Editorial from the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Imperialism is dead. Long live Imperialism!” So might the world powers of capitalism proclaim, if ever a blush of honesty were to tinge their self-righteous propaganda.
Imperialism may be dead, in the sense that there are now no longer great empires flung across the globe, ruled over from some European capital. The very word is now something of a jibe, redolent as it is of the Victorian conquerors who first crushed, then patronised, the unhappy peoples of Africa, India, the Far East . . . Whatever excesses of invasion, repression, pillage or murder are committed now—many of them outdoing the most savage acts of Victorian capitalism—they are no longer characterised as imperialist.
For example, this applies to the American occupation of Vietnam and to what they did to the people there—and to the people of Thailand and Cambodia. That, we were told, was not imperialism; the American troops were there as saviours of the Vietnamese people, even if they had to kill them in the process.
The Russians used the same justification for their crushing of the Dubcek government in Czechoslovakia in 1968; their tanks rolled into Prague, they said, to rescue the Czech people from the ravages of a “counter revolution”. And they make the same claim for their intervention in Afghanistan where, they assert, they have merely responded to a cry for help.
In fact the name given to such outrages matters not one jot. Neither is it significant, in terms of working class interests, that such conquests may no longer result in the establishment of a colony directly under foreign rule but rather in a puppet government, trying to run the country on instructions from Moscow or Washington. These things do not matter to the workers who die in the conquests, who are maimed or made homeless, whose lives are shattered.
What is important is to understand that such conflicts are an inseparable part of capitalism. For this is a society where wealth is produced for sale and profit, with a ruling class whose interests are in the capture and the protection of markets, fields of mineral wealth, sources of raw materials, access to cheap primary products. Capitalism is a society of competition, both within its states and internationally.
This is the root cause of expansionism, imperialism—whatever name it goes under-and of modern war. It is the reason for the build up of massive armed forces and of the unimaginably destructive power at their command. It is the driving force behind the expansionist ambitions of powers like Nazi Germany, Japan, Russia and states already in possession, as once was British capitalism.
It was the driving force behind the imperialism of Victorian Britain, of Germany at the turn of the century, of the Belgians under Leopold II. And it energises the imperialism of the 1980s—the Americans in the Far East, Russia towards the Persian Gulf, China against India . . . Imperialism, if dead, will live for as long as capitalism survives.
And as long as imperialism lives so too will the opposition to it—the nationalist “liberation” movements, which often develop into armed guerrilla struggles against the colonial occupying power. This has been the recent history of many states in Africa and the Far East, of Cyprus, Aden and so on.
Such struggles attract a lot of support, much of it infused with a blind hysteria, among workers who arc convinced that their interests arc served in replacing one set of rulers and exploiters by another. That this is a delusion is apparent from the experience of those countries which have had their “independence” for a long time-Australia, India, Canada. But it is a powerful delusion, which still deceives the people in places like Africa, where “independence” has often brought repression, mass imprisonment and murder under a native ruling class.
Socialists do not stand aside from the struggles of nationalism. These struggles are a potent force for the delusion of workers, for the promotion of divisive, anti-working class theories, for the diversion from the essential object of the establishment of socialism. So we cannot stand aside from them; we must expose their basic fallacy, we must be undyingly hostile to them and we must strive to replace their theories with the idea of the united, co-operative world of socialism.
We stand for a society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution. In this society wealth will be produced for use instead of for profit; it will be freely available to everyone instead of for sale to those who can afford it. It will be a society in which all human beings will be together in the single aim of making life as abundant, free and pleasurable as possible. There will be one people, working together for one object.
In socialism the national divisions of capitalism-and the wars, the repressions, the cynicism—will fade into a black history. They will be components in human experience, the agony which the world’s people have endured to learn that a better society was possible and necessary. From the experience and the learning will come the free world—peaceful, fertile, abundant and united.