What sets imperialism of the capitalist sort apart from other conceptions of empire is that it is the capitalist logic that typically dominates, though … there are times in which the territorial logic comes to the fore. But this then poses a crucial question: how can the territorial logics of power, which tend to be awkwardly fixed in space, respond to the open spatial dynamics of endless capital accumulation? And what does endless capital accumulation imply for the territorial logics of power?
David Harvey, The New Imperialism
Imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, neo-colonialism, neo-liberalism, primitive accumulation, war, democracy, nation and revolution; all of these and more are major theoretical and practical considerations for Marxists. Unfinished, and in some ways, unfinishable in their contemplation, they continue to define the world we live in. We need to understand what we seek to overcome and to constantly reevaluate and deepen that understanding.
I still hold to Lenin’s conception fundamentally, that imperialism is:
…capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and fiance 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.
But that is not the whole story. The political, social, geographic and economic dynamics of the international system of capitalist accumulation have gone through inevitable change in the century passed since Lenin wrote his work. However, it is impossible to address what has changed, to frame our current reality, without an understanding of the system’s origins, development and consequences over the last hundred years and more.
The list below necessarily addresses that past though many of these writings retain their pertinence and their vibrancy, some with great eloquence and even elegance. As much as I like the easy convenience of lists, things are never as simple as 1-2-3. These are in no particular order, nor is it a reading list for a study, though I certainly suggest the reading of these articles, essays, speeches, manifestos and books. Some of them are history, some are theory, some are debate. All of them played a role in the development of the ideas of imperialism and the struggle against it.
Hardly exhaustive, I encourage readers to suggest other works both past and contemporary on the subject. Here then is a brief survey of some of what Marxism sees when it casts its eye on empire:
Analysing Imperialism (2003) Chris Harman
Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of imperialism (1965) Kwame Nkrumah
Economics Cannot be Separated from Politics [On Growth and Imperialism] (1961) Che Guevara
The Canton, Ohio Anti-War Speech (1918) Eugene Debs
The Empire and the Revolution (1922) MN Roy
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa PDF (1973) Walter Rodney
The Junius Pamphlet [The Crisis of Social Democracy] (1915) Rosa Luxemburg
Erin’s Hope The End & The Means (1909) James Connolly
Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
War and the Fourth International (1934) Leon Trotsky
The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination (1916) Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
On Neoliberalism: An Interview with David Harvey (2006) David Harvey
Preface to Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth” (1961) Jean-Paul Sartre
Toward a Theory of the Imperialist State (1915) Nikolai Bukharin
The Marxist Theory of Imperialism and its Critics (1955) Ernest Mandel
The Structure of US Imperialism: America Nears the Crisis (1952) Harry Braverman
Democracy, Pacifism and Imperialism (1917) Leon Trotsky
And finally I end with Mark Twain’s rewriting of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Composed in 1901 as the United States was entering the international struggle for markets for the first time. Twain was an anti-imperialist from the get-go and here he pours his derision on the republican Empire whose conquest of the Philippines was done in the name of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and ‘humanitarianism’. A sick joke of a precedent never to be gotten tired of, it seems.
Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger’s wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on.
I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded him an altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
I have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps—
His night is marching on.
I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my pretensions, so with you my wrath shall deal;
Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
Lo, Greed is marching on!”
We have legalized the strumpet and are guarding her retreat;*
Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his judgement seat;
O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him! be jubilant my feet!
Our god is marching on!
In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom—and for others’ goods an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich—
Our god is marching on.