Where do we stand when a military attack by imperialism takes place against underdeveloped countries

Where do we stand

when a military attack by imperialism takes place against underdeveloped countries

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I would like to deal briefly with a very important issue which is facing the revolutionary left internationally. This issue has been very controversial, both in regard to the revolutionary left in Europe and has also caused great confusion within the socialist movement of other countries that maybe attacked by imperialists in future.  In order to highlight the level of confusions and inconsistencies.

For example, when US threatens reactionary regimes in the world (Iran, Syria etc), immediately, amongst the “left” internationally, two contradictory positions develop. On the one hand, some defend (directly or indirectly) a US intervention. On the other hand, at the same time, some defend (directly or indirectly) the reactionary regimes. These contradictory positions not only split any united action by the international “left”, but also causes a great deal of confusion amongst the socialist workers in countries under attack as how to judge this contradictory behaviour of their allies in the West.  The roots of this confusion lie in not updating Marxist analysis of the present stage of imperialism and the nature of bourgeoisie in underdeveloped countries. The traditional Marxists’ line in defence of an oppressed state against an oppressor state came about during the classical age of imperialism – the beginning of 20th Century. [1]

In this period, because monopoly capitalism was faced mainly with a constant crisis of capital overaccumulation, to solve this crisis, the objective need of monopoly capitalism focused on the export of capital and its manufactured commodities. However, this is synonymous with cheap raw materials for the metropolitan countries. In this era of imperialism, in contrast to the period before, the independent processes of capital accumulation in the peripheral countries are completely stopped and bankrupt artisans become low wage workers in the raw materials industries of the imperialists. In this period, we witness the emergence of a “national bourgeoisie” in opposition to a “comprador bourgeoisie” which is created by imperialism at the political level. For total control over the internal market of the peripheral countries, imperialism needed local state power to impose its will and suppress the “national bourgeoisie”. All the positions of the Comintern and Lenin and Trotsky in defence of the “national bourgeoisie” against imperialism are related to this period. [2]

However, ever since World War II, the situation of imperialism has changed.[3] After the 1950s imperialism entered into a permanent industrial revolution. The interventions of imperialism in this period led to the emergence of a specific type of capitalism. For example, the deformed (and abnormal) type of capitalism seen in Iran. In this era, according to the stage of imperialism, politically (or directly) dependent governments change into governments of indirect rule. The position of these countries, changed from the colonial countries (of the classical period of imperialism) to semi-colonial ones (of the late capitalist era). Imperialism no longer needs the backward countries for the export of capital from the metropolitan countries; instead it prepares these countries to absorb the over-produced (or excess) means of production. In this period “Ford Foundation” financed mainly by USA engineered this transformation in many countries such as Iran. Egypt, Syria, etc. in Middle East.  Indonesia, Philippines, etc., in Far East.  Brazil, Argentina, etc. in Latin America. In all these countries similar to each other a Land Reform policy to release peasants from rural districts to form workers in the cities.

In this period, to create the necessary facilities for such planning, capital does not take the form of “exports” but given as long-term loans or grants to the peripheral countries. The role of the International Monetary Fund and similar organisations in this period is to ensure the current needs of imperialism. Thus, through the above types of help, the states and deformed (i.e., made by imperialism) native capitalism of these countries, lay the foundations of the economic infrastructure (banking, transportation, etc.) so as to attract the commodities of the metropolitan countries.

In this period, we do not have a contradiction between imperialism and the “national bourgeoisie”. What we have is the creation of deformed “bourgeoisie states” from above by imperialism itself (in order to resolve its economic crisis). Thus, in the situation of the war between imperialism and a reactionary regime in Syria (or Iran or Libya), the war is between two reactionary bourgeoisie states! and revolutionaries should take a defeatist position against both imperialist and other reactionary regimes. It is also important to understand that imperialism never has any intention of toppling these “bourgeois states”, but only a regime change at worst. Considering that in all dominated countries the concrete historical conditions and economic situation have changed enormously, that there is no longer a “national bourgeoisie” that would like to promote a “national interest”, and that imperialist domination has taken a new form. We should therefore not defend any side in case of war. The main factor for Marxists should be the development of the class struggle, particularly of the proletariat. Over several decades the working class in these countries has time and time again developed massive strikes or even general strikes, tried to set up independent trade unions and organisations, formed workers’ councils, controlled production and so on.

Considering the way these countries became independent, i.e., on the territory of a colony that included many diverse nationalities, national oppression by the dominant ethnic (or religious) group, and struggles against the state and central government, have also been in evidence. The “national interest” of the nation-state is against all the basic rights of the nationalities as well as workers. That is why, for example, the defeat of the Baathist regime in 1991 was a signal for huge numbers of Kurds and Shias to revolt against it. It is true that the leadership of both of movements was reactionary. And although the masses had great illusions in what US imperialism promises, they showed that there was great potential for forming a third camp or front if a revolutionary leadership had been present. In places like Syria, Libya, Iraq or Iran, therefore, the working class should lead the masses in forming an independent third camp – neither with its “own” bourgeoisie in defence of a “national interest”, nor with imperialism. This is a united front of the workers and all exploited and oppressed layers in society. It should not only be anti-imperialist but also fight for the overthrow of capitalism through posing transitional demands like workers’ control.[4] It would call on all international left-wing or progressive organisations to lend it support to make this independent and truly revolutionary front a real alternative to the other two camps. Instead of calling for workers to join the army of the reactionary stooge bourgeoisie, the Marxists should call on workers who are drafted into the army to shoot their officers, to form soldiers’ councils, to arm the masses with heavy weaponry to defend their factories and neighbourhoods, to train the masses in military skills to a high level and to conduct a revolutionary war against imperialism and the local bourgeoisie.

This is the real way to confront and defeat imperialism. It.  Whether such a front actually takes shape depends on theoretical and practical preparation before the event and our resolute action in being able to lead the masses towards this goal once a conflict has begun.

August 2021

[1] the classical age of imperialism, and “national bourgeoisie”

In the late 19th century, due to the concentration and centralisation of capital, along with the pace of advancement of technology monopoly capitalism was faced with two objective and continuous crises. First, in addition to the periodic crises of capital overaccumulation (which has existed during all eras of capitalism), monopoly capitalism was also faced with a constant crisis of capital overaccumulation. Because of the concentration and centralisation of capital, capitalists are faced with capital accumulation which has lost its profitability. In other words, the capital used in commodities is of ‘low value’. In addition, the competition between capitalists that led to the bankruptcy of some of them exacerbates this crisis. For the first time in the history of capitalism a overproduction of commodities in department I also occurred. The market for machinery produced in department I (locomotives, cranes, railways, etc.) in the metropolitan countries became saturated. Therefore, to solve this dual crisis, the objective need of monopoly capitalism focuses on the export of capital and its manufactured commodities. However, this is synonymous with cheap raw materials for the metropolitan countries. Undoubtedly, access to cheap raw materials could reduce the crisis of overaccumulation. In this period, the ‘fixed’ (raw materials) share of circulating capital increases, and the variable part of fixed capital (machinery) is reduced due to the overaccumulation crisis. Therefore, the insane incursions of capitalism into other countries of the world can be seen. The export of excess machinery to these countries hits two birds with one stone. First, the overaccumulation of capital and machinery in the metropolitan countries decreases, and on the other hand, the same capital and machinery are used to obtain cheap raw materials from other countries of the world. In this era the ‘looting’ of countries of the world takes place in another way (and much deeper than before). All production in this period is aimed at the metropolitan markets, since the markets of the periphery countries, due to blows from the previous era, were not prepared to absorb the commodities produced in their own country. Thus, imperialism appeared on the international scene and, together with it, the backwardness of other parts of the world became fixed and permanent. Also, the establishment of imperialism meant a new division of the backward countries between the European countries. If the era of ‘free competition’ capitalism was characterised by the destruction of traditional industries in the peripheral countries and controlling the markets of circulating commodities (but without blocking the processes of independent capital accumulation); in the era of imperialism, in contrast to the period before, the independent processes of capital accumulation in the peripheral countries are completely stopped and bankrupt artisans become low wage ‘workers’ in the raw materials industries of the imperialists. Naturally, the new situation leads to intensified backwardness in the periphery and strengthening of the major economic sectors in the metropolitan countries. At this stage, the local capitalists lost their independence and began to serve imperialism. Due to lack of a material economic base for the ‘healthy’ development of capitalism, they turned into a bunch of fraudsters, thieves, gangsters and usurers. Therefore, the rise of imperialism in these countries not only did not lead to ‘bliss’ and ‘happiness’ but, on the one hand, retained the ancient relations and, on the other hand, increased backwardness and a installed a state composed of a number of fraudsters at the top. Establishing and strengthening of backwardness in these countries was tied to economic links with the metropolitan countries. Plans to transform the peripheral countries (or capitalist investment in them) in preparation for benefiting from these collapsing economies were on the agenda of the imperialists. Thus, in this era the needs of imperialism did not only rely on looting and exporting consumer commodities (though these actions would continue), but were based on the reconstruction of the periphery economies, and was concentrated on economic planning aimed at solving the crisis in the metropolitan countries. Naturally the extraction of raw materials and developing economic intervention in these countries was not compatible with maintaining the former relations. For example, to accelerate work in Iran the modernization of transport, such as rail and modern drilling equipment, had to be used to access the oil (though the old relations still remained). At the political level, for total control over the internal market of the peripheral countries, imperialism needed local state power. In this period, permanent military presence and guaranteeing the dependence of the local powers on imperialism was necessary to make the internal markets safe. Control of raw material sources had to be guaranteed in this way. However, competition between the imperialist states for access to markets and raw materials of the peripheral countries began. The imperialist wars over grabbing the raw material sources with the support of the dependent states intensified. Imperialist wars, coups and conspiracies against the peripheral countries have roots in the objective needs of imperialists in this era. The cause of wars between the European powers was that in the metropolitan countries, although in this period capital investors remained focused on the national level, but the overaccumulation of capital dragged them to the international level. At the national level powerful financial oligarchies and capitalist trusts took shape and the nation state served them. As a result, disputes and competition between international monopolies over the division of the world was promoted to disputes between the imperialist powers. Thus, imperialist interventions led to a special, unusual and complex situation in the peripheral countries. A complex combination of pre-capitalist, semi- capitalist and capitalist relations of production that through exchange relations with world capitalism, brought the productive forces of capitalist society under the control and domination of the world market, and preserved as such, leading to permanent economic crisis and therefore resulting in constant social and political crisis. The indicator of this unusual situation is the existence of military dictatorships that suppress mass explosions, where the masses form their struggle not only around democratic demands but also question the whole existence of the sick and distressed capitalism system.

[2] Traditional Trotskyist organisations “standard” position

A big mistake by many Trotskyists has been to take the letter of the Comintern’s or Trotsky’s position without understanding the reasoning behind it. If we look at Trotsky’s position on the war between Italian imperialism and Ethiopia, we see that the main consideration is that the defeat of the imperialist country will create an international balance of forces more favourable to the proletariat and lead to the underdeveloped country’s independence. Trotsky says: “Of course, we are for the defeat of Italy and the victory of Ethiopia …” and correctly adds that “… we want to stress the point that this fight is directed not against fascism, but against imperialism. When war is involved, for us it is not a question of who is “better,” the Negus [Ethiopian emperor] or Mussolini; rather, it is a question of the relationship of classes and the fight of an underdeveloped nation for independence against imperialism.” (Trotsky, The Italo-Ethiopian Conflict, in The Writings of Leon Trotsky 1935-36, p 41) It is clear that in today’s world the “question of the relationship of classes” would not be limited to classes in the imperialist country but would consider, indeed put equal (or even more) emphasis on, the position of workers in the dominated country. As for “the fight of an underdeveloped nation for independence against imperialism”, this is, historically speaking, largely irrelevant. Trotsky could even maintain such a position regarding Brazil in the late 1930s. “In Brazil there now reigns a semi-fascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally — in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat.” (Trotsky, Anti-Imperialist Struggle is Key to Liberation, in The Writings of Leon Trotsky 1938-39, pp 31-6.) Trotsky’s position on the war between Fascist Italy and Ethiopia, and the British threats against a semi-Fascist Brazil, are similar to Marx’s position, for example, on the Russo-Turkish War in 1878. This is because the conditions had not changed fundamentally between 1878 and 1935 or 1938. The pace of development during those 60 years had not produced a qualitative change in the class structure of these societies. Trotsky was dealing with pre-capitalist or very weak capitalist countries, with no significant working-class movement – when dealing with Brazil he mentions the British proletariat but not the Brazilian one. But could such a position be taken now, if say an imperialist power were to threaten Brazil for some reason? Could Marxists overlook the fact that during the past 70 years Brazilian capitalism has grown by leaps and bounds? That there has been a huge growth in class differentiation and social inequalities among these classes? That the working class has been involved in many struggles and has matured to the level that it has experienced both a reformist labour government and factory councils? That many other sections of society, like black people, have also developed important mass movements? In today’s Brazil the “question of the relationship of classes” will have to focus on the Brazilian working class, particularly elements around the factory councils and the left-wing of the PT. It is therefore important to bear in mind the historical specificity of any analysis, position or principle.

[3] .”Imperialism (after 2nd World War), imposed bourgeoisie states from above in underdeveloped countries Imperialism is the moribund stage of monopoly capitalism or “late capitalism

The classical period of imperialism ended with the First World War. Since then the world capitalist system has faced a deep crisis. The crisis of the world system is characterised by the outbreak of revolutions and destructive wars. The First and Second World Wars; the revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba, and widespread workers’ strikes across the world; workers’ revolts in Spain, Italy and France, all reflect the decline in the world system (1917-1970). Imperialism, which attributed all the crises and wars to the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and “East Block” promised “peace” and harmony. But the past years have shown that imperialism cannot survive economically without provoking wars and killing people in other parts of the world. The intervention in Yugoslavia, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (from 1992 to the present) correspond with the decline of the world system. At this stage, all the contradictions of the imperialist system have become more prominent than before. The main cause of war is that late capitalism is facing a permanent crisis of over-accumulation. This situation necessitates more intense competition than before for making surplus monopoly profits. In contrast to the previous period (the classical age of imperialism), while all the laws of motion and the contradictions of global capitalism remain in place in this stage; the way that capitalism acts in other parts of the world changes. If in the era of classical imperialism there was a tendency towards interventionism, export of capital to the peripheral countries; in the new era the focus is centred on the production of consumer commodities for the domestic markets of the peripheral countries. This trend has led to increased under-development in the peripheral countries. Let us look at this in more detail: First, during this period the development and expansion of industrial production, the production of synthetic raw materials in the advanced countries, was achieved. The export of capital to the dependent countries changed direction towards other metropolitan countries. The cheap labour power of the peripheral countries was no longer compatible with the extensive use of industrial technology. Therefore, the production of synthetic raw materials (synthetic fibre, rubber, plastics, etc.) in the metropolitan countries replaced the raw materials of the peripheral countries. The result of these changes was the transfer of investments of foreign capital from raw materials into manufacturing. As a result, the direction of imperialism’s interventions in other countries around the world began to change. Two, in contrast to the earlier period, when the domestic markets of the backward countries were not particularly attractive for imperialism; in the latest period, with the growth of high-earning consumer layers, the markets of these countries came to the attention of the metropolitan countries. The fastest way to control the markets of these countries, and also to eliminate other imperialist competitors who offer their products in the market, was to produce in those countries themselves. At this stage, foreign capital, together with the local bourgeoisie, took over the important parts of the market. The tremendous growth in the assembly industries in this period is representative of these new developments. At the same time as the production of consumer commodities, the unequal exchange between metropolitan and peripheral countries intensified. This is because the “product of labour” in the metropolitan countries was more productive than in the backward countries. Thus, “value” from the backward countries was transferred to the metropolitan countries. In addition, the imperialist world order changed the equality of international profit rates to the detriment of the backward countries. As a result, the economic dependence was further exacerbated. In the previous period, for instance, at the time of the First World War (1917), Britain’s annual income from foreign investments was estimated as £200 million, and profit from unequal exchange was £130 million. However, in the 1960-1970 period the annual losses of the backward countries due to unequal exchange were $22 billion, while the income of the metropolitan countries from private investments was $12 billion. Third, because of the reasons given above, Department II (the production of consumer commodities) boomed, but in Department I (the production of the means of production), growth remained limited. The lack of exchange between these two economic sectors led to renewed growth of the productive forces. Also, despite the use of cheap labour to produce consumer commodities, there is no crucial change in the exports of these countries and the commodities remain mainly for domestic consumption. Fourth, the expansion of Department II (the production of consumer commodities) without the expansion of the internal market leads to the quick monopolisation of production and this, in turn, to the constant crisis of over-accumulation and limited industrial growth. The above factors further exacerbate inequalities at a world level.

[4] Iranian regime in crisis – workers fight back against neoliberalism and repression


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