Monday, December 11, 2017

What is the Labour Theory of Value?

A simple explanation of a complex subject - and the reason why Marxist Economics is not Market Economics despite many revisionist attempts to marry them both like Oskar Lange the Chicago School Leftist.

For more on Polish revisionists Kalecki and Lange visit here:

Sunday, December 3, 2017

If North Korea really is achieving per capita annual GDP growth rates of 9% as claimed by the Hyundai Research Institute, and if salaries really have grown 250-1,200% over the last 10 years, then North Korea has the fastest growing economy in the industrialised world, and its people are seeing the fastest growth in real incomes in the world writes Alexander Mercouris

Political Economy Research is no fan of the cult of GDP and GNP figures for measuring economic growth but we recognize that is what a market economy looks for - When it comes to North Korea that can be very misleading and seriously underestimate real growth and human welfare in a predominantly planned self reliant non market economy.

GDP was never meant to be a measure of how well-off society is. Only under neoliberalism it has become such a fake indicator with huge propaganda value

The "Grey Market" in North Korea is firmly under control of Government of North Korea who utilize the market mechanism but do not legitimize it as socialist like China.

We link to two studies of  Hyundai Research Institute in South Korea on the North Korean Economy with all their hostile political bias having to admit to serious growth in North Korea even by market standards.[1].pdf

If North Korea really is achieving per capita annual GDP growth rates of 9% as claimed by the Hyundai Research Institute, and if salaries really have grown 250-1,200% over the last 10 years, then North Korea has the fastest growing economy in the industrialised world, and its people are seeing the fastest growth in real incomes in the world writes Alexander Mercouris

That no doubt explains the growing self-confidence of the North Korean leadership and the genuine popularity (as opposed to personality cult) of Kim Jong-un, which even some Western observers are reluctantly admitting.

One of the great problems of the West is that it always seem to struggle to recognise or adjust to a change of reality in any particular given situation.

Just as the West imposed economic sanctions on Russia in 2014 in the completely mistaken belief that Russia’s economy is a house of cards – which is what it was in the 1990s – so the West still believes that North Korea is a basket case one step away from total collapse, as it also was in the 1990s.

The result in both cases is a fruitless search for sanctions in order to tip things over, and anger and bafflement when they fail to work.

In the case of North Korea, what the West believes is the ‘magic bullet’ – Chinese sanctions – will never happen on anything like the scale the West wants or which would make a significant difference.  Given that this is so the thing to do is what the West has always and consistently refused to do and which the Chinese and the Russians are urging the West to do: open direct talks with Kim Jong-un.

In the meantime, whilst the West drags its heels about doing this, Kim Jong-un and North Korea continue to grow stronger, and the military balance in the north east Pacific continues to shift slowly but steadily in their favour.



Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Bitcoin debate: Max Keiser vs Steve - Bitcoin is not Socialist - For people interested in money laundering, tax avoidance and illegal drug deals Bitcoin has its attractions, but as a model for payment in a socialist system, the infrastructure provided by existing chip and pin cards and card readers is more promising.


In a recent paper Huckle and White (2016) argue that, while Bitcoin is often associated with right-wing libertarian political philosophy, the underlying technology – Blockchain – has properties that also make it applicable in a socialist economic framework. They cite Marx’ concept of labour credits and argue that credits created by Blockchain may take on the role of representing labour time. 

In the Critique of the Gotha Programme (Marx 1999), Marx discusses the idea of a communist society awarding labour credits to workers in correspondence with the labour time contributed by them. One hour of labour would yield a labour voucher representing one hour of work, minus taxes. Taxes are to be used for public expenditure, such as investment, education or the consumption needs of those unable to work. 

A one hour labour voucher can in turn be used to buy a consumption good that takes one hour to produce.

To continue visit :

Friday, October 27, 2017

North Korean Agriculture - Taegyedo Tideland by Jong Hwa Sun

Political Economy Research will be looking at the North Korean Economy in a series of articles  - we start with North Korea's production of food as eighty per cent of North Korea is mountainous with only twenty per cent of land suitable for some type of agriculture and how the Workers Party of Korea is leading the fight for food production.

Foodstuff Industry

The DPRK makes effort to establish the Juche orientation in the foodstuff industry to ensure that it depends on domestic materials and meets the requirements of the people’s dietary life.

The foundations of the foodstuff industry have been solidified by keeping the development of the large-scale foodstuff industry in parallel with that of the medium and small-scale foodstuff-processing industry. Raw materials bases have been built up to increase the output of foodstuffs by using the materials abundant in the country, and close concern is directed to mass-producing essential and subsidiary foodstuffs and ensuring their better quality.

The principle of making production proportional to consumption with the county as a unit has been maintained to build up the foodstuff factories that contribute to improving the county residents’ dietary life and equip their production lines with modern machinery.

The Pyongyang Wheat Flour Processing Factory has renovated the buildings of several workshops introduced CNC technology in the production lines and made them germ-free. The Pyongyang  Cornstarch Factory has updated all its production lines ranging from the input of raw materials to packaging. The Sonhung Foodstuff Factory, Susongchon General Foodstuff Factory, Kangso Mineral Water Factory and other foodstuff producers and speciality-processing plants pay off.

The Changsong Foodstuff Factory, a locally-run factory, has built a supercritical extraction line in a modern fashion.

Daily-Necessities Industry

The DPRK makes great efforts to produce plenty of high-quality, useful goods by developing the daily necessities industry.

It has developed large-scale central industry and medium- and small-scale local industry in parallel,tapping domestic materials to the full to increase the variety of daily necessities and improve their quality.

Local Industry

The DPRK has since long ago kept it as an important principle of socialist economic construction to develop central industry and local industry in parallel.

Changsong County in North Phyongan Province was transformed into a model unit of local industry. On the basis of the achievements made in the county, locally run factories mushroomed and sideline production gained momentum; mountainous regions made good use of mountains, coastal regions utilized coasts effectively.

With the growth of local industry the urban-rural gap has been narrowed and all the regions of the  country developed evenly.


The DPRK’s agriculture was extricated from centuries-old backwardness. Now, along with industry, it constitutes one of the major components of the national economy.

Recently the country has made significant progress in agricultural production and the development of agricultural science and technology: arranging crops and their strains on the principle of sowing the right crop on the right soil and cultivating the right crop in the right season, as demanded by the Juche farming method, and manuring and cultivating them in a scientific and technological way; developing high-yielding, superior seeds; carrying out large-scale land-realignment projects and attaining a high level of irrigation in the rural economy; promoting potato, soybean and double cropping extensively; encouraging organic farming and establishing food production cycle; putting all the processes of the rural economy on an industrial and modern footing by introducing the latest advances in science and technology.

The state makes constant efforts to develop agriculture and increases investment in this sector.

 New Agricultural Guidance System

In early 1962 Kim Il Sung had a cooperative farm management committee set up in every county, and then a rural economy committee in every province, thereby establishing a well-knit national system of agricultural guidance from the centre to the lowest levels.The new agricultural guidance system centred on the county cooperative farm management committee, makes it possible to ensure industrial guidance over the socialist rural economy.

The county cooperative farm management committee exercises unified control over agro-technicians, farming machine stations, farming implements factories,irrigation management stations and other state-owned enterprises in the service of the rural economy, and gives on-site direction and guidance over the business operation of cooperative farms. It also performs the function of both directing cooperative farms and bringing the state’s material and technological assistance to the rural economy.

Sub-Workteam Management System

Kim Il Sung created a sub-work team management system during his field guidance at the Phochon Cooperative Farm, Hoeyang County, Kangwon Province, in May 1965.

Under this system manpower and various means of production are fixed for each sub-workteam, which is the lowest unit of production and manpower organization at a cooperative farm and the cell of a collective life. The quota is defined for each sub-workteam and the work-points of its members are assessed according to the results of their work done, before determining the share of distribution.

The system is a form of production organization and management that enables farmers to take an active part in the production and management with a feeling of attachment to the collective economy and an attitude befitting masters.

The plot responsibility system that has recently been instituted according to the sub-workteam management system pays off as it enables farmers to have a higher degree of consciousness of being masters of the land who are responsible for the country’s cereals production.

Juche Farming Method

The Juche farming method created by Kim Il Sung is geared to doing farming in a scientific and technological way as suited to the climate and soil of the country and the biological features of agricultural crops, and to making agricultural production highly intensive on the basis of modern science and technology.

The fundamental requirement of this method is to arrange crops and their strains according to the geographical characteristics on the principle of sowing the right crop on the right soil and cultivating the right crop in the right season, manure and cultivate them in a scientific and technological way, ensure accuracy in the number of seedlings in a cluster and the number of clusters per phyong, and attain high and stable yields by making effective use of the fields, water, farming machinery, fertilizer and other means of production.

Seed Revolution

The DPRK’s agricultural sector is putting great emphasis on breeding good seeds that are suitable to the local climate and soil, those capable of yielding abundantly while demanding less fertilizer and shorter growth period and withstanding the cold, and of resisting pests and natural calamities such as drought, rainstorm and biting cold. Due concern is directed to importing high-yielding seeds from other countries. In addition to crop cultivation, all other sectors of the rural economy such as animal husbandry, fruit farming and sericulture carry on the seed revolution.According to the well-regulated national seed selecting system, seed research institutes develop the first filial generation and other superior seeds and supply them to cooperative farms across the country.

Agricultural Science and Technology

The DPRK set it as the major task for developing its agricultural science and technology to realize comprehensive mechanization of the rural economy, find proper solutions to the problems that arise in the research to develop agriculture, and radically raise the scientific and technological level of agricultural workers.

Amid the dynamic campaign to develop agricultural science and technology, the mechanization and chemicalization of the rural economy have been promoted, many scientific and technological problems arising in agricultural production resolved, and the scientific and technological level of farmers improved. Latest models of tractors and other high-performance farming machines have been supplied, and advanced farming techniques and methods introduced in the farms all over the country.

Among the models of scientific farming are the Migok Cooperative Farm in Sariwon, Sinam Cooperative Farm in Ryongchon County, Samjigang Cooperative Farm in Jaeryong County and Tongbong Cooperative Farm in Hamju County.

Land Realignment

The DPRK pushed ahead with land realignment as a grand nature-harnessing project and a patriotic work of everlasting importance to increase agricultural production by obtaining new land, free farmers from hard labour by realizing comprehensive mechanization of the rural economy, eliminate once and for all the remnants of feudal land ownership, and hand over to posterity the land transformed as befits that of socialist Korea.

Kim Jong Il decided to launch land realignment in Kangwon Province, which was lagging behind other provinces in this regard and had unfavourable working conditions, and generalize the experience to transform the landscape of the country.

In hearty response to his appeal all the people turned out in the land realignment projects, with the result that in a few years hundreds of thousands of hectares of paddy and non-paddy fields were repartitioned into large standardized plots as befits the land of the socialist state.

Irrigation Network

Large-scale irrigation systems, including the Phyongnam, Kiyang, Amnokgang, Sohungho and Singye irrigation systems, ramify throughout the country. These irrigation systems cover all the paddy and nonpaddy fields in both lowland and highland regions.

Major irrigation systems have been interconnected in a circular way. Pumping-up irrigation systems, or gravitational waterways where appropriate, have been built according to the regional  characteristics.

At first irrigation systems were built separately in the regions and then connected with one another to form a loop.

In the new century the Kaechon-Lake Thaesong, Paengma-Cholsan, Miru Plain and other large-scale gravitational waterways have been built one after another. As a result, the country’s irrigation network has been developed to a higher level.

Gravitational Waterways

Gravitational waterways are built on the basis of the physical property of water that flows downward. The completion of gravitational waterway projects in the DPRK marks a new milestone in its irrigation history.Typical of them are the Kaechon-Lake Thaesong,Paengma-Cholsan and Miru Plain waterways.

The Kaechon-Lake Thaesong Waterway, built in 2002, flows along the 150-odd-km channel with a 23m difference in elevation, irrigating more than a hundred thousand hectares of paddy and non-paddy fields in 15 towns, counties and districts of South Phyongan Province, including Pyongyang and Nampho.

The total length of the gravitational waterways in the country is thousands of ri (ten ri equals 4km).

Now a large waterway in South Hwanghae Province and another connecting the irrigation network in South Phyongan Province with the Chongchon River are being built. 

The completion of these projects will signify the full establishment of the gravitational waterway system for the fertile farmland along the west coast, which has a large share in the country’s cereals production. In other provinces, towns and counties they are striving to build gravitational waterways of varying lengths in conformity with their local conditions.

Tideland Reclamation

The DPRK has a limited area of land under cultivation as mountains constitute nearly 80% of its territory. Tideland reclamation is crucial in expanding the area of arable land.

As early as the 1980s, the state worked out a plan for reclaiming hundreds of thousands of hectares of tideland, transforming into fertile fields the Tasado, Kwaksan (first stage), Sokhwa and other tidelands with favourable conditions on the west coast.

Reclaimed in 2010 was the Taegyedo tideland the size of a county. The project was the biggest of its kind in the country.

Now under way are the Kwaksan (second stage), Ryongmaedo, Honggondo and several other tideland reclamation projects.

Taegyedo Tideland

The Taegyedo project reclaiming 8 800 hectares of tidal flat, the biggest of its kind in the country, was finished in July 2010.

As a result, several islands scattered on the west coast were linked by a dam tens of kilometres long and the meandering coastline was shortened remarkably,redrawing the country’s map.

Now the tideland has become a comprehensive agricultural base, rendering a tangible contribution to improving the people’s standard of living–a vast expanse of crop cultivation area, fish farm covering an area of 100 hectares, salt works, modernly-equipped duck and oyster farms, and ponds teeming with flatfish and other species.

Organic Farming

The Korean Association for the Development of Organic Agriculture works according to the Law of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on Organic Industry. Microbial compound fertilizer factories number several hundreds, and organic fertilizer factories are in Sukchon County, South Phyongan Province, and other parts of the country. The organic compound fertilizer factory in Pyongyang depends on the mud from the Pothong River. Model units have been set up in some farms for the purpose of establishing an organic farming system and introducing advanced technology, and modern livestock farms built in different parts. 

This has resulted in the establishment of a food production cycle.The methods of using mud snails in growing rice and introducing biological pesticide and other substances have been applied in cultivating and manuring the crops, thus strengthening pest control, saving manpower and
boosting productivity.

The DPRK is promoting cooperation and exchange with relevant international organizations. It acceded to the IFOAM in 2005 and is carrying on the project of building a bridge for the diffusion of knowledge about organic farming and increasing the capacity for the development of organic farming.

Crop Cultivation

The DPRK has brought about a fresh tubrn in crop cultivation by applying the Juche farming method to the letter.

It lays special emphasis on effecting the seed revolution, encouraging the double cropping based on the principle of grain with grain and making a radical improvement in potato and soybean farming.

Vegetable Growing

The DPRK pays close concern to supplying the people with plenty of fresh vegetables all the year round. There are many vegetable farms and work teams around cities and workers’ districts.

The fields for vegetable growing have been selected on the principle of sowing the right crop on the right soil and cultivating the right crop in the right season, and high-yielding seeds, appropriate watering systems, cultivation on terraces and multiple cropping have been introduced to meet the demand according to different seasons.

Taking seasonal characteristics into account,appropriate crops are selected to ensure sustained production, while hotbed and greenhouse cultivation is encouraged by radically increasing the number of modernly-equipped greenhouses.

Arched or adobe greenhouses covered with PVC sheeting, solar-heated greenhouses with a food production cycle and many other models of greenhouses have been built to ensure a high level of scientific and intensive cultivation.

Mushroom Production

It is an important policy of the DPRK government to provide the people with adequate amounts of tasty, nutritious mushrooms by putting mushroom production on an industrial and scientific footing.

Close attention has been directed to the research into mushroom cultivation. The Central Mushroom Institute has been newly built under the State Academy of Sciences to distribute original spores and cultivation techniques across the country. Modern mushroom farms have been built in Pyongyang and every province. Also, individual families grow mushrooms to improve their standard of living.

Industrial Crop Farming

The DPRK pays due concern to industrial crop farming, while focusing on cereals production. In order to meet the demand for raw materials of light industry industrial crops are planted intensively on the right soil, and fibre and oil-bearing crops are cultivated extensively, as well as crops for luxury items, medical use and other purposes.

Efforts are made to estimate the demand for each crop, fix the area suitable for its cultivation and the volume of production there, and to put production on a specialized, intensive basis by forming separate workteams and sub-workteams.

Such oil-bearing crops as perilla, sesame, sunflower and rape are sown on idle land, or sometimes arable land, and tended with care to increase their per-hectare

Livestock Farming

The livestock farming sector strives to solve the problem of domestic breeds and their feed, rear them scientifically, and adopt comprehensive anti-epizootic measures so as to boost livestock production. A mass drive is being conducted to raise grass-eating domestic animals, and collective livestock farming developed at cooperative farms and individual livestock farming in rural households, so that every place seethes with livestock farming.

The Youth Goat Farm in Hamhung, Unjong

Livestock Cooperative Farm in North Hwanghae Province, Kyenam Livestock Farm in South Hwanghae Province and other farms have been laid out as model units in livestock farming, and the successes and experiences gained in their work are being generalized across the country. Production is increasing at the Kanggye Chicken Farm and other modern livestock farms.

They have laid solid foundations for radically increasing the number of livestock by introducing advanced rearing techniques, resolving many scientific and technological problems, improving veterinary and anti-epizootic work, and boosting the output of nutritious, high-yielding crops for animal fodder.

Ostrich farming is in full swing.

The Sepho area is being turned into a large-scale livestock farming base.


The DPRK has newly set up a mechanism for the guidance of the fruit-growing sector and increases state investment in it to put production on a specialized,intensive footing.

Orchards of varying sizes have been built in large numbers, and dwarf apple trees and other good species arranged properly to boost the output. The processing and storage facilities have been updated to ensure enough supply of tasty, nutritious fruits and their processed products for the people.

Following the construction of the Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm in Pyongyang, the material and technological foundations of the fruit farms in Kwail County, Pukchong County and other regions have been cemented, so that they can produce dozens of tons per hectare.

Recently, Kosan in Kangwon Province is being turned into a modern combined fruit farm.


The DPRK has consolidated the foundations for putting cocoon production on a highly specialized,intensive and modern footing—a vast expanse of mulberry fields and modern sericultural facilities in the regions with favourable conditions, and breeding new species of mulberries and silkworms.

The per-hectare yield of cocoons is rising at many farms including the Manpho Cocoon Farm in Jagang Province, Osan Cooperative Farm in Jongju, North Phyongan Province, and Sahyon Cooperative Farm in Kumya County, South Hamgyong Province.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

Failures of the 1965 Soviet Economic Reform

Understanding the failures and contradictions of Market Socialism in the Soviet Union - our own work Marxism Against Market Socialism sees this struggle as part of the two line struggle in political economy between competitive market socialism and revolutionary collectivist socialism that goes back to William Thompson and Thomas Hodgkins and continues to this day - it goes to the heart of what socialism is

Slowing down of Soviet economic growth in the 1950s

Indivdualism underming collectivism in the Soviet Economy

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hands off Lenin! : ‘Patnaik Conjuncture’ and the travesty of Leninism by Bipon Balara

 “The task of a bourgeois professor is not to lay bare the entire mechanism, or to expose all the machinations of the bank monopolists, but rather to present them in favourable light"

                                                                                                                                             - Lenin1

Good Bye Lenin! So bids one of the pre-eminent theorists of Indian parliamentary left, Prof. Prabhat Patnaik. He has come up with the thesis that the ‘Leninist conjuncture’ has been superseded. Based on this thesis, he goes on to elaborate the right way for the Indian left. This right way involves two things: unequivocal de-linking from globalisation and the embrace of democracy and alliances with ‘progressive-democratic’ forces. Patnaik contends that ambivalence towards globalisation and democracy is at the root of left’s irrelevance in many parts of the world today and that2

In countries where communists have shed their ambivalence both towards opposing globalisation and towards defending democracy, they have remained a formidable force; and India is one such country.

Patnaik’s thesis is based on the assertion that the basic premise of Leninist conjuncture was the imminence of revolution and as revolutionary upheavals are not imminent in India, it has been superseded. Hence, the left has to follow his right way. Patnaik’s thesis on the demise of the Leninist conjuncture and his elaboration of the right tactical line for the Indian left serves as archetypal examples of reformist thought and opportunistic praxis. His article, which was published just days after the left – congress alliance in West Bengal came a cropper in the state legislative elections, has to be put in its proper political context. Patnaik’s painful theorising has to be seen as offering ideological prop-up to the social democratic, reformist line of Indian parliamentary left. So it is important that different strands of this thesis and the suggestions that flow from it be analysed and exposed from a proletarian revolutionary stand point. That is what this essay attempts to do.

Imminence of revolution vs Actuality of revolution

Patnaik’s whole argument about the supersession of the Leninist conjuncture stands on the premise that it is based on imminence of revolution. Patnaik argues that post-WWII capitalism “… made three major concessions to ward off the communist threat: decolonisation, the institution of democracy based on universal adult suffrage, and state intervention in ‘demand management’ to maintain high levels of employment…” This meant that “… the world had started moving away from what one can call the ‘Leninist conjuncture’. The moment of dazzling success of communism was also ironically the start of its decline”. Then Patnaik proceeds to analyse the simple reason for this decline:

The oft-repeated question why did communism collapse so suddenly, has, I believe, a simple answer: because the premise upon which it was founded no longer held, the premise of an imminent world revolution. As this imminence receded, communism had to reinvent and restructure itself, to come to terms with a post-Leninist conjuncture, in order to remain viable. This was difficult enough; it was made more difficult by a common but undesirable tendency among revolutionaries to place moral purity above practical politics and deny the non-imminence of revolution.

Two things need to be carefully analysed here. One, is imminence of revolution the basic premise of Leninist conjuncture? Two, was the post-WWII collapse of communist movements due to the supersession of the Leninist conjuncture and the ‘undesirable tendency among revolutionaries’ not to come to terms with it?

Georg Lukacs, in his celebrated essay on Lenin, locates his unique place in the pantheon of proletarian revolutionaries thus3:

Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution. … The stature of a proletarian thinker, of a representative of historical materialism, can therefore be measured by the depth and breadth of his grasp of this and the problems arising from it; by the extent to which he is able accurately to detect beneath the appearances of bourgeois society those tendencies towards proletarian revolution which work themselves in and through it to their effective being and distinct consciousness. By these criteria Lenin is the greatest thinker to have been produced by the revolutionary working class movement since Marx.

For a bourgeois thinker or an academic pen-pusher, it is important to present the material basis of the bourgeois society as eternal even when he is being critical of things which he regards as collateral excesses of capitalist system. The historically contingent nature of capitalist mode of production and bourgeois relations of production never become a factor in his analyses. Hence he remains impervious to the destabilising tendencies inside capitalism which, with every passing day, continue to prepare the objective ground for its destruction. So it is natural that proletarian revolution does not even find a place in the horizon of this thoughts. With a vulgar Marxist, things are even worse

… to a vulgar Marxist, the foundations of bourgeois society are so unshakeable that, even when they are most visibly shaking, he only hopes and prays for a return to ‘normality’, sees its crises as temporary episodes, and regards a struggle even at such times as an irrational and irresponsible rebellion against the ever invincible capitalist system.4

Patnaik reveals his academic, vulgar Marxist, reformist orientation very clearly when he asserts that imminence of revolution is the basis of Leninist conjuncture. What this means for Patnaik is that until a revolution becomes imminent, the proletarian party need not act in a revolutionary manner. It becomes a theoretical framework which can be used to justify all reformist, opportunist compromises and to advance a social democratic tactical line as the ‘Marxist’ one.

It becomes a weapon to smuggle in a theory of stages into the proletarian movement which preaches thus: until the revolution becomes imminent, the ‘left’ may shed its revolutionary orientation, become more flexible, place practical politics above ‘moral purity’, and may unite with bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties “…in struggles, on platforms and even in government”; once revolution becomes imminent the movement may switch over to the revolutionary ‘mode’.

The stages theory preached by Patnaik is an infallible strategy to make sure that a revolution never becomes imminent; it also ensures that the pristine silence pervading the CESP corridors is not broken and that the academicians sitting inside can continue their exercises in sophisticated reformism. Here Patnaik conveniently forgets that the revolutionary orientation of the proletarian movement is one of the factors contributing to the maturing of a revolutionary situation. As Lenin contented5: “… our propaganda and the propaganda of all social-democrats6 is one of the factors determining whether there will be a revolution or not.” Thus it emerges that waiting for the imminence of revolution cannot be the basis of genuine revolutionary praxis.

To grasp the real premise of the Leninist conjuncture, we have to follow Lukacs closely who asserts that actuality of revolution, and not its imminence, forms the real core of Lenin’s thought

The actuality of revolution: this is the core of Lenin’s thought and his decisive link with Marx. … This means that the actuality of proletarian revolution is no longer only a world historical horizon arching above the self-liberating working class, but that revolution is already on its agenda.

What does actuality of revolution mean? Isn’t it the same as imminence? Doesn’t the phrase ‘revolution is already on its agenda’ above mean that the revolution is imminent? No, the Marxist-Leninist actuality of revolution and Patnaik’s imminence of revolution are very different premises. But before we go into that, let us examine the dictionary meanings of these expressions. Merriam-Webster gives the meaning of imminent as “happening very soon”, “ready to take place” and “hanging threateningly over one's head” and that of actuality as “the quality or state of being actual or real” and “something that is actual or real”. Imminence of revolution means that revolution is about to take place and its actuality means that revolution has ceased to become a utopian illusion, that the germs of revolution can be clearly discerned in the interstices of the present society7. Lukacs makes clear that the theory of historical materialism is itself a product of this actuality of revolution

For historical materialism as the conceptual expression of the proletariat’s struggle for liberation could only be conceived and formulated theoretically when revolution was already on the historical agenda as a practical reality; when, in the misery of the proletariat, in Marx’s words, was to be seen not only the misery itself but also the revolutionary element ‘which will bring down the old order’.

As Engels has stressed in Anti-Duhring, Fourier, Saint-Simon or Owen could not have gone beyond utopian socialism because of the insufficient growth of capitalism during their times. Marx could frame the revolutionary theory of historical materialism because mature industrial capitalism in England already flaunted its contradictions to the judicious eye8. The Leninist conjuncture is based on nothing else but the Marxist conjuncture of the actuality of revolution; what Lenin did was that he “re-established the purity of Marxist theory on this issue9”.

Imminence of revolution assumes a fully matured revolutionary situation, actuality of revolution signifies an economic, political and social situation which is pregnant with reality of revolution, a situation in which the contours of revolutionary potential, even though imperceptible to the bourgeois or reformist eye, is nevertheless clear to the discerning look of materialist dialectics. Imminence of revolution is a static concept, signifying the impending revolution without any reference to the historical processes that lead to the constitution of such a situation or to the development of the revolutionary agency which will consummate the revolution; actuality of revolution is a dynamic concept which resides in the flux of history, in the process of history, signifying the slow but steady maturing of the contradictions of capitalism and the growth of the historical agency of working class and its consciousness as the subjective element of this actuality.

Patnaik hopes to find, as if by magic, a revolution which is imminent and to suddenly flip a switch which will impart revolutionary agency to a movement drenched in opportunist compromises and welfare illusions of its pre-imminent phase. Lenin discerns, under the calm exteriors of bourgeois society, the churning of an objective historical process preparing the ground for its own destruction and understands the need to develop the subjective agency which is conscious of this actuality and which is steeled enough through revolutionary political struggles to consummate this actuality. And most importantly, actuality of revolution connects the everyday political work of the revolutionary workers’ party to its ultimate goal, the proletarian revolution, something that Patnaik’s specious theory of imminence could never hope to do.

… it was through this actuality that both [Marx and Lenin] gained a sure touchstone for evaluating all questions of the day. The actuality of the revolution provides the key-note of the whole epoch. Individual actions can only be considered revolutionary or counter revolutionary when related to the central issue of revolution, which is only to be discovered by an accurate analysis of the socio-historic whole. The actuality of revolution therefore implies study of each individual daily problem in concrete association with socio-historic whole, as moments in the liberation of the proletariat.10

The actuality of revolution, as a guiding principle, affects the dialectical union of the process and goal, of the day-to-day work of the working class movement and the final goal of proletarian revolution, whereas, imminence fragments the totality of revolutionary struggle into pre- and post-imminent situations with no continuity between them, at the border of which the movement is supposed to switch over from reformist to revolutionary mood at the snap of a finger. Actuality asserts the totality of the revolutionary struggle whereas imminence fragments it and lends it impotent. Imminence presents every political question in the pre-imminent phase as a question only of reform whereas actuality “means that every question of the day – precisely as a question of the day – at the same time became a fundamental problem of the revolution.” This dialectical union of the ‘question of the day’ and the ‘fundamental problem of revolution’ shines through as the biggest achievement of Lenin’s thought and politics. All of Lenin’s political thought is a study in the dialectical union between the immediate political questions and the ultimate revolutionary struggle.

Neil Harding has extensively documented11 the ‘remarkable coherence and consistency’ in Lenin’s political strategy. This consistency owes its existence to two factors: one, Lenin always based his political strategy on detailed class analysis of existing economic relations and two, each one of Lenin’s strategies was informed by the actuality of the final aim, that of proletarian revolution. For Lenin, the primary duties of the vanguard of the working class were to exactly gauge, based on class analysis of the objective socio-economic reality, the potentialities of each political situation and to orient the proletarian struggle towards consummation of the most radical potentiality, in direct opposition to the bourgeois and petty bourgeois12 efforts not to take the situation to its radical limits.

The radical potentiality of concrete situations will only be revealed in relation to the final aim of the movement. In other words, it is the actuality of revolution which informs the theoretical analysis and practical strategy of the vanguard. As Harding remarks13

The task of the social democratic vanguard was always to have the next stage of development in view. It was, as Lenin once put it, ‘to see the future in the present’. Theory, far from being retrospective, was, for Lenin, valuable only because it was predictive. The claim to authority of the social democrats (and later communists) was derived from their prescient awareness of the broad outlines of the next phase of the historical progression – they claimed to know what was coming into being.

So, it is obvious that Lenin saw the struggle for the liberation of the proletariat to be a continuous process and that seeing the ‘future in the present’ to be nothing else other than to be informed and guided by the actuality of revolution. Leninism urges us to analyse and realise the full potential of the concrete present in relation to the actuality of the future revolution. This also shows us that Leninist thought and practice is not a switch which is to be flipped on only once the revolution is imminent, as Patnaik would have us believe, but is a constant presence which stresses the continuity of proletarian strategy and the need to view each political situation in a revolutionary manner. Probably, Lenin had people like Patnaik in mind when he wrote that14

It is not difficult to be a revolutionary when revolution has already broken out and is in spate, when all people are joining the revolution just because they are carried away, because it is the vogue, and sometimes even from careerist motives. After its victory, the proletariat has to make most strenuous efforts, even the most painful, so as to “liberate” itself from such pseudo-revolutionaries.It is far more difficult— and far more precious— to be a revolutionary when the conditions for direct, open, really mass and really revolutionary struggle do not yet exist, to be able to champion the interests of the revolution (by propaganda, agitation and organisation) in non-revolutionary bodies, and quite often in downright reactionary bodies, in a non-revolutionary situation, among the masses who are incapable of immediately appreciating the need for revolutionary methods of action. To be able to seek, find and correctly determine the specific path or the particular turn of events that will lead the masses to the real, decisive and final revolutionary struggle.
Instead of exhorting the left to be vibrant and radical, Prof. Patnaik is urging the Indian left in the opposite direction, to stop being revolutionary until revolution is imminent, to be flexible and to hide behind the back of opportunist alliances and to barge in once the revolution is served on a platter. Lenin correctly identifies such people as ‘pseudo-revolutionaries’ with ‘careerist motives’ from which the proletariat has to ‘liberate itself’. If Lenin was alive today, our ‘Professors’ would have branded him a puritan fool!

In the above quoted passage, Lenin provides an exact and succinct description of the revolutionary duty of communists in a non-revolutionary situation: “… to be able to champion the interests of the revolution (by propaganda, agitation and organisation) in non-revolutionary bodies … To be able to seek, find and correctly determine the specific path or the particular turn of events that will lead the masses to the real, decisive and final revolutionary struggle”. We have already seen that reformist social democrats like Patnaik envisage a totally different path. When the former tries to “determine the specific path or the particular turn of events that will lead the masses to the real, decisive and final revolutionary struggle” and to orient the specific strategy of the moment based on this, the latter, having lost any and all appreciation for the actuality of the ‘final revolutionary struggle’ because of their petty bourgeois class orientation, gropes in the dark, sees only the present, vacillates, weighs different options in compromise and at last arrives at the easiest regressive option meant at diffusing the present crisis as quickly and uneventfully as possible. Many examples for these two diagonally opposite approaches can be cited from the Russian experience itself, but let me restrict myself to one, that too very briefly.

During Russia’s 1905 revolution, both Lenin’s Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks were convinced that the scope of this revolution was bourgeois-democratic in nature15. But they drew vastly different conclusions from this premise. The Mensheviks concluded that as it was a bourgeois-democratic revolution, the class that will lead this revolution had to be the bourgeoisie; the proletariat had to play second fiddle, in alliance with the bourgeoisie and has to be careful not to do anything ‘reckless’ which will make the bourgeois ‘recoil’ and retreat from the revolution against the monarchy. In other words, the Mensheviks argued that the revolution had to remain strictly within the coordinates of bourgeois aspirations and should go only as long as the bourgeoisie take it; they were for hiding carefully behind the bourgeois backs who were given the leading role.

Lenin violently disagreed16. He correctly argued that in countries which already had a fully formed proletariat, the bourgeoisie will never be interested in fully realising all the progressive potential of democratic revolution. Instead of decisive and complete decimation of the monarchy and feudal super structure, the bourgeoisie would want many of the ‘remnants of the past’ to be carefully preserved so that they act as an impediment to the growth of proletarian class consciousness and can be used as a bulwark in the class struggle against the proletariat.

Based on this class assessment of the ‘inconsistency’ and ‘treachery’ of the bourgeoisie, Lenin concluded that consummation of the most “complete, determined, and consistent democratic revolution” in Russia was the duty of the proletariat! Hence, what was needed was not an alliance with the bourgeoisie but that the proletariat take up the leading role in the revolution and force the hands of the bourgeois class which is “self-seeking and cowardly in its support of the revolution” to consummate the democratic revolution in the most complete and radical manner.

What is the root cause of this difference of strategies between Lenin and the Mensheviks? Mensheviks approached the democratic revolution in an ahistorical manner, in an empirical vein, as a problem of democratic revolution alone. They had long since forgotten the dialectical link between the present struggle and the final aim. But Lenin, a dialectician to the core keenly aware of the actuality of proletarian revolution, was able to understand that the way in which the democratic revolution was consummated would have a direct bearing on the balance of the class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie after that and on the prospects of proletarian revolution, i.e., he saw ‘the future in the present’.

The bourgeois would only be interested in the consummation of democratic revolution in a form that was least beneficial to the proletariat, in a partial, inconsistent form affected through compromises with the monarchy and feudal forces. But the proletariat is interested in a form of democratic revolution which will sweep away all the decayed remnants of the feudal past, ensure the “broadest, freest and the most rapid development of capitalism” that will set the stage for a rapid and unhindered maturing of class contradictions and proletarian class consciousness.

Hence the famous expression from Lenin that “there are bourgeois revolutions and bourgeois revolutions”. So it clearly emerges that the difference between the opportunists and Lenin was based on his appreciation of the actuality of the proletarian revolution, which allowed him to see the present democratic revolution as a stage in the whole continuous process of class struggle. What Lenin is advocating here is the dialectical unity of the present strategy and the final aim; to make sure that the bourgeois revolution is consummated in a form which is most beneficial to the struggle for the ultimate liberation of the proletariat. This makes it absolutely clear that actuality of revolution is the cornerstone of Leninist conjuncture and that Patnaik’s imminence is its vulgarisation and a reformist excuse.

So, has the Leninist conjuncture been superseded? We are living through the most severe and drawn out capitalist crisis since WWII. Major capitalist economies are stuck in a mire with no immediate prospect of revival in sight, the so called emerging economies are being pulled into it. With the Chinese economy which, according to World Bank data, made the largest contribution to global economic growth over the past decade experiencing major problems, the contradictions of global capitalism are beginning to be laid bare more than ever. The unipolar supremacy of the US is eroding, the European bloc is imploding from within and inequality levels are touching pre-1930 standards. On the subjective front, spontaneous movements are cropping up in all parts of the globe, may it be the occupy movement, the unrest in Greece or struggles in even developed parts of Europe.

Statistics show that there has been a manyfold increase in the number of strikes in China which is experiencing a surge in workers’ militancy. Rank and file workers’ struggles are on the rise in India too with some of them, like the textile workers agitation in Bangalore, bringing the whole state apparatus to its knees in hours. Many of these struggles are not explicitly anti-capitalist in nature, many of them are not even proper working class movements, most often they are spontaneous outpourings of pent up anger. But what cannot be denied is that such movements arise because the acute contradictions of capitalism has made its effect felt on the toiling class which is beginning to question the sustainability of such a system more than ever.

Furthermore, liberal parliamentary democracy has been thoroughly exposed as nothing but a bourgeois façade. The very foundations of the bourgeois edifice is visibly shaking. In such a condition, for a class conscious proletarian revolutionary, the actuality of revolution shines through with exceptional clarity. There has been no other age in the post-war history in which the Marxist-Leninist conjuncture based on the actuality of revolution has been more pertinent. The Leninist conjuncture, far from being superseded as Patnaik’s reformist theory would have it, is THE living, throbbing, motoring force of history right now which the toiling class has to imbibe.

In spite of this, it remains true that revolution is not imminent. The spontaneous rank and file movements arising in every part of the globe does not still exhibit a consistent anti-capitalist orientation and are not conscious enough to see the liberation of the working class as the only practical solution of the existing contradictions. They are still ‘economic’ in nature and are, at best, advocating the fair redistribution of wealth rather than a change in the mode of production. This is because a class conscious proletarian vanguard which can uncover the social and political roots of these economic grievances to the toiling class and which can unify these spontaneous struggles into a broader and more purposeful social struggle does not exist17. This void was created, as Patnaik correctly remarks, due to the slow and gradual decay of working class parties worldwide in the post-war era. What was the main reason for this decay? It is here that Patnaik fires his second great salvo. He has already theorised that the Leninist conjuncture, based on imminence of revolution, has been superseded after the war.

This situation, opines Patnaik, called for communism to “reinvent and restructure itself, to come to terms with a post-Leninist conjuncture, in order to remain viable.” It failed to live up to this task, he suggests. “This was difficult enough; it was made more difficult by a common but undesirable tendency among revolutionaries to place moral purity above practical politics and deny the non-imminence of revolution.” Thus he asserts that it was the inability of the left to correctly gauge and appreciate the demise of Leninism that led to their downfall. This is a naked travesty of post-war history. It is not just that the decay of left was not caused by their inability to outlive Lenin, but that the exact opposite is true. The decay of the global left has its roots in its inability to gauge and preserve the topicality of the Marxist – Leninist conjuncture based on the actuality of revolution, in its abandonment of the revolutionary question, in its metamorphosis into social democracy and in its descend into the ranks of ‘welfarism’. Through what Charles Post has termed the ‘gradual process of social democratisation’, the left parties

…adapted the political strategy of social democracy – alliances with capitalist and middle class liberals in defence of the institutions of the democratic capitalist state, and seeking reforms through parliamentary activity and routine collective bargaining rather than mass, militant struggles

and drifted towards a political orientation “designed to administer the crisis and not to make profound transformations18”. They began to resemble closely the social democratic parties of the second international for which “…the daily non revolutionary routine became the be all and end all”. This ‘social democratisation’ had clear political economic reasons. The post-war capitalist boom which ushered in the so-called ‘golden age of capitalism’ bred illusions in much of the intelligentsia

…it became the orthodoxy on the right and much of the left to proclaim that the contradictions in the system perceived by Marx had been overcome. The key change, it was argued, was that governments had learned to intervene in the economy to counteract tendencies to crisis along the lines urged in 1930s by John Meynard Keynes.19

The left, faced with a booming capitalism and the claim that the contradictions had been dealt with, chose exactly the same option that Patnaik is advocating now; forget the actuality of revolution, abandon the Marxist – Leninist conjuncture, prostrate before the logic of capital and become reformist. So when crisis, which was supposedly consigned to the historical dust bin, came back crashing through the front door in the late 60s and early 70s, the reformist left was caught napping. Because by then, as Post remarks, “Decades of routine collective bargaining and parliamentary – electoral politics combined with a highly centralised and bureaucratic internal life had transformed the bulk of the rank and file of the communist parties into supporters of the forces of official reformism – the labour and party-parliamentary officialdom”.

It was the capitalist class which made quick and thorough use of the crisis to pull history further towards right because they were much more class conscious and prepared; the bourgeoisie had never seen ‘welfare state’ as nothing else but a temporary adjustment to wade through a difficult post-war situation. At the first opportunity, it phased out the welfare state and rolled in neo-liberalism, crushing any resistance that was offered. The left, devoid of all revolutionary content after all those years of peaceful, flexible, non-puritan, non-revolutionary politics, could conjure up nothing but a pitiable squeal to return back to the good old days of ‘state funding20’.

Patnaik’s conjuncture on the demise of Leninism and his assertion that the decay of the left was caused by its obstinacy to let go off Lenin immediately runs into trouble. It fails the very first practical test that it is put to by its author itself. This illusionary construct implodes on its very first contact with real history. Unable to make sense of facts with his reformist conjuncture, Patnaik presents them as riddles of history21.

During the ‘golden age’ years when one would have expected the appeal of communism to diminish, it did not, while in the era of globalisation when the misery of the working people are mounting everywhere and capitalism is attenuating democracy and the welfare state, communism, far from gaining ground, seems to be at loss.

I shall suggest a simple method to solve this riddle; take off those reformist glasses and prepare yourself to look the facts in the eye. Replace the word ‘communism’ above with ‘social democracy’ and the riddle solves itself! But with it, out goes the ‘Patnaik conjuncture’.It was bureaucratic social democracy that ‘retained’ its parliamentary support base during capitalist boom and it is the same social democracy which is finding it difficult now to stop it from eroding. The support was retained in the ‘golden age’ by caving in for popular notions about the infallibility of capitalism and by converting themselves into fixers of capitalism. The class essence of this support was thoroughly petty bourgeois. In the neo-liberal era of recurring crisis and mounting misery, it is obvious that a movement which based itself on the possibility of a humane and crisis free capitalism, and which internalised these welfare illusions in its day-to-day political practice, would find its support deserting it. When, as Patnaik correctly remarks, ‘capitalism attenuates the welfare state’, how can a Left which had rooted itself in the possibility of achieving a just society through welfare state stop from being irrelevant? Hence, this is no ‘conundrum’ as laid out by Patnaik, but is the logical result of Lefts’ reformist embrace.

A communist movement thrives on capitalist crisis22; crisis serves as the most effective lesson in historical materialism to the working class and impresses upon them the correctness and practicality of revolutionary Marxism. When a capitalist crisis erupts and workers’ lives take a turn from bad to worse, revolutionary communist movements alone, which had relentlessly preached to them the inherently contradictory nature of capitalism shall preserve the locus standi to direct the working class. Hence, at seemingly ‘golden’ times for capital, the proletarian vanguard does not drop its guard and switch over to non-revolutionary politics but keeps the actuality of revolution alive in workers’ consciousness, organises its troops and build strength in workers’ struggles.

Once the crisis flaunts capitalism’s contradictions, the workers, even those who had no sympathy to them, gradually grasp that the consistent revolutionary line of the vanguard was all along the correct one. The prospects of Lenin’s Bolsheviks provide a good example for this. With limited presence even in the bigger cities prior to the imperialist war, their popularity and reach exploded once the war went sour. Every passing day aggravated the crisis and showed to the working class the hollowness of the patriotic line of the bourgeoisie and the pacifist or centrist line of social democracy. The Bolshevik’s consistent revolutionary line even at the beginning of the war when the patriotic fervour was at its peek at last was vindicated, which began to swell their ranks.

This sudden reversal in the fortunes of the Bolsheviks still remain such an incomprehensible mystery to specialist bourgeois historians that they are forced to conjure up exotic theories to explain it23. The prospects of reformist movement takes the opposite course, their ranks swells in calm times, with workers deserting them once the crisis breaks. Clearly it is this course that the social democratic left of the post-war era has taken.

Imperialism, War and Revolution; Patnaik as the Indian Kautsky

We have seen that the very first contact with history obliterated the ‘Patnaik conjuncture’ and its explanation for left’s post-war decay. Now, we have to wade through Patnaik’s next theoretical contribution in his article, that of warless imperialism.

Patnaik goes on to enlighten us about the reasons for his assertion that revolution is not imminent. He sees the present age as one characterised by “… a muting of inter-imperialist rivalries” mainly due to the “… emergence of globalised or international finance capital which saw all partitioning of the world as standing in the way of its freedom to move globally.” He emphatically concludes that24

The era of struggles for repartitioning the world among rival nation-based monopoly combines was over since such combines no longer held centre stage. In short, the Leninist conjuncture had been superseded; wars of course continued, but they did not express inter-imperialist rivalry, not even by proxy.

The gist of Patnaik’s logic is very clear: imminence of revolution was the basis of Leninist conjuncture and inter-imperialist war was the reason for this imminence. Now that finance capital has obliterated imperialist rivalries and with it the chance of imperialist wars, revolution cannot be imminent. Hence Leninist conjuncture stands superseded. Nice! This argument is a shocking travesty of the spirit of Marxism-Leninism and a naked vulgarisation of Marx’s ideas of revolutionary change. But first we have to dwell upon some historical parallels which will make the class basis of Patnaik’s argument clear. In 1915, Karl Kautsky had put forward his theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ order to justify his ‘centrist’ line of not opposing the imperialist WWI in a revolutionary way and of maintaining a laughable false neutrality in the face of war. Lenin characterised it thus25

‘From the purely economic point of view’, writes Kautsky, ‘it is not impossible that capitalism will yet go through a new phase, that of the extension of the policy of cartels to foreign policy, the phase of ultra-imperialism’, i.e. of a super imperialism, of a union of the imperialisms of the world and not struggles among them, a phase when wars shall cease under capitalism, a phase of ‘the joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital’.

Thus, what Patnaik is really asserting is that we are living in the age of Kautsky’s ‘ultra-imperialism’.

In the year 2000, when Leftword Books brought out an edition of Lenin’s Imperialism, they got a theorist of international repute from among the left intelligentsia to write its introduction. This introduction spiritedly attacked the notion that inter-imperialist rivalries have died down and that Kautsky’s prediction has proved to be correct rather than Lenin’s. In it, we read the following

The fact that globalisation of finance capital has brought about a degree of unity among the imperialist countries, at least in their dealings with the Third World, may create the impression that the world has moved to the Kautskyan vision of ‘ultra-imperialism’ rather than remaining submerged in ‘inter-imperialist rivalries’ as Lenin had prognosticated, that real developments have vindicated Kautsky rather than Lenin. To believe this, however, would constitute a serious misreading … of contemporary reality.

Patnaik’s assertion that inter-imperialist rivalries have been muted and imperialist wars have ceased, constitute such a ‘serious misreading’. The irony is that the ‘reputed theorist’ who wrote this introduction and attacked all varieties of Kaustkyan ultra-imperialism in 2000 was none other than Prof. Prabhat Patnaik26. Surely, some drastic qualitative change in the character of capitalist imperialism has happened in the last 15 years that prompted our Professor to do an intellectual somersault. Now he embraces the theory of warless super-imperialism brought about by finance capital that he had completely rejected and attacked in 2000. We shall go through his arguments in 2000 against his own position now and try to guess what prompted him to change his stand in such a dramatic manner.

Patnaik, in his 2000 Introduction, summed up Lenin’s approach to the theory of conflict-less imperialism thus

‘Ultra-imperialism’ thus was repugnant to Lenin because it conjured up a vision of global peace under capitalism … The line of his [Lenin’s] attack was as follows: uneven development under capitalism necessarily implies that any agreement among the imperialist powers for the joint exploitation of the world, which is based on their prevailing relative strengths, gets undermined over time: a redrawing of the agreement is achieved through the use of force. Conflicts and struggles between the imperialist powers, even if interrupted by periods of truce, are a perennial feature. Peaceful periods are mere interludes of temporary truce; permanent peace under capitalism is impossible.

Back then, Patnaik was in complete agreement with the Leninist attack on the ‘reactionary ultra-imperialist fable’ and proclaimed that war was ‘an inevitable outcome of imperialism’. He was very sure that the current phase of imperialist unity in the face of globalised finance capital was only a transient phenomenon. He wrote

The current unity among the imperialist powers too may prove to be only transient. What is more, even if the unity lasts, i.e., even if inter imperialist conflicts remain muted, this still does not mean that wars would have been avoided, since other kinds of wars would break out to disrupt the ‘joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital’. One obvious example would be wars between united imperialism and countries unwilling to toe its line.

It is amazing how much distance Prabhat Patnaik has covered in the last 15 years, from being an unequivocal supporter of the Leninist notion of ‘permanent strife’ under imperialism, to an ardent advocate of a ‘warless, peaceful’ imperialism with all rivalries obliterated by finance capital. All this, only to be able to proclaim the ‘demise of Lenin’ and to justify the ‘non-revolutionary’ politics of the reformist left. It is important to note here that, back then, Patnaik had highlighted two important points in support of the Leninist version of imperialism. 1) Any unity among imperialist powers can only be temporary, inter-imperialist conflicts, even if interrupted by lengthy periods of truce, cannot be avoided. 2) Because of ‘uneven development of capitalism’, which Lenin had stressed, imperialist wars may take the form of wars by a bloc of developed countries on other countries ‘unwilling to toe their line’. He now vehemently opposes both of these points.

Patnaik maintains now that finance capital has heralded in an era of ‘warless imperialism’ and that the current truce among imperialist powers is permanent. For him, the wars being fought now are not the expression of contradictions of imperialism and have got nothing to do with inter-imperialist rivalries, ‘not even by proxy’. Why such a dramatic change in opinion? Is it prompted by any equally dramatic qualitative change in the characteristics of finance capitalism and imperialism in the last 15 years? Obviously NO. If Prof. Patnaik can perceive such a change in the basis of imperialism which has made it ‘ultra’ and ‘rivalry free’ in 15 years, he should not hold it from his disciples! What can be clearly perceived is that finance capital’s pursuit of the whole world has intensified many fold in this time and this has led to increased imperialist manoeuvring.

This has led to the intensification of antagonisms between imperialist powers and between imperialist powers and others. After 2000, we have seen wars upon wars unleashed by imperialist powers in many parts of the world on the thinnest of pretexts. It is amazing to see Patnaik maintain that these wars have nothing to do with imperialism. His claim that imperialist rivalries have muted down and do not express themselves in wars ‘even by proxy’ is downright laughable in the face of prolonged conflicts in Syria with different imperialist blocs adopting different tactics, fighting for different results and supporting mutually opposed parties. At least on some occasions, the war in Syria has threatened to spill over into a war between some of the imperialist backers (as when the Russian Sukhoi jet was shot down by Turkey).

Patnaik’s newly found support of Kautskyan ‘ultra-imperialism’ conveniently forgets two things. One, that the wars that the united imperialism is currently waging against the third world is itself an expression of deep rooted contradictions of monopoly capitalism. Patnaik uses all the ingenuity of an academician to divorce such wars from imperialism by noting that they do not express inter-imperialist rivalries. Even if, for the sake of argument, we concede that finance capital has put an end to the urge to repartition the world, it is very clear that it has failed conclusively to put an end to contradictions that breed imperialist war. Wars continue to be waged, killing millions, decimating whole countries and converting them into heaps of rubble.

Blood of innocents drip from the profits that keep the capitalist ruling class stuttering along. These contradictions of monopoly capitalism which the imperialist powers look to surmount through imperialist wars can, in reality be ended only with the advent of the next higher stage of human history which is socialism. This calls for the organisation and struggle of the world working class in the spirit of the actuality of revolution; it is to escape this conclusion that Patnaik divorces these wars from imperialism27. Two, in keeping with his reformist orientation, Patnaik forgets the real spirit behind Lenin’s assertion that inter-imperialist conflicts are unavoidable in monopoly stage of capitalism. According to Lenin, what are the reasons that necessitate such conflicts? Can they be avoided forever by ‘inter-imperialist’ alliances, as Patnaik maintains? Lenin answers these questions in the context of early 20th century, thus28

Let us assume that all the imperialist countries conclude an alliance for the peaceful ‘division’ of these parts of Asia; this alliance would be an alliance of ‘internationally united finance capital’… We ask, is it ‘conceivable’, … that such alliances would be more than temporary, that they would eliminate friction, conflicts and struggle in every possible form? The question has only to be presented clearly for any other than a negative answer to be impossible. This is because the only conceivable basis under capitalism for the division of spheres of influence, interests, colonies etc., is the calculation of the strength of those participating, their general economic, financial, military strength etc. And the strength of these participants in the division does not change to an equal degree, for the even development of … countries is impossible under capitalism.

Any change in the relative strengths of the participating countries necessitates a re-division which is sure to lead to conflicts. This is the reason given by Lenin for the volatile nature of inter-imperialist truce. It is true that the hegemony of finance capital has made the direct administration of countries by imperialist powers unnecessary. But, each imperialist power is keen to make sure that the ruling class of the third world country act in strict accordance to the imperialist consensus and that they orient their policies and practices in a way that a) facilitates the imperialist plunder of its resources and b) favours this imperialist power in accordance to its relative strength vis-à-vis others. We have already seen that wars can arise if any country is unwilling to satisfy the first condition. Such wars will most probably be waged between ‘united’ imperialisms and that country.

Patnaik concedes that such wars are possible but refuses to see their connection to imperialism. But that is not all. The second point also can be the source of inter-imperialist rivalries and wars as we see that the relative strengths of imperialist powers are subject to change with even the superiority of US fast eroding. Any such realignment in the relative strengths of rival imperialisms can still have a direct impact which may lead to conflicts. They may start as domestic wars between proxy groups inside the country but can easily spill over to inter imperialist-conflicts, even if carried out in foreign territory. This is especially so in times of overall capitalist crisis wherein all the imperialist powers are reeling from its effect and are in the desperate lookout for a larger portion of the pie.

A routine argument advanced against the chance of wars is that current imperialism, characterised by the absence of direct administration of foreign territories by imperialist powers and dependent on the all-pervasive nature of finance capital, cannot lead to inter-imperialist conflicts as the players (large corporations) are not rooted in any country and have operations across the globe. So, individual states will not take up the struggles between these corporations and will only be interested in facilitating operational freedom and ‘right to exploitation’ for them across the globe. This will be made sure by the ‘united’ imperialist bloc. Such a view arises from a basic misreading of the situation. As Chris Harman remarks29

… the capitals today, far from not needing states, require them as much as –if not more than – ever before. … The internationalisation of firms’ operations, far from leading to less dependence on state support, increases it in one important respect. They need protection for their global interests. … There is no world state to undertake such tasks. And so the power of any national state to force others to respect the interests of capitals based within it has become more important, if not less. … All are dependent upon “their” states to persuade other states to let them get their way.

As far as capitalist ruling class is concerned, war is the most persuasive way to persuade. The roots of the globetrotting multinational giants are still firmly entrenched in a particular state and they retain extremely close relations with its political elite. A look at Hillary Clinton’s aggressive lobbying for Walmart’s entry into Indian retail market is a case in point30. Thus, to expect the international reach of finance capital to mute inter-imperialist rivalry is to miss the point. As Harman points out

The giant company does not end its link with the state, but rather multiplies the number of states – and national capitalist networks – to which it is linked. … The successor to state capitalism of the mid-20th century has not been some non-state capitalism but rather a system in which capitals rely on “their” state as much as ever, but try to spread beyond it to form links with capitals tied to other states. In the process, the system as a whole has become more chaotic.

This chaotic nature, very much in keeping with capitalism’s basic structure, does not rule out inter-imperialist rivalries but broadens and intensifies it.

With his fantasies on the ‘muting of imperialist rivalries’, Patnaik is only repeating Kautsky. As Lenin pointed out31

… ‘inter-imperialist’ or ‘ultra-imperialist’ alliances, no matter what form they may assume, whether of one imperialist coalition against another, or of a general alliance embracing all the imperialist powers, are inevitably nothing more than a ‘truce’ in periods between wars. Peaceful alliances prepare the ground for wars, and in their turn grow out of wars; the one conditions the other, producing alternate forms of peaceful and non-peaceful struggle on one and the same basis of imperialist realisations and relations within world economics and world politics. … over-wise Kautsky separates one link of a chain from another, separates the present peaceful alliance of all the powers … from the non-peaceful conflict of tomorrow. … Instead of showing the living connection between periods of imperialist peace and periods of imperialist war, Kautsky presents the workers with a lifeless abstraction in order to reconcile them to their lifeless leaders.

Patnaik proclaims that the era of imperialist rivalries are over and with it has ended the possibility of imperialist wars. He then alludes that social revolutions are impossible without imperialist wars and that they are non-imminent. As, according to him, the Leninist conjuncture is based on the premise of imminence of revolution, Patnaik concludes that Leninist conjuncture has been superseded. He advises the left to let go off Lenin and to chart an alternate path based on alliances and compromises. At the time of the biggest post war capitalist crisis, at a time when Indian working class is once again showing signs of regaining its vitality, he advocates strict non-revolutionary politics. All this to justify Indian social democracy’s opportunistic and regressive alliances with outright reactionary parties32. Patnaik is thus donning the role of an Indian Kautsky.

It is important to note that Patnaik reduces Lenin’s rich ideas on imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism to inter-imperialist rivalries alone. This is done so that the present apparent truce between imperialist powers can be made a pretext to argue that Leninist conjuncture is no more valid. But we have to appreciate that Lenin’s critical approach to imperialism is based broadly on three important points out of which the inevitability of wars is one. Patnaik make no effort to engage with the other two points because that will make the topicality of Lenin’s analysis clear to the readers. First, what was the primary aspect of Lenin’s critique of imperialism? Was it that it breeds war? No. Though it was very important, it was not the primary aspect that convinced Lenin that social revolution is the only way out of imperialist phase. According to Lenin33, “If it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism we should have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism”, a stage in which capitalism has outgrown all its progressive potential and is in a state of decay. “Monopolies, oligarchy, the striving for domination and not freedom, the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful of the richest or more powerful nations – all these have given birth to these distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compel us to define it as parasitic or decaying capitalism”, declared Lenin. These words can be used verbatim to define the age in which we live now. Lenin’s definition of imperialism as ‘moribund capitalism’ retain their exact literal meaning now. The progressive phase of capitalism was connected with the age of free competition which had made necessary social relations based on freedom and democracy.

But, in Neil Harding’s words34, Lenin saw that, “The extinction of free competition signifies the end of the essential progressive role of capitalism in history.” Freedom and democracy are under vicious attack in one region of the world after another because they are not compatible with the imperialist stage of capitalism35. Capitalism, in its imperialist stage, has exhausted all its progressive potential, it is a ‘zombie’ now and has nothing to offer to mankind. This is the real incentive behind the Leninist call that the era of social revolutions has arrived. This is why Lenin maintained that the practical alternative to imperialism cannot be an illusionary return to free competition or formal democracy, but an advance to socialism. It is this revolutionary conclusion that Patnaik tries to hide by not invoking this dimension of the Leninist critique of imperialism. Instead, he shamelessly vulgarises Lenin’s thought and asserts that as there are no imperialist wars now, we ought to go back to ‘strengthening democracy’!

But a revolutionary advance is not something which can be conjured up at will. The decay of capitalism in its imperialist phase is one thing, but if this is to be translated into a revolutionary advance, the question of maturity of objective conditions required for such a transition will have to be examined. This is where Lenin offers his second crucial insight on imperialism which Patnaik, evidently, never considers important to mention. Lenin clearly locates the place of imperialism in history36

We have seen that in its economic essence imperialism is monopoly capitalism. This in itself determines its place in history, for monopoly that grows out of the soil of free competition, and precisely out of free competition is the transition from capitalist system to a higher socio-economic order.

In the last chapter of his ‘Imperialism’ titled ‘The place of imperialism in history’, Lenin unambiguously asserts that imperialism leads to the maturing of objective conditions for the transition to a higher stage of human history. As Harding remarks

Lenin’s fundamental premise was that capitalism had changed in nature. From being competitive, thrusting and progressive, it had become monopolistic, passive and degenerate. At the same time, however, finance capital had carried the socialisation of productive process to its ultimate extent and had erected, in the banks, cartels and trusts, mechanisms through which social control of production and distribution could easily be achieved. The obverse of the degenerate, parasitic side of imperialism was that it had finally established the objective basis for an advance to socialism in all the industrially developed nations.

This is the most crucial of Lenin’s insights on imperialism. This objective basis that Lenin pointed to have become ten times more elaborate and deep in our time of crass imperialism. Lenin offers a striking graphical description of the development of socialisation of production and its effect on the social relations of production

When a big enterprise assumes gigantic proportions, and, on the basis of an exact computation of mass data, organises according to plan the supply of primary raw materials to the extent of two-thirds, or three-fourths, of all that is necessary for tens of millions of people; when the raw materials are transported in a systematic and organised manner to the most suitable places of production, sometimes situated hundreds or thousands of miles from each other; when a single centre directs all the consecutive stages of processing the material right up to the manufacture of numerous varieties of finished articles; when these products are distributed according to a single plan among tens and hundreds of millions of consumers (the marketing of oil in America and Germany by the American oil trust)—then it becomes evident that we have socialisation of production,… that private economic and private property relations constitute a shell which no longer fits its contents, a shell which must inevitably decay if its removal is artificially delayed, a shell which may remain in a state of decay for a fairly long period (if, at the worst, the cure of the opportunist abscess is protracted), but which will inevitably be removed.

Remember that Lenin wrote this down 100 years ago, decades before the advent of computers. Now, the above said processes happen on an infinitely wider, quicker and more efficient scale. Thus monopolistic capitalism has clearly created all the necessary objective conditions for transition to a higher mode of production. But Patnaik’s reformist eye sees none of these. It perceives only one thing, the absence of imperialist wars. This is more than enough for him to ‘rule out revolution’ and to proclaim the demise of Leninism. Academic vision is a remarkable thing; with great dexterity, it selectively highlights that ONE thing which serves its purpose – that of eternal postponement of revolution.

As Harding remarks about Patnaik’s reformist European friends, “… these host of permanent postponers of revolution, shut their eyes to the evident facts and continue their endless vigil for the objective conditions to mature.”

Lenin admonished such petty bourgeois theorists

They picture socialism as some remote, unknown and dim future. But socialism is now gazing at us from all the windows of modern capitalism; socialism is outlined directly, practically, by every important measure that constitute a forward step on the basis of this modern capitalism.

So the crux of the Leninist argument on imperialism is this: Imperialism which is the moribund stage of capitalism, make social revolution a necessity. The ripening of objective conditions brought about by imperialism makes social revolution a possibility. Imperialist wars bred by contradictions in monopoly capitalism, makes social revolution inescapable. The difference between revolutionary Lenin and reformist Patnaik is very clear now. The ‘Patnaik conjuncture’ says that the left need act with a revolutionary orientation only once the revolution becomes inescapable.

 It further contends that for revolution to become imminent, imperialist war is a necessary pre-requisite. As we don’t have wars, no revolutionary imminence and hence no need for a revolutionary left. How simple and how ridiculous! Lenin, ‘the embodiment of revolutionary readiness’, instead views the above three stages in its totality. The first two ensure that revolution becomes a practical possibility, an actuality. Even in the absence of objective conditions which make it inescapable, Lenin urges the vanguard to steadily develop the class consciousness of the working class, to impress upon them the necessity and possibility of revolution. As Lenin incessantly repeated37, the revolutionary duty of the vanguard is to educate the toiling class on “… the need for, and the urgency and inevitability of, the revolution.”

When Patnaik ensures the working class that revolution is not on the agenda at all and ‘invents’ reasons to prove it, Lenin drums into them the inevitability of revolution; when Patnaik sings them lullabies, Lenin prevents them from dozing off by whipping them with hard truth. Lenin himself vividly captures this difference38: “… a revolutionary Marxist differs from the philistine and petty bourgeois by his ability to preach to the uneducated masses that the maturing revolution is necessary, to prove that it is inevitable, to explain its benefits to the people and to prepare the proletariat and all working and exploited people for it”, even when the revolution is not imminent and is only a possibility. It is clear that the Patnaik’s call to the left to remain non-revolutionary makes him, in Lenin’s words, a first rate petty bourgeois philistine.

Does Marxism – Leninism agree with the Patnaik conjuncture which makes inter-imperialist conflict a necessary pre-requisite for imminence of revolution? Not at all. Imperialist wars make revolution inescapable, but it is not, by any means, the only scenario which makes it inevitable. In Russia, imperialist war acted as the immediate cause of revolution, but it takes an academic to turn this around and claim that revolution cannot be triggered by anything but imperialist war. This is very clear, for example, in Lenin’s opinion about England hh39

We cannot tell—no one can tell in advance—how soon a real proletarian revolution will flare up there, and what immediate cause will most serve to rouse, kindle, and impel into the struggle the very wide masses, who are still dormant. … It is possible that the breach will be forced, the ice broken, by a parliamentary crisis, or by a crisis arising from colonial and imperialist contradictions, which are hopelessly entangled and are becoming increasingly painful and acute, or perhaps by some third cause, etc.

It is crystal clear that Lenin considers imperialist crisis to be one among many possible ‘triggers’ of revolution, but not as the only one. Patnaik bases the imminence of revolution on imperialist war because his petty bourgeois analysis assures him that imperialism has outgrown inter-imperialist conflicts. He picks that pre-requisite for revolution which, he thinks, will surely not be satisfied. It is a school boy trick aimed at eternal postponement of the revolutionary question.


‘Patnaik conjuncture’ identifies imperialist war as the necessary condition of imminence of revolution, Leninism recognises it as one of the many causes that can precipitate a revolutionary situation. Patnaik asserts that imminence of revolution, brought about by war, is the basis of Leninist conjuncture. The fact is that the basis of Leninist conjuncture is actuality of revolution. Patnaik urges the Indian left to embrace opportunist, non-revolutionary, alliance based politics when revolution is non-imminent. Lenin urges the vanguard to embody the dialectical union between day-to-day work and final revolutionary aim and thus to retain revolutionary orientation at all times.

Patnaik embraces the Kautskyst theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ and makes it the basis for eternal postponement of revolution. Leninism reveals the contradictions and antagonisms of crass imperialism and makes them the basis of revolutionary struggles. Status quo is Patnaik’s mantra; in the midst of one of the deepest capitalist crisis, he wants the proletariat to hide behind parliamentary alliances. In an era of spontaneously exploding workers’ struggles, he wants the left to remain strictly non-revolutionary.

If Patnaik treads this reformist path any longer, history will confer to him the same first name that it gave Kautsky – renegade.


[1]: Lenin, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, Collected Works, Vol. 22.
[2]:Prabhat Patnaik, Things that the left needs to do right, The Hindu, 24 May, 2016.
[3]:Georg Lukacs, Lenin – A study on the unity of his thought, Verso, 2009.
[5]:V I Lenin, Platform of reformists and platform of social-democrats, Complete Works of Lenin, Vol. 18.
[6]:It has, of course, to be kept in mind that Lenin uses the word ‘social-democrats’ in completely different senses prior to and after 1914. Before 1914, it loosely translates into ‘communists’ and after, it denotes the opportunists of second international.
[7]:“… neither Marx nor Lenin ever thought of the actuality of proletarian revolution and its aims as being readily realisable at any given moment”, says Lukacs.
[8]:Of course, as Engels also stressed, mature capitalism could not have, by itself produced the theory of proletarian revolution, it needed the insight of a genius to pick this up and formulate it.
[9]:Georg Lukacs, Lenin – A study on the unity of his thought, Verso, 2009.
[11]:Neil Harding, Lenin’s political thought, Vol. 1 & 2, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 1983.
[12]:History tells us that this petty bourgeois contingent always includes social democrats and reformists, like centrists and pacifists in Germany in 1914, Mensheviks in Russia in 1917 and parliamentary left in India now.
[13]:Neil Harding, Lenin’s political thought, Vol. 2, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 1983.
[14]:Lenin, Left-wing communism, An infantile disorder, Collected Works, Vol. 31.
[15]:“Only the most ignorant people can close their eyes to the bourgeois nature of the democratic revolution that is now taking place”, wrote Lenin.
[16]:Lenin’s stand is detailed in his 1905 pamphlet Two tactics of social democracy in the democratic revolution, Collected Works, Vol. 9. All the quotes in this para are from this pamphlet.
[17]:Where they exist, they do so in the form of relatively small groups which, in spite of their gargantuan effort, are unable to exert wide influence.
[18]:Charles Post, What is left of Leninism, Socialist Register 2013, The Merlin Press, London, 2012.
[19]:Chris Harman, Zombie capitalism, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2009.
[20]:This is the only option that the JNU ‘left’ contingent has to offer against neo-liberalism too, they advocate the ‘return to state funding’ as a magic wand to solve all the problems, see the conclusions of Chadrasekhar and Ghosh, The market that failed.
[21]:Prabhat Patnaik, Things that the left needs to do right, The Hindu, 24 May, 2016.
[22]:Exemplified by a quote generally credited to Mao: “Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent”.
[23]:Historians like Robert Service sees sheer luck at play here along with Lenin’s genius in real-politik.
[24]:Prabhat Patnaik, Things that the left needs to do right, The Hindu, 24 May, 2016.
[25]:Lenin, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, Collected Works, Vol. 22.
[26]:Prabhat Patnaik, Introduction to ‘Imperialism, The highest stage of capitalism’, Left Word, New Delhi, 2000. [27]:The Indian social democracy, under the ideological stewardship of thinkers like Patnaik, maintains that the way out of imperialism is ‘economic nationalism’ and not socialism; i.e., de-linking from globalization and going back to the ‘welfare state’. I had talked about this petty bourgeois nostalgia for state funding in an earlier essay, ‘Planning commission – Right’s intention, left’s reaction and the way forward’, which is available here:
[28]:Lenin, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, Collected Works, Vol. 22.
[29]:Chris Harman, Zombie capitalism, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2009.
[30]:P. Sainath, Walmart’s (and Hillary’s) Indian invasion,, December 14, 2011.
[31]:Lenin, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, Collected Works, Vol. 22.
[32]:In Tamilnadu, an alliance was assembled with Vijaykanth as its Chief Ministerial candidate!
[33]:Lenin, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, Collected Works, Vol. 22
[34]:Neil Harding, Lenin’s political thought, Vol. 2, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 1983.
[35]:It is for this reason that Patnaik’s call, in his essay, to go back to ‘democracy’ becomes a fantasy. We shall see this in detail in another forthcoming essay.
[36]:Lenin, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, Collected Works, Vol. 22.
[37]:Lenin, Platform of reformists and platform of social democrats, Collected Works, Vol. 18.
[38]:Lenin, Proletarian revolution and renegade Kautsky, Collected Works, Collected Works, Vol. 28.
[39]:Lenin, Left wing communism, An infantile disorder, Collected Works, Vol. 31.