It is well known that Australia has a colonial background. Australia as it is today has simply emerged from the former six British colonies constituted by the Colonies of New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia. It owes its legal status as Australia to laws of the British Parliament. British imperialism settled Australia as a penal colony, having ruthlessly seized it from the native people. Britain was the colonial power which established the penal colony and then developed Australia as a colony which largely supplied raw materials for British industry and imported finished products from Britain. More detail of the development of Australia as a colony of Britain will be discussed later.
Imperialism is marked by struggle amongst the imperialist powers for colonies, markets, spheres of influence, raw materials etc. Imperialism develops unevenly as between the imperialist powers. As British imperialism declined, U.S. imperialism developed and assumed an extensive position in Australia. So too Japanese imperialism interested itself in Australia.
It is necessary to make some analysis of imperialism to see the significance of the actions of the imperialist powers in relation to a country like Australia and to see the relevance of what has already been said in this booklet about Soviet social-imperialism.
Lenin spoke of the need for giving a definition of imperialism that would embrace five essential features:
1. The concentration of production and capital developed to such a stage that it creates monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life.
2. The merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of finance capital, of a financial oligarchy.
3. The export of capital, which has become extremely important, as distinguished from the export of commodities.
4. The formation of international capitalist monopolies which share the world among themselves.
5. The territorial division of the whole world among the greatest capitalist powers is completed.
He then defined imperialism in this way:
Imperialism is capitalism in that state of development in which the domination of monopolies and finance capital has established itself; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun; in which the partition of all the territories of the globe among the great capitalist powers has been completed. (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Chapter. VII).
Britain’s hold upon Australia in the early years of white settlement and virtually throughout the 19th century was more or less unchallenged. The emergence of other imperialisms however meant that competition between the imperialist powers inevitably involved these imperialist powers competing with the near monopoly position of Britain towards Australia.
It is also important to remember that the process of imperialism is by no means confined to the ownership and exploitation of what are in fact and in name, colonies. Lenin, in speaking of the division of the world which is characteristic of imperialism, said it included the situation where “the division of the world” is the transition from a colonial policy which has extended without hindrance to territories unoccupied by any capitalist power (we add, for example, Australia) to a colonial policy of the monopolistic possession of the territories of the world which have been completely divided up (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 12 Vol. Edn., Selected Works, Vol. 5, p. 81). In order to be clear it is necessary to quote Lenin as to the finality of division; it is a finality “not in the sense that a new partition is impossible – on the contrary, new partitions are possible and inevitable . . .” (Ibid., p. 69).
The form of imperialist domination varies infinitely. The “creation” of Australia by the British statute of 1900 by no means meant that Australia was no longer a colony. By that statute, Australia nominally and legally ceased to be a colony in the old sense, and this certainly had an importance in Australia’s struggle for independence. But that statute was a variety of neo-colonialist measure under which Britain maintained her imperialist exploitation of Australia on the best terms she could then come to with the independence movement in Australia. The evolution of Australia since then has seen a further breaking of some, but not all, colonial ties with Britain. Even if there had been a complete breaking of colonial ties it still would not follow that Australia was an independent country. In summing up the imperialist world, Lenin pointed out: “The division of the world into two principal groups – of colony owning countries on the one hand and colonies on the other – is not the only typical feature of this period; there is also a variety of forms of dependence; countries which, formally, are politically independent, but which are, in fact, enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence.” Australia in a sense is not even formally independent (e.g. it adheres to the British Crown), but in so far as it is formally independent, it is most certainly enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence upon British imperialism, U.S. imperialism and Japanese imperialism. This is part of the process of “the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by an extremely small group of the richest or most powerful nations.” (Ibid., p. 115). A similar situation is described by Lenin when he said: “Finance capital is such a great, it may be said, such a decisive force in all economic and international relations that it is capable of subordinating to itself, and actually does subordinate to itself, even states enjoying complete political independence.” (Ibid., p. 74).
It is characteristic of imperialism that between e imperialist powers there is acute competition. No one really denies this. The world has seen numerous imperialist wars including two world wars, each of which originated in inter-imperialist rivalry. The imperialists struggle for “the sources of raw materials, for the export of capital, for ’spheres of influence’ that is, for spheres of good business, concessions, monopolist profits, and so on . . .” (Ibid., p. 115). Because of Australia’s richness in raw materials we particularly emphasise ’raw materials’. Although Lenin wrote his book in 1916, the following passage shows amazing perspicacity and casts particular light upon Australia’s position: “Finance capital is not only interested in the already known sources of raw materials; it is also interested in possible sources of raw materials, because present day technical development is extremely rapid, and because land which is useless today may be made fertile tomorrow if new methods are applied (to devise these new methods a big bank can equip a whole expedition of engineers, agricultural experts, etc.) and large amounts of capital are invested. This also applies to prospecting for minerals, to new methods of working up and utilising raw materials, etc., etc. Hence, the inevitable striving of finance capital to extend its economic territory and even its territory in general. In the same way that the trusts capitalise, their property by estimating it at two or three times its value, taking into account its ’possible’ future (and not present) returns, and the further results of monopoly, so finance capital strives to seize the largest possible amount of land of all kinds and in any place it can, and by any means, counting on the possibility of finding raw materials there, and fearing to be left behind in the insensate struggle for the last available scraps of unappropriated territory; or for the repartition of that which has been already appropriated.” (Ibid., p. 77: emphasis ours).
The competition between the imperialist powers becomes more and more desperate with the development of imperialism. The peoples of the colonies or semi-colonies inevitably fight for independence from the imperialist power. Sometimes they win it completely, such as in China: inevitably they will win it throughout the world. The imperialists, however, desperately manoeuvre to maintain their hold upon the former colonies. Reference has already been made to the neo-colonialist “creation” of Australia by the British parliament in 1900. The British imperialists have proved expert at this sort of thing. They maintain most of their former colonies (now nominally largely independent) within the so-called British Commonwealth of Nations. At the same time they maintain outright colonies in e.g. the Falkland Islands, on the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, etc.
The process of independence not uncommonly is “assisted” by an imperialist rival of the colonial power. This is done in the hope of breaking down the monopoly position of the colonial power. But whatever the nature of a country and whether or not it has been a colony, the great imperialist powers seek to embrace it within their respective spheres of influence and compete bitterly amongst themselves on this matter. Hence every country in the world is the subject of struggle by the great imperialist powers.
World War I resulted from the struggle between the British, French and German imperialists. World War II resulted from the struggle of the British, French and U.S. imperialists against the German, Italian and Japanese imperialists. Nor does this mean that these groups of imperialists were united among themselves. The Anglo-U.S. imperialist conflict went very deep and remains deep to this day but U.S. imperialism has established its superiority to British imperialism. British imperialism, though nominally a victor in both world wars, was greatly weakened by them. Moreover Britain was the first capitalist country in the world and the earliest major imperialist power. Hence she was the oldest, and parasitism and decay set in earlier in Britain than in the other imperialist powers. The younger imperialism of the United States rapidly supplanted the dominant position of Britain, particularly after World War I and still more after World War II. German imperialism, though defeated in World War I and World War II, developed after each war into a powerful imperialist country. Japanese imperialism too became a powerful force. But both Britain and France declined as imperialist powers. In all cases the cause of the bitter competition, including war, was economic rivalry between the imperialist powers. Lenin characterised this very well when he said “that the war of 1914-1918 was imperialistic (that is, an annexationist, predatory, plunderous war) on the part of both sides; it was a war for the division of the world, for the partition and repartition of colonies” (and now we add neo-colonies) ’spheres of influence’ of finance capital, etc.” (Ibid., p. 7). He says, and facts have proved it correct, that his summing up of the facts of imperialism “proves that imperialist wars are absolutely inevitable under such an economic system, as long as private property in the means of production exists.” (Ibid., p. 8). Compare this with Khrushchov’s statement quoted in the last chapter; confirmation again of Khrushchov’s anti-Marxist-Leninist position.
Today the scene is dominated by two very big imperialist powers, Soviet social-imperialism and U.S. imperialism. Like all imperialisms, they bitterly compete against each other. Though the shape of the world has undergone great changes, particularly with the emergence of socialist China and the emergence of the Third World, still the essential laws revealed by Lenin in “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” fully operate within the capitalist world. Lenin said: “The more capitalism develops, the more the need for raw materials arises, the more bitter competition becomes, and the more feverishly the hunt for raw materials proceeds all over the world, the more desperate becomes the struggle for the acquisition of colonies.” (Ibid., p. 75). ’Colonies’ is now, as has been pointed out, too narrow a way of stating the question, but Lenin’s point remains valid. Lenin then speaks of the shortage at the time he was writing (1916) of “the raw materials of timber, of leather, of raw materials for the textile industries”. Today there is scarcity of raw materials of many kinds, oil, bauxite, uranium, coal, iron.
Australia is a former colonial country enjoying a certain nominal independence but “enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence,” and rich in raw materials of many kinds. It exists in a world characterised by the striving for world domination and exploitation by “an extremely small group of the richest or “lost powerful nations” of an increasing number of small or weak nations. (Ibid., p. 115). That extremely small group has narrowed itself into U.S. imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism.
Since Lenin wrote, certainly this striving has in no way abated and wars are absolutely inevitable because of it.
There is also the profound development which Lenin forecast – the great movement of the peoples for independence. Now the decisive force in the world against the superpowers is the Third World. There is an historically irresistible trend: “Countries want independence, nations want liberation and the people want revolution”. The Australian people fall within this trend, and in some respects and in certain ways, the Australian Labor government has acted in a hesitant way within it, while on the other hand maintaining a basic adherence to the imperialist powers, particularly U.S. imperialism.
It is the present purpose to examine briefly British and U.S. and Japanese imperialism in Australia, and then the position of Australia in relation to the struggle between the superpowers, U.S. imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism.