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Imperialism - Wars Without End

by Alistar Tice

SOCIALISTS SAY that the world's mightiest power, the USA, has been fighting a war in Afghanistan to defend imperialist interests. But what is imperialism? And how, in a world with few direct colonies, do its needs still dominate the world? Alistar Tice explains.

There were empires long before capitalism. Ancient Greek and Roman troops conquered land, enslaved foreign peoples and amassed wealth for their slave-owning ruling class. Feudal societies seized new territories, e.g. in the 'crusades' against the Arabs of the Middle East.

The conquistadors annexed Latin America for the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Their looting of Aztec and Inca treasures contributed to the primitive accumulation of capital (start-up money) that led to capitalism's birth.

So how does modern imperialism differ? As industrial production became bigger and more concentrated, the so-called free competition of early capitalism gave way to the growth of monopolies.
With ever more money needed for investment, the banks were transformed into decisive financial institutions which determined credit and loans to even the biggest companies and so came to dominate the economy.

Meanwhile capitalism, first in Britain then in Europe and America, outgrew the limits of its own home market. Because capitalists make profits by paying workers less than the full value their labour creates, over time workers cannot afford to buy back all the goods they produce. The capitalists are then forced to find new markets, and sources of raw materials and cheap labour.

In the late 19th century, a handful of advanced capitalist nations mobilised armies and missionaries to colonise most of the world, through the "scramble for Africa" and by taking over such 'virgin' territories as Canada. Such 'civilisation' came at an enormous cost to millions of native peoples: genocide, war, disease, enslavement and exploitation.
As monopoly finance capital grew, the export of surplus commodities was superseded by the export of capital - not 'aid' to help colonial peoples, but "surplus". money that couldn't be profitably invested at home but could make bigger profits through investments and loans abroad.

By 1889, Britain was the biggest trading country in the world but its income from finance capital invested abroad was five times greater than that from foreign trade!

Imperialism represents a specific stage of capitalism - the domination of monopoly finance capital, the export of capital, and the carving-up of the world between a few major capitalist powers, for spheres of influence to profit from markets, raw materials and cheap labour.

World wars

By the 1900s, little of the globe remained to be colonised: Britain, France and Germany had conquered 81% of the colonial world. So competing imperialist powers came into conflict over re-dividing the world.

Older British industry was challenged by Germany's rising, more modern industry, which could only expand at the expense of rival imperialist interests, leading to the First World War which slaughtered some 26 million people.

Far from being "a war to end all wars", the uneasy truce after 1918 was shattered by the 1930s Great Depression which intensified trade rivalries, and the rise of fascism which needed military expansion to sustain itself. This inevitably led to the Second World War when up to 60 million perished.

If a third world war has been avoided since, it is only because during the fifty-year Cold War between Western imperialism (led by the USA) and Stalinist Russia nuclear weapons were developed which could ensure the 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (MAD) of both sides!

Instead, the biggest arms race in history occurred. The superpowers vied for spheres of influence in regional proxy wars in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

After 1945, the world hardly experienced one day of peace and the number of armed conflicts grew to over 60 in the 1990s. The 20th century, imperialism's century, is the bloodiest in history, with up to 200 million killed in wars.

But the oppression of direct political, and often military, rule by imperialist powers, aroused the multi-millioned masses of the colonies. From the 1940s, anti-imperialist struggles and national liberation movements developed throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Faced with these colonial revolts, it was increasingly costly, both economically and politically, for imperialism to maintain direct colonial rule.

So in many countries, after the war, imperialism beat a tactical retreat and granted formal independence to their ex-colonies, although leaving a bloody legacy of war (Vietnam, Angola and Mozambique) and divide and rule as in the partition of India/Pakistan and Palestine/Israel.


However, Imperialism did not relinquish its indirect, but no less oppressive, economic domination. In fact, imperialist economic exploitation (called neo-colonialism) has intensified since independence, not lessened.

Ex-colonies are still forced to produce one or two crops (cash crops) or minerals for export to the imperialist economies. 60% of the under-developed nations' export earnings come from just 18 raw materials! So, with a few favoured exceptions such as the Asian Tigers, the poorest countries cannot develop their own industries or compete with the West, so continuing their dependence.

Likewise, imperialism dictates the terms of trade. The prices paid by the West for raw materials in no way match the prices which the Third World pays for the manufactured goods sold back. Even oil, over which the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) exercise some control, would need to sell at nearly $100 a barrel just to match its 1950 price level!

As raw material prices have fallen, so has the Third World's share of world trade. Africa with 10% of the world's population accounts for less than 2% of world trade.

Over the last twenty years the chains of Third World 'debt' have been forged. After 1973, billions of dollars of oil money, recycled through Western banks, were loaned to the 'developing' countries. But interest rates soared in the early 1980s, leading to crippling Third World debts, now totalling $2,5 trillion.

The price of 'rescue' by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank is "structural adjustment" ie deregulation, privatisation and deeper exploitation of these economies by Western banks and corporations.

Now, in a 'bloodsucking' twist to imperialism, there is actually a net export of capital from the underdeveloped to the imperialist nations - the Third World pays back more in debt repayments than it receives in 'aid' and investments!

Globalisation and imperialism

The collapse of Stalinist Russia in 1989 left US imperialism as the world's only economic and military superpower. The capitalists' representatives then launched an ideological offensive removing the last vestiges of opposition to their neo-liberal policies from workers' parties and Third World leaders alike.

Coupled with the deregulation of the financial markets in the 80s and new technology industries, this gave a huge impetus to the globalisation process.

Neo-liberal policies, backed up by the capitalists' world institutions (IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisation) have increased Western monopoly corporations' domination of the world economy.

Today, just 300 multinationals and big banks account for 70% of all foreign direct investment. The 100 biggest companies now control 70% of world trade. And the fifty largest banks and financial companies control 60% of all global capital!

But this globalisation has only intensified the contradictions of capitalism and is now sucking the whole world economy into a synchronised recession.

Likewise, George Bush senior's declaration in 1991 after the Gulf War, of a "New World Order" dominated by US imperialism, has brought no peace or stability to the world. Far from it.

The legacies of past imperialist policies (as in the Middle East and the Balkans), exacerbated by globalised exploitation of the world's poorest countries, has led to three imperialist wars of intervention (Iraq, Serbia and Afghanistan) since 1991.

Imperialist adventures aren't always just to gain or defend profit opportunities. US imperialism attacked Afghanistan to avenge the blow to US prestige after the 11 September atrocities. But America's economic dominance ultimately relies on US military muscle to maintain its power and maximise its profits.

Imperialism truly does mean 'wars without end'. We must build a mass movement, not just against current wars, but to end all wars, by overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist world.
Egungun, Egungun ni t'aiye ati jo! Ancestos, Ancestors come to earth and dance! "I'm sick of the war and the civilization that created it. Let's look to our dreams, and the magical; to the creations of the so-called primitive peoples for new inspirations." - Jaques Vache and Andre Breton "Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone." -John Maynard "You know that in our country there were even matriarchal societies where women were the most important element. On the Bijagos islands they had queens. They were not queens because they were the daughters of kings. They had queens succeeding queens. The religious leaders were women too..." -- Amilcar Cabral, Return to the Source, 1973
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Central Africa, a catastrophe created by capitalism
2 December 1996

By the Editorial Board

The impoverished states of Central Africa have once again become the scene of terrible human suffering. Barely two years after the slaughter in Rwanda claimed more than 1 million lives, new scenes of hunger, disease and mass flight are being broadcast around the world.

Thousands have already died in the chaotic exodus across the borders of Zaire and Rwanda. Countless children have been separated from their parents. Hundreds of thousands of people still remain unaccounted for.

As terrible as it is, the situation on the Zaire-Rwanda border is neither unique nor isolated. All of sub-Saharan Africa is beset by starvation, disease and warfare. Almost one-third of the region's population-- 170 million people--lack adequate food. More than 10 million are infected with HIV/AIDS. Life expectancy for the region, already declining, is expected to fall to 47 by the year 2000.

Forty years after formal independence for Europe's colonies in Africa, conditions for the masses of people are worse than at any time in the continent's history. In Africa, multinational capital has perfected a system for sucking out the resources of the continent at the expense of its inhabitants.

The response of the major capitalist powers to the latest catastrophe in Africa is the preparation of a military force to carry out yet another so-called humanitarian mission. But any military intervention in Zaire will have as its basic aim the maintenance of the imperialist status quo, which is responsible for the worsening human tragedy.

Imperialism's humanitarian pretensions were exposed at the United Nations World Food Summit held in the midst of the Central African crisis. After reporting that 840 million human beings suffer from hunger, with 1 million people starving to death every month, the summit could only bring itself to adopt a goal of cutting this number in half over the next 20 years. Thus the best capitalism can aim for by the second decade of the twenty-first century is 420 million starving people. Even this miserable pledge is meaningless, as there are no plans to devote new resources to feeding the hungry.

The US delegation distinguished itself as the most cold-blooded defender of the prerogatives of capital, insisting on the deletion of a clause in the summit's draft statement which asserted the right of every human being to have adequate food.

Legacy of colonialism
The present crisis in Africa is the legacy of centuries of pillage, beginning with the slave trade and continuing through the colonial conquest and partition carried out by British, French, Belgian, Italian and German imperialism.

In Rwanda and Burundi, German and then Belgian capital subjected the population to brutal exploitation, while imposing rigid distinctions between the Tutsi and Hutu populations as a means of dividing and ruling these territories. Similar divisions were created in every other colony. This is the true source of the "tribalism" that is habitually invoked by the media as an explanation for Africa's conflicts.

Formal independence was granted to these countries in the 1950s and 1960s, initiating a new system of semicolonial enslavement. Mediated through the new nationalist regimes and institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations, the extraction of wealth by the major capitalist powers continued unabated.

The African nationalists who came to power on a wave of popular struggle sought not the liberation of the masses from exploitation and oppression, but the transfer of power from the European colonialists to aspiring indigenous capitalist elites.

While advancing such slogans as "African socialism" and "negritude," these new regimes accepted the essential economic and political framework imposed by colonialism. They insisted on the inviolability of the old borders set by the colonial powers in their scramble for control of Africa. These frontiers corresponded neither to natural boundaries nor the homelands of linguistic or ethnic groups.

Africa thus emerged as more than 60 separate states, none of which possessed the productive forces to compete successfully on the capitalist world market. For a period in the 1960s expanding world trade gave these regimes a limited ability to raise living standards through national development schemes. But the intensification of capitalist crisis in the 1970s posed insurmountable barriers to this path, in the form of a downward spiral in the market price of exports and increasing indebtedness.

World imperialism has continued to draw the wealth out of Africa while paying less and less in return. Multinational corporations now control about 80 percent of Africa's trade in the mineral and agricultural raw materials that make up the bulk of its exports. They have continued to drive down prices on the world market. In the 1980s alone, falling commodity prices reduced Africa's real income by more than one-third.

Africa's debt crisis
Ever greater levels of scarce resources are siphoned off directly by the Western banks in the form of debt payments. Between 1990 and 1993, sub-Saharan Africa paid out $13 billion a year just to meet interest and service fees on its debt to the international banks. This figure amounts to far more than the total which all the governments of the region spend on education and health.

Still these countries fall further and further into debt. As a recent UN report pointed out, the amount of money extracted from sub-Saharan Africa by banks based in New York, London, Tokyo and Frankfurt could assure the people of the region universal access to nutrition, education and health care.

To insure that the African states meet their debt payments, the International Monetary Fund and similar agencies have imposed "structural adjustment programs" throughout the continent. These plans demand belt-tightening in countries where, in many cases, per capita income barely rises above $150 a year.

In a region of raging epidemics and just one doctor for every 18,000 people, the IMF prescribes the slashing of spending on health care. It demands the cutting of agricultural subsidies and the shifting of the few available resources to the cultivation of export crops, which cannot feed the population. African governments are told to devalue their currencies in order to further reduce the cost of exports and increase that of needed imports, such as medicine and machinery.

With development stymied, Africa's political life has increasingly become dominated by a violent struggle between rival regional or ethnic-based cliques for control of the central state, the army, sources of foreign aid and the surplus extracted from impoverished rural populations.

Washington and Zaire
US capitalism bears direct responsibility for the unfolding catastrophe. Zaire's dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was installed through a CIA-backed coup in 1965, four years after Washington organized the assassination of the left-wing nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba. For nearly three decades, the Mobutu dictatorship functioned as the principal US client regime and an instrument of the Cold War in Africa.

Zaire served as a base of operations for counterrevolutionary interventions and proxy wars that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Angola, Mozambique and elsewhere. The US funneled in hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic aid, much of which went straight into Mobutu's personal bank accounts.

With the end of the Cold War, US imperialism viewed Mobutu as more of a liability than an asset. Washington suddenly "discovered" that its longtime client was a tyrant and a crook, and used this as a pretext for cutting off aid to Zaire. Despite rich reserves of diamonds, copper and cobalt, the country has become one of the poorest nations on earth, with an annual per capita income of just $117. Three-quarters of its roads are impassable and the total national budget is $350 million, less than that of most major US cities.

The rivalry between the major imperialist powers--particularly the US and France--over who will dominate Africa has revived following the Cold War. This rivalry has served to exacerbate the conflicts within each country. Rwanda has accused France of rearming the Hutu militias in exile and seeking a military intervention to defend the Mobutu regime in Zaire. Mobutu has charged the US, which has thus far resisted a major intervention, with backing Rwanda and arming the Tutsi rebels in Zaire.

In Africa one sees in their most extreme forms the deprivation and social inequality which capitalism has produced worldwide. A United Nations report released earlier this year revealed that over the past 30 years, the share of global income going to the poorest 20 percent of the world's population-- 1 billion people--has been cut nearly in half, while the richest 20 percent recorded gains of up to 85 percent. The wealth held by the world's richest 358 people is equal to the combined income of the poorest 45 percent of mankind--2.3 billion people.

The catastrophe in Central Africa is a stark warning of the horrors which capitalism is preparing to inflict upon all of mankind. In south Asia as well, hundreds of millions are without adequate food, shelter or access to clean water. In the former Soviet Union, capitalist restoration has increased the number of people living below the poverty line by 300 percent. And, as the former Yugoslavia as demonstrated, there is nothing uniquely "African" about the disintegration of national borders and the eruption of civil war between different ethnic populations.

The events in Africa have demonstrated the fallacy of the claims made after World War II that capitalism and its nation-state system could provide a path of independent development for the masses in the former colonial countries. Only the working class can provide a way forward, by taking Africa's productive forces out of the hands of foreign and native capital and uniting its forces across the boundaries set by colonialism.

Freed from the oppression of finance capital and the machinations of bourgeois nationalist ruling cliques, the workers and oppressed of Africa, with the aid and collaboration of the workers of the world, could mobilize the full potential of the continent's rich natural resources and establish decent conditions of life for all.

The struggling masses of Africa and working people worldwide must counter the inhuman conditions being created by the profit system by building a new worldwide movement based on the perspective of international socialism.
Originally posted by Oshun Auset:
Pan-Africanism as defined by the 5th Pan-African congress: the total liberation and unification of Africa under scientific-socialism.

Do they say any more about the particular socialist tradition? The "scientific" adjective suggests a Marxist lineage; but as you know there are numerous schools: Leninist, Trotskyist, Bernsteinist, Stalinist, Councilist, and Gramscian just to name a few. Is there a particular tradition that Pan-Africanist favor? If not these, can you point to specific texts or individuals.

From a card carrying member of the DSA -Democratic Socialist of America. Smile
Originally posted by blaqfist:
Power Corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutley... (Don't know who I should give credit to for this)

But I believe it is the truth..
Regardless of the "model", power can be used for good & bad.

I am growing skeptical of all forms of government as I grow older..

Understandable...that is why we need democratic centralism via the masses. Power to the PEOPLE...not a political oligarchy or dictator.
Originally posted by kresge:
Originally posted by Oshun Auset:
Pan-Africanism as defined by the 5th Pan-African congress: the total liberation and unification of Africa under scientific-socialism.

Do they say any more about the particular socialist tradition? The "scientific" adjective suggests a Marxist lineage; but as you know there are numerous schools: Leninist, Trotskyist, Bernsteinist, Stalinist, Councilist, and Gramscian just to name a few. Is there a particular tradition that Pan-Africanist favor? If not these, can you point to specific texts or individuals.

From a card carrying member of the DSA -Democratic Socialist of America. Smile

Greetings Cadre Kresge! Big Grin

No problem,


a.k.a the ideology based upon the works and struggles of Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Ture(Toure).

Here are some sites than go into further detail...

A Luta Continua...
Originally posted by Nmaginate:

Do you have a more detailed breakdown or examples of "scientific socialism"?

How about extractions from indigenous (older) African models (of communitarianism)?

Yes, but they are in paper form. You'd have to come to an AAPR-P meeting to get that info.(this is a chea shot at It would be a huge amount of info for me to type. And to leave some info out wouldn't do it justice. Unfortunately a lot of the books on the subject are out of print or basically banned in the U.S.(unoficially of course)...So we have "undergroud" ways of getting the material.

If I have time one day I'll tyoe some of it up on the forum.
Commutarian governments really only work well in small settings.

You don't need Socialism and destruction of economic freedom to defeat the evils of the World Bank and other neo-colonilastic powers. A simple seperation of corporation and state like the seperation of church and state is mostly what is needed. A push to make governments adopt the policy of business ethics, where they refuse to allow businesses that engage in highly unethical practices to practice in or with their country.

Seperate corporate interests from the government and you can have rigorous investigation that would clean up the corporate world real quick. Coca-Cola is hiring mercenaries to keep union membership low in Colombia? Well they can't do business with us anymore. World Bank demanding more money in interest then is given in aid to the Third World? You're no longer welcome in America.

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