With the Bolshevik's victory the revision of Marx's ideas took on an accelerated pace, to the degree that the prophet himself could not have dreamt about. The prophet's bust and image adorned many public squares and halls. At the same time Marx's disciples kept splitting, competing to raise his banner higher, all oblivious that they are holding the prophet upside down.
As it is with all religions the original message, devoid of relation with the objective reality, collects dust and the politics of the day dressed up claims the prophet. It was the same with Marxism, the "class" question and Marx's dream of class equality and economic equality as the beginning of an emerging "classless" society were shoved aside for other political priorities.
Marx was imbued with concepts of class and class differentiation. This was an intra-society concept. He could not even tolerate the concept of "people" to define the society as a whole. He argued against the concept of "people" as anachronistic and full of misconception, a petty bourgeois nicety. For him everything, social and cultural included, first and foremost represented a class question.
Marx had these radical concepts of "class" and it is undeniable. But, Marx was also more in tune with some form of evolutionary processes in the society than his disciples turned out to believe. His concepts are a twisted and arbitrary notion of the evolution, but nevertheless he believed in stages of "historical" development, primitive tribes, feudal and capitalist stages each with their own class characteristics. For Marx the first stage was devoid of any classes, sort of the ground zero of social development. Within this framework of thought he could not see and did not see any equivalency between the backward societies of the Asia and the more advanced European societies. Marx saw these societies at different stages of their development. This was even more so when the comparison between African societies and the modern societies of the Europe and the United States were concerned.
This is the reason why it was easy and inevitable for Marx to see a "revolutionary" content in British incursions into India, and in general for all incursions into the continent of Asia and Africa. Colonialism was "revolutionary". This was the orthodox Marxist view, a thoroughly class view of the society with evolutionary stepping stages. This view of Marx is what modern Marxists try to cleanse him of. Radicalization generated by the Bolshevik victory, a victory in the most backward segments of Europe, became the cure to cleanse Marx from his "racist" concepts. But in reality this cleansing process took the last vestiges of evolutionary concepts out of Marx's theories. Marx wanted to be in tune with science, and in a sense he was, but his disciples preferred him as a prophet.
Up until 1914, the main conceptual historical trend, the economic and social evolution and its stages, enunciated by Marx were upheld by Marxists. Even Lenin up to the beginning of the WWI was yet talking about bourgeois democratic revolutions for most of the Europe and Russia. He chastised the radicals who scoffed at the possibility of democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe or Russia.
Advent of WWI shocked all European countries and rattled its intellectuals. Everyone was looking for an explanation of the mass slaughters in the battle fields. While the start of the war was clearly due to the rise of tensions in the more backward regions of Europe but some Marxists tried to find an anti capitalist explanation for it. The war was putting extreme pressures on tsarist Russia which was reeling under the assaults of a better equipped German armies. It was in this context that Lenin's now famous work, "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism", appeared toward the end of the war in 1916.
I have referred to this work by Lenin as "now famous", because on its own, as a theoretical work, it probably would have attracted dust only. It was his coup in October of 1917 that gave credence to this work and resurrected Marx, the second coming of Marx!
Among Marxists of his time Lenin was no theoretician but an excellent politician with a keen eye for detecting the relationship of forces right in front of him. One can see him as an opportunist, I do not mean it in a derogatory way but as a trait of a skilled politician, who took advantage of openings to advance his aims. That is how Lenin was perceived by the non Bolshevik Russian socialists, as an opportunist, but probably in the more derogatory connotation of this term.
Lenin's theoretical musings into Marxist fundamentals is merely a justification of those political positions. Eventually these political positions turned into a tool to twist Marx's notions of stages in the human development. It became an ideological drive to promote backwardness and justify it politically. Overall, the success of that piece of work, "Imperialism…", is all due to the capable general in Lenin than the power of his theoretical thinking.
Well, Let's see what Lenin's theory of "imperialism" is all about and then look at some of the consequences of that theory. Lenin's theory is not complicated, he begins with a set of statistics to show the strength of the industrial production in the Western Europe and the U.S. and the importance of finance, "finance capital", in the buildup and extension of the industrial production. He observes that these economic activities has decisively crossed the national boundaries and the capitalist interests are unbounded. By his digressions into economics all he proves is that the capitalist societies are getting stronger and the potential for dominating other societies is strong and getting stronger.
If you are a Marxist and already have been afflicted with the Marx's economic theories and consider "capitalism" as an evil system, then by reading Lenin's theory of "Imperialism" you are supposed to shudder in your skin and you probably will. Every superstitious person will behave that way when an omen is mentioned.
If you are not superstitious and you are not a Marxist then a look at the history will tell you that our past, ancestral past, is the sequence of stronger societies dominating weaker ones. In each case elements of economic and social organizational skills gave impetus to that strength and paved the way for dominance. The history tells us that those relationships of domination and resistance were the rule and periods of peaceful coexistence has been short, an exception or more accurately they were preludes to coming struggles for domination. To Marxists surprise this also applies to the Marx's pristine primitive societies. They all were either a dominating tribe or a dominated tribe as soon as they came in contact with each other. Contact and contest went hand in hand.
This contest was always bloody, and if population scale is taken into consideration, they were bloodier and more savage than the contests today. Members of the dominating societies at all levels of that society, if you feel more comfortable with the word "class" then all classes in that society, benefited from that domination. The dominated society either coped, integrated or learned and prepared for its turn to push back or move beyond, usually a complex form of all of the above. The meaning and the consequences of this reality of our social existence, or more accurately, how can we understand this evolutionary pressure, is a separate discussion that I will return to it later. Let's get back to Lenin and his thesis.
There are two ways of reading Lenin's thesis. One is to ignore his disdainful, moralistic tone and just consider the data he is presenting. At the level of economic prognosis one can only reach this conclusion, that capitalism has grown deep roots in a few countries of the Western Europe and the U.S. and with all its might is spilling over into the rest of the world. As a system, as a way of social organization it was showing signs for progress that was unprecedented in the human history and it was pulling other societies into its orbit. If you add to it the condition of the life of common people in those countries at the time of Lenin's writing, 1916, compare it to when Marx began his criticism of the condition of the "working class" in Britain in the early 1800s, clearly there was a huge improvement. These facts would not leave much room for the validity of Marx's declaration that the capitalists were "digging their own grave". With all this evidence at hand an objective person would have said, there is a problem with Marx's theory.
Lenin could not be objective, he was a representative of the intellectual resistance to capitalism rooted in the aristocratic and backward sections of Europe. The war and its toll on the more vulnerable parts of Europe prompted him to see darkness in the data that he was studying. He saw a bigger evil than what Marx had seen. Lenin detected "Imperialism". What political conclusions could he draw from all this grim situation. It is simple, he doubled down on Marxism by declaring, "Imperialism the highest stage of capitalism".
Capitalism seemed to be shooting up even higher than what Marx had perceived. From this Lenin's conclusion is weird. It is not based on Marxist economic fundamentals, labor and capital. His conclusion is entirely political, an arbitrary one at that. Lenin told his narrow circle of Bolshevik cadre, capitalism is "Imperialism" and it is at its highest stage. He consoles his cadres, do not worry, this is it, It cannot go anywhere from here. It is at its "highest stage", there is nothing beyond "highest". Lenin tells his cadres that what you are seeing looks powerful but actually it is "morbid" capitalism. It is sort of a walking dead capitalism, its limbs are falling off. As time passed "morbid" changed to Mao's "Paper Tiger" and Khomeini's "Great Satan". To that list you can add epithets from Castro of Cuba and Venezuela's Chavez.
Lenin's theory is nothing but a silly epithet. Since the time of Lenin's thesis the rest of Europe have joined the march of the "walking dead", China and Russia are looking forward to ways of completing their morph into a "morbid" capitalism, a democratic one! Even segments of the Islamic Republic establishment in Iran are looking for a way out of their folly, and they need democratic capitalism if they have yet any hope for survival.
If you think there is anything more to Lenin's theory of "Imperialism" then read it again! And please do drop me a comment about your findings!
Next I will deal with the implications of this theory in light of the Bolsheviks' victory in Russia, a more complicated and interesting subject.
The above piece is part of a book that I am developing. If you would like to follow, please read the blogs titled "Perspective..." and then read all the blogs which the title name ends with " -- Book". As you might have guessed, you have to read from the earlier posts moving to the present.