Workers Vanguard No. 1056

14 November 2014


Standing Against Imperialist Aggression

(Quote of the Week)

Military setbacks for the imperialist powers, whether governed by fascist or democratic regimes, are in the interests of the world’s working class and oppressed. When Mussolini’s Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Leon Trotsky condemned James Maxton and other leaders of the British Independent Labour Party who had adopted a neutral attitude to the conflict on the grounds that both sides were despotic. While Ethiopia under the Negus (emperor) Haile Selassie was a cruelly oppressive society—one of the world’s last bastions of chattel slavery—revolutionary Marxists sided with that country against Italy because the latter was imperialist.

Maxton and the others opine that the Italo-Ethiopian war is “a conflict between two rival dictators.” To these politicians it appears that this fact relieves the proletariat of the duty of making a choice between two dictators. They thus define the character of the war by the political form of the state, in the course of which they themselves regard this political form in a quite superficial and purely descriptive manner, without taking into consideration the social foundations of both “dictatorships.” A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history; for example, Oliver Cromwell, Robespierre, etc. On the other hand, right in the midst of the English democracy Lloyd George exercised a highly reactionary dictatorship during the war. Should a dictator place himself at the head of the next uprising of the Indian people in order to smash the British yoke—would Maxton then refuse this dictator his support? Yes or no? If not, why does he refuse his support to the Ethiopian “dictator” who is attempting to cast off the Italian yoke?

If Mussolini triumphs, it means the reinforcement of fascism, the strengthening of imperialism, and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. The victory of the Negus, however, would mean a mightly blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples. One must really be completely blind not to see this.

—Leon Trotsky, “On Dictators and the Heights of Oslo” (April 1936)