Archive for July, 2009

Reading Lenin.

July 23, 2009

Reading Lenin. 09.19.2008

July 21, 2009

SESSION 2. The Banks and Their New Role

July 18, 2009

Session 2.

Discussing Chapter 2 “The Banks and Their New Role” and Chapter 3 “Finance Capital and Financial Oligarchy”.

Moderator: Gregory Sholette.

dear reading Lenin group,

I enjoyed last evening very much. Just a reminder, for tomorrow’s discussion I asked you to think about the following things when you read chapter’s 2 & 3.

1. note the various metaphors that Lenin uses to help the reader picture what he is describing – how have these influenced our cultural imagination and are they still valid in any way?

2. how does Lenin’s description of banks and their central role in early 20th Century capitalism hold up today in the deregulated world of neoliberallism ?

3. in what ways, if any, have laws been enacted that successfully buffer the negative effects of monopolies and cartels, and is perhaps a “world” legal system a hope in avoiding some new imperialist global war, or will the powerful countries (economically and militarily) always use such legal mechanisms for their own benefit anyway?

4. Lenin focuses a great deal on the unfair distribution (concentration) of socially-produced wealth – this is really his biggest issue with capitalism (after all, he is not calling for some Arcadian or nostalgic return to pre-capitalism, but he wants to plow forwards through and then past capitalist industrialization to a world of post-capitalist communism) One thing that Lenin sees as blocking a more just distribution of wealth is control over the means of production by fewer and fewer industrialists, or corporations. We might call this control the inter-locking directorates of power (someone from Exxon sits on the board of BP who sits on the board of Chase). But in an age of widespread stock investment (especially through amassed retirement funds), and when it seems consumers have a new ability to force companies to change based on their demands or dislikes (the greening of automobiles was suggested last night), has an entirely new and unexpected governing mechanism (at least for Lenin) arisen that gives capitalism a decentralized and “human face”? Or, is all this, like the “new networked economy,” really just a far subtler form of control (through marketing perhaps?) that appears to provide a means of democratic participation, while in reality it just reinforces the same oligarchy behind the scenes?

Please, please also write down your own questions. As we discovered yesterday this was a very helpful way to engage the material and make it “our own.”

In addition, if anyone has time to dig up some answers or stats on things raised last night that would be great, I mean for example whether or not neoliberalism (the post welfare state, “free market ” policies of Reagan/Thatcher/Milton Friedman) have actually elevated living standards for most people, or just a greater number but still the minority of people in places like the US, Chile, China and so forth.

I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

best regards,

INTRODUCTION. Concentration of Production and Monopolies

July 18, 2009

SESSION 1. INTRODUCTION. Discussing Preface and Chapter 1 “Concentration of Production and Monopolies”.

Moderator: Olga Kopenkina, Yevgeniy Fiks.

Agenda and Questions:

Presentation included video with the interveiws on Wall Streets.

1. How much Lenin’s account of imperialism is relevant today?
2. What are the manifestations of capitalism’s rottenness one can discern now?

3. How can we update Lenin now in the present crisis in time that is characterized by the steady diminution of the state’s functions of social regulation and decline of the nation-state, which is no longer what it was in the aftermath of the First World War?

Lenin’s definition of Imperialism [Lenin, p. 17, International Publishers, NY.]:

International collaboration of capital. Capital had succeeded in international collaboration much more quickly than the workers. Imperialism used its economic superiority to prevent the development of the dominated countries, and that inequalities between countries were an asset for imperialism. We shall see that in this sense, the present globalization can be equally considered as belonging to the imperialist stage or as representing a new expression of it.

Lenin’s notion of “new imperialism” he copied from Hobson: “The new imperialism differs from the older, first, in substituting for the ambition of a single growing empire the theory and practice of competing empires, each motivated by similar lusts of political aggrandizement and commercial gain; secondly, in the dominance of financial interests or investing over mercantile interests.” The old imperialism had died with Napoleon on S. Helena; the new imperialism corresponded to the foundation of a new world empire by Great Britain, which led other nations to follow suit and thus to economic competition with other peoples.

Features of Imperialism:

– a particular historical stage of capitalism, the stage of monopoly capitalism; Highest stage is NOT ‘last’, not ‘final’. It’s present.

– it’s characterized by decay and parasitism. [Lenin. P. 13]. Lenin: Bourgeoisie from republican and democratic turned to being reactionary, rentiers living from ‘coupon clipping’, export of capital, which is ‘parasitism squared’, political reaction is specific to the nature of imperialism, it is a principle of venality and corruption and produces “Panamas of all kinds’; exploitation of oppressed nations: the ‘civilized’ world lives parasitically on the body of the noncivilized.

– capitalism in its agony, marking the transition toward socialism, owing to the socialization of labor, which is far more advanced than in the previous stage.

1. Contemporary globalization is nothing other than Lenin’s ‘new imperialism,’ now reaching a still higher stage of development. Imperialism is a constellation of concepts, in which capitalism, exploitation, property, classes and class struggle, social democracy, and revolutionary transition still keep their full meaning.

2. United States now holds the place once occupied by Great Britain. In 1915 Lenin wrote that US was the ‘leading country of modern capitalism… is in many respects the model for our bourgeois civilization and is its ideal.” Globalization is thus one and the same as Americanization. What’s American empire look like?

Ignatieff: “America’s empire is not like empires of times past, built on colonies, conquest and the white man’s burden. We are no longer in the era of the United Fruit Company, when American corporations needed the Marines to secure their investments overseas. The 21st century imperium is a new invention in the annals of political science, an empire lite, a global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known. It is the imperialism of a people who remember that their country secured its independence by revolt against an empire, and who like to think of themselves as the friend of freedom everywhere. It is an empire without consciousness of itself as such, constantly shocked that its good intentions arouse resentment abroad.”

Update on:
– the ‘monopolists throttling those which do not submit to their yoke;’ [Lenin 26.]
– the ‘domination and violence that is associated with monopoly capital’ [Lenin 27]
– financial oligarchies, joint-stock companies, and the illusion of their ‘democratization’ [Lenin 27 – ‘socialization’]
– contamination of politics and other fields by monopoly capital,
– the export of capital,
– the debt (the weight of debt controlled by international monetary institutions led to the ruin of the entire continent Africa);
– the hunt for raw materials [Lenin 27]
– the dependence of countries that are in principle independent,
– inter-imperialist rivalries,
– the project of a United States of Europe,
– the ‘increase in immigration into these countries from the more backward countries where lower wages are paid’,
– the defense of imperialism by ‘bourgeois scholars and publicists’.

Following Lenin’s precedent of labeling capitalism as ‘parasitic’ and ‘rotten”, can we now speak in general on contemporary criminalization of economy? We have such things like the threat of nuclear weapons, the dangers to the environment, the foreseeable shortage of drinking water, and the general commodification that extends to the sale of organs and the massive prostitution of children.

3. How do things stand with the relationship that Lenin established between imperialism and the transition to socialism? The point that revolutionary process begun in 1917 and collapsed with the end of the Soviet system, while capitalism proved to be unexpectedly vital, has succeeded in overcoming its crises and re-establishing with globalization an equilibrium that enables it to fulfill its essence, conferring on it a geostrategic mastery without precedent, — is it true, or not? Was Rosa Luxemburg right when she thought that capitalism is incapable of achieving globalization, as its internal contradictions will devour it before this point; only socialism can do so.

What is a real flaw of this book is that analyzes Imperialism as it was built within the developed industrial countries, Great Britain, Germany, and US. England was the classical capitalist model (with colonies). Lenin’s model is pretty much limited as he leaves out the periferial capitalist models in the smaller countries.