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Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Sun, 1 Feb 98 11:23:48 CST
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: The Dawn Of The Imperialist System
Organization: InfoMatch Internet—Vancouver BC
Article: 26807

The Dawn Of The Imperialist System

By Argiris Malapanis, The Militant, Vol. 62, no. 5, 9 February 1998

In a letter published in the February 2 Militant, reader Steve Halpern questioned a statement that appeared in the January 12 issue in an article reporting on a regional socialist conference in Birmingham. [Mary-Alice] Waters, editor of the magazine New International, said that Washington rose as an imperialist power 100 years ago with the Spanish-American war, the article said. The question I have is what about the numerous imperialist wars that Washington waged against Native Americans? Halpern asked. He added, If the Roman Empire was an imperialist power, it seems that the wars against Native Americans were a classic example of imperialism.

In opening his pamphlet Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin pointed out, During the last fifteen to twenty years, especially since the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the economic and political literature of the two hemispheres has more and more often adopted the term ‘imperialism’ to describe the present era.

Those wars, the first imperialist wars in the Marxist sense of the term, marked the dawn of a new stage of the capitalist system—imperialism. The main features of the imperialist system that Lenin outlined aptly describe the epoch we live in today. Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital, born of the merging of banking and industrial capital, is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance, as distinguished from the export of commodities; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun; and in which the division of the territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed. At the dawn of the 20th century, Lenin explained, Capitalism had been transformed into imperialism.

For most of this century, Marxists have used the term imperialist war to describe a particular kind of event: a war waged by finance capital. It’s a war over domination and control of a piece of the semicolonial world; a war against other propertied classes in other countries for the domination of raw materials, markets, and access to the superexploitation of low-wage labor; a war to redivide world power and influence among rival capitalist classes.

In 1898, the U.S. capitalist rulers went to war against their declining rivals in Spain, who had been exhausted by the three-decades-long wars of independence by Cuban patriots against Spanish colonialism. U.S. troops invaded Cuba, after Washington fabricated the blowing up of the U.S. warship Maine in the Havana harbor to justify U.S. intervention and block Cuban patriots from freeing their country. U.S. forces also seized Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, which were colonies of Spain as well.

The Roman empire existed long before the advent of the imperialist system Lenin described. The term imperialist is often popularly used to describe wars like those waged by Rome and its legions—aimed at economically draining, politically oppressing, and militarily subjugating another people. But the Roman empire was based on a different social system—slavery, which preceded feudalism—than the domination of finance capital that prevailed on the entire globe about a century ago. In his pamphlet on imperialism, Lenin said, Colonial policy and imperialism existed before the latest stage of capitalism, and even before capitalism. Rome, founded on slavery, pursued a colonial policy and practised imperialism. But ‘general’ disquisitions on imperialism, which ignore, or put into the background, the fundamental difference between socio-economic formations, inevitably turn into the vapid banality or bragging, like the comparison: ‘Greater Rome and Greater Britain.’ Even the capitalist colonial policy of previous stages of capitalism is essentially different from the colonial policy of finance capital.

This is not a debate over semantics. The tasks of the toilers in the United States and other countries were different after 1898 than three decades earlier. During the U.S. Civil War, the last progressive war of the U.S. capitalist class, workers and small farmers joined in an alliance with the northern industrialists and the freed slaves to overthrow the slavocracy in the south. Ever since the advent of imperialism, the task of the working class in each country has been to wrest power from the bourgeoisie in order to rescue humanity from capitalist barbarism.

In Genocide Against the Indians, longtime Socialist Workers Party leader George Novak explained that modern capitalism in the United States arose from the disintegration and ruin of two ancient societies: European feudalism and primitive American communism.

Towards the end of his pamphlet, Novak says, When the pioneers of bourgeois society confronted their precapitalist foes, they had both the power and the historical mission to conquer. Their plutocratic heirs of the twentieth century have neither. In our time the workers are the pioneers and builders of the new world, the bearers of a higher culture... The ‘liberty, equality, and fraternity’ known in America’s infancy, which the bourgeoisie blasphemed and buried, will be regenerated and enjoyed in its finest forms through the socialist revolution of working people.