[Marxism] More on Euston

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 18 09:56:44 MDT 2006

>In the final instance, he seems to nothing more than a rather second-rate, 
>former 'Marxian' academic. Nothing to get particularly excited about 
>either way, I don't think.

I know I posted a link to it yesterday, but since it is so good I want to 
recommend it again.


This is a really probing analysis of a long-standing tendency in British 
Social Democracy to support imperialism. Here's another excerpt:

It’s often forgotten, though, that Marx and Engels’ most famous text takes 
a long time to get to punchlines like ‘the free development of each is the 
condition for the free development of all’ and ‘Workers of the World 
Unite!’. The first and longest section of the Manifesto is largely given 
over to an account of the bourgeoisie’s role in massively increasing 
productive forces, destroying feudalism, rescuing populations from the 
‘idiocy of rural life’, and dragging ‘even the most barbarous of nations 
into civilization’.*

To many intellectuals in nineteenth century Britain, the first section of 
the Manifesto read less like history than prophecy. The first British 
Marxist organisation of any size and durability, the Social Democratic 
Federation, was led by a man who can rightly be called a forebear of 
today’s pro-war left. Described by Eric Hobsbawm as a ‘gentleman, 
cricketer, and stockbroker leading the masses toward revolution in a top 
hat and frock-coat’, Henry Hyndman worried the working class rank and file 
of the SDF by using the Communist Manifesto to make pseudo-Marxist defences 
of the British Empire, arguing that Britain’s colonies were the ‘just 
desserts’ of the British working class. Hyndman’s views found an echo 
amongst the so-called socialist imperialists of the early Fabian Society.

Both the liberal, pseudo-Marxist and Fabian imperialists – we can gather 
them together under the heading ‘left imperialists’ – developed a vision of 
progress which assumed a dynamic, developing economic system – capitalism, 
and imperialism – which required the ‘civilizing’ influence of what we 
might call a ‘moral agent’, if it were to develop in a progressive manner, 
and perhaps ultimately be transcended. The less developed a country, the 
less room for the civilising mission of socialism. The left imperialists 
wanted to hitch a ride on the runaway locomotive of nineteenth century 
capitalism. It is not difficult to detect an echo of their project in 
today’s pro-war left. A month before the invasion of Iraq Harry Steele, the 
proprietor of Harry’s Place, raised eyebrows with a post called ‘Milton 
Friedman, Guru of the Left’. Steele suggested that:

Capitalist modes of production are a prerequisite of moving beyond 
capitalism. That is a point Marx and Engels made in various of their works. 
I think that point has been forgotten

Commenting a year later on the programme of the Worker Communist Party, the 
largest and most active Marxist party in Iraq, Steele insisted that: ‘This 
programme is ultra-left. It calls for socialism, but capitalism barely 
exists in Iraq’.

Hyndman was concerned with nineteenth century Africa and Marxist critics of 
British imperialism like Belfort Bax, but his line of argument was 
strikingly similar. It is understandable that Steele does not actually 
invoke the name of Hyndman. Like a generation of socialists with faith in 
the dynamism of imperialism, Hyndman saw his reputation and career ruined 
by World War One, or the First Great Inter-Imperialist War, as it is 
sometimes more accurately called. That war and the revolutions it provoked 
pulled left imperialism apart, forcing the leaders of the Second 
International to choose between workers’ internationalism or ‘blood and 
soil’. Hyndman chose the latter, and parted company with the anti-war 
majority of the Social Democratic Federation.



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