A book review by Pete Brown of The imperial cruise: a secret history of empire and war, by James Bradley. Little, Brown and Company, 2009.
James Bradley writes history books about World War II, a previous one being Flags of Our Fathers, which became a popular movie. Bradley says he was led to look into the roots of World War II in the Pacific: what started it, what were the underlying causes and motivations? This search led him back to the early 1900s and the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. I doubt that Imperial Cruise will be made into a Hollywood movie, since it’s a major attack on an American hero, Teddy Roosevelt. The book shows that the U.S. was involved in secret diplomacy and treaties in the early 1900s which drove it into contradictions with Japan. The frame of the book is the cruise taken in summer 1905 by Secretary of War William Howard Taft, accompanied by Roosevelt’s daughter Alice and scores of Congressional Representatives and Senators, to the Far East. The cruise took place at the same time that TR was involved in negotiations between Russia and Japan to end the Russo-Japanese War. The cruise and concomitant negotiations injected the U.S. big-time into Far Eastern diplomatic affairs, but none of the negotiations and agreements was subject to review by the U.S. Senate, the public or even Roosevelt’s own administration. By himself Roosevelt got the U.S. secretly embroiled in imperialist quid-pro-quos in the Far East, the details of which have only recently been made public.
The book’s relevance to today is that it blows away the heroic halo from one of America’s greatest historical icons, Teddy Roosevelt. It paints TR as a greedy expansionist whose dreams of imperialist grandeur were built on racist foundations. Not only was TR brutal and racist, Bradley also paints him as stupid and shortsighted, his bullheaded errors in foreign policy making complex problems worse. Bradley also reveals many parallels to today’s foreign policy issues.
What got me interested in the book was noticing comments made by Lenin in the 1917-18 period predicting a coming war between Japan and America. At the time the two countries were allies in World War I, so it seemed rather early to be predicting war between them. But Lenin thought war between the two might erupt very soon. He saw the contradictions emerging between them, and I thought Bradley’s book might offer more insight into what these contradictions were and how they arose.
One of the parallels to today’s politics brought out by Bradley is the deep-seated racism that pervades American foreign policy. This is something that dominated American thinking in World War II, when the Japanese were portrayed as “slant-eyed yellow bastards” and Japanese-Americans were rounded up in concentration camps. And it still exists as a major strain in American thinking today, as Arabs are targeted for indiscriminate bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Arab-Americans in the U.S. are routinely targeted as terrorist threats. Domestically our “leaders” in government and business have largely written off the next generation of black youth despite the presence of some women and minorities among the privileged strata.
In the case of Roosevelt, Bradley shows his ideology was not only madly nationalistic but also racist. He was mad for imperialist expansion and saw nothing wrong with running end-runs around laws and the Constitution to do it, and this was motivated by a racist theory of White destiny. TR constantly talked of the great destiny for those of “Teutonic” blood and the need for them to carry out “ethnic conquest”. This was basic to his approach to Far Eastern peoples.
Roosevelt studied law at Columbia University where he took political science classes from John Burgess. Columbia’s website brags about Burgess being “the father of American political science”. But what was Burgess’ actual ideology? Burgess taught that only those Whites with Teutonic blood were fit to rule, because they were the ones (supposedly) who invented the first states. Teutonic Aryans had spread west from the forests of Germany to England and America, and it was their destiny to rule the world. (Bradley gives quotes about this on p. 329.) Roosevelt took Burgess’ lessons to heart and even in late middle age paid tribute to Burgess and his ideology.
Burgess’ racism goes even deeper than shown by Bradley. Burgess was a prominent member of the so-called Dunning School of Reconstruction (Dunning was a professor of history at Columbia contemporary with Burgess). The Dunning School promoted that post-Civil War Reconstruction was a big mistake because it tried to bring blacks into a position of equality with whites. Dunning and his colleagues popularized derogatory terms such as “scalawags” (Southern whites who cooperated with Reconstruction efforts) and “carpetbaggers” (Northerners who went South to help carry out Reconstruction), and they applauded the KKK for working to restore the South’s “natural order.” They taught that the freedmen were incapable of self-government, a typical example being this quote from Burgess: “A black skin means membership in a race of men which has never of itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason.” Burgess argued that Reconstruction was a mistake of the Republican Party, and he was anxious to get this mistake recognized and corrected as the U.S. came upon the world stage of imperialism. In 1902 he wrote: “And now that the U.S. has embarked in imperial enterprises, … the Republican Party … is learning every day by valuable experiences that there are vast differences in political capacity between the races, and that it is the white man’s mission, his duty and his right, to hold the reins of political power in his own hands for the civilization of the world and the welfare of mankind.” (from the preface to Burgess’ book, Reconstruction and the Constitution, 1866-1876, available online from Google books).
This was the ideology inculcated into young Roosevelt and which he held onto into late middle age. One way this was exemplified was by Roosevelt’s policy toward immigration. A Chinese Exclusion Act had been passed in 1882, but it was due to expire in 1902, and Roosevelt made its renewal a priority. Roosevelt wanted to replace the Act with even more stringent anti-Chinese provisions, and for this he utilized the sitting Commissioner General of Immigration, Terence Powderly. Powderly was the former leader of the Knights of Labor, the major trade union of the 1880s, which had led race war against Chinese workers at that time. The Knights were a complex group that in some places organized African-Americans into trade unions, and this made them more progressive than other trade-union groups like the AFL. But in the Western U.S. they were hostile to Chinese workers, and Powderly remained a racist long after the decline of the Knights.
Roosevelt’s own assessment was, “No greater calamity could now befall the United States than to have the Pacific slope fill up with a Mongolian population.” (p. 284) When TR became president, in 1901, Powderly wrote an article for Colliers’ Weekly, “Exclude Anarchist and Chinaman!”, in which he praised the new president and argued that Americans should support Roosevelt because he had their “race interests” at heart. Bradley quotes from Powderly’s article: “American and Chinese civilizations are antagonistic; they cannot live and thrive and both survive on the same soil. One or the other must perish.” (p. 287) This was the kind of support Roosevelt used to pass an even worse version of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The parallels to today’s debate over Mexican immigration policy are obvious, though Bradley does not discuss them. Like the Chinese of yesteryear, Mexican immigrants today are supposed to work for lower wages and then be punished for it; they’re supposed to pay taxes and obey laws and yet not have any of the rights of citizens; American capitalists are supposed to enjoy an open door in Mexico while Mexican immigrants face a closed door in the U.S. This is just like America’s attitude toward China around 1900 – Roosevelt fought for the Open Door policy (meaning free trade) in China while slamming shut the door on Chinese immigrants. And after Roosevelt this came to be the American policy towards Japan and Japanese immigrants.
When Roosevelt first came into McKinley’s administration as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he came in looking for a war. Roosevelt publicly lobbied for greater U.S. expansion, and in private he wrote to friends: “In strict confidence … I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” (p. 75) McKinley hesitated at first, but he was eventually won over to endorse imperialist war against Spain in Cuba and the Philippines.
Bradley seems to consider America’s imperialist expansion as due largely to Roosevelt’s personal oddities. But it would be wrong to attribute American imperialism solely to Roosevelt. Lenin described in his book Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism that the decades before World War I were a mad scramble for colonies and markets. The imperialist powers of that time divided up the rest of the world and intensified their military preparations for war. American imperialist expansion was part of this, and Roosevelt simply gave voice to America’s peculiar ideology: Manifest Destiny and Anglo-Saxon racial superiority.
The connection to racist ideology has changed in form somewhat, but today it’s still a major component of U.S. imperialism. In Vietnam a basic slogan guiding the U.S. military was “Kill ‘em all; let God sort ‘em out.” A similar mentality has guided recent wars in the Mideast, where the U.S. massacred thousands of Iraqis and today murders Afghan civilians with drone attacks. Domestically, people of Arab or Moslem descent are subject to special hounding by the police, FBI and airline security. The recent murder of an East Indian man by a woman in New York, who pushed him in front of a subway train, is another example illustrating that anti-Moslem racism has seeped into backward sections of the population.
Imperialist expansion in the Far East had a history for the U.S. going back to before the Civil War. Bradley gives the history of U.S. involvement in Hawaii, Korea and Japan, though he doesn’t go into commercial and economic interests (sugar, shipping, whaling, etc.) very much. He does mention America’s goal of building a chain of coaling stations in the Pacific (Hawaii, Philippines, etc.) so that American steamships, both merchantmen and warships, could travel freely across the ocean.
Bradley gives a graphic account of how the U.S. took over the Philippines. The U.S. offered to help the Philippines independence movement, but then, once the Spanish had been defeated, the U.S. army turned against its Filipino allies and slaughtered them. Though the Filipinos had already set up a functioning government, American leaders considered them “Pacific Negroes” incapable of self-government and waged war against Filipino leaders. To secure the islands President Roosevelt appointed as military governor one of his favorites, an up-and-coming yes-man from Ohio, William Howard Taft. Taft was affable towards Filipinos who kowtowed to American occupation, but he was firm in telling them they could not expect independence for another 100 years at least.
Meanwhile the U.S. army was hunting Filipino insurgent leaders, while the native rebels were ambushing U.S. army patrols. Bradley describes how the American press kept assuring readers “the war is over” and “the Filipinos love us”, even as the war was raging. Bradley draws the obvious parallels to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Veterans from Vietnam can testify about seeing the TV news tell Americans “the campaign was successful, with only a few American casualties” and at the same time seeing American bodies stacked up in rows at U.S. bases. The original military thrust into Vietnam, like in the Philippines, was accompanied by a big lie promoted by the press about hostile natives supposedly attacking American “peacekeepers.” This was the Tonkin Gulf incident, an American provocation that was built up by the press as a major attack by North Vietnamese on innocent American sailors. More recently the press helped Bush build up the big lie about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq to justify his aggression. And today the press never tires of telling us how the U.S. is bringing civilization and progress to Afghanistan, which oddly enough the Afghans respond to by killing “peaceful” Americans. A lying press is an essential feature of imperialism.
There are also parallels with the counter-insurgency tactics, the torture and brutality towards natives. The American army rounded up Filipino civilians and herded them into relocation camps, where thousands died from disease. The U.S. later practiced similar “relocation” in Vietnam. Soldiers carried out waterboarding on Filipino villagers to get information from them about rebel leaders; many of them died from the torture. So waterboarding is not something new invented by the CIA; it’s been part of the imperialist weapons kit for a long time. Soldiers also practiced the normal imperialist hobbies of rape, collecting “trophies”, etc. All in all, Roosevelt’s “pacification” of the Philippines presents a classic case of imperialism in action.
One of the most horrific examples was the Moro Massacre of 1906. Army and navy personnel surrounded a group of Moro rebels, tribesmen armed with primitive weapons and accompanied by their women and children. Gen. Leonard Wood, the commanding officer present, ordered a full-scale attack that wiped out the entire group, killing every single Moro man, woman and child. Upwards of 600 people were slaughtered. Mark Twain, a member of the Anti-Imperialist League, wrote a scathing commentary on the massacre in which he said, sarcastically, “This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States.” In previous wars, Twain notes, American forces suffered casualties about equal to the enemy; but not in this one-sided “victory,” in which trained soldiers attacked people armed with knives, clubs and ineffectual muskets. But Roosevelt seriously lauded the “brilliant feat of arms” in a congratulatory message he sent to Gen. Wood. (Note that Wood was a personal friend of Roosevelt’s: TR got him appointed officer in charge of the Rough Riders, a band of cavalry Roosevelt organized to fight in Cuba. Wood was later appointed governor of Cuba and later still governor of the Philippines. Twain’s comments on the Moro Massacre can be seen at www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/cr/moro.htm.)
When the press cannot avoid mentioning imperialist brutality, it’s excused with the argument, “It’s unfortunate, but necessary when you’re fighting uncivilized heathens.” When all else fails, as in Vietnam, the lying press aims its fire against itself and concocts the “stab in the back” theory, promoting the lie that the war was lost because the wimpy liberal media did not support the war effort. But in fact, from the days of the Tonkin Gulf incident and even before, the establishment press was enthusiastic about American aggression in Vietnam. The generals who were supposedly “restrained” by the liberal media in fact carried out unrestrained war in Southeast Asia, bombing both North and South Vietnam and neighboring countries, defoliating with Agent Orange, burning people with napalm, etc.
Bradley also gives the background to U.S. presence in Japan. After seeing what happened to China, and having negative experiences themselves with Western traders, the Japanese decided to keep their country closed, or very limited, to Western commerce. This practice continued until 1853, when the American Matthew Perry sailed into Tokyo harbor with a fleet of warships and demanded trade. Under threat of bombardment the emperor’s government eventually signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the U.S. in 1858. Diplomatic relations were opened, and American merchant ships began visiting Japan. In the early 1860s, however, local overlords who disagreed with the emperor’s treaty opened fire on American ships that tried to visit the port of Shimonoseki. American warships were dispatched there and carried out a punitive raid, bombarding the port city and Japanese ships moored there. This was during the American Civil War; American warships in the Far East were unsuccessful in catching Confederate raiders, but they succeeded in quelling Japanese resistance to trade.
British warships also bombarded Shimonoseki. This was nothing new for the British, since they had previously carried out two Opium Wars against China, suppressed the Sepoy rebellion in India, and launched military adventures all over Asia. But Perry’s opening of Japan and the subsequent attack on Shimonoseki announced the new American presence in the Far East. And after the Civil War the U.S. deepened its presence there.
After Perry’s opening of Japan and the Meiji restoration, Japan quickly modernized, built up its armed forces and began learning the methods of Western imperialism. Japanese imperialism was not just copied from the West, as Bradley implies; Japan had its own internal class divisions and its own rapidly developing capitalism. But Bradley’s correct in showing Western influence on Japan’s evolution. Its first foray into imperialism came with the punitive expedition against Taiwan in 1871. Taiwanese natives had killed some sailors from Okinawa who shipwrecked near Taiwan, and the Japanese government decided to claim the right to intervene in the affair (at that time both Okinawa and Taiwan were semi-independent kingdoms, though they both confessed loyalty to the Chinese emperor). Japan’s punitive expedition against the Taiwanese was organized by an American ex-general, Charles LeGendre, who had urged the Japanese to punish the “uncivilized heathens” and to adopt a Far East version of the Monroe Doctrine. (Bradley, pp. 186-88)
Japan’s next foray into imperialist adventure was the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. Japan easily won victory over China and as reward was given large territorial concessions in Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria. But at this point Western imperialist powers intervened. The Tripartite Intervention (by Russia, Germany and France) threatened war against Japan, a war the Japanese felt they would lose, so they agreed to give back what they had gained from China. But the Japanese regarded this as a deep humiliation and spent the next ten years nursing their revenge. This came with the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. Russia was expanding into Manchuria at the same time that the Japanese were trying to expand into Korea. They clashed, and the result was massive, disastrous defeat for Russia on both land and sea.
Roosevelt secretly cheered on the Japanese during this war, writing friends “the Japanese are playing our game.” (Considering TR’s racial theories, one would think he would side with the White leaders of Russia, but TR considered that the Russians had mixed with Mongolians and so had mongrelized their White ancestry; he had nothing but contempt for such race-mixers. He preferred the Japanese, whom he considered “honorary Aryans.”) On a more realistic plane, TR was happy to see the Japanese confronting the Russians and preventing them from doing a walk-over in China following construction of their Trans-Siberian railway. But while secretly encouraging the Japanese, Roosevelt also posed as a man of peace and publicly called for negotiations. He wanted to call a stop to Japanese expansion following their defeats of the Russians, and the Japanese for their part were now short of money and men, so they agreed to enter peace talks.
Summing up Roosevelt’s actions in the peace talks, Bradley gives the main thesis of the book on p. 250: “… The president of the United States had skirted the Constitution and negotiated a side deal with the Japanese at the same time he was posing as an honest broker between Japan and Russia at the Portsmouth peace talks. …” Bradley considers Roosevelt skirted the Constitution because he made a verbal treaty with Japan not subject to advice and consent from the Senate. In fact Roosevelt didn’t consult anyone, not even his own people in the State Dept. and the War Dept. except Taft.
TR was acting the “honest broker” in peace talks while at the same time his agent and yes-man, Taft, was in Tokyo cementing a secret deal between the U.S. and Japan. It turns out this was the main purpose of Taft’s “imperial cruise.” It wasn’t just a peaceful visit by Taft and his retinue; its purpose was to cement an imperialist alliance.
So what was the secret deal? Basically, it was a swap of the Philippines for Korea. The Japanese recognized American occupation of the Philippines and promised to leave them alone while the U.S. gave Japan the go-ahead to expand into Korea and Manchuria’s Liaotung Peninsula. The U.S. had previously signed a friendship treaty with Korea promising to support them and “use their friendly services” in case of any threats. The Korean government thought this meant they were protected by the U.S. But with Roosevelt’s new alliance with Japan, “friendly services” were interpreted by Roosevelt as “helping Korea come under Japanese hegemony.” Korea was thrown under the bus just as Czechoslovakia was later sold out by Chamberlain at Munich. And it had the same result: encouraging militarist expansion.
The other part of the deal, which Japan also made with Britain, was to support the Open Door policy on China. Other imperialist nations had gained territorial concessions from the Chinese. The U.S., which came late to the concessions table, demanded the right to free trade in other imperialists’ areas. The British, who had gained the largest territorial concessions (including Hong Kong), also supported the Open Door, since they were confident of winning any trade competitions. The Japanese promised to support this policy against the other imperialists and also promised to practice it in any areas of China they gained control over.
In their press conference at the end of Taft’s visit, the Japanese said they would abide by agreements and go ahead and expand into Korea and China, acting as the “civilizing force”. (p. 251) This is exactly what Roosevelt wanted. TR thought he was getting the Japanese to act as U.S. agents, securing U.S. rights in the Far East. He was also proud that he had brought the Japanese onboard as Oriental followers of Western ideas and practices (racism, imperialism, and “civilizing” expansion). He had a few moments of doubt, that maybe the Japanese would constitute a threat to U.S. interests someday, but these were quickly dismissed.
So who was using whom? TR thought he was using the Japanese as his tool. He said they were “playing our game” by attacking Russia and supporting the Open Door. But Bradley argues that Roosevelt actually was playing into Japanese hands. Clearly there was an unprincipled dance of alliances going on for decades. Japan concocted a secret Tripartite Alliance with America and Britain against Russia at this time, while during World War I Japan was allied with Britain and America against Germany. Later, as relations with the U.S. became frosty and Japan continued to expand into China, the Japanese shut off the Open Door and converted Korea and parts of China into direct colonies. Then in World War II Japan allied itself with Germany against America and Britain.
As part of his “game” TR secretly encouraged, supported and promoted a Japanese Monroe Doctrine. The Japanese took this seriously and talked about it up through the 1940s. If the Americans could claim the Western Hemisphere as their sphere of interest, why couldn’t Japan claim the Far East as their own sphere of interest? But though Roosevelt was happy to encourage such thoughts to use Japan as a block against Russia, later U.S. presidents grew more concerned with stopping Japanese expansion. This intensified in the 1920s as other imperialist powers such as France and Germany dropped out of China while U.S. and Japanese expansion brought them more and more into head-to-head competition. Japan grew more desirous of dominating China, and industrialization whetted their desire for the raw materials of Southeast Asia (rubber, oil, etc.), access to which was controlled by the U.S. and its commercial allies (Britain, France, Holland).
Bradley criticizes Roosevelt for his stupidity because, as it turned out, the Japanese were unhappy with the peace deal he secured them. They gained territory on the Asian mainland but got no cash indemnity from Russia, and this was something they sorely needed at the time. Bradley concludes (p. 322): “With their bumbling diplomacy, Roosevelt and Taft had accomplished the seemingly impossible: they gave Korea to Japan and at the same time turned Japanese sentiment against America.” This resentment against America grew in the ensuing decades as the U.S. and Japan confronted each other more and more directly.
Bradley has performed a service by pulling together information about Roosevelt’s foreign policy and showing its ideological bases. He exposes TR as a racist and exposes the brutal imperialist practices of American imperialism in the Philippines and elsewhere. The book is well written and illustrated with contemporary photos and cartoons. Bradley did a good job of researching Roosevelt’s motivations and their consequences.
But the U.S.-Japan clash in World War II was not just a result of Roosevelt’s personal biases and blunders. The timing and nature of that clash were dependent on many factors, but the clash was inevitable, given the imperialist nature of both countries.
The main defect of the book is that Bradley does not go far enough in condemning imperialism. He criticizes Roosevelt, but it’s from the standpoint of a liberal who disagrees with TR’s racist brutality. The overt racism and direct colonization of TR’s day are no longer preferred methods of imperialism. But American imperialism is still very active in the world, and Bradley accepts that the government is obliged to advance American capitalist interests around the world. This is made clear when he criticizes Roosevelt for stupidly blundering and allowing American trade to suffer. Bradley never questions whether another way of running foreign policy, based on proletarian internationalism rather than bourgeois self-interest and nationalist aggrandizement, is possible. This was the type of alternative Lenin was looking toward when he led the Bolsheviks in overthrowing the imperialist Russian government in 1917.
What got me interested in Bradley’s book in the first place were quotations like the following from Lenin which show Lenin’s prescience regarding the coming war between America and Japan in East Asia. This is from a report on foreign policy delivered at a joint meeting of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee and the Moscow Soviet on May 14, 1918. (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 41, pp. 365-381) In this quote Lenin is explaining what makes the continued existence of Soviet Russia possible, that the imperialists cannot join together for an attack against Russia because they are too busy fighting among themselves:
“… The contradictions that have arisen … have made it impossible for the imperialists themselves to stop this war [World War I].
“Owing to these contradictions, it has come about that the general alliance of the imperialists of all countries… -- that this alliance is not the moving force of politics.
“… in certain circumstances the alliance of world imperialism is impossible. …
“The basic contradictions between the imperialist powers have led to such a merciless struggle that, while recognizing its hopelessness, neither the one, nor the other group is in a position to extricate itself at will from the iron grip of this war. The war has brought out two main contradictions … The first is the battle being waged on the Western front between Germany and Britain …
“The second contradiction determining Russia’s international position is the rivalry between Japan and America. Over several decades the economic development of these countries has produced a vast amount of inflammable material which makes inevitable a desperate clash between them for domination of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding territories. The entire diplomatic and economic history of the Far East leaves no room for doubt that under capitalist conditions it is impossible to avert the imminent conflict between Japan and America. This contradiction, temporarily concealed by the alliance of Japan and America against Germany, delays Japanese imperialism’s attack on Russia … The campaign [against Russia] is being held up because it threatens to turn the hidden conflict between America and Japan into open war. … [But Lenin concludes:] It may well be that the tiniest spark will suffice to blow up the existing alignment of powers, and then the afore-mentioned contradictions will no longer protect us.” (Lenin, pp. 367-368)
So Lenin regarded war between Japan and America as inevitable, that it was being held up temporarily by unusual circumstances, but these might change at any time -- which they did. As World War I ended, Soviet Russia was attacked by Japan, America, England and other imperialist powers. Japan and America came close to war at that time (in the early 1920s), as Lenin predicted, because the imperialist intervention “threatened to turn the hidden conflict into open war”. As Japan invaded Siberia, the U.S. landed troops in the Far East ostensibly to support Japan but actually to supervise and make sure Japanese troops went into Siberia, not towards China. As the Allied troops suffered reverses, and domestic support for intervention withered, the imperialists eventually withdrew from Soviet Russia. But the contradictions between Japan and America did not go away; they intensified and eventually exploded in World War II.
Revolution in Russia provided hope for the world’s laboring people, hope that there was an alternative to the dance of imperialist alliances. When the Bolsheviks took over in Russia, they publicized the secret imperialist treaties between the czar and the governments of Britain, France and other countries. They exposed the imperialist rivalries that gave rise to World War I, and they pulled Russia out of the war. They established ties with other nations not based on imperialist exploitation.
Lenin’s outlook is still important today as the world’s working people look for an alternative to racist brutality and war. The anti-imperialist movement was fairly weak at the time Roosevelt was president, and American groups like the Anti-Imperialist League were not able to mount strong opposition to Roosevelt’s policies in the Philippines. Lenin pointed to the shortcomings of the League when he wrote:
“In the United States, the imperialist war waged against Spain in 1898 stirred up the opposition of the ‘anti-imperialists’, the last of the Mohicans of bourgeois democracy who declared the war to be ‘criminal’, regarded the annexation of foreign territories as a violation of the Constitution, declared that the treatment of Aguinaldo, leader of the Filipinos (the Americans promised him the independence of his country, but later landed troops and annexed it), was ‘Jingo treachery’, and quoted the words of Lincoln: ‘When the white man governs himself, that is self-government; but when he governs himself and also governs others, it is no longer self-government; it is despotism.’ But as long as all this criticism shrank from recognizing the inseverable bond between imperialism and the trusts, and therefore, between imperialism and the foundations of capitalism, while it shrank from joining the forces engendered by large-scale capitalism and its development – it remained a ‘pious wish.’” (from Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chapter IX, sixth paragraph)
The victory of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917 provided a breakthrough and showed people around the world that there is an alternative to imperialist brutality. This alternative is revolutionary struggle, based on the working class, which targets capitalism itself as well as its barbarous “externalities.” The Bolsheviks’ breakthrough helped inspire the anti-imperialist movement of the 1960s, when masses of people in the U.S. and other countries took to the streets to demand an end to the war against Vietnam. Building a strong anti-imperialist movement remains an issue for us today as we confront the militarists, the capitalists and their lying press.
Bradley shows that racist brutality is the companion
of imperialism. He shows that the working class, in its struggle to
oppose imperialism, cannot rely on misleaders like Terence Powderly,
who are only interested in the self-interests of their own narrow
ethnic group. But Bradley’s non-class anti-imperialism suffers from the
same limitations as Mark Twain’s Anti-Imperialist League. The life and
work of Lenin show us the alternative. <>
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