From International Socialism (1st series), No.64, Mid-November 1973, pp.??.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Imperialism and World Economy
Merlin Press, £1.
OF ALL THE recent reprints of long-unobtainable Marxist works, this is one of the most useful. It is very strongly recommended to anyone who wants to understand the roots of the modern world which lie in the period of classical imperialism.
Bukharin’s work is highly praised by Lenin in an Introduction, and indeed it is in many ways superior to Lenin’s own pamphlet on the same subject. Written in 1915, it examines, as Lenin says, ‘the fundamental facts of world economy relating to imperialism as a whole, as a definite stage in the growth of most: highly developed capitalism.’ Although its examples and statistics are dated, its argument has a very modern sound.
For example, Bukharin contrasts the ‘organisation’ of individual national capitalist economies with the anarchy of the world market-raising to a higher level Marx’s contrast between the organised discipline of the factory and the anarchy of the market for which it produces. Bukharin shows that this national ‘planning’ is the product of capitalism, not at all incompatible with its laws.
‘This is why,’ he says ‘even if free competition were entirely eliminated within the boundaries of “national economies”, crisis would still continue, as there would remain the anarchically established connections between the “national” bodies, i.e. there would still remain the anarchic structure of world economy.’
Bukharin could not, of course, foresee that the tragic isolation and defeat of the Russian Revolution, in which he himself was to be murdered, would lead to the establishment of bureaucratic state-capitalism relating to the world market in precisely this way. But his analysis already shows that this kind if development would by no means imply that the laws of capitalism had been superseded.
Of course, the main interest of this book is not as prophecy, but as a lucid description and analysis of the main economic and political tendencies of a particular period. Bukharin deals in a very readable way with the features of capitalist production, trace, etc. in the period leading up to the First World War. He shows that the massive economic changes which had become apparent certainly did not mean the end of capitalism, as many reformists and sociologists had said (as they still do). Rather, they were the product of capitalism’s own logic. The imperialist stage-very definitely related here to world capitalism based in the advanced countries-had grown out of the earlier period of industrial capitalism, and intensified its contradictions.
In particular, Bukharin outlines the way in which the growth in competition between larger and larger units causes changes in the methods of struggle between the different capitalists. He refers especially to the use of state power and militarism in the competitive struggle, and relates this to what he calls ‘the growth of state capitalist trusts’ (not bureaucratic state-capitalism, but the merging of the state with large monopolies). This he already represents as a normal condition of capitalism, and it is clear that here again Bukharin’s analysis anticipates the more definite analysis of ‘peacetime’ military competition between the great capitalist countries, and of the arms economy, which have been made since the Second World War. This is not because Bukharin was a clairvoyant but because the tendencies which have dominated the post-1945 world were already developing in the period of imperialist crisis, and were apparent to a perceptive user of the Marxist method.
Bukharin’s analysis was proven extremely relevant in the years shortly after he wrote this book; his hopes were frustrated by forces which he could not have completely foreseen, arising from the political weakness of the proletariat. The analysis is still very relevant today, and the book (paperback, obtainable for 72p including postage from Pluto Press) should be a must for readers of IS.
Last updated on 13.2.2008