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January 2020

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Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism by Vladimir Lenin

Written by , Posted in Politics, Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People interested in a sense of what the Marxist philosophers were saying in the 1900s. Admittedly a niche market at this point (for now, anyway).

In a nutshell:
The title basically nails it – Lenin argues that Imperialism is Capitalism at its end.

Worth quoting:
“..for both uneven development and a semi-starvation level of existence of the masses are fundamental and inevitable conditions and constitute premises of this mode of production.”

Why I chose it:
It was assigned as part of the Marxist book club I’m in.

Review:
My how my life has changed. Never thought I’d be reading and reviewing Lenin, but here we are.

This fairly short book serves as a surprisingly relevant discussion of imperialism, and specifically how capitalism fuels the colonialist actions of nations. Lenin lays out the development of monopolies (along the way refuting the idea of truly free markets, as they eventually evolve into monopolies), the major role that banks play in consolidating wealth and capital, and how the need to further feed these monopolies needs nations and corporations to seek out further raw materials and financing.

In the book, the primary areas discussed are oil and coal, but substitute pretty much anything modern and its clear that monopolies have not gone anywhere, and imperialism is alive and well, though perhaps not in the exact same way. Amazon.com doesn’t invade countries and claim their land, but they do take over cities, making those cities dependent on them to survive (*cough* Seattle *cough*). Something like 40% of the box office in 2019 were came from Disney studios. Companies — and countries — continue to seek new customers and new materials for their products, further consolidating until all those ‘choices’ we think we have are just different ways of our money going to the same few individuals.

Some people may not find this disturbing. As long as they get their next season of Stranger Things, or their favorite shampoo arriving on their doorstep 24 hours after they order it, they don’t much care. And frankly, much of the time, when I’m not thinking about it, I don’t care either. But then I look at how Amazon treats their warehouse employees. In some places that might be the ‘best’ job available, but it’s still crap, and Amazon can get away with it because they’re the only game in town. Monopolies like this are harmful to nearly everyone in some way (except the people diving into their vault of cash, Scrooge McDuck-style).

There are a couple of areas that I picked up on that don’t seem to have held up (or at least, haven’t necessarily come to pass on the time line of 100+ years). At one point Lenin talks about how the Stock Markets have become less important and I get the impression that he thinks they will eventually fade away. However, in the US we can see that while Stock Markets are playing around with essentially fake value, how those markets move drives so much of the commentary about how ‘healthy’ the economy is. A company can lose millions of dollars in ‘value’ in the stock market in one day because of a news story, and that’s what’s reported. The overall value of the market is still shared at the end of newscasts. People care about it, even if it shouldn’t matter.

The other area (which may be the result of me not fully understanding the book) that I found didn’t quite hold up is the assumption that this imperialism is the last stage of capitalism, and that necessarily capitalism is decaying. To me this implies that soon after this writing (in the early 1900s), Lenin believed that capitalism would cease to be. Obviously that hasn’t held, but perhaps his other writings clarify this point or provide detail on what would need to happen to speed up this decay.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Toss it (I read a printout of a PDF, and as its in the public domain, anyone can read it online.)

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