RDG on imperialism

Submitted by martin on 30 June, 2003 - 11:27


Below are sections from the RDG's 1995-6 programme which address the question of imperialism. We felt it might be useful as part of this discussion on imperialism to bring this forward, not only to let AWL comrades see our views, but because we will be needing a redraft soon and your observations or criticisms should be helpful.

Imperialism and the Russian revolution

14. At the end of the l9th century the most powerful capitalist economies were becoming dominated by a few large monopoly enterprises and banks. In conjunction with their own nation-states they began to export capital, seize colonies and raw materials and open up new markets. Colonial imperialism was a new stage in the development of capitalism as an international system. It drew together the most powerful capitalist states and their colonies in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America into a world market. Colonial imperialism established a network of colonies and satellite states from whom monopoly profits were extracted.

15. Under imperialism, the drive to accumulate capital produces imperialist wars, national democratic revolutions and revolutionary wars. Imperialist wars arise out of the struggle between capitalist states over spheres of influence and profits, on a global, regional or local scale. At the same time imperialist exploitation and national oppression generates mass popular resistance, which may produce democratic revolutions and revolutionary wars.

16. The first imperialist world war (1914-1918) was fought to redivide world markets and colonies. Millions were killed or reduced to poverty and near starvation. Out of the horror of this war, the people of the Russian Empire rose in revolt, producing the single most important revolution of the 20th century, the Russian Democratic Revolution (Feb 1917-March 1921)

17. In February 1917, the Tsarist system of government was overthrown by a popular uprising. This created a Dual Power Republic, based on the provisional government and the Soviets of workers deputies. In October 1917 an armed insurrection transferred power to the working class and the peasantry. Under the leadership of the Communist (Bolshevik) Party, they established the world's first democratic workers republic based on Soviets or workers councils.

18. In mid-1918 the revolutionary Bolshevik government was faced with a counter-revolutionary uprising and intervention by both German and Allied imperialist forces. They took steps to nationalise the major industries, radically extending the state capitalist sector. As the country was plunged into civil war, the Workers republic was reorganised as a military dictatorship under the Communist Party and Red Army (War Communism). By the end of 1920 the counter-revolutionary uprising had been suppressed.

19. Despite this victory, the destruction caused by the civil war, and the international isolation of the Republic, had greatly weakened the working class. In March 1921 a popular democratic uprising in Krondstadt was defeated. Workers democracy was never rebuilt, and control over state capitalism was secured by the state bureaucracy. This was later consolidated by the victory of Stalin's faction in the Communist Party.

20. Events in Russia cannot be seen in isolation from the international situation. The working class suffered serious defeats in Hungary (1919) and Italy (1920). But the key to international socialism was the German Democratic Revolution (1918-1923). The defeat of the revolutionary movement of the German working class in 1923 ended the possibilities for international socialism. Workers suffered further defeats in Bulgaria (1924), China (1925-26) and the UK (1926). By the mid-1920s international capitalism had restabilised.

21. In 1928 international capitalism plunged into further crisis. With the onset of the world recession and the growth of mass unemployment in the 1930s, working class democracy suffered massive defeats in Germany and Spain at the hands of fascism. Fascism represented the most barbaric form of state capitalism, reinforced by police terror, slave labour and extermination camps.

22. With the victory of fascism in Italy, Germany and Japan, and growing rivalry amongst the imperialist states, preparations began for a new world war (1939-1945). The United States, the United Kingdom, the USSR and France formed an alliance to defeat Germany, Italy and Japan and redivide the world market.

2. International state capitalism

23. The war brought about a restructuring of the imperialist system. A new world order was established by the USA and the USSR, the two most powerful imperialist states. The USSR took control of the East European market and began to extend its influence into other parts of the world, for example China and North Korea. US imperialism became the dominant world power, establishing a new international monetary system based on the dollar. In the post war period US multinational corporations began to spread around the world.

24. The old system of colonial imperialism, which served neither the interests of Soviet or US state capitalism, began to break up. A series of anti-colonial democratic revolutions established independent states in India, China, Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere across Africa. By the 1960s the French and British Empires were largely dismantled. As a result colonial imperialism was transformed into a higher form of imperialism, namely international state capitalism.

25. The period 1948-1973 was period of economic expansion fuelled by the arms race between the major imperialist powers. Japan and West Germany began to build up their industrial strength. France, West Germany, and Italy formed the European Economic Community. In the industrial centres of America, Europe and Japan it was a period of economic growth and full employment. Workers were able to win improved wages, conditions and social provisions. A new layer of capitalist states began to industrialise. Some of these states such as Israel, South Africa, Brazil, India, Iran, Argentina and Iraq, began to emerge as sub-imperialist powers with significant armed forces.
26. Nevertheless for the majority of the world's people, in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the development of capitalism produced unemployment, poverty and famine for the peasant farmers and urban poor. Popular opposition to imperialism led to national democratic revolutions in Africa (e.g. Algeria), in the Middle East, (e.g. Palestine) in Asia (e.g. China, Vietnam,) in Latin America (e.g. Cuba) and in Eastern Europe (e.g. Hungary and Czechoslovakia). But the most significant was the revolutionary democratic war fought by the Vietnamese people.

27. In 1968 the imperialist system was shaken by a wave of mass democratic struggles which swept Europe and America for democratic and civil rights and against the Vietnam war. By the early 1970s with the impact of these struggles and the defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam, the international system of state capitalism began to break down.

28. In 1973 the world price of oil quadrupled, creating a major economic crisis. As inflation rose, the major capitalist governments began to cut back on spending. By 1975 a world recession had begun, as production, trade and investment fell. Mass unemployment reappeared in the industrial centres of capitalism.

The crisis of world imperialism

29. The world recession has produced a deep and ongoing crisis within international state capitalism. The intensification of competition is driving the least profitable parts of the world economy into bankruptcy. This is forcing the restructuring of the world market. It is producing major conflicts both within and between nation states as the capitalists seek to raise the level of productivity and profit.

30. The crisis marks a new epoch in the development of world capitalism. It is characterised by growing economic, social and political instability. This epoch is transitional between the break up of the old system of imperialism and the creation of a new world order. The nature of the new world order is not predetermined, it depends on the class struggle.

31. The situation that has developed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is one major example of the impact of this crisis. In the 1980s, the world recession and the defeat suffered by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, forced the Stalinist ruling class in the Soviet Union to begin restructuring the economy.

32. Under Gorbachev, the policy known as "perestroika" sought to raise productivity so that the USSR could compete more effectively on the world market. This process opened up divisions within the ruling class between conservatives and reformers. This enabled and encouraged popular democratic movements to emerge across Eastern Europe and within the Soviet Union.

33. Between 1989-92 popular democratic movements arose in Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Bulgaria and re-emerged in Poland. In Romania, an armed insurrection overthrew the Causcescu regime. As a result of mass struggle, the Stalinist regimes were ended and the apparatus of repression partially dismantled. Yet none of these democratic revolutions led to the transfer of power to the working class. On the contrary, they opened up the national economies to new forms of capitalist domination, especially by multi-nationals corporations.

34. The reunification of Germany symbolised the ending of Stalinist control over Eastern Europe. It gave further encouragement to the democratic revolution in the Soviet Union. The main impetus for this came from the mass strike movements of the working class, particularly the miners in the Donbas, and the national movements in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Armenia, Ukraine, Georgia, etc. In 1991 the democratic revolution gained fresh impetus following the defeat of an attempted military coup. On January 1st 1992, the Soviet Union was formally ended and replaced by the Confederation of Independent States.

35. In 1991 the crisis of imperialism led to war in the Middle East between US capitalism and its allies and the Iraqi capitalists, over the control of oil supplies. The Gulf war exposed the reality of the new world order. Thousands of Iraqi people, victims of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, were slaughtered by US and allied forces. This showed again that imperialism cannot provide democratic and peaceful solutions to the use of the world's resources. In the new epoch, wars of mass destruction are the inevitable product of imperialist rivalry, for regional and world domination.

36. The crisis within the old system does not bring imperialism to an end. On the contrary, it opens the way for the emergence of new world powers and new rivalries. Japanese, European and especially German capitalism, now challenges the dominant position of the United States. Trade wars between the US, the European Community and Japan are the first step on the road to new and wider global political and military confrontations.

37. It is a matter of time before some incident sparks off new imperialist wars. Such wars are the inevitable product of imperialist rivalry, an essential means to resolve the issue of world domination. There are no peaceful solutions to the problems of world imperialism. Because of the destructive power of modern technology, including nuclear weapons, wars are now an even greater disaster which threaten the very survival of the human race.

The crisis of democracy

38. The crisis of world imperialism is uneven. Each nation-state will be affected to a different extent as a result of its own history and specific circumstances. Whilst in general the crisis will begin to take political form, in some cases this will produce constitutional crises and even political revolutions.

39. A common feature of the crisis is the growing dissatisfaction and alienation of the working class from the state. This particularly affects the most oppressed sections of the working class, that is the youth, the unemployed and the poor, or those oppressed because of their race, sex or nationality, or as gays, or disabled or religious minorities.

40. The crisis of imperialism shows the inability of the capitalist state to solve the fundamental problems of society. The alienation of the masses from the state may produce apathy and demoralisation. But it will also produce periodic outbursts of mass action, riots, demonstrations, strikes and other forms of protest. These mass struggles bring the crisis of democracy to the fore.

41. This crisis also gives rise to new political movements and parties opposed to the state and the constitution. Such movements may be democratic or anti-democratic. For example in China, South Africa, Ireland, Ukraine and Kurdistan pro-democracy or national democratic movements have emerged. In France, Algeria, and India, there are significant fascist or religious fundamentalist movements.

42. However in some states, the political crisis becomes particularly acute. Where the old regime has become a barrier to the accumulation of capital, it becomes a weak link in the chain of imperialism. Whilst the reform of the state becomes an urgent necessity, conservative forces within the old regime retain the power to resist change.

43. The fight within the old regime between conservatives and reformers cannot be settled without the intervention of mass struggle. This creates the circumstances for political and constitutional crisis. In the face of this, the system of government begins to lose its legitimacy, becomes paralysed, incapable of effective action. Only the overthrow of the constitution can break the deadlock and begin the national democratic revolution.

44. Democratic revolution is by no means the automatic result of the crisis. On the contrary the crisis breeds counter-revolutionary movements such as fascism and religious fundamentalism. These are aimed at destroying the leadership of the working class, repressing parliamentary democracy and the trade unions, and halting the democratic revolution.

45. Revolutionary workers, as the most class conscious representative of working class, are not in the least indifferent to the crisis of the capitalist state, to bourgeois democracy, constitutional crises or democratic revolutions. On the contrary, as the vanguard of the democratic revolution, the working class must seize every opportunity to act independently with its own democratic slogans and demands, and lead the broader strata of the oppressed in the struggle for democracy and international socialism.

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