Before answering this question, we must first describe Lenin's theory of imperialism. Lenin described imperialism as "the highest form of capitalism." Indeed, his study of imperialism is considered among his most important theoretical contributions. He argued that the imperialism of the early twentieth century was the logical, even inevitable outgrowth of modern capitalism. '
Imperialism for Lenin was less the act of nation-states as of corporations, vast internationalist monopolies that, using the nation-state as a vehicle, divided the world among themselves. These monopolies were the consequence of the joining of high finance and industry, a development Marx did not fully comprehend in the nineteenth century but was nevertheless one of the "fundamental processes in the growth of capitalism into capitalist imperialism." They ushered in a new international capitalist economy in which the "export of goods" was replaced by the "export of capital." As big financial monopolies invest money around the world, they do so in ways that lead to its territorial division as they call upon the state to secure their investments. Lenin wrote,
The epoch of the latest stage of capitalism shows us that certain relations between capitalist associations grow up, based on the economic division of the world; while parallel to and in connection with it, certain relations grow up between political alliances, between states, on the basis of the territorial division of the world, of the struggle for colonies, of the "struggle for spheres of influence."
Ultimately, Lenin thought imperialism would "intensify all the contradictions of modern capitalism," creating a revolution that would spread from the developed countries to underdeveloped ones.
There were many reasons at the time to agree with Lenin's position. He wrote Imperialism, the Highest State of Capitalism in 1916, in the midst of World War I, which seemed to fit the description of the global conflict he had predicted. He also drew upon many bourgeois and non-Marxist critics of imperialism in his work, particularly British economist J. A. Hobson. It was also hard to argue that his work, grounded in statistics and economic figures, did not to some extent describe the reality of both monopolies (this was still the era of the trusts in Western economies) and the exploitation of the colonies. Subsequent historians and even liberal critics at the time would concur that imperialism was a "parasitic" relationship that benefited big businesses. The promoters of imperialism often pointed to its potential to provide captive markets and cheap sources of raw materials and labor.
At the same time, the criticisms of Lenin's theory are in some ways critiques of the Marxian theory he was attempting to expand upon. Imperialism, it can be argued, is a reductionist work that sees a complex phenomenon teleologically—that is, in terms of a predetermined end: the collapse of capitalism. He did not comprehend the appeal of liberal ideals and could not have foreseen the outcome of the Second World War, which led to anti-colonial struggles that took place in a broader context of the Cold War that followed.
The overthrow of the imperialism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries led to vast amounts of bloodshed but did not usher in, nor was it the consequence of, a global revolution. Liberal proponents of globalization in the twentieth century argued that capitalism is actually a tool for modernization, which they, contrary to Lenin, characterized as an inherently good thing. By enmeshing the entire world in a global market, they claim, they spread democracy (along with the goods that Western societies produce). Investment, they claim, is key to promoting economic growth in the "developing world." Far from leading to international conflict, they argued (and still argue) that the growing power of multi-national corporations will in fact promote peace and prosperity.