Imperialism & War

Imperialism & WarClausewitz, the German military theoretician, insisted that “war is a mere continuation of policy by other means”. This goes to the heart of the matter. War is merely an extension of the struggle between nations and classes by other means, and the struggle between nations is merely an extension of the competition between the major multinational corporations. 

Capitalism is riddled with war. In a constant struggle over the profits they have extracted from the labour of the working class, the various imperialist powers engage in various forms of armed conflict. The complete domination of US imperialism, which was euphemistically referred to as pax americana, means open conflict between the imperial powers is excluded. Yet, that doesn’t in any way exclude small wars. In fact, the past few years have seen millions of people displaced and dead in conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. 

As long as capitalism remains, as long as competition between multinational corporations remains, so will armed conflict. The Second International in its famous Stuttgart Resolution advocated the use of the crisis brought on by war to further the socialist revolution. That remains the attitude of Marxists to this day. We fight against imperialist wars, but we understand that the only way to finally rid humanity of the misery of war is to rid it of the capitalist system itself. 

The summer of 1943 marked a dramatic turn in the Second World War. In this article Ted Grant analysed the implications of the Allied invasion of Sicily and the opening of the Second Front, the attempts by Churchill to reach a deal with the Italian monarchy and prop up a regime of the accomplices of fascism which would preserve the interests of Anglo-US imperialism against the rising revolutionary tide. As in the case of North Africa with Giraud, Allied imperialism was dropping the "democratic" mask showing their real aims and interests in the war.

In 1942 Ted Grant and Andrew Scott exposed the farcical call on Indian people by British rulers of a “war for freedom” while hundreds of millions were kept in chains. British imperialists promised the Indian masses freedom, but “after the war”, while cynically fostering the divisions on religious lines that would eventually lead to the bloody partition of India. British Marxists demanded Indian workers to be armed and to be granted immediate freedom from colonial rule.

The text of the thesis adopted at the National Pre-Conference of Workers' International League, August 22 and 23, 1942. Edited for publication in The Unbroken Thread, full version available on the Ted Grant archive.

The threatened invasion of India by Japanese imperialism in 1942 brought the question of India front and centre before the British working class. Rather than arm the Indian people and risk India falling into the hands of the Indians, the British imperialists would have prefered it to fall, temporarily, into the hands of the Japanese.

Stalin’s attitude towards the German people zig-zagged as his relations with his imperialist allies changed. At one point he distinguished between the Nazis and the German workers at other times he blamed the German people as a whole for Nazism. Throughout, however, he never raised a genuine internationalist position. His perspective was not the struggle for world socialism, but merely defence of Russia’s borders.

The French ruling class had miserably succumbed to Nazi domination in 1940. Now Britain faced the threat of invasion. In France the bourgeoisie refused to arm the people for fear that these arms would eventually be turned against them. The revolutionary socialists in Britain posed the demand of expropriating the capitalists and arming the workers to stop any Nazi invasion.

Germany was making rapid advances on all fronts, shocking the British and Americans. On this basis Mussolini decided to back what he thought was going to be the winning horse. This forced the USA to speed up its decision to actively participate in the war and also to woo Russia into the Allied camp. As Ted Grant predicted “Armageddon is upon us. Millions will be crushed under the advancing tanks and warplanes.”

After the first few months of war in March 1940, preparations for an even worse scenario of slaughter were being undertaken by all imperialist powers by mobilizing the masses of each country against the "enemy". The labour and Stalinist leaders' bankrupt policies left the workers unarmed. Here Ted Grant makes a balance-sheet of the first months of War.

As the war dragged on Ted Grant highlighted the real reason for the war, the conflict between German and British imperialism for domination of Europe. The war was presented as one against Nazi dictatorship, but at the same time the British had a liking for Franco and were also courting Mussolini, revealing the fact that their opposition to “dictatorship” was pure hypocrisy.

As the world stood on the brink of world war Ted Grant wrote, “If world capitalism has no solution for its problems excepting new and more horrible slaughter of whole nations, it is time this insane system were ended… The sole way out for the youth lies in the overthrow of capitalism and workers’ power and socialism. Our path lies in building up the revolutionary socialist youth which alone can lead us away from the nightmare of war which hangs over us.” 

With preparations for war in full swing the small Workers' International League gathered around Ralph Lee and Ted Grant was the only voice that stood out defending a real internationalist position. Here we provide our readers with the lead article of the August 1939 edition of Youth For Socialism, signed by Ted Grant.

In the summer of 1939, the Tientsin incident unleashed a nationalistic outburst in defence of British prerogatives over China. Labour and Stalinist leaders advocated for a "firm" defence of British interests and China against Japan. Ted Grant vehemently rejected their chauvinism and warned "We cannot trust the British capitalists to carry out any act in the interests of the workers of Britain and the world."

As armaments were piled up in preparation for the Second World War Ted Grant explained that, “This war machine is for the defence of the trading interests and the colonial loot of British imperialism, for what is making for war is the intensified and sharpened struggle for markets between the different countries of the world.”

"The war of 1914-18 officially ushered in a new epoch. Its most important political events up to now have been: the conquest of power by the Russian proletariat in 1917 and the smashing of the German proletariat in the year 1933. The terrible calamities of the peoples in all parts of the world and even the more terrible dangers that tomorrow holds in store result from the fact that the revolution of 1917 did not find victorious development on the European and world arena."