Imperialism: A Guide for the Movement

Submitted by on 4 September, 2003 - 12:00

edited by Farah Reza (SWP)

"There is not, nor can there be, such a thing as a 'negative' Social-Democratic slogan that serves only to 'sharpen proletarian consciousness against imperialism'. A negative slogan unconnected with a definite positive solution will not 'sharpen', but dull consciousness, for such a slogan is a hollow phrase, mere shouting, meaningless declamation" -Lenin, 1916.

This SWP book has no grip on the nature of modern imperialism and is imbued with the politics of negativism. There is no mention of the real anti-imperialist force - the working class - and it peddles a series of myths that will seriously disorientate the anti-war movement.

Myth 1: The Western advanced capitalist states are no longer bound together after the end of the Cold War. Their military rivalries-the kind that led to two world wars - are unfrozen.

This overestimates the unity of the "West" in the face of the USSR during the Cold War, and underestimates the interests, economic (trade, multinationals, WTO) and political (NATO, EU, G8, UN, etc.) that bind these powers together under US hegemony, for all their antagonisms.

Myth 2: The US is in economic decline, and that's why it's fighting all these wars. The US once produced half the world's output, but its economic power is waning.

The starting point is exaggerated, since most other powers in 1945 were exhausted. The US share was down to 27% by 1950, less than 25% in 1960 and 21% by 1975. However, for the last 30 years the US has maintained its share of world output, while its major rivals, Germany and Japan, have stagnated. This is hardly a picture of drastic economic decline.

Myth 3: The US uses the same system of indirect rule as the British did in India.

Capitalist relations of production and sovereign states now dominate the world - not empires and colonies as a century ago. Some 'third world' states have become centres of capital accumulation in their own right - some vie for regional dominance. The book completely avoids analysing these developments.

Myth 4: It doesn't matter about politics - all that's important is to "oppose imperialism".

This is the subtext of the whole book. It is the poverty of negative, "anti" politics. It means it's okay to ally with and promote Saddam lovers, Muslim Association of Britain fundamentalists and anyone else in order to build "the movement".

The SWP garnish their perspective with references to Lenin and Bukharin. But the classics are used as a badge of honour to avoid analysing the very real changes since their day.

They speculate about future wars between the US and other powers (such as the EU, China and Russia), evading the concrete questions of the present-such as the real reasons for US action, and the nature of the forces opposing the US in its current wars. The book is a rotten, evasive concoction and no basis for rational anti-imperialism.

Score: 2/10
Reviewer: Paul Hampton

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