The theory of imperialist capitalism, as is well known, has so far attained its most significant treatment in Lenin’s works. This is not only because Lenin attempts to explain transformations of the capitalist economies that occurred during the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, but mainly because of the political and historical implications contained in his interpretations. In fact, the descriptive arguments of Lenin’s theory of imperialism were borrowed from Hobson’s analysis. Other writers had already presented evidence of the international expansion of the capitalist economies and nations. Nevertheless, Lenin, inspired by Marx’s views, was able to bring together evidence to the effect that economic expansion is meaningless if we do not take into consideration the political and historical aspects with which economic factors are intimately related. From Lenin’s perspective, imperialism is a new form of the capitalist mode of production. This new form cannot be considered as a different mode of economic organization, in so far as capital accumulation based on private ownership of the means of production and exploitation of the labour force remain the basic features of the system. But its significance is that of a new stage of capitalism. The historical ‘momentum’ was a new one, with all the political consequences of that type of transformation: within the dominant capitalist classes, new sectors tried to impose their interests and ideologies; the State, the Army and all basic social and political institutions were redefined in order to assure expansion abroad. At the same time new types of liberation and social struggles came onto the historical scene—the colonial liberation movements and the fight against ‘trade unionism’, the latter a struggle against an initial form of working class compomise with the bourgeoisie made possible by the exploitation of the colonial world.

From that broad picture of a new historical stage of capitalist development Lenin inferred new political tasks, tactics and strategies for socialist revolution.

The main points of Lenin’s characterization of imperialism that are essential to the present discussion can be summarized as follows:

a) the capitalist economy in its ‘advanced stages’ involves a concentration of capital and production (points that were well established by Marx in Capital) in such a way that the competitive market is replaced in its basic branches by a monopolistic one.

b) this trend was historically accomplished through internal differentiation of capitalist functions, leading not only to the formation of a financial stratum among entrepreneurs but to the marked prominence of the banking system in the capitalist mode of production. Furthermore, the fusion of industrial capital with financial capital under the control of the latter turned out to be the decisive feature of the political and economic relations within capitalist classes, with all the practical consequences that such a system of relations has in terms of state organization, politics and ideology.

c) capitalism thus reached its ‘ultimate stage of development’ both internally and externally. Internally, control of the productive system by financiers turned the productive forces and the capital accumulation process toward the search for new possibilities for investment. The problem of ‘capital realization’ became in this way an imperative necessity to permit the continuing of capitalist expansion. In addition there were internal limits that impeded the continuous reinvestment of new capital (impoverishment of the masses, a faster rate of capital growth than that of the internal market, and so on.) External outlets had to be found to ensure the continuity of capitalist advance and accumulation.

d) the increased and increasing speed of the development of productive forces under monopolistic control also pushed the advanced capitalist countries toward the political control of foreign lands. The search for control over raw materials is yet another reason why capitalism in its monopolistic stage becomes expansionist.