I. Capitalism in the phase of imperialism
Since its inception, capitalism has spread around the world and has now penetrated into every corner of the earth used by people. This spreading did not always take place in the same way, but was itself subject to change. Initially, technological progress and with it the new industrially-dominated economic system were “exported” into ever more countries which could then develop into industrialized nations. The most advanced states were able to become great powers that over time gradually divided the entire globe amongst their colonial empires.
The colonies served as cheap sources of raw materials and new markets for the capitalists, in whose interests the colonial powers acted. The subjugated countries lost the possibility of an “equal” development. The economically overwhelming competition hampered the normal economic growth of these states significantly. Any resistance by the native population against their exploitation and the plundering of their natural resources was brutally suppressed.
Because of the economic necessity to find ever more profitable utilization for ever more accumulated capital, the export of commodities to the colonies was soon not enough for the developed countries and their capitalists. Instead, after a certain point the export of capital became increasingly important. This led to a industrialization of the colonies (at different levels), but in total dependence on foreign capital (and thus without regard to the needs of the local population). This in turn cemented the existing global power relations. This development coincided with (and was partly caused by) the increased formation of monopolies. From a large number of individual, competing capitalist companies, in the course of a few years large, globally active corporations emerged.
This stage of capitalist development is described by Marxists as imperialism.
Here, we rely primarily on V.I. Lenin, who in 1917 analyzed the economic fundamentals of imperialism in his text: “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.”
Although today there are hardly any official colonies, nothing about the mechanisms of dependence and oppression has changed fundamentally. Most countries in the world belong to the imperialized countries that – sometimes more, sometimes less – are economically dependent on Europe, the USA, Japan or other “First World” countries. The continued existance of imperialism can be seen most clearly in the form of wars and occupations which are the weapon of choice when a semi-colony no longer wants to submit to the dictates and the interests of Western governments and corporations.
For the imperialist countries, the exploitation of the working class of other countries and the control over their natural resources are essential factors in the maintenance of their power – and hence in the stabilization of capitalism as a whole. Breaking the imperialist hegemony is therefore an essential part of our strategy for overcoming capitalism.
The resistance that arises again and again in the semi-colonies must definitely be supported.
But what are the best strategies by which we can fight imperialism, also taking our possibilities into consideration?
II. Analysis of imperialist conflicts
a) Popular lies of the imperialists
The governments of the imperialist countries are always trying to justify their wars morally and ideologically. They claim to fight against “international terrorism”, against dictatorial governments and for freedom, democracy and human rights. But in all cases soldiers are deployed to defend capitalist interests, whether with the US military’s “preventive” attack against Iraq in 2003 or the German Bundeswehr’s “reconstruction mission” in Afghanistan, whether open war or alleged “humanitarian aid”.
We must openly counter such hypocritical justifications and position ourselves on the side of the attacked. This also applies in the case that the government of the attacked country is in fact a dictatorial regime, possibly even one that brutally suppresses its own working class.
Of course we would criticize this regime before and also during the war for its policies. However, this would not change our principled position against imperialism and for the victory of the imperialized country.
The objective interest of the working class (and therefore our interest) is always opposed to that of the imperialist states – whatever high ideals supposedly motivate their wars. In this sense, there is absolutely nothing beneficial to a victory of the imperialist countries – even the overthrow of a reactionary regime by a “democratic” great power is only progressive at first glance.
A successful war against a semi-colony always means that the imperialist aggressor can strengthen and consolidate its power. For the workers of the semi-colony, it means at first misery and destruction, and then a life of double oppression – both by their “own” bourgeoisie and by foreign capitalists and pro-imperialist puppet regimes.
And the workers’ movement in the imperialist centers is also weakened by a success of “their” governments in wars.
The victory of the oppressed nation, in contrast, is not only the lesser evil, but can have historically very progressive effects: the defeat of imperialism can strengthen the confidence of the oppressed both in the attacked country and worldwide. The working class would then have a better starting position to defend itself against its continued oppression: in the liberated semi-colony, after driving out the “external enemy” it could concentrate its whole force against the local capitalists; in the imperialist country, the defeat of the government would also increase the domestic pressure on it and thus improve the conditions for its overthrow.
b) No violence is no solution
In imperialist conflicts, trying to assume a “neutral” or “peaceful” position cannot work and in fact can only go against the class interests of the workers.
In an unequal struggle (such as the struggle of the semi-colonies against their “colonial masters”), whoever demands a ceasefire and a “peaceful solution” from both sides overlooks the fact that such a “peace” is only the continuation of systematic oppression – the oppression suffered by the imperialized peoples, even without war and occupation, against which they legitimately want to defend themselves.
The resistance of oppressed peoples – even if it takes the form of an “aggressive war” – is ultimately an act of self-defense. Anti-imperialism is therefore more than a purely anti-war stance. It requires above all a detailed analysis of the social and economic foundations and the historical significance of imperialist conflicts. This is not compatible with a purely pacifist stance, which on closer examination can never be progressive.
Even though we abhor war and, as Communists, aim for a society that (in contrast to capitalism) does not systematically lead to wars, we must recognize that there are historically progressive wars: that of the oppressed against their oppressors.
While we can, in concrete cases, criticize the way a war is waged (e.g. attacks on civilians), we cannot deny the basic right of resistance to the oppressed nations of the semi-colonies against the imperialist stranglehold. And, just like the overthrow of capitalism, the liberation from imperialist rule cannot be achieved peacefully – because the capitalists will never give up their power voluntarily.
For this reason, every pacifist approach ultimately plays into the hands of the oppressors.
c) The enemy of my enemy …
That fact that our basic support for the resistance cannot be shaken should not, however, obscure the fact that we have to act in a very differentiated way in each concrete case.
When it is no longer just a question of principled, propagandistic support for anti-imperialist liberation struggles, but also of the direct involvement of communist organizations, a precise examination of the forces involved in the resistance is necessary.
No matter how retarded the social development of a semi-colony may be – there exists (as in every capitalist country) a division into exploiters and exploited.
With imperialism as a common enemy, parts of the bourgeoisie and the workers can work and fight together in a broad front (as is the case with many national liberation movements). But despite this, the fundamental opposition between labor and capital is by no means overcome.
The workers stand up against their deplorable living conditions, hoping to finally improve them. The local capitalists, in contrast, are never for the abolition of exploitation, but for reshaping it to their advantage. Instead of leaving the largest piece of the pie to foreign corporations, they prefer to keep the profits generated by the country’s soil and workforce.
To lead a liberation struggle with the support of the workers, bourgeois movements use not only social phrases but downright class struggle and socialist rhetoric.
But neither the Venezuelan “Socialism of the 21st Century” nor any “Islamic socialism” offers the working class a perspective. They serve to instrumentalize the anger of the masses and, when in doubt, lead them into shallow channels.
A liberation movement that does not fight for the overthrow of capitalism can never be consistently anti-imperialist because in a world dominated by imperialism every capitalist state has to find an arrangement with it. Since the powerful imperialist countries are always capable of drawing the capitalists of the semi-colonies onto their side with massive economic pressure or concessions and privileges, this must sooner or later lead to the restoration pro-imperialist conditions.
Accordingly, there can be no “stages concept” for the semi-colonies, which calls for an (anti-imperialist) bourgeois revolution as a first stage, and only if the new status has stabilized dares to attempt a socialist revolution.
Instead, Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution” must be applied to backwards semi-colonies and their struggle for liberation. That is, tasks like the expulsion of the occupiers or the toppling of a pro-imperialist regime must be seamlessly pushed forward to a socialist revolution and completed by it.
III. The Anti-Imperialist United Front
In search of a concept for the revolution in backwards and colonized countries, the Third International developed the tactic of the “anti-imperialist front” in the early 1920s
Back then, as now, revolutionaries were confronted with the problem that in the (semi-)colonies, the resistance was often dominated by bourgeois or petty bourgeois forces that could mobilize large parts of the proletariat behind them.
This was partly due to the economic backwardness of these countries, in which which peasant and petty bourgeois layers played a much greater role than the weakly developed working class. This was also due to the fact that the imperialist powers were usually careful to keep the workers’ movement in their colonies as small as possible and to nip any rebellion in the bud.
Analogous to the anti-fascist workers’ united front, in which communist and reformist organizations could form an alliance for a specific purpose, the anti-imperialist united front was supposed to represent a tactical alliance between communists and bourgeois, national-revolutionary forces.
In our view there are two key objectives that should be achieved with this tactic:
On the one hand, of course, the combination of all anti-imperialist forces for a common front to oppose a strong enemy. This means not only a military alliance, but also joint demonstrations, calls for strikes and other actions.
With such an alliance of organizations of different classes, it cannot be forgotten that after the achievement of the common goal, the basis for cooperation disappears and the opposing interests come to the fore.
So the second important goal of the united front tactic is the weakening of the bourgeois allies in favor of the communist forces. Through propaganda work, as well as alternative actions and proposals for actions in the framework of a united front, it should be made clear to the participating workers that the communists are the only consistent anti-imperialists and only a socialist perspective promises real liberation.
Cooperation that brings real benefits for the communist forces can only work under certain conditions, which are also the basic conditions for the formation of a united front:
- At all times, the political and programmatic independence of the workers’ movement must be given.
- Communists must be able to propagate their own positions at joint actions and to organize the workers under their own banner.
- The declaration of a united front between bourgeois-revolutionary and communist groups can, moreover, only be useful if it is permitted by the relationship of forces. A small communist propaganda group with no real support among the working class has very little to offer a strong national-revolutionary movement – at best, it is ignored, and at worst, it is suppressed.
- If the bourgeois forces have not gathered significant parts of the proletariat behind them, such an alliance is of little use to the communists and helps the bourgeois side to gain more attention and strength.
Unfortunately, there are numerous historical examples of leaderships of the workers’ movement ignoring these rules. Far too often, the united front tactic was transformed into a strategy, and cooperation with bourgeois forces was placed above basic proletarian principles.
Under the influence of Stalinism, in 1923 the Chinese Communist Party entered into the bourgeois Kuomintang, dropped its criticism and deprived itself of any independent organizational structures. Under the banner of the united front, this approach was presented to the workers as a necessary step in the anti-imperialist struggle – and in 1927 led to a massacre of the proletarian movement.
The Iranian Revolution in 1979 led, among other reasons, to the victory of a theocratic regime because the Marxist forces (which were weak but present) reduced themselves to cooperation with “progressive” bourgeois forces rather than fighting for their own program.
In these and in many other cases, the slogan of the anti-imperialist united front has been abused to justify a strategy of class collaboration – that is a popular front.
In summary, the united front tactic can be a useful tool, but one that can only be used within clearly defined conditions.
IV. Fight imperialism in Europe!
As activists in the imperialist centers of Europe, we of course have no direct influence on the liberation struggles of the semi-colonies. Nevertheless, we too can contribute support to the anti-imperialist resistance, at least indirectly.
The top priority is to expose the hypocritical and racist propaganda of the imperialist war mongers as such and to highlight the real motives of European or US military operations, as well as explaining the economic mechanisms of the exploitation and oppression of the so-called “Third World” countries.
We should also support demonstrations, strikes and other actions that should make it impossible for “our” governments to support imperialist wars, directly or indirectly.
Our efforts should always be oriented to promoting solidarity between the working class in Europe and in the countries under attack. This can be of very practical relevance if, for example, troops or weapons cannot reach their destination due to a port workers’ strike or other blockade actions.
Given the expansion of the EU’s military expenditures and the significant increase in its international military operations, Karl Liebknecht’s saying “The main enemy is at home!” has not lost its validity in the least. Despite the special military status of the United States, we must pay particular attention to our local armies. Where it is possible for us, we can sabotage their attempts to recruit at schools, job fairs and unemployment offices, and dismantle the image of “peace armies”.
Likewise, we should pay attention to the establishment of a European army under the label of a “common foreign policy”. This includes the militarization of the European borders, particularly in the Mediterranean, which every year thousands of refugees from Africa try to cross in order to escape the misery of their home countries. This phenomenon arose in the first place due to the the policies of the rich countries.
Huge, militarized border fences, detention camps for incoming refugees and the European “border protection” force FRONTEX are only the most obvious signs of a racist immigration and refugee policy in Europe. This must also be denounced and fought.
Here in particular, but also with all other anti-imperialist protests, it is important to involve immigrants who feel – directly or indirectly – affected by the aggressive and oppressive policies of Western countries. To this end, we should also be willing to take part in a limited alliances with less progressive bourgeois forces or even reactionary groups, i.e. apply this variant of the united-front tactic ourselves, with a focus on joint protest actions.
Of course it is our goal to win workers, migrants and young people to a socialist perspective and to weaken the bourgeois forces.
This only makes sense if it involves groups that have significant support in these communities. Very similar terms and conditions apply as to a “real” anti-imperialist united front.
V. Importance of anti-imperialist struggles
Even if were can only speculate about their future role: It is clear that anti-imperialist struggles around the world are closely linked with the future of global capitalism.
We should not believe that the unequal distribution of power makes it impossible for one of the oppressed countries to provide the impetus for a world socialist revolution. It is true that the struggles of the workers in the imperialist centers can be potentially much more dangerous to the ruling classes – but correspondingly, much more is done to keep them quiet and far away from an internationalist, socialist perspective.
However, to conclude the complete opposite – namely that only the liberation movements in the semi-colonies can offer serious resistance against imperialism – would be just as wrong. Especially because this approach runs the risk of glorifying anti-imperialism as an end unto itself, denying the fundamental class contradictions and forgetting the need for a socialist revolution.
Ultimately, the overcoming of capitalism and with it of imperialism is equally necessary in all countries. Every victory that is won in one place can improve the starting position for every future battle and is therefore a step in the right direction.
passed by the first international conference of RIO, December 2010, Munich