marxism and imperialism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Tue Jan 24 04:32:19 MST 1995

On Mon, 23 Jan 1995 wpc at wrote:

> Justin asks
> >Are your doubts about Lenin's theory due to an attraction to the
> >Marx-Warren theory that imperialism is a progressive force because it
> >modernizes backward societies and creates industrialiization and a
> >potentially revolutionary proletariat? (Claims which Lenin in part endorses.)
> Yes. I also think that 'anti-imperialism' is either
> a meaningless or a reactionary slogan in the modern
> world now that the empires have gone.
> It ties the workers movement to the coat tails
> of local capital and prevents an independent
> proletarian politics.

I don't see that the empires have gone. Direct colonialism is gone, but
may indeed be on its way back--there's been talk by people like Paul
Johnson in a notorious NYT magazine article of--what--a couple years back
about establishing direct Western rule under UN auspices (or not) over
parts of Africa. Moreover the US has a flexible hegemony, especially over
Central America and the Caribbean, which approaches direct rule when needed
(as in Haiti today). In any event I disagree with Lenin that empire tends
to culminate in direct rule and that that is required for empire. The main
thing is a relation of dominance and effective control, however
maintained. For this purpose the World Bank is as good as the East India
Company and the British Army.

I disagree, too, that anti-imperialism is meaningless or reactionary. Why
it isn't meaningless I thing the case of Haiti shows clearly. In the
interest of maintaining Haiti as a stable low-wage off-short
light-industry assembly platform and agricultural export center for winter
crops, as well as to maintain discipline in the region should any other
clients habor social-democratic illusions, the US assented to to the
dictatorship and then, when the popular movements were decimated and the
immigration due to the terror domestically embarassing, put Aristide back
in as a puppet on a "reconciliation" platform. Allan Nairn's important
aticles in the _Nation_ document the way that the intervention was planned
to restore and secure the status quo ante, economically speaking. So here
we have domination for economic purposes, a meaningful notion of imperialism.

As to whether anti-imperialism is a reactionary notion, I think Haoti
shows as well that claim cannot be made on any sort of global grounds.
Imperial economic intervention in Haiti may be creating a proletariat, but
the political significance of this is in the class consciousness of that
proletariat. In the Haitian popular movement that consciousness is forged
in the anti-imperialist struggle against the dictatorship and US
dominance. Of course the popular movements know they need foreign
investment, and in that sense do not oppose imperialism (if, as is the case,
they cannot get that investment any other way)--but that's not
incompatible with a struggle for self-determination. After all, even under
capitalism countries like S. Korea and Taiwan are managing to get both
foreign investment and increasing self-determination (here, with respect
to Japanese imperialism).

In general if we believe in the self-emancipation of the oppressed, as
Marx urged in the Preamble to the Rukes of the First International, the
claims of popular movements have a strong initial presumption for us.
It's not one that is absolute--there are reactionary anti-imperialisms,
e.g., genuinely reactionary ones like Iran and others which tend to be
more or less facades for a national bourgeoisie to advance its own
interests, as is the case, I suspect, with a lot of the North African and
Middle Eastern states and some of the movements. Iraq comes to mind.
(Though there I note that there are anti-state and anti-imperialkist
popular movements, or any rate were.)

I have to take care of a crying child. Long and short of it: imperialism
is real. Its impact is mixed--it develops and proletarianizes as well as
undevelops, exploits, and robs. Genuine popular anti-imperialist movements
which resist the latter aspect deserve our support.

--Justin Schwartz


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