E. Belfort Bax

Imperialism v. Socialism

(February 1885)

Imperialism and Socialism, Commonweal, Feb. 1885, pp.2 & 3. [1*]
Reprinted in E. Belfort Bax, Religion of Socialism, pp.106-110.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We seem at, the present time to have arrived at the acute stage of the colonial fever which during the last three or four years has afflicted the various powers of Europe. Germany is vying with France, England with both, in the haste to seize upon “unoccupied” countries, and to establish “protectorates” – the cant diplomatic for incomplete annexation – over uncivilised peoples. “The rivalry among the nations for their share of the world market” (to quote the words of our manifesto) must now, one would think, have discovered itself to even the casual newspaper reader as the only meaning the terms “diplomacy” and “foreign policy” any longer possess. The jealousy between the courts of Europe, once the sole and until recently the main cause of national enmity and war, has in our day been superseded by the jealousy between the great capitalists of its various nationalities. The flunkey-patriot, zealous of his country’s honour, dances as readily to-day to the pipe of capitalist greed as he did before to that of royal intrigue, let it but sound the note of race-hatred. In both cases he makes the running for the interested parties. But where the interested party is the wealthiest and most powerful class, able to pay for “patriotic” articles by the yard, and “patriotic” speeches by the hour, “patriotism” is apt to assume the form of a chronic disease. Such it is, to-day, and, as such mocks the futile efforts of the well-meaning but singularly ingenuous clique of middle-class philanthropists, who are naive enough to take the governmental ring at its word when it pretends its only object in undertaking “expeditions” to be the rescue of “Christian heroes” or the relief of garrisons which have no right to be in a position to want relieving. War, jingoism – otherwise patriotism – are indeed past cure while the economic basis of society remains unchallenged, but only so far; and hence we call on all sincere friends of peace to leave their tinkering “peace societies” and work for Socialism, remembering that all commercial wars – and what modern wars are not directly or indirectly commercial? – are the necessary outcome of the dominant civilisation. We conjure them to reflect that such wars must necessarily increase in proportion to the concentration of capital in private hands – i.e., in proportion as the commercial activity of the world is intensified, and the need for markets becomes more pressing. Markets, markets, markets! Who shall deny that this is the drone-bass ever welling up from beneath the shrill howling of “pioneers of civilisation”, “avengers of national honour,” “purveyors of gospel light,” “restorers of order;” in short, beneath the hundred and one cuckoo cries with which the “market classes” seek to smother it or to vary its monotony? It seems well-nigh impossible there can be men so blind as not to see through these sickening hypocrisies of the governing classes, so thin as they are.

But we would above all earnestly urge the workers in future to consider “patriotism” from this point of view. The end of all foreign policy, as of colonial extension, is to provide fields for the relief of native surplus capital and merchandise, and to keep out the foreigner. But how, we ask, does this benefit the workers at the best? They are allowed, may be, the privilege of being shipped across the seas, there to help to make the colonialist and land-grabber rich. Some few here and there, may, indeed, succeed in a colony which is quite new, in becoming wealthy exploiters in their turn. But the immense majority remain wage-slaves as before. In proportion to the advancing prosperity of the colony – as prosperity is conceived in the world of to-day – is its advancing poverty. Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco, Chicago, and the leading Australian and New American cities generally, exhibit precisely the same conditions as the cities of the Old World. And how should it be otherwise, since the same causes are at work? To crown dependencies like India, which are held unblushingly as magazines for the aristocratic and middle classes to plunder at their will, it is only necessary to barely allude in a socialist journal.

This, then, is the empire which the blood and sinew of you, workers, are squandered to maintain and extend. With room enough and to spare in the British Islands for all their inhabitants to live a comfortable life, ever fresh lands are sought for exploitation, ever new populations for pillage. It matters not even that colonies already established could accommodate more than a hundred times their present inhabitants; still the vampire Imperialism sucks in fresh territory year by year. Populations to rob and enslave; markets to shoot bad wares into; lands to invest capital upon: to obtain these is the be-all and end-all of modern statesmanship. For this has the stock jobbers’ republic of France waged war successively on Tunis, Madagascar, Tonquin, and China; for this does the thieves’ congress sit at Berlin, partitioning the plunder of Central Africa in advance; for this does Bismarck seize Angra Pequena, New Ireland, and Samoa; for this the sham fanatic and heroic restorer of corrupt Chinese despotism reluctantly (?) consents to go to Khartoum on a pacific mission, collects a body of adventurers on his arrival, proceeds to attack the surrounding tribes, and then shrieks for British troops to protect him; for this, lastly, is Lord Wolseley sent with an expedition in response, up the Nile. [1]

And now a word as to the attitude of Socialists towards the imperial question. For the Socialist the word frontier does not exist; for him love of country, as such, is no nobler sentiment than love of class. The blustering “patriot,” big with England’s glory, is precisely on a level with the bloated plutocrat, proud to belong to that great “middle class,” which he assures you is the “backbone of the nation.” Race-pride and class-pride are, from the standpoint of Socialism, involved in the same condemnation. The establishment of Socialism, therefore, on any national or race basis is out of the question.

No, the foreign policy of the great international Socialist party must be to break up these hideous race monopolies called empires, beginning in each case at home. Hence everything which makes for the disruption and disintegration of the empire to which he belongs must be welcomed by the Socialist as an ally. It is his duty to urge on any movement tending in any way to dislocate the commercial relations of the world, knowing that every shock the modern complex commercial system suffers weakens it and brings its destruction nearer. This is the negative side of the foreign policy of Socialism. The positive is embraced in a single sentence: to consolidate the union of the several national sections on the basis of firm and equal friendship, steadfast adherence to definite principle, and determination to present a solid front to the enemy.




1. Since the above was written, the Nile expedition has failed, and the Soudan been abandoned. The capitalist found that Khartoum, as a market for white “duck” trousers and Brummagem gewgaws, world not pay for the expenses of keeping, at all events at present. Burmah was found to be a more profitable field for the policy of the capitalist. In consequence King Theebaw became very wicked.


Transcriber’s Note

1*. A note by Bax says this was written for the opening number of Commonweal when it was republished in the Religion of Socialism, Dec 1886, 1890, 1891, 1896, 1901, 1902, 1908, reprinted by Freeport, New York, 1972.


Last updated on 14.1.2006