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The Colonial Question: An Initial Balance‑Sheet

(From Il Programma Communista No. 14‑1957; Programme Communiste No. 4, 1958)

Our work in interpreting the current upheavals in the former colonies looks to the future; indeed, a rigorously Marxist interpretation of these events will transform itself dialectically, in the hands of tomorrow’s revolutionary communist movement, into a political weapon for the struggles that the proletariat will have to face in these regions. In the geo-social space liberated from colonial administration, the industrial revolution that is beginning now is going to create new social forces. Forecasting, with a scientific approach, the influence that these forces will have on the final struggle between capitalism and the socialist proletariat means laying the foundations of the revolutionary programme that the future International will have to build in order to take action in the Afro-Asian sector.

Groups of revolutionary workers in the West are more and more convinced, despite demagogic falsifications originating from various sources, that the fall of colonialism has opened, in Africa and Asia, a new era which, because it tends towards the formation of nation-states and the industrial transformation of local economies on the basis of wage labour, can only be considered in the framework of the bourgeois revolution. Instinctively, they are led to pose this question: does the victory of the anti-colonialist revolution assist or hinder the future task of the proletarian revolution in Asia and Africa?

To answer this question seriously we first have to analyse on the one hand the laws governing the development of the anti-colonialist movement as a bourgeois revolution and, on the other hand, to recall the fundamental bases of the process of proletarian revolution.

To the extent to which it will develop, the Afro-Asian industrial revolution will necessarily engender, as a social consequence of the expansion of the capitalist mode of production, a society divided into antagonistic social classes. Each of them will necessarily take a different attitude towards the revolutionary communist movement, and will participate in it in different ways. It is therefore clear that the future International will have at its disposal a revolutionary potential formed by a new industrial proletariat which, today, hardly exists – but it is also evident that it will have to enter into a struggle against the alignment of bourgeois forces whose emergence and development has until now been prevented by colonial domination and which, today, are strengthening within the new nation states.

On the global level, the anti-colonialist revolution is thus destined to increase, simultaneously, both the forces of the proletarian revolution and those of the bourgeois counter-revolution. This perspective is perfectly in accord with the notion of the final collapse of capitalism, which we defend. Capitalism will not weaken following a progressive productive and political paralysis, as claimed by gradualists of every stripe from the old-style social democrats to the furious “innovators” who preach the “pacific competition” between capitalism and socialism. Capitalist society will attain ever more elevated heights in its productive capacity and the political efficacy of the state, and it will only be destroyed by the armed clash between its constituent classes – and this clash will be all the more violent and more generalised the longer it delays its appearance.

It would be defeatist to delude ourselves: the anti-colonialist revolution, which introduces capitalism and class division on the bourgeois model, will enormously enlarge the theatre of armed struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; it is preparing new troops for the class war and, for sure, the duration and the violence of the final struggle will be increased. From this point of view it is legitimate to say that the Afro-Asian revolution will obstruct the proletarian revolution in Asia and Africa. But the proletarian revolution is a complex historical process which one can, from a theoretical point of view, divide into distinct phases. We therefore have to know how to recognise the diverse influences that the introduction of capitalism in the “Bandung countries” will exercise on the development of each of these phases. [Note: The first large-scale Afro-Asian Conference – also known as the Bandung Conference – was a meeting of Asian and African states, most of which were newly independent, which took place on April 18-24, 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia].

The proletarian revolution – like all the others that preceded it – travels through two principal phases: first, the conquest of power by the oppressed class and second, the suppression of the existing relations of production through reforms imposed by the state created by the victorious insurrection, using dictatorial methods. Of course, in the real, living course of history, these two phases are indissolubly linked. As the experience of the revolutionary communist movement shows, the demolition of the bourgeois state apparatus is organically linked to the forced introduction of post-insurrection reforms. There is a cause-and-effect relationship between the two stages in reality as well as in theory.

At any rate, it could occur that the two phases do not have any continuity in geographical space, as occurred in Soviet Russia. There, the proletariat brilliantly accomplished the first phase of its superhuman effort in conquering power and destroying the bourgeois state. But it could not tackle the post-insurrectionary reforms, since the very object of its politics of economic and social transformation – a developed capitalism –was missing in the workers’ state. It was necessary to put off this task until after the extension – anticipated in vain – of the revolution to countries with advanced capitalism, such as Germany for example, where all of the energy of the Third International was focused. The conquest of power in Germany would have marked the start of the second phase of the communist revolution, of a kind that would have had a ripple effect for a victorious communism, which, one may say, could have been “exported” to Russia itself and the other backward European countries of the Danube region. But, as we know, the attempt to take power in Germany ran aground: the Russian revolution remained disabled by one its critical elements and finally succumbed to the Stalinist capitalist counter-revolution. The lesson of the defeat of the communist revolution in Russia is quite clear. The communist revolution can only triumph if the revolutionary power of the proletariat, victorious in its struggle against the dominant class and in the repression of its attempts to restore itself, is in a position to graft the revolutionary transformation of the economy in a communist direction onto the political conquest of power. In other words, the proletariat will be able more easily to bring the revolution to a successful conclusion precisely in the countries where the struggle for the conquest of power will have been hard, that’s to say, in the countries with a developed capitalism. Indeed, it’s only in these countries – Britain, France, Germany, the United States etc. – that the concentration of industrial capital and the productivity of social labour attain this higher level which constitutes the historic basis for socialism. But it is also here that the bourgeois industrial revolution has long since developed an accomplished capitalist class that has perfected to the maximum the repressive apparatus of the state, and that the resources for social conservation are vaster and more efficient; thus it is here that the proletariat’s struggle for the conquest of power will be most difficult and forbidding.

In general, one could say that the more difficult the struggle for power, the “easier” the struggle for the post-insurrectionary transformation of the economy, and vice versa. Of course, the concepts of “difficulty” and “easiness” are entirely relative terms here; the proletarian revolution will never be “easy” enough to avoid the expenditure of immense effort and sacrifices, and the shedding of blood.

If colonialist domination had been maintained, the communist revolution would have found itself, in Africa and in Asia, confronted with a “Russian situation”, similar to the one that the dictatorship of the proletariat confronted in the ex-Russia of the Tsars – or rather, even further behind under social and economic aspects. Therefore, if a communist power had succeeded in bringing down colonialism, it would have found itself in the impossible situation, precisely as in Russia, of translating into practice the fundamental points of the communist programme relating to the suppression of the capitalist relations of production. We would have had, sticking with the same hypothesis, a new case of a communist revolution which succeeds in seizing power from the dominant classes but is unable to use this power to start the transformation of the economy in a communist direction, and which has to wait, in order to accomplish this, for the proletarian victory in the more developed capitalist states.

A clarification is needed to the above. To avoid any ambivalence, we should restate our immutable positions on the international character of communism. Marxists struggle for revolution and push it forwards everywhere it breaks out; but they know very well that the final victory of socialism will only be achieved after the revolution has triumphed across the entire globe, or at least in the most important capitalist counties. What we want to show here is that it is only in countries where capitalism is developed that the proletarian revolution can move forward expeditiously, immediately tackling the phase of economic transformation after the conquest of political power.

The upheavals currently taking place in Africa and Asia will finally have the effect of destroying this “Russian situation” against which the communist revolution would have collided in the colonialist era. After the decline of colonialism and the creation of new modern states, the conquest of power by the communist movement will become more difficult. Indeed, the new independent states will be able to use a prestige and a political ascendancy over their subjects – and therefore material force – which was not available to colonial bureaucracies. But in order to sustain themselves in the long term, these states will have to stimulate industrialisation at a frenetic rate, that’s to say dismantle the residues of the old semi-feudal regime and introduce, and then enlarge, capitalist forms of production. To put it another way, the ex-colonies constitute a gap between capitalism and the historical conditions which precede socialism; the new national states will be forced to fill this gap. Once this has been done, the communist revolution in Africa and in Asia will find itself confronted with a “European situation”, i.e., the conditions reached by the countries where the capitalist transformation of the economy is a fait accompli.

On the question of whether the anti-colonialist upheavals favour or hinder the task of the communist revolution, we can therefore answer in this way: the formation of nation states and the strengthening of the local bourgeoisies that results from this, and which will become increasingly evident as and when the sphere of capitalist relations expands, will have the effect of making the conquest of political power more difficult and challenging, as is the case for the developed countries of Europe and America; the suppression of the old semi-feudal relations and the development of capitalist forms will lay the indispensable foundations for the introduction of socialist production and will thus favour the political economy of the future workers’ state.

The disciples of various schools of reformist socialism, including those who follow the false communism of Moscow, could well wince in disgust at such a perspective, which promises the greatest of difficulties and, of course, a heavy and bloody price. But this will not distress revolutionary workers who know full well that capitalism will only succumb before the violence exercised through the dictatorial power of the proletariat. On the contrary, they will find in this a reason to be enthusiastic, as it is possible to foresee with certainty that the economic and social transformations that will be produced in the regions liberated from colonialism will allow the acceleration of the second phase of the communist revolution on a global scale, the phase of “surgical” intervention in the putrefied economy inherited from capitalism.

It is certainly too early to make a balance sheet of the active and of the passive factors that the Afro-Asiatic revolution will bring to the future communist revolution. In fact, we will have to examine to what extent imperialist contrasts will influence the industrialisation movement that characterises the new independent states. Whatever it may be, the unification of the Euro-American and Afro-Asian regions related to capitalist production is now under way. Since the end of the Second World War, the backward countries of the Bandung Group have launched themselves onto the capitalist road. This lightens the load on the revolutionary communist programme which, in future, will no longer have to take on the immense burden of double revolutions, as was the case in Russia where proletarian power had to struggle on the two fronts of anti-feudalism and anti-capitalism. Who could deny the immense importance of this fact?

All the same, it is possible, today, to make an initial assessment of the immediate results of the anti-colonialist revolution, taking the perspective of the interests of the communist revolution to come. This concerns both the active and the passive factors, not potential, but actual, whose effects are already tangible or will not take long to manifest themselves.

Let us start with the passive factors.


Absence of political separation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie

In Europe, at a critical moment of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the proletarian revolutionary forces broke the insurrectionary common front that had been established between the Jacobin bourgeoisie and the first forces of the urban proletariat, both enemies of feudal reaction. This break, which marked the opening of the period of modern communism, was provoked in the French Revolution by the movement of Gracchus Babeuf. The collision did not occur in the political arena, because the bourgeoisie was in a position to prevent and crush the communist movement immediately, before it could attempt an armed attack against the state. But it did occur fully in the realm of principles. The body of anti-bourgeois theories and critiques formulated by Babeuf marked the irreparable break between bourgeois democracy and proletarian communism.

“Babeufism” is the starting point of the revolutionary tradition of the proletariat, which accepts the armed struggle alongside bourgeois forces against the common feudal enemy, but denies the bourgeoisie the right to seize the fruits of the revolution. Marxism, which accorded the preceding communist currents real authority, while going beyond them dialectically, entirely accepted the “Babeufist” concept of the participation of the proletariat in the bourgeois revolution. The October revolution, which remains the classic example of a proletarian revolution, stemmed from a bourgeois revolution, that of February, to turn against it – isn’t this a successful application of Babeuf’s principle?

The “communist” parties indentured to Moscow have ridden roughshod over this fundamental principle. Plunged into a bourgeois revolution, they have not worked towards the rupture of the transitory alliance with the bourgeois revolutionary parties, but have conceived of and practiced this alliance as if it were permanent and immutable; facing the new national states, they have not applied the politics of Babeuf and Lenin, but rather, the politics of bourgeois ideologues who see the democratic revolution as the last act of history’s civil wars, one that would open the era of a pacific competition between the classes.

When it is not integrated into the constitutional organs of the new bourgeois state as in India, where the Communist Party has assumed control of the regional government of Kerala via the parliamentary road, or as in Indonesia, where President Sukarno has called on the Communist Party to take part in a consultative organ of the state, or as in China, where it has itself become the predominant force of a regime which is probably preparing to introduce forms of parliamentary democracy, aligning itself with inter-classist principles, it is true that the “Communist” Party loyal to Moscow may take up the armed struggle against regimes in power, but it does not execute this attack on the frontline of the revolutionary war. The break between the Russo-communists and the states that are newly independent or those on the road to independence, as is the case of the “red” partisans in the Philippines, or in Malaysia, does not obey any class logic; it is not to be found in positions of the anti-capitalist revolution; on the contrary, it follows the logic of global imperialist division.


The offensive of anti-Marxist revisionism

The proletarian revolution will grow in the ex-colonies, with the development of capitalism. At what point will it have arrived? No-one can say, but it is foreseeable that, even in the worst case, that’s to say if we hypothesise an excessive delay to the communist revolution, the capitalist process will not have arrived at its highest phase, as we can observe in the Euro-American dynamic of capitalism. Considering the current level of technology and taking into account the rhythm of the industrial revolution in Russia, and in particular if we suppose that the tendency towards industrialisation will be subjected neither to reversals nor to stoppages, the proletarian attack will strike the Afro-Asian capitalisms in the middle phase of their development.

This fact has been poorly understood, but the ideologies published by the “Bandung nations” continue to form a new armoury in the revisionist attack against Marxism, against the theory affirming that socialism is only possible if the proletarian dictatorship exerts its own domination on the rest of society. We must not believe that the Russo-communist parties are the only representatives of “Asiatic” revisionism. Revisionism, that’s to say the attempt to demonstrate that the “evils” of capitalism can be avoided with appropriate political measures, or even that socialism can be installed by gradualist means through democratic reforms, constitutes a political front which, alongside the “communists”, brings together the bosses and the parties who openly declare to be anti-Marxist.

An important aspect of the Afro-Asian bourgeois revolution lies in the fact that the leaders of the new nation states are adopting concepts and language that certainly cannot be aligned with those used, in their time, by the Cromwells and Robespierres. Despite being the representatives of bourgeois forces, the Nehrus, Sukarnos and Nassers use a phraseology that the revolutionary proletariat of Europe has already seen decorating the mouths of the leaders of reformist socialism. This is no fluke. The cause of this phenomenon is two-fold: first, the epoch in which the anti-colonialist revolutions have broken out; second, the intellectual formation of the currents which struggle against colonialist imperialism. Because these were born during the imperialist epoch, that’s to say the epoch at which the international bourgeoisie disowned its own class ideology (to achieve a social camouflage) and turned instead to the pronouncements of recent economic schools, the Afro-Asian bourgeois revolutions can only find inspiration in the same themes. On the other hand, the conditions in which the anti-colonialist political parties had to struggle in the past – conditions which were determined by colonial occupation – have imposed an ideological distinction, whose fundamental motif is, precisely, anti-imperialism.

From a practical point of view the result is that critical analysis of the ideological baggage of the Afro-Asian regimes only reveals a weak percentage of the ingredients equating to liberal doctrines and the economic liberalism which characterised the bourgeois revolution in Europe. By contrast, theories on planned economy, on state management, on “public” property, on social security, conceived by European reformist socialism in the last century, take pride of place and now have won the “freedom of the city” in the brains of everybody in the bourgeois state. Themes dear to anti-imperialism, to the peaceful coexistence of states, large and small, to democratic pacifism, have developed in parallel with these anti-liberal ideologies. But, we repeat, these ideological principles perfectly match, even though they might use different terminology, those that form the doctrinal heritage of European reformist socialism.

The difference between the old European reformists and the leaders of the new Afro-Asian regimes is the fact that the latter base their affirmations of principle on a situation that was missing for our reformists. The European reformists postulated the unlimited progress of a capitalism which, on the contrary, was entering fully into old age and was heading towards the terrible convulsive crises of imperialism. The Afro-Asian leaders make no mistake when they prophesy uninterrupted social progress, because they are still at the dawn of their industrial revolution.

The Afro-Asian regimes which can apply their revisionist ideologies predicting the pacific passing of capitalism, or even the possibility of avoiding the capitalist stage through real social and economic progress will therefore be in a position to energetically oppose the work of revolutionary Marxism when it tries to assume the role of political guide to the local proletariat. We can foresee that the transformation of immense social agglomerations, within which forms of production that have existed for centuries, if not millennia, lie dormant, will bring immense prestige to the regimes that will champion it, and will lend an appearance of truth to the ideologies that they promote. This will not be the first time that the revolutionary Marxist movement finds itself confronted by a bourgeois revolution led within forms of state capitalism and which attempts to pass itself off as an anti-capitalist revolution. Stalinist Russia is there for us to recall.

It is thus abundantly clear that from now on Marxism will have to repel, first of all in the theoretical domain and then in the political, this new revisionist assault. The bourgeois revolution will inevitably have to create social forces which, as is the case in Europe and the rest of the world, form the anti-Marxist movement. The struggle of Marxists will have to support the negative weight of the absence of a break between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and the absolute treason of the Russo-communist parties, which are reduced to playing the role of the extreme left of the bourgeoisie.

 

The question of the materialist understanding of history

Let us now move on to listing the benefits that the Marxist movement has drawn and will continue to draw from the Afro-Asian revolutions. Of course, this concerns lessons drawn from events that form the fundamental principles of Marxism, phenomena that are already quite clear to hardened Marxists, but which again require, for others, additional proof or verification. These will not be lacking, and it will be our task to bring them to light.

Let us now move to list the benefits the Marxist movement has drawn, and will draw, from the Afro-Asian revolution. This is of course a matter of mere confirmations, brought about by events, of the fundamental principles of Marxism; of issues already perfectly clear for seasoned Marxists; but others will require further evidence and verifications. Which won’t be missing, and it will be our duty to point them out.

Each time that history registers a profound change and the evidence of this change obliges intellects to search for the causes that determined it, the struggle between materialists and idealists reignites. Who has pushed the masses, previously inert, into action, tearing them from the habits of everyday life and driving them to destroy the old social relations? The blossoming, in their consciousness, of new ideas or new religions, or rather the upsetting of the objective conditions of social existence? This question is the very basis of every attempt to explain the causes that have determined revolution in the colonies. Well, we say that this gigantic upheaval has given dialectical materialism fresh confirmation.

The Afro-Asian revolution has definitively wiped away, as if they were old cobwebs, all the theories that western bourgeois intellectuals had fashioned in order to “understand” the laws of development of the colonial peoples and to arrive at the conclusion that their historic conditions were immutable. The false racial materialism that gave the white race the leading role in civilisation has been destroyed at the same time as these old idealist prejudices. Idealism, which postulated an irreconcilable divorce between western civilisation and Asiatic primitivism and found reasons in the different stages of the “universal conscience” have not withstood the test of reality. Nor have the pseudo-scientific superstitions of racists who wanted to discover the reasons through arbitrary anthropometric measurements.

The Afro-Asian revolution has confirmed the scientific exactitude of dialectical materialism for two principal reasons: 1) the anti-colonial revolution did not arise as a result of new ideas or religions appearing in people’s consciousness, but under the pressure of material historical factors that had to sweep away the old capitalist colonialism; 2) the causes and the objectives that led to the start of the bourgeois revolutions in the West produced identical effects when acting in the anti-colonialist revolution.

The new Afro-Asian states emerged from the victory of the anti-colonial revolt. Because colonialism was an instrument of exploitation and national domination, the seeds of the revolt were always active in the colonies, as is demonstrated by the punitive expeditions that the colonial powers were continually forced to undertake. But the success of the revolt was only possible when the old colonialist structures were no longer able to stand firm against the pressure from below. Several objective factors attest to this phenomenon. Let’s try to enumerate them: the decadence of the colonialist powers: England, France, The Netherlands and so on, which became incapable of maintaining the naval supremacy that had allowed them to control the oceans, and thus to firmly occupy the colonies; the Japanese invasion of the Asian continent, which, in driving the western powers from their traditional possessions – Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Indochina, the Pacific archipelagos – could only put an end to the myth of the invincibility of the white master and encourage the forces of Asian nationalism; and the convergence of anti-colonialist interests of the United States and Russia.

It is worthwhile developing this last point a little further. Some do not understand that the rival imperialisms of Washington and Moscow hugely contributed to the fall of “old style” colonialism. However, after the Suez adventure in November 1956, when we saw these two giants come together to oppose the London-Paris axis, which was trying to reintroduce colonialism in Egypt, there was no further reason to doubt it. The truth is that the colonising powers, already driven out of their possessions in Asia, would only have been able to come back in force if they had been able to secure the support of American military power. We know that on the contrary, wherever they could, the Americans rushed to recognise the revolutionary governments that emerged in the colonies. Of course, the motive was their own imperialist interests. The maintenance of colonial empires constituted a real menace to the general equilibrium of capitalism. The powers that were now decadent, or which had fallen to the second rank in terms of productive power, held control of immense geo-social regions and remained incapable of satisfying their needs for industrialisation. And vice versa: the powers of the first rank, but without colonies – such as the United States and Germany – were threatened with suffocation in the limited space that the strict colonial protectionism made available to their commercial expansion. The collapse of the colonial empires and the foundation of new independent states, starved of technological progress and military prestige, corrected this perilous disequilibrium. In this sense, the anti-colonialist revolution coincided with the general interest for the preservation of capitalism.

Afro-Asian events developed following the laws that Marxism discovered in the study of the dynamic of revolutionary upheavals: the weakening, as a consequence of internal contradictions, of the repressive state apparatus of the colonial bureaucracies, was matched by a corresponding explosion of social forces that it had previously contained. But the revolt of the colonial masses would not have risen to the level of a social revolution if the material premise of the elimination of the old social relations had been absent in colonial society, that’s to say if the “islands” of capitalism that the colonial occupiers had been constrained to “import” had not existed. This allowed the anti-colonialist political parties to formulate a revolutionary programme focused on the setting up of the nation state, the suppression of feudalism and the expansion of industry.

If we take into account the fact that, in numerous western states the anti-feudal revolution accompanied the struggle for national independence, then we have to acknowledge that the very causes that led to the origins of the bourgeois revolution in Europe are at work in the anti-colonial revolution. Would the results be identical? Our firm determinism clearly replies, yes. The revolution taking place will “westernise” the east; it will liquidate feudalism, will develop capitalist industry, will transform society in a bourgeois direction and, in doing so, will create the basis for the struggle between capitalism and socialism.

Whilst the first car factories are opening in China and the first steel factories in India, reactionary idealism replies from behind its last line of defence: black Africa. Our reactionaries, whose business is to refute the revolutionary dialectic, are busy discovering that “nothing has changed” over there. And yet the revolution has already consumed part of the continent. It is not yet the proletarian revolution, but it confirms Marxist principles.


The question of growing impoverishment

For Marxism, social poverty corresponds to the non-possession of the means of production, and in consequence, the non-provision of their product. The difference between the pre-bourgeois forms of production and capitalism lies in the fact that the community of non-waged workers of pre-bourgeois society has no defence against the perils that threaten it from outside (natural disasters), whereas it is, relatively speaking, its own master in so far as it owns the means of production. Under capitalism the reverse is true: the mass of workers are defenceless against social catastrophes, which are more blind and destructive than natural disasters and which pitilessly strike those who do not own or control the means of production. These are the conditions in which the industrial proletarian, who only owns his own labour power and who is rigorously excluded from all control over the means of production, finds himself. The producer (not as an individual, but as a class) is separated from the means of production.

Such is the direction of the capitalist revolution. By introducing multi-year plans, the Afro-Asian regimes are demonstrating that they are on the same path. The extension of capitalist industrialisation will increase social poverty, in the Marxist sense of the term. The progressive disappearance of pre-bourgeois village communities (in India it is estimated that there are a good 700,000 villages) where collective forms of appropriation of the land persist, together with the reduction of domestic industry and artisan production, and with proletarianisation of city-dwellers, will increase the number of immiserated, extending to Asia the fundamental contradiction of capitalism: fervent accumulation of capital at one extreme, and a rise in the number of without reserves at the other.

The dominant class and its intellectual servants busy themselves denying via “actual facts” the law of the accumulation of capital and of increasing impoverishment discovered by Marx, and demonstrating the inaccuracy of the Marxist forecast of the catastrophic end of bourgeois society that is deduced from this law. The various deceits of democratic capitalism, which give ownership of the enterprises to workers or to the worker-investor, and the various forms of social assistance all serve this purpose. But, while in Europe they try to “kolkhozise” the proletarian by conceding a few crumbs from social property, (for example in Russia they give a patch of ground and a cow for the personal use of the kolkhoz worker) in other parts of the world production without reserves is accelerating at an astounding rate.


The question of imperialism and war

Lenin, in his book on imperialism, polemicises against the false theory elaborated by Kautsky to cover his rejection of revolutionary principles and his justification for making concessions to gradualist socialism: the theory of ultra-imperialism.

«From the purely economic point of view”, writes Kautsky, “it is not impossible that capitalism will yet go through a new phase, that of the extension of the policy of the cartels to foreign policy, the phase of ultra-imperialism» i.e., of a super-imperialism, of a union of the imperialisms of the whole world and not struggles among them, a phase when wars shall cease under capitalism, a phase of «the joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital».

Lenin adds: «Kautsky’s utterly meaningless talk about ultra-imperialism encourages, among other things, that profoundly mistaken idea which only brings grist to the mill of the apologists of imperialism, i.e., that the rule of finance capital lessens the unevenness and contradictions inherent in the world economy, whereas in reality it increases them».

In Lenin’s text there follows a comparative table of the economic facts relative to various sectors of industrial production (coal, pig iron, spindles in the cotton industry) and communications (railways, mercantile fleets) in the five “principal economic areas” according to which a German economist divided the world, that’s to say: Central Europe, Britain, Russia, Eastern Asia and America. The difference in the degree of development and the disproportions between the regions considered is clear in this table. This is what Lenin wanted to demonstrate. He exclaims: «Compare this reality – the vast diversity of economic and political conditions, the extreme disparity in the rate of development of the various countries, etc., and the violent struggles among the imperialist states – with Kautsky’s silly little fable about ‘peaceful’ ultra-imperialism».

«Are not the international cartels which Kautsky imagines are the embryos of ‘ultra-imperialism’ (in the same way as one ‘can’ describe the manufacture of tablets in a laboratory as ultra-agriculture in embryo) an example of the division and the redivision of the world, the transition from peaceful division to non-peaceful division and vice versa?»

The Second World War has glaringly confirmed Lenin’s theses on imperialism, and not those of Kautsky: the division of the world sanctioned by the peace conference of 1919 was succeeded by a “redivision of the world”, which was concluded by the Yalta accords and the Treaty of Potsdam, where the new imperial colossuses of America and Russia sat at the victors’ table. But the cataclysm of the war brought in its wake the turbulence of the colonial empires, fostering industrialisation in the colonial and trans-oceanic countries where Lenin, when he wrote Imperialism already found that capitalism was developing “with the greatest rapidity”. We have already spoken of the tendency towards the unification, by capitalism, of the currently existing modes of production on the surface of the planet, considering that the ex-colonies tend to place themselves in the same framework from an economic standpoint, as the other capitalist states. But it is quite clear that it is only a qualitative unification: these are the modes of production that we are comparing, not capacities of production. The subsequent development of capitalism in the colonies will not wipe away the imbalances and disproportions created by the enormous quantitative differences, which will persist between the capitalist states of America and Europe, on the one hand, and the new gigantic states which are rising in Asia.

Isn’t a new form of colonialism – which one could define as “colonialism by remote control” – now replacing the old colonialism based on territorial occupation? The clash between the expansionist tendencies of international cartels, which are hiding behind an anti-colonialist façade, and the development of the Afro-Asiatic independence movements, constitutes an astonishing source of global contradictions. The struggle on three fronts which is unfolding in the Middle East between the rival imperialisms of America and Russia as well as Arab nationalism is an example that is far from being unique.

We can ask, with Lenin, «what means other than war could there be under capitalism to overcome the disparity between the development of productive forces and the accumulation of capital on the one side, and the division of colonies and spheres of influence for finance capital on the other?».

The anti-colonial revolution has given life to some major states on earth (important because of the extent of their territory, population and resources under the ground) and to lots of small states. The former will have to struggle for long time to escape from the tentacles of imperialism, but at the same time they will cultivate their own forms of imperialism, putting heavy industry to the fore (which inevitably, will have to develop within a monopolistic framework) and nurturing finance capital. The latter, by contrast, will try in vain to camouflage the fact that, despite their winning political independence, they remain fundamentally colonies similar in this respect to the republics of Central and South America. At any rate, war is the only remedy to the contradictions brought about by the inequality of global capitalist development. Or revolution.

On the question of imperialism and war, therefore, Afro-Asian events will only bring further confirmations for Marxism. This is where we conclude our balance sheet, which certainly does not claim to be exhaustive on the subject, but which is only intended to provide material for a more complete elaboration.