“Ripples of Freedom”
Dublin, 13 May 2006

Imperialism and war

Seán Edwards



James Connolly was the most consistently anti-imperialist of the men and women who took up arms against the mighty British Empire, then fighting to maintain its “full-spectrum dominance,” then being challenged by Germany. Ten years earlier—a century ago today—that dominance had seemed unchallengeable. The terrible war then going on in Europe had been foreseen by the socialists, who had vowed to turn that war into a civil war for the emancipation of the working class. As soon as the war started, the same socialist leaders, with some famous exceptions, rallied to the flags and competed with the bourgeois politicians in their jingoism. Connolly’s great contemporary Lenin was, at the time of the rising, writing Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.
      Of course capitalism has changed beyond recognition since 1916, but it has not ceased to be imperialism. The colonial empires have disappeared, of course, to be replaced by neo-colonial rule, where the upper strata of the subordinate states co-operate with the imperial powers in the oppression of their peoples. (John O’Shea of Goal says they are corrupt; how could they not be?) The Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o wrote a little book called Matigara, in which a freedom fighter comes out of the forest and finds he has to continue the struggle against the new rich who have taken the place of the colonial rulers. So popular was the book that the police went looking for the fictional Matigara. Eduardo Galleano, in The Open Veins of Latin America, describes how the Latin American bourgeoisie, rather than pursue the economic development of the continent, preferred to attach themselves first to British and then to North American imperial power, acting in the Redmondite spirit, which Eugene described last night.
      As Lenin put it in Imperialism, “finance capital is such a great, it may be said, such a decisive force in all economic and in all international relations, that it is capable of subjecting, and actually does subject, to itself even states enjoying the fullest political independence.” Today finance capital and the imperialist powers, organised in the International Monetary Fund, dictate economic policy to the countries unfortunate enough to owe them money. The recent partial forgiveness of debt was conditional on full compliance with these conditions.
      What is known as neo-liberal economic policy is designed to suit the transnational corporations, allowing the free movement of capital and profits, privatising public enterprises, including public utilities. As well as international oppression it involves an attack on the gains made by the working class in recent decades. It has of course generated much opposition, yet many people who criticise neo-liberalism never mention imperialism: they appeal for their governments to apply more humane, socially responsible policies.
      Of course financial and economic pressure would never suffice. The USA possesses military force beyond the dreams of previous generations. As one American businessman put it, “without McDonnell-Douglas there would be no McDonald’s.” War, and the threat of war, is an essential part of the imperialist system. Control over resources must be maintained. The British Empire at the height of its glory could not allow the Transvaal Republic (a rogue state, surely) to control all that gold; the USA today must dominate Middle Eastern oil.
      The massive arms industry is an instigator as well as a beneficiary of war. At the end of the Cold War, which had provided the rationale for the huge expenditure on arms, there was, briefly, talk of a “peace dividend”—money becoming available for social purposes. Jerónimo Carrera, writing about this issue in his weekly column, said:
The truth is that the armaments industry is one of the three largest branches of the economy of the United States. Along with that of energy and the traffic in drugs, the production of arms of all types provides for the US monopolies an inexhaustible source of profit. Further, in order to promote the flourishing arms business even more, the monopolists have elevated to the White House a set of political gangsters who now are keeping all and every one of the peoples of the world terrified—beginning with the people of the United States, who are being subjected to a series of restrictions and abuses of power with the lame excuse of a supposed ‘“war on terror.”
He goes on to call for a popular campaign for disarmament.
      The EU, as befits a rival to the US, attaches great importance to building up its arms industry.
      The United States, with Britain tagging along, has shown absolute contempt for international law and for the United Nations when they failed to control it in their war on Iraq and their plans for an attack on Iran. In the name of the “war on terror” they claim the right to declare any state a “rogue state” or, even worse, a “failed state,” and intervene. France, Canada and the US decided that Haïti was a failed state, kidnapped the president, and imposed a “transitional” government of gangsters and murderers. This crime received the endorsement of the United Nations. But it has not succeeded: the Haïtian people, against all the odds, elected René Préval as president.
      The imperial powers, for all the damage they do and the suffering they cause, are nevertheless not succeeding. They can wreck Iraq, but they cannot control it. They can even wreck the whole world. They cannot solve their own economic contradictions. In their desperation and their determination to maintain their dominance they will become even more dangerous. But they can be defeated. Even in the United States there is no longer popular support for the Iraq war; Cindy Sheehan has rallied the peace movement there. The gaining of democratic rights also has been a long and arduous battle, and people are not going to give them up so easily.
      In Latin America the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, led by Hugo Chávez, has rallied the continent and broken the isolation of Cuba and is using the country’s oil wealth to benefit the people. The election of Evo Morales in Bolivia and the renationalisation of oil and gas there is another blow against US control of the continent.
      The forces opposed to imperialism are many and disparate, and the struggle takes many forms: the class struggle, the peace movement, the defence of national sovereignty and the right to development, the defence of national culture. To build a united campaign with these forces, not all of whom are consistent, is a formidable task. It requires of us a great fixedness of purpose and clarity of thought. In this we have the glorious examples of Marx, Lenin, and Connolly, whose works continue to be an essential tool for us. Liam Mellows once said, “We are back to Tone and it is just as well.” We are back to Connolly and it is just as well.


Ripples of Freedom  >  Seán Edwards