1990s >> 1998 >> no-1125-may-1998

World View: Lenin, Theorist of Nationalism

Lenin’s very notion that “imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism” supposes that one nation exploits another, so requiring a “national liberation” movement for the subject nation, which leads the working class of two different countries into a game of slaughtering each other. But the working class has no nation, only a world to win.

We know that, historically, unless a particular class monopolises the means of production and distribution and forces the rest of the people to sell their labour power, no capitalist production is possible. Private property is monopoly. Coupled with the division of labour it is the basis of commodity production as of exchange, money, the market, etc.

But to Lenin monopoly was not this class monopoly but the mere concentration and centralisation of capital. According to Marx, the very existence of capitalist society involves both monopoly (in this sense) and competition, which nullifies Lenin’s supposition that such monopoly is only a feature of “imperialism”:

“In the economic life of the present time you find not only competition and monopoly but also their synthesis, which is not a formula but a movement. Monopoly produces competition, competition produces monopoly” (Letter to Annekov, 28 December 1846).

The basic nature of capital always remains the same both in developed and undeveloped form–production for profit (i.e. the unpaid portion of labour). The defining feature of capitalist production is that it is based on wage-labour. Wages presuppose capital and vice versa. Here also, Lenin failed to understand why different rates of wages prevail in different countries. According to him, wages are higher in imperialist countries because the capitalists there bribe their workers out of the superprofits which they earn from exploiting the subjugated countries.

Marx had a quite different explanation as to why wages were higher in these countries. Both productivity and the rate of exploitation (ratio of paid to unpaid labour) were higher there:

“The more productive one country is relative to another in the world market, the higher will be its wages compared with the other. In England, not only nominal wages but (also) real wages are higher than on the continent. The worker eats more meat, he satisfies more needs. This, however, only applies to the industrial worker and not the agricultural labourer. But in proportion to the productivity of the English workers their wages are not higher (than the wages paid in other countries)” (Theories of Surplus Value, Part Two, pages 16-17).

A lower rate of wages does not make any one country any less capitalist than another: “The different states of the different civilised countries, in spite of their motley diversity of form, all have this in common, they are based on modern bourgeois society, only one more or less capitalistically developed” (Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875).

To be capitalist, a country need not be as industrially and commercially developed as the USA, Britain or Germany. Nor is it necessary that each and every district of every capitalist country should be as developed as the Ruhr in Germany or Sheffield and Birmingham in England. The basic requirement is that the production system of the country is conducted on a capitalistic basis, i.e. is based on employers and employees. A country may be highly industrialised or a developed agricultural one or the chief supplier of raw materials for industry or whatever. This happens due to the division of labour amongst the various capitalist countries. So one “nation” cannot exploit another “nation”. Workers all over the world are exploited by the world capitalist class.

The absurdity of Lenin’s theory can be proved by a living example from the life of a worker of our Indian subcontinent. Suppose he is 70 years old and now a citizen of so-called independent Bangladesh. He was a subject of Pakistan and before that of the British Empire. According to Lenin’s theory, he was subjugated by “British imperialists” up to 1947, then by “Pakistani imperialists” up to 1972. Now by which? Yet all through these years he remained a wage slave, not free, though his masters and nationality changed. What a ridiculous proposition is Lenin’s theory!

Lenin’s theory of imperialism fails to grasp the world-wide nature of capitalist society by pitting the working class of undeveloped countries against that of the developed ones. It leads to upholding national interest against class interest, which is detrimental to the world working class interest and their emancipation.

It is now crystal clear that as capitalism is a universal and cosmopolitan phenomenon so also is the working class. The working class cannot emancipate itself nationally.

Marx, in his Inaugural Address to the International Working Men’s Association in 1864, denounced “a foreign policy in pursuit of criminal design, playing upon national prejudices and squandering in piratical wars the people’s blood and treasure”. But this is precisely what Lenin and his heirs practised in the USSR, East Europe, China, Cuba, etc. from 1917 onwards. Numerous open and secret treaties, wars and proclamations by so-called socialist states testify to this.

That “the emancipation of labour is neither a local nor a national but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern society exists, and depending for its solution on the concurrence, practical and theoretical, of the most advanced countries” (IWMA Rules) should be the guiding principle of the working class of the world.

ASOK KUMAR CHAKRABARTI

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