Imperialism & Anti-Imperialism
[slides in caps]


I’m going to give a brief, general definition of imperialism, and talk about the need to build a strong anti-imperialist mass movement, and what that means.

Though empires have existed before capitalism, imperialism is a specific stage of capitalism. More than simply an aggregate of national economies, imperialism is an integrated world system that is linked to a qualitatively increased socialization of production (meaning, many people, even in different countries, working on the same products), and the complete partition and control of the world by the capitalist class.


As capitalism has advanced, its methods of accumulation have matured and diversified, producing many effects and tendencies that we need to analyze so that we can better understand our enemy and its methods of self-replicating.

FISH 1, 2

The historical development of capitalism drives inexorably (though not uniformly) toward the concentration of capital. This is expedited by increasing the scale of production, dominating markets, and upgrading technology. Concentrations of capital form monopolies that can exert proportional power and control over the economic and political arrangements of the social formations they dominate.


When capital inevitably reaches limits to the accumulation of wealth within the territory it already controls, it must expand beyond its borders to conquer other areas. The justifications may vary, but the drive to expand is always at the root of it.


The simplistic model of capitalism is that growth is accomplished by reinvesting the profits generated by the sale of goods. But the ruthlessness of competition doesn’t allow capital to settle for this steady pace. To avoid being absorbed or defeated by others, individual capitals must expand as rapidly as possible, by any means necessary. Capital violently robs anyone and everyone to acquire more means of production, materials and labor power.

It must compel everyone and everything to become components of their economy. Whenever persuasion fails, force must be applied, whether by cannons, drones, or loans.


There is not opting out.


There is an interplay of contradictions between the national and international aspects of capital, as well as between different forms of capital, between capitalist blocs, and between their individual and collective interests (the latter represented by states).


It is a layered system. While the capitalist class dominates the popular classes (particularly the working class) inside its own social formations, from the imperialist social formations, they also collectively dominate other entire social formations.

So the reality is much more complex, but in a very general sense the imperialist era is characterized by two types of social formations: the imperialist cores where capital is accumulated, and those which are dominated for the extraction of surplus value (a form of profit).

Here’s a specific instance illustrating that relationship.



During the capitalist era, three distinct periods of imperialism can be defined, corresponding to the predominance of different forms of capital in the economy. Each of these has superseded—but not replaced—the previous forms, which still persist.

Mercantile capital accumulates profit through unequal trade. It dominated the colonial period.



Industrial capital accumulates profit through the exploitation of labor. It replaces the export of goods to other countries by the export of capital itself, globalizing production.


Finance capital accumulates profit through investment and speculation.

The political policies of imperialist countries in their relations with dominated countries are determined by the form of capital that is hegemonic at the time. Neoliberalism corresponds to the dominance of the global economy by finance capital.

The initial acquisition of capital, called primary accumulation, involves the violent expropriation of people’s means of subsistence (land and waters), plus their forced alienation from their traditional means of production, turning peasants and other land-based people into workers and potential workers (so that their labor power can also be stolen, along with their resources).


This process is still occurring, and most of the world has already been metabolized into the system. Expropriation and extraction are a permanent necessity for capital accumulation, as the constant priming of the production cycle.


Over time, large proportions of physical inputs – natural resources – have become privately claimed, as well as depleted, and thus have become more expensive to acquire. In response, capital as a bloc has pressured governments to deregulate financial markets, to open the way for alternate means of accumulation.


Under finance capital, accumulation is increasingly accomplished through the generation of fictitious value via speculation and circulation (rather than from material production). This has led the global economy into a period of severe instability and crisis.


Value comes in many forms. Fictitious forms can be more lucrative in the short-term, but have much higher risk of becoming toxic and collapsing. And they ultimately rest on a foundation of concrete surplus value, which is generated in the process of industrial production. They cannot exist without it. Speculation on bundles of subprime mortgages requires, somewhere, actual physical houses. And industrial production can’t escape the need for material inputs, resources and labor, which must be taken from others in one way or another.


Since the colonial period, expropriation has become a highly complex process. Contemporary imperialism still involves simple wars of raw conquest, but has expanded to include many additional methods of domination that facilitate, in one way or another, capital accumulation.

Such as:


• Imposed trade inequities. For example, the US imposes 15-30% import duties on clothing from Bangladesh, which results in the US taking in four times more revenue from that country than it provides in so-called “aid.”
• Additionally, this so-called “aid” comes with all kinds of conditions, like imposing consultants and inputs, so most of it flows back to imperialist pockets anyway. Patented seeds, for example, come with the requirement to purchase special fertilizers and equipment.
• A major purpose of international so-called “aid” is to destroy economies and create dependency. Donations of grains, for example, which are produced below market value in the US through government subsidies, undercut the prices of food produced by local farmers, resulting in those farmers losing their land and migrating into cities to work in foreign-owned sweat shops.


• The sweat shops usually import materials to assemble and then export the finished goods, leaving no profit to circulate in the local economy.
• The deployment of NGOs, non-governmental organizations (the non-profit sector), has the dual purpose of pacifying populations and serving as accumulation centers in their own right.
• Land grabbing and speculation is one of today’s big “investment opportunities.” The World Bank provides capital for multinational land investors and speculators, who, from 2000-2010, appropriated between 2 and 6 million acres of land in Africa, Asia and Latin America. As of 2011, 5% of the entire continent of Africa’s agricultural land had been sold or leased to foreign investors.


• Another arena is political manipulation through bribery, election rigging, assassination, threats, diplomacy, covert schemes, and the pacification of opposition movements through co-optation and repression.


• Advertising and other forms of cultural imperialism are deployed for coerced market expansion.


Yet another imperialist tool is collaborationist unions like the AFL-CIO, which sets up phony unions in countries all over the world, to limit and control the resistance of workers to imposed sub-survival wages. The AFL-CIO uses its international arm, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (also known as the “Solidarity Center”), putting themselves in a position to negotiate for workers while pacifying their struggles. The Solidarity Center is funded by the US government through the National Endowment for Democracy.


The Solidarity Center propagates itself worldwide by mouthing real demands and needs of workers. They initiate and fund organizations, recruit workers as members. Finally they shut down any possible autonomous and combative struggles led by workers themselves, substituting negotiations with factory owners (which they lead), and limiting demands to what is acceptable to those owners.

And the list goes on.


Focusing on any one of these alone isn’t sufficient without addressing the entire relationship.

Today, even though finance is the form of capital dominant in the world, it is still ultimately based on industrial production, and therefore on the necessity of exploiting wage labor.


The international working class is in an antagonistic relation with capital. The contradiction between capital and labor defines and drives the capitalist mode of production. It is the fundamental contradiction at the core of capitalism.


This puts the working class into a unique strategic position. By emancipating themselves, they can destroy capitalism and emancipate the world, releasing social production from the drive to accumulate. Only that can allow us, collectively, to reorganize production in a way that is rational and in harmony with the interests of humanity and the Earth.

The relations of global capitalism, in today’s extreme stage of imperialism, are based on two sets of contradictions:


• 1) the class contradiction inside each social formation.
• 2) the contradiction between imperialist and dominated social formations.

In the dialectical relation between these two sets of contradictions, the first is determinant. This means that the internal class struggle of a dominated social formation will define and determine the form that domination takes. And the extent to which an imperialist social formation can dominate others is also determined by the level of its internal class struggle.


In both kinds of social formations, capital can only be defeated by pushing forward the contradiction between capital and labor to its resolution, to revolution involving all the dominated masses led by the working class.

The struggle against the global capitalist/imperialist system as a whole, is linked to, but not identical with, the fight against the imperialist domination of one social formation by another. It is the latter that we call anti-imperialism.


Inside dominated social formations, anti-imperialist struggle takes a national form. Its nature is determined by the class leading that struggle, which could be the working class or it could be a reactionary class such as feudalists or fractions of the bourgeoisie. If led by reactionary classes, the anti-imperialist struggle doesn’t deal with the fundamental structure of capitalism, and will inevitably lead to a new round of domination of the masses, and the painful need to start the struggle again from scratch.


We have seen this over and over again in history.

The most advanced form of nationalism is when it’s led by the working class—then it has the content of internationalism.


Only when the national anti-imperialist struggle is waged in coordination with the international working class—or at least in its interests—can it stay on a path that leads to emancipation.


Since the epic struggles during periods of industrialization, the global labor movement has been battered, repressed, and largely co-opted. We need to rebuild it on a new foundation.


Today all the dominated classes of the world—at the limits of endurance—are seeking a way out of this hell created by the system. Resistance bubbles up in every corner of society, organizations begin to cohere, and an international movement capable of throwing off capitalism and imperialism is fighting to come into being. Resistance strengthens our unity and fighting capacity, and can weaken capital, or slow it down and buy us time.

Those of us living inside the U.S.—the most violent and destructive imperialist power in the world—must expose, stand against, and resist all forms of US aggression against other countries. We must build mass level organizations that support and work in solidarity with anti-imperialist movements internationally.


This must be linked with our struggle to defeat capitalism internally. I asked an anti-imperialist militant in Bangladesh what form of international solidarity we should build in the US. He said, “Overthrow your own capitalists.”


Then imperialism solves itself. Here, as everywhere, the goal of defeating capital for the emancipation of humanity is the highest form of struggle at this time.