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Lenin, Gaza and Ukraine

When Rosa Luxemburg dismissed the idea of Polish independence and laughed at the idea of an independent Ireland, Lenin replied in “The rights of nations to self-determination” (1914) and referenced Marx’s support for Irish republicanism.


Sean Sheehan


Lenin’s championing of anti-imperialism grew stronger and “Imperialism and the national question” is a valuable compilation of his writings on the subject and they are relevant to what is happening in Gaza and Ukraine.

The outbreak of World War I saw the collapse of the European Left as its parties rallied in support of imperialist nations fighting amongst themselves. In response, Lenin wrote his booklet “Imperialism: the highest stage of Capitalism” in Zurich and nine hundred pages of his “Collected works” are filled with the notes he made on imperialism over 1915-1916. This helps explain the amount of empirical data in the booklet and how it supports his understanding of imperialism  as a historical stage of capitalism (‘Highest’ in the title meant ‘contemporary’, not ‘ultimate’) with economic roots in the development of monopolies, finance capital and banks, the seizure of raw materials and a territorial division of the world.

Imperialism may seem an outdated concept in an age of globalization and techno-capitalism. Big tech companies do not own the internet complex but, by being in a position to charge rent to smaller enterprises for their business within parts of it, become feudal lords, capitalists of the cloud. But the US invasion of Iraq serves as a reminder that globalization continues to rely on imperialist military might and what is happening in Gaza is another aspect of this.

Jared Kushner, who could resume his role as a senior foreign policy adviser under a second Trump presidency, publicly speaking of the profits to be made by redeveloping Gaza’s ‘waterfront property’, points to how the process of settler colonisation in the West Bank can be extended to other parts of Palestine.

Equally relevant to Lenin’s awareness of imperial territorial conquest, which drove competitive governments into WWI, is Naomi  Klein’s observation of how right-wing leaders, from Starmer and Sunak to Victor Orban and Narendra Modi, are united in defending imperialism’s right to rule. She singles out how Gustavo Petro in Colombia understood this very quickly when, back in October immediately after Israel launched its genocidal violence: ‘The barbarity of consumption”, he declared, “based on the death of others leads us to an unprecedented rise of fascism and therefore to the death of democracy and freedom’.

The final piece in “Imperialism and the national question” is a letter Lenin wrote in 1922 defending non-Russian minorities from ‘the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant”.

He recognised an imperialist mindset in Stalin and, today, Lenin is accused by Putin of having created Ukraine by separating it from historically Russian land.  

“Imperialism and the national question”, introduced by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, is published by Verso.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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