From For A Lasting Peace, For A People’s Democracy
No. 18 (182), May 2, 1952

Growing Crisis of Colonial System of Imperialism

R. Palme Dutt
Communist Party of Great Britain

May Day, the traditional day of international solidarity of the working people of all countries in the cause of peace and emancipation, comes this year in the midst of rising struggles of the peoples of all colonial and dependent countries against imperialist domination.

From the battle front of the Korean people and Chinese Volunteers against the U.S. aggressors, the advancing tide of the struggle for liberation extends to Viet Nam, Malaya, Burma, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, to Iran and Egypt, to Tunis and Morocco, to South Africa and the West Indies.

Twenty-eight years ago J. V. Stalin wrote in his brilliant work "Foundations of Leninism" that the principal colonial and dependent countries had already entered on the path of the national liberation movement, which was bound to bring about a crisis in world capitalism.

Events have fully confirmed this prediction. Today it can truly be said that the crisis of the colonial system of imperialism arising from the advancing liberation movement of the colonial and dependent peoples has developed to unprecedented proportions and is now a pivotal factor in the entire world situation. All the wars at present being conducted by the imperialist powers are wars against the liberation struggles of colonial and dependent peoples or in order to seek to subjugate previously depended peoples who have won their freedom. All the deepening economic and political problems of the present-day capitalist world are bound up with this growing crisis of the colonial system.

Just as the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 led the way to awaken the oppressed peoples of Asia and the entire colonial world and draw them into the common struggle against imperialism, as witnessed In the memorable words of Mao Tse-tung, "The salvos of the October Revolution brought Marxism-Leninism to us", so in turn the victory of the Chinese People's Revolution, the defeat of American intervention and establishment of the Chinese People's Republic in 1949, gave an enormous further inspiration and impetus to the development of the liberation struggle in all colonial and dependent countries. The victory of the Chinese people smashed the myth of the supposed invincible economic and military might of the American warmongers, showed the conditions for the path of victory in colonial and dependent countries, through the development of the united national front, the leadership of the Communist Party, and the tactics of the liberation struggle, including partisan warfare, and gave further strength and confidence to all the peoples of Eastern Asia.

The epic resistance of the Korean people to the barbarous onslaught of the American aggressors and their satellites is a new lesson arising from the victory of the Chinese people. After nearly two years of the concentrated offensive of the land, sea and air forces of all the imperialist powers in combination against one small nation, the American warmakers have had to recognise the failure of their objective to conquer Korea. In the last phase, having failed to vanquish the Korean people, despite all the fiendish methods of napalm bombing and mass devastation, they have taken resort to the culminating crime of the use of bacteriological weapons. The use of such weapons is not a sign of strength of American imperialism, but of its weakness and of the reckless and ferocious desperation to which its strategists have reached.

Throughout South-East Asia the wars of liberation which were begun against Japanese occupation during the second world war have continued unbroken and with increasing strength against the attempts of Western imperialism to reimpose the colonial system.

In Viet Nam the weakness of the French military position, despite the use of 220,000 strong French Expeditionary Corps and expenditure reaching in 1952 to over 500 billion francs, has had to be officially admitted. The situation in Viet Nam was described in the New York Herald Tribune of March 12th in the following terms: "The fact might as well be faced that the risk of another great Communist victory in Asia and a major defeat of the West in the cold war is now very real".

In Malaya also the failure of all the ruthless military and repressive measures employed by the British authorities during the past four years has been publicly admitted. The old hypocritical fiction of a "police operation" against a "handful of bandits" has now been abandoned and given place to panic expressions in the official press. Following the failure of the notorious Briggs Plan, which sought to crush the peoples' resistance by intensive military measures and by establishing concentration camps for ½ a million out of a total population of 5 millions, General Templer was appointed to replace General Briggs with new instructions and still more drastic measures. General Templer, however, unconsciously disclosed the real situation immediately following his arrival when he complained to the press that he could win the war if only the majority of the population were not against him. By February I9th, the Daily Telegraph published a gloomy report under the title "Last Chance in Malaya" declaring that "over large areas of the country" the authority of the Government was no longer effective, and that "security is so poor that Government officials and planters dare not speak over the telephone about their proposed movements".

In Burma the Nu Government was forced to declare its refusal to be included under the American "Mutual Security Administration".

Thus, despite intensified military measures and repression and increasingly open American intervention, the hold of imperialism in South-East Asia is visibly crumbling.

At the same time in Southern Asia the advancing strength of the democratic anti-imperialist movement has been shown in the recent general election in India. This election was held under the most adverse conditions, with the Communist Party banned or having to work under conditions of semi-illegality over large areas of the country, and with hundreds of workers' and peasants' leaders under arrest, in preventive detention or with warrants against them. Nevertheless the Communist Party, which had adopted last year its historic programme indicating the path of liberation of the Indian people towards the aim of people's democracy in India, was able even in these, adverse conditions to lay the foundations of a broad alliance, of a United Democratic Front which won six million votes and established its position with 37 seats in the Central Assembly and 234 seats in the State Assemblies as the principal decisive opposition to the rule of the big landlords, princes and monopolists represented by the Congress. It is not fortuitous that the signal of this new advance of the democratic forces in India has been followed by feverish activity of United States official representatives to offer a vast flow of dollars to the Nehru Government, and push through a series of deals for the economic and financial penetration of India. Mr. Acheson admitted to the press on March 20th that he had been "surprised" by the evidence of Communist strength revealed in the Indian elections, and offered the opinion that the next four years in India would determine whether India would "become engulfed by the Communist sweep across Asia".

The secret "conspiracy trial" in Pakistan, launched against the most patriotic representatives of the Pakistan people, is an indication of the instability of the regime in Pakistan and of the growth of popular discontent.

Most significant in the recent period has been the rapid extension of this popular upsurge in the countries of the Near and Middle East and Northern Africa. In Iran, under the influence of the- popular movement, the Moussadek Government carried through the oil nationalisation law and cleared out the monster Anglo-Iranian Oil Combine which had extracted many hundreds of millions of pounds of profits from the Iranian population. All the attempts of the American-controlled World Bank to reach a new agreement for the exploitation of Iranian oil in the interests of imperialism have so far been frustrated by the strength of national feeling against any such surrender.

In Egypt the Nahas Government at the head of the Wafd, after its sweeping victory in the election at the beginning of 1950, and after prolonged and dilatory negotiations with the British, was finally compelled by the overwhelming pressure of mass feeling to denounce in October the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, which had permitted British Military occupation of the Canal Zone, and the earlier treaties establishing the "Condominium" of the Sudan by which Sudan was in fact a British colony.

The Churchill Government replied with a heavy concentration of troops, tanks, warships and bombing planes in the Canal Zone, and murderous provocative attacks against the Egyptian population, culminating in the armed assault on the Egyptian patriotic auxiliary police at Ismailia on January 25th, and with events in Cairo on January 26th which reaction utilised as a pretext for the imposition of martial law by the Nahas Government and wholesale arrest of trade union, democratic and peace leaders.

The Wafd Government was replaced by Aly Maher as the agent of the Palace and Anglo-American imperialism, and when he proved too weak in the eyes of his masters, he was in turn replaced by Hilaly who launched a full offensive against the entire national movement, including the Wafd, and dissolved Parliament. These violent measures of repression testify to the panic fears entertained by the imperialists and their agents in the Egyptian upper class. These anxious fears for the future receive open expression in the British imperialist press: "Western diplomats and other well-informed foreign observers here have no illusions about the gravity of the present internal situation in Egypt. ‘We are living on top of a volcano' is the phrase repeatedly heard among such circles here."

(Cairo correspondent, Observer. March 9, 1952.)

In Northern Africa the proclamation of Libya as a puppet "independent" state under British control was accompanied by police firing on popular anti-imperialist demonstrations. In Tunis and Morocco the national upsurge of the people has been met with the most violent Government repressions, police firing and imprisonment.

Throughout the African continent the advance of the African peoples surges forward. The attempt of the colonisers to impose a colour bar "Central African Federation" has been held up and delayed by determined resistance of the African population. In Bechuanaland the British Government's declaration of permanent exile against the Chief Seretse Kama for the "crime" of marrying a white woman has met with unanimous resistance from the Bamangwato people. In South Africa the Malan Government's fascist policy of apartheid has aroused a united movement of resistance of the African, Indian and coloured population.


This magnitude, extent and intensity of the national-liberation struggle in so many territories simultaneously is exercising a far-reaching effect on the situation of the imperialist powers, the rulers of which are conscious of the ground shaking beneath their feet. The entire economy of Britain, France and a number of other Western European imperialist powers has been built up on a basis of colonial exploitation. As this base is weakened, their economics have fallen into conditions of chronic crisis. Dollar subsidies have only accentuated this unfavourable economic situation. This has been powerfully demonstrated in the sharp worsening of the deficit on the balance of payments of Britain and France since the Marshall Plan.

Imperialism endeavours to use its familiar methods of "divide and rule" in order to bring into association corrupt and treacherous elements from the upper sections of the colonial population and endeavour to establish on this basis puppet or satellite governments as a cover for its real domination and exploitation. But the effects of these manoeuvres, so far from allaying the popular discontent, only serve to expose the alliance of imperialism with the worst and most hated reactionary elements within the colonial countries, and thus add new fuel to the flames of popular anger.

Similarly the imperialists try to hold out the promise of large scale paper plans of "economic development" to cover the reality of their exploitation and plunder of the colonial peoples. Such has been the grandiloquently named British "Colonial Development and Welfare Fund" for colonial territories, and the Colombo Plan for Southern and South East Asia, and the American Point Four of President Truman. But the real character of these plans is considerably different from the prospectus. President Truman's Point Four is openly directed to further the aims of American foreign policy and military and strategic purposes, and for economic and financial penetration, at the expense of the needs and real economic development of the countries concerned. In the case of Britain also the so-called plans for economic development are subordinated to the interests of intensified imperialist exploitation, to the strategic aims of British imperialism, and even so a greater part of the plans remains on paper since it is found that all resources are required for purposes of the rearmament programme and that all other proposals of Capital expenditure have to be cut. Thus in place of the loudly advertised philanthropic schemes for so-called "development" of the colonial territories the reality of heavily intensified exploitation is shown in the continuous growth of the sterling balances of the colonial and dependent overseas territories (i.e. paper accounts in London for goods extracted from these countries without any show of current return) which have increased from £446 million in 1945 to £908 million in June 1951, and probably above £1,000 million by now.

Hence the imperialists are driven more and more openly to rely on military force and terror in an endeavour to maintain their rule. The "liberal" apologists of imperialism, and especially the Right-wing Social Democrats; endeavour to present a mythical picture of the "enlightened" policy of modern imperialism in conferring "self-Government" in various colonial and semi-colonial territories, or on the plans for "economic development" to end poverty and raise the standard of living of the colonial peoples. But under cover of these hypocritical phrases the Right-wing Social Democrats join hand in hand with the imperialists in the most violent measures of repression against the colonial peoples. With brazen cynicism the Right-wing Social Democrats openly declare that such military repression is essential in the economic interests of the ruling imperialist country.

But the ever increasing burden of overseas military commitments and wars of the imperialist powers increases the strain on their already weakened economy and on their available manpower and resources. Britain maintains gigantic armed forces in Malaya and the Middle East, in addition to its commitments in Korea, Hong Kong and at all the garrison points of the Empire, as well as its occupation forces in Western Germany, Austria and Trieste. Mr. Churchill recently complained in Parliament that Britain could: no longer use Indian armies for its overseas Empire expeditions but had to rely on British troops. At the same time the requirements from Britain for the American Atlantic Pact Army now being got together in Europe are constantly raised higher by American pressure. The £5,200 million rearmament programme is ruining Britain's economy. In France the direct connection of the war in Viet Nam with the bankruptcy of the national finances and increasing strain on manpower is openly admitted. Thus the Radical deputy Mendes-France, alarmed at the defeat suffered by French troops in Indo-China, at the severe strain on French economy arising from the rearming of Europe, was forced to declare recently in the French Chamber: "As long as we go on losing all these officers and men in Indo-China, as long as we go on spending 500 billion francs a year, we shall have no army in Europe, and only 500 billion francs worth of inflation, poverty and fuel for Communist propaganda".

Thus, the methods used by imperialism to counter the crisis of the colonial system only have the effect of intensifying that crisis and at the same time accentuating the domestic problems and contradictions of the imperialist countries themselves.


In the colonial countries the greatest successes have been won where a united national front has been effectively established, the alliance of the working class and peasantry built up and where developed and politically mature Communist Parties are able to fulfil a leading role in the national-liberation struggle of their peoples.

The high degree of achievement in Viet Nam and Malaya bears witness to the successful advance towards these conditions.

The Programme of the Communist Party of India is of especial significance in indicating the path of political development in semi-colonial countries towards the aims of people's democracy. In many countries of the Near and Middle East and Africa the conditions are ripening for establishing a national front, forging its unity and developing Communist leadership in the working class and within the common anti-imperialist movement.

In the imperialist countries the struggle of the working people against worsened conditions, rearmament and war is closely bound up with the advancing battle of the colonial peoples for national independence and peace. The interests of world peace and the fight to prevent a third world war imperatively demand the most active and concrete steps to end the present colonial wars or local wars of imperialist aggression, in Korea, Viet Nam, Malaya and other countries; a persistent and incessant struggle is needed against the chauvinism of the "Socialists" of the metropolitan countries, against the colonial venom which still poisons the minds of some sections of the population in these countries. These wars bring untold horrors and devastation upon the peoples against whom this aggression is waged. They bring increased burdens of worsened conditions, arms expenditure, and a toll in life on the population of the imperialist countries. The united efforts of the British, French, American and other peoples in the imperialist countries, with the Asiatic, African and all peoples fighting for their freedom against imperialist domination, are more than ever essential in the interests of world peace.

The teachings of Marxism-Leninism on the alliance of the working people of the imperialist countries, with the national-liberation movement of the colonial and dependent peoples as the essential strategy for a common victory are more than ever confirmed by the present situation. Only such a joint struggle for national independence and equal rights of all peoples can create the basis for future fraternal relations and cooperation.

In his work "The International Character of the October Revolution", Comrade Stalin wrote:

"It was formerly the 'accepted idea' that the only method of liberating the oppressed nations is the method of bourgeois nationalism, the method of nations drawing apart from each other, the method of disuniting nations, the method of intensifying national enmity among the labouring masses of the various nations.

This legend must now be regarded as disproved. One of the most important results of the October Revolutionary, that it dealt this legend a mortal blow, having demonstrated in practice the possibility and expediency of the proletarian, international method of liberating the oppressed- nations as being the only correct method, having demonstrated in practice the possibility and expediency of a fraternal union of the workers and peasants of the most diverse nations on the principles of voluntariness and internationalism. The existence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which is the prototype of the future amalgamation of the working people of all countries to a single world economic system, cannot but serve as direct proof of this".

The profound thought contained in this passage has been utilised in the programme of the British Communist Party, "The British Road to Socialism", which sets out the perspective for the joint struggle of the British people and of all the peoples of the Empire against imperialism, to transform the existing unequal, imperialist Empire into a strong, free, equal association of peoples.

The liberation struggle of the colonial and dependent peoples is entering on its greatest period of advance. The victory of this struggle is indissolubly bound up with the victory of the aims of democracy, national independence and peace throughout the world.

Click here to return to the index of archival material, Colonial Question

Click here to return to the index of archival material, Dutt Writings.