In the early and mid 60s, one of IS’s dogmas was the belief that imperialism had ended. Michael Kidron wrote an article in 1962 with a smart-alec title, “Imperialism, highest stage but one”, referring to Lenin’s pamphlet, “Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism”.
There were still colonial wars going on, and would be, in Portuguese Africa for example, until the mid-1970s; but in essence it was true that the old colonial imperialism was vanishing.
The group had until then been anti-imperialist even to a fault, for example in ignoring the question of the Stalinist regime that would result from China repossessing Taiwan and Hong Kong. But on the whole it had a good record. Now it was the group that believed that imperialism no longer existed.
On this too they were following someone else, in this case John Strachey, who had been a leading Stalinist in the 1930s and a Labour minister in the 1940s, and wrote a book called The End of Imperialism in 1957.
It is strange that the same group should evolve into the super-anti-imperialism which characterises it now and has characterised it since 1987 — where they are so much “anti-imperialist” that they don’t care who they ally with, blatant reactionaries or regional imperialists, as long as they are in conflict with the USA.
In 1987 they suddenly discovered that the Americans were on the side of the Iraqis in the Iran-Iraq war, a terrible war for regional domination with trench battles like the First World War and poison gas and vast casualties, a war that had been going since 1980. That hadn’t been news to anyone since 1980, because at that point the US saw Iran as its main enemy in the region.
The SWP swung to siding with Iran, and its “anti-imperialism” became utterly measureless. Very quickly the SWP’s “anti-imperialism” became so one-sided that they didn’t differentiate from the people they were siding with. For the last decade or more we’ve had the terrible example of the SWP’s alignment with political Islam.
If you go back in a time machine to 1950, for certain a group with the political method of the SWP now would have lined up with North Korea because it was fighting the big imperial power, the USA.