Capitalism and Imperialism: A Negative Paternity Test

Rivista Internazionale di Scienze Economiche e Commerciali, Vol. 26, No. 5, 1979

Posted: 24 May 2005

See all articles by Arnaldo Mauri

Arnaldo Mauri

Università Degli Studi di Milano


Imperialism has been for years a topic for a widespread debate ranging from semantics to theory. The results are disappointing and we are still far from a theoretical framework which allows to, at least, interpreting the main events of XX century. The still prevailing confusion of terms and concepts has its ideological roots in Lenin's pamphlet on imperialism and capitalism published in 1917 in Geneva and elevated to the role of dogma after the success of October revolution in Russia. The exegesis of the Lenin's work reveals, however, John A. Hobson's Imperialism: a Study (London 1902) to be the main inspiration source behind the ipse dixit model adopted by the Marxist school and enables to discover errors of interpretation committed. Errors caused by certain ambiguities resulting from the contingent, and non-scientific, objectives set by the author of the pamphlet. For example the orthodox Marxist school's acceptance of the identity postulate monopolistic and financial phase of capitalism = imperialism, instead of the original cause-effect relationship. A more correct and updated reconstruction of the Hobson-Lenin model throws light on its limited validity in interpreting the main historical events of last century. Paradoxically enough, it was Soviet Russia, under Lenin's leadership, by refusing decolonization and self-determination of peoples, promised in 1917, and by invading neighbour countries, former possessions of the Russian empire, to obscure credibility of the Leninist paradigm. It was thereby empirically demonstrated that even a socialist country could be imperialist. A further example on the same line emerged at the end of World War II. Soviet Union, unwillingly involved in the war, came out of it victorious and snatched up a large haul of nations and territories without overly concerning itself with ethnic borders and with distinction between accomplices and victims of the Nazi aggression. It was clear that Hobson-Lenin model was obsolete and that new conceptual frameworks were needed.

Keywords: Imperialism, capitalism, marxism-leninism

JEL Classification: B14, B51

Suggested Citation

Mauri, Arnaldo, Capitalism and Imperialism: A Negative Paternity Test. Rivista Internazionale di Scienze Economiche e Commerciali, Vol. 26, No. 5, 1979, Available at SSRN:

Arnaldo Mauri (Contact Author)

Università Degli Studi di Milano ( email )

Milan, 20122

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