10. The present world imperialist system is NOT a form of “ultra-imperialism”!

The present world capitalist-imperialist system is not really the total domination of the world by a single superpower, even though it is very often erroneously assumed to be that. It is in reality a temporary club of convenience of international gangsters, with one long dominant but now steadily weakening leader, which will begin to break apart to some substantial degree if it becomes advantageous for one or more significant countries or sections within it to bring that about.

Just as the current imperialist system had its origin in multiple imperialist blocs, it will surely break apart anew into at least somewhat separate and hostile competing blocs eventually. Why is this? It is for the very important reason that Lenin put his finger on so long ago: the inevitable uneven development within capitalism and within the capitalist-imperialist system—and the unending objective of capitalism to expand (or die) at each other’s expense.

Lenin noted that this uneven development is characteristic of capitalism in general and at all levels of organization: “Uneven and spasmodic development of individual enterprises, of individual branches of industry and individual countries, is inevitable under the capitalist system.”[1] But he also pointed out just why this uneven development especially occurs once capitalism reaches its imperialist stage, and needs to export capital in search of new sources of profit:

“The export of capital affects and greatly accelerates the development of capitalism in those countries to which it is exported. While, therefore, the export of capital may tend to a certain extent to arrest development in the capital exporting countries, it can only do so by expanding and deepening the further development of capitalism throughout the world.” —Lenin[2]

Lenin also pointed out that “Finance capital and the trusts do not diminish but increase the differences in the rate of growth of the various parts of the world economy.”[3] Today we might well rephrase that as: “Finance capital and multinational corporations do not diminish but increase the differences in the rate of growth of the various parts of the world economy.” They do this by searching the world for the places to invest which promise the highest rates of profit, and shift more capital to those regions. And of course super-profits are to be made where the wages are especially low, but where the necessary infrastructure and trained and disciplined labor force is fairly well developed, or rapidly developing. China has fit these requirements almost precisely, and that’s an important reason why both state and private monopoly capitalist development in China, both foreign owned and locally based, has been booming for several decades already.

The relative political stability of the world imperialist system since the collapse of the Soviet Union has depended on the more or less stable economic relationships of the U.S. and other major capitalist countries. But it is a law of capitalism that different countries and regions will develop economically at different speeds and to different degrees. Some will advance, and some will decline, either relatively or sometimes even in absolute terms.

In particular, the U.S. has been seriously declining in relation to the other elite members of the imperialist club since that club was set up at the end of World War II. As we saw in the last section, the U.S. share of world GDP has dropped from about 50% at the end of World War II to 22.49% in nominal GDP terms, and to only 18.34% in GDP-PPP terms in 2012. In the past decade or two the closest allies of the U.S. in the imperialist system club (principally Britain, France, Germany and Japan, as well as a number of others) have also been declining economically. Meanwhile Russia is recovering somewhat from its horrendous economic collapse with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Most importantly, China has been zooming forward in its economic expansion for six decades now. And a few more countries, especially the “expansionist” or “sub-imperialist” countries India and Brazil, are now expanding their economies (though in quite distorted forms) and are becoming a little bit more independent too. All this is changing the world balance of economic power at a surprisingly fast pace in historical terms.

In the mid-1800s Britain was known as the “workshop of the world”. But that changed. By the early 1900s the main workshop of the world was the United States, and Germany had also surpassed Britain. Now manufacturing is in serious decline in the U.S.[4] and everyone appropriately views China as the main workshop of the world. As the world changes it is necessary for our ideas to change along with it.

Military power follows economic power, though with a substantial lag. As China gets stronger economically and the U.S. declines economically, the present huge advantage in U.S. military strength will gradually diminish. The U.S. is already having tremendous and increasing difficulties prevailing in the endless series of imperialist wars it is waging in the “Third World”. And the huge expense of these endless wars is proving to be very damaging to the U.S. fiscal situation, and is leading to even faster increases in its financial indebtedness to China. (This is reminiscent of how the great cost of colonial wars and World Wars I & II speeded up the decline of British and French imperialism.)

The rise of China and the decline of the U.S. will lead to a much more serious economic struggle between them, and quite possibly a bifurcation of the present single imperialist system into two competing blocs, and even the eventual possibility of inter-imperialist military struggles between them (probably via proxy wars, etc.). We will talk some more about increasing U.S.-China contention later.

All these changes will be speeded up and become more contentious because of the continued development of the world overproduction crisis.

We should make it clear that when we talk of imperialist “blocs” we are not necessarily talking about war blocs! Blocs of nations are more typically, and over the longest periods, economic blocs. This is why the main issue at present is not really about the relative military strength and capabilities of the different arising blocs, but rather about their current and future economic strength. On the other hand, in extreme circumstances economic blocs also develop into war blocs.

Consequently, while it is true that there is now, and has been for two decades, a single world imperialist system, this is not at all the same thing as “ultra-imperialism”. Nor is having a single world imperialist system something that will likely continue in place as long as capitalist-imperialism continues to exist. Capitalist-imperialism is just not that stable!


[1] Lenin, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism: A Popular Outline”, (Peking: FLP, 1975 (1916)), p. 72.

[2] Lenin, ibid., p. 76.

[3] Lenin, ibid. p. 116.

[4] For a brief summary of the decline of U.S. manufacturing in recent decades see: http://www.massline.org/Dictionary/MA.htm#manufacturing_U.S.



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