Lenin’s theory of imperialism

Lenin described imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. The nature of capitalism and its doctrine of profit maximisation means that imperialism is a process that the capitalists are forced into in search of greater profits in ever shrinking and unstable markets. The idea of imperialism can be roughly broken down into three main categories: monopolies, finance capital and militarism.


Monopolies (in the shape of multinationals) are more powerful than ever before. Fifty-one of the 100 biggest economic units are now corporations rather than countries; and the 3 wealthiest individuals have more than the poorest 48 countries put together. This process of monopolisation goes hand in hand with technology being increasingly controlled by imperialist powers. Less than 80% of the world has access to a telephone line and less than 5% has access to the Internet.

In turn the gap between richer imperialist countries and developing countries has become greater and greater. Over the past 20 years living standards for people in the developing world have gone down and life expectancies have plummeted. All the while the World Trade Organisation has forced open the markets of the poorer nations under the guise of “free trade”.

Finance Capital

Again the process of imperialism means finance capital is being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. Today literally a handful of banks control finance capital the world over. Who were the biggest profiteers of the financial ruin in Argentina – HSBC and Citibank. Twenty years ago 90% of trade was goods and commodities and 10% finance capital (currency speculators, shares, bonds etc). Today the opposite is the case.

The result of this is that the economy becomes ever more unstable. We’ve seen this in the economic collapse of the so-called “Tiger Economies” of South East Asia in 1997 and the collapse or near collapse of countries like Argentina, Brazil and Turkey. Overnight billions are pulled out of markets and millions of workers thrown on the scrap heap by speculators in western countries.

The pinnacle of this process seems to be the creation of the IMF and the World Bank. The loans that developing countries are forced into are given at a price and this isn’t just huge interest rates. The conditions attached to the loans mean that countries are forced down the road of neo-liberalism with the slashing of the welfare state and public services and the wholesale privatisation of any nationalised industries. This along with the huge interest rates drives the economy further into poverty and this develops into a vicious cycle like we’ve seen in Argentina and results in wholesale economic collapse. But of course imperialism doesn’t just use economic methods to enforce its will – it also uses military conquest.


The US now has a military presence in over 100 countries around the world. On top of this there has been the military assistance that has been given by the West to brutal regimes like Pinochet in Chile and Suharto in Indonesia who killed over 1 million people. And of course the military assistance given to dictatorships like Saddam Hussein and the Taliban when they were on side.

Virtually every war in the 20th century either directly involved imperialist military forces, or military forces backed and financed by the West. Even WWII, a supposed war of democracy vs. fascism, was no more than imperialist forces battling it out for control over colonies. The imperialists were rubbing their hands together as Hitler smashed and massacred the Communists and workers movement. And people such as Churchill made admiring comments about the Nazi regime. It was only when Hitler began to threaten the interests of other imperialists that the war began. As Churchill commented, “WW2 was won on a sea of Arab oil.”

And the 21st century is continuing this process with the attack on Afghanistan, the  war with Iraq and the so-called “War on Terrorism”.

The military option is always there and goes hand-in-hand with the economic imperialism talked about earlier. It ensures that countries that get out of hand get forced back into line. It is also a way of staving off the movements that inevitably come out of the poverty that is enforced on developing countries and of course, a way of distracting people from unpopular measures and economic troubles within the imperialist countries themselves. That’s why the military budget of the US is now over $400 billion, nearly as much as the rest of the world’s military budgets put together.

The three pronged process of: multi-national corporations backed up by the World Trade Organisation; the increased power of finance capital in fewer and fewer hands backed by the IMF and World Bank; and the ever more powerful military machine of the US and the West means imperialism is a greater power today than ever before.