Defining the place of imperialism in relation to capitalism in general, Lenin wrote:
“Imperialism is a specific historical stage of capitalism. Its specific character is three-fold: imperialism is (1) monopoly capitalism; (2) parasitic or decaying capitalism; (3) moribund capitalism." (Lenin, “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism", Selected Works, 12-vol. edition, vol. XI, p. 748.)
Monopoly capitalism does not and cannot eliminate the foundations of the old capitalism. In a certain sense it is a superstructure upon the old, pre-monopoly capitalism. Just as there is not and cannot be any “pure capitalism", so the existence of “pure imperialism" is unthinkable. Even in the most highly developed countries a host of small and medium enterprises exist alongside the monopolies, especially in light industry, agriculture, trade and other branches of the economy. In nearly all capitalist countries a considerable part of the population is composed of peasants, the bulk of whom carryon simple commodity production. In the colonial and semi-colonial countries imperialist oppression is interwoven with pre-capitalist and especially feudal forms of exploitation.
The essential peculiarity of imperialism is that monopolies exist alongside of the market, competition and crises. Inasmuch as imperialism is the continuation and development of the basic features of capitalism, to that extent the economic laws of capitalism generally are retained in the monopoly phase of capitalism. But in connection with the change in the economic conditions and the extreme sharpening of all the contradictions of capitalism, these laws undergo further development, and they operate with increasing destructive force. This applies to the laws of value and surplus-value; to the law of competition and anarchy of production; to the general law of capitalist accumulation, which causes the relative and absolute impoverishment of the working class and dooms the bulk of the working peasantry to impoverishment and ruin; to the contradictions of capitalist reproduction and to economic crises.
Monopolies bring the socialisation of production to the highest level possible under capitalism. Large and very large enterprises, in each of which
share of the total production in the most important branches of industry. The monopolies link together huge enterprises, allot markets and sources of raw material, assemble under their command bodies of scientific workers, control inventions and technical improvements. The big banks have nearly all the money resources of the country under their control. The links between the various branches of the economy, and their interdependence, increase tremendously. Industry, with gigantic productive capacities at its disposal, is able rapidly to increase the quantity of goods produced.
Meanwhile, the means of production remain the private property of the capitalists and a decisive share of the means of production belongs to a small handful of monopolists. In their drive for maximum profit the monopolies raise by all means in their power the level of exploitation of the working class, which leads to an intensified impoverishment of the working masses and a reduction in their purchasing power.
Thus, the domination of monopoly sharpens to the uttermost the basic contradiction of capitalism—the contradiction between the social character of production and the private capitalist form in which the results of production are appropriated. It becomes ever more obvious that the social character of the process of production demands social ownership of the means of production.
In the imperialist epoch society’s productive forces have attained such a level of development that they are constricted by the narrow framework of capitalist production-relations. Capitalism, which replaced feudalism as a more progressive mode of production, has been transformed in its imperialist phase into a reactionary force which holds back the development of human society. The economic law of the obligatory correspondence of the relations of production to the character of the productive forces demands the replacement of capitalist relations of production by new, socialist relations. This law encounters the most violent resistance on the part of the ruling classes, and above all of the monopolist bourgeoisie and the large landowners, who strive to prevent the working class from forming an alliance with the peasantry and overthrowing the bourgeois system.
The high level of development of the productive forces and the socialisation of production, the deepening and sharpening of all the contradictions of bourgeois society, testify to the fact that capitalism, having arrived at the last phase of its development, is fully ripe for replacement by a higher social order -socialism.
Imperialism is parasitic or decaying capitalism. The domination of monopolies which strive to obtain maximum profits inevitably engenders a tendency to stagnation and decay. Monopolies, being in a position to dictate what prices shall prevail on the market and to maintain them artificially at a high level, are by no means always interested in introducing technical innovations. Quite often, monopolies hinder technical progress; they keep back for years on end very great scientific discoveries and technical inventions.
Thus, monopolies have an inherent tendency toward stagnation and decay, and in certain conditions this tendency comes to the top. This circumstance does not in any way rule out, however, a comparatively rapid growth of production and development of technique in certain branches of bourgeois economy in particular capitalist countries. But this growth takes place extremely unevenly, and lags further and further behind the tremendous possibilities opened up by modern science and technique.
The highly developed technique of the present day is bringing forward immense tasks, fulfilment of which encounters obstacles arising from capitalist production relations. Capitalist countries are unable, for example, to make full use of their hydro-electric resources owing to the obstacles put in the way by private ownership of land and the domination of the monopolies. The monopoly of private property in land, agrarian surplus-population in the countryside and the predominance of small peasant holdings hinder the introduction of the achievements of modern science and technique into agriculture, though this does not rule out technical progress in a number of large capitalist agricultural enterprises. The interests of the capitalist monopolies, are obstacles to the utilisation of atomic energy peaceful purposes.
“Wherever you look", wrote V.I. Lenin as long ago 1913, “you encounter at every step tasks which mankind is fully competent to carry out immediately. Capitalism stands in the way. It has accumulated hoards of riches—and made men the slaves of these riches. It has solved the most complex of technical problems—and blocked the practical applications of technical improvements owing to the poverty and ignorance in which millions of people live and the stupid niggardliness of the handful of millionaires." (Lenin “Civilised Barbarism", Works, Russian edition, vol. XIX, p. 349.).
The decay of capitalism is expressed in the growth of parasitism. The capitalist class loses all connections with the process of production. The management of enterprises is concentrated in the hands of hired technical staff. The over-whelming majority of the bourgeois and landlords are transformed into rentiers—persons who own securities and live on income from these securities (coupon-clipping). The parasitic consumption of the exploiting classes grows.
The absolutely complete divorcement of the rentier strata from production is still further enhanced by the export of capital, by income from overseas investments. The export of capital sets a mark of parasitism on an entire country which lives by exploiting the peoples of other countries and colonies. The capital invested abroad forms a continually increasing proportion of the national wealth of the imperialist countries, and incomes from this capital an ever increasing element in the income of the capitalist class. Lenin called the export of capital “parasitism squared".
Capital invested abroad amounted in 1929 to the following proportions of the national wealth of various countries: Britain-18 per cent, France-15 per cent, Holland-about 20 per cent, Belgium and Switzerland-nearly 12 per cent each.
In the U.S.A. the income derived by rentiers from their securities amounted in 1913 to 1.8 milliard dollars and in 1931 to 8.1 milliard; which was 1.4 times the amount of the total gross money income of the 30-million strong farming population in the same year. The U.S.A. is a country where the parasitic features of modern capitalism, no less than the predatory nature of imperialism, are especially vividly evident.
The parasitic character of imperialism is plainly visible in the fact that a number of bourgeois countries have become transformed into rentier-States. By means of enslaving loans the biggest imperialist countries draw enormous revenues from the debtor countries and subject them both economically and politically. The rentier-State is the State of parasitic, decaying capitalism. Exploitation of the colonies and dependent countries, which is one of the main sources of the maximum profits of the monopolies, turns a handful of the richest capitalist countries into parasites on the body of the oppressed peoples.
The parasitic character of imperialism is expressed in the growth of militarism. A continually increasing share of the national income, and principally of the incomes of the working people, is drawn into the State Budget and spent on the upkeep of huge armies, on the preparation and conduct of imperialist wars. Militarisation of the economy and imperialist wars, which are among the principal methods whereby the monopolies secure maximum profits, are at the same time responsible for the destruction of great numbers of human lives and vast quantities of material wealth.
Inseparably connected with increased parasitism is the fact that huge masses of people are divorced from socially-useful work. The army of unemployed grows and the number of persons engaged in services to the exploiting classes increases, as also of those in the machinery of State and in the incredibly inflated sphere of circulation.
The decay of capitalism is further shown in the bribing by the imperialist bourgeoisie, out of its profits from the exploitation of the colonies and dependent countries, of a small upper stratum of skilled workers—the so-called labour aristocracy—by means of higher wages and other sops. With the bourgeoisie’s backing, the labour aristocracy seizes the leading positions in a number of trade unions; it forms, along with petty-bourgeois elements, the active core of the right-wing Socialist parties and constitutes a serious danger to the working-class movement. This stratum of workers who have become bourgeois is the social basis of opportunism.
Opportunism in the labour movement means the adaptation of the labour movement to the interests of the bourgeoisie, through undermining the proletariat’s revolutionary struggle to free itself from capitalist slavery. The opportunists poison the workers’ minds with their preaching of the reformist road of “improving" capitalism, and they call on the workers to support the bourgeois governments in their imperialist policies, at home and abroad.
The opportunists essentially play the part of agents of the bourgeoisie in the labour movement. By splitting the ranks of the working class the opportunists prevent the workers from uniting their forces to overthrow capitalism. This is one of the reasons why the bourgeoisie still continues to hold power in many countries.
To pre-monopoly capitalism with its free competition, there corresponded as political superstructure a limited bourgeois democracy. Imperialism, with its monopoly domination, is marked by a turn from democracy to political reaction in both the home and external policies of bourgeois States. Political reaction all along the line is inherent in imperialism. The heads of the monopolies or their henchmen occupy the principal posts in the governments and in the whole of the State service. Under imperialist conditions governments are put in office not by the people but by the magnates of finance capital. The reactionary monopolist groups, to consolidate their power, try to reduce to naught the democratic rights of the working people which have been won through stubborn struggle by many generations. This makes necessary a stiffening to the utmost of the struggle of the masses for democracy against imperialism and reaction.
“Capitalism in general and imperialism in particular make democracy an illusion—and at the same time capitalism arouses democratic strivings among the masses creates democratic institutions, renders acute the antagonism between imperialism, which rejects democracy, and the masses who are striving for democracy." (Lenin, Works, Russian edition, vol. XXIII, p. 13.)
In the epoch of imperialism the struggle waged by the broadest masses of the people, led by the working class, against the reaction engendered by the monopolies is of very great historical importance. Upon the activity, organisation and resoluteness of the masses of the people depends the frustration of the anti-human plans of the aggressive forces of imperialism, which are continually preparing new hardships and war-disasters for the peoples.
Imperialism is moribund capitalism. It sharpens all the contradictions of capitalism, bringing them to the last borderline, the extreme limits, beyond which revolution begins. The most important of these contradictions are the three following.
First the contradiction between labour and capital. The dominance of monopoly and the finance oligarchy in the capitalist countries leads to increasing the degree of exploitation of the working people. The worsening of the material position and the increased political oppression of the working class make it more discontented and bring about a sharpening of the class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie. In these conditions, the former methods of economic and political struggle of the working class are found to be completely inadequate. Imperialism brings the working class in real earnest to the socialist revolution.
Secondly, the contradiction between the imperialist Powers. In the struggle for maximum profits the monopolies of the different countries come into collision with one another, each of the groups of capitalists endeavouring to secure preponderance for itself through seizure of markets, sources of raw material and spheres of investment of capital. The bitter struggle for spheres of influence which the imperialist countries carry on among themselves inevitably leads to imperialist wars, which weaken the position of imperialism, intensifying the discontent of the masses and urging them along the road of revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system.
Thirdly, the contradiction between the oppressed peoples of the colonies and dependent countries and the imperialist Powers which exploit them. As a result of the intensifying of imperialist oppression and also of the development of capitalism in the colonies and semi-colonies the national liberation movement against imperialism grows. The colonies and dependent countries are transformed from reserves of imperialism into reserves of the proletarian revolution.
These principal contradictions are characteristic of imperialism as moribund capitalism. This does not mean that capitalism can die by itself, through “automatic collapse" without resolute struggle by the masses of the people, headed by the working class, to abolish bourgeois rule. It only means that imperialism is the stage of capitalism’s development at which proletarian revolution has become really inevitable, and favourable conditions have matured for a direct onslaught on the citadel of capitalism. For this reason Lenin called imperialism the eve of the socialist revolution.
In the epoch of imperialism the bourgeois State, which is a dictatorship of the finance oligarchy, conducts all its activities in the interests of the ruling monopolies.
As the contradictions of imperialism become more acute, the ruling monopolies increase their direct control of the State machine. Ever more frequently one finds the biggest magnates of capital appearing in the role of heads of the State machine. A process of transforming monopoly capitalism into State-monopoly capitalism takes place. The first world war already accelerated and intensified this process to an extraordinary degree.
State-monopoly capitalism means the subjection of the State machine to the capitalist monopolies and their using it to interfere in the country’s economy (especially in connection with militarisation of the economy), in order to secure maximum profits for themselves and consolidate the all-powerful position of finance capital. As part of this process, various enterprises, branches of the economy and economic functions are transferred to the bourgeois State (supply of labour-power, of raw materials which are in short supply, rationing products, construction of arms factories, financing the militarisation of the economy, etc.), while the predominance in the country of private ownership of the means of production is preserved.
State ownership in imperialist countries arises either as a result of the building of factories, railways, arsenals, etc., at State expense or as a result of bourgeois nationalisation, i.e., the transfer of certain private enterprises to the State, against lavish compensation. Contrary to the assertions of bourgeois economists, who depict the State ownership of enterprises under the political rule of the bourgeoisie as “a step towards socialism", this has nothing in common with socialism. State ownership in bourgeois countries is a variant of capitalist ownership, with the owner in this case not any individual capitalist but the bourgeois State, which is subject to a handful of big monopolists. The State ownership of enterprises is used by the monopolists to intensify the exploitation of the working class and all the working people, to increase their profits. The monopolies make use of the state power to promote actively the concentration and centralisation of capital and to strengthen the might and the influence of the biggest monopolies. The State takes special measures to compel independent enterprises to subordinate themselves to the monopoly groupings, and in wartime carries out compulsory concentration of production, closing down a large number of small and medium enterprises. In the interests of the monopolies the State, on the one hand, imposes high customs duties on imported, goods and on the other encourages the export trade, paying export subsidies to the monopolies and helping them to conquer fresh markets by means of dumping.
The monopolies use the State Budget to plunder the inhabitants of their own countries through taxation, and also to receive contracts from the State which bring them huge profits. On the pretext of “encouraging business. initiative" the bourgeois State pays out enormous sums to the biggest employers in the form of subsidies. Should the monopolies be in danger of bankruptcy they receive from the State the means to cover their losses, and their tax indebtedness to the State is written off.
The development of State-monopoly capitalism becomes especially intense in periods of preparation for imperialist wars and during such wars. Lenin called war-time State-monopoly capitalism military penal servitude for the workers and paradise for the capitalists. The governments of the imperialist countries give the monopolies enormous contracts for the supply of arms, equipment and provisions, build arms factories at public expense and then hand them over to the monopolies, and float war loans. At the same time, the bourgeois States transfer all the burdens of war on to the working people. All this secures colossal profits to the monopolies.
The development of State-monopoly capitalism, leads first, to a very marked speeding-up of capitalist socialisation of production, creating the material premises for the replacement of capitalism by socialism. Lenin pointed out that State-monopoly capitalism is the most complete material preparation for socialism.
The development of State-monopoly capitalism leads, secondly, to enhanced relative and absolute impoverishment of the proletariat. With the aid of the State power, the monopolies screw up by all possible means the degree of exploitation of the working class, the peasantry and broad strata of the intelligentsia, and this leads inevitably to extreme sharpening of the contradiction between exploiters and exploited.
Defenders of capitalism, concealing the subordination of the bourgeois State to the capitalist monopolies, allege that the State has become the decisive force in the economy of the capitalist countries and is able to secure planned management of the national economy. But in fact the bourgeois State cannot manage the economy on planned lines, for the economy is not under its control but in the grip of the monopolies. State “regulation" of the economy, carried out in the interests of monopoly capital, cannot eliminate the anarchy of capitalist economy and economic crises and leads in practice to a further sharpening of the contradictions of the bourgeois system.
Under capitalism it is impossible for the separate enterprises and branches of a country’s economy to develop in even fashion. Under conditions of competition and anarchy of production uneven development of capitalist economy is inevitable. But in the pre-monopoly epoch, production was split up among a large number of enterprises, there was free competition, and monopolies did not exist. Capitalism could still develop comparatively smoothly. Certain countries went ahead of others over a prolonged period. There existed in the world in those days extensive territories which belonged to no one. Things proceeded without armed clashes on a world scale.
This situation underwent radical change with the transition to monopoly capitalism, when the division of the world among the imperialist powers had been completed and they were carrying on a sharp struggle for redivision of the world. At the same time an unprecedented development of technique opened for certain imperialist countries the possibility of overtaking rapidly, by leaps and bounds, the other imperialist countries. Countries which had taken the path of capitalist development later than others utilised the ready-made results of technical progress-machinery, production methods, etc. Hence a more rapid development, by leaps and bounds, of some countries alongside a slowing-down in the growth of others. This development in the form of leaps and bounds is also enhanced to a tremendous extent by the export of capital. It becomes possible for some countries to overtake and surpass others, crowd them out of the markets, and carry out by armed force are-division of the already divided world. In the period of imperialism the unevenness of development. of the capitalist countries has been transformed into a decisive factor of imperialist development.
The relation of economic forces among the imperialist Powers changes with unprecedented rapidity. In consequence, the balance of military power among the imperialist States changes in a very uneven manner. The changing relation of economic and armed forces comes into conflict with the old distribution of colonies and spheres of influence. This inevitably gives rise to a struggle to re-divide the already divided world. The actual strength of the various imperialist groups is tested by way of bloody and devastating wars.
In 1860 first place in the world’s industrial production was occupied by Britain, with France as runner-up. Germany and the U.S.A. were then only just entering the world arena. A decade passed, and a rapidly growing country of young capitalism, the U.S.A. had outstripped France and changed places with her. In another decade the U.S.A. had outstripped Britain and established itself in the leading position in world industrial production, while Germany had overtaken France and taken third place after the U.S.A. and Britain. Towards the beginning of the twentieth century Germany ousted Britain and took second place after the U.S.A. As a result of the change in the relation of forces between the capitalist countries the capitalist world was split into two hostile camps and world wars began.
The unevenness of the development of the capitalist countries causes a sharpening of the contradictions in the imperialist camp and makes armed clashes inevitable, which results in the imperialists weakening one another. The world front of imperialism becomes easily vulnerable to the proletarian revolution. This provides the basis for a breach to be made in the front at that link where the chain of the imperialist front is weakest, at that point where the most favourable conditions for the victory of the proletariat are found together.
The unevenness of economic development in the epoch of imperialism gives rise to unevenness of political development as well, which means that the political premises for the proletarian revolution come to ripeness at different times in different countries. Foremost among these premises are the acuteness of class contradictions and the level of development of the class struggle, the degree of class consciousness, the extent to which the proletariat is organised politically and filled with revolutionary resolution, and the ability of the proletariat to draw the bulk of the peasantry after it.
The law of the uneven economic and political development of the capitalist countries in the period of imperialism constitutes the starting-point of Lenin’s teaching on the possibility of the victory of socialism first of all in a few countries, or even in a single country. Marx and Engels, studying pre-monopoly capitalism in the middle of the nineteenth century, came to the conclusion that socialist revolution could triumph only simultaneously in all civilised countries or at least in the majority of them. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, particularly in the period of the first world war, the situation changed radically. Pre-monopoly capitalism had grown into monopoly capitalism. Ascending capitalism had been transformed into descending, dying capitalism. The war had revealed the incurable weaknesses of the world imperialist front. At the same time the law of uneven development had predetermined that proletarian revolution in the different countries would mature at different times. Proceeding from the law of uneven development capitalism in the imperialist epoch, Lenin came to the conclusion that the old formula of Marx and Engels no long corresponded to the new historical conditions, that in the new conditions socialist revolution could quite well triumph in a single country, that a simultaneous victory of socialist revolution in all countries or in the majority of civilised countries was impossible owing to the uneven maturing of the revolution in these countries.
“Uneven economic and political development," wrote Lenin, “is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country, taken singly." (Lenin, “On the United States of Europe Slogan", Selected Works, 1950, English edition, vol. I, Pt. 2, PP.416-17.)
This was the new, conclusive theory of socialist revolution created by Lenin. It enriched Marxism and advanced it, opened a revolutionary prospect before the proletarians of the separate countries, released their initiative in the attack upon their own bourgeoisie, and strengthened their confidence in the victory of the proletarian revolution.
The imperialist period sees the completed formation of the capitalist system of world economy, in which the separate countries become so many links in a single chain. Leninism teaches that in the conditions of imperialism socialist revolution is victorious first, not necessarily in those countries where capitalism is furthest developed and the proletariat constitutes the majority of the population, but in those countries which are weak links in the chain of world imperialism. The objective conditions for socialist revolution have matured in the system of world capitalist economy as a whole. This being so, the existence within this system of countries which are insufficiently developed from the industrial standpoint cannot represent an obstacle to revolution. For socialist revolution to be victorious it is necessary that there should be present a revolutionary proletariat and a proletarian vanguard united in a political party, that there should be in the given country a solid ally of the proletariat, in the shape of the peasantry, capable of following the proletariat in resolute struggle against imperialism.
In the epoch of imperialism, when the revolutionary movement is growing throughout the world, the imperialist bourgeoisie takes its stand in alliance with all reactionary forces without exception and uses survivals of serfdom in every possible way to strengthen its rule and enlarge its profits. For this reason, abolition of the feudal serf-owning order is impossible without a resolute struggle against imperialism. In these conditions the hegemony of the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic’ revolution, welding the mass of the peasantry around itself for struggle against feudal survivals and imperialist colonial oppression, becomes possible. As its anti-feudal and national-liberation tasks are accomplished, bourgeois-democratic revolution grows into socialist revolution.
In the imperialist period the discontent of the proletariat grows in the capitalist countries, the elements of a revolutionary explosion accumulate, and in the colonial and dependent countries a war of liberation against imperialism develops. Imperialist wars for the re-division of the world weaken system of imperialism and strengthen the tendency for proletarian revolutions in the capitalist countries to unite with national liberation movement in the colonies.
Proletarian revolution which has triumphed in a single country is at the same time the beginning of the world socialist revolution. Lenin scientifically foresaw that world revolution would develop through the revolutionary falling away of series of further countries from the system of imperialism, with support rendered to the proletariat of these countries by the proletariat of the imperialist States. The process of the falling away from imperialism of a series of further countries will itself take place the faster and more thoroughly, the more thoroughly socialism is consolidated in the countries of the victorious proletarian revolution.
“In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle", wrote Lenin in 1923, “will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc., account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe. And it is precisely this majority that during the past few years has been drawn into the struggle for emancipation with extraordinary rapidity so that in this respect there cannot be the slightest shadow of doubt what the final outcome of the world struggle will be. In this sense the complete victory of Socialism is fully and absolutely guaranteed." (Lenin, “Better less but better", Selected Works, 1950, edition, vol. II, Pt. 2, p. 750.)
(1) Imperialism is: (1) monopoly capitalism, (2) decaying or parasitic capitalism, (3) moribund capitalism, the eve of the Socialist revolution.
(2) The decay and parasitism of capitalism are expressed in the retardation by the monopolies of technical progress and the growth of the productive forces, in the transformation of a number of bourgeois countries into rentier-States which live by exploiting the peoples of the colonies and dependent countries, in an orgy of militarism, in an increase in the parasitic consumption of the bourgeoisie, in reactionary internal and external policies of the imperialist States, and in the bribing by the bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries of a small upper stratum of the working class. The decay of capitalism leads to intensified impoverishment of the working class and of the working masses of the peasantry.
(3) Imperialism renders three major contradictions of capitalism extremely acute: (1) the contradiction between labour and capital, (2) the contradiction between the imperialist Powers struggling for preponderance and, in the last analysis, for world power, and (3) the contradiction between the metropolitan countries and the colonies. Imperialism finally brings the proletariat to the threshold of socialist revolution.
(4) State-monopoly capitalism means the subordination of the State machine to the capitalist monopolies and the use of it for: interference in the economic life of the country (especially in connection with its militarisation), with the aim of securing maximum profits and consolidating the rule of the finance oligarchy. While signifying the highest stage of capitalist socialisation of production, State-monopoly capitalism brings with it further intensification of the exploitation of the working class, impoverishment and ruin of the broad working masses.
(5) The law of uneven economic and political development of the capitalist countries in the period of imperialism weakens the front of world imperialism. The unevenness with which revolution matures rules out the possibility of a simultaneous victory of socialism in all countries or in the majority of countries. It is made possible for the imperialist chain to be broken at its weakest link, possible for socialist revolution to triumph first of all in a few countries, or even in. a single country.