Imperialism and the labour aristocracy

6. Imperialism and the labour aristocracy

Imperialism not only divides the world into oppressed and oppressor nations: it creates a split within the working class within the imperialist nation. Both Marx and Engels pointed to the creation of a labour aristocracy within the British working class after the defeat of Chartism in 1848; Engels argued that British capitalism’s monopoly position in the world market allowed it to bribe an upper section of the working class, secure its political support, and through it, to control the whole working class. By the First Imperialist War, such a division existed in all Imperialist powers, as the ruling class used a small proportion of their colonial super-profits to buy off a tiny labour aristocracy which in practice controlled the parties, trade unions and the press of the entire working class.

The outbreak of the war in 1914 showed that the split had become irrevocable, as the organisations controlled by the labour aristocracy sided with ‘their’ ruling class and enthusiastically supported the slaughter in the name of ‘national defence’ and ‘democracy’. One significant party held out against the tide of chauvinism, social imperialism and opportunism that swept through the socialist movement of the day - the Russian Bolsheviks. Their consistent opposition to the war and to those ‘socialists’ who supported the brutal slaughter was the basis for the triumph of the Russian Revolution in October 1917.


Lenin: Imperialism and the split in socialism

FRFI 161 Imperialism and the labour aristocracy - Part I

FRFI 162 Imperialism and the labour aristocracy - Part II

FRFI 140 Lenin’s imperialism and the split in socialism

Supplementary reading

Robert Clough: Labour. A party fit for imperialism, CounterAttack Books, Parts 1 and 2

FRFI 196 The labour aristocracy II reformism and reaction

FRFI 195 The labour aristocracy: mythmakers and their mistakes

FRFI 153 The Labour Party: 100 years of infamy

FRFI 120 From the second Labour Government to 1939

FRFI 119 Between the wars: the labour aristocracy

FRFI 116 Watchdogs of capitalism - the reality of the labour aristocracy

FRFI 115 Haunted by the labour aristocracy

The state of the unions by Robert Clough, from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 193

How the SWP discredits the Venezuelan revolution by Alvaro Michaels, from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 190


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