NZ: anti-imperialism

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Sun Sep 15 22:39:17 MDT 2002

below is an email I wrote and sent to various left lists in NZ, as a
follow-up to the piece on the Peace Movement petition.

I have put the two pieces together as a pdf bulletin which the
*revolution* web-master has put up on the *revolution* magazine website:

At present those of us opposed to imperialism and its wars are
confronted with a number of political choices in terms of both official
(state) and 'oppositional' politics.

On the one hand we have Bush and his two yapping deputy-dogs - Blair in
Britain and Howard in Australia.  Obviously, we can all see these people
for what they are.

But, on the other hand, opposition to them takes several forms.  There
are three that I want to deal with.  One, we might call alternative
imperialism or humanitarian imperialism.  Another, we might call liberal
pacifism.  The third is anti-imperialism, the most important aspect of
which is working class internationalism.

All these three latter positions are reflected within the politics of
the spectrum that is in any way left of centre in NZ (and I'm using the
term 'left of centre' extremely broadly).

To take the first, 'alternative' or 'humanitarian' imperialism.
Globally, this is not really left-of-centre, but quite mainstream
imperialism.  It is the imperialism of the United Nations, for instance,
and is promoted by continental European governments of both
traditionally 'social-democratic' and 'Tory' varieties.  For instance,
in countries like Germany and France it is pretty much taken for granted
by each of the two major bourgeois parties, whatever their different
origins.  Many 'non-governmental' organisations (NGOs) share this view.

Basically this view rationalises and justifies imperialist domination
and intervention in the Third World, provided it has a humanitarian
mask.  It seeks slightly modified forms of exploitation and oppression,
in which the West's foot is not removed from the neck of the peoples of
the Third World but they are allowed to take in a little breath.

This view is also promoted, in part, as an element of imperialist
rivalry between continental Europe and the US (with Britain aligned to
Washington).  After WW2 the United States declared it favoured the
liberation of the peoples of Africa and elsewhere from the old European
colonial powers - Germany and, especially, Britain and France.  US
support for independence of the old powers' colonies was not primarily
an act of solidarity, however.  It was about two things.  Firstly, it
was designed to combat the influence of the Soviet Union by showing the
people of the Third World that the US was really anti-racist and
anti-imperialist and offered a better way forward than the 'communist'
model.  Secondly, it was designed to open up these countries to the
penetration of US capital, a process which had previously been stymied
by the old European powers.  Today, it is the old colonial powers of
continental Europe, in a kind of Empire Strikes Back scenario, which
criticise US policy in the Third World and argue for a lessening of the
bonds of control by Washington.

The other critical aspect of this form of imperialism is the way in
which it is used to demonise Third World peoples even more effectively
than the crude kind of anti-Third World propaganda of people like Bush.
Whereas Bush brazenly declares the right of 'America' (ie the US) to go
wherever it likes and do whatever it likes because it has the *might* to
do so, alternative or humanitarian imperialism asserts the same thing in
relation to imperialist institutions (the UN, other Western governments)
but on the basis that they have *right* on their side.  They will
intervene to 'protect' the populations of Third World countries from
their own despotic rulers - despite the fact that most of these rulers
were put in power by Western governments and institutions anyway.  They
will decide who 'legitimate' governments are, who in the Third World are
'war criminals' and so on, and put them on trial in institutions created
by the Western powers.

The classic case of this is the humanitarian imperialists' demonisation
of the Serbs and Slobodan Milosevic.  Humanitarian imperialist
intervention has guaranteed the replacement of the Serbian leader with a
regime much more compliant to Western diktat, a regime which has been
steadily privatising large chunks of what is left of Yugoslavia.  In
order to save the people from Milosevic, the humanitarian imperialists
also bombed Belgrade and other parts of the country.

The show-trial of Milosevic by Western powers whose hands are covered in
the blood of the people of the Third World was a big victory for the
humanitarian imperialists, succeeding is politically disarming much of
the old liberal milieu which used to oppose Western invasions and
bombings of other countries.  Many liberals were won over to the side of
imperialist intervention, their consciences salved by the fiction that
Milosevic was especially evil and worse than the Western governments themselves.

Thus humanitarian or alternative imperialism makes imperialism more
palatable than the crude old war-mongering jingoistic variety.

So the key aspects of humanitarian imperialism could be said to be:
1. making imperialist control of the Third World more effective by
smoothing out some of the worst excesses (related to this is the
promotion of 'peace' processes which I deal with separately below)
2. advancing the interests of one set of imperialists against another
3. disarming opposition to imperialist interventions by cloaking them in
humanitarian garb

Those of us interested in real social change at home and in supporting
people in the Third World can therefore have no truck with alternative
or humanitarian imperialism.

The second trend of 'oppositional' politics to war is liberal pacifism.
In NZ, the partisans of alternative/humanitarian imperialism and of
liberal pacifism constitute the two major blocs within the peace and
anti-war camps, although, as we have seen, the former group are actually
supporters of war provided it is conducted under an 'acceptable' cover.

In NZ, there is no clear dividing line between the humanitarian
imperialist and liberal pacifist camp.  Organisations like the Peace
Foundation and the UN Association, for instance, are essentially
'humanitarian' imperialists, while many of the people who do the
donkey-work for them are liberal-pacifists.  The liberal-pacifists were
probably the largest single component of the political forces evident in
(the generally fairly small) marches against the war on Afghanistan.
Their humanitarian imperialist allies (who were also sometimes their
employers) were not so evident on the antiwar marches, being rather busy
in the corridors of power agitating for an alternative way of carrying
out the war in Afghanistan - ie UN bombs instead of US ones - and
working to inflict their own preferred governmental composition on the
people of Afghanistan.  This meant, for instance, making sure that there
were some women in the new government the Western powers were going to
impose on Afghanistan.

The connections between the liberal pacifists and humanitarian
imperialists - both organisationally and ideologically - mean that the
liberal pacifists rarely act as an independent force.  More often they
are a kind of trojan horse for carrying the ideas of the alternative
imperialists into the protest movement, or at least replicating these ideas.
They therefore act as a barrier to the building of mass radical anti-war
protests, let alone politicising such protests in a more radical
direction which would turn the spotlight on the fundamental problem in
the world today - the capitalist system.

The liberal-pacifists prefer the most ineffective and self-obsessed
forms of 'protest'.  In Christchurch, on marches against the war on
Afghanistan, the liberal-pacifists tired to enforce codes of silence,
for instance.  Chanting, especially chanting antiwar slogans, was 'too
confrontational'.  The only chanting was to be native American chanting
at the start of a march!  In the end it reached the bizarre state where
one group wanted a march which was not only silent but without placards.
 Since the marches in Christchurch were short ones with a major part of
the march going along pedestrian malls and walkways, it was hard to
figure out how the public would be able to differentiate 'antiwar
marchers' from anyone else walking along in the mall that night.

Liberal-pacifists also share the hostility of the alternative
imperialists to Third World resistance.  While imperialist bombs might
not be very nice, anti-imperialist bombs are even worse.  Instead, the
liberal-pacifists often support 'peace' processes brokered by the
alternative imperialists, and sometimes by the brazen imperialists.

Over the past decade, the imperialists have been largely successful in
putting an end to national liberation struggles in the Third World.
This has been done not by crushing them, as was the imperialist during
the 1800s and most of the 1900s, but through co-opting them and
incorporating their leaders into helping run the local show.  From the
standpoint of the imperialists the most successful example would have to
be South Africa.  Here, thanks to the leadership of the ANC and the
'peace and reconciliation' process promoted by the imperialists, a
totally racialised form of capitalism - in which the racial component
looked as if it could only be ended with the ending of the capitalist
system - was de-racialised in a formal sense.  Apartheid, as an
institutionalised form of racial discrimination, was done way with while
capitalism was not only maintained but strengthened.  The ANC, in a
process overseen by the humanitarian imperialists and their liberal
allies, became the organisation through which neo-liberal economics
could be inflicted on the South African working class and society.  It
was the necessary instrument, as attempts by the old apartheid regime to
follow these economic policies would have led to mass rebellion.

In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ireland and Palestine, liberation movements
have all been brought into the mainstream fold by humanitarian
imperialism and their liberal friends lower down the hierarchy.  The
result has been the maintenance, securing and strengthening of
oppression and exploitation.  At the same time the humanitarian
imperialists and their liberal employees can enjoy the frisson of
rubbing shoulders with once 'dangerous' people like Mandela, Gerry
Adams, Yasser Arafat and Daniel Ortega.

The Green Party and the Alliance party are great reflections of this
overlapping of humanitarian imperialism, complete with its patronising
view of the peoples of the Third World, and liberal pacifism with its
shared view that Western imperialism also has a progressive part to play
in the Third World.  Indeed, the Greens are probably more aggressive
than the bigger mainstream capitalist parties when it comes to promoting
NZ intervention in the Third World.  People like my friend Keith Locke
seem to favour NZ poking its nose into virtually every corner of the
planet and sorting out Third World peoples and their problems, through
international (ie imperialist-orchestrated and -controlled) institutions
and tribunals and 'mediation' processes.

The overlapping nature of alternative imperialism and the liberal
pacifist milieu, and the way the liberal pacifists act as footsoldiers
for alternative imperialism, is also evident in other ways in the NZ
'antiwar' movement - the antiwar movement which is not really an antiwar
movement, but just a movement against wars if they're run by Washington.

The PMA petition, for instance, with its hostility to an
undifferentiated 'terrorism' and it support for NZ imperialism playing a
bigger role in world affairs, under a suitably humanitarian guise, are
good examples.

In fact, the liberal pacifists are knocking on an open door on the
latter score.  NZ imperialism is only too willing to play a greater role
on the world stage, as one of the 'good cops' of Western power over the
Third World.

The humanitarian imperialist and liberal pacifist milieu have also had
some success in capturing part of the far-left in New Zealand.  For
instance, the Socialist Workers Organisation, which was formerly the
far-left CPNZ, now seems to share their basic views and agitates for
their politics.  This has led the SWO increasingly away from
anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism and towards liberalism.

The third trend is anti-imperialism and working class internationalism.
This is the smallest and weakest trend in oppositional politics in the
realm of Western foreign policy and interventionism.  It is championed
by several very small far-left groups, such as *revolution* and the
Workers Party, which together have formed the Anti-Capitalist Alliance.
It was also the guiding principle behind the formation of the
Anti-Capitalist Coalition in Auckland and the Middle East Information and
Solidarity Collective in Christchurch.  Amongst class-struggle
anarchists, anti-imperialism and working class internationalism is also
of importance.  (Other anarchists tend towards liberal-pacifism.)

This latter position is based on a couple of simple but profoundly
challenging and radical principles.  The first is a recognition that the
world is divided into antagonistic classes - primarily the exploited
class of wage-labourers (and in the Third World large sections of the
peasantry) and the exploiting class of capitalists - and into a handful
of imperialist states and a mass of countries and peoples oppressed by
imperialism.  The logical corollary of this understanding is, for those
of us living in the imperialist world, to side unequivocally with Third
World people fighting for freedom and an end to imperialist domination
and to do our damnedest to build solidarity on the part on workers in
the First World with the oppressed and exploited of the Third World.

Another key principle is that for those of us living in the First World
who want to effect real social change, the main enemy is at home.  It is
not the people of the Third World, it is not even corrupt and oppressive
regimes in the Third World, or even some other imperialist ruling class
like that atop the US - it is our own ruling class.  We therefore favour
limiting as much as possible the freedom of action of our own ruling
class, crippling them in order to best prepare for overthrowing them.
In a conflict between our own imperialist rulers and anyone else -
including other imperialists - we favour the defeat of our own ruling
class as this weakens their position and increases the chances of us
being able to send them packing once and for all.

Today, the biggest challenge for people interested in opposing wars like
the one already being waged against Iraq - let alone the invasion that
Washington is talking about - is to develop an anti-imperialist
movement.  Not a movement which favours an alternative imperialist
policy, like the Greens and the Alliance.  Not a liberal-pacifist
movement which, a la the PMA petition, equates all violence with
'terrorism' and treats state terror as some subordinate part of a
general category of 'terrorism', presumably with the violence of the
oppressed constituting the major part!

Rather we need a movement which starts from the position of total
opposition to imperialism and which identifies a majority section of
society in NZ, and throughout the imperialist world, as having a
material interest in opposing imperialism, making common cause with the
oppressed of the world and working with them to overthrow imperialism at
home and abroad.  Namely, the working class.  The road forward is
promoting working class internationalism, not 'alternative' forms of
imperialist intervention, let alone increased intervention by NZ
governments which are the enemies of workers here and abroad.

Philip Ferguson

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