J. T. Walton Newbold

Capitalism and Imperialism

Source: The Call, February 22, 1917, No. 46, p. 2
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE world is at this moment convulsed with a struggle wherein, to all who are not blinded by passion and unreason, the motives put forward officially by all the belligerents are utterly at variance with the true causes which determine their continuance of the slaughter. Fear reigns supreme in the councils of all, a veritable terror which has succeeded the distrust and foreboding which occasioned their devious diplomacy and their consequent plunge into the maelstrom of war.

In the final analysis, the aims of all the belligerents are directed to one end and that is the assurance of their economic stability and independence. They are fighting frantically to maintain their historic eminence or to establish themselves in a firmer position, where they can face the future with equanimity. Each and all, the governing classes have heard the roar of those rapids towards which they are swirling with gathering momentum.

Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform

In the days when Liberalism was the dominant political philosophy of the capitalist class and retained its original purity, because of the lingering existence of those economic conditions out of which it springs, Capitalism was a force making for international peace. Then, the manufacturers and traders of this and other countries were struggling not against each other for control of markets, but against the established interests of landowners and colonial merchants, who used political power to maintain their privileges. The industrial capitalists were still busy cultivating their home markets and trying to meet demand. Their immediate needs were cheap land and cheap raw material. To obtain these they aimed at conquering political power and attaining social equality with the Tory nobles and landowners. War and Empire meant taxation without either representation or profit.

A little more than forty years ago in this country, when the capitalists had gained political power, and taken their place in the Government they had began to feel the need for unloading more of their unsold manufactures on foreign markets. At the same time, manufacturers and traders in other countries were reclaiming their own markets and commencing to produce more than they could sell at home.

The appearance of other capitalists in search of raw material and with commodities to sell introduced a most unwelcome element of competition into international trade. Costs of production tended to rise and selling prices to fall. Profits declined or, what amounted to the same thing, trade became depressed.

The Failure of Laisser-faire

The conflict of interests revealed itself first in Egypt, whose inhabitants could not pay for the capital lent them by both British and French money-lenders. Each group of money-lenders appealed to what Liebknecht would call, its “central executive,” the government of the country to which it belonged. At first, together, and, then, in competition, the Governments came to the aid of the financiers, the contractors, and the vested interests concerned. An affair of the three golden balls became an affair of diplomats and of competing armaments. Ousted from Egypt, the French money-lenders turned to Morocco and Tunis, to Indo-China and Russia. For the next fifteen years, British capitalists exported their surplus production to Africa, to make profits out of irrigation works, railways, water works, cotton and rubber plantations, gold mines, oil wells, harbour schemes, town lands, etc. To prepare the promised land for their coming they sent ahead their Wolseleys and Kitcheners to paint the map red, and to police the Dark Continent. In Mexico, Canada, and South America, the “Kultur of Cowdray” and the genius of railway financiers, meat extract sgueezers, ranchers, cow-punchers, and the like were applied to extract as much profit as these countries would yield.

The Clash of Empires

But Africa, Canada, and South America had not an unlimited capacity for absorbing capital in search of a profit. Others besides the patriot civilisation bringers of Old England had manufactures to sell and capital to lend. American capitalists and German capitalists were hawking commodities which their low-paid workers could not afford to purchase for home consumption. If too many cooks spoil the broth, far more do too many hawkers spoil the market.

Meanwhile China was beset by a swarm of good, kind bankers, railway contractors, and mining concessionaires eager to bring the blessings of civilisation to her people. British, French, Germans, Belgians, everyone with railway material and steel to sell, tried to unload the enormous potential output of their works upon the Celestial Empire. That was the meaning of the threatened partition of China. Russia’s railway and munition requirements from 1885 to 1905, together with those of Austria, a part of those of Turkey and of Italy and the Balkan States, served to absorb the surplus iron and steel manufactures of Germany.

The Failure of Imperialism

At the beginning of this century the normal requirements of their home markets and the natural, demand of the non-capitalist foreign markets were ceasing to absorb the production of heavy goods which the great capitalist countries could turn out. Moreover, the supplies of certain raw materials were threatening to run very low or the cost of their production to rise very high. Britain, France, Germany, and even the U.S.A. were not able to supply the iron ore and other minerals for their own metal works. Known reserves in Spain, Italy, Cuba, and Sweden were, it was learned, not inexhaustible. Circumstances combined to cause a panic among the capitalists and their Governments. Thenceforward commenced the insensate scramble for concessions on the one hand, and for exclusive or monopoly markets on the other, of the ten years of Secret Diplomacy. The Tariff Reform agitation had its beginnings in the alarm of British steel-makers at “the flood” of German steel which inundated this country in 1901 and 1902. It coincided with the formation of the United States Steel Corporation and the preliminaries of the German Steel Combine. It was initiated by Chamberlain, Bonar Law, and Howard Vincent, by the steel interests of Birmingham, Glasgow, and Sheffield. It was immediately succeeded by the “Dreadnought” boom, another device for selling steel. All the Navy Leaguers have been fostered by the steel firms; all the navy laws and navy scares in Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and the U.S.A. have, for a generation, coincided with depressions in the steel trade. The Moroccan intrigues, the Bagdad ambitions, the Cape to Cairo dreams, the Mexico imbroglios, the recent China-Japan negotiations, the Dalmatian empire lusts have all been the handiwork of the metal syndicates. There is proof overwhelming and abundant.

Capitalism in Chaos

The governing classes, i.e., the capitalist classes—with their capital pouring into the dominant “cheat the inevitable” manufacture of the machinery of production—are at their wits’ end. Capitalism staggered in the “eighties”; recovered by resort to Imperialism, and staggered again at the close of the century; recovered again, and staggering, half fell, half leaped into war.

Capitalism may, in some form or another, survive the war, but it will only be able to do so by calling to its assistance the whole organisation of the State and, probably, by harmonising the interests of several capitalist groups operating through the national Governments. In other lords privately owned and controlled capitalism is bankrupt. That is the significance of “business government,” Paris Conferences, industrial conscription, State capitalism, and all these new proposals for bolstering up a system that has death written across its face.

What the future has in store depends on the relative organisation, power, and intelligence of the capitalists and the workers. It depends largely, mainly, upon the Socialists to avert, or to transform the Servile State into Socialism.