Sunday, March 3, 2013

Imperialism - Marxist Economic and Political Theories of J.A. Hobson and Vladimir Lenin

                The political theories of J. A. Hobson (1858-140) and Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) concerning imperialism are both Marxist in nature, and held the basic widespread views that capital was consolidated within an elite group of holders which used the state as a mechanism for exploitation, but their base theories concerning imperialism were concentrated on different pillars of capital imperialism.  While Hobson focused his theories around the concept of aggressive imperialism of industrial capitalist elites utilizing the state actor for achieving profits on multiple international and domestic levels, Lenin concentrated on capitalist industrialization, capitalist monopolies, and viewed imperialism as the highest stage that capitalism could evolve to, that of parasitic exploitation.

J. A. Hobson

                Imperialism, as Hobson viewed it, was “bad business for the nation” while “good business for certain classes and certain trades within the nation” [1].  In essence, he states what every economist understands was the driving force for colonialism under British imperialism, and today can be seen from an international perspective with non-governmental organizations, such as private sector elements in the World Bank, and international corporations.  That driving force is the generation of capital, through high interest loans and exploitation of colonial natural resources, by the elite holders of capital and technology.  A golden rule of capitalism is that a person, or on a larger scale a nation-state, must have capital to generate capital.

                Much of what Hobson states about Imperialism relates both to the British Empire, as well as the modern United States.  Discussing the economic ramifications of imperialism, Hobson points out the result of economic drain on the imperial state, such as “a great expenditure of public money upon ships, guns, military and naval equipment and stores, growing and productive of enormous profits when a war, or an alarm of war, occurs; new public loans and important fluctuations in the home and foreign Bourses; more posts for soldiers and sailors and in the diplomatic and consular services; improvement of foreign investments” [2].  We clearly saw this with the British Empire in North America and India, and the United States has clearly felt the economic drain from a decade of military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which did little for the people of those countries and provided the people of the United States with only ‘imperial’ debt.  While the American tax payer footed the bill, the private sector profited from the state sponsored imperial occupations that strived to stabilize foreign areas for international private sector capital infiltration.  In his writings, Hobson identified the transition of England in becoming a creditor state under what he called aggressive imperialism, which Lenin would cite decades later in his own political-economic theories. 

                One of the most interesting areas of Hobson’s economic ideologies is his theory on how the capitalist elites achieve their goals of imperialistic capital generation and accumulation through the manipulation of “the patriotic forces which politicians, soldiers, philanthropists, and traders” through propaganda, which media in a capitalist nation-state will always be predominantly owned by the capitalist elites" [3].  A nation of workers, soldiers, and tax payers would probably not support imperialism if they understood the in-debt economics of what was occurring, therefore propaganda serves to nationalize, and justify, the events from a patriotic slant where some facts are heavily concentrated on while others are ignored.  While this is not a new tactic by the consolidated owners of capital and is a quite evident tactic in the United States today, Hobson understood the process toward the end of the British Empire as “The direct influence exercised by great financial houses in “high politics” is supported by the control which they exercise over the body of public opinion through the Press, which, in every “civilised” country, is becoming more and more their obedient instrument. While the specifically financial newspaper imposes “facts” and “opinions” on the business classes, the general body of the Press comes more and more under the conscious or unconscious domination of financiers.” [4].    

Vladimir Lenin

                Lenin viewed “the enormous growth of industry and the remarkably rapid process of concentration of production in ever-larger enterprises are one of the most characteristic features of capitalism” and a driving point for imperialism [5].  What separates Lenin from Hobson is that Lenin distinguishes between capitalism and industrial capitalism, in which “imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism” where “finance capital is the bank capital of a few very big monopolist banks, merged with the capital of the monopolist associations of industrialists; and, on the other hand, the division of the world is the transition from a colonial policy which has extended without hindrance to territories unseized by any capitalist power, to a colonial policy of monopolist possession of the territory of the world, which has been completely divided up” [6].  Theorists such as Lenin understood national and colonial capitalism very well, and the exact thing that Lenin states here concerning the imperialism of his time is aligned in the exact same formula for modern international capitalist globalization.  Lenin’s depiction that imperial capitalism was the final stage of capitalism seems almost prophetic when looking at the international stage after World War I and II, and the Cold War, as the consolidations of international capital monopolies only intensified with “the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves” and “the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers” [7].

                While Lenin’s observations can be clearly seen today with international private sector monopolies or international loan machines, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, during the British Empire era imperialism was more nation-state oriented with the “immense accumulation of money capital in a few countries” and “monopoly ownership of very extensive, rich or well situated colonies” [8].  This is also especially true of modern globalization with the exception that the power of states, which ruled the international stage during the time of the British Empire, has been replaced by unleashed international private sector capitalist powers.  Lenin makes a keen observation at the beginning of the 20th century with the statement that “the income of the rentiers is five times greater than the income obtained from the foreign trade of the biggest "trading" country in the world. This is the essence of imperialism and imperialist parasitism.” [10]. Colonial trade derived from British imperialism was not the main profit producer; it was parasitic capitalist loans that generated the most income.  The same imperial exploitation exists today on the international stage, only there has been a global separation of state and private sector capital, and now struggling nation-states find themselves at the mercy of the unholy economic union of the IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organization and their political and military muscle, the economic power states of the United Nations Security Council.  An example of these capitalist parasitic loans in the British Empire can be seen with the military occupation of Egypt in 1882.

                The Earl of Cromer gave a poor explanation of why Britain moved on Egypt: “we don’t really want the damned place but if we don’t someone else will grab it and the whole balance of power will be mucked up” [8].  What the Earl failed to see, or perhaps only failed to mention, was the Egyptian debt to Britain and her banks, and the construction of the Suez Canal.  Egypt, under the leadership of Ismail from 1863-1879, saw that “government debt rose from £3 million to nearly £100 million, largely due to Ismail’s efforts to modernize Egypt. In addition to completing the Suez Canal” and “by 1875, even though Egypt had repaid £29 million on its loans, it still owed £46 million and the country was near bankruptcy.  British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli learned from private sources that the Egyptian shares in the Suez Canal were for sale. Acting without parliamentary authorization, he bought them for the British government and thereby greatly increased the British stake in Egyptian stability.” [9].  Stability was, and still is, paramount to aggressive imperialism and in 1882 Britain moved to provide that stability through military occupation.

Hobson and Lenin

                Hobson and Lenin are political theorists that develop Marx’s original domestic analyses of capital to an international level, and serve the academic world with a solid link to modern events occurring on the international stage today.  The theories on imperialism and capitalism by Hobson and Lenin have much more in common than in opposition, and they appear to complement each other instead of contradict each other.  As would be expected, neither of these political theorists are covered in American public school systems outside of a brief mention of Lenin’s involvement in World War I.


1. Hobson, J.A.  Imperialism, A Study.  Public Domain.  Accessed on March 2, 2013 from
2. Hobson, J.A.  Imperialism, A Study.  Public Domain.  Accessed on March 2, 2013 from
3. . Hobson, J.A.  Imperialism, A Study.  Public Domain.  Accessed on March 2, 2013 from
4.  . Hobson, J.A.  Imperialism, A Study.  Public Domain.  Accessed on March 2, 2013 from
5. Lenin, Vladimir.  Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916.  Fordham University.  Public Doman.  Accessed on March 2, 2013 from
6.  Lenin, Vladimir.  Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916.  Fordham University.  Public Doman.  Accessed on March 2, 2013 from
7. Lenin, Vladimir.  Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916.  Fordham University.  Public Doman.  Accessed on March 2, 2013 from
8. Why Britain Acquired Egypt in 1882 (1908).  Modern History Sourcebook, Fordham University.  Accessed on March 2, 2013 from
9.  Jones, Jim.  Egypt and Europe in the 19th Century.  West Chester University, 2013.  Accessed on March 2, 2013 from

10. Lenin, Vladimir.  Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916.  Fordham University.  Public Doman.  Accessed on March 2, 2013 from

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