Imperialism as Lenin famously pointed out was the highest stage of capitalism. It was the stage when capitalism had, in the more advanced nations, outgrown the national borders of the state and was compelled outwards in search of new investment opportunities and the control of resources. A period of war and revolution. Nothing has changed from that perspective except that imperialism itself has now reached and began to row back from its own apogee.
Under the tutelage of US imperialism, the mightiest imperialist power ever seen in human history by some distance, capitalism created a globalised economy: an economy in which political divisions no longer prevented the development of the division of labour such that the world economy began to resemble a single whole. The US required the co-operation of Stalinism to impose its hegemony on a post-World War Two West and its spheres of influence. In order to extend that hegemony over the whole world it required its complete surrender which was delivered in the late 80s and early 90s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satelites.
However, as Lenin also famourly pointed out in his book about imperailism, a unified world imperialism is an impossibility. As soon as the Soviet Union collapsed America and its subordinate imperialist allies set about consolidating itself as the sole and only world super power. The supreme expression of this political objective was to be found in the programme of the neo-Conservatives who came to power under George W Bush. The invasion of Iraq resulted in America becoming bogged down militarily and exposing the fact of its utter bankruptcy as a result of the cost of winning the Cold War and attempting to wipe out all opposition. America was bringing into being the very forces whose emergence it had sought to prevent. By the time Bush was kicked out of office it was clear that the world was sliding back to multi-polarity by which a number of great powers competed for spheres of influence. Inter-imperialist rivalry was back on the agenda.
Capitalism is a mode of production. It is a political-economic arrangement of some dynamism which means that the means of production more quickly come up against the limits of those political-economic arrangements than they ever did under previous modes of production. The means must continuously burst through these modes if capitalism is to progress. Since its rise to dominance in the 1700s capitalism has built and outgrown several modes of political existence each containing and giving rise to productive forces more mighty than the last. The road to the establishment of globalisation under US imperialist hegemony has been tumultuous and violent. From mercantilism, industrial revolutions, colonialism, slavery, imperialism, world wars and mass slaughters of incredible barbarity it has been a long old haul made possible only by the fact that the capitalism mode of production had at no point outgrown the mode of production in the absolute sense.
However, as we have seen above, a unified imperialism is an impossibility and as close as the US came to establishing such a thing globalisation has started to go into reverse. Capitalism has reached the outter edges of its political-economic potential. Beyond globalisation there is nowhere for it to go not even backwards. A system that can no longer accommodate change is a dead system. Capitalism is a dead system. The reversal of globalisation will not, as some hope, result in the return to a period of peaceful power balancing between a few great powers and a new golden age for capitalism as happened in the pre-imperialist age of European capitalism when it was young and dynamic. The opposite. The reversal of globalisation will require ten, twenty, a hundred times more violence than that which was required to achieve, or almost, achieve it. It has come to, as we were always told it would, a blunt question of socialism or barbarism. Do we descend on the coat tails of the ruling elites into a living hell and the death of our species or do we embrace the world proletarian revolution and transcend capitalist globalisation through a socialist commonwealth of the peoples of the world?
The exchange value of a commodity is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour time required in its production. I don’t think anybody would dispute that a coat that took two hours to produce would not be exchanged for a piece of gold that took say ten hours to dig up unless there were guns, whips, immanent fear of hypothermia or idiocy involved. If to acquire gold all that was needed was to bend one’s back and pick it up then it would have the value of dust and as little use value.
Commodities tend to have less and less socially necessary labour time expendend on their production as more is invested in machinery and less in wages which means of course that their exchange value is reduced. For the capitalist the profit he makes on any given commodity comes from the difference in what he invested to produce it and what he exchanges it for. We have already seen that what he exchanges it for is the amount of socially necessary labour time that was required in its production. Nobody is knowingly going to buy a commodity off the capitalist with money it took them two hours to earn if that commodity only took one hour to produce. But wait a minute. If what the capitalist sells for is objectively determined by the amount of socially necessary labour contained in his commodity where is the profit? After all he has to buy commodities like plant, machinery and a worker’s ability to work at their value which was itself in turn determined objectively by the amount of socially necessary labour time required in their production. Is our capitalist not just a necessary facilitator or an organiser of production? No, I’m afraid not. Our capitalist friend is a thief.
The use value to a capitalist of the commodity that the worker has to sell, the ability to labour, is that it produces a surplus value above its own exchange value i.e. the amount of socially necessary labour time required for its production. This surplus is what the capitalist pockets. Unfortunately for our capitalist he is compelled by competition to constantly reduce the amount of labour power he purchases and up the amount of plant and machinery he invests in. This increases productivity but devalues the commodity he is selling which means that each commodity is less profitable for him. He compensates himself by upping production and cornering the market which has the duel result of creating monopolies that can charge what they like and thereby snuff out economic growth and overproduction whereby they have produced more of a commodity than there are people who can afford it at a price that is profitable to the capitalist even though those people may desperately need what they are selling. In the midst of great wealth there is great want itself in turn created by the great wealth. Growth followed by stagnation and decline is the inevitable cycle of capitalism but with stagnation and decline obviously being the end result. Death comes to us all and capitalism is no exception.
Brothers and Sisters. I will be standing for Parliament not because I believe in Parliament because I do not, it is a den of corrupted thieves serving not the people who elected them but themselves and the monied. No I will be standing in order to call for its abolition and for its transformation into London’s biggest Wetherspoons. I will be arguing for the Westminster Union of the elites to be replaced by a Federation of Sovereign British Nations and a new sovereign parliament for England in the Midlands or the North. I will be using the platform that I hope you will give me to agitate for an end to the bail out of the bankrupt banks. For their staff, estates and deposits to be taken into administration and used to form a new People’s Bank with a monopoly of credit so that the private financiers can never rip us off again. This bank will lend at base rate to small business and facilitate social investment in accordance with a democratic and environmentally sustainable plan. I shall also be arguing for a regime of full-employment by which all school and college leavers and unemployed workers who cannot find their own job are bought into the local workforce to share in the productive work with each paid the minimum of a trades union living wage. We must put an end to capital’s right and ability to maintain a reserve army of unemployed in misery and penury and we must begin the process of dramatically reducing the working week. I will demand the revoking of all anti-trades union legislation and for the proper funding of all necessary and desirable public spending through a fair system of taxation. I will stand for worker-elected managers and leaders to replace the Old School Tie Network or absentee shareholder-imposed fat cats that treat UK plc like a private trough. I will stand for the socialisation of the means of production and exchange. I will agitate for the formation of working class defences against state and fascist attacks on their communities, meetings, marches and picket lines. Finally I will champion the re-negotiating of the founding treaties of the EU in accordance with socialist principles including full-employment in every member state, and EU-wide living wage and an EU-wide health service free at the point of use. I will also call for a completely new relationship between Europe and Africa and the Middle East based not on imperialism but co-development and respect. I will of course represent the particular interests of my constituents to the fullest of my ability and will intervene on each and every political matter that arises nationally and internationally from the point of view of working people.