In a 1917 preface to “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,” Vladimir Lenin says,
I trust that this pamphlet will help the reader to understand the fundamental economic question, that of the economic essence of imperialism, for unless this is studied, it will be impossible to understand and appraise modern war and modern politics.
Lenin summarizes in a 1920 preface:
Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of ‘advanced’ countries. And this ‘booty’ is shared between two or three powerful world plunderers armed to the teeth (America, Great Britain, Japan), who are drawing the whole world into their war over the division of their booty.
Today, the biggest difference is that there is a single dominant imperialist power, the United States.
As the top “superpower” after World War II, the U.S. imposed the dollar as the world’s reserve currency when the Bretton Woods system was established in 1944. At the height of its power, Great Britain was also a major imperial power. However, it never achieved the same dominance in the global economy as the United States today. The British pound was never the world’s reserve currency.
The fact that the dollar is the world’s reserve currency means it is used to price all essential commodities, such as oil. This gives the United States a dominant role over the global oil market, for example. Additionally, the bulk of the world’s debts are also denominated in dollars. This means that countries that owe money must pay in dollars.
The Council on Foreign Relations says in its report on “The Future of Dollar Hegemony” that “almost 60% of global foreign exchange reserves are held in dollars, with the euro a distant second at around 20%. Around 90% of transactions in foreign exchange markets are invoiced in dollars, as is half of international trade.”
The dollarization of the world capitalist economy meant U.S. domination of the global economy. The U.S. Federal Reserve System controls the supply of U.S. dollars. The U.S. Federal Reserve System is, in effect, the world’s central bank. Indeed, most U.S. currency–green dollar bills–circulate outside the U.S.
IMF and World Bank
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are two other institutions closely associated with the dollar system. The IMF was created in 1944 at the Bretton Woods Conference, along with the World Bank.
The IMF provides short-term loans to countries facing severe short-term liquidity crises. The World Bank provides long-term loans to countries for major infrastructure projects.
The IMF and World Bank usually impose harsh austerity measures on countries that borrow from them. They promote policies that benefit wealthy countries at the expense of developing countries. Also, they tend to fund projects with negative environmental and social impacts. For example, the World Bank funds projects that have led to deforestation and to the displacement of Indigenous peoples.
BRICS is a grouping of the world economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa formed in 2006. In Johannesburg, South Africa, on Aug. 24, 2023, the BRICS group of nations announced the addition of Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The BRICS countries have created some alternatives to the IMF and World Bank, including the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA).
The NDB provides financial and technical assistance for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging and developing economies. The CRA is a financial safety net that BRICS countries can use to deal with balance of payments crises. The CRA is designed to reduce member countries’ dependence on the IMF and other external sources for financial assistance during times of economic stress.
However, the BRICS countries have yet to be able to offer a viable alternative to the U.S. dollar as a world currency.
The BRICS countries have been working to reduce their reliance on the U.S. dollar by increasing their use of each other’s currencies in trade. There have been proposals to price key commodities like oil in a basket of currencies, including the Chinese yuan, but the dollar is still the primary pricing mechanism.
The military arm
Just as important as the dollar system is the military arm of the U.S. world empire.
The U.S. military budget was $877 billion in 2022, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which is more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Germany, France, South Korea, Japan, and Ukraine. The SIPRI figure does not include the CIA’s military budget, the Department of Energy’s nuclear armaments, or countless other hidden and covert military agencies and operations in the U.S.
The Pentagon has more than 750 bases in more than 80 countries. The largest number of U.S. bases are located in Japan (120), Germany (119), and South Korea (73).
In addition, NATO acts as a military arm of the U.S. empire. The heavy costs of NATO membership require countries to fund U.S. military expansion.
The post-Cold War expansion of NATO has incorporated nine countries that were allies of the Soviet Union or former Soviet republics.
NATO members are expected to spend at least 2% of GDP on “defense” spending. For most countries, meeting this threshold requires a substantial increase in military budgets at a significant financial cost. NATO members are expected to contribute troops and resources to NATO missions. There are human and material costs to participating in operations like Afghanistan.
The combined military expenditure of NATO members was approximately $1.26 trillion in 2023. NATO armaments must be compatible with U.S. weapon systems, which means NATO members mostly purchase U.S.-made arms.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO’s role changed. NATO has been involved in many U.S.-commanded military interventions since 1991.
- U.S. Army General Wesley Clark commanded NATO’s 78-day-long aerial bombing war on Yugoslavia in 1999
- U.S. launched its war on war on Afghanistan in 2001 as a NATO operation
- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates directed NATO’s seven-month bombing war on Libya in 2011
- The U.S. and NATO are engaged in a proxy war in Ukraine against Russia, providing billions of dollars in military aid, including weapons, ammunition, and training, and building major troop deployments in Poland, Romania, the Baltic states, and other countries surrounding Russia. NATO has also activated its rapid response force, a multinational force of around 40,000 troops.
Colonialism and neocolonialism
Central to Lenin’s analysis of imperialism was the expansive growth of colonialism in the second half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century.
The imperialist powers acquired colonies to secure sources of raw materials, markets for manufactured goods, and investment opportunities. Also, the imperialist powers used their control of colonies to exploit the labor of the colonized peoples.
Lenin’s analysis was essential in the development of anti-colonial movements around the world. It explained the causes of colonialism and the need for liberation from capitalist imperialism.
One difference between imperialism in 1914 and today is the change from colonialism to neocolonialism.
In his 1965 book “Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism,” Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah defined neocolonialism as the continued economic and cultural influence of the old imperial powers and other Western nations over their former colonies after the end of overt political control and formal colonialism. Power is no longer exerted directly through colonial rule and governors but indirectly through economic and cultural policies that benefit the interests of Western corporations and nations.
The global class war
The Soviet Red Army liberated many countries in Eastern Europe from fascism at the end of World War II, including Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Austria, Hungary, Albania, and the eastern half of Germany. The Yugoslav communists led by Josip Broz Tito also liberated Yugoslavia.
The Soviet Union emerged as the second-strongest world power after World War II.
Asia became the center of communist-led revolutions. In Hanoi on Sept. 2, 1945, the Viet Minh (led by Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam’s communist party) established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. On Sept. 9, 1948, the Korean communists, led by Kim Il Sung, established the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong, guided a successful revolution against the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) in October 1949, establishing the People’s Republic of China.
Once Chinese communists took power, two-fifths of the world’s population were in countries ruled by communist parties.
The flames of communist-inspired revolution and national liberation movements swept Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.
The Laotian civil war began in 1954 and lasted until 1975. The war ended with the victory of the communist Pathet Lao and the establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The Cambodian civil war began in 1967 and lasted until 1975.
The Indian independence movement achieved independence from British rule in 1947. The uprising of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (labeled the Mau Mau by British authorities) from 1952 to 1960 led to Kenya’s independence in 1963.
The Algerian Revolution of 1954-1962 was led by the National Liberation Front (FLN). The revolution overthrew the French colonial government and established the independent Republic of Algeria.
The Cuban Revolution (1953-1959), led by Fidel Castro and the 26th of July Movement, which later became the Communist Party of Cuba, established the socialist Republic of Cuba.
Anti-imperialist national liberation movements swept Africa.
- Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) fought against Portuguese rule in Mozambique and achieved independence in 1975.
- African National Congress (ANC) fought South African apartheid and was victorious in 1994, led by Nelson Mandela.
- Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) achieved independence in 1980, with Robert Mugabe as the founding leader.
- The MPLA fought against Portuguese rule in Angola. Led by Agostinho Neto, independence was won in 1975.
- SWAPO is a socialist party that fought against South African rule in Namibia, winning independence in 1990.
- The socialist Guinea-Bissau African Party for Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), led by Amílcar Cabral, fought against Portuguese rule in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde and achieved independence in 1974 and 1975, respectively.
- The Ethiopian Revolution (1975 to 1991) founded the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam of the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia.
- Thomas Sankara and Blaise Compaoré led the August Revolution in Burkina Faso. Sankara was a revolutionary inspired by Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
Led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (founded by Jose Maria Sison in 1968), the New People’s Army liberation war is the world’s longest-ongoing communist insurgency.
In 1964, Indonesia had the largest communist party outside of the socialist countries. Its membership was over three million, and there were estimated to be between 15 and 20 million active supporters.
The government of President Sukarno pursued a militantly anti-imperialist foreign policy. A right-wing military coup put General Suharto into power with the aid of the CIA.
As Wikipedia puts it, “The U.S. was very much involved with providing money, weapons, radios, and supplies.… The U.S. government, along with the CIA, provided death lists with names of leftist public leaders with the intent to eliminate them.” Some two million were slaughtered.
Central America, South America, and the Caribbean
There have been many revolutionary liberation movements in Central and South America from 1945 to 2020. In addition to the victorious revolution in Cuba, there was the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, led by Hugo Chavez. The New Jewel Movement’s People’s Revolutionary Government in Grenada was crushed by a U.S. military invasion in 1983.
From 1945 to 2020, revolutionary movements fought in Haiti, El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
The Non-Aligned Movement
The Bandung Conference was a meeting of Asian and African leaders held in Bandung, Indonesia, from April 18 to 24, 1955. The conference was organized by Indonesia, Burma (Myanmar), India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and Pakistan and was attended by 29 countries, most of which had recently gained independence from colonial rule. The conference’s goals were to promote economic and cultural cooperation and to oppose colonialism or neocolonialism by any nation.
The Bandung Conference paved the way for founding the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961. The founders of the NAM were Sukarno of Indonesia, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. The NAM goals included the fight against colonialism and neocolonialism.
In his speech at the BRICS summit, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa compared the bloc to the 1955 Bandung Conference, which was organized to oppose colonialism.
“When reflecting on the purpose and role of BRICS in the world today, we recall the Bandung Conference of 1955, where Asian and African nations demanded a greater voice for developing countries in world affairs,” he said.
“We still share that common vision,” Ramaphosa added.
Through the 15th BRICS Summit and this dialogue, we should strive to advance the Bandung spirit of unity, friendship, and cooperation.
The Cold War
On April 16, 1947, Bernard Baruch, a multimillionaire financier and “adviser” to presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Harry S. Truman, coined the term “Cold War.” In a speech to the South Carolina House of Representatives, Baruch said:
Let us not be deceived; we are today in the midst of a Cold War. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home.
The Cold War was different. Instead of inter-imperialist rivalries that had wracked the globe with two world wars and countless other smaller wars, this was a war of the imperialist powers, led by the United States, against the USSR, the socialist countries in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and so on. It was a class war between imperialism and socialism.
The overturn of the USSR
The Cold War ended with the overturn of the USSR. And with that, the nature of neocolonialism changed.
Before 1991, the existence of a socialist camp made it possible for the neocolonial countries to resist neocolonial rule and win a greater degree of political independence without completely overthrowing the neocolonial economic bonds. The latter was only possible if a country joined the socialist bloc–as Cuba did in 1960.
The existence of the socialist camp headed by the Soviet Union gave life to the slogan: Workers and oppressed peoples of the world unite!
The Communist Manifesto concludes, “Workers of the world, unite!” which was amended by the Communist International in 1920 at the Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku, Azerbaijan, to “Workers of the world and oppressed peoples, unite!” to reflect the changed character of capitalism, the transformation into monopoly capitalism and imperialism.
The Chinese Revolution enjoyed the support of the Soviet Union, and Vietnam greatly benefited from the support of the socialist bloc during both the French and U.S. wars.
Cuba’s heroic role in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale is the most outstanding example of revolutionary internationalism. In the spring of 1988, the armed forces of apartheid South Africa and the U.S.-backed mercenaries of Jonas Savimbi were defeated by the combined force of the Cuban military, the Angolan army, and the military units of the liberation movements of South Africa and Namibia. This led directly to the independence of Namibia and then to the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa itself.
The collapse of the USSR ended this international solidarity and broke up the socialist camp. It’s like when workers are on strike, walking the picket line, and the labor union backing the strikers collapses. The strike can continue, but it’s hard without a central organization for the workers.
When Lenin was writing his pamphlet on imperialism, his biggest political challenge was the collapse of the Second International in August 1914. As a supplement to the pamphlet, he included the Basel Manifesto of 1912,
which speaks precisely, clearly, and definitely of the connection between that impending war and the proletarian revolution.
If war were to break out, the working class must utilize the economic and political crisis not merely to end the war but to rouse the people and thereby hasten the downfall of capitalist rule.
The failure of the Second International when confronted with the imperialist world war represented the collapse of the hopes of an entire revolutionary generation.
The only other event in the history of the workers’ movement that compares–and exceeds–is the betrayal by the USSR’s Gorbachev leadership and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union resulted from a long retreat by the Soviet leadership in the face of the tremendous power of U.S. imperialism.
Today, the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe and some former Soviet socialist republics are members of NATO.
The anti-imperialist national liberation struggle has never ended, though it has been set back by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp.
On July 26, 2023, a military coup ousted Niger president Mohamed Bazoum. This followed recent coups in Burkina Faso, Guinea-Conakry, Mali, and Chad. These countries are bound together by the Sahel, a semi-arid region on the Sahara desert’s edge stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east.
France has been the neocolonial power in the Sahel, with the U.S. also deeply involved. The biggest U.S. military drone base in Africa is in Niger.
Reports indicate that the coup has the support of the people, with many mass demonstrations in Niger’s capital city Niamey against the oppressive neocolonial conditions.
The new Cold War
The Cold War was a class war between two irreconcilable social systems–imperialist capitalism and socialism. It was called cold because there wasn’t an outright military war. In form, it’s more like what today is called a hybrid war, including extensive covert operations, economic sanctions, cyber warfare, and heavy propaganda (the Pentagon says specifically that the use of mass communications for propaganda is in its hybrid war arsenal).
U.S. sanctions are economic warfare. Though the Cold War may have ended, the U.S. has continued its war on Cuba with a blockade and economic sanctions.
The U.S. sanctions war also includes Venezuela, Iran, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Nicaragua, Syria, and Yemen. Other countries subject to U.S. sanctions include China, Russia, Belarus, Myanmar, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Congo, Eritrea, Burundi, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan.
The current economic, diplomatic, political, and military conflict between the United States and China is often called the “new Cold War.”
The United States has long sought to overthrow socialism in China. This effort intensified after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp, as the United States saw China as the last major socialist country in the world.
Countries like China are identified as socialist, but they are still in the process of developing their socialist systems. The revolutions in these countries laid the foundations for socialism, but they have faced many obstacles, including imperialist blockade, war, and subversion.
The new Cold War against China, a class war, is U.S. imperialism’s response to China’s great technological advances.
China’s advances have the potential to strengthen its socialist foundations. The Guardian reports:
China leads in 37 of 44 technologies tracked in a year-long project by thinktank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The fields include electric batteries, hypersonics, and advanced radio-frequency communications such as 5G and 6G.
Socialist China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. According to a 2019 World Bank report, the number of people living in extreme poverty in China fell from 770 million in 1990 to 5.5 million in 2015. This represents a decline of 94%.
The United Nations says that China is responsible for more than 70% of the global decline in poverty since 1990. This is a remarkable achievement, never seen before in world history.
China’s universities have played a role in reducing poverty. China is training more engineers and researchers than the U.S. and Europe combined. They have graduated millions of engineers, scientists, and technicians, who have helped to drive economic growth and create jobs.
Marx said that society advances with the development of productive forces through technology.
The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist. (“The Poverty of Philosophy,” 1847)
Today, the revolution in high technology lays the basis for the workers and oppressed peoples to overthrow imperialist rule and organize a system of international socialism.