28 July 2011

Military and Political

Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 6

Military and Political

Presuming that we have by now established that we are not pacifists but are revolutionaries who intend, by any means necessary, to assist the working class to expropriate the expropriator bourgeois class, which by itself is a violent act; then why can we not move with speed, and without any restraint, towards an armed overthrow of the oppressors?

The late William “Bill” Pomeroy started his essay “On the Time for Armed Struggle” (linked below) from exactly this point of departure, like this:

“Because of the decisive results that can follow from an armed smashing of the main instruments of power held by a ruling class or a foreign oppressor, some of those who acquire a revolutionary outlook are eager to move to the stage of armed struggle; and their concept of it as the highest form of revolutionary struggle causes them to cast discredit upon other forms as 'less advanced', as amounting to collaboration with or capitulation to the class enemy.”

But, he wrote:

“Too often the aura of glory associated with taking up arms has obscured hard prosaic truths and realities in the interplay of forces in a period of sharp struggle.”

And later on, Pomeroy adds:

“The experiences of the revolutionary movement in the Philippines offer an interesting example of the complex, varied and fluctuating processes that may occur in a liberation struggle.”

Pomeroy writes that “analysis and understanding of the revolutionary experiences of others is indispensable”. He proceeds to offer his own rich and extraordinary experience as a military combatant and revolutionary. His main lesson is that the military must never think that it can cease to be subordinate to the political. Such thinking is bound to bring disaster, as it did in the Philippines.

Not only is the military subordinate to the political in the hierarchical sense that the military takes its orders from the political leadership and reports back to it. It is more than that. The revolutionary movement goes away from military, and towards political, essentially peaceful means. Far from armed struggle being the “highest form”, it is a form of struggle that we do not adopt unless it is forced upon us, and we pursue it, if we have to, with the main aim of returning as quickly as possible to political means.

This is not only a revolutionary political principle. It is also, in terms of the best military theory (that of Clausewitz) a military principle that force of arms can only serve to return the parties to the negotiating table. That is all it can do; if it fails to do this much, then military force is simply a disaster.

The picture shows William and Celia Pomeroy, next to a newspaper report about their incarceration in the course of the Philippines struggle. William Pomeroy passed away on 12 January 2009 and Celia Pomeroy passed away on 22 August 2009.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

20 July 2011


Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 5

Christopher Caudwell, 1907 – 1937


The Communist Manifesto of 1848 ends: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKERS OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!”

Earlier, it says: “the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.”

When it comes to the expropriation of the expropriators, the working class will not ask permission.

The proletarian revolution will be an act of force, with no appeal, and in that sense it is bound to be a violent revolution, which does not mean that bloodshed is necessary.

Blood need not be shed. But the revolution will make its own laws. Otherwise, it would not be a revolution.

Bourgeois violence

The bourgeoisie is a violent class. It acquired its position by bloody violence and it maintains its position by constant applications of physical violence and bloodshed. It is the bourgeoisie that invented permanent standing armies, the permanent police force, and the prisons, all of which are in constant use.

In spite of all of its protestations to the contrary, the bourgeoisie is not afraid of physical confrontation. It is well prepared for bloody violence.

What the bourgeoisie fears is not bloodshed, but the other kind of violence: that of unilateral expropriation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. The bourgeoisie fears the violence that takes, not blood, but property.

In the previous parts of this series, we have read Clausewitz, Marx and Lenin on the political/military nature of violence. In this part we will take an essay of Christopher Caudwell (download linked below) so as to establish the moral and/or philosophical basis of Pacifism and Violence, if any such can be found.

Christopher Caudwell (1907 – 1937) wrote some extraordinary communist literature that was only published after he was killed while fighting the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, as an internationalist from England, and member of the International Brigades.

Much of Caudwell’s best work was published posthumously under the famous title: “Studies in a Dying Culture”. Three of the essays can be found in the Caudwell section of the Marxists Internet Archive, including his essay “On Liberty”, which contains the statement: “I am a communist because I believe in freedom!”

Another Caudwell collection was published more recently in hard copy under the title “The Concept of Freedom”.

Another source of Caudwell material (including the image above) is Helena Sheehan’s web site, where Helena has made a Caudwell centenary page that is very moving, and will tell you many reasons why Christopher Caudwell is remembered with such passion and love even now, so long after his death.

In “Pacifism and Violence” Caudwell asks almost at once: “Are we Marxists then simply using labels indiscriminately when we class as characteristically bourgeois, both militancy and pacifism, meekness and violence? No, we are not doing so, if we can show that we call bourgeois not all war and not all pacifism but only certain types of violence, and only certain types of non-violence; and if, further, we can show how the one fundamental bourgeois position generates both these apparently opposed viewpoints.”

What do you say when you are confronted with a pacifist follower of M K Gandhi, or a Quaker? This text can assist you. Today’s downloadable text will help bring the essence of the question into our dialogue.

This text will show you why it is that communists are not pacifists, although we struggle for peace, and why the bourgeoisie can never be peaceful, even when they call themselves pacifists.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

18 July 2011

Hegemony and the NDR

Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 4b

Hegemony and the NDR

Update for this part of the Course

This, the fourth part of the Course (which was first done in this form in 2009) containing three documents and three introductions, needs to be re-written. This is apparent as we come to the point of posting the third Introduction, called “Hegemony and the NDR”, which was originally based on the draft documents for the SACP Special National Congress of December, 2009.

The solution appears now to be as follows:

  • Take the (previously) second post, called “Hegemony up to Date”, and use it as the main post (i.e. put it first).
  • PrĂ©cis, sub-edit, redact or generally shorten Perry Anderson’s article to a short text of about 5,000 words (from about 36,000 words) and use it as the second, or alternative text.
  • For the third post, either omit it altogether, or use another document such as Lenin’s “Petty-Bourgeois and Proletarian Socialism”, or something from Gramsci himself, provided that it will add to the focus of this part, which is to probe the meaning of the word “hegemony”.

Shortened post for part three

[The following is a shortened version of the previous version’s post]

Hegemony is mentioned in the first discussion document prepared by the SACP for the Special National Congress held in December, 2009, and particularly the following section, taken from the last page of the document.

“… it is important that as communists we are clear that working class HEGEMONY doesn’t mean working class exclusivity (still less party chauvinism). Working class hegemony means the ability of the working class to provide a consistent strategic leadership (politically, economically, socially, organisationally, morally – even culturally) to the widest range of social forces – in particular, to the wider working class itself, to the broader mass of urban and rural poor, to a wide range of middle strata, and in South African conditions, to many sectors of non-monopoly capital. Where it is not possible to win over individuals on the narrow basis of class interest, it can still be possible to win influence on the basis of intellectual and moral integrity (compare, for instance, our consistent ability, particularly as the Party, to mobilise over many decades a small minority of whites during the struggle against white minority rule).”

In “Petty-Bourgeois and Proletarian Socialism” (1905), Lenin wrote:

“Can a class-conscious worker forget the democratic struggle for the sake of the socialist struggle, or forget the latter for the sake of the former? No, a class-conscious worker calls himself a Social-Democrat for the reason that he understands the relation between the two struggles. He knows that there is no other road to socialism save the road through democracy, through political liberty. He therefore strives to achieve democratism completely and consistently in order to attain the ultimate goal - socialism. Why are the conditions for the democratic struggle not the same as those for the socialist struggle? Because the workers will certainly have different allies in each of those two struggles. The democratic struggle is waged by the workers together with a section of the bourgeoisie, especially the petty bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the socialist struggle is waged by the workers against the whole of the bourgeoisie. The struggle against the bureaucrat and the landlord can and must be waged together with all the peasants, even the well-to-do and the middle peasants. On the other hand, it is only together with the rural proletariat that the struggle against the bourgeoisie, and therefore against the well-to-do peasants too, can be properly waged.”

Joe Slovo wrote (in the SA Working Class and the NDR, 1988):

“There is, however, both a distinction and a continuity between the national democratic and socialist revolutions; they can neither be completely telescoped nor completely compartmentalised. The vulgar Marxists are unable to understand this. They claim that our immediate emphasis on the objectives of the national democratic revolution implies that we are unnecessarily postponing or even abandoning the socialist revolution, as if the two revolutions have no connection with one another.”

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

16 July 2011

Hegemony Up To Date

Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 4a

Hegemony Up To Date

We have given first place this week to Perry Anderson but his document is much too long for the normal practice of the Communist University, which is to pass around a text that is short enough for the comrades to read and digest in between one week’s gathering and the next.

In the case of Gramsci and hegemony, we have just such a readable and user-friendly text in the form of Trent Brown’s essay of that name, downloadable via the link given below.

Put briefly, the idea of “hegemony” is not different from the idea of “dictatorship”, as used in the phrases: “dictatorship of the proletariat” and “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, for two examples.

It means class domination. We may say that Working Class Hegemony is not necessarily always coercive, and that for the most part it would rely upon consent or acquiescence. But, as Trent Brown points out, the same is true of the bourgeois dictatorship that we have at present. It generally depends upon “manufactured consent”, backed up by the threat of forces, and actual force.

Whether we are using the term “Working Class Hegemony”, or the term “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, it remains the case that the bourgeoisie still exists. Capitalist relations will still exist under working class hegemony, but they will be supervised by the working class.

“Dictatorship of the Proletariat” does not mean “Extermination of the Bourgeoisie”.

Trent Brown points out that Gramsci in particular had a well-worked-out theory of how the working class can progress from self-interested economism, otherwise called syndicalism (or in South Africa, “workerism”), through self-conscious class solidarity, to the formation of revolutionary alliances with other classes.

Comrades who may be interested in Gramsci’s legacy, beyond the concept of “hegemony”, may like to read the article “From Organic to Committed Intellectuals or Critical Pedagogy, Commitment, and Praxis” (click to access the web page). For a representative example of Gramsci’s writing, please click here: “Some Aspects of the Southern Question”.

Trent Brown puts it like this:

“Gramsci reckoned that in the historical context that he was working in, the passage of a social group from self-interested reformism to national hegemony could occur most effectively via the political party.”

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

14 July 2011


Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 4


We have looked at the basic theory of armed struggle, courtesy of Clausewitz. We have looked at Imperialism, which among other things is a regime of permanent war.  And we have looked at the political theory of revolutionary insurrection, also courtesy of Lenin. This course will continue to examine such theoretical problems of war and peace, in the context of the age of Imperialism.

This week we look at the contested concept of “Hegemony”.

The concept of “Hegemony” is contested between those who would wish for a third way, or to quote Robespierre, “a revolution without a revolution”; and on the other hand, those who recognise that there is no such third way, and that the real history and meaning of “hegemony” is no different from “class dictatorship”. In other words, Marx and Engels were right to say at the beginning of the “Communist Manifesto” that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” and that the class struggle would have to be fought to a finish.

For many years past this polemic has been conducted around the historical personality and the literary legacy of Antonio Gramsci. People, including academics who should know better, falsely cite Gramsci as if he was a supporter of some third way, which he was not.

Gramsci was an orthodox communist, and was not in the least bit opposed to his contemporary, Lenin. All the material published in recent decades to the effect that Gramsci was a soft kind of communist, or that Gramsci had a theory of revolution (perhaps called “hegemony”) that could succeed without any rudeness or unpleasantness of the Lenin kind is all spurious and fraudulent.

The term “hegemony” needs to be rescued. Perry Anderson’s long article of 1976 about all this is downloadable via the link below. Here is a (shortened) quotation from it:

“The term ‘hegemony’ is frequently believed to be an entirely novel coinage—in effect, [Gramsci’s] own invention. Nothing reveals the lack of ordinary scholarship from which Gramsci’s legacy has suffered more than this widespread illusion. For in fact the notion of hegemony had a long prior history. The term gegemoniya (hegemony) was one of the most central political slogans in the Russian Social-Democratic movement, from the late 1890s to 1917.

“In a letter to Struve in 1901, demarcating social-democratic from liberal perspectives in Russia, Axelrod now stated as an axiom: ‘By virtue of the historical position of our proletariat, Russian Social-Democracy can acquire hegemony (gegemoniya) in the struggle against absolutism.’ [19] The younger generation of Marxist theorists adopted the concept immediately.

“Lenin could without further ado refer in a letter written to Plekhanov to ‘the famous “hegemony” of Social-Democracy’ and call for a political newspaper as the sole effective means of preparing a ‘real hegemony’ of the working class in Russia. [21] In the event, the emphasis pioneered by Plekhanov and Axelrod on the vocation of the working class to adopt an ‘all-national’ approach to politics and to fight for the liberation of every oppressed class and group in society was to be developed, with a wholly new scope and eloquence, by Lenin in What is to be Done? in 1902—a text read and approved in advance by Plekhanov, Axelrod and Potresov, which ended precisely with an urgent plea for the formation of the revolutionary newspaper that was to be Iskra.”

What Perry Anderson demonstrates is that “hegemony”, far from being an alternative to the working class ascendancy otherwise referred to as the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, is in fact exactly the same idea, and was understood as such without any reservations at all by Antonio Gramsci in all his works.

This is an unusually long article for these courses, but it will be worth keeping as an insurance against the return of the fake “hegemony-Gramsci” third-way myth. Tomorrow we will look at a similar but much shorter article.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

11 July 2011

Socialist-Revolutionaries, Narodniks, and other Adventurists

Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 3b


Socialist-Revolutionaries, Narodniks, and other Adventurists

Our pattern is as follows: There are ten parts, one part per week. In each part there may be up to four items. The main post is given first. The others can be used as alternatives, if preferred, or as additional reading. The whole arrangement is designed to suit study circles who would meet once a week to discuss these texts.

In this case we have gone in reverse chronological order. The third and last downloadable linked item in this part is from the earlier, pre-revolutionary period, where Lenin is denouncing the “Revolutionary Adventurism” of the “Socialist Revolutionaries”, and in particular is denouncing terrorism.

Like Marx and Engels before him, and like the SACP of today, Lenin was faced with false revolutionaries who pretended to be more revolutionary than the communists but who were really something else again. The communists are referred to in this pamphlet as “revolutionary Social-Democrats”.

In this Russian case the false revolutionaries were the petty-bourgeois “Socialist-Revolutionaries” (SRs) and their antecedents, the sentimental “Narodniks”. Both of these types of pseudo-revolutionary are likely to spring up in any revolutionary situation. In general, they represent the strong desire of the ruling class to reappear in a new guise, to steal the very revolution that they have provoked, and therefore to continue their rule in a new form. This is especially the case in a transition, like Russia’s at the time, from a monarchy, to a republic.

The terrorist SRs called themselves “critics” and they called their revolutionary opponents (i.e. Lenin and the RSDLP) “orthodox”. This is like the liberals and anarchists of today in South Africa who denounce the SACP as “Stalinists” or “vanguardists”, or even as “yellow communists”, while imagining themselves to be free-thinkers.

This document was written in a typical situation, similar to Swaziland today, where there is a dying monarchical autocracy and a large but very poor peasantry, all festering in the dregs of feudalism. There is a dangerous “absence of ideology and principles”. Among other important things, Lenin writes:

“Let the agrarian programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries serve as a lesson and a warning to all socialists, a glaring example of what results from an absence of ideology and principles, which some unthinking people call freedom from dogma.

“When it came to action, the Socialist-Revolutionaries did not reveal even a single of the three conditions essential for the elaboration of a consistent socialist programme: a clear idea of the ultimate aim; a correct understanding of the path leading to that aim; an accurate conception of the true state of affairs at the given moment or of the immediate tasks of that moment.

“They simply obscured the ultimate aim of socialism by confusing socialisation of the land with bourgeois nationalisation and by confusing the primitive peasant idea about small-scale equalitarian land tenure with the doctrine of modern socialism on the conversion of all means of production into public property and the organisation of socialist production. Their conception of the path leading to socialism is peerlessly characterised by their substitution of the development of co-operatives for the class struggle.”

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

09 July 2011

Guerrilla Warfare

Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 3a

Guerrilla Warfare

Just after the first Russian Revolution of January, 1905, Lenin wrote “Guerrilla Warfare” (download linked below). Almost immediately in this work, Lenin plants his experienced revolutionary feet on solid revolutionary ground, thus:

“Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle.

“It recognizes the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not "concoct" them, but only generalizes, organizes, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of themselves in the course of the movement.

“Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crisis become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defense and attack.

“Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle. Under no circumstances does Marxism confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at the given moment only, recognizing as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation changes. In this respect Marxism learns, if we may so express it, from mass practice, and makes no claim whatever to teach the masses forms of struggle invented by ‘systematisers’ in the seclusion of their studies.”

Later in the same work, in which he defends the Latvian comrades who have taken up some forms of armed struggle, Lenin says:

“… such an objection would be a purely bourgeois-liberal and not a Marxist objection, because a Marxist cannot regard Civil War, or guerrilla warfare, which is one of its forms, as abnormal and demoralizing in general.

“A Marxist bases himself on the class struggle, and not social peace. In certain periods of acute economic and political crisis the class struggle ripens into a direct Civil War, i.e., into an armed struggle between two sections of the people. In such periods a Marxist is obliged to take the stand of Civil War. Any moral condemnation of Civil War would be absolutely impermissible from the standpoint of Marxism.”

Are you worrying about what form your struggle should take? Read this document, comrades.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

07 July 2011


Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 3


“To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning-point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism.”

This wrote Lenin [Image], in “Marxism & Insurrection” (download linked below), in September 1917, just before the Great October Russian Revolution.

Insurrection must rely upon the advanced class, and not upon the party. It must rely on an uprising of the people, and be timed to coincide with their maximum degree of resolution and the maximum degree of vacillation in the ranks of their enemies.

Lenin concludes:

In order to treat insurrection in a Marxist way, i.e., as an art, we must at the same time, without losing a single moment, organise a headquarters of the insurgent detachments, distribute our forces, move the reliable regiments to the most important points, surround the Alexandriusky Theatre, occupy the Peter and Paul Fortress, arrest the General Staff and the government, and move against the officer cadets and the Savage Division those detachments which would rather die than allow the enemy to approach the strategic points of the city. We must mobilise the armed workers and call them to fight the last desperate fight, occupy the telegraph and the telephone exchange at once, move our insurrection headquarters to the central telephone exchange and connect it by telephone with all the factories, all the regiments, all the points of armed fighting, etc.

“Of course, this is all by way of example, only to illustrate the fact that at the present moment it is impossible to remain loyal to Marxism, to remain loyal to the revolution unless insurrection is treated as an art.”

Insurrection is an art! This is a short document, comrades, and readable. Read it.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

04 July 2011

Genesis of the NDR

Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 2b

Genesis of the NDR

The Hammer and Sickle emblem of the communists was invented in 1917 and is a symbol of class alliance between two distinct classes: proletarian workers, and peasants.

Peasants often work hard and they are often poor, but they are not the same as the working proletariat of the towns. Nor are they the same as the rural proletariat. So the hammer and the sickle are not two equal things. They represent two different things, allied.

Practical politics is always a matter of alliance, and in different circumstances, different alliances are called for. Communists commonly regard an alliance between workers and peasants as normal. Proletarian parties have likewise, in the past, often attempted class alliances with (other) parts of the bourgeoisie against feudalism, or against colonialism.

Alliances are normal and necessary, in order to isolate and thereby to defeat an adversary, and equally, to avoid being isolated and defeated by that adversary. Therefore, the question of the appropriate alliances in the anti-colonial and anti-Imperialist struggle was bound to arise.

The origin of the specific type of class alliance that is nowadays referred to by the term National Democratic Revolution can be precisely located in the Second Congress of the Communist International (2CCI), in the discussion on the National & Colonial Question, reported by V. I. Lenin on 26 July 1920 (download linked below).

The founding Congress of the Communist International (“Comintern”) took place in March, 1919, a little more than a year after the October 1917 Russian Revolution. The first “International Working Men’s Association”, of which Karl Marx had been a founder member in 1864, had been disbanded in 1871 after the fall of the Paris Commune. The Second International fell apart in 1914, when most of the Social-Democratic workers’ parties backed the bourgeois masters of war in the conflict between the Imperialist powers.

The communists, led by Lenin, had held out against that betrayal. After the revolutionary victory in Russia they lost very little time before constructing a new International (which Lenin had called for in the 1917 “April Theses”. The Third, Communist International was naturally and explicitly anti-Imperial and anti-colonial. Its Second Congress (the “2CCI”), held in 1920, was decisive.

In his report to the 2CCI on the National & Colonial Question, Lenin says: “We have discussed whether it would be right or wrong, in principle and in theory, to state that the Communist International and the Communist parties must support the bourgeois-democratic movement in backward countries. As a result of our discussion, we have arrived at the unanimous decision to speak of the national-revolutionary movement rather than of the ‘bourgeois-democratic’ movement. It is beyond doubt that any national movement can only be a bourgeois-democratic movement, since the overwhelming mass of the population in the backward countries consist of peasants who represent bourgeois-capitalist relationships… However, the objections have been raised that, if we speak of the bourgeois-democratic movement, we shall be obliterating all distinctions between the reformist and the revolutionary movements. Yet that distinction has been very clearly revealed of late in the backward and colonial countries…”

In this report we find, for the first time, all the makings of the NDR, including the name, even if the words are not quite in their present-day order. Lenin calls it “national-revolutionary”, but he makes it very clear that he is talking of a democratic class alliance with anti-colonial, anti-Imperialist elements of the national bourgeoisie in colonial countries.

The 2CCI was followed within two months by the famous “Congress of the Peoples of the East”, in Baku, in the southern part of what was soon to become the Soviet Union. This was the first international anti-colonial conference. It had huge consequences. The remainder of the 20th century was marked by world-wide National Democratic Revolutions according to the pattern set by Lenin, and these included and still include the South African NDR.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

02 July 2011

Consequences of Imperialist War

Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 2a

Lenin in disguise, 1917

Consequences of Imperialist War

The origin of the Age of Imperialism, when it became dominant in the world, were the Imperial wars at the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries, and most typically the Anglo-Boer War. It is the most typical because it showed most clearly what the nature of the new capitalist Imperialism was.

Britain made war on the Boer Republics, not so as to rule them directly, and certainly not to liberate the black people living under those racist regimes, but only to possess the gold mines and other such assets as they might wish to have.

The current Imperialist war on Libya is not different in overall nature.

The typical tactic of Imperialism is therefore not direct colonialism, but neo-colonialism. As the 20th century went on, neo-colonialism was increasingly substituted for the older system of direct rule, and the obligations that went with direct rule were abandoned.

This much was described by Lenin in the text that went with the previous post in this series. Now, it may be helpful to look at the general situation around 1916, in brief.

The Great Powers had gone to war in 1914 as a consequence of the tensions that Imperialism had brought with it, in a finite, limited world that had been divided between them, but unevenly.

Shockingly, from a working-class point of view, the Workers’ (Second) International had, instead of opposing the war, collapsed. The socialist parties of the contending powers had nearly all opted to support their different bourgeois governments in the terrible mutual slaughter and destruction.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks refused to support the war. They formed the major force in the small “Zimmerwald” International, together with other formations that wanted to maintain the international working-class position of opposition to capitalist war.

By then Lenin had been in exile for many years. He remained in Switzerland, eventually returning to Russia in April, 1917, after the February revolution of that year. Lenin naturally paid close attention to the question of Imperialism and wrote a lot about it during this time.

In “The Nascent Trend of Imperialist Economism” (download linked below), Lenin attacks the “Imperialist Economism” that is against the right to self-determination and against democracy.

Imperialist Economism has “the knack of persistently ‘sliding’ from recognition of imperialism to apology for imperialism (just as the Economists of blessed memory slid from recognition of capitalism to apology for capitalism),” says Lenin.

“Economism” is Syndicalism, or in South African parlance, “Workerism”. It is the belief that trade union struggles alone can solve the problems of the working class. It is reformist, and it relies upon the promises of development of the capitalist economy, with no plans to overthrow it.

“Imperialist Economism” took the reformist logic one step further, to say that Imperialism should be allowed to develop to its fullest, in the belief that when the whole world had become one big monopoly, it could simply be taken over and re-named socialism. The Imperialist Economists promoted the idea that socialism was the end-destination of the Imperialist bus-ride, and that all that was necessary was to encourage Imperialism’s progress, in the name of socialism.

The German Social-Democrat Karl Kautsky, who Lenin called a “renegade”, and “no better than a common liberal”, became the prophet of Imperialist Economism.

In the face of this particular brand of treacherous liquidationism, Lenin was obliged to re-state the necessity for the right of nations to self-determination (see the second download linked below). This is a longer document. In it, early on, under the heading “Socialism and the Self-Determination of Nations”, Lenin wrote: “We have affirmed that it would be a betrayal of socialism to refuse to implement the self-determination of nations under socialism.”

So as not to make this introduction to long, let us sum up:
  • There is no final separation between socialism and internationalism
  • Nations have the right of self-determination

In the next part we will see the consequences of this struggle of ideas as it affected the world after the Russian Revolution and after the Imperialist world war of 1914 -1918 was over.  We will see that Lenin personally, and the Communist International in particular, were able to map out the line of march for the National Democratic Revolutions that subsequently liberated most of the planet from colonialism, including, eventually, South Africa.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

01 July 2011


Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 2

Lord Kitchener poster, 1914


This is the second part of a series on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace. We are not only concerned to discover Imperialism, but to see it in its particular aspect of war-mongering. [Image: Lord Kitchener, master of war and lying face of Imperialism]

In Chapter 7 of “Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism” (download linked below) Lenin “sums up” in a highly compressed way as to what capitalist imperialism is. In the first paragraph, among other things, he says:

“…the monopolies, which have grown out of free competition, do not eliminate the latter, but exist above it and alongside it, and thereby give rise to a number of very acute, intense antagonisms, frictions and conflicts.”

A little later on Lenin writes: “… politically, imperialism is, in general, a striving towards violence and reaction.”

South Africa has seen Imperialism in all its aspects, but especially in war. It was the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 that announced Imperialism’s intentions to the world, as much as the Spanish-American War of 1898 did, or the defeat of the Khalifa Abdallahi's forces at Omdurman in Sudan by the British under Kitchener in that same year. The system of state-monopoly capital and dominance of the mineral-energy complex over the South African productive economy dates from that time, and it has never been fundamentally changed. To change it will mean a new confrontation with Imperialism.

Imperialism is a system of war. Lenin pours scorn on “Kautsky's silly little fable about "peaceful" ultra-imperialism,” calling it “the reactionary attempt of a frightened philistine to hide from stern reality.”

Lenin concludes:

“The question is: what means other than war could there be under capitalism to overcome the disparity between the development of productive forces and the accumulation of capital on the one side, and the division of colonies and spheres of influence for finance capital on the other?”

The age of Imperialism, for more than 110 years, has been an age of war, as Lenin predicted it would be. From Lenin’s work to that of William Blum’s “Killing Hope” it is clear that Imperialism is an aggressive force which at some stage will have to be confronted. One cannot hope to be exempt from this confrontation forever.

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