This article aims at contributing to current debates on the ‘new imperialism’ by presenting the main results of a reading of Marx’s Capital in light of his writings on colonialism, which were unknown in the early Marxist debate on imperialism. It aims to prove that, in his main work, Marx does not analyse a national economy or – correspondingly – an abstract model of capitalist society, but a world-polarising and ever-expanding system. This abstraction allows the identification of the laws of development of capitalism and its antagonisms, and reflects the tendency of the capital of the dominant states, by making permanent recourse also to methods of so-called ‘primitive accumulation’, to expand and increase the exploitation of workers worldwide, and, at the same time, the cooperation between them. What, for Marx, was later defined as imperialism is the concrete form of the process of ‘globalisation’ of the capital of the dominant states. With the development of his analysis, Marx became increasingly aware of the economic and political consequences of imperialism. In his activity within the First International, with regard to the question of Irish independence, he affirmed the fundamental importance of building a real solidarity between class struggles in imperialist countries and anti-colonial resistance in colonised and dependent countries. His examination of imperialism and internationalist perspective were downplayed, denied, if not completely reversed in the interpretation and systematisation of his thought by reformist leaders within the Second International. In their attempt to react against this tendency and develop an analysis and a political strategy adequate to the new phase of generalised imperialist expansion, increased inter-imperialist rivalries and rising anti-colonial resistance, Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin reaffirmed the centrality of the critique of imperialism at the economic and at the political levels. Even if they were partially unaware of this, they thus developed and expanded on some aspects already present in Marx’s work.
PradellaLuciaMondializzazione e critica dell’economia politica alla luce della nuova edizione storico-critica degli scritti di Marx ed EngelsGlobalisation and the Critique of Political Economy: New Evidence from the MEGA²2012Ph.D. thesis University of Naples Federico II and Paris X-Nanterre
Brewer1990p. 19. This opinion is shared by Roman Rosdolsky who affirms that only in Marx’s projected books on the state international trade and the world market would Marx have overcome his alleged ‘national’ framework and develop an analysis of ‘the international’: ‘. . . The domestic economy must be understood in its external relations to other capitalist (and non-capitalist) countries and ultimately as one element in a totality which embraces all countries. Only then do we arrive at the category “world market” and the “world economy” as a “rich totality of many definitions and relations”.’ (Rosdolsky 1989 p. 27.)
Ashman and Callinicos2006p. 108.
Marx and Engels1979p. 222.
Marx and Engels1980pp. 17–21.
Marx1996p. 580. For similar formulations see Marx 2008 pp. 73 651. ‘Wir die gesamte Produktion des Weltmarkts als kapitalistisch betrieben voraussetzen’ Marx 2008 pp. 655 697.
Fawcett1865p. 227 n. 56.
Marx1996pp. 606–7. See also Theories on Surplus-Value (Marx 1968 p. 423; and Marx 1971 p. 253).
Harvey2007pp. 59 62.
Marx1996pp. 764 703.
Marx and Engels1991pp. 356–7.
Marx and Engels1992p. 63.
Marx and Engels1987p. 504.
Marx and Engels1985bp. 194.
Stone (ed.) 1994; Brewer1989.
Marx1996p. 634. For the problematic relationship between increasing cooperation and autonomous organisation of the working class see note 46.
Marx and Engels1985ap. 422.
Marx and Engels1976p. 471; Marx and Engels 1977 p. 365.
See for example Said1985. Even though I cannot discuss this point in more depth in the present article it is worth mentioning that according to Aijaz Ahmad the idea of the ‘double mission’ of British colonialism in India is not Eurocentric in itself but has to be understood within Marx’s dialectics. It followed the framework of his theory of history and was even a common idea among later anti-colonial nationalists (Ahmad 1992 pp. 226 234). As August Nimtz has shown (Nimtz 2002) Marx’s writings prove that he did not underestimate the importance of the labour of the peasants or their possible revolutionary role nor did he underestimate the persistence of slavery or the coerced wage-labour peculiar to colonial regimes.
Marx and Engels1983p. 342.
Marx and Engels1988p. 398. According to August Nimtz this turn is ‘most significant since it makes clear that the revolutionary “lever” for him contrary to the usual Marxological claim did not reside exclusively in the advanced industrialized capitalist world.’ (Nimtz 2000 p. 204.)
Marx and Engels1988p. 473.
Marx and Engels1988pp. 473–5.
See Krader 1972 and 1975; Anderson2010pp. 196–236.
Bauer 1906–7 p. 489.
Engels1993p. 57. In the Preface to Imperialism Lenin affirms that ‘The pamphlet here presented to the reader was written in the spring of 1916 in Zurich. In the conditions in which I was obliged to work there I naturally suffered somewhat from a shortage of French and English literature and from a serious dearth of Russian literature. However I made use of the principal English work on imperialism the book by J.A. Hobson with all the care that in my opinion that work deserves’ (Lenin 1996 p. 1).