George Padmore 1938

Hands off the Colonies!

Source: New Leader, 25 February 1938;
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Whatever might have been the illusions of the British workers about Imperialism in the past, the mask is off today. Imperialism stands condemned as the greatest enslaver of the overwhelming majority of humanity (Chinese, Indians, Africans, West Indians, etc.), and the chief cause of modern wars, as witnessed by Japan’s conquest of Manchuria, Italy’s war on Abyssinia, Berlin-Rome intervention in Spain, Japan’s invasion of China, Hitler’s insistent demand for colonies and his most recent “peaceful annexation” of Austria.

War Inevitable

All these events occurring in rapid succession have served to emphasise what Marxists have been saying for decades: that war is inevitable in the epoch of Imperialism. But war is merely “a continuation of politics by other means.” And, precisely for this reason, it is necessary to explain to the masses the real international situation.

It is necessary to repeat to them again and again how the world, having been divided up among a few Great Powers, the “dissatisfied” or Fascist States are trying to obtain markets, sources of raw materials, outlets for capital, etc., from the “satisfied” or so-called democratic Powers. This question can only be settled by war. For the “Have” Powers will no more readily surrender their colonies to the “Have-Nots” than the capitalists will voluntarily hand over their property to the workers. Therefore, it is only by abolishing Imperialism that we can eliminate the menace of war.

So it is in the interest of the workers, who suffer the most from war, to hasten the downfall of Imperialism by helping the colonial peoples in their struggles for national freedom as the first step towards real social emancipation. Furthermore, for British workers to think of building Socialism without first getting power, i.e., getting rid of the capitalist class at home, is self-deception. To conceive of getting rid of the capitalists without smashing up the Empire is like trying to make the omelette without smashing the egg. It therefore follows that the colonial peoples are the potential allies of the workers against a common enemy – the British Imperialist class.

Two Fundamentals

It is no accident that the two fundamental questions which stand before the working class in the present epoch are its attitude towards Imperialist War and the right to Self-Determination of colonial peoples. These two questions are inseparable and form the touchstone of Revolutionary Socialism.

“The Socialists cannot reach their great aim (Socialism) without fighting against every form of national oppression...The Socialist of a great nation or a nation possessing colonies who does not defend this right (self-determination) is a chauvinist.” (Lenin, ‘The Imperialist War’) These, then are two principles of Marxist Leninism which admit no compromise.

Let us examine the attitude of the three working-class parties in Britain on these questions.

Labour Reformism

The Labour Party is basically a reformist organisation, and must of necessity be opportunist in practice. Its leaders suffer from all the illusions and deficiencies which have characterised the whole history of Social Democracy. But, unlike many of their Continental colleagues, they have remained typical Bourbons. They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing, despite all the tragic events of the post-war period.

Whatever illusions the rank and file may have about its leaders, the bourgeoisie knows that in every great crisis of British Imperialism the overwhelming majority of the Labour leaders will line up behind them. Their support of the National Government’s armament programme is the best indication of coming events. The only scruple of British Labour is that its Imperialists should select the “right enemy.” In other words, they will not have the slightest embarrassment in allying themselves with Fascist Portugal, Britain’s oldest ally, if the enemy is Fascist Italy, Germany, or Japan.

On the question of self-determination, the record of the Labour Governments is too well known. People who can bomb Indians struggling for Independence, and apply the most repressive measures to safeguard the interests of British capitalists in the African and West Indian colonies, are the last people in the world to support the cause of self-determination. About this the colonial peoples have no illusions.

Communist Contradictions

The present attitude of the Communist Party towards Imperialist war and the Colonial Question is a tragedy. On no major issue do the party’s policy so clearly demonstrate the contradiction between theory and practice as on these. While its Moscow leaders still continue to admit that war is inevitable under Imperialism (see Stalin’s famous interview to Roy Howard) and that Empire and Socialism are incompatible, the British Communist Party, in order to accommodate itself to the foreign diplomacy of the Soviet Union, pursues a policy identical with that of the Labour Party. Instead of taking advantage of the international situation to mobilise the workers for independent action, its leaders are re-echoing all the shibboleths of Transport House about “bourgeois democracy” and “collective security through the League of Nations.”

And in order to make their apostasy seem consistent with Leninism they have found it necessary to divide World Imperialism into two categories: the “good, peace-loving” Powers (Britain, France, and America) and the “bad, warlike” nations (Germany, Italy, and Japan). And as a corollary to this, the workers of Britain are to support the former group against the latter.

Similarly, the colonial peoples living under the yoke of British, French, and American Imperialisms must forego their struggle for self-determination and line up in defence of “democracy,” something they have never known. But from recent indications it would seem that M. Stalin is preparing the way for a Communist reversion to the “old line.” Let us hope that the change will take place as quickly as possible, and that the British Communists will bury once and for all their sophistries and discredited theories.

I.L.P. Stands Alone

The I.L.P., in my opinion, is the only working-class party in Britain that has a correct theoretical approach on the questions of Imperialist war and colonies. It must be stated that the I.L.P. has only recently arrived at this clear Marxist position, for even up to the Italo-Abyssinian War the Party displayed a lamentable confusion. And this was no accident. It was due to the fact that several leading members of the party were themselves not clear on these basic questions.

Every Revolutionary Socialist in Britain and Anti-Imperialist in the colonies must welcome this new development of the I.L.P., particularly since the Communist Party, the heir to the October Revolution, has been swamped in a morass of opportunism. It is my sincere hope that the I.L.P. will continue to hold high the banner of Revolutionary Marxism and will maintain an uncompromising and unswerving position, come what may.

Under no condition must the British workers support “their” bourgeoisie in Imperialist war or help the capitalists to drown in blood the struggles of the colonial peoples. Their battle-cry must be – NOT A MAN, NOT A GUN, NOT A PENNY FOR IMPERIALIST WAR! HANDS OFF THE COLONIES!