8 March 2011

George Lichtheim on Imperialism

Imperialism subordinates one set of people to another by economic, political or ideological means.

Last week I took down another dusty Penguin paperback from my bookshelf, George Lichtheim’s slender volume “Imperialism” published in 1971. I must have bought it in the early 1980s, though I don’t remember doing so.

As its name suggests, the book is an attempt to define the concept of imperialism and Lichtheim does so historically from an independent Marxist perspective. His main thesis is that imperialism has had different features in different epochs: antiquity, medieval Europe, the mercantile age, industrial capitalism and the new imperialisms following the Second World War. With independent insight, he weaves his way through the claims of Kautsky, Hilferding, Luxemburg, Lenin, Mao, etc.

Lichtheim writes in a clear accessible English and displays encyclopaedic erudition in his writing. His is a style and approach much lacking in the current era. The only drawback to the book is that the initial chapters deal with his topic in antiquity and medieval Europe which are not matters of gripping interest to many.

Lichtheim himself committed suicide in 1973.

LICHTHEIM, George - Imperialism, Penguin 1971

Many people have sought out this entry for an in-depth analysis of the book. I am sorry to disappoint them with this brief comment.


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