Three of the most significant contributors to the Marxist theory of imperialism are Nikolai Bukharin, Karl Kautsky and Vladimir Ilich Lenin. Bukharin in Imperialism and the World Economy (1918) developed Karl Marx’s model of capitalism into a model of the world economic system dominated by capitalism. He identified a tendency for the state to grow as capitalism developed leading to state capitalism at the national level. This allowed for greater central planning, organization and regulation of the economy within countries and the virtual elimination of internal crises, but competition, conflict and crisis he saw as continuing at the international level where the struggle was between “state capitalist trusts.” This economic struggle led to military struggle and war. Kautsky viewed imperialism as the relationship between powerful, advanced capitalist countries and weak, underdeveloped, precapitalist countries which are exploited and oppressed by the former. He thought that capitalism had entered a new stage of monopoly or ultra-imperialism, where the cartels developed in the advanced capitalist countries would unite to form a single world trust, that would end competition within and between the advanced capitalist countries, leaving a struggle between colonists and colonized. From this perspective World War I was something of an aberration, and not as Bukharin and Lenin suggested the consequence of imperialism. The “dependency theory” school of thought that developed after World War II, in seeking to investigate and explain economic development and underdevelopment in the world, followed Kautsky’s line of argument.
   Lenin, most famously and influentially of the three, argued in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) that capitalism had entered a new period of “monopoly capitalism” in which monopoly replaced competition within countries, production had become concentrated in trusts and cartels, finance and industrial capital had merged with the former having the upper hand, and export of capital had replaced export of goods. The cartels, dominated by the banks, looked to underdeveloped countries to invest (export) their capital in the pursuit of ever greater profits. The competition between cartels brought the capitalist powers into conflict as they divided, and tried to re-divide, the world into spheres of influence. This ultimately led to war such as World War I, capital accumulation being the root cause as it developed on a global scale.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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