Above: about as “anti- imperialist”-foolish as you can get: Rees, Murray and Galloway
By Camilla Bassi
‘The Anti-Imperialism of Fools’
The day after 9/11 I attended a local Socialist Alliance committee meeting in Sheffield, England, as a representative of the revolutionary socialist organisation, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) comrades present discussed the 9/11 attack as regrettable in terms of the loss of life but as nonetheless understandable.They acknowledged the attack as tactically misguided, yet refused (when pressed to do so) to condemn it. Later, in November 2001, at a public meeting of the Sheffield Socialist Alliance, I shared a platform with a then national committee member of the SWP to debate the US and UK war in Afghanistan. Besides from agreeing on opposition to the imperialist war onslaught, I was alone on the platform in raising opposition to the Islamist Taliban rule and in arguing for labour movement solidarity with forces such as the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which resist both imperialism and Islamism and demand a rogressive, democratic secular alternative.
The SWP comrades present, both on the platform and from the floor, alleged a political error on my part and those who argued along with me. Their rationale was that, to fully oppose the War on Terror, we had a duty to oppose the main enemy and greater evil – US and UK imperialism – and this alone. Anything else, they argued, would alienate the masses of disillusioned, angry British Muslim youth that socialists needed to win over.
The SWP’s dual camp of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ (a socialistic inversion of imperialist war discourse of ‘the status quo versus regression’) came to dominate England’s anti-war movement. They publicly launched their initiative the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) ten days after 9/11, with the aim of mobilising a broad political grouping against the War on Terror.
Since then the SWP vanguard of the StWC has, at critical moments, steered the political course that England’s anti-war protests have taken. Read the rest of this entry »
Marxism and imperialism
Lenin’s theory has been turned into dogma
By Martin Thomas
(First published in 1996)
We are not a government party; we are the party of irreconcilable opposition…. Our tasks… we realize not through the medium of bourgeois governments… but exclusively through the education of the masses through agitation, through explaining to the workers what they should defend and what they should overthrow. Such a ‘defence’ cannot give immediate miraculous results. But we do not even pretend to be miracle workers. As things stand, we are a revolutionary minority. Our work must be directed so that the workers on whom we have influence should correctly appraise events, not permit themselves to be caught unawares, and prepare the general sentiment of their own class for the revolutionary solution of the tasks confronting us.
By the end of the ’60s, what had once been ‘the pride’ of Marxism – the theory of imperialism – had become a ‘Tower of Babel’, in which not even Marxists knew any longer how to find their way.
Giovanni Arrighi 
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’ without at the same time offering a positive answer to the question of how Social-Democracy will solve the problem when it assumes power. A ‘negative’ slogan unconnected with a definite positive solution will not sharpen, but dull, consciousness, for such a slogan is a hollow phrase, meaningless declamation.
V I Lenin 
If European capitalism needed colonies in the first half of this century, why has it not collapsed without them in the second half? If early 20th century imperialism marked ‘the highest stage of capitalism’, the ‘epoch of capitalist decay’ – as revolutionary Marxists wrote at the time – what is the late 20th century?
To answer these questions we must first clear away much confusion. Though Lenin’s famous pamphlet on imperialism is one of the finest polemics in the whole of Marxist politics, the ‘Leninist orthodoxy’ which made it, or rather a garbled version of it, into the master-textbook of twentieth-century world politics and economics has confused rather than clarified. The concepts of ‘export of capital’, ‘finance capital’, or ‘monopoly capital’ as the essence of the matter are – so I shall argue – neither special theoretical innovations of Lenin, nor adequate keys for an understanding of imperialism in a broader view of history.
Imperialism and high finance: Kautsky builds on Engels to answer Bernstein
Maybe the first big classical-Marxist statement on imperialism was by Karl Kautsky, in 1899, replying to Eduard Bernstein’s call for a ‘Revision’ of the perspective of Marx and Engels.
In the 1890s Engels had identified monopolies, cartels, credit and high finance as expressions that classic individual capitalism was decaying and becoming ‘socialistic’, but in an upside-down way which sharpened plunder, swindling, and crises. Colonialism was a profit-making venture of the new financial aristocracy. 
Bernstein argued, on the contrary, that the new trends made capitalism more open to peaceful and piecemeal progress. Credit gave the system more flexibility. Industrial cartels (associations of companies bound together by agreements on production levels, prices and sales) gave the capitalists more conscious control. They could avoid overproduction by mutual agreement. The growth of the world market, and improvements in communications and transport, also made the system more flexible. Capitalism could probably postpone ‘general commercial crises’ for a long time.
Bernstein criticised the way the German government pursued its imperialist policy, but argued that the trend was towards peace and harmony between nations. ‘The workman who has equal rights as a voter… who… is a fellow owner of the common property of the nation, whose children the community educates, whose health it protects, whom it secures against injury, has a fatherland…’, and so should oppose Germany being ‘repressed in the council of the nations’. Moreover: ‘Onlya conditional right of savages to the land occupied by them can be recognised. The higher civilisation ultimately can claim a higher right.'
Bernstein’s scenario of peace and free trade was an illusion, replied Kautsky. ‘Protective tariffs are easier introduced than abolished, especially in a period of such raging competition on the world market… Free trade! For the capitalists that is an ideal of the past.’ Bernstein claimed that speculation was a disease of capitalism’s infancy. But infant capitalism was being promoted across the world by the ‘overflowing capitals of the older countries… Argentinian and Transvaal speculation holds its ‘wildest orgies’ not only in Buenos Aires and Johannesburg, but equally in the venerable City of London.’
And colonialism, Kautsky insisted, was inseparable from militarism and the despoiling of colonial peoples for the benefit of ‘the modern kings of finance [who] dominate nations directly through cartels and trusts and subject all production to their power’. 
‘The financier,’ Kautsky went on to argue, ‘finds militarism and a strong active governmental policy, both external and internal, very agreeable. The kings of finance need not fear a strong governmental power, independent of people and Parliament, because they can rule such a power directly either as bondholders [i.e., as people who lend money to the government], or else through personal and social influences. In militarism, war and public debts they have a direct interest, not only as creditors, but also as government contractors…
‘It is wholly different with industrial capital. Militarism, war and public debts signify high taxes… War signifies besides this… a break in trade… A strong governmental power arouses anxiety in [the industrial manager] because he cannot directly control it… he inclines rather to liberalism… [But] The opposition between finance and industry continually decreases… finance ever more and more dominates industry.'
Much of Kautsky’s argument was a Marxist conversion of ideas which were to be summed up with great verve by the English radical liberal, J A Hobson, in a book motivated by the Boer War (Imperialism, 1902).
‘The Imperialism of the last three decades,’ wrote Hobson, ‘is clearly condemned as a business policy, in that at enormous expense it has procured a small, bad, unsafe increase of markets, and has jeopardised the entire wealth of the nation in rousing the strong resentment of other nations.’ But imperialism continued because, ‘the business interests of the nation as a whole are subordinated to those of certain sectional interests.’
Arms contractors, some exporters, the shipping trade, the military, and those who wanted jobs for their sons in the Indian Civil Service, all had an interest in imperialism. But ‘the governor of the imperial engine’ was ‘the great financial houses’, which were investing abroad at such a rate.
‘The economic taproot of Imperialism’ was overproduction and glut of capital. ‘Messrs Rockefeller, Pierpoint Morgan [etc.] need Imperialism because they desire to use the public resources of their country to find profitable employment for the capital which would otherwise be superfluous.’
Imperialism was also parasitic. ‘To a larger extent every year Great Britain is becoming a nation living upon tribute from abroad, and the classes who enjoy this tribute have an ever-increasing incentive to employ the public policy, the public purse and the public force to extend the field of their private investments, and to safeguard and improve their existing investments. This is, perhaps, the most important fact in modern politics.'
The overproduction and glut were due to inequality of income. The workers could not consume much because of low wages; the capitalists could not possibly use all of their huge incomes on luxuries, and thus had vast amounts left seeking investment. Balance should be restored through social reform, higher wages, more spending on public services. This would lead to more balanced national economies and less searching for markets abroad.
Kautsky saw a similar permanent glut. ‘If the capitalist mode of production raises the mass production of goods to the utmost, it also limits to a minimum the mass consumption of the workers who produce these goods, and therefore produces an ever greater surplus of goods for personal consumption…' He differed from Hobson in arguing that this glut would be resolved by the collapse of capitalism and the socialist revolution, rather than by ‘social reform’, and in contending that finance-capital dominated, rather than being only a ‘sectional interest’ counterposed to ‘the business interests of the nation as a whole’.
Another difference was that Hobson used the word ‘imperialism’, where the German Marxists at this stage would use a term like ‘world policy’. ‘Imperialism’ was not special Marxist jargon: on the contrary. The Marxists took over the term from the common usage of British bourgeois politics – where some, like Rosebery, called themselves ‘Liberal Imperialists’, others, like Hobson, anti-imperialists. They used it in the same sense as common usage – the new aggressive colonial and world-economic policy of the big powers – and sought to uncover its economic roots in the rise of high finance.
Many of the core ideas of the whole literature were already expressed by 1902: militarism, colony-grabbing, conflict and an authoritarian state as the political trends; high finance, economic decadence and glut, and export of capital, as the economic underpinnings.
But what exactly was finance capital? This question was never properly resolved. And the recurrent idea of metropolitan capitalism having become ‘glutted’ would also cause confusion.
Effective demand depends not only on consumption but also on investment; and, in fact, fluctuations in demand for investment goods are generally the prime movers in crises. Demand for those investment goods can soar while final consumption stagnates – and, vice versa, the run-up to a crisis is generally a period of unusually high working-class consumption but sagging investment.
‘Overproduction’ is not a permanent condition; capitalism constantly sheds overproduction through crises and then builds it up again. The relation between supply and demand for money-capital is determined by the tempo of self-expansion of capital. It is a relation between profits accumulated from past capitalist exploitation, and profits available from present capitalist exploitation. The spasmodic nature of capitalist development means that this supply-and-demand relation is constantly falling out of balance and generating ‘surpluses’ of money-capital. But those surpluses are a function of the cycle of boom and slump, not of any absolute level at which an economy becomes ‘full up’ of capital.
The notion of an absolute level after which a capitalist economy will become permanently ‘glutted’ and awash with surplus capital is a recurrent theme in mainstream economics, from Adam Smith to Keynes. It has been attractive to socialists because it seems to show that capitalism must inevitably break down. It is misleading.
We carried a piece honouring Comrade Tom shortly after his death in August. But this appreciation, which also appears in the AWL’s paper Solidarity, is the best and most politically astute article about Tom I’ve yet seen. It is also very moving and the author, Mick O’Sullivan, was probably Tom’s oldest and closest political friend. I’m proud to be able to post it here at Shiraz, with the author’s unhesitating agreement:
I knew Tom as a friend and comrade since the early
Tom was someone who had a hinterland; his interests
spanned good whiskey, particle physics, a love of Sean
O’Casey’s plays, modernist architecture, and an encyclopaedic
knowledge of schisms in the Catholic Church,
which quite frankly bemused me. Tom was a very rounded
person and a very humorous one.
But I want to say something about Tom the public man.
Tom was a Marxist, an atheist and trade unionist who dedicated
his life to the working class and had an unwavering
conviction that socialism was the only hope of humanity.
Tom’s main arena of activity was within the unions and
in particular the T&G [later Unite].
Although he was active in the 1970s, his misfortune was
to come of age when the union movement was in decline.
That, however, was the movement’s gain. It meant much of
his activity was about holding the line; he did this by explaining
to those who had forgotten, and those who had
never known, what a trade union should do, and how a
trade unionist should conduct themselves.
He often made the point to me that there were no shortcuts,
no tricks to this, all we can do is talk and explain.
What I think gave his approach such a sharp edge was his
decision to consistently tell the truth. Now some may say
so what, what’s the big deal about telling the truth? Well,
all I can say is, you try it inside a trade union.
Talking, explaining and saying what needs to be done
next is what Tom did, and others will testify to his importance
within the T&G and its left.
However Tom was also vilified for his views. While we
often joked about this, the wellspring of this enmity towards
him arose from what he stood for.
If you think about it, there were always going to be those
who did not like the fact he was principled, that he fought
against Stalinist influence within the union, that he was incorruptible;
the idea that a trip to Cuba or America would
turn his head and him into someone’s creature was never
going to happen, although I have seen people try. On the
most mundane of levels there were those who resented
him because he always turned up to meetings having read
the paperwork, and they had not.
For all these reasons people kicked against Tom, yet in all
the years I knew him I never once heard him get angry
about such people; his duty was to explain. His political
enemies and comrades were a different matter. He was always
ready to have the argument.
Of course there are many trade unionists with similar
qualities. However no-one exhibited these qualities in quite
the same way or with quite the same mix as Tom.
In our world where we measure our actions and our victories
in a lower case, Tom played a huge role in holding
the movement together and provided real insights in how
we should rebuild it.
I cannot think of anyone who has acquitted themselves
in our cause with greater dedication. As for me
I have lost a dear friend and the staunchest of comrades
(right: Marx addresses the inaugural meeting of the First International)
150 years ago today the First International (the ‘International Working Men’s Association’ ) was in founded in London by the likes of Marx, Engels and Bakunin. It earned establishment hatred for its support for the Paris Commune in 1871.
Today, in Kobanê, northern Syria, Kurdish women and men are heroically resisting the barbarous forces of ISIS – with almost no international support.
Don’t believe the media hype about US air strikes – in Syrian Kurdistan these have so far been minimal and ineffective, unlike in Iraqi Kurdistan where US jets have protected Erbil, a city of Western consulates and oil companies.
ISIS in Syrian Kurdistan is using US tanks and heavy artillery seized when it captured Mosul in northern Iraq. It spreads inhuman terror: when these mercenaries captured one Syrian Kurd village last week they decapitated a disabled woman who had no legs.
The brave Kurds of the YPG/YPJ are resisting with AK47s and largely home-made armour. And with their hearts.
They draw courage from their national pride and their democratic, secular, egalitarian values. The same values that inspired those internationalists who gathered in London on 28 September 1864. And those who went to fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s.
What about us, today?
He was … “a friend and partisan of all good causes, always ready to circulate a petition, help out a collection or get up a protest meeting to demand that wrongs be righted. The good causes, then as now, were mostly unpopular ones, and he nearly always found himself in the minority, on the side of the under-dogs who couldn’t do him any good in the tough game of making money and getting ahead. He had to pay for that […] but it couldn’t be helped. [He] was made that way, and I don’t think it ever entered his head to do otherwise or live otherwise than he did.
“That’s just about all there is to tell of him. But I thought […], that’s a great deal. Carl Sandberg said it in this way: ‘These are the heroes then – among the plain people – Heroes, did you say? And why not? They gave all they’ve got and ask no questions and take what comes to them and what more do you want?’ “ – James P.Cannon (The Militant, June 1947)
I’ve just heard that Tom Cashman is dead.
His daughter, Ruth, got in contact to say:
My dad died yesterday. Though he had differences […] he considered you all comrades.
We will send round details of the funeral once it has been arranged.
“For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try and avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth…”
Leon Trotsky — the Last Testament of Leon Trotsky, Mexico, 27 February 1940
Tom had been ill with a brain tumour for a couple of years, so at one level his death is not a shock.
But Tom’s mental and physical strength meant that he’d hung on for much longer than would normally have been the case.
Not necessarily a good or merciful thing, but there we are.
I’ll write more about Tom shortly.
But for now, I’d just like to say:
He was about the finest and most principled person I ever knew.
He introduced me to real socialist politics.
He understood the interaction between trade unionism and socialist politics.
He – together with Graham Stevenson, who had completely different politics – devised the plan that kept union organisation intact on London buses after privatisation.
He was the voice of political sophistication and Marxism on the T&G -going into -Unite Executive, while he was on there.
Best wishes and solidarity to Ruth, Johnnie and all Tom’s friends, comrades and family.
I’ll write more soon.
By Dale Street (first published by Workers Liberty)
Sam Williams has written 16,000 words to claim that Russia is not imperialist, even when its tanks are rolling through other nations.
He describes the old Stalinist states “the former socialist countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” In those days there was “no true Soviet imperialism”, claims Williams, because “wealth was not accumulated in the form of capital, and therefore not in the form of finance capital — there was not a single kopeck of finance capital.” Any other view is down to “imperialist Western propaganda and its bought and paid-for historians.”
And Russia retains its non-imperialism even after it has unambiguously reverted to capitalism. “Has the military-feudal imperialism of pre-1917 Russia been restored?” asks Williams. No, it’s not feudal. (But it was not the feudal residues in Tsarist Russia which made Marxists of the time classify it as imperialist. It was its domination and exploitation of other nations).
“What about a modernised Russian imperialism based on the rule of monopoly capitalism and finance capital?” He rejects this argument as well: Russia is “very poor in finance capital. … (Therefore) today’s Russia is very far indeed from becoming an imperialist country.”
This is really just a re-run of Williams’s denial of Stalinist imperialism. There was no finance capital in Stalin’s USSR, and therefore no Stalinist imperialism. Today’s Russia is “very poor” in finance capital, and therefore there is no Russian imperialism.
However, Williams’s equation of “imperialist” with “rich in finance capital” obliges him to classify Taiwan, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and New Zealand as imperialist powers. Read the rest of this entry »
Reviewed by Hans G. Despain in Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
Capital in the Twenty-First Century
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 2014. 696pp., $39.95 / £29.95 hb
About the reviewer
Hans G Despain
Hans G Despain is Professor of Economics and Department Chair at Nichols College, Massachusetts. He encourages your correspondence: email@example.com
Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a most impressive book that deserves great attention. Piketty insists that social scientists generally, and economists in particular, must confront and examine “facts” (574-5). This is what he sets out to do in his momentous nearly 700 page text.
The title suggests the book may be offering homage to Marx’s nineteenth-century Capital. Let us be clear from the beginning it is not. Nonetheless, this book will be appreciated by Marxian political economists, while at the same time a frustratingly theoretical disappointment.
Piketty’s book is nothing short of revolutionary in establishing flows of income over time. He establishes that there is a tendency toward the hyperconcentration of wealth, and the rise of a new “supermanagerial” class (315-21). Piketty leaves no doubt that it is class that matters and structural “class warfare” predominates in twenty-first century capitalism (246). Crucial to Piketty’s studies of capitalism is that there exist no economic laws determining distribution of income and wealth (274, 292-4, 361-4). This is an enormously important point, and a return to classical political economy with a vengeance, especially to Marx whereby distribution is a function of series of institutional power relations, rooted in production relations. These summaries will surely, and should, excite Marxian social theorists. However, Piketty’s definition of capital as a financial measure of physical equipment, money, financial assets, land, and other valuables will discourage Marxian social theorists. I will come back to these crucial points.
The primary problem with the book is an underdeveloped social theory and normative philosophy. Consequently, Piketty’s policy recommendations are impressively anemic and aimed at perpetuating exploitation of the economically vulnerable populations. In the end Piketty wants to take the ‘hyper’ out of hyperexploitation and reestablish good old-fashion exploitation with higher minimum wages, taxes on capital, progressive income tax, and limits on inheritance.
With emphasis, Piketty defends the strengthening of the “social state” or the historical development of public education, healthcare, social security, unemployment compensation, and income support for the poor (471-92). Moreover, he maintains that deficits are not bad in-and-of-themselves, but must be spent wisely and should not be paid for with fiscal “austerity” but by means of central-bank-generated-inflation and/or a tax on capital (540-70). This defense of the “social state” and federal deficit pushs Piketty into the area of (political) philosophy, social ethics, and morality. Piketty is well-aware of this (479-81). He recognizes that the so-called “science of economics” is more accurately political economy that generates enormous normative philosophical implications (574).
This gets well ahead of our story and the details of Piketty’s book. The essence of the book is remarkably straight forward and is intended for a popular audience. Piketty brilliantly succeeds on this account and should be duly praised. The essential argument is that capitalistic economic growth inevitably slows. As the rate of economic growth diminishes, the past accumulated “capital”/wealth gains in importance (233), and indeed allows past wealth “to devour the future” (378). Piketty calls this a “fundamental law of capitalism” (166).
This fundamental law of capitalism means that the “return on capital” (r) is greater than the economic growth (g): r > g. As a prosperous and industrialized capitalist economy begins to stagnate, past wealth becomes more important and powerful and inequality begins to increase rapidly (572). Thus, one of Piketty’s main goals “is to understand the conditions under which such concentrated wealth can emerge, persist, vanish, and perhaps reappear” (262).
According to Piketty, the primary mechanism (25) causing inequality is the fact that the rate of return on capital is 3 to 5 times greater than the rate of growth (233). Thus, the structural tendency of capitalism toward stagnation and 4-5% rate of return on capital means that markets and competition do not reduce inequality (370). It is in this sense that there is a “logic of accumulation,” based on the divergence between the rate of return on capital and economic growth (22-7), that accounts for the very high concentration of wealth throughout capitalist history (377).