The International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) recently released a statement making the case that the core elements of the Leninist understanding of imperialism are still relevant today (Roots & Fruits of Imperialism – Fundamental Continuities in the Epoch of War & Revolution).
I think the core analysis of the IBT is sound however there is one aspect that I find troubling.
In their piece the IBT outlined the classical Marxist understanding of imperialism with some pertinent quotes from Trotsky and Lenin – including the following:
“Imperialism, or the domination of finance capital, is that highest stage of capitalism in which this separation [between money capital and industrial or productive capital] reaches vast proportions. The supremacy of finance capital over all other forms of capital means the predominance of the rentier and of the financial oligarchy; it means that a small number of financially ‘powerful’ states stand out among all the rest.”
—Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916
As part of their description of the changes in the world situation from the early period of the 1900’s when Lenin and Trotsky were originally writing about imperialism the IBT refer to various respectable bourgeois sources highlighting the continual growth of the gap in world income distribution between countries which is now far greater than it was 100 years ago. As the IBT point out:
“Contemporary imperialism continues to be characterized by a tendency toward monopoly, an increasing concentration of finance capital.“
My question for the IBT relates to the distinction they attempt to draw between wealthy neo-colonial states and what they consider to be smaller imperialist powers:
“Client states that sit atop valuable petroleum assets, like Saudi Arabia or Qatar, obtain a significant slice of the profits the oil monopolies earn on the world market. This provides the rulers of these oil sheikdoms with considerable political autonomy, but ultimately their survival is dependent on their imperialist patrons.”
“Even small advanced capitalist countries (like Norway, New Zealand or Luxemburg) have roles as minor subordinates that are able to benefit from the global economic “rules of the game” defined and enforced by the larger powers and their network of multinational institutions. The junior partners in the American-dominated global system are entitled to a portion of the spoils as long as they are prepared to share the overheads of foreign military expeditions, adhere to trade embargoes and generally follow the directives of the major players.”
Even though the IBT do not explicitly use the term imperialist to refer to this second group of states I know from my time as a member that they do categorise them as imperialist.
If Lenin’s understanding of imperialism includes the recognition that this stage of capitalism results in “a small number of financially ‘powerful’ states [that] stand out among all the rest” and since he was writing there has been “an increasing concentration of finance capital” how is it that countries like Norway, New Zealand and Luxembourg can be included among the imperialists today?
It is also surely obvious that the portion of world income going to the likes of Norway, New Zealand and Luxembourg is just as dependent on the patronage of the “small number of financially ‘powerful’ states” as is the portion of world income going to the likes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
It may be possible to make a case that there is a distinction between the role in the world economy of the likes of Norway, New Zealand and Luxembourg vs those like Saudi Arabia and Qatar but that is a different issue from categorising them as imperialist.
The idea that in 2017 the likes of Norway, New Zealand and Luxembourg are imperialist (in the sense that Lenin and Trotsky were using the term to describe a world dominated by a handful of imperialist states that “stand out among all the rest”) makes no sense and I politely suggest that the IBT take another look at this issue.