MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: FI: 1938-1949: World War II: Emergency Conference: 1940
Emergency Conference Of The Fourth International
The Colonial World And
The Second Imperialist War
1. Half the world lives in colonial slavery. Colonies and subject lands cover more than half the earth’s surface. More than one billion people, yellow, brown, and black, are subject to the insignificant minority of supercapitalists who rule the Western world. The striving of this great mass of dispossessed to be free represents one of the two great progressive forces
in modern society. The other is the struggle of the proletariat in the advanced countries for its emancipation. In their success-ful interaction lies the key to the entire strategy of the world socialist revolution. Nationalism in the West is a tool of cap-italist power, a weapon used to pit exploited peoples against each other in wars fought by military and economic means for exclusively capitalist interests. But in the backward, subject countries of the East, the nationalist movements form an integral part of the struggle against world imperialism. As such they must be supported to the fullest possible extent by the working class of the entire Western world. When the toilers of East and West together conquer power, abolish capitalism, and build a socialist world economy, the great national groups in the world will for the first time be able to live side by side amid a flowering world culture proudly bearing its many racial and ethnic petals. Such will be the meaning of democ-racy and equality under world socialism.
2. Under the banner of bourgeois “democracy” and bourgeois “equality,” the great capitalist empires were built upon the exploitation of the proletariat at home and the enslave-ment of weaker peoples overseas. In the three centuries of their growth, the capitalist nations warred constantly to acquire and expand their colonial domains, to defend them against the raids of rivals, or to suppress revolts of the colonial peo- pies. In 1914-18, the great imperialist powers fought to re-divide an already divided world. They succeeded only in hast-ening the catastrophic decline of the capitalist system. The revolutions the war engendered, however, failed to establish in the advanced West and the backward East the proletarian power which could and can alone reorganize the world on a socialist basis. The workers won and held power only in backward Russia. Capitalism survived, but only to subject the world to the further agonies of its passing. Twenty-two years after the armistice of 1918, contorted by a crisis they were powerless to surmount, the imperialists plunged the world once more into bloody conflict—Germany, Italy, and Japan to “expand or die”—England, France, and the United States to defend and extend their world hegemony.
3. The present imperialist war continues the struggle that began in 1914 over the mastery not only of Europe, but of the wealth, the labor, and the markets of both hemispheres, of Asia and Africa, of Latin America and Oceania. Great Brit-ain is fighting again to preserve its gigantic empire of 450,000, 000 peoples spread across one-quarter of the globe—ten black, brown or yellow slaves to every Briton, 135 square miles of subject territory to every square mile at home. France fights not only to dominate continental Europe but for its mastery of 75,000,000 slaves in its Asiatic and African colonies. The smaller slaveholders — Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Spain—face dismemberment, fully aware that the lands they have plundered until now without external hindrance are now forfeit as part of the stakes of the war. Germany fights openly to win these spoils for itself. Italy seeks the jackal’s share of the leav-ings. Japan has already been waging a war of expansion in China for the past seven years and stands poised on the edge of conflict with the United States for mastery of the Pacific, for the wealth of China and of the Indies. American imperialism, which emerged as the world’s creditor from the last war, expects to emerge from this one its undisputed master. But the ultimate decision does not lie with the imperialist plunderers alone. They have renewed their armed struggle for the domination of the world. But the war fronts they have created shall be sundered by revolutions of the workers in every country. In the empires they defend or seek to acquire, national and colonial wars and rev-olutions never wholly defeated in the decades following the last war, shall likewise be renewed and upon a scale incompar-ably greater than before.
4. In 1914-18, Britain and France successfully defended their possessions against the first German challenge. They divided the German colonies between them and tore like wolves at the fallen empire of Turkey. But the war had strained the imperi-alist world until it broke at its weakest link. The October Rev-olution in Russia caused the whole structure to totter. All of Central Europe was in convulsion. In the colonies nationalist movements, long limited and abortive, surged into the new rev-olutionary stream. When Versailles revealed the utter perfidy that lay behind Allied promises of “self-determination of na-tions,” the revolt became virtually general through all the vast domains of the imperialist victors. The accumulated charges laid deep in the subject lands during centuries of oppression went off in a series of tremendous explosions. For more than a decade wars of national liberation were fought, slave against master, in almost every subject land on the face of the earth.
5. The World War of the Allies against Germany continued after 1918 in the form of a world war of the Allies against the peoples they sought to keep in subjection. To answer the Irish demand for freedom, England sent the Black and Tans . Promises of independence freely given during the war to the Arab peoples of the near and Middle East were redeemed in the form of iron imperialist rule, asserted and maintained by bomb and bayonet and gallows. Nationalist insurrections swept Egypt and the rest of the Moslem world. The Turks alone successfully won their independence. The rest of the Levant was brought forcibly under imperialist control. To the nation-alist revolts that had begun in India during the war, the British gave answer in 1919 with the Amritsar massacre, and British guns in that richest of all colonies have never since been wholly silent. General strikes and insurrections occurred in Kenya, the Congo and other parts of Africa. The Druse revolt in Syria in 1925 almost broke the power of the French. In Morocco in 1925-26, the French joined the Spaniards to crush the Riff revolt led by Abd-el-Krim. From 1926 to 1930 the French used the weapon of unrestricted slaughter to check repeated uprisings in Indochina. In 1926-27 the workers and peas-ants of the East Indies rose in insurrection against the rule of the “democratic” Dutch, wielded by knout and machine gun and bomber. In 1925-27 China, prey for a century to all the powers, was swept by the greatest of the postwar national revolutions.
6. But imperialism succeeded in surviving the war and over-coming the colonial uprisings. In Europe, except in Russia, the revolutions of the workers were crushed with the treacherous aid of the Social Democratic parties of the Second International. The Russian workers succeeded in repelling the interventionist armies of the powers but remained tragically isolated. This isolation, coupled with the backwardness of Russia, nourished the growth of the bureaucracy symbolized by Stalin. The Soviet Union entered upon the long and agonizing period of its degeneration. Western capitalism simultaneously entered upon a period of relative stabilization. This combination of elements enabled the imperialists to emerge victorious from the national and colonial wars that followed the war in Europe.
7. Imperialism maintained its rule in the colonies and semi-colonies by open terror first of all. Thousands were massacred and thousands died in prison and in transportation between 1919 and 1929. But sheer force no longer sufficed. With the participation of great masses of workers and peasants, the colonial movements acquired a magnitude previously unknown. The imperialists, therefore, reached out in every important instance to draw to their side the native exploiters—landlords and aspiring capitalists—as a shield against the totally dispossessed masses. The privileges proffered were limited enough but were sufficient to bring into the imperialist camp the dominant sections of the various native ruling classes. Ireland was given “Free State” status. India was presented with a “constitution” and Gandhi rendered yeoman service to the British by repeatedly diverting the Indian nationalist struggle into channels of compromise. In Egypt, after crushing the nationalist revolt of 1919 with an expeditionary force of 60,000 troops under Allenby, the British eventually came to terms with the national bourgeoisie, and Egypt was granted the shadow of a specious independence. Iraq, and later Syria, became “independent” dependencies. In China in 1925-27 the workers and peasants rose in the greatest mass revolt of the decade. But the Communist International led by Stalin yoked the workers and peasants to the national bourgeoisie, which in its own time came to terms with the imperialists. By unitedly backing Chiang Kai-shek against the mass movement, the imperialists succeeded in stemming the revolutionary wave that threatened for a time to drive them forever from their entrenched positions in Asia.
8. While this process offered a temporary “solution” for the imperialist rulers, it brought no solution to the pressing problems of the colonial peoples, produced no advances out of their backwardness, provided no significant outlet for even a relative growth of their productive forces. Instead it accelerated the expropriation of the colonial petty bourgeoisie, perpetuated the helotry of the colonial peasantry, and increased the burdens of the colonial proletariat. The concessions made by the imperialists to the native exploiters were niggardly enough, but with the onset of the world economic crisis beginning in 1929, not even these could be maintained. The crisis instead enormously sharpened the antagonisms in the imperialist camp and led to new blows at the colonial peoples. Japan began its drive into China in 1931. Italy subjugated Ethiopia in 1935. The fresh cleavages among the powers led swiftly thence to the outbreak of the new world war in 1939. For the colonies the the new imperialist war offers the prospect only of deepening exploitation no matter whether the old masters remain or new masters take their place.
9. Capitalism has already fully demonstrated on a world scale that it no longer corresponds as a system of organization and operation to the development of the productive forces.
It can no longer assure to the workers in the advanced countries even a subsistence standard of living. Should it succeed in surviving the present war, the totalitarian form it assumed in the poorer countries (Italy, Germany, Balkans) even before the conflict would soon become generalized. With the war only in its opening phases this process is already clearly visible in France and Britain. In the colonies, in the past, imperialist rule has meant the stifling of economic development and the perpetuation of backward economic and social relations in their most oppressive forms. If an imperialist “solution” of the present world conflict is imposed, a still greater rate of exploitation will be forced upon the colonies and the thralldom of the past deepened multifold. The Western Allies once more offer promises of “freedom” and “cooperation” after they win the present war. But acceptance of such promises only paves the way for the crueler deceptions of the Versailles of tomorrow. Germany, for its part, does not bother with deceptive illusions but fights openly to rule the peoples it can conquer by blood and iron alone.
10. The hopes of liberation of the colonial peoples are therefore bound up even more decisively than ever before with the emancipation of the workers of the whole world. The colonies shall be freed, politically, economically, and culturally, only when the’workers of the advanced countries put an end to capitalist rule and set out together with the backward peoples to reorganize world economy on a new level, gearing it to social needs and not to monopolist profits. Only in this way will the colonial and semicolonial countries be enabled to emerge from their varying stages of backwardness and take their places as integral sections of an advancing world socialist commonwealth. Drawn belatedly into the orbit of world economy, the backward countries have to take a gigantic leap forward, economically and politically, to come abreast of the advanced nations. Their backwardness is expressed most cruelly in the preservation of feudal and semifeudal agrarian relations holding in fetters the vast peasant millions. The imperialists superimposed upon these the fetters of monopoly capital, acting either directly or through native agencies (like the compradores and later the bankers of China). Thus the effort to realize the most elementary reorganization of society along national, democratic lines brings the colonial masses into collision with world imperialism.
11. The national bourgeoisie in the backward countries is incapable of effecting this transformation, even in a partial manner, because it means uprooting the structure of exploitation upon which their own position in society rests. The Russian Revolution of 1917 produced proof positive that a backward country can take this great leap forward only if the working class is capable of assuming the leadership of the agrarian revolution and guiding the democratic struggle to a socialist solution under proletarian power. The abortive national struggles in the colonial and semicolonial countries from 1919 to 1931 were led, as in India and China, by the national bourgeoisie. They confirmed again, in negative form, that the national and democratic revolutions in the colonies can be successfully carried out only by the proletariat in collaboration with the workers of the advanced countries. The national and democratic transformation of the backward countries shall be possible only in a socialist world.
12. Democratic and transitional slogans retain their full validity, however, especially in the relatively more advanced subject countries like China and India. The slogan of a National or Constituent Assembly remains the most powerful lever for marshaling the masses in struggle. But into this slogan the revolutionary party of the workers must pour the full content of the agrarian revolution and the fight for national liberation. Otherwise it becomes an easy means of deception in the hands of the national bourgeoisie, as it did in China with Comintern help in 1927 and again at the present time. The democratic struggle must not be left in the hands of the national bourgeoisie but must, under conditions of a rising mass movement, find expression in the creation of workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ councils on a local, provincial, and national scale, as organs of mass struggle and sooner or later as organs of workers’ power. Such a power, counterposed to that of the national bourgeoisie, will alone be capable of carrying the democratic revolution through to the end, liberating the peasants on the land, and the land itself from the grip of both native and foreign exploiters.
13. In this struggle, the guiding policy of the workers’ party must be to preserve its own independence and the independence of the working class as a separate and distinct political force. In China in 1927 the Comintern subordinated the Chinese Communist Party to the national bourgeois Kuomiritang, the Chinese working class to the national bourgeoisie, with the result that the latter successfully crushed the mass movement in return for a few crumbs from the imperialist table. Although conditions of struggle vary widely from colony to colony, depending largely on the degree of backwardness, the Chinese experience of 1925-27 remains the classic experience, the classic and salutary lesson to all who fight for the liberation of the oppressed peoples of the East. The proletariat of India and China shall lead the whole colonial world, and they shall in their turn draw strength, leadership, and support from the workers of the West. For in this way alone shall the world be conquered, rebuilt, and freed forever from war and oppression, from hunger and ignorance.
Last updated on 12.9.2005