Date: September 1928
Published: Labour Monthly, pp. 544-552
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Mike B.
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.
"Remember, Romans, that your mission is to dominate other peoples with a firm hand. May it fall to your lot to establish peace everywhere, to be merciful to the humble, and to destroy the proud." — Virgil.
This old doctrine of the Roman conquerors is the angle of vision from which the Brussels Congress of the Labour and Socialist International approached the colonial problem. The essential feature of the resolution is the acceptance of imperialism — not even as a necessary evil but as a beneficial agency of economic and cultural progress. The task which the Brussels resolution sets before the Second International is, therefore, not to oppose imperialism as such, but to strive for the amelioration of the most nasty forms that this beneficial agency of human progress as a rule takes in operation.
Thus the Second International approaches the colonial problem from the assumption that the domination of backward races by more advanced nations is not only beneficial but necessary for the progress of the whole of humanity. It accepts the doctrine that imperialism is an eternal phenomenon. Consequently the purport of its resolution is: "Imperialism always was and ever will be. We cannot fight, must not fight, against it essentially. We criticise and will endeavour to remove its flagrant excesses." The Second International desires the amelioration of the excesses of imperialist domination, because throughout the colonial world they are provoking forces that threaten the very existence of imperialism. To save this beneficial agency of human progress from complete destruction the Social Democrats are solicitous that it abandon some of its insane stupidities.
In view of this thoroughly anti-Marxian, unsocialist and frankly imperialist approach to the colonial problem, the declaration of opposition to the "very principle of foreign domination of colonial races" and the "support of the struggle of the oppressed peoples for emancipation" are not only meaningless: they are sheer hypocrisy. In their anxiety to find a "practical solution" of the problem, the Social Democratic statesmen (at the service of the capitalist State in their respective countries) got entangled in hopeless fallacy in the statement of principle. If the Brussels resolution is worth the paper it is printed upon, the Second International supports and opposes the same thing at the same time. The first half of the introductory part of the resolution is a frank eulogy of imperialism as the agency which has introduced in the backward countries the blessings of civilisation, and an endorsement for the continuation of foreign domination over the primitive races who are still to be civilised (or exterminated in the process like the Red Indians, the natives of Australia, etc.). In the latter part of the same introduction is stated: "Socialism is opposed to the very principle of foreign domination of colonial races."
This superficial contradiction in principle, however, disappears on a closer examination of the document. The Second International "considers the abolition of the colonial system as a preliminary condition for any international commonwealth," but assumes that this abolition will take place automatically with the sanction of the colonising powers. It demands from the imperialist States "sufficient safeguards against oppression and exploitation" (of the subject peoples) and insists upon their systematic education with a view to independence. The assumption is that the object of colonial expansion is not necessarily oppression and exploitation of the colonial peoples, and that the colonising powers can be expected to help the subject nations to become free! Then, the "international commonwealth" is obviously not the world Federation of Socialist Republics built upon the ruins of capitalism; but the capitalist League of Nations in which the Second International seeks and finds (by its fertile imagination) the remedy for all evils.
Varying degrees of freedom are recommended for the "colonies with a higher form of civilisation," not as the recognition of the right of every people to be free, but as the recognition of the meritorious services rendered by imperialism in "civilising" these peoples -- by making them fit for freedom. So, the very recommendation for qualified and partial freedom for certain subject nations does not imply a condemnation of or challenge to imperialism. It is a recognition of the usefulness and beneficiality of the colonial system. And on the merit of their record in India, Egypt, North Africa, Malay Archipelago, etc., imperialist Powers should have the mandate to "civilise" the rest of the backward races. They receive this mandate of overlordship from themselves, organised in the League of Nations, and their Social Democratic henchmen applaud these "civilising efforts as creating conditions for an international commonwealth."
The policy definitely shaped at Brussels is not new. Given its false conception of the nature of imperialism, its betrayal of revolutionary Marxism, substitution of Socialism by bourgeois democracy, repudiation of class-war and willingness to help the stabilisation of the shaken fabrics of capitalism at the expense of the working class, the Second International cannot reasonably have a different colonial policy. Administering, and anxious to administer, the business of capitalist States, here in coalition with the bourgeoisie, there as a "Labour Government," the parties of the Second International must abandon their previous hypocritical phrases and come out openly as the defenders of imperialism, which they always have been.
While, in principle, supporting the system of colonial regime the Brussels resolution contains "a practical scheme" of reforming it. One must write a whole volume to subject all the hypocrisies and absurdities of this scheme to a critical examination. Let us point out here only the most outstanding ones.
The colonial rivalry among the various imperialist Powers clearly stamps the resolutions. The attitude of the leading parties of the Second International was determined by the interests of their respective countries. In view of the fact that some of the leading parties are, or soon will be, governmental parties in the important imperialist countries, much care had to be exercised in choosing phrases. Irresponsible radical phraseology had to be discarded, for the Social Democratic leaders, as members of the Governments in their countries, would be asked to put the resolution into practice. Of course, in order not to place themselves in an embarrassing position most of the Social Democratic ministers (present or prospective) kept themselves discreetly away from the Brussels Congress. So we find MacDonald, who had all along taken an active part in the previous Congresses of the Second International, visiting Canada (to make preparation for the deportation of the unemployed British workers as desired by the Tory Government?) Other leaders (of Cabinet rank) of the British Labour Party were also too busy with the works of "industrial peace" to attend the International Congress. Only Henderson, as Chairman of the International, could not possibly stay away; and Lord Olivier came to Brussels as the guarantee that the Colonial resolution would be tempered by the soberness and practicality gained in the experience of colonial administration. Ministerial Social Democratic leaders from other imperialist countries were also absent.
To gather material for the discussion of the colonial problem a questionnaire had been circulated to the component sections of the Second international. This questionnaire was directed primarily to the parties in the countries possessing colonies. Some of the questions were very significant. For example:
Whether the present system of colonial administration will lead up to self-government of the native populations at the earliest possible date?
Significantly, the answer to such a question was not sought from the parties most concerned. Let alone the nationalist parties, this highly important question was not even primarily directed to the Social Democratic parties in the colonies. These were grudgingly conceded the privilege of expressing their opinion if they wished. But since their opinion was not sought in the first place, it, when expressed, received but a secondary consideration in the determination of the colonial policy of the Second International. The opinion of the national liberation movement, of course, was completely disregarded. Such is the Social Democratic conception of the right of self-determination.
Then the question itself. It is framed on the assumption that imperialist colonial administration does lead up to self-government of the native population. Otherwise why should this question be raised at all? The answer to this question from the Social Democratic and Labour Parties in the leading imperialist countries is very interesting reading. As a rule it is in the affirmative, qualified by doubt and dissatisfaction about the rate of progress.
Another surprising question is about "the methods of levying and application of taxation" in the colonies. It is asked how are "the profits realised by capitalist enterprise" applied? As if there can possibly be any doubt on this point: as if there can be the remotest possibility of the proceeds of colonial plunder being applied for the welfare of the colonial slaves! The British Labour Party's answer to this absurd question is, nevertheless, very elaborate and contains the following passages:
"There is no doubt that the original ideas of those who successfully preached a doctrine of imperialism for profit have proved to be largely illusions." Then an effort is made to prove that British trade was scarcely benefited by colonial expansion. Finally, it is asserted that "the possession of colonies has proved of little or no importance to the workers and manufacturers of the mother country." Of course, this assertion is perfectly true as far as the workers are concerned; but to throw the unfortunate manufacturers into the same sack with the workers is really astounding. And all these preposterous arguments to show that the colonies are really the "white man's burden" are preceded by the following statement:
This opening up of the Asiatic and African territories being conducted by capitalists and Governments under capitalist influence was, and is, being put through on capitalist lines. Except in rare instances, the economic exploitation of the dependency and its inhabitants has been a principal consideration of the administration.
Even the most intelligent worker will find it rather difficult to follow the logic of this argument. Colonial administration is carried on in the interests of imperialist capital; although for the British manufacturers colonies are useless Why do not these gentlemen, who wield no inconsiderable influence upon the home Governments, get rid of the colonies? The Fabian theorists of the Labour Party have an answer to this question. "The group of financiers and individual planters" are the devils of the piece. "It is the few people who finance the opening of a successful tin mine or the planting of a rubber estate who make profits from the exploitation of Asiatic and African territories." A very unconvincing answer. These "few people" who finance colonial enterprise, and the home manufacturers, cannot be divided into water-tight compartments. They are the integral parts of the same system -- imperialism to which capitalism has developed. The "few people" who finance, mines, plantations, railways, etc., in the colonies, also control the industries at home. As a matter of fact they finance the enterprises in the colonies to promote the interests of the home industries. The Fabian theorists try to justify imperialism by learnedly mouthing the antiquated economic doctrines of the Manchester School, which flourished before the days of monopolist finance capital.
The Social Democratic theoreticians are, however, not so old-fashioned as they appear to be when engaged in proving the imperialist thesis of the "white man's burden." On the contrary, they are quite up to date as regards progressive bourgeois economics -- the economics of rationalisation. Thus, in the Memorandum of the British Labour Party we find the following:-
The Socialist demands that primarily the economic development [of the colonies] shall be in the interests of the native inhabitants and that the profits shall go to the native communities. This can only be secured by those measures described elsewhere, through which the land and natural resources remain the property of the native community, and governments either directly supervise the development or encourage their economic development by the natives.
On the face of it, it is an impossible proposition. The demand is that the tiger should become vegetarian or the fire cease to burn. The Labour Party appears to propose that the "few people" who derive the benefit from colonial exploitation should abandon their profits while supplying the capital required for the economic development of the colonies. But the leaders of the Labour Party are too fair-minded to make such an unreasonable proposition. The essence of this proposition, which has such a flourish of benevolence for the natives of the colonies; is entirely different. It is in the second sentence. The reformist measures proposed by the British Labour Party and embodied in the Brussels resolution, to which we shall turn presently, are measures for the rationalisation of colonial exploitation. There is no question of releasing the economic life of the colonial peoples from the bloody grip of imperialist finance capital. What is suggested, and what the Labour Party as His Britannic Imperial Majesty's Government will try to do, is to reform the antiquated forms and methods of colonial plunder which no longer serve the purpose of modern trustified industry. Stabilisation of capitalism -- recovery of the home industries from the present depression -- requires, among other things, extension of the colonial market. This can be realised as a result of "economic development of the colonies by the natives" under the "direct supervision" of the imperialist Government. The liberal principle of colonial regime enunciated by the Second International on the basis of the British Labour Party's proposal is "Don't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs" -- "give the colonial slave a little breathing space so that he will work more profitably for you." These are principles of "enlightened capitalism." Many a bourgeois economist has advocated it before the Fabian wiseacres. Even the aggressive Indian policy of die-hard Toryism has been tempered by these principles.
The cardinal point in the questionnaire to the sections was about their policy and tactics concerning the colonies. This was a very ticklish question, and much haggling centred around it in the Colonial Commission, which met behind closed doors. The Colonial as well as other resolutions of the Second International must be adjusted to the convenience of its leading sections working in close collaboration (governmental, parliamentary or ideological) with the bourgeoisie in their respective countries. For example, the resolution on disarmament and Rhineland evacuation had to be adjusted to the convenience of the French Socialist leaders working hand in hand with Poincaré la guerre. On the Colonial question it was necessary to see how far the British Labour Party could go without prejudicing its chances of riding into office on the high horse of a Liberal programme. Of course the parties of other imperialist countries had their say; but the views of the British Labour Party were decisive. MacDonald will not go farther than Baldwin (endorsement of the policy of intervention in China, support of the Simon Commission, condoning silence as regards Lord Lloyd's coup d'etat in Egypt, etc.), and the Second International cannot disavow MacDonald (Lord Olivier saw to that). The result is the Brussels resolution, which can be summarised in the few words of Virgil quoted at the head of this article.
That the Social Democratic apostles of "justice and fair play" (the threadbare doctrine of bourgeois liberalism) can, like the old Romans, uphold the mission of dominating other peoples with a firm hand, has been proved not only in the words of the Brussels resolution, but in deed. The British Labour Party in office showed a remarkably firm hand to India and Egypt (it might be recollected that MacDonald sternly rejected Zaghlul Pasha's proposal to submit the question of the Suez Canal to the League of Nations by which the Second International swears); and as His Majesty's Loyal Opposition endorses the principle that the fate of the people of India must be decided by the British Parliament, in which they are not represented. Through the Brussels resolution this frankly imperialist policy of the British Labour Party is endorsed by the entire Second International.
The recommendation of "complete independence" for a few subject countries, which, the Social Democratic professors of racial superiority arbitrarily assert, have passed the examination for the diploma of "higher culture," is an eye-wash. The fact that India is excluded from the list of graduates reveals the mockery of the whole thing. The Second International "demands complete independence and equality of treatment for China," following upon the footsteps of American imperialism, which, anxious to have the counter-revolutionary nationalist bourgeoisie under the wing of its protection to the exclusion of other imperialist Powers, had concluded a treaty with the Nanking Government on similar terms, a few days before the Brussels Congress of the Second International. Since, not only the Second International, but other imperialist Powers have declared their agreement with the noble principles under the cover of which American imperialism tries to beat its rivals in China.
On the first reading of the Brussels resolution one is bewildered by the fact that Syria and Iraq are considered more fit for "complete independence" than India. The reason, however, is obvious. In the League of Nations they will remain safe for imperialism. Besides, the Anglo-French colonial rivalry in the Near East must have influenced the solution of the question of mandated territories there. The recommendation of "complete independence" for Egypt becomes a vile mockery in view of the fact that the British Labour Party in office denied it. And this recommendation for "complete independence" of these countries is absolutely meaningless as the hostility of the Second International to the revolutionary anti-imperialist movement in the colonies is notorious. This demand cannot be realised except by supporting unconditionally the revolt of the colonial peoples. Under the hypocritical pretext of pacifism the Second international is opposed to any revolutionary movement; therefore its recommendation of "complete independence" for this or that colonial country is absolutely of no practical value. It is meant to deceive the anti-imperialist workers at home and those reformists in the colonies who still have faith in the promises of liberal imperialism.
In conclusion, let us draw the attention of the Social Democratic believers of racial superiority to the facts in the territories inhabited by backward races who were oppressed by Russian imperialism until 1917. The intellectual and cultural progress made by the Khirgis, Tartars, Uzbeks, Turkomans, Mongolians and others in but a decade gives lie to the scientifically untenable theory that the backward races must have the protection and guidance of capitalist nations to come out into the light of civilisation. Compare the progress made by those people with that made by others in much longer time under the "civilising" domination of imperialism, and the real character of the colonial resolution of the Second International will be conclusively proved an endorsement of, apology for, and a frantic scheme for the perpetuation of, imperialism.