MN Roy

The Empire and the Revolution

Source: The Labour Monly, Vol. III, October 1922, No. 4.
Publisher: The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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 fact that in spite of its general bankruptcy Capitalism is still holding its own in the Western countries proves that as a world-dominating force it has not reached such a state of decay that its immediate collapse is inevitable. Since the period when Capitalism entered upon its last and most highly developed stage—imperialism—its stronghold was no longer confined to the industrially advanced countries of Western Europe. In imperial expansion was found a way out of the ruinous effects of over-production. Of course, it was a temporary solution bound to prove equally ineffective to save the capitalist mode of production from eventual collapse under its own contradictions. But the fact is that, until to-day, imperial expansion and exploitation do render strength to Capitalism to maintain its position in Europe.

The great imperialist war shook the very foundation of the capitalist order in European countries; had the leading members of the victorious combination not had the access to other sources of recuperation, the European bourgeoisie would have had much less success in defending the citadel of the capitalist State than is actually the case. This source of strength lies in the imperialist character of the present-day Capitalism, which holds in its hands the entire control—economic, political, and military—of the whole world, and thus finds itself in a position to put up a stiff and continued resistance against the proletariat in the home countries. The existence and power of the Western bourgeoisie do not any longer depend wholly and exclusively on its ability to wring the greatest amount of surplus value from the labour-power of the workers in the home countries. The imperial right of exploiting the vast non-European toiling masses and markets has supplied and still supplies it with an additional modus vivendi and a weapon to defend its position at home, in spite of the apparent precariousness and impossibility of maintaining its power there for any length of time.

As the result of the war the world finds itself divided into two great colonial empires belonging to two powerful capitalist States. The United States of America endeavours to assume the supreme and exclusive right of exploiting and ruling the entire New World; while Great Britain has annexed to her empire the greater part of the continents of Asia and Africa. A third imperialist factor, Japan, also aspires to become formidable; but in spite of her considerable local importance in Eastern Asia she has still to play second fiddle to one or the other of these two great rivals. Then Continental Europe, owing to its utter economic ruin, financial bankruptcy, and industrial dislocation, is bound to become a politico-financial dependency of either of these two great imperialist powers, which are preparing for another giant struggle for world domination. The power of the American bourgeoisie has not been very seriously affected, except in that it has to withstand the repercussion of the severe blows received by Capitalism as a social institution. On the contrary, the control of world finance, the monopoly of the British capitalist for a century and a-half, is transferred to a great extent into the hands of the American capitalist class, which cannot be said to have reached the period of decay and degeneration as yet. In order to consolidate its newly acquired world-power, the American bourgeoisie inclines towards keeping temporarily away from the infectious ruin of Europe. Thus the British bourgeoisie becomes the supreme ruler of the Old World and the backbone of the capitalist order in Europe.

Now, where does the source of strength of the British bourgeoisie lie? Judging from the industrial conditions obtaining in the British Isles during the last years, it will appear that had its resources been limited exclusively to the productivity of those islands and the consumptive power of continental Europe, the capitalist order in Britain would certainly stand on the very brink of collapse. But despite all the chronic contradictions of the order, the contradictions that put almost insuperable difficulties against, reconstructing the industrial fabric of the home country on the pre-war basis, the capitalist class of Britain does not appear to be losing its grip on the State-power. It is still very firm in the political saddle, because the economic ground within its wide range of operation has not become unreliable. It still succeeds in deceiving one section and coercing another of the proletariat. By foregoing a part of the rich fruits of colonial exploitation, the British bourgeoisie is able to corrupt the upper strata of the proletariat—to create a Labour aristocracy which not only becomes a willing protagonist of imperialism, but constitutes a bulwark of reaction in the home country. Nor is this reactionary rôle of the bought-up Labour aristocracy confined within national boundaries: the British Labour Party is the main pillar of the Second International as well as of the Amsterdam Federation of Trade Unions. The possession of a vast non-European colonial empire with unlimited resources of raw material, labour-power, and markets, on the one hand, makes British Capitalism considerably independent of continental Europe, but on the other provides it with the means to turn the latter practically into its economic dependency. British capital to-day has a very wide scope of action. The economic and industrial development of the rich and thickly populated countries of Asia would supply it with new vigour. There are great possibilities in these countries, particularly India and China, which will provide cheap labour-power and new markets not to be exhausted very soon. Let those who fondly think that the bankruptcy of Germany will destroy more than a third of Britain’s industries remember the saying, “If the Chinaman’s shirt-tail is lengthened by six inches the textile production of the world will have to be doubled.” The consumptive power of the teeming millions of India is also immense.

The post-war readjustment of the economic relations between the various parts of the Empire show that the British bourgeoisie—at least the forward-looking section of it—has not been slow in finding the necessity of falling back on its reserve forces. By means of the projected system of imperial preference, the British Empire is to become a self-contained economic unit, whose existence will not be seriously threatened by the economic and industrial conditions in other countries. On the contrary, this self-contained economic unit will establish domination over the rest of the world, which must become more or less dependent on it. Thus the success of the scheme of imperial federation will not only stabilise the position of the British bourgeoisie, but will react upon the international situation. Entire Europe may become an economic dependency of this federation, but Capitalism as a social institution will have its lease of life renewed. This being the case, it is of great importance that the development of the forces contributing to this scheme of capitalist reconstruction be studied with an application not less than is devoted to the problems concerning Europe.

Never has it been more necessary to remember the truism that the world transcends the boundaries of Europe and America. After turning the centre of modern civilisation into a heap of ruins Capitalism is seeking new fields of activity. If it succeeds in this attempt the European proletariat may sink into abject degeneration instead of revolution. The bourgeoisie is trying to beat a clever retreat, which should be cut off if the world revolution is to develop. In view of the fact that the power of international capital is rooted all over the globe, anything less than a world-wide revolution will not bring about the end of the present order and the triumph of the Western proletariat. The struggle of the latter, in order to be successful, must be co-ordinated with the revolutionary action of the toiling masses of the lands subjugated by capitalist imperialism. In its efforts to extricate itself from the vicious circle Capitalism entered the stage of imperial expansion and exploitation, thus bringing huge armies of colonial workers under its domination. By turning the peasants and artisans of the subject countries into mostly agricultural and partly industrial proletariat, Imperialism reinforced its position, but at the same time brought into existence another force destined to contribute largely to its ultimate destruction. This being the case, the overthrow of the bourgeois order in Europe, which order to-day is supported by colonial exploitation whose possibilities are not yet exhausted, will not be realised, as is commonly believed, alone by the advanced proletariat of Europe. It is necessary to secure the conscious co-operation of the working masses and other available revolutionary elements in those colonial and “protected countries” which afford the greatest economic and military support to Western Imperialism, and which are the most developed, economically, industrially, and politically.

India occupies the foremost place in this category of colonial countries. She has not only been a powerful pivot on which British Imperialism rested, but the scheme of developing her resources intensively and extensively with the co-operation of the national bourgeoisie will, if realised, help British capital to stabilise itself for the time being. And this possible stabilisation of the British capitalist class will react upon the continental countries in a way which is not very encouraging. Therefore, a clear understanding of the socio-economic conditions as well as the political movement in contemporary India becomes necessary for the leaders of the Western proletariat.

The point of view that the peoples of the East, because they are not in general on the same economic and political level with Western countries, can be reckoned as one and the same social unit with identical problems to solve, is erroneous. The Eastern countries vary greatly in their political, economic, industrial, and social conditions, consequently their problem is not the same, and the movement in those countries will not develop along a uniform line. Whereas in the Mussulman countries of the Near East the religious fanaticism of the ignorant masses and the anti-foreign sentiments of the land-owning gentry can be counted upon, though only to a certain extent, as a force which can be directed against imperialist domination, these elements no longer possess the same political significance in India, where a radical economic and industrial transformation has taken place during the last quarter of a century. In the Near Eastern countries the exploitation of imperial capital has not penetrated deep enough to bring about a fundamental change in the social organism. The economic structure of these countries is still predominantly feudal, and the influence of the clergy is strong. But the same thing cannot be said about India, which since a considerable time ago has been brought fully under the extensive, if not intensive, exploitation of capital mainly imperial and partly native (the latter has been growing very fast in the last years). Feudalism has been destroyed, not by means of a violent revolution, but by its long contact with the modern political and economic institutions that are the reflex of the most highly developed capitalist State. There has come into existence in India a national bourgeoisie, which more than thirty years ago began its historical struggle for the conquest of political power from the foreign ruler; and a proletarian class, including a huge landless peasantry, which grows in number and class-consciousness in proportion to the rapid industrialisation of the country. Consequently, the revolutionary movement in India to-day does not rest upon the religious fanaticism of the ignorant masses, which fanaticism is fast losing its potentiality owing to the economic transformation of the society, nor does it rest upon the abstract conception of nationhood, an idea reared upon the imaginary unity of interest of the entire people, and not taking into consideration the class division which is becoming more and more clearly defined as a result of the development of native capitalism. Indian capitalism promises to be an ally of imperial domination rather than a revolutionary force. The liberal bourgeoisie, which stands at the head of the National Democratic Movement, cannot be expected to play the same revolutionary rôle as was done by the European middle class in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The bourgeoisie in India becomes a revolutionary factor only if its economic development is altogether impossible under imperial rule. But post-war imperialism depends more upon finance than upon industrial capital. Since, for the interests of imperial capital, the colonial country has to be industrialised, the native bourgeoisie cannot be any longer excluded altogether from this feast of exploitation. This peculiar economic situation deprives the Indian bourgeoisie of the possibility of playing a revolutionary rôle. The conditions for a pure bourgeois revolution do not exist in India. The national struggle is not a class struggle. The national bourgeoisie is not pitted against an old order of social production. The weak native bourgeoisie finds it more profitable to ally itself with the imperialist power in return for such changes in the political and economic administration of the country as will permit it greater opportunities for developing as a class. Imperial capital, for the reasons stated above, is not averse from giving the colonial bourgeoisie such opportunities. In fact, the new policy is already introduced in India, and it has had its effects on the political movement for national liberation. The class-cleavage in the Indian society has become evident.

The object of this new colonial policy is, first, to check the movement for national liberation, and second, to draw upon the reserve forces in order that capitalism can hold its own in the home countries. The enormous extent of these reserve forces is visualised by few in the revolutionary camp, although our enemy seems to be fully cognisant of it. It is hardly understood that if Imperialism succeeds in carrying through the new policy the Central European proletarian may be reduced to the state of a colonial coolie. While Capitalism is spreading out to the far-off corners of the earth to save itself from the ruinous effects of the imperialist war, it is a monumental mistake for the revolutionary proletariat to stake its future on its success in Middle Europe. This blunder arises out of a provincialism, from which deplorable trait the leaders of the international proletariat must free themselves ere long.


MN Roy Internet Archive  |  Marxism and Anti-Imperialism in India