The Crisis of Capitalism and the Economics of Imperialist War

I’ve posted extensively on political economy and the current financial crisis. This video (below) is particularly interesting given some of the advanced demands coming from those that oppose the bailout (see No Bailout for Billionaires!). A lot of progressive demands are being put forward to deal with the financial crisis.

Some of the key demands are: 

  • a moratorium on forclosures, evictions and rent hikes
  • more government assistance to low-income people
  • criminal prosecution of banking, finance, insurance and all other executives whose companies have benefited from the foreclosure crisis
  • creation and funding of jobs programs throughout the country to eliminate unemployment
  • an immediate end to the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

I want to draw particular attention to the last demand on the list, and we need to look at all of this from a class struggle perspective. We need to look at all of this with the understanding that it is only the rich that profit from these wars. These brutal imperialist wars are all about neo-colonial dominaton and strategic control of resources for the benefit of the U.S. ruling class. They deserve opposition for that reason alone. Sure, these fat cats are making money by the fistful by sending poor and working people to fight and die and kill more poor folks in far away lands, but we don’t see it. Our class sees nothing but rising unemployment, inflation, declining wages, cutbacks to social services, and all the rest of it. Reaganomics doesn’t work. Nothing is ‘trickling down’ on us but shit. It is becoming more and more obvious to everyone, as the finanical crisis grows, that the money from those wars could be much better spent on the needs of poor, oppressed, and working people here at home (after reparations are paid to the Iraqi and Afghan people) than on these unjust wars for profit and control. We must continue to put forward the slogans, Troops Out Now! and Money for Human Needs, Not for War!

These wars are imperialist wars, and this is a crisis of imperialism, which is capitalism in its most advanced (and most moribund) stage. 

Lenin defines imperialism this way:

 (1) the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life; (2) the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy; (3) the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance; (4) the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves, and (5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed. Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.

(V.I. Lenin – Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism)

What is the role of communists in all of this? “Everything reactionary is the same,” Mao Zedong once said, “if you don’t hit it, it won’t fall.” We are coming closer to a point where the people cannot live in the old way and the ruling class cannot rule in the old way. To go from there to social revolution, there must be a strong revolutionary organization. The role of communists in this crisis is to organize for revolution around the immediate demands of the masses, based on the mass line, in all of the movements of progressive struggle. We need to fight along side the broad masses of the people to help win these demands, we need to work to raise the level of consciousness and struggle based on the dynamic objective conditions of the time, and we need to build up our subjective forces. We need to win the advanced activists in these struggles over to Marxism-Leninism and, on that basis, build a new communist party that can contend with the ruling class for power.

Mao said it best in one of his poems:

So many deeds cry out to be done,
And always urgently;
The world rolls on,
Time presses.
Ten thousand years are too long,
Seize the day, seize the hour!

10 responses to “The Crisis of Capitalism and the Economics of Imperialist War

  1. I am new to this ideology but deeply curious to learn as much as possible; that being said, I hope my questions are received as intent to learn, rather than intent to discredit.

    You mention above that the money spent on these wars would be better spent on the American people who so desperately need it during this crisis (after reparations to the Afghan and Iraqi people). While I have been opposed to the war from the start, I would liken immediate withdrawal to burning down your neighbor’s home then walking away. Don’t we owe it to the people whose lives we have destroyed to remain and at least pick up what pieces we can to help them rebuild?

    I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Thank you.

  2. Erin, thanks for your comment!

    That’s a good question. Here’s why I think your point about staying to rebuild is incorrect, however. Let’s simplify it by focusing on the Iraq war.

    First, as I said above, “These brutal imperialist wars are all about neo-colonial dominaton and strategic control of resources for the benefit of the U.S. ruling class.” This is the way the U.S. behaves in foreign countries. Henry Kissenger put it this way, “The U.S. has no friends, only interests.” No one should trust the U.S. to fix anything. It is like expecting the rapist to stay and comfort the rape victim.

    Second, I have some friends who are Iraqis, and they often raise the point that Iraqis invented human civilization, and they can rebuild just fine without us, thank you very much. They will continue to engage in armed resistance to get rid of the Americans and their collaborators. They will do this as long as it takes, because they are defending their homes and families, not to mention their human dignity, their rich history and culture, and right to national self-determination. When the smoke and dust clears the Iraqi people will rebuild their country as they see fit. That is the principle of self-determination which all progressives should uphold without hesitation. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Vietnamese revolution, said, “we will rebuild our country ten times more beautiful”. The Iraqis feel much the same way.

    Third, I also have some friends who are Iraq war veterans, who insist that a continued presence, under any guise, will only lead to more strife. Furthermore, a continued presence, as indicated above, will only result in more dead Iraqis and more dead soldiers, as the rich continue to the line their pockets by war-profiteering and robbing the Iraqis of their oil.

    This is the reason that the demand for ‘Troops Out Now!’ is accompanied by the damand for reparations payed to the Iraqi people. This means Iraqi people get the money to rebuild, they get to rebuild on their own terms, and they get the jobs that are created by reconstruction (rather than U.S. contractors). This is self-determination.

    This is why reparations and immediate withdrawl are both key demands of groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War.

    Please read this article: Big Oil Going Back into Iraq. It does very well to explain the root causes of the war, and gives a good picture of what U.S. ‘reconstruction’ will look like.

    I am glad you want to learn more, Erin. I hope my response helps a little and I hope you continue to participate in our discussions here.

  3. Thank you very much! Those are some very salient points, and I look forward to reading the articles that you recommended and continuing the dialog.

  4. I was member of the WPB.(Workers Party of Belgium), I am expelled in 2005. Until lets say 2004 it was more or less an organisation you can compare with your organisation Free Road Socialist Organisation.
    Now it is a reformist party with a reformist program.
    I am analysing (using all text against revisionism that Ludo Martens, the former president of the WPB wrote) how this could happen.
    The general conclusion is that a revisionist line can develope, when inside the communist party there is negligence of fight against opportunism. My meaning is that you (or your organisation) is using in an opportunist way a quote of Mao to develop a program of reforms (“a moratorium on forclosures, evictions and rent hikes; more government assistance to low-income people; criminal prosecution of banking, finance, insurance and all other executives whose companies have benefited from the foreclosure crisis; creation and funding of jobs programs throughout the country to eliminate unemployment; an immediate end to the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.”)
    In fact are you saying that the most avantguard program points that the mass-struggle can take as their program are those points…
    In a text of Ludo Martens (I will look after it and send it to you) he quotes Lenin where Lenin say (I don’ t know exactly with what words so I paraphrase him) that the communists must make propaganda (in 1914 and following years) against war, and change the war in revolution. This on a moment that the masses (mass-line?) are at that moment pro-war (defending the homeland) (And Kautsky said that on a moment that when the working masses are for war (as defending their homeland) you cannot go against the masses with a program AGAINST war and for revolution)
    I want to say that (that is at least my opinion) on this moment a communist party has to say that imperialism has proven that it has no solution for whatever social need an sits in a crise where it has no way out. It can only prolonge its life with war and more exploitation of the working class (and that are also those africans that dig for gold, diamants and minerals for our computers and mobile phones).
    The only way and in a way of proletarian internationalism the workers of the USA (of course this counts also for “our” workers of Europe) has to organise themselves through the experiences of class struggle in one American (in Europe, one European) organisation of all workers (you can compare it with the Soviets) with the final goal to “exproptiate the expropriators” that is the socialist revolution with the building of socialism.
    Your program of reforms will be the program suggested by the bourgeoisie itself faced with a working class that wants revolution. It will be the result of a revolutionary struggle that wil be stopped half the way. And in most cases the bourgeoisie will “propose” radical reforms (like you ar now proposing) to calm down revolutionary struggle COMBINED with fascist repression….
    Coming with a program of reforms at the BEGINNING of the struggle is a form of opportunism (that is my opinion) The WPB has done things like that. And that opportunism was one of the reasons of the development of revisionism and the change of the WPB of a communist party into a reformist party with a reformist program.
    Of course this is only my opinion, not the eternal truth and food for discussion.
    Greetings of Belgium

  5. Nico, you raise a lot of interesting points, but I do not agree. I think we can discuss those points and come to clearer understanding of the issues here.

    Mainly, I think it is a question of the application of the mass line.

    As I said in the post above:

    The role of communists in this crisis is to organize for revolution around the immediate demands of the masses, based on the mass line, in all of the movements of progressive struggle.

    Let me expand upon this point a little here.

    Part of the problem is that I just don’t think you have a clear understanding of conditions in the United States. You say,

    Your program of reforms will be the program suggested by the bourgeoisie itself faced with a working class that wants revolution.

    Lenin made the point that three factors are needed for revolution. The people cannot live in the old way, the ruling class cannot rule in the old way, and there must be a strong revolutionary organization. But, like it or not, that is not where we are at.

    The U.S. working class in not conscious of the need for revolutionary activity (a fact that will not change overnight). Furthermore, the bourgeoisie, faced with these advanced demands, is forcing through their agenda to rob the people of billions of dollars. Both of our main bourgeois parties are fully exposing themselves by ignoring the demands of the people and circling the wagons around the ruling class. We need to sum this up with people as we go and draw general lessons from this. Through this struggle we can make gains towards building a united, multinational, Marxist-Leninist Communist Party, something that does not exist in this country.

    I think we need to explore the mass line a little more to come to clear understanding of what is to be done, of why it is important to organize for revolution around the immediate demands of the advanced masses of workers and oppressed people.

    In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily “from the masses, to the masses”. This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action. Then once again concentrate ideas from the masses and once again go to the masses so that the ideas are persevered in and carried through. And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge.

    (Mao Zedong, “Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership“)

    Furthermore, Mao has said,

    To link oneself with the masses, one must act in accordance with the needs and wishes of the masses. All work done for the masses must start from their needs and not from the desire of any individual, however well-intentioned. It often happens that objectively the masses need a certain change, but subjectively they are not yet conscious of the need, not yet willing or determined to make the change. In such cases, we should wait patiently. We should not make the change until, through our work, most of the masses have become conscious of the need and are willing and determined to carry it out. Otherwise we shall isolate ourselves from the masses. Unless they are conscious and willing, any kind of work that requires their participation will turn out to be a mere formality and will fail…. There are two principles here: one is the actual needs of the masses rather than what we fancy they need, and the other is the wishes of the masses, who must make up their own minds instead of our making up their minds for them.

    (“The United Front in Cultural Work“)

    Do you think Mao was a reformist?

    You mention Lenin and the anti-war postion when “the masses” held pro-war views (“defence of the fatherland”). Yes, that’s all well and good, but it fails to draw the distinction that Mao makes in his dicussion of the mass line in “Methods of Leadership”:

    The masses in any given place are generally composed of three parts, the relatively active, the intermediate and the relatively backward. The leaders must therefore be skilled in uniting the small number of active elements around the leadership and must rely on them to raise the level of the intermediate element and to win over the backward elements. A leading group that is genuinely united and linked with the masses can be formed only gradually in the process of mass struggle, and not in isolation from it.

    So without this understanding, that we must unite the advanced to raise the level of the intermediate and win over or isolate the backwards, it would be easy to make errors, either Rightist or ultra-Left.

    My point is this:

    These demands are the advanced demands that are coming from the masses themselves, not from Freedom Road or any other left formation. They are the concentrated form of the scattered and unsystematic ideas that are being put forward by our class, who are struggling to keep their jobs, their homes, to buy groceries, to keep their wages from being cut. It would be foolish not to engage these demands and organize our struggles around them.

    That said, you can read some of the other posts here on this topic, such as “No Bailout For Billionaires” (which I referenced in this post), and things should be clear:

    The real problem is the system. The problem is capitalism… This crisis will cause thoughtful people to start considering the alternative to capitalism, which is actual socialism.

    But it would be wrong to stop there. When must work to clearify, or concentrate or systematize, the masses demands so that they are clear, and we must organize with the masses to achieve them. We have to engage with the consciousness of the masses as it is. We cannot make revolution without them, and they are not yet convinced. We have to organize around their immediate demands, draw general lessons about the nature of the enemy and the system of imperialism from the particular struggle, and sum things up as we go. From this process we can raise the level of consciousness and struggle of the masses, build subjective forces to fight (which are lacking), and draw in the most advanced to become Marxist-Leninists. It would be adventurism to go along as you propose.

  6. Comradezero, I think your response to the comrade from Belgium was excellent.

    I think of it also as a question of getting things right in the relation between the general and the particular. Most U.S. left groups err on one side or the other. Some groups stand on the sidelines of struggle and shout at the masses about the need for communism, the need to change the whole system, meanwhile staying aloof from the actual particular struggles the masses are waging, and being deaf to the needs of the masses in the here and now. They don’t get that the general resides in the particular and the people mainly learn about the nature of the system and what kind of change is needed through their experience in particular struggles.

    The other error, the rightist error, is to get lost in the particular details of the struggle and focus only on that, seeking a reformist solution to one particular issue without ever raising the fact that, as said above, the general resides in the particular and that particular injustices are just examples of the general systemic problem of capitalism that creates misery for the broad masses in a million different ways, so there is the need to overthrow that system and create socialism.

    I think the statements from Fight Back Newspaper strike the balance well – dealing with the particulars of the situation and putting forward demands based on those particulars – while also naming the system responsible and posing socialism as the solution. At the same time FRSO is building communist organization so the communists will continue to get stronger and better positioned to once and for all do away with the repeated and inevitable crises of capitalism and imperialist wars of conquest.

  7. Dear Comradezero,

    Thanks for the excellent post and for the blog itself. I use your site as a “Primary Resource” in my blog roll (since it so well done and provides the scope of information I want people to know but don’t choose to provide myself). Rather I have a more specific focus on the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist line, particularly in the thought of Badiou.

    Your post today inspired my

    http://stefandav.blogspot.com/2008/10/lenin-and-october-2008-bailout.html

    The salient question therein serving as comment on your topic:

    Is this an apex of capitalistic history? Are we experiencing the result of that highest stage, imperialism as described above by Lenin? Will this present financial market crash generate an “Event” as posited by Badiou, to which a longer term allegiance to the “Truth” in the “Event” engenders a radical transformation of coordinates of political power that will favor evolution of what seems now but an egalitarian utopia, a dream?

    Let us work from this for the revolutionary explosion, listen to…. Slavoj Zizek – On Alain Badiou and Logiques des mondes:

    “In the revolutionary explosion as an Event, another utopian dimension shines through, the dimension of universal emancipation which, precisely, is the excess betrayed by the market reality which takes over “the day after” – as such, this excess is not simply abolished, dismissed as irrelevant, but, as it were, transposed into the virtual state, continuing to haunt the emancipatory imaginary as a dream waiting to be realized. The excess of revolutionary enthusiasm over its own “actual social base” or substance is thus literally that the future of/in the past, a ghost-like Event waiting for its proper embodiment.”

  8. Hi ComradeZero,

    Thanks for your interesting blog.

    “Money for Human Needs, Not for War!”

    I just wanted to question the widespread use of this slogan. I think it creates illusions in the imperialist system and does not go very far in developing revolutionary consciousness. It contributes to the idea that war and militarism are not inherent in the imperialist system, that these things are policy decisions that can be changed, rather than foundational aspects of this society.

    The slogan seems to be drawn from Trotskyism and its concept of “transitional demands,” which IMO insults the intelligence of the masses by leading movements around “transitional demands” they know cannot be fulfilled under the current system.

    Part of the application of the mass line is the concentration and synthesis of the masses’ ideas in accordance with Marxist theory — I think “Money for Human Needs, Not for War!” is missing this part.

    I remember a couple instances while doing antiwar work at a state university in the early years of the Iraq occupation of being challenged on this slogan by students would ask: What if this country provided money for both human needs and war? Would that make the Iraq war right? The point they implied was that the just or unjust character of the Iraq war should be judged in itself, not by diverting the question to economic issues in the US.

  9. comradebabo,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I think what you are saying here is basically correct. On its own, “Money for Human Needs, Not For War” is a reformist slogan. I think it is fine as a secondary slogan to “Troops Out Now“, but “Troops Out Now” has to be the central and principle demand of the antiwar movement. Without it the antiwar movement is subject to being misdirected in all the ways that you suggest and more.

    On the other hand, “Money for Human Needs, Not For War” very directly addresses the felt needs and immediate demands of the broad masses, so I think it is quite important to include as well, as I’ve said in my post. I don’t think this is about ‘transitional demands’ at all but rather about responding to the demands of the masses in the way Mao talks about (and as I outlined in my comment above getting deeper into the mass line).

    In 2007, Freedom Road wrote an excellent document about this: The Movement Against the War in Iraq: A New Period and Our Tasks. I would urge you to take a look at that.

    Thanks again!

  10. Thank you for your reaction. I have noticed already longtime your blog (the old one) and was surprised about your positive article about Ludo Martens book about Stalin. That was in fact the trigger that I stayed interested in your blog.
    I react on your article “The Crisis of Capitalism and the Economics of Imperialist War” because I thought I saw some opportunism that was analogue to that of the WPB.
    In fact there was a point of view developed in the WPB, about “mass-line” based on quotes of Mao but developed on a judged as “disappointed” result in….. elections. (I will once explain that further on my weblog – I did it allready but in Dutch)
    You have at least a point, that I have to study the concrete situation in the USA and cannot transpose an analyse as if their are analogies. Each reality is concrete.

    No I don’t think Mao Zedong is a reformist.

    You wrote:
    “These demands are the advanced demands that are coming from the masses themselves, not from Freedom Road or any other left formation. They are the concentrated form of the scattered and unsystematic ideas that are being put forward by our class, who are struggling to keep their jobs, their homes, to buy groceries, to keep their wages from being cut. It would be foolish not to engage these demands and organize our struggles around them….
    The real problem is the system. The problem is capitalism… This crisis will cause thoughtful people to start considering the alternative to capitalism, which is actual socialism.
    But it would be wrong to stop there. When must work to clearify, or concentrate or systematize, the masses demands so that they are clear, and we must organize with the masses to achieve them. We have to engage with the consciousness of the masses as it is. We cannot make revolution without them, and they are not yet convinced.”
    I agree, at least for the biggest part, with this. Of course much depend of how you do this in the practice in the concrete reality. And about that I can not formulate a judgement because I can not participate in this practice, living in Europe.
    But how “people start considering the alternative to capitalism”, socialism? And how to solve the problem “yet they are not yet convinced”?
    I think that there rest a task for the avantguard part of the mass (a communist party is avantguard to lead the working mass AND at the same time is PART of that mass) So you are that part of the mass that “consider the alternative” and you are that part of the masses that “is convinced”. But when YOU DON’ T discuss on an, as much as concrete way as possible, each time that you share in the massstruggle (and not in a general or formal way AS IF YOU ARE yourself in fact not convinced – and that is the way revisionists talk about revolution and socialism: not concrete, and as if it is an interesting but utopian alternative or for a far far future) about how the mobilization and organisation of those same masses towards revolution in the USA and socialism in the USA, who will do that?
    And how will bigger parts of the masses (in their experiences in the practice of struggle) will “start considering the alternative to capitalism” and larger parts of the masses “become convinced”?
    But I will study the material on your weblog and that of Freedom Road more, so perhaps I will be able to formulated answers to my own questions.

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