Socialism and Imperialism
From Workers’ Republic, 4 November 1899.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
As Socialists – and therefore anxious at all times to throw the full weight of whatever influence we possess upon the side of the forces making most directly for Socialism – we have often been somewhat disturbed in our mind by observing in the writings and speeches of some of our foreign comrades a tendency to discriminate in favour of Great Britain in all the international complications in which that country may be involved over questions of territorial annexations, spheres of influence, etc., in barbarous or semi-civilized portions of the globe. We are, we repeat, disturbed in our mind because we ourselves do not at all sympathize with this pro-British policy, but, on the contrary, would welcome the humiliation of the British arms in any one of the conflicts in which it is at present engaged, or with which it has been lately menaced. This we freely avow. But the question then arises: is this hostility to the British Empire due to the fact of our national and racial subjection by that Power, or is it consistent with the doctrine we hold as adherents of the Marxist propaganda, and believers in the Marxist economics?
The English Socialists are apparently divided over the question of the war on the Transvaal; one section of the Social Democratic Federation going strongly for the Boers and against the war; another also declaring against the war, but equally denouncing the Boers; and finally, one English Socialist leader, Mr Robert Blatchford, editor of The Clarion and author of Merrie England, coming out bluntly for the war and toasting the health of the Queen, and the success of the British arms. On the other hand, all the journals of the party on the continent of Europe and in America, as far as we are aware, come out in this instance wholeheartedly on the side of the Transvaal and against what the organ of our Austrian comrades fittingly terms England’s act of ‘blood-thirsty piracy’. Our esteemed comrade, H.M. Hyndman, took the position that England ought not to have given way to Russia at Port Arthur, but ought to have fought her and asserted British supremacy in the Far East. His reason for so contending being the greater freedom enjoyed under British than under Russian rule.
That we may not be accused of criticizing the attitude of others without stating our own, we hereby place on record our position on all questions of international policy.
Scientific revolutionary Socialism teaches us that Socialism can only be realized when capitalism has reached its zenith of development; that consequently the advance of nations industrially undeveloped into the capitalistic stage of industry is a thing highly to be desired, since such an advance will breed a revolutionary proletariat in such countries and force forward there the political freedom necessary for the speedy success of the Socialist movement; and finally, that as colonial expansion and the conquest of new markets are necessary for the prolongation of the life of capitalism, the prevention of colonial expansion and the loss of markets to countries capitalistically developed, such as England, precipitates economic crises there, and so gives an impulse to revolutionary thought and helps to shorten the period required to develop backward countries and thus prepare the economic conditions needed for our triumph.
Comrade Hyndman claims that we should oppose Russia because her people are ruled despotically, and favour England because her people are politically free. But that is the reasoning of a political radical, not the dispassionate analysis of contemporary history we have a right to expect from an economist and a Socialist of Hyndman’s reputation. Russia is not yet a capitalist country, therefore her people bow beneath the yoke of an autocrat. Drive the Russian out of Poland! By all means! Prevent his extension towards Europe! Certainly! But favour his extension and acquisition of new markets in Asia (at the expense of England if need be) if you would see capitalism hurry forward to its death.
It may be argued that our Irish nationality plays a large part in forming this conception of international politics. We do not plead guilty, but even if it were so the objection would be puerile. As Socialists we base our political policy on the class struggle of the workers, because we know that the self-interest of the workers lies our way. That the self-interest may sometimes be base does not affect the correctness of our position. The mere fact that the inherited (and often unreasoning) anti-British sentiment of a chauvinist Irish patriot impels him to the same conclusion as we arrived at as the result of our economic studies does not cause us to shrink from proclaiming our position. It rather leads us to rejoice that our propaganda is thus made all the easier by this none too common identity of aim established as a consequence of what we esteem strong and irreconcilable hostility between English imperialism and Socialism.
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Last updated on 29.7.2007