Although the Alliance for Workers Liberty has no co-group in New Zealand and is a minor player on the British far-left, we’re running the article below because the AWL ideas being critiqued in it are certainly relevant here (and probably in the rest of the imperialist world). These ideas are, indeed, widespread among the liberal left in this country.
by Patrick Smith
In 2013 I resigned from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty following the publication of Sean Matgamna’s ‘Marxism and religion’ article and subsequently became a member of the CPGB. Since then I have spent some time reflecting on my experience and clarifying my ideas.In particular I have been considering social-imperialism: what it is and how it has changed over time. In that light I would like to discuss the AWL’s positions on various conflicts, its heterodox theory of imperialism and capitalist development, and why it is wrong.
Throughout history, the systematic violence and coercion that maintains the current imperialist world order has been justified by various ideas. Prior to World War I the big idea was that the imperialist nations were bringing civilisation to the uncivilised. In the late 20th century it was bringing democracy to totalitarian states. More recently it has been about preventing genocide or mass murder.
The ideas that justify imperialism are always noble. Who but an uncaring intransigent could oppose spreading civilisation and all that it brings to those unfortunate enough not to have developed it themselves? Who could oppose bringing democracy to those trampled under the heel of authoritarianism? Who could oppose the only thing capable of preventing a genocide?
It is within this context that social-imperialism occurs. These questions tend to dominate the arguments put forward by the AWL, for example – US imperialism is seen as preventing massacres or bringing stability. The AWL has developed its own theory, of course, to justify its positions, but in its day-to-day literature and slogans it is the ‘common sense’ bourgeois ideas that lurk beneath the surface.
This is not unique to the AWL. Both Ernest Belfort Bax and Eduard Bernstein accepted the thinking of the day that imperialism drew “barbarian” or “savage” peoples towards civilisation. But they differed over whether this was historically progressive and chose a side accordingly.
Bernstein thought that capitalist social relations had to be spread across the world as a precondition for socialism. He therefore did not oppose colonial conquest in circumstances where he thought the people being colonised were Read the rest of this entry »