Ernest Belfort Bax

The True Aims of “Imperial Extension” and “Colonial Enterprise”

(1 May 1896)

The True Aims of “Imperial Extension” and “Colonial Enterprise”, Justice, 1st May 1896, pp.7 & 8.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

What Imperial extension, what the blessings of our beneficent rule, what the opening up of new territories are supposed to mean we all know. What these high-sounding terms really cover, few, of us distinctly realise. The working-class at home see that they are not materially benefitted by the expansion of Greater Britain, as it is called. But they are assured by their pastors and masters that it is a necessary and glorious thing, and as this thought affords them some amusement now and then at the music halls in the shape of refrains and cheers, they are, content to let the matter slide. They do not see that the question concerns their interests one way or the other, otherwise than sentimentally in the capacity of subjects of that glorious Empire upon which the sun never sets. Yet it unquestionably does concern them. It may not immediately influence wages or hours, but it affects something more vital to them than wages or hours, it affects the system upon which wages and hours are based.

The capitalist system of the Old World, as we often say, is breaking down by its own weight, i.e., the system of the exploitation of labour by the monopoly of the means of production has reached a stage at which it cannot control the means of exchange. The home markets of every country are exhausted, and the foreign markets hitherto open are becoming rapidly exhausted too. Even where this is not the case the ceaseless expansion of competitive production of itself necessitates the continuous opening-up of new markets. Add to this the advantages as to cheapness in the employment of native as against European labour in many important branches of production which follow in the wake of the conquest or “civilisation” or “annexation” of new countries. It is the known intention of the various mining companies of South Africa to get rid of non-white labour altogether at the earliest opportunity. Already in most, cases the bulk of the work is done by natives.

Here, then, we have the true meaning of modern foreign policy, the real aim behind that philanthropy which is so anxious for the spread of civilisation, for the christianising of the negro, and for the suppression of the slave trade. What the governing classes, and their catspaws, the philanthropists, really want is to open-up markets into which to shoot the shoddy products of their factories, and to acquire fresh fields and pastures new wherein to start fresh profit-grinding operations. The sole benefit of Imperial expansion accrues in the long run to the large capitalist. That he may be glad to shoot certain portions of the surplus population of these islands into new lands is quite true, and even that he may be willing to grant free passages for the necessitous unemployed who are willing to be shot there. And for a very good reason. By so doing he kills two birds with one stone. He gets rid of dangerous elements at home; and he plants the nucleus of a new reserve army of labour in the fresh territories to be exploited. All this is gilded by the talk of the “chances” by which a few out of the thousands of emigrants sent out rise by land-grabbing to become rich exploiters in their turn. Emigration, we repeat, is only a subtle device to prevent a revolution at home by which a radical change in the present system might be effected, and to extend the operations of that system.

Whether the working-classes of Great Britain or of any other country desire an indefinite prolongation of present conditions it is, of course, for them to say. But it cannot be sufficiently impressed upon them that such is the effect, say, of the successful opening-up of Africa to capitalist exploitation, or, as it is speciously termed, to the “influences of civilisation,” by the European Powers. And this is the case, no matter which “Power” or “Powers” are engaged in the operations of conquest and annexation. How important is the opening-up of Africa for the growth, and even the continued. existence of Capitalism, is shown by the fact that even where there is otherwise a rivalry among civilised nations, their governing classes will stand in together against the barbarian just as they will against the proletarian. Frenchman will assist Italian, Boer, Britisher when it is a question of the “nigger” asserting his claim to independence, and to live has own life in peace and freedom, just as German assisted. Frenchman at the time of the Commune, when it was a question of the workman asserting his claim to independence. Whatever be the squabbles, national or sectional, of capitalists with each other they will always close in their ranks when capitalists, as a whole, and capitalism itself is threatened, whether by barbarians or proletarians. The insurgent barbarian attacks the invading capitalist civilisation in the interest of a pre-capitalist form of human society, the insurgent proletarian attacks it in the interest of a post-capitalist form of society. The savage or the barbarian fights for his independence, in order that he may live on in his old, crude, primitive, semi-communistic life of the past. The workman, the proletarian, in so far as he rebels against the power of capital, is fighting unconsciously though it may be, for the higher, the fully developed, communistic life of the future.

This higher Communism, in which the work of the world will be carried on by all in the interest of all, and not by one class in the interest of another class, is what modern civilisation has before it as its inevitable outcome, but the result may be retarded, the present system of exploitation and wage-slavery may be maintained for a generation or longer yet by the sweeping away of the independence of the savage and barbaric peoples of the earth and the opening-up of their territories to European earth and the opening-up of their territories to European commerce and industry. Just as the one hope of the slave-holding states of North America of maintaining the system of negro-slavery lay in the formation of new slave states out of the fresh territories that were being opened-up on the eve of the American civil war, so the one hope of maintaining the present system of wage-slavery is to extend its sphere of operations. In order to continue to exist it must destroy primitive societies all the world over, together with earlier methods of the exploitation of human labour – above all, chattel slavery. Hence its sham humanitarian zeal! Its enemies, therefore, are two, one in the rear and one in the front Barbarism and Socialism.

This being so, it is clearly the interest of Socialists and of the working class movement generally to make common cause with these primitive peoples – barbarian or savage, as we term them – who are resisting the invasion of their ancestral tribal lands and the overturning of their old social customs and constitution by hordes of hired ruffians and buccaneers sent by European Governments to clear the way for Capitalism with maxims and new-pattern rifles. There are many ways in which a spoke may be put in the wheels of these forces of aggressive Capitalism. Those of an adventurous turn, instead of joining the hordes of chartered companies, might do good service in the organisation of native resistance in drilling, and in teaching the effective use of firearms. Those who remain at home can similarly do good service in stirring up working-class public opinion till it becomes as much as a Cabinet’s place is worth to engage in “military operations” of this description. In Italy a beginning seems to have been already made in this direction.

With the objects stated the following resolution will be submitted to the forthcoming International Socialist and Workmen’s Congress:

“Considering that the one hope of prolonging the existence of the present capitalist system lies in the opening-up of new territories to commercial and industrial enterprise, in other words, in the extension of the world-market and the acquirement of fresh sources of cheap labour; and considering that the aim of the foreign and colonial policy of the governing classes of all modern states, as the trustees of capitalist interests, is to gain possession, of new worlds to capitalise; considering, further, that the aim of Socialists must necessarily be opposed to this absorption of barbaric races and the lands occupied by them into the great system of modern capitalistic civilisation as tending to give to that system a new lease of life (shorter or longer as the case may be) – it is resolved that the policy of the Social-Democratic Party, irrespective of nationality, should be to support and in every feasible way, to make common cause with barbaric peoples in their efforts to maintain their independence against the raids of European civilisation, no matter what the Power may be, by whom the raid is undertaken, and no matter what may be the specious excuses, humanitarian or patriotic, by which such raid is supported or defended. It is further resolved that a standing international committee be appointed to watch events, and to take such action in the above sense from time to time as may seem desirable, thereby inaugurating a new departure in the sense of a foreign policy, at once united and definite, for the Social-Democratic Party iii all countries, irrespective of so-called national interests. Such committee shall be instructed to report fully to the next ensuing International Congress its action, with the grounds thereof, and to formulate suggestions and recommendations for the future.”


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 26.5.2004