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John Passant

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January 2010



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So John, what is imperialism?

Anyone who reads this blog will know I talk a lot about imperialism. The list is long – US imperialism, Australian imperialism, Chinese imperialism, Russian imperialism.

So what do I mean by the term?

As I have written elsewhere, imperialism is the competition between the major economic states. That competition is economic, political and military, but ultimately rests on military strength and often resolves itself militarily.

The major superpower today is the United States.  It makes up about 20 percent of the world’s economy and has done so for the last 40 years.

China’s rapid growth over the last 30 years means it is now developing as an economic challenger to the US. It has about ten percent of the world’s economy, a figure that is growing rapidly.

But the world is more or less divided up.  A new boy on the block like China is going eventually have to challenge the US for supremacy and that means ultimately war.

It happened in 1914 and 1939 when German capitalism could not break out of the boundaries the already established powers had imposed upon the world.

After the second world war, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill divided the world up according to their own imperialist interests, without of course any say by the peoples of the world.

Russian and American imperialism fought proxy wars and battled for economic and military dominance around the globe.

Everything China and the US do today has to be seen in the light of the competition between the two – energy security, Copenhagen, Tibet, Africa, Taiwan, Haiti, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran,Palestine… the list goes on and on.

The natural consequence of competition is monopoly, and the fusion of state and capital (reaching its apogee in the Stalinist states) is one version of this tendency.

Because capitalism is in constant motion in its relentless drive for profit and reinvestment, and its search for new areas of influence and exploitation, the state becomes the protector of ‘its’ capital and its reach around the world.

This isn’t always military competition. Despite the hundreds of countries the US has invaded and the 132 it has bases in, much of its influence today rests on its economic power and the threat of military intervention.

Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan are examples to other countries of what might happen if they resist the power of the US, at the same time as being warnings to China of the intention of the US to encircle and constrict Chinese expansion.

Australia is part of the imperialist system. Our bourgeoisie has attached itself to the dominant imperialist power for its own interests – essentially to expand its influence in the immediate region and help restrain possible competitors further afield.

We are in Afghanistan and Iraq to protect our invasions of the Solomon Islands, East Timor and the continued domination of the rest of the immediate region – Papua New Guinea for example – and to expand our economic influence more widely in South East Asia.

And of course we are there to keep on side with the Americans in case of any threat China may pose to the rule of the Australian bourgeoisie both in Australia and the region.

Socialists cannot support our own bourgeoisie and its imperialist actions. We cannot support the imperialist powers of the world.

Because the defeat of imperialism benefits the people of the world, we unequivocally but not uncritically support those mass movements resisting imperialism.



Comment from Ben Courtice
Time January 27, 2010 at 1:26 pm

You have missed out what the imperialist powers do to the rest with their leading economic role in the system. Because labour productivity in the South or Third World is so much lower than in the advanced economies, they sell their products on the world market at a comparative disadvantage. Hence monopolies based in the imperial centres produce with a much higher labour productivity, and gain superprofits (i.e. well above the average rate of profit) while the industries of what the early Communists called “oppressed nations” (Third World) are condemned to a secondary, subservient role in the global division of labour. Often just cheap manufacturing or resource extraction industries. Which is why despite China’s undoubted military and economic strength, I suspect it is not so clearly an imperialist power. China runs largely on outsourced manufacturing operations for the rich countries.

Comment from John
Time January 27, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Thanks Ben. I am unclear about your super profits argument. If you are saying the rate of exploitation of workers in the West is higher then I wouldn’t disagree.

I do deal with economics. But this was not the place for a discussion of the intricate relationship between China and the US, especially the economic side.

It seems to me the Chinese dictatorship might be thinking about how to boost domestic consumption and shift away from its dependence on exports (about 20% of the economy from memory) and both the import and export of capital.

Even if China were an outsourced manufacturing operation for the rest of the world that doesn’t stop it being imperialist, does it?

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying I don’t understand your argument but suspect it may reach back to disagreements about state capitalism. Let’s see.

Comment from Ben Courtice
Time January 28, 2010 at 8:03 am

You could go into a topic like this in great depth, but I think the key point I was raising is that the most visible form of imperialism — military and inter-state competition — is merely the tip of the iceberg; and that imperialism does not just involve the division of the world between competing great powers, but also their oppression of the nations of the third world. I’m not saying you got it wrong in what you wrote so much as suggesting you could have included a bit more… I’ll see if I can dig up some references to flesh out what I’m saying

Comment from John
Time January 28, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Ben, i don’t disagree but think the invasions of other countries flow from the division of the world and competition between imperialist powers.

Comment from John
Time January 29, 2010 at 7:01 am

Ben, my apologies. I now understand what you are saying. my comments are off point to some extent in response. I agree about the competition flowing from the economic growth of the powers and that growth depends on global economic expansion.

But I don’t see China merely as a cheap manufacturing industry for the US and Europe. It has its own market – about 80 percent of its national product. And I think Chinese energy security, its actions in Tibet, against the Uighurs etc, its neocolonialism in Africa all indicate an expansionist imperialist power.

Comment from Ben Courtice
Time January 31, 2010 at 4:24 pm

You may be right about China. On the other hand, it’s not just a matter of the quantity of manufacturing etc but also what is manufactured. So the “Asian Tiger” economies like South Korea and Taiwan were lauded for their apparent entrance into the “developed” manufacturing world based on volume of manufactured goods. Yet what they manufactured was often either components for finished products made in Japan etc, or it was (for example) computer RAM chips that were about 2 years behind what the advanced factories in Japan were churning out. That is, their manufacturing remained subservient to the imperial powers’ manufacturing. (Reference here: “Dragons in Distress” by Walden Bello and Stephanie Rosenfeld). Now I haven’t personally studied China but I have heard many suggestions it is just a bigger (and probably stronger) version of the East Asian NICs and may fall due to the same dependence on imperialism. I suspect it will turn out a bit different, but I wouldn’t call it “imperialist”. Likewise, the comments about Tibet and Xinjiang. Military occupation and rivalry do not equal imperialism (unless, I think, you follow Kautsky’s theory of imperialism). By that measure, Indonesia in East Timor and Ethiopia in Eritrea and Morocco in West Sahara and many more would be “imperialist”. As I understand, Kautsky relegated imperialism to a policy of governments and rulers; in my argument it is the whole economic system based on the monopolies of the great powers competing for domination of the oppressed nations/third world. A stage of capitalism, as Lenin put it.

Comment from John
Time January 31, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Thanks Ben. I think it is the whole economic system abased on the rivalries of the great powers against each other competing for domination of the globe, first and foremost by making the world compliant to the wishes of its own homegrown capital.

I don’t regard all invasions as imperialist but it does raise an interesting question – how would we describe Australia’s activities (including military interventions) in the region?

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