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:
The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, 1916, Lenin (14196 words)