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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

Capitalist Imperialism – The Military Phase

(10 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 19, 10 May 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Capitalist imperialism has passed through several phases. These are not rigidly distinguishable in any particular country since the phases interpenetrate. Nor did the great capitalist powers go through these phases simultaneously. Nevertheless, the history of capitalist imperialism is readily divisible into several distinct epochs.

The first was an era of plunder. Powers such as England and Spain ferociously fell upon less developed countries like India and Peru and relieved them of their gold, silver and jewels. These resources exhausted, England and the Netherlands, in particular, turned to a more pacific trade in spices, silks, coffee, and other products. Then followed the epoch which reached its flower during the Victorian era and whose decay we have witnessed in our lifetime. This period of the dominance of finance capital, analyzed classically in Lenin’s Imperialism, was characterized by the investment of capital in the colonial and semi-colonial enterprises.

The basically economic character of this imperialism was obvious. At first the military aspects were subordinate, although the relation between military operations and economic interest was an explicit one. The role played by military considerations in this imperialist expansion was reflected in the growing proportion of the total national budget devoted to war purposes.

A Change Begins

The increasingly important influence which armaments have begun to exert in national economies was analyzed as early as World War I, notably by Bukharin.

By 1914 the opening up of new colonial areas, whereby world capitalism could temporarily avert the maturing of its internal contradictions, had ceased. The great powers began to struggle for each other’s colonies. This stimulated the growth of huge militarized states.

Simultaneously colonies became less tractable. Crises in the master countries precluded them from being able to retain the firm grasp on their subject peoples which they once had exercised. The present unstable equilibrium in such countries as India, the East Indies, Korea and Indo-China reflects this tendency.

Of the great powers, the United States alone today has the potential for establishing economic dominance over the world. But given the economic collapse in the smaller imperialist countries such as England, France, Italy, and defeated Japan and Germany, even the U.S. finds grave obstacles confronting its pressing desire to exploit the rest of the world.

Add to this the fear of a depression at home and the further contraction of the world market caused by Russian expansion in Europe – and U.S. capital is driven to expand armaments production on a grand scale (the production of the means of destruction as contrasted with the production of the means of consumption) as a method of assuring a continued flow of profits.

If the ERP is being used to revive European capitalism it is being done only to the extent that it will (1) not regenerate serious economic rivals to the U.S., (2) stave off the Stalinist penetration which is made possible by the miserable level upon which European workers subsist, and (3) stabilize Western Europe as military powers subordinate to the United States and directed against Russia.

Capitalist imperialism, today more and more assumes the character of a struggle for military allies, naval, air, and army bases, and strategic raw materials. For the present, direct economic motives are recessive. These considerations influence much of Russia’s policy also, though not to the extent that they influence the policy of the United States.

Means are becoming ends.

As never before in its history the world is becoming a huge machine for making war.

The alternatives confronting humanity, the capitalists do not understand very clearly. But if they do not, we do. Either socialism will triumph, or the world, held in bondage by U.S. or Russian imperialism, will enter into an epoch of twentieth-century barbarism.

Thus ends the great saga of capitalism which began in an upsurge of economic activity, culture, and hope during the Renaissance.

The wealth of U.S. corporations has increased almost 250 per cent since 1939.

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