Anton Pannekoek: The economic necessity of imperialism (1916)


I.      [The importance of a theory of imperialism]

II.     [Rosa Luxemburg and Marx’s reproduction diagrams]

III.   [Two mistakes by Luxemburg]

IV.   [Ubiquitous confusion about the necessity of imperialism]

V.    [Origins of the ‘natural necessity’ of socialism and the emphasis on productive  forces]

VI.  [Corporate capital unites the bourgeoisie]

Document Source

Works referenced by Pannekoek


By way of an introduction

For a critique of the theory of the decadence of capitalism, Pannekoek is important because he has always opposed the view that capitalism would automatically and irreparably collapse. In “The Economic Necessity of Imperialism” (‘De Nieuwe Tijd’, 1916) he summarizes his critique of Luxemburg’s underpinning of the saturation of the markets at the hand of Marx’s reproduction diagrams. We will not go into this further, but do point out that the ICC’s theory of decadence relies on Luxemburg’s argument. Further, Pannekoek has taken down the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as a theoretical underpinning of Grossman’s and Mattick’s crises theory as well. Instead of an automatic and irreparable collapse of capitalism and an economic necessity of imperialism, Pannekoek argues that the periodic crises arise from the imbalance between economic factors inherent in capitalism. Instead of an economic necessity of imperialism, he posits a social and political necessity that follows from the power of big capital. Only at the margins of his reflections Pannekoek speaks of an end to capitalism in a then – in 1916 and 1946 respectively – distant future: through the exhaustion of the “material” conditions for the expansion of production. In 1916 these are “unlimited quantities” of raw materials in nature; in 1946 he already speaks of “the raw adventurous methods of capital – which on all continents are in the process of destroying the fertility of the earth”. (1) Not unimportant, and even highly topical in the light of the current environmental and health crises. The second material condition mentioned by Pannekoek that capitalism would no longer be able to fulfill is that of a labor force in “sufficient” quantities to expand production.
(F.C., January 2021)

(Last edited: March 15, 2021)

1 P. Aartsz (Anton Pannekoek), De arbeidersraden, Amsterdam 1946, p. 81.


2 thoughts on “Anton Pannekoek: The economic necessity of imperialism (1916)”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s