic “annexation” is fully “achievable” without political annexation and is widely practised. In the literature on imperialism you will constantly come across indications that Argentina, for example, is in reality a “trade colony” of Britain, or that Portugal is in reality a “vassal” of Britain, etc. And that is actually so: economic dependence upon British banks, indebtedness to Britain, British acquisition of their railways, mines, land, etc., enable Britain to “annex” these countries economically without violating their political independence.

National self-determination means political independence. Imperialism seeks to violate such independence because political annexation often makes economic annexation easier, cheaper (easier to bribe officials, secure concessions, put through advantageous legislation. etc.), more convenient, less troublesome—just as imperialism seeks to replace democracy generally by oligarchy. But to speak of the economic “unachievability” of self-determination under imperialism is sheer nonsense.

Kievsky gets round the theoretical difficulties by a very simple and superficial dodge, known in German as “burschikose” phraseology, i.e., primitive, crude phrases heard (and quite naturally) at student binges. Here is an example: “Universal suffrage,” he writes, “the eight-hour day and even the republic are logically compatible with imperialism, though imperialism far from smiles [!!] on them and their achievement is therefore extremely difficult.”

We would have absolutely no objections to the burschikose statement that imperialism far from “smiles” on the republic—a frivolous word can sometimes lend colour to a scientific polemic!—if in this polemic on a serious issue we were given, in addition, an economic and political analysis of the concepts involved. With Kievsky, however, the burschikose phrase does duty for such an analysis or serves to conceal lack of it.

What can this mean: “Imperialism far from smiles on the republic”? And why?

The republic is one possible form of the political super structure of capitalist society, and, moreover, under present-day conditions the most democratic form. To say that imperialism does not “smile” on the republic is to say that there is a contradiction between imperialism and democracy. It may very well be that Kievsky does not “smile” or even “far from smiles” on this conclusion. Nevertheless it is irrefutable.

To continue. What is the nature of this contradiction between imperialism and democracy? Is it a logical or illogical contradiction? Kievsky uses the word “logical” without stop ping to think and therefore does not notice that in this particular case it serves to conceal (both from the reader’s and author’s eyes and mind) the very question he sets out to discuss! That question is the relation of economics to politics: the relation of economic conditions and the economic content of imperialism to a certain political form. To say that every “contradiction” revealed in human discussion is a logical contradiction is meaningless tautology. And with the aid of this tautology Kievsky evades the substance of the question: Is it a “logical” contradiction between two economic phenomena or propositions (1)? Or two political phenomena or propositions (2)? Or economic and political phenomena or propositions (3)?

For that is the heart of the matter, once we are discussing economic unachievability or achievability under one or another political form!

Had Kievsky not evaded the heart of the matter, he would probably have realised that the contradiction between imperialism and the republic is a contradiction between the economics of latter-day capitalism (namely, monopoly capitalism) and political democracy in general. For Kievsky will never prove that any major and fundamental democratic measure (popular election of officials or officers, complete freedom of association and assembly, etc.) is less contradictory to imperialism (or, if you like, more “smiled” upon) than the republic.

What we have, then, is the proposition we advanced in our theses: imperialism contradicts, “logically” contradicts, all political democracy in general. Kievsky does not “smile” on this proposition for it demolishes all his illogical constructions. But what can we do about it? Are we to accept a method that is supposed to refute certain propositions, but instead secretly advances them by using such expressions as “imperialism far from smiles on the republic”?

Further. Why does imperialism far from smile on the republic? And how does imperialism “combine” its economics with the republic?

Kievsky has given no thought to that. We would remind him of the following words of Engels in reference to the democratic republic. Can wealth dominate under this form of government? The question concerns the “contradiction” between economics and politics.

Engels replies: “The democratic republic officially knows nothing any more of property distinctions [between citizens]. In it, wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely. On the one hand, in the form of the direct corruption of officials, of which America provides the classical example; on the other hand, in the form of an alliance between government and stock exchange....”[2]

There you have an excellent example of economic analysis on the question of the “achievability” of democracy under capitalism. And the “achievability” of self-determination under imperialism is part of that question.

The democratic republic “logically” contradicts capitalism, because “officially” it puts the rich and the poor on an equal footing. That is a contradiction between the economic system and the political superstructure. There is the same contradiction between imperialism and the republic, deepened or aggravated by the fact that the change-over from free competition to monopoly makes the realisation of political freedoms even more “difficult”.

How, then, is capitalism reconciled with democracy? By indirect implementation of the omnipotence of capital. There are two economic means for that: (1) direct bribery; (2) alliance of government and stock exchange. (That is stated in our theses—under a bourgeois system finance capital “can freely bribe and buy any government and any official”.)

Once we have the dominance of commodity production, of the bourgeoisie, of the power of money—bribery (direct or through the stock exchange) is “achievable” under any form of government and under any kind of democracy.

What, it can be asked, is altered in this respect when capitalism gives way to imperialism, i.e., when pro-monopoly capitalism is replaced by monopoly capitalism?

Only that the power of the stock exchange increases. For finance capital is industrial capital at its highest, monopoly level which has merged with banking capital. The big banks merge with and absorb the stock exchange. (The literature on imperialism speaks of the declining role of the stock exchange, but only in the sense that every giant bank is itself virtually a stock exchange.)

Further. If “wealth” in general is fully capable of achieving domination over any democratic republic by bribery and through the stock exchange, then how can Kievsky maintain, without lapsing into a very curious “logical contradiction”, that the immense wealth of the trusts and the banks, which have thousands of millions at their command, cannot “achieve” the domination of finance capital over a foreign, i.e., politically independent, republic??

Well? Bribery of officials is “unachievable” in a foreign state? Or the “alliance of government and stock exchange” applies only to one’s own government?

*     *

The reader will already have seen that it requires roughly ten pages of print to untangle and popularly explain ten lines of confusion. We cannot examine every one of Kievsky’s arguments in the same detail. And there is not a single one that is not confused. Nor is there really any need for this once the main arguments have been examined. The rest will be dealt with briefly.


[1] Is Kievsky aware of the impolite word Marx used in reference to such “logical methods”? Without applying this impolite term to Kievsky, we nevertheless are obliged to remark that Marx described such methods as “fraudulent”: arbitrarily inserting precisely what is at issue, precisely what bas to be proved, in defining a concept.

We repeat, we do not apply Marx’s impolite expression to Kievsky. We merely disclose the source of his mistake. (In the manuscript this passage is crossed out.—Ed.) —Lenin

[2] The quotation is from Engels’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1962, p. 321).

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