Imperial Wars, Imperialism and the Losers: A Critique of Certain ‘Labour Aristocracy’ Theories

by Lucien van der Walt

concentration-camps_Boer WarAs the 100th anniversary of the outbreak in August 1914 of World War One fades, let us remember that imperialism harms all working class people – including those in imperialist and Western countries, and the white working class.

It is often said that Western workers benefit from imperialism, or imperialist profits, or that welfare in the West is funded by imperialism – but all of these claims fall in the face of realities like World War One (1914-1918). This war – between Germany and Britain and their respective allies – was, at least in part, fought for a re-division of the European-ruled colonies.

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South Africa and the DRC: Has Rhodes passed on the baton?

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In the heat of the struggle for statues like that of Rhodes – the arch-symbol of British imperialism – to be pulled down, and in the midst of the horror of the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, few people seemed to notice an announcement by Jacob Zuma that South African troops will remain at war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for another year.

Of course, Zuma made this announcement on behalf of the South African ruling class – comprised today of white capitalists and a black elite mainly centred around the state, Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and ‘traditional’ royal families. In this there was a real irony that while Rhodes’s likeness was falling from its perch at the University of Cape Town, and immigrants from other parts of Africa and Asia were being attacked because of sentiments stoked up by a rehabilitated relic of apartheid (the Zulu king, Zwelithini), the South African ruling class felt brash enough to say they will be continuing their own imperialist war in the DRC.

Like in all wars, including those promoted by the likes of Rhodes, it is not the ruling class that are actually doing the fighting in the DRC, but the sons and daughters of the working class. Reflecting on the First World War, Alexander Berkman noted that the working class are not really sent to war to save the poor or workers, but to protect and further the interests of the rulers, governors and capitalists of their countries1. This applies equally so today in the case of South African troops’ involvement in the DRC. Indeed, what South Africa’s war in the DRC shows is that the South African ruling class don’t just exploit and oppress the working class in South Africa, but the working class in many other areas in the rest of Africa. It also shows that both at home and abroad they will use violence to do so, including trying to turn different sections of the working class on one another, by amongst other things tapping into nationalism, racism, ethnic chauvinism and xenophobia.

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