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Henry Judd

Imperialism – How Does This Term Apply to the War?

(November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 48, 30 November 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The first anniversary of Pearl Harbor draws near and we are about to be showered with a deluge of propaganda reminding us of the treacherous attack made upon the Hawaiian naval base and the fact that an unwilling American government was, as a result, forced into the World War. This is a good time to discuss a term very often used in Labor Action; the term IMPERIALISM. Often we are asked by new readers of our paper, “You keep saying that this is an imperialist war; that every country (including America) is in it for imperialist purposes. Just what do you mean by that, EXACTLY?”

Imperialism Is Modern Capitalism

Broadly speaking, imperialism means the aggressive attack, conquest, domination and control of a weak country by a stronger one. It means a policy by which one country is converted into the COLONY of another and deprived of its independence and freedom.

In the modern world, today, where capitalism in one form or another exists in every important country, imperialism has several easily recognizable characteristics:

  1. The industry and economic life of the colony is all grabbed off by the foreign ruler, the capitalists of the foreign nation send their idle capital for investment in the colony and subject its working population to semi-slave conditions. (Hitler does this in Poland and France; Japan does it in the newly-conquered nations it has grabbed; England has done if for 150 years in India, for example.)
  2. The conquered country is occupied and policed by the soldiers and agents of the conqueror (Hitler in France and Norway; Churchill in India, for example).
  3. The conquered country – the colony – is robbed and drained of its food, its wealth and riches (as Hitler did to Poland; as Japan has done to Manchuria; as France has done to North Africa, for example).
  4. The subject country is not only deprived of its national freedom, but it is denied all forms of democratic liberties (free speech, unions, the right to vote, etc.) and any effort to get these rights is met with violence and gunfire.

These are some of the universal and easily observed characteristics of imperialism, clear for all to see and most openly practiced by the fascist Axis powers. Can we say that the same characteristics and tendencies can be seen in America’s first year of war action? In the first place, America entered the war last year already an imperialist power, with a colonial empire all its own. True, it was nowhere the size of the British Empire, but it was substantial. It included such outright colonies, run directly by Americans, as Puerto Rica, the Philippines, Hawaiian Islands, various territories in big Chinese cities like Shanghai, Tientsin, etc. Still more important was the political and economic hold that American imperialists had over various countries such as Cuba, the Central American republics, huge parts of South America, etc., not to mention the power gained from huge capital investments in Canada, China, Europe, etc.

Imperialism in the War Itself

But these tendencies, these expressions of imperialism, have increased and extended themselves many times since the first days of Pearl Harbor. The evidences are many:

  1. American authority, control and domination over the South American countries has gone ahead full steam. The economic life of these countries falls nearly, now, into America’s war machine. Their raw materials go to the war industries; American commodities and war equipment go back. Rival economic competitors (German and Japanese) have been brushed aside or are on the way out (England). American exporters run their trade.
  2. American troops are on every continent (except Europe proper) in ever-growing numbers. North Africa is but the latest. The presence of American troops means, in effect, control and military domination. This is obvious with the former French North African colonies! It is also true for the Solomons, New Guinea, the Caribbean islands, Iceland, etc. And such effective control will grow as more American troops are poured into India, Australia, etc. These occupied territories are policed and regulated by American imperialism.
  3. In North Africa it has been shown most clearly that American, rulers too will continue to deny democratic rights and liberties to the people, just like the previous French rulers did. Not one sign exists to show that these colonies will be turned back to their rightful rulers, the people who inhabit them.
  4. American capitalist economic control – lend-lease credits; open capital investments; control over trade and tariff regulations, etc. – has grown tremendously over such nations as Cqnada, New Zealand and Australia (the British Dominions). It has already been made clear that the rulers of America will take whatever metals and ores the North African colonies formerly produced for French and then German imperialism. As the troops march in and take over, the economic functionaries and rulers follow close behind, striving to fit the economy of the occupied territories into the American war effort. Sometimes the conquest is bloodless, as in Latin America. But the result is the same.

This is what we means by the imperialist character of the war; a charge Labor Action cannot but repeat as the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor draws near.

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