Li Fu-jen

Imperialist Program for the Orient

(June 1945)

From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.6, June 1945, pp.166-169.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The shift of the war to the Pacific is bringing more sharply into focus the real – as distinct from the pretended – purposes and aims for which the imperialists plunged mankind into the second world slaughter. The war against Germany, first challenger of the status quo, appears as the necessary prelude to a struggle among the remaining imperialist powers for a re-division of the world.

As far back as 1934, in the theses entitled War and the Fourth International, the Trotskyists estimated the then coming war as essentially a struggle over colonies. In 1940, in the first stage of the slaughter, the Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution reiterated this estimate in the following words: “The entire present war is a war over colonies. They are hunted by some; held by others who refuse to give them up. Neither side has the least intention of liberating them voluntarily.” In the deeds of the imperialists themselves we are now receiving striking confirmation of this Marxist evaluation of the character of the War.

Asia contains the richest of the colonial prizes. It is here, accordingly, that the greatest stakes of the war lie – continental and insular lands embracing more than half the world’s population and endless stores of natural wealth. It was here, for two centuries and more, that the Western Powers built their most profitable empire domains. By war against the native inhabitants, and sometimes among themselves, the imperialist plunderers established the pattern of Oriental empire which existed at the time of Pearl Harbor. The colonial loot extracted from the Orient would be sufficient to industrialize China and India several times over and provide the inhabitants of all Asia with a high standard of living.

Britain conquered India, extended her sway into Burma, established an outpost in Malaya (Singapore), pushed on to Hongkong, carved out “spheres of interest” in China. The Dutch imperialists warred on the Indonesians, seized the rich archipelago of the East Indies, and clamped its people in the vise of colonial servitude. France grasped an empire in Annam and Tonkin (Indo-China). Czarist Russia reached into Manchuria, Japan, a late-comer in the game of colonial banditry, grabbed Korea and Formosa, then made war on Russia to pave the way for seizure of Manchuria and, later, China. Yankee imperialism, another late-comer, though potentially far more powerful, snatched the Philippines from Spain.

When Germany, in 1914, hurled her first challenge at her Western rivals, Japan – still not a full-fledged imperialist power – joined with the Allies in the hope of sharing in the colonial spoils of war. All Japan got was the crumbs that fell from the conference table at Versailles – the Marshalls, the Carolines and Mariannas, Pacific Islands which Germany was forced to disgorge and which had little more than strategic value for a future war against the United States. Japan’s ambitions, and needs, went much further, as shown even then by her seizure of the Chinese province of Shantung. But the Yankee imperialists, assuming their role as the dominant world power after the last war, compelled Japan to relinquish that little tidbit. Dai Nippon perforce had to bide her time, await a fresh opportunity to push her program of empire expansion.

Deeming the time opportune in 1931, when her Western rivals, above all America, were beset by devastating economic crisis, Japan marched unhindered into Manchuria. In 1937 came the Japanese invasion of China. By these campaigns the Japanese imperialists were, in the words of Trotsky, endeavoring to assure themselves a “broad drill ground” on the Asiatic continent for a subsequent challenge to the Anglo-American imperialists for the control and domination of all eastern Asia. With the fall of France in 1940 and Hitler’s seemingly successful invasion of the Soviet Union the following year, Japan’s hour of destiny struck.

But imperialist Japan, like imperialist Germany, arrived on the scene too late. Germany, with an industrial economy second only to that of the United States, could not find resources or striking power commensurate with the task of “organizing” Europe and establishing world hegemony. Hitler’s dream of Pax Germanica ended in catastrophe. Japan, with none of Germany’s economic advantages, and weighted down by the archaic relics of a dead past, is still less equipped to realize the imperial dreams of her reactionary ruling class. Her program for an “East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” must likewise end in fearful catastrophe.

Japan’s international position was accurately delineated in the theses adopted in 1938 by the founding conference of the Fourth International on The War in the Far East and the Revolutionary Perspectives.

Insular Japan, in the era of the twilight of capitalism, proceeding from a weak economic base, is debarred historically from achieving the imperial destiny of which her ruling classes dream. Underlying the imposing facade of Japanese imperialism are fatal organic weaknesses which have already been aggravated by the military conquest of Manchuria. The resources of Japanese capitalism have been proved inadequate for the task of empire building. The economic fabric of the country is being strained to breaking point by the new military campaigns. Japanese capitalism survives by means of the intensest exploitation of the Japanese proletariat, while the peasants, forming the major part of Japan’s population, are victims of growing impoverishment and distress. The burdens of both workers and peasants are being increased unbearably by the war. More than 30,000,000 Chinese in Manchuria await the opportunity to liberate themselves from the Japanese yoke. Another 21,000,000 Koreans and 5,000,000 Formosans strive for their independence from Japan. All these factors constitute the Achilles heel of Japanese imperialism and foredoom it to destruction. Such military victories as the Japanese army is able to win in China have only an episodic importance ... The military machine of the Japanese imperialists has never yet been flung against a first-class power. Weakened by what will turn out to be Pyrrhic victories in China, Japanese imperialism will go down to defeat in the coming world war if its career is not brought to a speedier end by the proletarian revolution.

The glittering victories which Japan scored in the first months of the Pacific war – the conquest in quick succession of the Philippines, Hongkong, Malaya, Burma and the Netherlands East Indies – deceived certain fancied Marxists in the ranks of Shachtman’s Workers Party into the belief that they had underestimated Japan’s real strength. Actually, these victories represented the high point of Japan’s military offensive, the last brilliance of a burned-out candle nearing final extinction. Japanese imperialism is now suffering defeat after defeat. American troops have almost completed the reoccupation of the Philippines. Burma has been retaken by British forces and the latter are now poised for assaults which without doubt will drive the Japanese from Thailand, Malaya and Hongkong. French, Dutch, British and Australian troops are being made ready to take Indo-China and the Netherlands East Indies. Australian troops are even now hammering at the approaches to the great island of Borneo. Japan, despite the fiercest and most costly defensive struggles, is proving unable to stem the gathering counter-attack. And meanwhile, the American imperialists are pressing relentlessly their campaign of obliteration from the air against the Japanese homeland. Tokyo has already been laid in ruins. Large parts of Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe, Japan’s principal industrial cities, have been wrecked by aerial attack. Japanese imperialism is headed for total catastrophe, irretrievable ruin. The Japanese people are paying a terrifying price for the defeated ambitions of their rulers.

“Liberated” Areas

The stepped-up tempo of the “Battle for Asia” – an expression which in itself correctly defines the war as one of colonial plunder – brings to the fore the question of the future of the islands and continental areas “liberated” from the clutches of the Japanese imperialists. There is nothing in the deeds of the Anglo-American “Liberators,” or even in their words, to indicate that the inhabitants are to be given freedom and independence. If the “democratic” slavedrivers have their way, these peoples will again exchange one set of colonial bandits for another.

Let us consider the case of “liberated” Burma. The same old gang of British despots is back on the job. But let us go back a little. In October, 1943, after his expulsion from Burma by the invading Japanese, the British governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, lamented the fact that the oppressed and downtrodden Burmese had not rallied to defend the British despots against their Japanese challengers. Said he:

Neither our word nor our intentions are trusted in that part of the globe ... We have fed such countries as Burma on political formulae until they are sick at the very sight and sound of a formula, which has come, as far as my experience shows, to be looked upon as a very British means of avoiding a definite course of action.

Sir Reginald is now back in Rangoon. His last act before flying into Burma from Simla, as reported by Time magazine (May 28) was to offer the Burmese – another of those hypocritical “formulae.” It takes the form of the familiar British Government “white paper” and outlines three stages by which Burma is to gain “full self-government within the British Commonwealth.” With a pause to note that this definitely is not the same thing as independence, which would include the unconditional right to secede from the British Empire, here are the three stages: First, since the colony’s “progress” has been “interrupted” by the Japanese invasion and occupation, direct rule by the governor of Burma will continue until December 1948. So even this spurious “self-government” is postponed to a rather hazy future. But by December 1948, and here we come to point two, it is “hoped” elections will have been held and the prewar “partial self-government” of Burma restored. Point two, as we see, provides for elections only if the British masters of Burma decide to hold them. And now, as if points one and two were not enough to make the Burmese throw their hats in the air and shout for joy at their impending “freedom,” we have point three, which is even more alluring. This final point declares that after the elections, which may or may not be held, depending on the pleasure of the governor and his London instructors, the Burmese people, having agreed among themselves, will draft a constitution to be approved by the British Parliament. But suppose the Burmese should draft a constitution which Parliament will not approve? Well, the Burmese will be right back where they started! All of which adds up to the fact that Burma will not get independence now or in the future if the British imperialists can possibly prevent it.

“Liberation” à la Americaine

Perhaps the American imperialists are more liberal, more genuine in their desire to see colonial peoples freed, than the hard-crusted British tyrants? After all, didn’t Congress 12 years ago pass a law (the Tydings-McDuffie Act) “voluntarily” giving independence to the Philippines – in 1946? That is next year. Lest there be any doubts about it, Washington loudly proclaims its intention to apply the law on time, perhaps even earlier. Yet side by side with this, Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal announces that the United States will “continue to bear responsibility for the security of the Philippines, and will have to have bases, and strategic areas supporting those bases, to carry out that responsibility.” In talking about a state which is about to be given independence, one surely does not say: “I want bases in your territory and I’m going to have them.” Yet that is how Forrestal talks about the future “independent” Philippines.

But Japan’s defeat and disarmament – isn’t that supposed to guarantee perpetual peace in the Pacific? Against whom, then, must the “security” of the Philippines be guarded? Forrestal, understandably, did not go into that. The “independent” Philippines under the puppet regime of President Sergio Osmena (who has already obligingly agreed to cede military bases to the United States) will remain under American domination and open, as they were before Japan walked in, to exploitation by Wall Street. If the Filipinos should have the temerity to assert the independence they will supposedly enjoy, American armed forces will stand ready to shoot them down. How does all this square with the Atlantic Charter, which pledged freedom to all peoples “everywhere in the world,” including, above all, their right to governments of their own choosing? The Atlantic Charter was simply a screen to hide the predatory war aims of the “democratic” imperialists. Shortly before his death, Roosevelt, the principal author, even denied that such a thing as the Atlantic Charter ever existed.

But perhaps we shall find the French imperialists more benevolent toward the colonial peoples? From Algiers, after France’s defeat, they spouted veritable geysers of high-sounding phrases about “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” and worked out grandiose paper plans for raising the level of their colonial slaves and granting them “a measure” of “self-government.” Under de Gaulle, they are hopeful of getting back into Indo-China again, with British aid. Troops are already being deployed from France with that aim in view. But the type of “liberation” they will bring has already been exemplified in the Levantine states (Syria and Lebanon) and in North Africa, where French troops and legionnaires have lately been shooting down the inhabitants. Under the stress of defeat in 1940, the French bandits proclaimed the independence of Syria and Lebanon from their new seat of government in North Africa. They did this because they were not at that time in a position to combat the independence movement in those countries. North Africa was different. With Anglo-American aid they had re-established themselves there and disposed of sufficient armed forces to keep the natives in continued subjection.

With the defeat of Germany, the picture has changed. While hypocritically proclaiming that France “still respects” the independence of Syria and Lebanon, de Gaulle sends in his troops to restore French colonial rule. The native governments denounced this violation. Attempts to prevent the French troops from taking over led to bloody encounters. Such is the real face of French imperialism. The pattern in the Levant and North Africa will be repeated in Indo-China, if de Gaulle has his way.

While all the imperialist bandits thus make clear their “freedom-loving” intentions as regards the colonies, the war against Japan is meanwhile bringing to the fore in sharpest fashion the rivalry between the two big imperialist powers – the United States and Great Britain. The smaller imperialist states, debilitated and weakened by military defeat, tag along at the coattails of the Big Powers, hoping to retain something in the mad scramble of the giants for colonial domination. It is in the Pacific, as we pointed out before, that the greatest colonial prizes are at stake. Leaving aside possible Stalinist territorial ambitions in the Far East, the most obvious fact here is the anxiety of the British imperialists over the commanding position of their American rivals.

Inter-Imperialist Rivalry

In the fight against Japan, the British imperialists have been forced to accept a division of labor which corresponds to the great dominant purposes of their American rivals. The British are to “liberate” their own former colonies – Malaya, Hongkong, British Borneo. They will supervise and assist the French and Dutch imperialists in the “liberation” of Indo-China and the Netherland East Indies, probably drive the Japanese from Thailand. Perhaps, too, they will have the task of helping expel the Japanese from Britain’s former sphere of interest in south China.

The American imperialists have reserved to themselves the lion’s share of the “liberating” crusade – most of China proper, Manchuria and Korea (unless Stalin gets there first), Formosa – plus, of course, the crushing of the imperialists of Dai Nippon in the Japanese home islands. In this vast sphere of military operations, the British are being permitted only a “token” share of activity, and that only upon their own strong insistence.

British concern over this division of military operations was voiced very pointedly in a New York Times dispatch from London on May 25, which quoted “qualified British quarters” as saying that “Britain desired to play a considerably larger role in the Far Eastern war than the United States was disposed to allocate to her.” Let us ask: If the sole concern is to defeat Japan and really free the peoples who have been enslaved by the Japanese imperialists, what does it matter whose forces are employed for the job, where, or in what proportion? In demanding a “larger role” the British bandits expose their interested motives. In seizing the lion’s share, the American bandits disclose their real aims. The British bandits, however, are quite open and unabashed about their predatory designs, for the “qualified British quarters” quoted in the Times dispatch make no bones about the fact that the “importance of these questions” is assessed “in terms of post-war prestige and economic advantage.” Could anything be plainer?

Faced by the prospect of renewed and more devastating economic crisis once the fighting is over, the Wall Street monopoly capitalists are bent on dominating not only the Pacific area, but the entire world. American capitalism, with its enormous productive plant and vast capital accumulations, can function more or less smoothly only by means of unrestricted access to the world market. From commanding positions on the Asiatic mainland, in Japan and the Philippines, who can doubt that the Wall Street appetite will extend to the British sphere of interest in south China (if it is re-estabished), to Hongkong and Malaya, to French Indo-China, thence to the rich Netherlands East Indies, and in short order to Burma and India, the “brightest jewel in the British imperial crown?” How will Britain be able to resist the pressure of the American colossus?

That Britain’s fears for its Far Eastern domain are by no means ill-founded can be seen from an article in the Reader’s Digest for the current month, written by Eric Johnston, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States and spokesman par excellence for American imperialism. This article, significantly entitled “America’s World Chance,” projects a grand program of commercial penetration of China – and India. The writer speaks glowingly of American commercial expansion south of the Rio Grande, where “every Latin American country has a ‘Commission of Inter-American Development’ preparing projects devised to be attractive to capital from the United States.” (Our emphasis).

Johnston goes on to say that a “joint Mexican-American Commission for Economic Cooperation has approved projects which in Mexico alone would require a capital expenditure of some $400,000,000.”

What can be done in Latin America can also be done in China and India. In fact, Johnston writes as if those two great countries were already practically in the Wall Street bag. It is not just trade, but capital investment – the greatest problem of American imperialism because of its accumulated fat – which interests this Big Business spokesman. He relates how William D. Pawley of the Intercontinent Corporation, an American company, built India’s first airplane plant. Pawley got together 400 “educated Indians” who “took to aeronautical engineering like ducks to water. The American members of the staff numbered only 38. The Indian employees (engineers and workmen) were ultimately 14,000. They established India’s first real assembly line, and came to rival American records of production per man hour.”

Johnston’s mouth literally waters as he contemplates the prospect of being able to exploit India’s vast manpower and to get from it profits even higher than those squeezed from skilled American labor. “There is no doubt,” he writes, “that almost all backward peoples are mentally and physically capable of doing higher work [the British, alas, keep them at coolie labor!] and more remunerative work than they are doing now. What they need is capital.” (Johnston’s is the emphasis on the last word.)

Who will supply the capital? Why, the benevolent Wall Street capitalists, of course! Says Johnston:

In the United States we have surplus capital [again Johnston’s emphasis]. One of the basic criticisms of our economic situation during the last two decades has been that we have surplus capital that remains idle. The backward countries are calling for it.

Here, then, is the real program of American imperialism for the countries of the Orient. These countries are to be bound in servitude to Wall Street. The overweening ambitions of these ruthless dollar-bandits spell a continuance of colonial slavery, besides sowing the seeds of more devastating wars. No wonder the San Francisco conference, with Wall Street’s delegation in the lead, voted down a proposal that a promise of independence for the colonial peoples be included in the charter of the proposed world “peace” organization. In the light of their manifestly predatory aims, it would be embarrassing to the imperialists even to promise freedom to their colonial slaves.

The peoples of the colonies and semi-colonies, in Asia and elsewhere, will never get their independence as a gift of their oppressors. Freedom can be won only by determined, unremitting struggle to throw off the shackles of imperialist bondage. The liberating struggle of the colonial peoples naturally fuses with the world struggle of the working class to end the capitalist system, of which colonial slavery and imperialist war are the inevitable products. The further progress of the war in the Pacific will open up new opportunities to the oppressed peoples. On the very morrow of Germany’s defeat, the flames of colonial revolt rose in North Africa and the Near East – to threaten the imperialists who had deceitfully inscribed “Liberty” on their bloodstained banners. With the defeat of Japan, or even before, the teeming millions of the Orient will join the great battle for freedom. As the Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution prophetically declared:

By its very creation of enormous difficulties and dangers for the imperialist metropolitan centers, the war opens up wide possibilities for the oppressed peoples. The rumbling of cannon in Europe heralds the approaching hour of their liberation.


Last updated on 10.2.2009