Anti-Imperialism and National Liberation [ZACF]

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[In this struggle] only the workers and the peasants will go all the way to the end…

Augustino Sandino
Anarchist leader of 1927-33 armed rising
against the US occupation of Nicaragua


The division of the globe is not between Europe and the Three Continents, but between those above and those below.

Autonomous Actio
Let’s Stop the Congress: Against
the World Bank and IMF

[Download this text as A5 .pdf pamphlet here]


By imperialism we refer to a situation in which the ruling class of one country dominates the people and territory of another country. In other words, there is a situation of external domination by an outside power. This relationship assumes different forms in different contexts.

As Anarchists we are opposed to imperialism because of the suffering and oppression that it brings. We do not accept the argument that imperialism is a progressive force, whether this argument proceeds from the idea that imperialism “advances the productive forces”, “intervenes to keep the peace”, “civilises” etc. Imperialism is responsible for genocide, national oppression, attacks on working class conditions, war, underdevelopment, starvation, and poverty.  Imperialism is not, however, the only cause of these problems, and is itself the product of capitalism and the State (see below).

The key imperialist powers are the dominant First World states and their ruling classes: Western Europe, the United States of America, Japan etc. These are commonly called the First World, or the West, or the “core” or the metropolitan countries. In addition to these countries, the main Eastern bloc countries such as Russia and China have also acted as imperialist powers.

The other side of the coin are the countries and regions dominated by imperialism: Africa, East Europe, South Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Latin America. These countries are often called the Third World, the South or the “periphery”, the “satellite” countries or “colonial and semi-colonial regions”.

At the same time, the Third World is not a homogenous zone. Some countries are more regionally powerful and economically dominant than others. These countries often (but not always) act as the local enforcers and allies of the imperialist powers and are backed up by these powers. This range of countries is sometimes referred as the industrialised Third World, the Newly Industrialising countries (NICs), or the “semi-periphery”. Examples of semi-peripheral countries that act as the local partners of imperialism are South Africa and Israel. Semi-peripheral countries which do not act overtly as the junior partners of imperialism include Poland, Brazil and South Korea.

Although Apartheid/racial capitalism in South Africa shared many of the features of an imperialist relationship (particularly of the settler-colonial type) insofar as a settler-derived oligarchy (ruling class-dominated alliance of different White classes) historically exercised political and economic domination in the country (Apartheid/racial capitalism), Apartheid / racial capitalism was not strictly speaking an imperialist relationship. This is because this system of domination was internally based. It was not governed from outside in the manner typical of a settler-colony such as Zambia or Kenya. Instead, the settler -dominated ruling class took local State power in 1910, took ownership over most of the economy in the subsequent decades and made the key political and economic decisions. This fact is not changed by the point that the local ruling class (and its African allies the chiefs and homeland bourgeoisie) were backed by the imperialist powers. Thus, there was not an external enemy to be expelled, but a localised situation of oppression to be confronted.  This is not to say that South Africa was independent of the broader world imperialist system, as it acted as a semi-periphery / junior partner of imperialism dominating the southern part of Africa.[1]

Anarchism has an exceptionally proud record of anti-imperialist commitment.

This repudiation of the theory and practice of imperialism is logically implied by anarchism’s rejection of coercive political structures and economically exploitative modes of production in favour of a freely constituted international federation of self-administrating communes and workers’ associations based on free libertarian stateless socialism.[2]

On the theoretical and practical level, theorist-activists such as Bakunin, Reclus and Berkman all condemned and fought against imperialism. In the colonial world, anarchists played an important role in anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles, notably those in Cuba, Ireland, Korea, Macedonia, Mexico, Nicaragua and the Ukraine. For example, the national hero of Nicaragua, Augustino Sandino, who led a revolt against the American occupation in the 1920s and 1930s was an Anarcho-Syndicalist; in Mexico, the Anarchists of the PLM, the IWW and the CGT consistently challenged American imperialism and anti-Mexican discrimination in Mexico, both before, during and after the Mexican Revolution; James Connolly, the famous martyr of the 1916 Easter rebellion in Ireland against British imperialism was an anarchist revolutionary union organiser in the United States and Ireland; in Korea the Anarchists were a key force in the struggle against the Japanese occupation that begun in 1910 and even managed to establish a massive self-governed liberated zone in Manchuria in the 1930s; in the Ukraine, the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Nestor Makhno expelled the occupying Central Powers in 1918-9.

In the imperialist countries, anarchists were also at the forefront of the fight against imperialism. For example, in Japan, the prominent Anarchist Kotoku Shusi was framed and executed in 1910 after his Commoner’s Newspaper campaigned against Japanese expansionism; in 1909, the Spanish Anarchists organised a mass strike against intervention in Morocco (the “Tragic Week”); in Italy, the Anarchists consistently opposed Italian expansionism into Eritrea and Ethiopia in the 1880s and 1890s and organised a massive anti-war movement against the Italian invasion of Libya in 1911, and intervention in Albania in 1919.[3]



Imperialism existed before capitalism and the modern State.

However, imperialism has been a central feature of capitalism and the modern State since their emergence 500 years ago in Europe and their subsequent global expansion. Indeed, this period has been characterised by imperialism on a scale unprecedented in world history. Of these powers, Britain and France were pre-eminent, holding between them Canada, Australia, New Zealand, colonies in North and South America and the Caribbean, most of Africa, the Middle East, the Far East as well as the Indian subcontinent in its entirety.  Japan also embarked on colonial expansion in South East Asia, intervening in Korea, China and other countries. Since the relative decline of the European and Japanese imperialist powers in the post- World War Two period, the United States has risen to pre-eminence as the dominant imperialist power.[4]

Imperialism in the modern period has been driven by two factors [5]

Firstly, there is an economic dimension to imperialism: the system arises in part to benefit the imperialist ruling classes (or at least important factions within those classes) by, for example, providing extra-high levels of profit from cheap labour and cheap raw materials, and blocking the access of rival ruling classes to these resources.

The second factor is the International State system. In the same way that capitalist companies compete in the market, so too do States compete: for territory, for strategic advantage (e.g. sites for military bases), and for expansion. This provides a pressure for national conflicts, war, foreign conquest and attempts at forcible assimilation of conquered peoples as the smaller States are swallowed up and the “greater” ones strive to increase their power and reach.



Imperialism has assumed different forms during the history of capitalism and the State.

Merchant Capitalism and Slave Labour. This early stage of capitalism dates from the early 1500s to the late 1700s, and was characterised by the accumulation of capital through trade, plunder and the exploitation of European workers and peasants. This was the period when capitalism began to forcefully expand itself into Africa, the Americas, and Asia. Slave plantations were set up in the Americas and elsewhere, and supplied by an enormous slave trade. The roots of modern racism may be found in this period: slavery generated racism – racism did not generate slavery. A key feature of this period was the forcible articulation of non-capitalist modes of production as subordinate components of an emerging world capitalist system. The riches acquired through plunder and trade, in conjunction with the exploitation of European artisans and peasants, laid the basis for the industrial revolution.  This period was associated with genocide in the Americas.

Colonial Conquest: From the 1500s until the 1900s, capitalism and its State were involved in the conquest and colonisation of Africa, the Americas and Asia. This period was associated with genocide in South Africa, Australia and elsewhere.

A major aim of the imperialists in this period was creating a source of cheap (often forced) labour, cheap agricultural and mineral raw materials (for First World firms) and also markets for First World manufactured goods. This had a strategic dimension insofar as part of the point of colonial occupation was to deny rival imperialist ruling classes access to the markets and resources of one’s own colonies.  The pattern of trade established in this period was one in which Third World/colonial countries exported raw materials (mineral and agricultural) and imported finished products (machinery, tools etc.).

This is a negative situation. Firstly, Third World exports were typically based on the displacement of local economic activities such as growing food crops in favour of export -oriented activities such as growing cash crops. One result of this was growing food security on the part of Third World peasants, who were now growing crops for export rather than focussing on food to satisfy their needs. Secondly, a large number of Third World countries were producing fairly similar products for sale to a few huge monopoly corporations, who in turn manufactured the finished goods that were exported back to the First World. This unequal situation allowed the large monopolies to drive down the prices of raw materials whilst driving up the costs of the finished goods that the Third World economies needed to survive.[7]

Africa was formally divided amongst the main European powers at the Conference of Berlin in 1884, and by the start of the 1900s partitioned and occupied (with the exception of Ethiopia, whose feudal ruling class was able to fight off the invasions).  In many cases, the indigenous ruling classes and elites collaborated in the colonial enterprise as they felt that it would be to their advantage to do so. Again, not only were vast territories plundered, but local societies and economies were drastically and forcefully restructured into the world capitalist system by the imperialists. Again, colonialism provided racist ideas with fertile ground.[8]

In general, two main types of colonies were established in Africa: the so-called “peasant” colonies, in which a tiny foreign ruling force, in conjunction with local chiefs, governed the colony (e.g. Ghana); and colonies of white settlement in which a sizeable White settler population dominated political and economic life (e.g. Algeria, Zimbabwe). The ruling class in the settler colonies did not comprise all the Whites as many Whites were middle and working class and as the ruling class included those local people who held important positions in the State apparatus or economy (e.g. chiefs). Nonetheless, the ruling classes were White-dominated with its leading members of European descent. The White ruling classes deliberately sought to draw in allies from other White groups such as the middle class and working class by providing material benefits such as job reservation, exclusive trading areas etc. We can refer to this alliance of all White classes and a section of the local elite as an oligarchy or power bloc.



Imperialism entered a new phase after the Second World War. It is important to note that although this period saw the end of the formal colonial empires, key features of political and economic features of imperialism continued to exist despite the attainment of formal independence. These include continuities in colonially-established economic relationships of “unequal exchange”, the continued global political dominance of the First World countries, and military interventions in the Third World on the part of imperialist powers. This is why this period may be referred to as the “neo-colonial phase” of imperialism.

The key features of the neo-colonial period are:

  1. the end of the formal colonial empires and their replacement by relations of neo- colonialism,
  2. the rise to prominence of the USA as the central imperialist power,
  3. the development of a “semi-periphery” of more developed Third World countries allied to imperialism
  4. the emergence of the multinational corporations (MNCs)
  5. the creation of international organisations to enforce the system, notably the IMF and World Bank. and
  6. the emergence of a second set of imperialist powers in the East bloc.

– End of the formal colonial empires [9]

The formal empires were dismantled for a number of reasons. Firstly, there was the economic exhaustion of the West European and Japanese powers. Secondly, there was the pressure from the USA, which wanted access to the markets, material and labour of the old empires. Thirdly, there were massive anti-colonial struggles in the period from the 1940s to the 1970s. For example, uprisings and even insurrections took place in against Holland in Indonesia, against France in Indo-China and Algeria, and against Britain in Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and India. These struggles paralleled an earlier wave of risings against colonial rule in the late 1700s and early 1800s that destroyed the formal colonial empires of Spain, Portugal, France and Britain in most of the Americas and the Caribbean.

Generally speaking, the imperial ruling classes took care to manage the process of decolonisation in order to reach a settlement that helped secure the preservation of their own interests. This typically meant: a long period of negotiation in which the masses became politically demobilised, negotiations with moderate nationalists, and the marginalisation, elimination or co-optation of hostile elements.

Although overall this strategy succeeded, and power was transferred in substantial measure to local ruling classes who would defend capitalism, the State and imperialism, there have been exceptions. In cases such as Mozambique and Nicaragua and Iran in 1979 radical nationalist movements won independence, often on the basis of armed insurrection In these cases resources and industries were typically nationalised and some social reforms (e.g. health) instituted. These struggles created not socialist societies but state capitalist regimes of various forms; however, by seizing imperialist property and by demonstrating a development path independent of the West (although often dependent on the East, and certainly not independent of world imperialism as a whole) they posed a threat to imperialism which was ruthless in its response. Imperialism used blockades, sanctions, cutting foreign aid etc. and, in the last instance, force such as campaigns of destabilisation or even direct military invasion (e.g. the wars against Vietnam, Grenada, and Iraq).[10] The use of direct armed intervention by the USA, backed by Japan and Western Europe, seems set to increase with the collapse of the limited deterrent provided by the Soviet Union , an alternative imperialist power.[11] See below for more discussion on the nature of Third World ruling classes.

– Rise of USA Dominance [12]

The USA took the opportunity provided by the crisis of the old imperialist powers to become the dominant imperialist country. First it sought -through the Marshall Plan, which gave or lent to Western Europe and Japan $17 billion between 1947 – 1955, and through other aid programmes, to make the competing imperialist nations dependent on US capital. Secondly it formed military blocs which it controlled such as NATO (1949) and SEATO (1954) to guard against the “spread of communism”, that is, to defend its spheres of influence from the Soviet and other East bloc capitalists. Thirdly, it set up a New World monetary order based on the supremacy of the dollar. The USA’s plans to create the “American Century” began to unravel from the 1970s with the end of the post war economic boom, the re-emergence of Western Europe and Japan as major capitalist centres, and the rise of radical liberation movements both in the USA and the “Third World”. Nonetheless, the USA remains the dominant imperialist power.

– Emergence of the Semi-Periphery [13]

As a whole, African and other Third World countries continued to rely on the export of agricultural and mineral products, and the import of manufactured goods. In other words, the colonially-derived patterns of trade typically continue in the post-colonial period. However, we must note the existence of what has been called the “semi- periphery”. Although still at least partly subject to imperialist domination, some Third World countries have developed a sizeable locally owned industrial base which allows them to be less dependant on the production of agricultural and mineral goods (however, they were still dependent on exporting local products to import the capital goods and machinery that powered the new factories). Often this development has been at least partly promoted by the imperial powers. In some cases these countries, act as local enforcers for imperialist rule e.g. South Africa and Israel. In other cases, they do not act as junior partners of imperialism, although their ties to the imperialist powers may be quite close e.g. South Korea, whose development was deliberately promoted by the USA in order to provide a buffer against the “spread of communism” (i.e. of Soviet and Chinese imperial influence) in South East Asia. The semi-peripheral countries may also have investments outside their own borders, and even their own MNCs (e.g. South Africa’s Anglo American Corporation has operations in Zambia, Bermuda, Peru, Ghana and the USA).[14]

– Rise of the Multinational Corporation (MNC)

One of the key features of neo-colonialism is the rise of the multinational corporation (MNCs). The MNCs can be defined as gigantic corporations (owned either by the state or private capitalists) who have operations in more than one country. These planet-spanning corporations are typically (but not necessarily) based in the imperialist countries.

Many of today’s MNCs grew out of the small family-owned and controlled businesses of nineteenth-century Europe and the USA, which first expanded their operations in their countries of origin before expanding abroad.[15] An important reason for expansion abroad was that within the First World countries the various nation-wide firms, together controlling the greater part of the economy, tended to collaborate with their competitors to keep prices up, wages at standard levels and the like. However, rich pickings were to be made by the corporation that could outwit its competitors by controlling markets, the supply of raw materials or developing new products that made the old obsolete. Result: some firms invested abroad in order to secure control over their raw material requirements, to control marketing outlets, and to forestall other corporations gaining control of raw material and markets. This was the origin of the MNCs. MNC s first moved into the Third World in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth- century, focussing in this stage on primary industry (raw material extraction and production). In the 25 years after World War 2 (1939-45), there was an “unprecedented expansion” of MNC activity, initially led by US firms, but since the 1960s overtaken by European and Japanese firms. This has often involved activity in the manufacturing sector as a general pattern. MNCs tend to invest where the political and cultural influence of their home countries has been the greatest.[16]

The size of the MNCs is striking. For example, a large and growing proportion of world production is controlled by a few hundred MNCs and by the year 2000 about 400 MNCs will own two thirds of the fixed assets of the entire globe.[17] In terms of size, the largest MNCs have sales that exceed the Gross Domestic Product (total output) of most Third World countries (for example, in 1984, Exxon had sales of $73,6 billion, which exceeded the total output of Nigeria ($73,5 bn), Algeria ($50,7 bn), Libya ($30,6), Egypt ($30,1), Morocco ($13,3) etc.).[18] 500 MNCs control 80% of all direct foreign investment. MNCs also play a predominant role in trade. For example, MNCs account for 90% of all trade in which the USA is involved and also dominate the marketing of Third World exports.[19] MNCs also play a central role in developing and controlling new technology. There are also MNC banks that have historically loaned money to the Third World. With the onset of a world capitalist crisis in the 1970s, however, these banks have demanded faster repayment and charged higher interest rates.

Assorted bourgeois ideologists and economists like to argue that the activities of the MNCs are beneficial to the Third World because they promote development and social peace; MNCs are examples of harmonious co-operation between the First and the Third World. This view is pure fiction.[20]

Firstly, when serious conflicts with Third World governments (not to mention popular forces) take place (e.g. attempts to nationalise foreign firms in order to put them under the control of the local bosses and rulers), the MNCs can rely on their home governments’ ability to exert “pressure” to change the policy of Third World governments. We have seen above what such “pressure” can entail. In other words, the MNCs invoke the continuing power of the imperialist ruling classes to secure their interests.

Secondly, MNCs are central players in the system whereby the Third World exports raw materials and provides a market for First World goods. As we noted earlier, this arrangement allows the systematic under-pricing of Third World exports and the systematic overpricing of Third World imports.

Thirdly, where MNCs are involved in the manufacturing or industrial sector, not only do these investments have few links to other parts of the economy (and so do not have positive spin-offs e.g. jobs) but they centre on the super- exploitation of a low paid, coercively controlled and rightless workforce. This allows the MNCs to reap higher than average (or “super”) profits not to mention undercutting the wage and welfare gains won by First World workers. MNCs are notorious for their labour policies in the Third World.

Fourth, MNCs also block or retard Third World development by extracting surplus (i.e. production above that needed to satisfy basic needs- and thus suitable for use in building productive resources, infrastructure, services etc.) from the Third World. This is done by means of sending profits made back to the First World (for example, it is estimated that US MNCs sent 79% of their declared net profits out of Latin America between 1960- 1968), by manipulating prices charged in trade within the firm (“transfer pricing”) and by manipulating charges for patents, product and technology licenses, brand names, and management, marketing and technical services (Elson 1988). A similar process happens through the repayment of loans to MNC banks and to the IMF and World Bank: in the 1980s, it was shown that there was a net capital loss from Africa to the First World banks, the supposed benefits of bank loans notwithstanding (see below for more on the IMF and World Bank).

Finally, MNCs undermine local industries by “taste transfer”, that is, by promoting the replacement of locally produced goods (often labour-intensive, artisan produced) with more expensive imported ones utilising far less labour but requiring far more investment and foreign currency.

– Role of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank [21]

Institutions like IMF and World Bank are central to enforcing modern imperialism. Founded in 1946 at Bretton Woods in the USA, the IMF and World Bank initially focused on rebuilding Western Europe and Japan after World War 2. They were a key component of the USA’s attempts to create a dollar-centred international monetary system. Then, from around 1971, the focus of IMF and World Bank shifted to the Third World, and especially to Africa. Despite IMF and World Bank’s rosy views of themselves as neutral, purely technical aid agencies their role in these regions has been objectively imperialistic. This is clear in both political and economic spheres.

– Pro-imperialist structure of the IMF and World Bank

Although most States in the world are members of the IMF and World Bank, and pay into the central coffers of these institutions, their decision-making processes are dominated by the imperialist countries of the First World.  Rather than a “one country, one vote” system, as can be found in United Nations organisations, a percentage of votes is granted according to the economic size and contribution of a given country, a system which favours the First World states: the USA has 19.9% of the total vote; the United Kingdom 6.9%; and the USA, Western Europe, and Canada combined have 53% of the vote.[22]

Pro-imperialist political role.[23] The IMF and World Bank have always operated in the political interests of imperialism . Aid and funds have historically been readily given to Third World regimes favourable and friendly to the USA and other imperialist States – like South Africa (before the sanctions campaign got underway- e.g. massive loans after the crushing of the 1976 uprising), the death squad ARENA regime in El Salvador, and Daniel Arap Moi’s regime in Kenya. This takes place no matter how much the despicable and vicious crimes committed by these regimes are in stark contrast to the professed liberal, democratic and human rights concerns of the imperialists. But more radical Third World states who fail to toe the imperialist line, or introduce social reforms that are seen as destabilising are refused loan facilities. For example, the elected social democratic government of Salvador Allende in Chile was refused assistance in its reform attempts. (The USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the American MNC, ITT, subsequently assisted the military coup which overthrew Allende in 1973). In this way the IMF and World Bank help ensure the perpetuation of capitalism, the State and imperialism.

Pro-imperialist economic role.[24] The IMF and World Bank act to perpetuate the colonially-derived world division of labour which relegates most Third World countries to producers of raw ,materials and importers of finished goods.  They also act to further the interests of MNCs by promoting free market policies that facilitate the operations of the big companies by attacking worker rights, freeing capital movements and removing tariff barriers. Since their founding, the IMF and World Bank have been committed to the construction and regulation of an international capitalist system of free trade and capital movements.  This aim is reinforced by the General Agreements on Trades and Tariffs (GATT) (now called the World Trade Organisation (WTO)) which was established at the same time as the IMF and World Bank with essentially the same aims.[25]

One key way of attaining these objectives is to insisting that Third World ruling classes adopt the appropriate free-market policies as a precondition for financial assistance. Another method is to try to influence government policy thinking as a whole by promoting free market ideology. Consequently, the increasingly stringent conditionalities placed on loans made available by these institutions to African states as the economic crisis deepened emphasised policy reforms such as currency devaluation, trade liberalisation and reduction of the economic role of the State (in practice, this means cutbacks in public sector jobs, slashing welfare services, and removing wage and price controls). Conditionality also involves the seconding of IMF and World Bank staff to government ministries to monitor the implementation of these policies, a marked parallel to colonial administration. This package of policy prescriptions is called Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). These policy prescriptions are informed by the free market theory that the crisis of Third World States such as those in Africa economic crisis was rooted primarily in internal factors such as inappropriate State interventions in the economy and “bloated” civil service, all of which could be resolved by a growth path premised on neo-liberal prescriptions and emphasising reliance on Africa’s “comparative advantage” in the export of raw materials.

To these economic conditionalities were added political conditionalities encompassing improved “governance” (more accountable, honest, legitimate, open and consensus-based government), which IMF and World Bank technocrats came to see as vital to the effective implementation of the economic reform programme. This is not the same as even parliamentary democracy- the issue for the IMF and the World Bank is not the establishment of democratic States but of governments with an increased capacity and efficiency in implementing ESAPs.[26] Overall, then, ESAPs function to facilitate the operations of MNCs and the continuation of the imperialist world division of labour.

ESAP’s are an attack on the Third World working class, working peasantry, and the poor. Its effects on popular living standards are highly negative. For example, in Zimbabwe, ESAPs led to price control relaxation resulted in dramatic rises in the inflation rate (running between 25% and 40%), a fall in consumer demand of up to 30%, a drop in average wages to the lowest levels since the early 1970s (due in part to wage restraint and high inflation), and at least 55,000 jobs losses up to 1995 (particularly in the civil service where 22,000 employees have been retrenched.[27] These job losses have an especially severe impact in a country in which fewer than 20% of school-leavers each year are able to find employment in the formal economy: and more than 50% unemployment in the formal sector. ESAPs also involved severe cuts in spending on social services with health spending falling by 39% in 1994-5, expenditure on low-cost housing dropping by Z$4,3 million, and spending in the primary education sector at its lowest levels since independence. In addition, the imposition of cost recovery principles requires that all but the poorest of the poor (those earning under Z$400 a month) have to pay school and clinic fees (at the same time, however, President Mugabe awarded himself, his top officials, and members of parliament salary increases ranging from 116% to 134%!). It might also be noted that, in general, the export-orientation of an ESAP increases food insecurity as increasing amounts of land are given over to cash crop production.

The IMF and World Bank also promote ecologically destructive policies, by encouraging countries to cut down and export resources such as rain forests (as part of the drive to export raw materials), or to import toxic waste (in order to raise foreign currency). Laurence Summers, chief economist of the World Bank wrote in a confidential memo in December 1991:

“Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]?… I think the logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that… I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted… The problem with the argument against all these proposals for more pollution in the LDCs (intrinsic rights, moral reasons, social concerns)… is that they could be turned around and used against every bank proposal for liberalisation”.[28]

– Why are ESAPs adopted?

Given these negative effects of IMF/World Bank policies, how is that that many (perhaps most) Third World countries have adopted them? Several factors need to be taken into account.

Economic Crisis: In the African context, at least, a key factor is the economic crisis that began in the 1980s. Africa is the poorest region of the world and the only one consistently getting poorer. It would be fair to say that living conditions have declined over the last 30 years. This situation reflects both “external” and “internal” factors. By external factors we mean the effects of imperialism; these have mostly been examined above and include things like worsening terms of trade for Third World exports, the loss of capital to MNCs and higher interest rates on foreign loans.[29] Internally, the main cause of the crisis has been the local ruling class. The local ruling class is firstly, allied with imperialism and is thus directly culpable for the continuing negative effects of imperialism (see below). Secondly, the ruling classes in Africa are strongly dependent on a State connection and / or position for the accumulation of wealth: through passing contracts onto friends and family, corruption (primitive accumulation directly from the State coffers), nationalising private property in order to put it in the hands of government rulers.[30] This has negative effects, both economically (declining infrastructure, endemic corruption and inefficiency, the implementation of ineffective state-led industrialisation and economic development schemes) and politically (the centrality of the State to accumulation means that competition for State power is especially intense and typically culminates in the establishment of military rule or a one-party State as one faction of the ruling class strives to monopolise access to the sources of power and wealth).

Class Inequality.[31] The crisis predisposes African governments to use the various loan facilities of the IMF and World Bank, which provide not only cash but also a “stamp of approval” that indicates to MNCs that a country is a safe investment . The point is that it is not the masses who turn to the IMF and World Bank, but the local rulers and bosses. Faced with a crisis situation Third World elites find ESAPs a comparatively attractive option. ESAPs allow the local ruling classes to install “adjustment” policies that (i) transfer the costs of the crisis onto the working people (e.g. cut backs on welfare spending, falling wages) and (ii) provide opportunities for retaining power as well as increasing profit through new links to MNCs, opportunities to buy up privatised State companies, lower corporate taxes etc. Indeed, in countries like Zimbabwe the economic crisis was not severe enough to force the ruling class to adopt an ESAP: in fact, the ruling class willingly chose an ESAP because key factions within that class believed that the free-market policies of ESAP would promote economic growth (and therefore profit).[32] This clearly shows that an ESAP is not simply the result of some sort of imperialist conspiracy imposed on innocent local elites, but rather a policy which accommodates the class interests of the local rulers and the imperialist bourgeoisie. Nonetheless, it is certainly an additional advantage of ESAP that it allows the local bosses and rulers to claim that the policies that hurt workers are solely imposed by the IMF and World Bank demands. The blatant biases in ESAP against working people are reinforced by the nature of negotiations over ESAP conditionality: these are conducted in total secret between local rulers and IMF and World Bank executives; ordinary people are denied any say at all.

– Rise of Eastern Bloc imperialism

The collapse of the old formal colonial empires, and the rise of the United States the main imperialist power was paralleled by the increasingly expansionist role of the so-called “socialist” countries of the Soviet Union and China. Both of these states occupied neighbouring territories on the grounds of “historical affinity” (China in Tibet) or “spreading socialism” (the Soviet Union in East Europe and the Middle East). As Anarchists, the very clear parallels between the imperialism of these countries and that of the United States and the West is not surprising, we have long recognised that these countries were not socialist but State-capitalist and thus subject to all the general laws and tendencies of capitalist / State development.

– The United Nations [33]

The United Nations is not a neutral international peacekeeper, it is part and parcel of the imperialist system. Overall, it is nothing more than a loose federation of different States, a convention of exploiters and rulers. And from the start it has been dominated by the key imperialist powers who sit on the Security Council: the USA, the Soviet Union, France, Britain and China, all of which had the right to veto UN operations; the effect was to legitimise any spheres of influence enjoyed by these countries. As a result, UN intervention depended on, and was shaped by the interests of these countries. No action was ever taken against the Soviet invasion of Hungary or Czechoslovakia, or against the US war against Nicaragua. Interventions either took place where they were essentially irrelevant to imperialist interests (e.g. Rwanda) or compatible with them (e.g. the Gulf War had UN support).  In addition, the UN solution for ending wars (when it actually does intervene) is to use the “official” channels: talking to governments and local warlords. For example, UN aid to Rwanda in 1994 was often channelled through the former government officials who controlled the refugee camps in Zaire and who were themselves implicated in the genocide; it strengthened these individuals who were part of the problem. Generally speaking, the UN seeks to reach “settlements” that are compatible with the interests of the imperial and local bourgeoisies, not the popular masses. The UN was and is incapable of ending war because it is the creature of those who cause war: the ruling classes of the world.



We reject the idea that First World workers benefit from imperialism

According to this type of argument, these workers receive a share of the colonial booty and this improves their standards of living to levels that would not otherwise be possible. This argument, which originated in large part with Lenin’s 1916 book, Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, is a recipe for disunity in struggle. It is moreover inaccurate and unfounded.

This argument misrepresents living conditions in the First World. For example, in the United Kingdom (UK) (Britain and Northern Ireland), which was historically one of the “greatest” imperial powers, at the start of the 1980s, the top 10% of the population received 23.9% of total income while the bottom 10% received only 2.5%. The top 10% of the population also owned four fifths of all personal wealth, and 98% of all privately held company shares and stocks. The top 1% itself owned 80% of all stocks and shares. Meanwhile the bottom 80% of the population owned just 10% of the personal wealth, mostly in the form of owning the house they live in. These economic inequalities correspond to material deprivation and hardship. A study published in 1979 found that about 32% of the population of the UK (15-17.5 million out of a population of 55.5 million) were living in or near poverty. A 1990 United Nations survey of child health in the UK showed that 25% of children were malnourished to the extent that their growth was stunted.[34]

This argument is theoretically and empirically flawed. It provides no explanation of how the alleged transfer of wealth takes place. It merely asserts that it happens. Nor does it provide any proof of the alleged process.

For example, it has been claimed that there were different wage rates for west African and Scottish miners in the 1930s and that, subsequently, the alleged disparities between the incomes of the two groups reflected a process whereby the Scots were somehow allegedly subsidised by the exploitation of the Ghanaians.[35] However, it simply does not follow that from a demonstration that there were nominal differences in wage rates between two groups of miners that the one benefited from the exploitation of the other.

Such wage figures are misleading as they are almost never adjusted to take into account the real value of the different currencies relative to one another, differences in the cost of living, the effects of inflation and so on. As such, merely listing off figures does not actually establish that there were substantial differences in living standards between Third and First World workers. In other words, it is risky to take different figures and, without contextualising them, use them as a basis for an argument.

Moreover, even if substantial wage gaps for workers in the same occupation in different countries were clearly shown to exist, it does not follow that they necessarily reflect a transfer of value from one set of workers to the other. A mere demonstration of disparities does not automatically establish what mechanism accounts for these disparities. At one level, there is no evidence of a correlation between imperialism and living standards in the First World. For example, the nineteenth century is commonly recognised as one of the most extreme periods of mass impoverishment in British history, the period of child labour in the coal mines and so on, yet it is precisely during this period that British imperial power in Asia and Africa and the Caribbean was at its height. Similarly, the welfare State, which provided some social insurance and benefits for First World workers and which marked one of the most substantial periods of working class material advance in the First World, took place after World War Two. That is to say, the welfare State was established precisely the period in which the European colonial empires in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean collapsed. Similarly, Western military interventions in the Third World have increased greatly since the late 1980s with the end of the Cold War, yet this same period has seen the greatest attack in working class conditions, and the greatest decline in real living standards in the First World, since the 1920s and 1930s.

To take another example, Spain and Portugal are amongst the poorest countries in Europe, yet it is precisely these countries which had the longest standing colonial empires, dating from the 1400s to the 1970s. At another level, a number of alternative explanations for the patterns of change in working class conditions in the First World have been well established. These include: mass struggle which reached a revolutionary level (the key factor in the establishment of the welfare State); an economic boom (the greatest capitalist boom in history took place from the 1950s to the 1970s, resulting in increased crumbs available for social services without disturbing the underling patterns of income inequality); increased mechanisation in production (greatly increasing workers ‘productivity thus allowing bosses to pay slightly higher wages while extracting greater levels of surplus from workers than ever before; this actually means that the rate of exploitation in the First World has increased, not declined).

It would be more accurate to claim that the interests of First World working people are actually harmed by imperialism.

Firstly, the coercive forces and repressive techniques developed in the colonies and imperial dominions can and are utilised against working class resistance “at home”. This coercive force is built up through taxes on the working people, consuming resources that would be far better used elsewhere e.g. on welfare.[36] The clearest example of this was in the Spanish Revolution where the fascists used the Spanish colonial army from North Africa to launch their attack in July 1936 and to slaughter Spanish the workers and peasants.

Secondly, the national chauvinistic and racist ideas promoted by the ruling class in order to generate support for imperialism act to divide the international working class and divert it from realising its true interests.[37] These sorts of national hostilities are also promoted by Third World elites and nationalists who also oppose the idea of international class struggle unity. In this way, British workers are divided from French workers, and both are divided from Asian and African workers. This allows the bosses and rulers to divide and rule the workers and peasants, whose interests across the whole world are in fact identical.  The more unity the bosses and rulers can try to build with local workers against a supposed foreign enemy, the lower the level of class struggle, and, therefore, the lower the wages and the worse the working conditions of the proletariat. The real ally for the workers of one country are the workers of another country, not the local elites; the real enemy in a war is at home, in the form of the local ruling class.

The negative effects of imperialism are especially evident in the era of neo-colonialism. In this period, the MNCs are able to shift their investments around the world in search of the cheapest and most controlled labour; the threat of packing up and going where workers are more pliant is used to attack workers living standards across the world. In other words, the existence of repressive Third World regimes who smash unions, shoot peasant organisers etc. (thereby pushing down labour costs) is in direct contradiction to the interests of First World workers as these regimes directly help cause job losses, plant closures, wage cuts etc. in the First World itself as MNCs transfer their investments elsewhere.

Given that there is no evidence or theoretical support for the notion that First World workers benefit from imperialism, it is clear that the recipients of increased rates of surplus value due to low wages in some Third World contexts are capitalists, and not workers. In other words, the super-profits are going to the bosses not the workers. This strengthens the ruling class as a whole relative to the working class and working peasants.



Nationalism is a specific political strategy for decolonisation that is based on the idea that all classes within a given nation or people must unite to achieve decolonisation and self-determination through some sort of people’s government. Nationalism has historically been a powerful current in anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles across the world. For example, in South Africa the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) and the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) all subscribe to one or other variant of nationalist politics.

We reject the idea and the assumption that nationalism is the “natural” form of anti-colonial struggle. This idea is commonly put out in books and political commentaries which either claim that nationalism was the only way that colonised people responded to an imperialist relationship, or which use the word “nationalism” to mean the same thing as “anti-colonial struggle”.[39] While clearly any serious politics has to address the issue of national oppression, it does not follow that the experience of national oppression automatically results in the dominance of nationalist politics. In South Africa, colonialism met with large-scale political responses amongst the oppressed ranging from liberalism, to religious millenarianism, “tribalism”, and socialism. In other contexts, anti-colonial struggles have been led by political forces ranging from Anarchism (Ukraine 1918-21) to religious fundamentalism (Iran 1978-9) to Stalinism (China 1948). The dominance of nationalist politics in a given struggle needs to be explained and challenged, not assumed away as inevitable.

As Anarchists we believe that nationalist politics are fatally flawed and are unable to deliver freedom from domination to the majority of people in the colonial and imperialist- dominated world. For nationalists, freedom is achieved when an independent local government is established (as, for example, when the British colony of Gold Coast became independent Ghana in the 1950s). While we defend the right of people to choose to have a independent State, and while we support the establishment of systems of free elections to governments as an immediate demand, we disagree with nationalism as it cannot provide freedom for the majority of people living under a situation of imperial domination.

Nationalist politics cannot deliver freedom from external domination.

Basic imperialist relationships continue to exist despite the establishment of an independent State. The ex-colonial countries are integrated into the world capitalist system as small economies exporting raw materials, and as sites of cheap industrial labour. Given that this world system is dominated by Western multi- national corporations who act as monopoly (sole) buyers of these commodities and who control access to modern technologies, given that, moreover, the metropolitan countries dominate the multi-lateral financial institutions (the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank) on whom many peripheral countries depend for development and fiscal loans, and given that, finally, countries such as the United States and France in particular have shown a continuing willingness to engage in military interventions in the Third World, it is clear that most of the patterns metropolitan imperial domination continue to exist even after the attainment of formal independence. Above we called these relationships “neo-colonialism”.

This does not mean that there is no difference between direct colonial rule and neo-colonialism. In the latter case, there is no direct rule from London from Paris; the local State can form alliances with a variety of different imperialist powers, thus increasing its scope for manoeuvre as well as its ability to exact more concessions and favourable terms from the imperialist ruling classes, particularly if it is strategically important (witness the manner in which Third World countries played off the Soviet and Western powers in the Cold War to accrue maximum advantages); and the international laws and public opinions on the right of countries to govern themselves constrain the ability of imperialist powers to decree policy in the Third World. In other words, neo-colonialism is a slightly weaker form of imperial control than direct colonial rule, although it is still a powerful form of imperialism.

Nationalist politics cannot deliver freedom from internal domination.

In addition to being subject to continuing external domination, the majority of the population of the post-colonial State also experience internal domination. The State is a hierarchical structure of coercion that concentrates power in the hands of a small ruling class. It defends the class system and the forms of oppression (e.g. sexism) that the class system generates. Rule by the State makes it impossible for the mass of the people to actively participate in the decisions that affect their conditions of life.

In other words, decolonisation on the nationalist model delivers power to a new local ruling class. It does not provide self-determination for the working class and peasant majority. Even if nationalists take up socialist sounding slogans in order to win working class support, the interests of workers are not central to these movements, they are incidental. The effect of nationalist politics is to hide the very real class differences that exist even amongst colonised populations, and in this way nationalism smoothes the way for a local elite claiming to speak for a homogenous “nation” to take power for itself. In fact, it is the function of nationalist politics to deny the importance of class differences within the nation in order to facilitate the construction of a class alliance between local workers and peasants and local bosses and rulers. Nationalism is a politics of the frustrated local elite who seek to build a mass base for their own class programme by arguing that class alliances and State power are the way to resolve the genuine anti-colonial grievances of the popular masses.



The argument that there are no ruling classes in Third World countries because real power supposedly lies outside the borders is wrong.

This argument sometimes pops up in the African context in the form of the claim that the holders of State power who currently govern the country are really only a “petty bourgeoisie” (a middle class). As Anarchists we do not accept the idea that the only criterion for determining class status is ownership or non-ownership of productive resources. Any group with State power is by definition part of the ruling class. Moreover, the Third World elites do control substantial parts of the local economy, particularly by means of State ownership and control of key industries such as mines and railways. As we discuss below, nationalisation does not equal socialism, all that it means is that a State capitalist rather than a private capitalist controls the means of production. The claim that there is no “real” indigenous ruling class is also inaccurate as it ignores the massive disparities in wealth and power that exist within the Third World. On the one hand, there is a small elite controlling the resources of the State such as the military. On the other, a disproportionate amount of income accrues to a tiny section of the population. In Chile in 1996, the wealthiest 10% received 41% of available income while the poorest 40% received only 13%; 28% of the population was below the official poverty line. In Zambia in 1974 the top 5% received 35% of the national income; by 1983 the top 5% got 50% of the national income. In Zimbabwe in 1991, the richest 3% got 30% of total incomes while 50% of the population got less than 15% of total annual incomes. While the United Nations 1996 Human Development Report showed that 338 billionaires had more assets than the combined incomes of countries home to 45% of the worlds population, it also showed that about half of these billionaires were based in Third World countries. Clearly, the argument that there is no Third World ruling class is a gross distortion of the facts.[40]

Nor do we see Third World ruling classes as nothing more than the tools of the imperialist ruling classes. These classes have their own interests and agendas which do, however, tend to coincide with the interests of imperialism (see below).

The local ruling class who vault into power in nationalist-dominated anti-colonial struggles may, obviously, mouth anti-imperialist rhetoric. Indeed, it is likely to, given that it is the new elite’s claim to have defeated colonialism which legitimises its place in power. Nationalism, “national unity” etc. may become the official ideology of the state. Nonetheless, in objective terms, the new rulers are the allies of the imperialist ruling classes of the First World.

The local ruling class is dependent for its economic and political survival on the maintenance on close ties with imperialism. They defend the colonially derived economic relationships which they inherit at independence: they need to export copper etc. in the medium term in order to keep their economies functioning, and thus, their State funded and their lifestyles luxurious. They accumulate wealth by relying on the multinational corporations, who it joins in business ventures, sells land and mineral rights, taxes and so forth enters into joint business ventures, charges taxes (they also, as noted above, accumulate wealth more “dishonestly” by plundering the State coffers, passing business contracts onto their friends and family, and by nationalising property). They are funded by IMF/World Bank loans and other forms of aid.

This requires, in turn, that they continue to dominate and exploit the workers and the peasants who do the actual work in the agricultural, mining and manufacturing industries. In other words, they maintain the old imperialist economic relationships, as well as the foundations of those relationships, which are the exploitation of the working people. Moreover, when the masses rise up, the new local bosses and rulers are happy to call on the aid of their friends in the imperialist States to help crush the resistance, because both the local and imperialist ruling classes are opposed to worker and peasant resistance. This is particularly evident in the ex-French colonies in Africa.[41]

It is therefore incorrect to characterise Third World ruling classes as anti-imperialist, or to call for their defence against imperialist aggression. Firstly, these ruling classes are an essential part of the imperialist capitalist system as they provide the economic and political preconditions for continued imperialist domination throughout the ruling class. It is these ruling classes who bludgeon workers, throw peasants off the land and shoot students. Secondly, these ruling classes are unable to act in a consistently anti-imperialist manner as they are constrained by the continuing patterns of neo-colonialism, and as they are the direct beneficiaries of, and are dependent on, continuing imperialism to maintain their positions of wealth and power. Given a choice between worker revolution and continued imperialist domination, they will always choose the latter as it is in their direct class interests. For their part, the imperialist ruling classes will not undermine a local ruling class, even if it is something of a renegade (see below), if this raises the spectre of mass revolution. On the contrary, the imperialist ruling class will put aside whatever conflicts it has with a local ruling class if continuing on a confrontational path threatens the bigger picture of continued State/capitalist rule. Thus, the US-led forces withdrew from their assault on Iraq in 1991 when deserting soldiers joined with peasants and workers in the North and South of the country to establish workers councils (“shoras”) and raise radical demands. This withdrawal provided Saddam Hussein with the opportunity to slaughter the local rebels.[42]

This is not to deny that conflicts will not arise between Third World and imperialist First World ruling classes. Conflicts often arise. The Third World ruling class may raise radical rhetoric which the imperialist ruling classes fear is too disruptive, or they may even nationalise foreign property in an attempt to bolster their own power-wealth position. The local ruling class will probably resent being trapped in a role as suppliers of raw materials and may undertake efforts to industrialise the country. In such situations, good examples of which are Cuba from 1959 onwards, and Nicaragua and Iran in the 1980s, the imperialist powers may intervene through means like sanctions, military action and other forms of pressure to bring the “renegade” local bosses and rulers back into line. This is a clear example of the power of neo-colonialism in the world. Nonetheless, all such conflicts are “secondary” in the sense that they are about the appropriate way to manage capitalism and the State, rather than about whether these structures should be preserved. Both sides agree on “primary” matters such as the need to maintain class structures and the systems of exploitation and domination entailed by capitalism and the State. All of the supposedly “radical” Third World regimes (China, Vietnam, Mozambique, Ghana etc.) were based on the repression and suffering of the mass of the people, that is to say, the workers, the poor and the working peasants. At most power was transferred from local landlord and business elites to State elites. Nationalisation does not equal socialism, it only means that a State bureaucrat rather than a corporate bureaucrat is running the economy.

We do not, therefore, characterise the Third World ruling classes as “sell-outs” because this implies that they have become corrupted and failed in their alleged anti-imperialist mission and / or common destiny with the masses. Instead, we recognise that it is their natural role is to act, in objective terms, as partners for imperialism. Nor do we see the only problem with the Third World ruling classes as one of insufficient anti-imperialism. Even if the local ruling classes were anti-imperialist (which they are not), we would still not defend them because their existence as a ruling class is based on the dispossession and exploitation of the majority of the population, which is the working class and working peasantry. In other words, the pro-imperialist nature of the Third World ruling classes is only one of their many faults, and not necessarily the worst of these.


As we have indicated, imperialism is part and parcel of capitalism and the State. So long as these structures continue to exist on a global scale, it is impossible to end imperialist relationships. Indeed, even attempts by local ruling classes to isolate themselves from imperialism in order to develop independent forms of capitalism are typically met with blockades, war and intervention. Clearly, this has several implications.

Firstly, an anti-imperialist struggle cannot succeed if it is isolated in one country. There can be no “anti-imperialism in one country” as hostile imperialism will either (a) subvert the autonomy of that struggle through subjecting it to the logic of the international State/capitalist system, or (b) intervene against and/or destroy regimes its considers too renegade (in the case of a socialist revolution, armed intervention is a certainty). Thus a successful struggle against imperialism requires maximum international support and solidarity, both within the First World and across the Third World. The revolution needs to spread into nearby territories dominated by imperialism as well as into the imperialist countries themselves. In other words, it requires an assault on the whole edifice of world capitalism and the world State system.

Secondly, imperialism cannot be defeated without simultaneously defeating capitalism and the State. In other words, the struggle against imperialism can only succeed if it is simultaneously a struggle against capitalism and the State. Since capitalism and the State can only be defeated by class struggle, and since the Third World ruling classes are objectively pro-imperialist, imperialism can only be defeated by means of a class struggle against all rulers and bosses, local and imperial.

Alliances with local elites are a disastrous and anti-revolutionary strategy. In other words, the key force on decolonisation is not the “nation” but the international proletariat and working peasantry. In this struggle, therefore, the allies of the working classes of the Third World are not the local elites, but the working classes of the imperialist countries. The formation of an alliance with a local ruling elite requires the proletariat to put its revolutionary programme on hold in order to maintain bourgeois support, providing a veto to an exploiting class whose aid is neither desirable nor necessary to the anti-imperialist struggle.

The real division is not between the First and the Third World, it is between those who rule and exploit and those who take orders and toil. Within the Third World, “settler” working classes are potential allies of the colonised indigenous toilers, although clearly, such alliances are not always possible (e.g. in Zimbabwe an alliance was highly unlikely due to the extreme material benefits the White working class received for its acquiescence in racial capitalism); while always desirable, the lack of such an alliance does not negate the need for a class struggle approach to the anti-imperialist struggle as this struggle can be based on the organisation of the indigenous toiling masses. Our approach is social not racial, the problem is not people’s skin colour, its a certain social system. We are not for the expulsion of all “settlers”, but for an international, multi-racial social revolution that restructures politics and economics in the interests of all the masses.

The aim of the anti-imperialist struggle should not be the establishment of independent “nation” States, but rather the establishment of an international stateless socialist system which would embody the principles of equality, co-operation and grassroots democracy.



As Anarchists we recognise the right of different nationalities/ethnic groups to express their own cultural beliefs and ways of life. These differences, like the individual, are a natural historic and social fact that must be recognised. Every nationality/ethnic group has the right, just like the individual, to think, feel, desire, speak and act in its own ways. A defence of the right to be oneself is a natural consequence of the principles of liberty and equality.

At the same time, however, it is also necessary to add certain general points on this issue.

We reject the idea that there is a unified “national” culture that encompasses all the classes in one country. The different social and material conditions of different classes make impossible a shared set of customs and values. There are also regional differences within each country which enhance this fragmentation. At the same time, it would not be an exaggeration to maintain that there is more in common in terms of habits and customs between the working people of different countries than there is between the owning and non-owning classes within each country.[43] For this reason Anarchists sometimes distinguish between a “nation” (everyone living in the same country e.g. “the Germans”) and a people (a class-bounded nationality (e.g. “German workers”).

A defence of the rights of different cultural groups within the working class and working peasantry does not imply an unconditional and uncritical defence of all elements of a given culture. On the contrary, we defend in each culture only the progressive and neutral elements, and we oppose all backward and reactionary manifestations. We do not defend “national rights” that violate the principles of liberty. To accept culture as an aspect of freedom means to reject elements of that culture (e.g. sexist practices like genital mutilation; acceptance of the monarchy) which contradict this general principle. In addition, as the victims of backward practices are themselves part of that culture, it is also inconsistent with their own rights to self-expression to maintain or endorse such practices; these groups too have a valid claim to “own” and change that culture.

We also reject the idea that there is a common “national interest” between the different classes within a “nation”. Their interests are in direct contradiction. The phrase “national interests” hides the interests of the ruling classes, which are against the interests of the mass of the people themselves.

We reject the idea that the State, whether post-colonial or otherwise, provides a vehicle for the expression of different cultures.

States exist within a competitive State system that generates strong pressures towards national conflicts, and, ultimately, to wars, foreign conquest and attempts at forcible assimilation of minority groups. The basis for inclusion in a given State is typically not some sort of “national” characteristic, but the ability of a State to conquer and incorporate new territories and peoples. It is also common for newly independent States to deny national rights to their own subordinate minorities. Attempts by the State to impose or promote cultural uniformity upon the variegated population it rules (“nation-building”), and to inculcate loyalty to its structures amongst its subjects (“patriotism”) leads to attempts to destroy cultural specificity’s and, in particular, to the repression of the national rights and languages of ethnic minorities; no nationality can find suitable conditions for the free development of its culture within the confines of a State organisation that seeks to level all differences.

Moreover, State power dampens artistic expression and cultural creativity amongst the population as whole; the more pervasive the power of the State, the lower the general levels of creativity in the country as a whole. Consequently, the free development of the arts and humanities requires a reduction of State power to a minimum. It also requires a society that prioritises human development over profit, a society that will give all people the maximum opportunity to develop their forms of expression, while imposing on everybody the obligation to work for the common good.

The State is not a vehicle for the expression of the will of the majority of the people (the workers, the poor and the peasants) but is instead a tool of the ruling class. Consequently, the realisation of an independent State usually means the realisation of the right of the local elite to take power and exploit the proletariat.

While we defend independence and secessionist movements (see below) we argue that genuine self-determination for the majority can only come through an anarchist social revolution that puts power in the hands of the working class. In anarchism, society will be based on the free association of individuals into communes and syndicates, the federation of syndicates along industrial lines, and of communes on regional, inter-regional, continental and ultimately global lines. The new inter-regional federations will not necessarily coincide with the borders of the previous States. These structures would be co-ordinated by democratic committees, and councils of delegates and would be defended by a democratic workers militia. This system will remove all causes of war and oppression, and allow every people of whatever size the right to self-determination with the provisions only that their internal structure does not threaten the freedom and self-determination of their neighbours, and that the fact of voluntary association does not permanently bind a member. Such a society can only be realised through a united, integrated international worker-peasant revolution that includes all races, peoples, genders and sexualities.


General perspectives

As Anarchists we are avowed opponents of imperialism.  We believe that the working people must fight imperialism through mass action. We get involved in struggles against imperialism for their own aims, for the confidence that campaigning gives people, and because we stand in solidarity with our class. We recognise that it is in struggle that people are won to revolutionary ideas. We always try to link daily struggles against imperialism to our vision of a free society, and we argue that only a working class revolution can finally uproot and defeat imperialism.

Guidelines for day-to-day activities

We are opposed to the intervention of any collection of imperialist “peacemakers” and this includes the United Nations. We are opposed to such interventions in all circumstances as they are examples of the continuing power of imperialism and as they are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem. We do not believe that such interventions are motivated by good intentions such as “restoring democracy” but are rather the product of political and economic calculations on the part of the imperialist ruling classes. There can be no “just settlement” that involves any imperialist power or the UN or similar bodies. Instead, such settlements will always be designed to protect the interests of the imperialists. Therefore we oppose any intervention in any region of the world for whatever reason by the imperialists. We are for the unconditional withdrawal of troops of the imperialist countries from any country they are occupying. Given that wars and occupations are largely the result of ruling class drives to increase power and wealth, we do not decide who is right or wrong in a given situation on the basis of who is the apparent aggressor, nor do we take sides in wars between States. Instead, we argue that for the workers in each country the real enemy is their “own” ruling class, and that their allies are the working people of the enemy State. On this basis we would seek to undermine the war effort.

In a situation of imperialist aggression towards a Third World country or ruling class (e.g. the blockade of Cuba, the Gulf War against Iraq), we do not raise slogans such as “Defend Castro” or “Victory to Iraq”.  Instead, we raise the slogan “No War but the Class War” and call for solidarity with, and a victory to, the popular masses of those countries (e.g. “Solidarity with Cuba, not Castro”), as it is they who bear the brunt of hardship imposed by imperialism. We make this concrete by offering solidarity including material aid to independent working class and working peasant and anti-authoritarian organisations. We do not send aid to the local State as it can use this to repress mass resistance. Aid of any sort must go to the masses of workers and peasants and allow them to organise to defend and advance their own interests. We call on First World workers to oppose the interventions. Local defeats for imperialism are to be welcomed as they give confidence to working class struggles in the imperialist countries and as they encourage anti-imperialist struggles in other countries. However, any defeat of imperialism that does not have anarchist goals will not be able to remove imperialism from that country or region. We recognise that the local ruling classes are unable to challenge imperialism and that only an international working class revolution can actually defeat imperialism, capitalism and the State.

We defend movements for greater regional autonomy. We defend the right of ordinary people to choose to have an independent State and/or secede from an empire, and we support every independence struggle that expresses the will of the peasants and proletarians, even if we do not support the political currents that dominate that struggle. We demand the liberation of all colonies and sites of imperial oppression, and we oppose all imperialist interventions against secessionist movements. This reflects our general commitment to progressive struggles and to freedom and equality. We always stand in solidarity with the struggles of the working class and the poor, even if they fight under the banner of nationalism. We support all progressive struggles for their own aims and for the confidence that campaigning gives to people. However, only a victory of the toiling masses can deliver genuine freedom from imperialist domination.

As Anarchists, we recognise that in the course of an anti-colonial or anti-imperialist struggle that the nationalists are on the side of the progressive forces. They are not the real problem in this context, the situation of colonial / imperialist domination, capitalism and the State is the problem. Therefore we defend nationalists from attacks by colonialists and imperialists and we support progressive initiatives on the part of nationalist organisations.

Nonetheless, we clearly have deep political differences with nationalist organisations. Although we are willing to fight alongside various nationalist currents who represent or advocate class alliances, we will not hide our politics, we will not enter into alliances that undermine our ability to function as an organisation . We will argue for class politics, direct action, anti-statism, anti-capitalism and the need for revolution. Our role as Anarchists is to take up the battle of ideas and we know that this is most effectively done in struggle. Thus, while we side against imperialism by defending nationalist organisations, our role is to win workers and peasants away from these movements by exposing the limits of their politics and their class nature as the politics of the frustrated local elite. So although we defend nationalists against imperialism we do this on the basis of building a mass anarchist movement that will replace them.  In place of “national” identity we promote class pride, class unity and class struggle.

In countries where nationalist movements do come to power our role is not to support them but rather to organise for a revolution that will place power in the hands of the working class and working peasantry. In the imperialist country concerned our role is to undermine the war effort and argue that the workers of such countries are the natural allies of the working classes of the colonial countries. The final defeat of imperialism requires an international working class and working peasant revolution in both the First World and the Third World.

No ESAP has yet succeeded in resolving the African economic crisis, despite its government’s promise that an ESAP would improve living standards, increase employment and establish a modern, growing and internationally competitive economy has proved a hollow one. This could be related to the technical faults in the programmes. For example, the ESAP package assumes that the cause of the African economic crisis is internal, the result of too much government intervention in the market.

However, this question is merely an academic one as the workability of an ESAP is irrelevant to us as Anarchists. Our concern is with fighting capitalism, not designing better ways for it to work. We do not choose one set of capitalist economic policies over another, we do not collaborate in economic restructuring. We do not fall into the trap of calling for the reform of the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO or any other imperialist institution, or into the trap of calling for a more (or less) State-led economic capitalist development process. Instead, we realise that it is only class combat, not policy intervention that will deliver real material gains to the working class. Even in the course of day to day struggles, this holds true. Welfare reforms in Europe after World War Two (the welfare State) were not won by allegiance on the part of workers to Keynesian demand management economics (State intervention to boost sales of goods), but through titanic class struggles that forced the ruling classes to introduce some basic reforms. Consequently, our role is to reject and resist any policy that harms the interests of workers and peasants, and to do so by means of mass struggle. We resist all attacks on the conditions of working people by means of mass struggle, we strive by the same means to advance the gains of the working class and peasants, and, ultimately, we stand for the destruction through of imperialism, capitalism and the State through mass action and revolution.

We are for an international minimum wage and international working class unity. If capitalism is global, the workers struggle must become global as well. The way to defeat MNC manipulation of different national wage rates in order to attack workers is not protectionism against cheap imports or surrender to the demands of capital, it is international unity in support of basic worker and consumer living standards across the world. We therefore support all initiatives at international trade union unity. We are for solidarity strikes between workers in different countries in general, and for solidarity action and trade union unity between workers employed by the same MNC in different countries in particular. The international integration of production, which sees different parts of the same product made in different countries, does not necessarily weaken workers. A workers strike in one country can disrupt production across several countries; just-in-time production techniques which mean that firms produce exactly enough goods at short notice in order to cut down on warehousing costs increase the bosses vulnerability as they run out of stock almost immediately that a strike takes place; the new communications technology used by the bosses to co-ordinate the MNCs (e.g. the Internet) are also available to workers and provide a powerful potential resource.


  1. South Africa as a semi-periphery is discussed in M. Legassick (1977), “Gold, Agriculture and Secondary Industry in South Africa, 1885-1970” in R. Palmer and N. Parsons (ed.) The Roots of Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa.
  2. See Daniel Geurin, (1970), Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. Monthly Review Press. (New York and London ). pp. 56-69.
  3. On Bakunin, see Daniel Geurin, (1970), Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. Monthly Review Press. (New York and London ). pp. 68-9; on Reclus, see P. Marshall (1993), Demanding the Impossible: a History of Anarchism , chapter 20 (on Elisee Reclus) (Fontana: London); see A. Berkman, “The Only Hope of Ireland”, The Blast!, vol.1, no.13, page 2; May 15, 1916; on Macedonia, see “East: a Freedom Workshop”, January/ March 1991, in The Raven, no.13, pp. 31-2; on Cuba, see F. Fernandez, (1986), Cuba: the Anarchists and Liberty (ASP. London.); on Nicaragua, see A. Bendana, (1995), A Sandinista Commemoration of the Sandino Centennial. Speech given to the 61st Anniversary of the Death of General Sandino, held in Managua’s Olaf Palme Convention Centre. Distributed by Centre for International Studies, Managua. Trans: F.S. Courneyuer; on Ukraine, see esp. P. Archinov, (1987) History of the Makhnovist Movement 1918-21 (Freedom Press); on Korea and Japanese solidarity, see Ha Ki-Rak, (1986), A History of the Korean Anarchist Movement. (Anarchist Publishing Committee. Korea) and Alan MacSimoin, “The Korean Anarchist Movement”, talk to the Workers’ Solidarity Movement, Dublin Branch, Ireland, in September 1991; on Italy, see C. Levy, “Italian Anarchism 1870-1926”, in D. Goodway (ed.), 1989, For Anarchism: History, Theory and Practice. (Routledge. London and New York).
  4. Important discussions of imperialism are to be found in the studies of the American anarchist Noam Chomsky: see, among others, his Year 501: the Conquest Continues.
  5. See, among others, M. Bakunin, 1990, Marxism, Freedom and the State (Freedom Press. London), pp29-30; P.A. Kropotkin, Anarchism and Anarchist Communism: Two Essays, 1987, ed. N. Walter. (Freedom Press. London), p. 39; G.P. Maximov, 1985, The Programme of Anarcho-Syndicalism. (Monty Miller Press. Australia).
  6. See, for example, Joe Black, summer 1992, “1492-1992: Christopher Columbus, Slaver and Thief”, in Workers Solidarity: Magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement, no.35. Dublin, Ireland; Endless Struggle, spring/summer 1990, “Against imperialism: International Solidarity and Resistance”, in Endless Struggle, no.12. Vancouver; see also A. Webster, (1990), Introduction to the Sociology of Development. Macmillan. 2nd edition, chapter 4; on Africa, B. Freund, 1984, The Making of Contemporary Africa: the Development of African Society Since 1800. (Indiana. Bloomington University Press).
  7. The issue of food insecurity is touched on in P. McCarthy, winter 1992/3, “Famine in Somalia – its not a natural disaster, its murder”, in Workers Solidarity: the Magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement, no.37. (Dublin. Ireland ). Unequal exchange is discussed in R. Sandbrook, 1985, The Politics of Africa’s Economic Stagnation. (Cambridge University Press), chapter 2 and 3. At the same time, it is important not to focus all attention on external causes, as the first reference here tends to do – as we discuss below, the local elites are as culpable as the imperialist bourgeoisie.
  8. B. Freund, 1984, The Making of Contemporary Africa: the Development of African Society Since 1800. (Indiana. Bloomington University Press) provides a useful, class conscious analysis of the partition and the resistance it encountered.
  9. The process of decolonisation in Africa is surveyed in B. Freund, 1984, The Making of Contemporary Africa: the Development of African Society Since 1800. (Indiana. Bloomington University Press). See also Endless Struggle, spring/summer 1990, “Against imperialism: International Solidarity and Resistance”, in Endless Struggle, no. 12. Vancouver.
  10. On the Gulf War, see D. MacCarron, spring 1992, “New World Order: Same Old Slaughter”, in Workers Solidarity: Magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement, no.34 (Dublin. Ireland). On US aggression more generally, see N. Chomsky, 1991, Terrorising the Neighbourhood: American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era (AK Press. Pressure Drop Press). More on western interventionism in Africa can be found in R. Sandbrook, 1985, The Politics of Africa’s Economic Stagnation. (Cambridge University Press).
  11. On the role of the USA in the post-Cold War period, see N. Chomsky, 1991, Terrorising the Neighbourhood: American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era (AK Press. Pressure Drop Press) and also A. Flood, summer 1992, “The Return of the ‘White Man’s Civilising Mission’: Imperialism Is Not Just Another Buzz Word”, in Workers Solidarity: the Magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement, no.35. (Dublin. Ireland).
  12. On the emergence of the US-dominated imperialist period, see especially Endless Struggle, spring/summer 1990, “Against imperialism: International Solidarity and Resistance”, in Endless Struggle, no.12 Vancouver. Also see Teeple, G., (1995), Globalisation and the Decline of Social Reform. New Jersey Press.
  13. On the Newly Industrialising Countries, see A.G. Frank, 1983, “Global Crisis and Transformation”, Development and Change, no.14.
  14. On Anglo-American, see D. Innes, 1984, Anglo: Anglo-American and the Rise of Modern South Africa. (Ravan. Johannesburg).
  15. The rise of the MNCs is discussed in D. Elson, 1988, “Dominance and Dependency in the World Economy”, in B. Crow, M. Thorpe et al, Survival and Change in the Third World. (Polity Press).
  16. See D. Elson, 1988, “Dominance and Dependency in the World Economy”, in B. Crow, M. Thorpe et al, Survival and Change in the Third World. (Polity Press), and also, R. Jenkins, 1987, Transnational Corporations and Uneven Development (Metheun. London).
  17. See A. Webster, (1990), Introduction to the Sociology of Development. Macmillan. 2nd edition, chapter 4.
  18. R. Jenkins, 1987, Transnational Corporations and Uneven Development (Metheun. London). pp 8-9.
  19. R. Jenkins, 1987, Transnational Corporations and Uneven Development (Metheun. London). P. 8; also R. Sandbrook, 1985, The Politics of Africa’s Economic Stagnation. (Cambridge University Press).
  20. D. Elson, 1988, “Dominance and Dependency in the World Economy”, in B. Crow, M. Thorpe et al, Survival and Change in the Third World. (Polity Press), and also, R. Jenkins, 1987, Transnational Corporations and Uneven Development (Metheun. London); A.G. Frank, 1983, “Global Crisis and Transformation”, Development and Change, no.14
  21. On the IMF and World Bank, see Endless Struggle, spring/summer 1990, “Against imperialism: International Solidarity and Resistance”, in Endless Struggle, no.12 (Vancouver) and Endless Struggle, spring / summer 1990, “Development of the IMF”, in Endless Struggle, no.12 (Vancouver) p.25; F. Cheru, (1989), The Silent Revolution in Africa. (Zed. London); F. Haffajee, (1993, August 20-26), “An African Alternative to the IMF’s Programmes [report on lecture by Bade Onimode]”, Weekly Mail and Guardian. (Johannesburg). p.38; L. Harris, (1989), “The Bretton Woods System and Africa”, in B. Onimode (ed.), The IMF, the World Bank and the African Debt: the Economic Impact. Zed and IFAA. (London and New Jersey); Makgetla, N., (1993, October 13), “Need SA Fear ‘Rule by IMF’?”, in The Star. (Johannesburg.); B. Onimode (ed.)., The IMF, The World Bank And The African Debt: The Social And Political Impact. (Zed and IFAA. London and New Jersey); Onimode, B., (1989), “IMF and World Bank Programmes in Africa”, in B. Onimode (ed.), The IMF, the World Bank and the African Debt: the Economic Impact. (Zed and IFAA. London and New Jersey); Teeple,G., (1995), Globalisation and the Decline of Social Reform. New Jersey Press.
  22. See especially Endless Struggle, spring / summer 1990, “Development of the IMF”, in Endless Struggle, no.12 (Vancouver) p.25; B. Onimode (ed.)., The IMF, The World Bank And The African Debt: The Social And Political Impact. (Zed and IFAA. London and New Jersey); Onimode, B., (1989b), “IMF and World Bank Programmes in Africa”, in B. Onimode (ed.), The IMF, the World Bank and the African Debt: the Economic Impact. (Zed and IFAA. London and New Jersey).
  23. Endless Struggle, spring / summer 1990, “Development of the IMF”, in Endless Struggle, no.12 (Vancouver) p.25
  24. References as for 21. The rise of neo-liberal (free market) policies in Africa cannot, however, be explained solely by reference to the interventions of the IMF and the World Bank: there is a world wide shift to the free market affecting all countries, the result of a general capitalist crisis, the apparent collapse of state-centred forms of capitalism, and by the continued growth of multi-national corporations.
  25. On the GATT/WTO, see ECN, March 1994, “GATT and the New World Order”, in Contra Flow. European Counter Network); B. Webb, 1995, “Nothing to Lose But Our Gains”, New Statesman and Society: Guide to Trade Unions 1995; K. Watkins, 1992, “GATT and the Third World: Fixing the Rules”, in Race and Class. vol.34. no.1
  26. S. Decalo, (1992), “The Process, Prospects and Constraints of Democratisation in Africa”, in African Affairs. vol.91
  27. On Zimbabwe, see Saunders, R., (1996, July), “ESAP’s Fables II”, in Southern Africa Report. vol.1 no.4
  28. quoted in Work in Progress, (July/August 1992). (Johannesburg). p.40. See also on the issue of the link between the IMF/World Bank and environmental destruction, R. Bruce, 1994, Mortgaging the Earth: the World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment and the Crisis of Development (Earthscan) and W. Bello and S. Cunningham, “The World Bank and the IMF: the Reagenites and the Resubordination of the Third World”, Z Magazine (July/August 1994).
  29. see the references in 21.
  30. see R. Sandbrook, 1985, The Politics of Africa’s Economic Stagnation. (Cambridge University Press). C. Ake, (1983), “Explanatory Notes on the Political Economy of Africa”, in Journal of Modern African Studies. vol.2 no.3 provides an excellent discussion of class in Africa.
  31. See N. Makgetla, (1993, October 13), “Need SA Fear ‘Rule by IMF’?”, in The Star. (Johannesburg).
  32. See T. Skalnes, (1993), “The State, Interest Groups and Structural Adjustment in Zimbabwe”, in Journal of Development Studies. vol. 29. no. 3.
  33. See P. Sullivan, Autumn 1996, “The Real Spirit of the United Nations: Rulers of the World Unite”, in Workers Solidarity: Magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement (Dublin. Ireland); also A. Flood, summer 1992, “The Return of the ‘White Man’s Civilising Mission’: Imperialism Is Not Just Another Buzz Word”, in Workers Solidarity: Magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement, no.35 (Dublin. Ireland).
  34. Figures for the UK from Robert Lekachman and Borin van Loon, (1981), Capitalism for Beginners. Pantheon Books. New York, esp. 44-5, 67, 70. and Class War (1992),Unfinished Business: The Politics Of Class War. AK Press and CWF, p. 77 For the USA see Lind, Michael, The Next American Nation, cited in “Stringing up the Yuppies”, (24 September 1995), Sunday Times, p14; Business Week which estimated in 1991 36 million Americans (15% of the total population) were living in poverty; and New York Times, Sept. 25, 1992.
  35. by P. Fryer, Black People and the British Empire. Pluto.
  36. see A. Berkman, “The Only Hope of Ireland”, The Blast!, vol.1 no.13, page 2; May 15, 1916; P.A. Kropotkin, Anarchism and Anarchist Communism: Two Essays, 1987, ed. N. Walter. (Freedom Press. London), p. 39 onwards.
  37. A. Flood, summer 1992, “The Return of the ‘White Man’s Civilising Mission’ Imperialism Is Not Just Another Buzz Word”, in Workers Solidarity: Magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement, no.35 (Dublin. Ireland).
  38. The general perspectives outlined in the remainder of this paper draw on Alfredo M. Bonanno, 1981, Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle. Second English edition. Translated by Jean Weir. (Alfa Grafica Sgroi. Italy. Bratach Dubh Editions no.1 London); A. Flood, summer 1992, “The Return of the ‘White Man’s Civilising Mission’ Imperialism Is Not Just Another Buzz Word”, in Workers Solidarity: Magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement, no.35 (Dublin. Ireland); A. Berkman, “The Only Hope of Ireland”, The Blast! vol.1 no.13, page 2; May 15, 1916; Endless Struggle, spring/summer 1990, “Against imperialism: International Solidarity and Resistance”, in Endless Struggle, no.12 (Vancouver); G.P. Maximov, 1985, The Programme of Anarcho-Syndicalism. (Monty Miller Press. Australia); Workers Solidarity Movement, 1992, Ireland and British Imperialism, (Dublin. Ireland).
  39. e.g. E. Said, (1993), Culture and Imperialism. (Vintage. London).
  40. on Zimbabwe, see Saunders, R., (1996, July), “ESAP’s Fables II”, in Southern Africa Report. vol.1 no.4; on Zambia, J. Hanlon, 1982, Apartheid’s Second Front, p.86; on Chile, C. Madlala, 29 December 1996, “Hot Recipe for Growth from Chile”, in Sunday Times, (Johannesburg), p16.
  41. See R. Sandbrook, 1985, The Politics of Africa’s Economic Stagnation. (Cambridge University Press).
  42. See D. MacCarron, spring 1992, “New World Order: Same Old Slaughter”, in Workers Solidarity: Magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement, no.34 (Dublin. Ireland); and A. Flood, summer 1992, “The Return of the ‘White Man’s Civilising Mission’: Imperialism Is Not Just Another Buzz Word”, in Workers Solidarity: Magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement , no.35 (Dublin. Ireland.
  43. Rudolph Rocker, (1978) Nationalism and Culture. Croixside Press, StillWater, Minnesota p.270-1 makes this point as does Alfredo M. Bonanno, 1981, Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle. Second English edition. Translated by Jean Weir. (Alfa Grafica Sgroi. Italy. Bratach Dubh Editions no.1 London) and Endless Struggle, spring/summer 1990, “Against imperialism: International Solidarity and Resistance”, in Endless Struggle, no.12 (Vancouver)