NOTE: This article was first published in the journal “Australian Communist” No.142, July/August, 1988 – Ed.
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British imperialism puts its stamp very heavily on Australia and the Australian people. Even today, British “news” is published widely in the Australian press, etc. British books, television shows, British royalty and so on, all get great publicity. This is a survival of Britain’s “ruling the waves” and ruling its colonies.
Britain declined and US imperialism became the dominant imperialism. There was a degree of erosion of “loyalty” to Britain. But the coincidence of British origin of the Australian and the US colonies diluted the break. Moreover there is considerable similarity in the outlook of British and US imperialism, in their education, their literature and art, their state, their economies, etc Each too, has seen the “West” as the centre of the world. Hence the respective British and US press dealt and deal with things European, “Western”. The atmosphere is permeated with it. The young grow up in that atmosphere.
Recently the content of “patriotism” came in for some discussion in progressive circles. The British imperialists dominated the world. “Patriotism”, “loyalty” were directed exclusively to Britain from all parts of the British Empire Any patriotism to one’s own country was a crime in British law. There are countless ex-prisoners of the British rulers from Africa, India and other ex-colonies who can testify to this. The independence movements were movements bitterly resisted by the British imperialists. Loyalty to India, to what is now Tanzania, to Australia and other former colonies, was quite secondary to loyalty to the British “homeland”. The British ideologists discouraged subtly and not so subtly, ideas of patriotism to one’s own country within the British colonies. Whole literatures grew up which disparaged even mention of patriotism. Just as the British television shows Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, subtly elevate British “eccentricities” to a superior position, so Kipling, Somerset Maugham and others pushed the British rule The real patriots of India, Africa, etc., working people, intellectuals, students, some members of the local bourgeoisie, were persecuted, tortured, gaoled. Thousands of ordinary people were massacred (the Massacre of Amritsar in 1919 was an example). The Australian black people were killed, starved, poisoned, in the name of loyalty to the British Empire (It is good that material is being published on their resistance and armed fightback.)
Australian black people, and then the white working people and some incipient Australian capitalists, raised the banner of independence from Britain. There are examples of very outspoken independence sentiments among the white settlers right back in the early days of white settlement. Of course, it is wrong to paint a picture of total opposition to Britain; loyalty to Britain was a strong sentiment. The most consistently anti-British but Australian patriots were the black people – they suffered most. They were dispossessed. Then came white working people, as, for example, in the Eureka struggles, in the Barcaldine struggles and many others. Numbers of the capitalists came to terms with British imperialism and entered into “partnership”. And overall, Britain retained its dominance The Labor leader Fisher (then in opposition) at the time of the outbreak of World War I pledged the last man and the last shilling to Britain’s cause On the other hand, the I.WW. (Industrial Workers of the World ... “wobblies”) opposed the war and were framed up and gaoled on false charges for their pains. The anti-conscription votes in 1916 and 1917 contained a significant anti-British, Australian patriotic independent element even though it had a diversity of participants who acted for differing reasons. “Representative government”, first won and “conferred” in the middle of the 19th century, was a compromise between Australian independence sentiments and British imperialism.
The development of imperialism is uneven. The old does yield place to new. US imperialism outstripped British imperialism. One of the weakening factors for Britain was precisely the struggle of its colonial peoples. A basic reason too was its tremendous fixed capital investment at home That capital investment was in old machinery and methods which were very expensive to renew. As the colonial advance to independence reduced Britain’s overseas superprofits, the difficulties of constant (fixed) renewal of capital became greater. The new investors of the US had a significant competitive advantage Moreover, the parasitic British ruling class rested on its riches. There was no compulsion to do anything else until it was too late. The US got on top.
A fate essentially similar is overtaking the US. The Japanese imperialists are getting on top for reasons basically similar. It is not merely the decline of the old and the rise of the new – that is what happens but there are sound fundamental economic reasons why this occurs. The outline of the process was indicated by Marx and developed greatly by Lenin. Since Lenin’s time, new data have accumulated. New data have confirmed the principles revealed by Marx and developed by Lenin.
It is critically important that Australian Marxists, and all Australian working, democratic and patriotic people, should study history deeply so as to illuminate the present. The effect, particularly, of British and US imperialism on Australia and Australians has been to impose a “Western” or European stamp on them. The world outside Europe and the US did not exist, so went imperialist ideology. Australia was a white outpost on the rim of Asia, said Kissinger in recent years. Australia and New Zealand were long British outposts. They were outposts against “lesser” colonies. All this inculcated a lack of knowledge of Asia and the South Pacific. In imperialist ideology, Asia and the South Pacific, were backward places with backward people who were simply not worth talking about except in terms of patronage In addition, the English language was imposed on the New Zealand and Australian outposts along with the “culture” of British and US superiority.
This was all right for the British and US imperialists when they were reaping their super-profits from world-wide exploitation. Each was overtaken by the inertia induced by reaping those super-profits and by the very difficult burden of recapitalising outmoded industry and technology. This must not be over-exaggerated. There is still enormous life in British and US imperialism, particularly the latter. However, the fatal direction is apparent.
The Japanese Zaibatsu has again jumped to its feet. It is not nearly so burdened with old over-capitalised (as against new) industry. It is stretching out and advancing. It has been on the aggressive ascendant. It has become a big exporter, not only of consumer and producer goods, but of capital. It challenges its rivals and “friends” (and in the end, no capitalist and no imperialist has friends). In Europe, a process basically similar, but with very significant differences, is going on with the European Economic Community (EEC). There, by a certain co-ordination of capital (which most certainly does not dispose of internal contradictions), the EEC has assumed a strong world position.
Then there is the position of the Soviet Union. Whether or not it maintains an internal socialist position is the subject of varying opinions. That can be left on one side. What cannot be disputed is that it is an expansionist power and expansionism is incompatible with the principles of socialism. It is a huge power referred to as a “superpower”, of which there are only two – itself and the US. Its expansionism reaches out to the whole world much as Lenin described the imperialist powers of his day.
The economic compulsion of capitalism is to expand. It must expand. Marx devoted considerable time to examining the compulsions and Lenin developed Marx. Comment has been made on super-profits, the over-capitalisation and inertia of British imperialism and the development of similar processes in the USA. But imperialism has occupied and exploited nearly all the world. Lenin spoke of the whole world. Perhaps there is room for qualification. In 1917, the Soviet Union fell out of the orbit of imperialist exploitation both as an exploiter in the shape of Czarist Russia and as a victim of the more virile imperialism. In World War II, a great part of Eastern Europe fell out of its previous imperialist exploitation. These countries became far more self-sufficient and, to a degree, became a co-operative socialist community. In 1949, China, an immense source of profit for imperialism (of various kinds) fell right out of the imperialist orbit. Added to all this was the gigantic patriotic movement for independence and sovereignty in the colonial and semi-colonial countries. The example of India can be taken. India, as a British colony, comprised the huge populations of what are now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is true enough that Britain retains considerable investment in those countries, but the British India Act was wrung from Britain and conferred in 1947 the independence of India and Pakistan (from which Bangladesh subsequently broke). That represented a very substantial contraction for British imperialism. To carry it a little further, the Soviet Union moved into India to fill, at least partly, the “vacuum” left by Britain; the US moved into Pakistan. The independence movement was worldwide. Its tremendous blow to imperialism was a little softened by sophisticated methods of neo-colonialism, but the rot of imperialism had and has set in. The patriotic movement for sovereignty and independence is inexorable. It is a compulsion on both the bourgeoisie and common people of the old colonial and neo-colonial possessions. When added to it is consciousness of the movement, its inexorable development is greatly speeded up.
Thus the imperialist world has very, very seriously contracted. The compulsions on the surviving imperialisms to expand drive them to intensify exploitation of what remains and to investigate and reinvestigate “new” fields.
Reference was made earlier to the British and US “European” “Western” outlook imposed on Australia. The example of Kissinger was adverted to. But the imperialists have been compelled to look again at countries which seemed totally submissive – the countries and peoples of the South Pacific and of Asia (about the latter a little more will be said later). The nations and people of the South Pacific began to stir later than the old colonies. They were countries more geographically remote from the great metropolitan areas, seemingly more docile, not fundamentally important as sources of raw materials and still less as markets. They were the subject of “benevolent” patronage and exploitation by British, French and US imperialisms. “Benevolent” is how the imperialists put it. The churches did a pretty good job in advance for the imperialists by teaching and publicising their “good works” in the Pacific islands. Now, however, with a shrinking world and a desperately heavy capital investment in their own countries, the need for new sources of raw materials and markets, not to mention strategic military bases, that which the imperialists could treat as incidental becomes of major importance. More or less rapidly, the nations and peoples of the South Pacific have assumed much more significant importance. Despite the “benevolent” curtain placed over their existence and their people’s activity, the curtain must be thrust aside. The great powers compete desperately for position. It is nothing to do with benevolence but everything to do with sources of raw materials, markets and strategic military positions. The US and French imperialists are particularly active. The Soviet expansionists, as they have done over the last couple of decades for their own expansionist interests, support the patriotic banners of independence and sovereignty of the people of these nations. Australia and New Zealand, closely identified with British and particularly US imperialism, are called on to act in imperialist interests. It must not be overlooked that each has its own tiny (comparatively with the giant imperialisms) imperialist interests.
In addition, a feature of this is the position of Australia and New Zealand themselves. Great changes have occurred in each of these countries in recent years. The biggest changes have occurred during times in office of Labor governments. The Labor governments responded more rapidly and with greater sensitivity to changes in imperialism and the position of Australia and New Zealand in the imperialist world. Australia and New Zealand, while white outposts for British imperialism, were “developed” and yet undeveloped nations. Both evolved as British colonies and served the role of raw materials and food suppliers to the British monopolies. Then each developed a degree of secondary industry. This was particularly so for Australia. Under pressure of World War I, and with support from British steel manufacturers, B.H.P. began steel production in Australia in 1915. Now its output of steel, for a country of Australia’s size, is significant. Notwithstanding this, both Australia and New Zealand remain lopsided economies with considerable under-development. Opening up of the banking system, floating the currency, general deregulation, are responses to external and internal economic stimuli that flow from the nature of capitalism itself. Imperialists, who operate in a shrinking world, are compelled to investigate every single source of raw material and market and base. Hence the pressure on Australia and New Zealand to “deregulate”. It is no “magic” of a world’s greatest treasurer or Rogernomics, but the grim reality of multinationals and their imperialisms. Within Australia, the rise in constant capital, for example, of the old B.H.P., C.U.B, Herald & Weekly Times Ltd. to take three, has led internationally-backed people like Elliott, Holmes a Court and Murdoch to “re-finance” old enterprises and renew them. Still Australia and New Zealand in a separate sense are developed as nations and the people’s will to independence focused against a more clearly identifiable target. From the US and Japanese and British imperialist standpoint they remain critical parts of the maintenance of dominance in Asia and the South Pacific. From the people’s standpoint, community of interest with the peoples of the South Pacific and ASEAN is underlined.
For virtually the first time, intense imperialist attention is focussed on the nations and peoples of the South Pacific. Whereas Australia and New Zealand are, as a matter of geographical fact, essentially bound up with Asia and the Pacific, for reasons advanced earlier, imperialism has identified them with the “West”. Now compulsions of imperialism are forcing a far greater identification with Asia and the Pacific.
The US-inspired coup d’etat in Fiji drew very sharp attention to the intensification of patriotic independence struggles throughout the South Pacific The struggle of the Kanak people in New Caledonia assumes a similar shape. The independent stand of Vanuatu has broken into the press. New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stand is objectively anti-imperialist despite the equivocal position of the New Zealand Prime Minister and government. In Papua-New Guinea, there are strong independence sentiments. Thus at the very time when imperialism is compelled to comb the very last areas of the world for intensified exploitation, it is met by a rising tide of independence struggle. That rising tide evolves and is helped by a progressive consciousness that flows in and assists the objective compulsions to independence Imperialism by its nature is denied a progressive consciousness; insofar as its consciousness develops beyond the blind compulsions of its nature, that consciousness is reactionary. It can scarcely be crudely said by the imperialists to these nations and peoples: “We are out to exploit and oppress you, seize your raw materials, dominate your markets, use your land and sea for bases and nuclear testing.” It must all be covered up with nice words, religious humbug, bribery, “help”, lying and all the stock in trade of “sophisticated” neo-colonialism.
Australian Communists and other progressive and patriotic people are required by compulsions similar to those described to act along with the Pacific peoples and to develop consciousness of Australia’s position in the Pacific. Scientific consciousness is the hallmark of Marxism. It enables the Communists as part of the people to rise above and against the imperialist milieu. Putting the matter at the very lowest self-interest, the Australian people’s self-interest lies with the peoples and nations of the South Pacific. Communist consciousness certainly recognises the self-interest of all peoples for independence and sovereignty. Communist conscious integrity demands attention to the. promotion and development of solidarity with the nations and peoples of the South Pacific. Australian people’s interests do not lie with the great imperialist powers and their “Western” environment. They lie with those of the peoples and nations of this area. The newspaper Vanguard and other Communist publications must reflect this process and the reasons for it. For far too long the imperialist milieu has gone insufficiently challenged. Imperialism is constantly changing. Inter-imperialist relations are in continuous change, and within the orbit of a particular imperialism, there is constant change. Communists must establish responsibility for study and action. A great struggle is gathering.
Earlier reference was made to Asia, and specific references have been made to China and Japan. The capitalist development of the Asian countries has both served imperialism and reduced its orbit. Countries like Singapore have developed substantial capitalist competition against other capitalisms. ASEAN as a whole constitutes a bloc that both serves and opposes the great imperialisms. South Korea and Taiwan (a part of China) have developed substantial capitalisms. The US defeat in Korea and Vietnam served to emphasise its difficulties as an ageing imperialism with the attendant decadence and weakness of age. This process emphasises again the independence factors centrifugal from imperialism. There are gigantic people’s movements in South Korea and the Philippines to which far too little attention is given. But in all these countries, there are great movements to take further what independence there is.
It must be repeated that it is the bounden duty of Australian Communists to break out of the ideological, political and organisational shackles imposed or attempted to be imposed by imperialism, or, perhaps more correctly, that arise from imperialism. Those shackles have imposed a virtual blackout on the South Pacific nations and peoples and a brownout on Asia. The light of Marxism with independence must burst through the blackout and brownout.