First Published: Marxist-Leninist Quarterly No. 10, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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EROL note: Erich Farl’s ’Is the U.S.S.R an Imperialist Country?’ appeared in International, II, 3 (Summer1974): 23–6.
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This article is divided into 3 main sections – 1) Methods of analysis, 2) The USSR and Comecon, and 3) The USSR and India. The most important section is the first. It is the rejection of the Marxist-Leninist approach that is the cornerstone of the incorrect ’theories’ of Erich Farl and the International Marxist Group (and of course Trotskyism in general). This is combined with a failure to see the reality of national exploitation in practice, which can be seen very clearly in Farl’s treatment of India. Here Farl explicitly takes a thoroughly bourgeois line in defence of Imperialism.
Lenin’s ’Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism’ is an excellent example of correct methods of analysis. Lenin concretely examines the real development of the means of production, and the relations of production within the advanced capitalist countries, monopolization, merger of finance capital with industrial capital etc; he concretely examines the real economic, political and military relations between the advanced capitalist countries and the colonial and semi-colonial countries of the world, and as a result of that investigation, martials together the basic features of Imperialism at that time. Thus revealing the essence and contradictions of 20th century Imperialism. This analysis was and is a crucial theoretical work in the development of Marxism-Leninism. Nevertheless Lenin points very clearly to the danger of regarding this analysis as a set of rules:
Without forgetting the conditional and relative value of all definitions in general, which can never embrace all the concatenations of a phenomenon in its full development, we must give a definition of Imperialism that will include the following five of its basic features....
The Trotskyists of course, as always, forget the ’conditional and relative’ value of all definitions. As Lenin said of Trotsky: “All his theses are based on a ’general principle’ an approach which is in itself fundamentally wrong.”. Lenin’s theses on Imperialism are a concentration of reality examined in the dialectal theoretical framework. They are a summation of the generality of Imperialism at that stage, but that is not all. Also contained in that pamphlet are many examples of the particularity of Imperialism:
Unlike British colonial Imperialism, French Imperialism might be termed Usury Imperialism, in the case of Germany we have a third type...
Thus reading Lenin on imperialism as a whole we see analysis of the particular as well as of the general. We see a concrete analysis summed up as a set of theses that reflect the reality of the class and national liberation struggle.
By contrast Erich Farl follows the traditional Trotskyist method – transforming Lenin’s conditional and relative basic features into five unconditional and absolute general principles (though he does admit them to be ’incomplete’). He proclaims that they do not fit the external relations of the USSR. Therefore not only is the USSR not any type of Imperialism, it is not even a specifically analysed Social Imperialism. There are two mistakes, a) method and b) in fact. Social Imperialism is in fact in many of its features the same as other forms of Imperialism, including the export of capital (see Section 3).
What does Farl have to say about method?
The Chinese positions on Social Imperialism differ from those of Cliff (International Socialists) in that they do not take as their starting point the definition given by Lenin. (This is supposed to be bad!)
EXACTLY – like Lenin, the Marxist-Leninists take as their starting point LIVING REALITY: the living reality of national oppression and exploitation, and they examine it in the light of its historical development, using dialectical materialism.
The use of world market prices inevitably introduces an inequality between the countries involved, because of the unequal degree of economic development of each...thus international trade between the ’socialist’ countries involves a continuous drain of value from the poor countries to the rich countries.
Farl, here recognises one aspect of the relationship between the USSR and the other member countries of Comecon. He also states what he thinks a socialist relationship should be;
The international coordination and planning of investment, aid, interest free loans etc. to permit the economically less developed countries to catch up with the more developed ones.
So Farl clearly thinks that the relationship is not a socialist one. So what is the relationship within Comecon? He does not say. We will have to assume he sees it as a ’transitional’ relationship. This article is not intended as an analysis of social Imperialism, but it is important that some points be made that Farl has ’overlooked’! Through Comecon there is a ’socialist (sic) international division of labour’. In practice this means that the USSR is the only Comecon country with a broadly developed economy. The other countries are deliberately developed in a one sided way; either as a particular concentration of heavy goods, or raw material production, or as an agricultural producer. Thus all the countries are dependent, and becoming increasingly so, on the USSR. Through Comecon the USSR also controls much of the capital of Eastern Europe. Thus investing at home, and in Eastern Europe, as well as having a surplus to invest abroad. This export of capital, outside of Comecon not only makes a profit but also often ties, through the agreement, the recipient country to accept further ties to the USSR, which can be economic, military or political.
Within Comecon the system as a whole combines to increase the economic political and military strength of the USSR, at the same time as placing the other Comecon countries more and more under the domination of the USSR. Economically the share of the USSR in the industrial production of Comecon rose between 1960 and 1970 from 69.5% to 76%. Militarily and politically the experience of Czechoslovakia is example enough, although such activity continues at lower levels consistently. (For examples and analysis of the economic workings of Comecon see MLQ 6 and Albania Today, May/June 1974). Thus Comecon does not only let the economically less developed countries catch up, but it further increases the oppression and exploitation of Eastern Europe by Social Imperialism.
Farl’s total misrepresentation of the difference between ’aid’ and Imperialism on this question shows again a total departure from Marxism-Leninism and a betrayal of the Indian people in their struggle against Imperialism;
The arrangements under which the USSR buys products made in India are not necessarily a measure of subordination at all. Indian governments have long sought to safeguard the economic development of the country by arranging to pay for their imports in non-convertible national currency obtained either in India itself or in exchange for Indian products.
According to Farl this;
...does not show that what is involved is Imperialism, quite the contrary.
But does such an arrangement mean that it is not a question of ’subordination’? All it shows is that what commodities are exported from the USSR, including military weapons as well as commodities, are in effect exchanged for raw materials and goods produced with cheap Indian labour. And what about the export of capital? The export of capital from the USSR to India, including of course that ’non-convertible national currency’ that Farl thinks is so decisive, has led to the USSR gaining a stranglehold on Indian industry. Farl gives the figures himself;
The USSR has become India’s second biggest creditor, to the tune of 10.22 thousand million rupees since 1955 …the USSR controls 30% of steel production, 35% of oil refining, 20% of electrical production, 60% of power station equipment, 85% of heavy industry production, 75% of production of electric motors, 80% of oil prospecting and extraction, and 25% of aluminium production.
Do these figures not show the reality of the relationship between the USSR and India? The profit made from this export of capital are either reinvested in India, thus ensuring an even higher degree of subordination, or are returned to the USSR in the form of raw materials, produced with cheap labour in Soviet owned industries. The increasing dependence of India on the USSR is reflected in the development of USSR military presence and a growing political influence. All this is explained away by Farl, because the USSR has to be paid ’for their imports in non-convertible national currency’! Farl constantly refers to this relationship as ’aid’! Perhaps the similar relationships between India and America or Britain are also ’aid’.
Where does Farl talk about the occupation of East Bengal, by India with the backing of the USSR? Or Indian expansion of national minorities again with USSR backing? Nowhere.
Farl’s article, most explicitly shown in the section on India, is nothing more than a betrayal of the struggle against Imperialism around the world. It is an apology for Imperialism, peddling the usual bourgeois ’theories’ of Aid.
 Lenin, ’Imperialism–The Highest Stage of Capitalism’, Progress Publishers, p. 85.
 Lenin, ’Collected Works’, Vol 32, p. 22
 Lenin, Op. cit., p, 63.