FRFI 190 April / May 2006
Student Anti-Imperialist Network
War, imperialism and resistance
On 4 March the Student Anti-Imperialist Network (SAIN) held meetings at the London School of Economics and at Glasgow University. Both dayschools focused on the topic ‘War, Imperialism and Resistance,’ discussing the current international situation and what action we could take on a national basis. The opening speech in London, given by TREVOR RAYNE from the FRFI Editorial Board (see below) led to a lively debate about imperialism and war from comrades and supporters who had come from around the country. London also heard from Onder Dolutas (see p11) about his campaign to fight against his extradition to Turkey.
In the following sessions both meetings had excellent discussions concerning the anti-imperialist struggles in Latin America which focused on Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.
Imperialism: the road to ruin
I first visited the London School of Economics in 1967, protesting against the war on Vietnam. A few years later I was at a different university studying economics and I remember on the syllabus reading list were books by Professors JK Galbraith and EJ Mishan and a book by a Professor Meadows called The Limits to Growth. These were pretty mainstream texts. They warned of ecological disaster if humanity did not change dir ection. Over 30 years later the rainforests have shrunk, the air is polluted and the sea and rivers are poisoned. Eminent scientists now warn of impending, perhaps inescapable, catastrophe in the century before us. It is as if we are powerless to save ourselves or the species we live with. We are travelling at 90 miles per hour down a dead-end street and instead of jamming on the brakes we are pressing ever harder on the accelerator. This is capitalism. This is imperialism and it is madness. It is the road to ruin.
The logic of capitalism is the necessity of making a profit. If the capitalist invests 10 and makes 20 then next time they will invest 20 to make 40 and so on. In its constant search for expansion, every limit, every barrier that capital encounters becomes its next starting point. Every barrier – legal, cultural, political, geographical – must be surpassed as capital seeks to make the world in its own image. It is not Marx who is reductionist; it is capitalism that reduces the world to its financial calculations. If capital does not expand it must destroy and then resume growth from a smaller base. However, capital is not just the gyrations of digitalised money swirling around the world in electronic waves. Capital is a social relation whose basis is the dispossession of the means of production from the worker and their ownership by the capitalists, the bourgeoisie.
Remember 1998, the electronic waves poured out of the Asian Tiger economies driving those economies down by 15%. $4 trillion was wiped off share prices; oil prices were pushed below $13 a barrel (they are now around $60 a barrel). Tens of millions of people were thrown into unemployment and poverty. A vortex of imploding debt provoked mass demonstrations that pulled down the monster President Suharto in Indonesia. In 1965 the British Labour government sent SAS troops to help General Suharto’s troops kill between 500,000 and one million communists. Suharto became president in 1967.
To expand, to make a profit, the capitalist constantly tries to raise the productivity of labour by driving down the returns to labour and investing in new machinery and equipment. As this happens so the ratio of constant to variable capital rises, resulting in a tendency for the rate of profit to fall. This is the underlying reason for capitalism’s periodic crises, even if they manifest themselves as financial crises, as in 1998.
Monopolies and militarism
As the productivity of labour grows so new markets and investment outlets have to be opened for capital to expand and the profits to be realised. After the network of roads, canals and railways had integrated Britain into a single market, ships were added to draw Africa, America and Asia into the web of capitalist relations as colonies. By the middle of the nineteenth century the lives of hundreds of million of people were subject to the dictates of a handful of capitalists in the City of London.
Speaking in 1864, Marx said of Britain in the previous 100 years or so when it was building its empire, ‘Death by starvation rose almost to the rank of an institution during this intoxicating epoch of economic progress in the metropolis of the British Empire. That epoch is marked in the annals of the world by the quickening return, the widening compass, and the deadlier effect of the social pest called a commercial and industrial crisis’. These crises of capital accumulation plunged workers in Britain into desperate poverty and forced them to struggle to survive.
In order to expand, capitalism not only opened up new markets in the colonies but concentrated capital into larger units in fewer hands. Small firms were bought by larger firms and large firms amalgamated into giant firms, monopolies. Industrial capital fused with banking capital to create a powerful financial oligarchy at the centre of the British ruling class. The government became an instrument of these monopolists.
1871 was the first year Britain exported more capital investment than it invested at home. Rather than invest at home, where profit rates were relatively low, capital was invested in the colonies where labour and materials were cheap. If we look at the last 30 years of the nineteenth century, when, for example, Marks & Spencer went from peddler to market stall to departmental chain store, per capita incomes in Britain rose on average by 70%. This was in large part due to the tributes of empire. It is impossible to understand the social structure of Britain without understanding the role of imperialism in determining it. Imperialism conditions class politics and class analysis.
Lenin reflected on Engels’ writings on the British working class in the 1880s and its conservative, pro-imperialist trade union leaders. He said, ‘The causes are: (1) the exploitation of the whole world by this country; (2) its monopolist position in the world market; (3) its colonial monopoly. The effects are: (1) a section of the British proletariat becomes bourgeois; (2) a section of the proletariat allows itself to be led by men bought by, or at least paid by, the bourgeoisie.’ Imperialism generated super-profits that allowed the ruling class to create privileged conditions for a section of the working class, a section that came to dominate the political leadership of the workers. Lenin called this section a labour aristocracy.
Lenin described imperialism as having the following characteristics: the concentration of ownership and production into monopolies; the export of capital; the conquest and domination of territories; the division and re-division of the world by the imperialists and competition between imperialist powers. The fundamental economic traits of imperialism make it necessarily militaristic because it is predatory.
Approximately one tenth of Britain’s remaining manufacturing workforce is involved in arms production. In many years Britain is the world’s second biggest arms exporter. About 40% of the US’s arms imports come from Britain. Britain has Europe’s biggest arms company BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace). Britain is the second biggest holder of overseas assets after the US. Nearly half of Europe’s 50 biggest multinationals are British or Anglo-Dutch. Two of the three biggest oil companies are British, BP, and Anglo-Dutch, Shell. The City of London, along with New York and Tokyo, is one of the three financial centres of imperialism. To quote from the Labour government’s 1998 Strategic Defence Review, ‘Our closest economic partners are the European Union and the US, but our investment in the developing world amounts to the combined total of France, Germany and Italy’. These tremendous assets need military protection to ensure the flow of profits is not interrupted.
Since the end of the Second World War British armed forces have engaged in approximately 100 separate overseas military interventions around the globe and of these 29 have been in the Middle East. In six of the nine decades of its existence the RAF has bombed Iraq. This is the British state in a condition of constant war to defend multinational corporations’ assets and expand them. In this context we support the right of nations to self-determination. British capitalism today requires the armed subjugation of peoples around the globe in what Lenin called the oppressed nations. There can be no end to the rule of British capitalists and no end to war without support for the national rights and independence of the oppressed nations and peoples. We accept as proven the principle ‘No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.’ There can be no fight against capitalism in this country that does not side with the oppressed nations against the British ruling class. This means the ruling class and all its supporters; the labour aristocracy and its allies, primarily the Labour Party and its apologists on the British left.
Today, we declare in support of the right to self-determination of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. We must support the fight of the Palestinian people for self-determination and nationhood. The Palestinian people are waging the most progressive struggle at a critical juncture in the Middle East and the world. Just as their subjugation and the establishment of the state of Israel were central to imperialist domination of the Middle East, so the freedom of the Palestinians will be a terrific victory for all the poor and oppressed of the region and the world.
Fred Halliday is Professor of International Relations at the LSE. He published The World at 2000 based on a series of lectures at this institution. In it he says that communists are ‘not in a position to command widespread support, in any country, let alone to shape the course of international relations. The residual communist states – North Korea, Cuba – are on the verge of dramatic change.’ This is almost the only reference Halliday makes to Cuba, expecting Cuban socialism to collapse. He does not mention Venezuela or Bolivia at all. By 2006 this book is redundant. With Cuba and Venezuela taking the lead, the Latin American people are breaking free from imperialist domination. For them socialism offers solutions to their problems. We must defend the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions and side with the risen people of Latin America.
The form that national oppression takes in the oppressor nations is racism. There can be no fight against racism that does not fight imperialism and the imperialist state. Imperialism of necessity produces racism. Now, as imperialism intensifies its attacks on the oppressed nations it attacks the racially oppressed in its heartlands. This is state racism, state terrorism at home and abroad. The military, legal and political methods used by the British state to repress the oppressed nations are turned against the people in Britain. We are confronted by a paramilitary police force and the legal machinery for fighting a war against the poor and working class in Britain.
Two particular features of contemporary imperialism have special significance for us in Britain in the coming period. Firstly, inter-imperialist rivalry will increase, noticeably that between the US and Europe. This will produce divisions in the British ruling class. These divisions already exist and will be exacerbated – witness the arguments over the war on Iraq. This will create possibilities for socialists and anti-imperialists. Secondly, the material basis for the labour aristocracy will be undermined. The economic means by which a privileged layer of workers predominates politically and culturally in Britain will dwindle. New social forces with a different social and economic basis will emerge to challenge the labour aristocracy and its political expression, the Labour Party.
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Caledonian University and
Strathclyde University, Glasgow
Durham University and
Salford University, Manchester
SOAS University of London
London School of Economics
Kings College London