XI. Revisionist Whitewashing: When the Category “Imperialism” has no Meaning (CWI / IMT / IST)





Let us move now to the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), whose dominant section is the Socialist Party in Britain. This organization is certainly one of those groups which throughout their whole history were struggling with theory in general and Marxist theory in particular. In the 1990s and the 2000s it was discussing if capitalism finally had been restored in China or if it is still a deformed workers state. While this issue seems to be solved by now, the CWI has no clear line on the question if Russia and China are imperialist or not.


On one hand, this or that national section occasionally publishes articles which designate these two Great Powers as imperialist. The Russian section of the CWI has characterized “its” state as “imperialist” on several occasions. Likewise, its comrades in Hong Kong have published recently an article with a correct assessment of China and its Belt and Road Initiative: “In reality, however, the BRI is an expression of the explosive emergence of China as a new global imperialist power vying with its older rivals, chiefly the US, to secure spheres of economic influence and control.[1]


However, the CWI has rather a federalist approach on such theoretical issues. So the Russian or Chinese comrades are free to publish such characterizations if they like, but this has no meaning for the CWI as a whole. Such characterizations of Russia or Chinas an imperialist power by individual comrades or sections are not reflected in any way in the international theoretical and programmatic documents of the CWI and don’t influence their analysis of the world relations.




CWI: “Forgetting” about Russia’s or China’s Imperialist Character?




This becomes obvious when we look at the most comprehensive analytical documents of the CWI on the world situation of the last years. We are talking about the World Perspective documents which have been discussed and adopted either by the CWI World Congress or by its highest leadership body (the International Executive Committee or the International Secretariat). [2] In the five World Perspectives documents which the CWI has published since 2011, with a combined length of nearly 68,000 words, China is not characterized a single time as “imperialist”. And only one of those five documents talks twice about “imperialist interests” of Russia. (More on this below) At the same time, the CWI talks in these documents extensively about US and European imperialism.


This failure to understand the class character of the Great Powers which are dominating world capitalism is also reflected in the CWI’s analysis of flashpoints of the world situation. When Russia and the U.S. nearly clashed on Syria in April 2018, the relevant CWI article repeatedly attacked U.S. and Western imperialism by name, but failed to mention a single time that Russia is an imperialist power too! [3]


This fundamental failure to comprehend the class character of the Great Power dominating the world situation is accompanied by a superficial and confusing use of the category of “imperialist interests”. As mentioned above, the CWI occasionally talks about “imperialist interests” of Russia. However, this rather reflects their indifference to central categories of Marxist theory. They use such categories also for countries which are clearly no imperialist powers but rather semi-colonies. In their World Perspectives document adopted in December 2014, for example, the CWI speaks about the “regional imperialist reasons” of the Turkish president Erdoğan. [4]


Such confusion is not accidental but reflects the fundamental failure of the CWI throughout its history to understand Lenin’s theory of imperialism. As we have demonstrated in our book The Great Robbery of the South the CWI repeatedly confusingly applied the category of imperialism, usually in order to justify its opportunist adaption to social-imperialist forces. Hence, for example, the CWI suggested that Argentina would be a kind of imperialist state which, conveniently, helped their leadership to justify its capitulation to British imperialism during the Malvinas war in 1982. Likewise, they flirted with the idea of designating Iraq as imperialist in 1990/91 when the Western imperialist powers where assembling their forces to attack this Arab country. [5] Another example of the CWI’s adaption to social-imperialism is their support for the Zionist settler state Israel's right to exist. [6] Finally, in our opinion, the article on China mentioned above is mistaken to characterize India as “a rival Asian imperialist power”. [7]




IMT: A purely formal Recognition of Russia and China as Great Powers




The situation is similar with the International Marxist Tendency (IMT). If we take the central analytical and programmatic documents of this organization, we effectively get the same picture as with the CWI. The IMT has published three lengthy World Perspective documents since 2014 (plus an update) with a combined length of nearly 78,000 words. [8] Like their former comrades, the IMT talks incessantly about U.S. and European imperialism (like the CWI they tend to “forget” about Japan which is a result of their Europe-centeredness). But, again, not a single time do they characterize China or Russia as imperialist in these lengthy documents! This demonstrates that a formal recognition of Russia and China as Great Powers has no consequences for the IMT’s analysis of the world situation and the dynamic of the global contradictions. They are like those children who promise their mother to learn for school when admonished but never do so. An empty promise (to apply the Marxist analysis) without consequences.


The IMT’s failure to understand the class character of the Great Powers which are dominating world capitalism is reflected in its analysis of flashpoints of the world situation. When the civil war in the Ukraine escalated, the IMT supported the pro-Russian side. An article on the conflict in the Ukraine denounces repeatedly U.S. and European imperialism but mentions only once “Russian imperialist ambitions”. [9] This suggests that Russia would like to become an imperialist power (i.e. it is not such a power yet.)


Concerning China the IMT publications are confused. There exists one or another article which speaks explicitly about “Chinese Imperialism.[10] Various other articles on China either do not characterize it as “imperialist” [11] or talk about “burgeoning Chinese imperialist aspirations.[12] In several recently published articles on the looming Global Trade War, the IMT suggests that this reflects an inter-imperialist rivalry. [13] One article talks about China as a “rising, capitalist power.[14] In summary, it is fascinating how difficult it is for the IMT, faced with such obvious expressions of inter-imperialist rivalry, to utter the simple truth that China has become an imperialist Great Power since about one decade!




SWP: Theoretical Indifference




When we come to the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the main force of the so-called International Socialist Tendency (IST), we see a similar picture. The main difference to the other centrist organizations mentioned in this chapter is that the SWP/IST is more open, more bold, in its explicit rejection of the Marxist theory of imperialism as it was developed and defended by Lenin and Trotsky. [15] However, the result is very similar. While the SWP/IST has published in its theoretical journals a number of articles on China in the recent period (including a whole special issue of its journal Socialist Review dedicated to China), not a single one of those characterizes China as imperialist. [16] The same is true for the SWP’s articles on the looming Global Trade War. [17] Likewise, a longer theoretical article on China published some years ago fails to characterize the Great Power as “imperialist”. [18]


There is a single exception as in one article, the SWP manages to speak out: „But for the moment at least the growing inter-imperialist rivalry between the two “giant ships”, the US and China, is being pursued by economic means.“ [19] However, while a grain of salt can improve the soup, a spoon of soup does not transform a pot of salt into a delicacy.


In summary, we see in the case of the SWP the same fundamental problem as with the other centrist organizations. They completely fail to recognize the basic changes in world politics which, however, is the prerequisite for Marxists to find the correct orientation.


As we will see below such confusion on the Marxist theory of imperialism is not accidental. Neither is it exclusively the result of its theoretical ignorance. Such theoretical confusion also conveniently serves to justify an arch-opportunist practice in failing to side with oppressed people attacked by imperialist powers or their local proxies.


We conclude this chapter by drawing attention to the important relationship of a correct analysis of the inter-imperialist rivalry and the resulting tactical platform. We have summarized this relationship in our 6 POINTS document:


It is only possible to understand the driving dynamic of the present period of capitalist crisis and to take a correct position if one recognizes the imperialist character not only of the US, EU and Japan but also of the new emerging powers, Russia and China. Only on such a basis is it possible to arrive at the only correct, anti-imperialist program on this issue – proletarian internationalism and revolutionary defeatism, i.e., the perspective of consistent struggle of the working class independent of and against all imperialist powers. This means that revolutionaries refuse to lend support to any Great Power in inter-imperialist conflicts under the slogan ‘The main enemy is at home!’ (…) Those who fail to recognize the reactionary and imperialist character of these Great Powers will inevitable fail to take a consistent anti-imperialist, i.e. Marxist, line and will end up, consciously or unconsciously, supporting one or the other imperialist camp as a ‘lesser evil’”. [20]


Unfortunately, the leaderships of the centrist organizations with which we have dealt in the last chapters are far away from such a Marxist line!


[1] Vincent Kolo: ‘Belt and Road’: Imperialism with Chinese characteristics. Gigantic Belt and Road infrastructure plan – spearhead for Chinese dictatorship’s economic and geopolitical strategy, February 19, 2018 http://chinaworker.info/en/2018/02/19/16985/. The same position is articulated by another comrade from the CWI in Hong Kong who speaks unambiguously and correctly about “the US and China, the two largest imperialist powers.“ (Pasha: China: Deepening crisis and mass resistance, Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong), 14 August 2018 http://www.socialistworld.net/index.php/international/asia/china/9905-china-deepening-crisis-and-mass-resistance)

[2] See: CWI: World Perspectives, 08 December 2017, CWI International Executive Committee, http://www.socialistworld.net/index.php/theory-analysis/9544-cwi-world-perspectives; CWI: CWI World Congress 2016 World Perspectives, http://www.socialistworld.net/index.php/other-topics/activities/7517-11th-CWI-World-Congress--World-Perspectives; CWI: World Perspectives: A turbulent period in history, International Secretariat of the CWI, 27 November 2014 http://www.socialistworld.net/index.php/other-topics/activities/6995-World-Perspectives--A-turbulent-period-in-history; CWI: World perspectives, Thesis for the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the CWI 2013, 22/11/2013, http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/6565; CWI: World Perspectives - New Period of Instability and Revolutions, Thesis of the European Bureau of the CWI, May 6, 2011, http://www.socialistalternative.org/news/article11.php?id=1590. A recently published article about the discussion on World Perspectives at the CWI School 2018 reports about the contribution of a comrade from Hong Kong who characterized China as imperialist. There is however no indication that this would influence the CWI’s analysis of the world situation. (Kevin Parslow, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales): CWI School 2018: 10 years after 2007/8 crisis, capitalism has solved nothing, 08 August 2018 http://www.socialistworld.net/index.php/192-cwi/9901-cwi-school-2018-world-perspectives)

[3] Serge Jordan: No to the bombing of Syria! Build a mass movement against the war, CWI 12 April 2018 http://www.socialistworld.net/index.php/international/middle-east/151-syria/9750-no-to-the-bombing-of-syria-build-a-mass-movement-against-the-war

[4] CWI: World Perspectives. A turbulent period in history, 15/12/2014 http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/7008

[5] See Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South, Chapter 9, pp. 211-215

[6] See on this e.g. Yossi Schwarz: Occupied Palestine / Israel: Dead End for the Two-State Solution. The Palestinian Liberation Struggle and the CWI’s Centrist Adaptation to Zionism, 12.11.2015, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/palestine-and-cwi/; Michael Pröbsting: The CWI’s “Socialist” Zionism and the Palestinian Liberation Struggle. A Reply from the RCIT, 15.9.2014, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/cwi-and-israel/; see also Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South, Chapter 9, pp. 349-365

[7] Vincent Kolo: ‘Belt and Road’: Imperialism with Chinese characteristics. Gigantic Belt and Road infrastructure plan – spearhead for Chinese dictatorship’s economic and geopolitical strategy, February 19, 2018 http://chinaworker.info/en/2018/02/19/16985/

[8] IMT: World perspectives: 2018 – a year of capitalist crisis, 05 April 2018 https://www.marxist.com/world-perspectives-2018-a-year-of-capitalist-crisis.htm; IMT: World Perspectives 2016 – An update, 06 December 2016, https://www.marxist.com/world-perspectives-2016-an-update.htm; IMT: Crisis and Class Struggle: World Perspectives 2016, 26 March 2016 https://www.marxist.com/crisis-and-class-struggle-world-perspectives-2016-part-one.htm; IMT: Perspectives for World Revolution 2014, 29 January 2014, http://www.marxist.com/world-perspectives-2014.htm;

[9] Francesco Merli: Russian annexation of Crimea – What consequences for world relations? 21 March 2014 https://www.marxist.com/russian-annexation-of-crimea-what-consequences-for-world-relations.htm

[10] Adam Pal: Pakistan: The ever growing power of China, 02 March 2017, http://www.marxist.com/ pakistan-the-ever-growing- power-of-china.htm

[11] Daniel Morley: China and the World Economy in 2016: "Sell Everything", 12 January 2016 http://www.marxist.com/china-world-economy-2016-sell-everything.htm

[12] Zhan Dou Zhe and Dan Morley: Where is China going: back to the planned economy or strengthening capitalism? 30 November 2017 https://www.marxist.com/where-is-china-going-back-to-the-planned-economy-or-strengthening-capitalism.htm

[13] See e.g. several articles by Niklas Albin Svensson: The real stakes in the Trump-China trade war, 08 October 2018 https://www.marxist.com/the-real-stakes-in-the-trade-war-between-trump-china-trade-war.htm; China: a trade war the bourgeois can get behind, 21 June 2018 https://www.marxist.com/china-a-trade-war-the-bourgeois-can-get-behind.htm; Trump’s war on globalisation, 04 June 2018 https://www.marxist.com/trump-s-war-on-globalisation.htm; World trade: Trump sets his eyes on China, 29 March 2018 https://www.marxist.com/world-trade-trump-sets-his-eyes-on-china.htm. see also Rob Sewell: “Trade wars are good” – Trump threatens fragile world economy, 12 March 2018 https://www.marxist.com/trade-wars-are-good-trump-threatens-fragile-world-economy.htm

[14] Joe Attard (IMT): US-China trade dispute: Trump's recklessness deepens instability, 17 May 2018 https://www.marxist.com/us-china-trade-dispute-trump-s-recklessness-deepens-instability.htm

[15] We have dealt with the SWP’s specific form of revisionism in the field of imperialism theory in chapter 9 of our book The Great Robbery of the South, pp. 216-236.

[16] Adrian Budd: Rulers make ready for discontent, Socialist Review, Issue: October 2018 http://socialistreview.org.uk/439/rulers-make-ready-discontent; Simon Gilbert: Focus on China: Workers and the national question, Socialist Review, Issue: September 2018 http://socialistreview.org.uk/438/focus-china-workers-and-national-question; Simon Gilbert: China: A labour movement in the making, Socialist Review, Issue: April 2018, http://socialistreview.org.uk/434/china-labour-movement-making; Adrian Budd: China: New strains on state capitalism, Socialist Review, Issue: May 2018, http://socialistreview.org.uk/435/china-new-strains-state-capitalism; Lawrence Wong: China and nationalism, Letters, Socialist Review, Issue: October 2018 http://socialistreview.org.uk/439/china-and-nationalism; Sally Kincaid: Women and China: what has changed? Socialist Review, Issue: June 2018, http://socialistreview.org.uk/436/women-and-china-what-has-changed

[17] Charlie Kimber: Trump ramps up trade wars to boost his flagging support, 18 Sep 2018, Socialist Worker Issue No. 2622, https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/47220/Trump+ramps+up+trade+wars+to+boost+his+flagging+support; Alex Callinicos (SWP): The global trade war hasn’t been resolved, 31 Jul 2018, Socialist Worker, Issue No. 2615, https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/46986/The+global+trade+war+hasnt+been+resolved; Alex Callinicos: Darkening prospects, International Socialist Journal, Issue: 159 (2018), http://isj.org.uk/darkening-prospects/; Alex Callinicos (SWP): Trump’s trade war means chaos for the ruling class, 6 Mar 2018, Socialist Worker, Issue No. 2594 https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/46224/Trumps+trade+war+means+chaos+for+the+ruling+class

[18] Jane Hardy and Adrian Budd: China’s capitalism and the crisis, International Socialist Journal, Issue: 133, 9th January 2012, http://isj.org.uk/chinas-capitalism-and-the-crisis/

[19] Alex Callinicos (SWP): Trump gets serious, International Socialist Journal, Issue: 158 (2018), http://isj.org.uk/trump-gets-serious/

[20] RCIT: Six Points for a Platform of Revolutionary Unity Today, February 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/6-points-for-a-platform-of-revolutionary-unity-today/