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Anti-imperialism

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Anti-imperialism, strictly speaking, is a term that may be applied to or movement opposed to some form of imperialism. Generally, anti-imperialism includes opposition to wars of conquest, particularly of non-contiguous territory or people with a different language or culture. Examples of anti-imperialists include Republican senators of the Roman Republic, and members of the Anti-Imperialist League that opposed the occupation of the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.

As a self-conscious political movement, anti-imperialism originated in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in opposition to the growing European colonial empires and the US takeover of the Philippines. However, it reached its highest level of popular support in the colonies themselves, where it formed the basis for a wide variety of national liberation movements during the mid-20th century and later. These movements, and their anti-imperialist ideas, were instrumental in the decolonization process of the 1950s and 1960s, which saw most Western colonies in Asia and Africa achieving their independence.

Soon thereafter, as the modern process of globalization began, many anti-imperialists saw it as a new form of imperialism - one that relies on economic domination rather than direct military conquest. Thus, anti-imperialists began to focus on opposing globalization, and they were one of the elements that gave birth to the present-day anti-globalization movement. To the extent that anti-imperialists are still concerned about military force, they tend to be opposed to what they see as the American empire, especially after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Anti-Imperialist League

An early use of the term "anti-imperialist" occurred in the United States around the time of the Spanish-American War. The Anti-Imperialist League was founded on June 15, 1898 in Boston, Massachusetts, in opposition of the acquisition of the Philippines by the United States. The anti-imperialists opposed the expansion because they believed it violated the Constitution. As Fred Harrington states in his article in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review in 1935 "that the anti-imperialist’s did not oppose expansion because of commercial, religious, constitutional, or humanitarian reasons but instead because they thought that an imperialist policy ran counter to the political doctrines of the Declaration of Independence, Washington’s Farewell Address, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address".

Marxism, Leninism and anti-imperialism

While Karl Marx never published a theory of imperialism, he referred to colonialism in Das Kapital as an aspect of the prehistory of the capitalist mode of production. Using the Hegelian dialectic, Marx predicted the phenomenon of monopoly capitalism in The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), hence the slogan "Workers of the world, unite!"). Lenin defined imperialism as "the highest stage of capitalism" (the subtitle of his outline), the era in which monopoly finance capital becomes dominant, forcing nations and corporations to compete themselves increasingly for control over resources and markets all over the world. Lenins theory of imperialism has since been adopted by a majority of Marxists. The Marxist-Leninist view of imperialism primarily addresses the economic rather than military or political (though these are related) dominance of certain countries over others.

Marxist theories of imperialism, or related theories such as dependency theory, focus on the economic relations between countries (and within countries, as outlined below), rather than the more formal political and/or military relationships. Imperialism thus consists not necessarily in the direct control of one country by another, but in the economic exploitation of one region by another, or of a group by another. This Marxist usage contrasts with a popular conception of 'imperialism', as directly controlled vast colonial or neocolonial empires.

Lenin held that imperialism was a stage of capitalist development with five simultaneous features as outlined below:

1) Concentration of production and capital has led to the creation of national and multinational monopolies - not as understood in liberal economics, but in terms of de facto power over their enormous markets - while the "free competition" remains the domain of increasingly localized and/or niche markets:

Free competition is the basic feature of capitalism, and of commodity production generally; monopoly is the exact opposite of free competition, but we have seen the latter being transformed into monopoly before our eyes, creating large-scale industry and forcing out small industry, replacing large-scale by still larger-scale industry, and carrying concentration of production and capital to the point where out of it has grown and is growing monopoly: cartels, syndicates and trusts, and merging with them, the capital of a dozen or so banks, which manipulate thousands of millions. At the same time the monopolies, which have grown out of free competition, do not eliminate the latter, but exist above it and alongside it, and thereby give rise to a number of very acute, intense antagonisms, frictions and conflicts. Monopoly is the transition from capitalism to a higher system. (Ch. VII)

(Following Marx's value theory, Lenin saw monopoly capital as plagued by the law of the tendency of profit to fall, as the ratio of constant capital to variable capital increases. In Marx's theory only living labor or variable capital creates profit in the form of surplus-value. As the ratio of surplus value to the sum of constant and variable capital falls, so does the rate of profit on invested capital.)

2) Industrial capital as the dominant form of capital has been replaced by finance capital (repeating the main points of Rudolf Hilferding's magnum opus, Finance Capital), with the industrial capitalists being ever more reliant on finance capital (provided by financial institutions).

3) The export of the aforementioned finance capital is emphasized over the export of goods (even though the latter would continue to exist);

4) The economic division of the world by multinational enterprises, and the formation of international cartels; and

5) The political division of the world by the great powers, in which the export of finance capital by the advanced capitalist industrial nations to their colonial possessions enables them to exploit those colonies for their resources and investment opportunities. This superexploitation of poorer countries allows the advanced capitalist industrial nations to keep at least some of their own workers content, by providing them with slightly higher living standards. (See labor aristocracy; globalization.)

For these reasons, Lenin argued that a proletarian revolution could not occur in the developed capitalist countries as long as the global system of imperialism remained intact. Thus, he believed that a lesser-developed country would have to be the location of the first proletarian revolution. For this reason, Leninism places an exceptionally strong emphasis on the struggle against imperialism.

War is generally seen as a method of furthering imperialist interests, which is why Marxists generally see antimilitarism and opposition to 'capitalist wars' as an integral part of anti-imperialism. The relationship of Marxists and other radical left-wing groups with anti-war movements often involves them trying to convince other activists to turn pacifism into anti-imperialism - that is, to move from a general opposition to war towards a condemnation of the economic system that is seen as driving wars (or from pacifism to specific anti-imperialist antimilitarism).

The Soviet Union, which claimed to follow Marxism, also claimed to be the foremost enemy of imperialism and supported many independence movements throughout the Third World. However, at the same time, it can also be argued that it was imperialist, as it asserted its dominance over the countries of Eastern Europe. This has led many to accuse the Soviet Union of hypocrisy, and it is often used as an argument for the idea that the Soviet Union did not, in fact, follow Marxist principles, or alternatively, for example by anarchists, as an argument for the failure of Marxism as a solution to imperialism.

The term "anti-imperialism" is today most commonly used by Marxists and those with closely similar ideas (anti-capitalism, a class analysis of society). Others who might be accurately described as anti-imperialists, and who would probably accept the description, nevertheless tend to use different terminology.

Postcolonialism, postmodernism and anti-imperialism

Postmodernists generally challenge the notion that imperialism is primarily economic and place a greater stress on cultural and social exploitation. Originating in continental Europe in the mid 1900s postmodernists emphasise the essentially pluralistic nature of society as people move away from a dependency on manufacturing and industry for economic and social status. (Heywood, 2004). This shift in focus is a reason for praise from scholars as it gives a 'respect for difference', incorporating the views of the population on the ground often overlooked by other theorists (Griffiths and O'Callaghan, 2004). They thus argue that anti-imperialism must involve the promotion of non-dominant cultures as well as non-dominant economic interests.

Postcolonialism is the term, and Postcolonial Studies the field, most often associated with this postmodernist anti-imperialism. A number of other approaches fall under the category of critical international relations theory. Postcolonialism itself stems from the prevalent European nationalism that stimulated the empire building of the 1800s by European powers such as the British, French and Dutch. A strong sense of nationalism, combined with the prevalent economic, political and cultural conditions in the newly independent countries after the imperial powers withdrew often pushed the agenda of anti-colonialism and imperialism, with a strong anti-western, pro-socialist slant (Heywood, 2004). The notion of a postcolonial approach to development and political growth has been popular amongst developing countries and often used by academics as it offers an alternative viewpoint to what are often Eurocentric political theories.

Authors often associated with postcolonialism include Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak. Postmodernists outside that field who could be described as anti-imperialists include Judith Butler and James Der Derian.

Sustainable development advocates and related academic disciplines such as anthropology and ecology as well as linguistics are also opposed in principle to imperialism because it violates the principles of diversity -- human diversity/cultural diversity and bio-diversity -- that are viewed as essential to human survival on the planet. Imperialism is seen as destroying natural processes of evolution and adaptation and reducing the entropy of systems, thus making it more likely for civilizations to collapse and for massive losses to ensue. Several disciplines have also moved towards imperial studies as a way of understanding modern phenomenon.

Some prominent organizational and advocates of cultural and bio-logical diversity who note the threats from empire are Cultural Survival, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Terralingua and scholars such as Michael Krauss, Joseph Tainter and David Lempert.

Feminism and anti-imperialism

Feminist theories of international relations often fall under the category of anti-imperialism. They may draw a connection between sexism or patriarchy and war and hegemony in any of several ways, for example: a link between the idea of masculinity and the drive towards war; a theory of the way the self and the other are constructed which ties allegedly sexist modern Western notions of male and female to allegedly racist, colonialist modern Western notions of the nation-state and the alien; a location of the cause of the alleged failure of government officials to attempt seriously to resolve conflicts peacefully or consider others' perspectives in an ideology which derides the supposedly feminine qualities of love, empathy, and surrender. J. Ann Tickner and Cynthia Enloe are well-known writers in this field. bell hooks also discusses this philosophy, especially in its relation to the lives and stereotypes of black males.

"Right-wing" anti-imperialism

There is a fairly strict division between "right-wing" anti-imperialism within powerful countries and that within their weaker clients or opponents, resulting from the fact that most right-leaning opponents of imperialism remain ideologically attached to their own nation or people.

Modern lines of thought within allegedly imperialist powers that are arguably both "right-wing" and "anti-imperialist" tend to divide into two general strains, Libertarianism and Paleoconservatism. The latter, prominently represented by Andrew Bacevich and Patrick Buchanan, is differentiated from the former, prominently represented by Justin Raimondo and Ron Paul, by an association with social conservatism. Both are more influential within the United States than outside it, and both tend to see imperialism as in neither the best interests nor the real traditions of their country, giving them an ideological continuity with isolationism.

Right-wing nationalisms and religious fundamentalist movements that have emerged in reaction to alleged imperialism might also fall within this category; for example, Khomeinism historically derived much of its popularity from its appeal to widespread anger at American intervention or influence in Iran and the Middle East.

See also

Notes

References

  • Griffiths, M. and O'Callaghan, T. 2004. International Relations: The Key Concepts Routledge
  • Heywood, C. 2004. Political Theory: An Introduction New York: Palgrave MacMillan
  • Harrington, Fred. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 22, No. 2. (Sep., 1935), pp. 211-230.

Further reading

Anti-Imperialism: A Guide for the Movement, Tariq Ali, George Monbiot, Tony Benn, Louise Christian et al, ISBN 1-898876-96-7

Globalisation Unmasked: Imperialism in the 21st Century, James Petras, Henry Veltmeyer, ISBN 1-85649-939-1

A selection of anti-imperialist books

The Anti-Imperialists, A Web based guide to American Anti-Imperialism

External links

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