Wright Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

John G. Wright

Does ‘World Fair Deal’ Differ from ‘Old’ Imperialism

(31 January 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 5, 31 January 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In outlining his foreign policy, President Truman devoted the fourth plank of his inaugural address to the problem of the “underdeveloped” countries. Included here is the overwhelming majority of mankind: the oppressed masses of Asia, the teeming peoples of the Middle East, the millions of native Africans and the inhabitants of Latin America.

To these vast impoverished multitudes Truman made a solemn promise: “The old imperialism – exploitation for foreign profit – has no place in our plans.”

But what Truman omitted to give was any serious reason why he should be taken at his word by colonial and semi-colonial peoples who have known for centuries no other lot than foreign exploitation. After all, they have heard similar promises from every foreign conqueror and colonial despot.

The noblest motives are invariably ascribed to themselves by all capitalist politicians, especially when it comes to their program of colonial exploitation.

Germany, under the Kaiser, claimed no goal other than that of Extending the boons of “kultur” to the benighted peoples. England, for her part, eagerly assumed the “white man’s burden” exclusively to spread the benefits of her own brand of civilization. The French, the Dutch and all the other “civilizers” vied with one another in the loftiness of their moral and cultural aspirations for the “underdeveloped” areas under their rule.

We have before our own eyes the end-results of the work of all these enslavers. England’s record is the oldest. It is the record of retaining in colonial Asia all the survivals of Asiatic barbarism. It Is the record of retaining the medieval institutions of mass oppression. The record of the others is much the same.

But what about U.S. capitalism? It arrived late on the historical arena, rising to supremacy after the whole world had already been divided among the leading powers. In the new re-division of the world’s colonies, markets and sources of raw materials it is therefore necessary to modify some of the old practices, paint them up, adjust them to new conditions. This is exactly what Truman is trying to do. But does this alter essentially U.S. policy as compared with that of “old imperialism”?

For an answer we need only compare Truman’s words with the deeds of his administration, say, in Japan. If Britain did everything to preserve the feudal princes in India, then to Washington belongs the sole credit for preserving the rule of the Mikado, one of the most ancient relics of Asiatic barbarism. In fact, the same reactionaries rula in Japan under MacArthur as did in Tojo’s day. The Japanese peasants, who are the bulk of the population, live under the same frightful conditions as before.

$o do the peasants of Korea where the need for drastic agricultural reforms is as urgent as in Japan. In China, Chiang Kai-shek’s regime has opposed long needed changes as ruthlessly as any of the previous reactionary regimes in that country’s long and unhappy history. Yet American billions and arms backed Chiang to the very end.

One could cite many other instances – especially relating to Latin America – that demonstrate how closely U.S. policy, while differing in outward respects, resembles that of “old imperialism.”

Truman made another promise to the effect that he would inaugurate “a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas.” He implied that this would be done by private investments, guaranteed by the government.

This promise, too, is neither bold nor new. In fact, what Truman promises has beep the standing boast of every colonial power beginning with Britain. You will not find a single British statesman who has failed to point to the railways, canals, plantations, mines and diverse industrial enterprises that Britain has brought to its colonies. How? Through the investment of billions of British capital.

What you will never find publicly mentioned by any capitalist statesman is that all these carefully calculated installments of Culture and industry were apportioned exclusively in order to facilitate the plunder of the colonial resources. In every case, the principal beneficiaries were the foreign capitalists. The more wealth they pumped out in this way from the colonies, all the greater became the poverty and misery of the mass of the population. The areas remained as We see them today – “underdeveloped.”

All this does not at all flow from the ill-will, malice or corruption of capitalist politicians but from the nature of the social order they represent. The primary need of capitalist states which reach an advanced stage of development is to export capital for which the outlets at home are either exhausted or not profitable enough.

“Underdeveloped” areas provide the lushest fields for capital export. Their low living standards, cheap labor and all the other features of backwardness are the ideal conditions for – fabulous profits. If they became highly industrialized themselves, this source of super-profits would automatically dry up.

“Underdeveloped” areas likewise provide a major source of raw materials, cheap and abundant, so long as these countries remain backward themselves. That is why imperialists deliberately foster every outlived institution and custom there.

It is for these and similar reasons that the capitalist powers – Britain, Germany, France, Japan, and the rest – have not only fought savagely for colonies but have also constituted the principal obstacles to the cultural and industrial advancement of all colonial peoples.

The U.S. is no exception. Whereas “old imperialisms” exploited the colonial world by direct political rule, the American capitalists hope to rule indirectly, through the preponderance of their economic power. But their policy can bring no results different from those of “old imperialisms.”

American capitalists can no more bring culture and industrialization to the “underdeveloped” areas than did the British, German, French and other capitalists who made the same promises. The ends they pursue exclude any deal other than the same old imperialist deal for the colonial and semi-colonial peoples.

Wright Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 4 March 2024