2. Many Marxists don’t fully share Lenin’s new conception of ‘imperialism’.

But many people, including many who are influenced by Marxism-Leninism, and who may even view themselves as Marxist-Leninists or Maoists, don’t really use the term ‘imperialism’ in the way that Lenin did. They haven’t really grasped his conception. They still tend to use the term more in the traditional way, as a reference only to direct military conquest and control rather than to a new stage of capitalism.

Some vaguely Marxist-influenced individuals are quite open about this, such as the “Third World” theorist Samir Amin:

“Imperialism is not a stage, not even the highest stage, of capitalism: from the beginning, it is inherent in capitalism’s expansion. The imperialist conquest of the planet by the Europeans and their North American children was carried out in two phases and is perhaps entering a third.”[1]

This is a complete rejection of Lenin’s conception, and an insistence on using the word ‘imperialism’ in its old sense. And in keeping with this, Amin sees only three imperialist centers in the world, the so-called “Triad” (the U.S., Europe and Japan), and refuses to accept that China could possibly be a new imperialist power. For him China has long been part of the “Third World” (or the “periphery” or the “South”), and could never change into anything else.[2] Moreover, views such as those of Amin seem to have had a considerable influence on many others and are promoted by influential forces on the “left” such as Monthly Review magazine.

However, a more common sort of view within Marxist-Leninist-Maoist circles is to accept Lenin’s definition of imperialism in words but to nevertheless still somehow feel that no country can actually be an imperialist one unless it is at or near the top of the heap in terms of military power and frequent engagement in wars of aggression against other countries. That is to say, despite their verbal agreement that imperialism is a stage of capitalism, they still somehow feel that it has more to do with direct and immediate military aggression.

When it is pointed out that there are other countries, such as Japan, Italy and Russia, which are certainly imperialist countries, but which are not at present much engaged in military aggression, they have no good response.[3] But they still feel in their bones that a country can’t really be an imperialist one unless it is like the U.S., and at open war with much of the world. Their central conception of what it means to be imperialist is still the traditional military concept, not the Marxist-Leninist socioeconomic concept of a new stage of capitalism.

[1] Samir Amin, “Imperialism and Globalization”, Monthly Review, Vol. 53, #2, June 2001, p. 6. See also the link in the note above for further criticism of Amin’s conception of imperialism.

[2] See for example, Samir Amin, “China 2013”, Monthly Review, Vol. 64, #10, March 2013, online at: http://monthlyreview.org/2013/03/01/china-2013 Amin explicitly avoids the “too abstract question” of whether China is presently socialist or capitalist, but nevertheless insists that China remains on the “socialist path” that it embarked on in 1950! He recognizes that China is an “emerging power” but refuses to think of this as meaning an imperialist power.

[3] Of course even imperialist countries such as Japan, Italy and Russia (and China—as we will discuss later) have participated in imperialist wars and adventures to some limited degree! Post-U.S.S.R. Russia, for example, has used military force against its southern neighbor Georgia, as well as against internal colonies such as Chechnya and Dagestan. And as we complete this essay, Russia appears to be using its military force to dismember Ukraine.