Imperialism and Opportunism

Lenin’s wrong explanation

Anyone reading Lenin’s pamphlets on this subject would get the impression of following the arguments of a dedicated revolutionary explaining the wavering and deviations of his less resolute comrades. The titles give a clue as to how his thoughts went and a few quotations will confirm it:

“Imperialism is the eve of the social revolution of the proletariat. This has been confirmed since 1917 on a world wide scale” (1)

Something must have gone wrong. Fifty years later capitalism is still here (including Russia). It has changed considerably even to the extent of granting independence to the former colonies. But present day followers of Lenin keep up the tradition by explaining away the fraud of home rule by theories of neo-colonialism. Lenin went on to give his explanation as to why the eve of revolution has been so long:

“Obviously, out of such enormous super-profits (since they are obtained over and above the profits which capitalists squeeze out of the workers of their ‘own’ country) it is possible to bribe the labour aristocracy. And the capitalists of the ‘advanced’ countries are bribing them, they bribe them in a thousand different ways, direct and indirect, overt and covert” (2) (Lenin’s emphasis).

“Comrade Quelch of the British Socialist Party spoke of this in our Commission. He said the rank and file English worker would consider it treachery to help the enslaved nations in these revolts against British rule. True, the jingoist and chauvinist minded labour aristocrats of Britain and America represent a great danger for Socialism…” (3)

So Lenin saw the scramble for colonies at the turn of the century as being the ‘highest stage of capitalism’, even the eve of the social revolution’ and was left to explain why organised labour was not ready and why the Second International disintegrated with the first World War.

The Socialist Patty of Great Britain recognises that capitalism is a dynamic, expanding and changing system of society, and that quite contradictory policies will serve the interest of sections of the capitalist class, as conditions dictate. Free trade, unfettered by tariffs and protected colonial markets, served the interests of the textile capitalists who dominated Britain after the industrial revolution. Later, with the dominance of iron and steel, came protectionism and a carving-up of the world into colonies and spheres of influence of the great powers of capitalism. Later still, large empires, with the problem of governing them, became an embarrassment and such staunch pillars of the system as Macmillan and De Gaulle presided over the dismemberment of the two greatest of them. For all the changes capitalism is still with us. It should be evident that the changing fortunes and policies of the capitalist class alone are not going to produce Socialism.

The Socialist Party has never found itself in Lenin’s position of proclaiming a revolutionary situation in which the revolutionary class are ‘jingoist and chauvinist minded’, for the reason that we insist that there can be no Socialism without a Socialist working class. We recognise along with Marx that “the ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas”. Hence nationalism, loyalty to the Empire, and the notion that this is the best of all possible worlds, were the normal attitude of non-revolutionary workers in Britain and elsewhere in 1920. As for being bribed by reforms, the workers had fought in a war; they had unemployment, falling wages, hunger marches and another war to look forward to. It is the acceptance of the capitalist ideology by the working class, not ‘bribery’, that has kept them so loyal to capitalism.

While some reforms are of benefit to the working class, the general tendency is for them to make capitalism work more efficiently. This was so in the case of the 10 Hours Act in Marx’s time. The more efficient capitalism is, the greater the exploitation of the working class. Reforms are essential to the smooth running of capitalism and pay for themselves.

We oppose reform (or opportunist) parties such as the Labour and Communist in that they are parties of capitalism. We also recognise that people such as Lenin, who prate of revolution when the conditions are not ripe for it, are dangerous opportunists. It is a pity that he did not apply what he so correctly wrote in October 1916:

“The only Marxist line in the world labour movement is to explain to the masses the inevitability and necessity of breaking with opportunism, to educate them for revolution by waging a relentless struggle against opportunism, to utilise the experience of the war, to expose, not conceal, the utter vileness of national-liberal labour politics.” (4)


(1) Imperialism, the Highest stage of Capitalism,Imperialism and the split in Socialism,Opportunism and the Collapse of the Second International,The Awakening of Asia, all form the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow.

(2) July 6, 1920 Preface to Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.

(3) Report of the Commission of the National and Colonial Questions to the Second Congress of the Communist International, 26 July 1920, The Awakening of Asia.

(4) Imperialism and The Split in Socialism

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