- Created: Wednesday, 17 February 2010 13:00
British imperialism is moving into a deeper and deeper crisis. This finds its most striking expression in 1) the war in Ireland 2) the imperialists’ attempt to defeat the liberation movement in Zimbabwe and to prop up the racist regime in South Africa 3) the racist offensive against black people in this country 4) the attacks on working class living standards, in particular the offensive against the public sector.
What distinguishes all these features of crisis is that they are all direct attacks on the oppressed. British imperialism is fighting for its survival. In Ireland the British state has waged a long and bloody war against the republican population and the Provisional Republican movement. It has failed to defeat the movement or to suppress the nationalist population. In Zimbabwe and South Africa British imperialism is fighting desperately to maintain its power over these nations by support for the white racist regimes and their puppets in power. The liberation movements in these countries are fighting a war against British imperialism and its allies, and they are winning.
In the heartland of British imperialism the state has launched a massive offensive against black people. The British state requires immigration laws, Sus laws, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and all other means of violence and terror it can lay its hands on, to harass and intimidate the black and Irish population in Britain. It requires this savage offensive of necessity for its own continued existence. The assaults on the public sector, in particular on health and education, are yet another feature of this savagery. Again it is black, Irish and women workers who are a large proportion of those fighting to keep their jobs, and it is black, Irish and women workers who are swelling the ranks of the unemployed. It is the poorest and most oppressed sections of the working class who will suffer from barbaric health care facilities, poor education and reduced Social Security benefits whilst the British state labels them as scroungers. But black and Irish people, the oppressed in Britain, have made it clear they are not going to sit back whilst the state carries out its vicious attack. They are going to fight alongside the liberation movements in the oppressed nations in order to defeat the British imperialist state.
The imperialist offensive and the resulting resistance of the oppressed make it clearer by the day that there are only two sides in this struggle. To side completely and unequivocally with the oppressed or take the side of the imperialist butchers and their allies. There is no longer a fence to sit on.
In the face if this the labour movement has failed to come to the aid of the oppressed. The last Labour Government continuously attacked the oppressed in Ireland, South Africa and Britain. The trade union leadership openly collaborates with British imperialism. It is clear that a movement is needed in Britain which can win the working class to the side of the oppressed. It is equally clear that the British petit bourgeois left is a major obstacle to the building of such an anti-imperialist movement.
Which side for the British petit bourgeois left?
The response of the petit bourgeois left to the movement fighting imperialism and the British state is a ceaseless attack on all liberation movement which have taken up arms to defend themselves. We can examine their record.
To the heroic struggle waged by the Republican Movement the British petit bourgeois left has present a common front of abuse and hostility.
The Socialist Workers Party says
‘There are two organisations of Provisionals – the leaders full of their own bullshit and political gamesmanship, cut off from reality, never grasping the real initiative, their forms of organisation (road blocks, searches, military offensives) a carbon copy of the methods of the British state…’
(Socialist Worker 23 June 1979)
The Communist Party, commenting on the execution of Mountbatten and 18 British soldiers said
‘The horrible tragedy of the Provisional IRA campaign is that yesterday’s killings will do nothing to help the work of those seeking to end progressive legislation and the violence that it creates.’
(Morning Star 28 August 1979)
Scared witless by the victories of the oppressed, the CP wishes that British rule could be more democratic.
The International Marxist Group says
‘The only quarrel we would have with the IRA is that force is not just a matter of guns – there is also the force that arises out of the mass mobilisations of the population on the streets. It is the latter type of force that will finally be decisive in the North of Ireland.’
(Socialist Challenge 11 October 1979)
The IMG, which can scarcely mobilise its own membership for a demonstration against British rule in Ireland, has the temerity to criticise a movement which has fought for a decade against British imperialism with the nationalist population.
South Africa and Zimbabwe
The same disgusting attitude is displayed in the petit bourgeois left’s treatment of the liberation movements in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The SWP says
‘The struggle for national liberation in South Africa requires critical examination and indeed we would argue, the rejection of the ideology which has given rise to that struggle – African nationalism.’
‘the leadership of the national liberation movement including the ANC have typically been petit bourgeois both in social position and in ideology.’
(Southern Africa after Soweto p195, 210)
The IMG says
‘The ANC has long been dominated by the South African Communist Party – one of the largest pro-Moscow CPs. The SACP leadership of the ANC has advocated a blind reliance on a strategy of guerrilla warfare based on the peasantry and the rural landless rather than the million-strong urban working class. Its petty bourgeois leadership this tends to reflect the demands of the black middle class for property ownership and the employment opportunities denied to them by white supremacy – implying simply an end to this rule.’
(Socialist Challenge 28 June 1979)
These organisations, themselves composed of serried ranks of teachers, social workers, students etc, dare to say this to movements which have the support of millions of the most poverty stricken people in the world. Let us not forget that thousands of these freedom fighters are dying in the fight against British imperialism whilst the British petit bourgeois left writes its pages of criticism.
The anti-racist struggle
On 24 September 1978 the ANL refused to ‘divert’ its anti-fascist carnival to defend Brick Lane from attack by the National Front and the police.
The SWP said
‘The result [of diverting the carnival to Brick Lane] would have been 1) the disintegration of the ANL 2) The realisation that even such a movement on the empty streets of the City of London facing 8,000 police might not have broken through and beaten the Nazi marches.
(Socialist Worker 30 September 1978)
The IMG said
‘Already some of the spokespersons of the Hackney and Tower Hamlets Defence Committee have called for a state ban on the NF march. This goes hand in hand with a call to divert the whole carnival – a gigantic substitution for the fact that the Asian community in the East End itself, despite the progress that has been made, is not yet committed to defending itself with the support the support of anti-racists and the labour movement at large.’
(Socialist Challenge leaflet ‘Unity for Mass Action only way to Build Self Defence’. Our emphasis)
What a slander! April 23 in Southall showed that black people are ready to defend themselves from attack. And when they did – what did the petit bourgeois left say?
‘But the impatience of the young black lions is overwhelming. They attack a bus and clashes with police follow. Walls are knocked down and bricks are used as missiles. It is a big mistake born of anger and frustration and as the day evolves everyone will realise it this so.’
(Socialist Challenge 26 April 1979)
And the CP
‘Of course racism will never be defeated by throwing stones at policemen. Squalid little street fights with the police are no answer to the problem.
(Morning Star 24 April 1979)
This is the record of the British petit bourgeois left. When the Republican Movement and the Irish people take up arms to defend themselves from British terror the left points its little finger of criticism. They try to create a split between the republican population and its organised movement – a split which even the British bourgeoisie has recently admitted does not exist. In Zimbabwe and South Africa the thousands of freedom fighters and their leaders are labelled as petit bourgeois because they have been forced to take up arms to defend themselves. On 24 September 1978 when the NF and the police attacked Brick Lane, the petit bourgeois left was more anxious to snuggle up to the pro-imperialist Labour Party than to support in practice the defence of the Asian community. At the Southall when the blacks used bricks and stones to defend themselves against the onslaught of the police they were chastised by the left for ‘squalid street fighting’.
The British petit bourgeois left has consistently taken the side of imperialism by criticising those who take up arms in their struggle – those who meet the ruthless violence of imperialism with self defence. Why does it do this? Why has it chosen the side of the bourgeoisie?
Imperialism and the Labour Aristocracy
Imperialism is at the root of racism in this country. It divides the world into oppressed and oppressor nations. In the last ten years, because of the crisis it faces at home, British imperialism has strengthened its stranglehold on oppressed nations. Exploitation and brutality have increased in order to maintain and expand the superprofits which Britain reaps from this oppression. Throughout the post war boom, founded on the defeats of the working class, the British imperialist state has plundered the oppressed nations and enforced poverty and starvation on the oppressed masses. At home the state has ensured that the most oppressed sections of the working class, including the immigrant labour from oppressed nations, are kept at the minimum level for existence.
The post war boom was nurtured on this pillage. From this has grown – on the one hand a privileged layer in the working class – the labour aristocracy – which benefits from the super exploitation of the oppressed; which now dominates the British labour movement and ties it to imperialism. This stratum expresses itself politically in the Labour Party and trade union leadership. And on the other hand the liberation movements of the oppressed, who by their heroic struggles are forming the vanguard of the struggle for socialism.
The British petit bourgeois left is drawn from the relatively privileged layers – the new petit bourgeoisie – created during the post war boom on the backs of the oppressed. They have benefitted from the relative ‘democracy’ and peace in Britain of the post war boom which was paid for by brutality in the oppressed nations. Their privileges depend on the maintenance of the British imperialist state. This layer is against violence which challenges imperialism and also what it regards as the excesses of imperialism which ‘unnecessarily’ provoke the violence of the oppressed.
Their privileged status leads them to believe that imperialism need not be violent, that a Bill of Rights can settle the Irish war, that the British state can act in a democratic fashion for the benefit of all classes by disbanding the SPG, by introducing non-racist immigration controls. They are frightened of the revolutionary violence of the oppressed because it challenges imperialism which is the basis of their secure and privileged existence.
The privileged position of this layer and their desperation to preserve this position, explains the alliance they seek with the labour aristocracy and the liberal sections of the bourgeoisie. These petit bourgeois groups whilst attacking the liberation movements for not being ‘socialist’ enough in their fight against imperialism, called for support for the Labour Party in the General Election – a party which has consistently and viciously attacked the oppressed at home and abroad. They have one standard for the oppressed and another for themselves and their imperialist allies. They are highly critical of the revolutionary violence and socialism of the oppressed and on the other hand they make an alliance with racist sections of the bourgeoisie.
The anti-imperialist vanguard
Unlike the petit bourgeois left the oppressed, black and Irish, have no illusions in the neutrality of the British state. They know that it cannot and will not act in their interests. They have learnt through the experience of their daily lives, at Southall, at Grunwicks, on Bloody Sunday, during ten years of war in Ireland, that the British state will respond to their peaceful demonstrations for democracy with unfettered violence. They have learnt that their only defence is to fight back, for unlike the petit bourgeois left they have nothing to lose. Black people do not see the war being waged in Ireland as a struggle for peace and democracy by the British army against a handful of psychopathic terrorists. They recognise the British state as an imperialist state which serves up only imperialist justice against the oppressed. They have the evidence, Southall, deportations of so-called illegal immigrants, police brutality against black people.
Because of this experience black and Irish people are the key to the development of an anti-imperialist revolutionary movement and the revolutionary vanguard in Britain. By their agitation and resistance they will draw other sections of the working class to the anti-imperialist struggle. Only their struggle can begin to unify the working class against imperialism and against the pro-imperialist anti-working class sections of the British labour movement.
The British imperialist state fears the success of the liberation movements in oppressed nations. In Ireland, Zimbabwe and South Africa these heroic struggles undermine British imperialism, and the British state recognises the threat which these movements pose: that its position and credibility in the world is weakened if it cannot maintain its own power over these nations.
How terrified, therefore, must they be of the prospect of an anti-imperialist movement in this country, which will not only offer the movements in the oppressed nations complete and unceasing support, but also threaten imperialism at home. The movement in the oppressed nations are weakening imperialism, the movement in this country in unity with these struggles will deal the death blow to the monster.
No we can see the real role of the petit bourgeois left. They too fear the development of such a movement which will deny them their privileged existence and will expose their alliance with imperialism. They seek therefore to weaken and isolate the vanguard by maintaining the divisions in the working class, by denying the experience of the oppressed, by maintaining that imperialism can be pacified. They seek to prevent the vanguard from drawing the whole working class to the anti-imperialist movement.
The RCG is committed to complete, unconditional support of the oppressed and the vanguard and we support their right to defend themselves by any means they choose. We place ourselves alongside the oppressed in their struggles whatever the consequences for us from the British imperialist state. We know that this state will try everything in its power to prevent the anti-imperialist movement from developing. Hands Off Ireland! (bulletin of the RCG) has consistently defended the Republican movement and the Irish people in their struggle for self-determination. In that struggle Hands Off Ireland! supporters have been arrested, our meetings attacked and banned, and our sellers harassed on the streets. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! will consistently take the side of black people and all liberation movements of the oppressed in their struggles. We recognise the dangers which the opportunists in the labour movement and the petit bourgeois left present to the vanguard. In order to protect their own interests they will try to isolate the vanguard of black and Irish people from the working class as a whole. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! will expose the opportunists and prevent them for sabotaging the building of a revolutionary anti-imperialist movement in this country.
FRFI 1 November / December 1979