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


Imperialism and the labour aristocracy, from the post war boom to today

 7. Imperialism and the labour aristocracy, from the post war boom to today

The RCG has developed the concept of the labour aristocracy to explain the stability of ruling class power within the major imperialist states. Our analysis of the Labour Party and trade union movement as the political representatives of the labour aristocracy delineates us from the rest of the British left. The split in the working class is a fact: any theory that seeks to obscure this represents a political concession to opportunism, the political standpoint of the labour aristocracy. Our analysis shows how the mechanism for distributing privilege to the aristocracy has changed over time: through the market in the first half of the century; through state expenditure during the post-war period to the mid-1970s, then once again increasingly through the market. The labour aristocracy serves as a control mechanism over the whole working class; its stultifying effect on working class politics is demonstrated by the complete absence of organised resistance to the Labour government.


RCG: Manifesto of the Revolutionary Communist Group - Part 2 pp35-50

FRFI 163 Imperialism and the labour aristocracy - Part 3

FRFI 164 Imperialism and the labour aristocracy - Part 4 

FRFI 165 Imperialism and the labour aristocracy - Part 5

FRFI 166 Imperialism and the labour aristocracy - Part 6

Supplementary reading

Labour. A party fit for imperialism, Parts 3 to 6.

RCG: Manifesto of the Revolutionary Communist Group -Part 5 pp 117-128

FRFI 197 Ten years of Labour: Abuse of Power

FRFI 197 The rise of New Labour

FRFI 195 Labour Aristocracy: mythmakers and their mistakes

FRFI 135 New Labour - don’t vote for class enemies

Anti-apartheid: a study in opportunism by Carol Brickley, from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 183


Imperialism and the national question

8. Imperialism and the national question

Imperialism divides the world into oppressed and oppressor nations. The national liberation struggles against colonialism and neo-colonialism are an essential part of the struggle for socialism. Marx and Engels’ changing analysis of Ireland and its relation to Britain demonstrated how a nation that oppresses another could not itself be free. A pre-condition for the advance of the proletariat in Britain was support for the emancipation of Ireland. This analysis provided a model for Lenin to develop a communist position on the right of nations to self-determination.

The revolutionary waves that have swept throughout the twentieth century demonstrate the significance of the struggle for self-determination and the national democratic revolution in the struggle for socialism: China, Yugoslavia, Korea, VietNam, Cuba and Southern Africa. Communists must, if they are to remain communists, give the national liberation struggle support for we face the same enemy and ultimately have the same goal.

Opportunists impose conditions on support for national liberation movements and seek to deny the revolutionary and democratic content of the struggles and the role of the working class and oppressed within them. More often than not the left will ignore these movements or dismiss them as irrelevant or invalid. This has particularly been the case with the Irish republican movement.

National liberation movements combine different social and class forces. Communists support the movements and try to strengthen their working class and socialist content. This is an essential step if such movements are to achieve their objective: where bourgeois forces remain ascendant, they will seek a compromise with imperialism, as in Palestine or South Africa.


Lenin: The rights of nations to self-determination

David Reed: Ireland - the key to the British revolution, Larkin Books, Chapters 1 and 2.

RCG: Manifesto of the Revolutionary Communist Group - Part 2 pp35-50

FRFI 170: Class and the national liberation struggle in Palestine

FRFI 134 & 35: Israel: Its role in the Middle East

FRFI 62: Communists and the South African Revolution

FRFI 52: Communists and national liberation movements: same goal, different paths

Supplementary reading

Lenin: A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism

Imperialism, National Oppression and the New Petit Bourgeoisie by David Yaffe, Editorial Revolutionary Communist 9 June 1979

The Holocaust industry by Jaqui Kaye, from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 157

Yugoslavia: The shape of wars to come Editorial from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 148



9. Ireland

As Marx put it, Ireland was and remains the ‘litmus test’ for socialists in Britain. The RCG distinguished its politics from the rest of the left at the height of the revolutionary nationalist struggle against British rule on this issue. We fought for solidarity with the Irish peoples struggle and in doing so were opposed by the bulk of the left. Today the left joins with imperialism in trumpeting the so called peace process. From its outset we have pointed out the reality on the ground; British imperialism has not left Ireland and continues to uphold the Unionist veto. The north of Ireland is an endemically racist and sectarian society created and sustained by British imperialism. No amount of reform can alter this political reality

We have constantly pointed out that the struggle to free Ireland from British rule is not over. The economic, political and social problems which keep forcing the national struggle on to the political agenda remain. Discrimination and social deprivation remain for a large proportion of the nationalist working class. Today, more than ten years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein is now part of the political class which helps sustain British rule in Ireland. As economic and social changes force the national question once again to the fore, new forces will have to emerge from within the nationalist working class, prepared to build a new campaign which learns from and does not repeat the mistakes of the past.


David Reed: Ireland - the key to the British revolution, Larkin Books

RCG: Manifesto of the Revolutionary Communist Group - Part 4 pp 67-86

FRFI 195 Nationalists divide over Sinn Fein support for British policing

FRFI 187 Ireland: Imperialism and national revolution

FRFI 184 Republican Movement faces disintegration

FRFI 143 Ireland’s peace agreement

FRFI 121 Ireland: IRA lays down its arms

Basic Principles of Marxism – Part Eight: The First International and Ireland

Supplementary reading

FRFI 75 Questions of History

FRFI 111 Communism and armed struggle


Imperialism and racism

10. Imperialism and racism

Racism is the form that national oppression takes within the oppressor country. It is a necessary consequence of imperialism. It is used both to justify the exploitation of oppressed nations and to divide the working class of the oppressor nation.

Imperialist countries such as Britain used their colonies and ex-colonies as a source of cheap labour during the boom. With the onset of crisis, such workers were forced into the reserve army of labour. They were subject to racist laws, faced with racist police, tried in racist courts and sent to racist prisons. From the 1960s, a succession of racist immigration and asylum laws have been implemented to exclude people from oppressed nations. Today the terms on which British capital can access Labour from the Eastern European accession states means that it has little need for migrants from other oppressed nations. With the exception of people working in particular and often highly-skilled jobs, virtually all chances of gaining the right to stay in Britain have been closed down.  It makes no difference whether there is a Labour or Tory government; Labour has always been as much a racist party as the Tories.

Black people therefore suffer a double oppression: as workers and as members of an oppressed minority. Historically, this has meant that they have potentially played a crucial role in leading resistance to the British state – for example in 1981 and 1985. Although such movements were defeated, and their leaders bought off, black people still remain amongst the poorest sections of the working class, and played a leading role in further uprisings in 2001. Many asylum seekers, who have fled countries torn apart by imperialist war and plunder only to face racist persecution in Britain, have an acute understanding of the nature of imperialism. Muslims in Britain, many of whom identify with the anti-imperialist movements in the Middle East and have played a significant and often militant role in the anti-war and Palestine solidarity movements, are facing increasing repression under the guise of ‘anti-terror’ laws and other measures intended to terrorise communities into passivity. Today, no new movement can be built without addressing the issue of racism. It is a vital component of the struggle against imperialism.


RCG: 1983 Manifesto of the Revolutionary Communist Group - Part 4 pp87-111

FRFI 208 ‘Pure’ class struggle ignores imperialist reality

FRFI 201 Immigration and the reserve army of labour

FRFI 194 Lifting the Veil on Racism

FRFI 193 Labour’s Racist Immigration Policy

FRFI 184 Review: ‘Bloody Foreigners-The Story of Immigration to Britain’

FRFI 179 Multiculturalism or Britishness: Anti-racism and internationalism still the only way forward

FRFI 114 Poisonous roots of racism

Supplementary Reading

FRFI 132 George Jackson: Legacy of a communist

FRFI 131 Interview with Assata Shakur

Revolutionary Communist No 9: Racism, Imperialism and the Working Class

Resisting racism's apologist by Susan Davidson, from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 191


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