Part One: Introduction
Marxism Leninism arose as an organic creation of capitalist society as it entered a new, higher stage of development. The process of capitalist accumulation and expansion that had begun during the industrial revolution led to monopolization, centralization of capital, and the creation of what Lenin called “finance capital”, or the merging of bank and industrial capital. The old era of competition in industry gave way to new developments, owing to the way the system itself functioned. If there’s a competition, somebody has to win.
And the winners became financiers.
Basically. It’s a lot more complicated than that, obviously, but that’s the general gist of it. Capital centralizes in fewer and fewer hands, and this ends up creating monopoly cartels. Those cartels sit at the top of the capitalist pyramid like hood ornaments, subjugating lesser capital to them, and owning part of everything along the process of production and distribution. Only, these hood ornaments don’t denote the brand of a car, but the many brands under their ownership and control. Also, car’s hood ornaments don’t generally put millions of people into destitution. So, you know. Not exactly the same.
The era of imperialism, of the change from progressive capitalism into moribund capitalism, the advent of finance capital, monopoly cartels, syndicates, and trusts began a long time ago. In Marxism, we tend to use the thought device of “stages” to describe the process of society actualizing, or becoming itself, and this stage was dubbed Imperialism by the Bolsheviks. A perfect term. The ruling cartels become an empire unto themselves, and use their power and concentrated capital to spread out over the world.
During the era of imperialism, Marxism Leninism clarifies three main contradictions. The first contradiction is the main contradiction of society, between labor and capital. The one that other contradictions arise out of. In the earlier or primary stage of imperialism (yes, we can even split stages up into stages, if we’d like, and I would very much like, as the fact that imperialism itself has reached a new stage will be central to this series), you have the development of monopolies/cartels achieving power, wherein their dominance over the economies of various nations began to subordinate entrepreneurial capital to them, which took labor right along with it, of course, as labor is the source of value creation within entrepreneurial capital. This unproductive capital added a new layer of super-exploitation to the extraction of value from the economy. For workers, it meant that we could while away our days having the value our labor creates extracted by multiple enemies, or we could organize and fight back. Millions upon millions chose to fight back.
Lenin lived during the beginning of this process, and the October Revolution the first major victory of the working class. Since his time, imperialism has, of course, continued and developed, as all things do. In 1972, Gus Hall released the massively underrated and sadly hard-to-get-your-hands-on “Imperialism Today”, marking how imperialism itself had developed since its advent in the early 20th century. His analysis of the situation, of the conditions of both global and American society, and how imperialism had changed over time are essential for understanding where we are now, heading into 2022.
And where are we now, in 2022? As imperialism developed, it brought us to the era of the computer revolution, debt economy, and monopoly brand marketing economy, along with the modernization of a new anti-imperialist bloc led by Communist China, and the deterioration of the petro-dollar and Bretton Woods system of global political economy. This is the groundwork for today’s imperialism, having developed over the decades and now in the process of un-developing, having reached its upper limits of sustainability. Just as imperialism is the un-development of capitalism, or what Lenin called “moribund capitalism”, we seem to now be entering a moribund imperialism.
But moribund is a little oldy timey and jargony. What does it mean? Why did Lenin use such a term? Well, similar to a lot of terms like this, it comes from Latin. Officially, it means “being in the process of dying”. Lenin used it because imperialism is the stage of capitalism at which its contradictions reach an extreme point and must be resolved, beyond which (according to our dialectical materialist methodology), revolution happens. Or, the process in which capitalism dies.
Pretty cool, huh?
Anyway, the contradictions of capitalism reach their extreme point, and this is imperialism. Imperialism itself has its own contradictions internal to its development, which go through the same process on another level, also reaching an extreme point, and taking different forms according to the material basis Marxism teaches us lays the foundation for them. Or, basically: modern American imperialism is not the same as French or German imperialism from the early 20th century. It did not arise in the way French or German imperialism did, and has not changed over time in the same way they did. The characteristics each of these forms of imperialism take on are created by the unique contradictions and history of the society that gave rise to it. In the late 20th century, the more ruthless American version of imperialism has taken a hegemonic position in the contradiction between competing imperialist powers, creating what is often referred to as a unipolar world. We understand this from the dialectical perspective, that it is precisely that apparent domination that means the stage of imperialism itself has fully developed, and is now in its moribund stage.
It is often postulated these days that because the USA is the unipolar power, the center of world imperialism, revolution here is impossible. This seems to me a problem of one of two types. A: a simple confusion in terminology, using the surface-level understanding of the word imperialism largely taught by our ruling class. In this less thorough analysis, imperialism can simply be one big power somehow forcing a smaller power to do what it wants, and by this definition, imperialism is immortal and eternal, reducing us to an ideological mistake, forgetting the primary mode of matter: motion. In this instance, imperialism is understood as having set-in-stone characteristics (or a mistaking of form for content) that Lenin (or someone else, in other instances) laid down, almost as if he were Moses coming down from the mountaintops. “Lo and behold, my children. I present to you the things that will be imperialism! Go forth and agitate against!” But this isn’t really what Lenin was doing. Lenin was describing phenomena in society as they arose, and understanding it from the Marxist perspective, in its motion, forms, and change–in the inter-penetration of the opposing forces that propels that change. Or B: A mistake borne of a lack of class analysis. In this instance, imperialism is somehow overcoming the very contradictions of capitalism itself, and posits a different surface-level understanding of this intricate system, wherein one country’s bourgeoisie come to represent the entire country, and “take resources” from another, therefore “buying off” the entire mass of people of that country. It takes more misunderstandings of terminology, such as “super profits” (which it takes to mean, simply, “a lot of profits”), and uses this to assume that, rather than the extractions of finance capital being used to create a new, higher strata of the organized proletariat (and professional classes) whose interests are then tied to the bourgeoisie, it suggests a left-wing version of Reaganite trickle-down economics, where workers are paid far more than the minimum required to reproduce the societal “way of life” and access to things like refrigerators becomes symbolic of a lack of revolutionary potential rather than part of this societal reproduction, and a reason to disregard the entirety of the laws of development discovered by Marxism.
In Marxism, we obviously have Lenin’s masterpiece Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism and Gus Hall’s addition to guide us, but more importantly, we couple these things with our basic Marxist understanding of how society works, according to general laws, in order to genuinely understand where we are at, and therefore where to go from here. Option B denies those general laws Marxism discovered, which set it apart from the old utopian socialism in the first place.
This author finds it perfectly reasonable that such notions have come from the institutions of the capitalist class; most notably, the academy and think tank/NGO industrial complex, which has become the capitalists’ primary weapon in class warfare against us in recent decades. It stands to reason that as agitation in the working class increases in eras of acute crises such as this, the ways the capitalist class tries to prevent that also increase. The tactics of distortion, division, confusion, and redirection of revolutionary energy into safe, controlled opposition have been a favorite of the capitalist class for decades now. There will always be some reason our class enemy will tell us revolution is not possible or unnecessary. This same content takes different forms, depending on the specific forces telling us, but the essence and results are the same. It is precisely this phenomenon that creates the need for Marxism Leninism to heighten its agitation against these distortions at periods such as this, and not fall into tailism or reformism.
But we’re going off on a tangent here. Let’s reign it in a little, shall we?
The addition of “Leninism” is the only way to keep with Marxist science in the 20th and 21st centuries. According to the dialectical materialist world outlook, all phenomena in the universe go through development and undevelopment, periods of nascence and progress, and then periods of decline, stagnation, and being moribund, leading to “negation of the negation”, and a new thing arising, sublating the old and built on the material reality of the old as its premise. This includes knowledge itself. As the enlightenment ran up against its own limits of thought culminating in Hegel’s system, Marxism created a revolution in thought that allowed us a deeper insight, a new, higher level of development. As the Marxists of the 2nd International ran up against stagnation, dogmatism, and opportunism, Leninism was added to update our thinking for the new developments of society (such as imperialism and finance capital) and continue us moving forward.
So where do we go from Marxism Leninism? In this new era of nascent multi-polarity, we see brilliant Marxist Leninist science coming from strongholds of the working class like China and Cuba, who have developed their own unique ways of doing things. But what about us here in the USA? What are we to do, in order to overcome the dogmas and stagnation that began in the “new left” era and boldly move forward into the era of technology, de-industrialization, and the social revolution this causes?
This series is an argument for our own, unique approach to Marxism Leninism, a modern approach that can overcome the liberalism instilled in “the left” by our enemies in the capitalist class, to avoid eclecticism, deviations, and dogmatism, and genuinely rally the entire working class for the struggles coming our way, to create a sort of “Marxism Leninism Fill-in-the-blankism” of the USA that people can embrace as our own in order to progress, even after a lifetime of bourgeois ideology being thrown at us from every direction we can think of, and then more that we didn’t even know existed.
I’m no crack dialectician. I struggled through Hegel, and had four failed attempts at picking up Capital before I slogged through it all (as well as multiple readings where I went back and understood it better, after learning that Marx wrote the entire thing from the dialectical materialist perspective and I had been reading it with my own liberal baggage), but I hope I can at least do some justice to the heroic figures who have paved the way for our movement today, and not be a complete embarrassment.
Thank you for your time and energy in going over this series. This is only the first, introductory part, and will continue on until the ideas within are, hopefully, fleshed out and developed.
In love and solidarity,
Noah Khrachvik is a proud working class member of the Communist Party USA. He is 40 years old, married to the most understanding and patient woman on planet Earth (who puts up with all his deep-theory rants when he wakes up at two in the morning and can't get back to sleep) and has a twelve-year-old son who is far too smart for his own good. When he isn't busy writing, organizing the working class, or fixing rich people's houses all day, he enjoys doing absolutely nothing on the couch, surrounded by his family and books by Gus Hall.