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The Anti-imperialist International Vietnam Congress , West Berlin 1968

The term anti-imperialism (from the Greek anti - "against, instead of" and Latin: imperium - "empire") is the opposite of imperialism and depends on its definition. This generally describes a policy aimed at expanding power beyond one's own national territory. Anti-imperialism is their rejection in principle.

Different models of explanation for imperialism result in different anti-imperialist positions, some of which are similar, but can also be in direct contrast to one another. Mostly anti-imperialism, however, means the concrete fight against modern European and US-American imperialism , which has existed since around 1890 . Today it is mostly a left-wing extremist ideology with often anti-Semitic undertones.

Different theories of imperialism

  • If imperialism is seen as a phase of nation-state expansion policy from the end of the 19th century, anti-imperialism experienced a turning point with the end of the First World War in 1917/18. While Germany lost its colonies and Russia switched to an anti-imperialist policy as a result of the October Revolution , the former European Entente powers, v. a. France and Great Britain continued their colonialist policies, now more openly under capitalist priorities. In these states, anti-imperialism also developed an increasingly anti-capitalist dimension.
  • If, on the other hand, imperialism is defined as a stage of development inherent in capitalism (e.g. Leninist theory of imperialism ), anti-imperialism will only lose its function with the end of the capitalist economic system.

Conceptual confusion always arises when the word anti-imperialism is used without a clear reference to the underlying imperialism theory.

Formal and informal rule

The distinction between formal empire (“formal rule”) and informal empire (“informal rule”) enables even non-Marxist theorists of imperialism to break through the limitation of the concept of imperialism to colonialism. For example, even in the non-Marxist analysis between 1902 and 1959, Cuba was no longer a US colony, but it belonged to the informal empire of the USA , corresponding to its political, in the narrower sense economic-political, but also military sphere of influence.

Historical anti-imperialism

United States

Anti-imperialist movements existed both in Europe in the age of imperialism and in the USA beginning with the Spanish-American War in 1898 and the associated entry of the United States into the circle of imperialist world powers. In the USA in particular, influential bourgeois politicians were anti-imperialists who feared that economic development in their own country would be neglected ( isolationism ).


In the German Empire it was particularly parts of the SPD who, before the beginning of World War I in 1914, made anti-imperialist demands against the colonial claims of the German Reich and its policies in the corresponding colonies (essentially the present-day states Togo , Cameroon , Namibia , Tanzania , Papua- New Guinea and Samoa ). Personalities like Rosa Luxemburg or Karl Kautsky developed their own theories of imperialism. Others, such as Eduard Bernstein , denied the inevitable connection between colonialism and imperialism.

With the approval of the majority of the SPD parliamentary group in the Reichstag for the war credits of the German Reich in 1914 during the First World War and the break-up of the Second International into national workers' movements , which z. If some of them supported the war policy of their governments, the previous anti-imperialism experienced a turning point.

Anti-imperialism as anti-capitalism

With the emergence of the communist parties from the socialist and social democratic workers' parties and their rejection of the “imperialist world war” (First World War), the use of the term anti-imperialism was strongly linked to the Marxist - Leninist theory of imperialism. Imperialism is not seen as a temporary phenomenon (as in bourgeois anti-imperialism), but as an essential element of capitalist society at its monopoly capitalist and state monopoly capitalist stage of development. It is therefore no longer tied to individual states, but to the entire social system .

Since Lenin's 1916 essay Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism , anti-imperialism has become a fundamental concept of the Marxist-Leninist interpretation of history in the 20th century.

It is crucial for this view of imperialism that the following elements are understood as sub-terms of imperialism:

  • Colonialism for the purpose of expanding raw material and sales markets
  • Nationalism as a domestic justification for imperialism
  • Racism as a pseudo-scientific justification for the superiority of imperialist states
  • Fascism as an extremely aggressive form of imperialism

In this reading, which is not shared by all anti-imperialists, anti-colonialism , internationalism , anti-racism and anti - fascism are sub-terms of anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism .

The anti-imperialism of the New Left , which became an important voice in public discourse in Europe in the wake of the 1968 movement, was based on neo-Marxism . The New Left used the American approach to the Vietnam War as a catalyst. American attempts to overthrow the revolutionary government in Cuba also contributed to the protests. They showed a deep-seated anti-Americanism which, apparently paradoxically, was based on American patterns. The folklorist Kaspar Maase describes this phenomenon as "Americanized anti-Americanism". A highlight of the protests was the International Vietnam Congress of the Socialist German Student Union , which took place on February 17 and 18, 1968 in West Berlin . The participants showed their solidarity with the communist regime in North Vietnam and tried to build a worldwide resistance movement against the liberal-capitalist system under the sign of anti-imperialism .

In Germany today, some left-wing extremist groups, based on the classic imperialism theory of Marxism-Leninism, see themselves as anti-capitalist and therefore also anti-imperialist. For them, the struggle against imperialist exploitation, of which they see primarily the United States , NATO and Israel as actors , is necessarily connected with a struggle against capitalism , which is the deeper cause of imperialism. According to the social scientist Samuel Salzborn , her ideology, which was particularly widespread in the 1960s and 1970s, feeds on Lenin's theory of imperialism from Josef Stalin's understanding of the nation as a territorial, linguistic and cultural community, from Mao Zedong's idea of ​​the omnipotence of revolutionary war and from Carl Schmitt's ideas of a greater spatial order with a prohibition of intervention for non-spatial powers. Marx's slogan “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” Is ethnicized in anti-imperialism and is supplemented with “Proletarians of all countries and oppressed peoples , unite!” Since then whole peoples have been considered as objects of imperialist oppression and subject of revolutionary liberation , not those in all Peoples similarly oppressed classes . The people are imagined as ethnically homogeneous, class antagonisms are reinterpreted as antagonisms between peoples.

Anti-imperialists of this direction demand anti-imperialist solidarity with liberation movements of the so-called Third World , but restrict that this does not apply to movements that strive for a democracy based on the Western model. Since the Six Day War in 1967, this left-wing extremist anti-imperialism was associated with a delegitimization of the state of Israel , which until then was mostly viewed positively by the left , but which was now viewed as the “bridgehead of US imperialism” in the Middle East . Sometimes the anti-Zionism of these groups turned into anti-Semitism , as was common among radical Palestinian groups with which the anti-imperialists showed solidarity. The Bonn Palestine Committee wrote of "Jewish capital", the Communist League called for the fight against "US imperialism and world Zionism ". The social scientist Samuel Salzborn criticizes an “anti-imperialist worldview” that “is not only directed against Israel and America, but against everything that is associated with them: against the Enlightenment and liberalism , against modernity and individuality , against freedom and democracy - in short, against any worldview that promises people individual freedom and subjective happiness. Anti-imperialists , on the other hand, put forward a conception of homogeneous communities in which the individual counts nothing, but the collective counts everything. Salzborn sees this worldwide anti-imperialist anti-Semitism in the 1960s and 1970s as the second counter-wave against democratization (after the National Socialist one from the 1920s to the 1940s and before the Islamist one since 2001). Anti- Germans have been fighting this anti-imperialist anti-Semitism since the 1990s, linking decidedly left positions with a rejection of German unity and with unconditional solidarity with Israel.


Numerous national liberation movements directed against colonialism arose in their core already after the First World War and the associated shaking of the world order at that time. Many founders of anti-colonial movements came into contact with the World Communist Movement ( Comintern ), e.g. B. the Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh or the Argentine and Cuban Ernesto "Che" Guevara , and saw themselves as part of a global anti-imperialist movement.

After the Second World War , a wave of anti-colonial movements arose in almost all colonies. At least in their early days, they looked for support and many found them in the unifying theory of Marxist-Leninist imperialism theory. In addition to the aspect of political support, material support from the states of the “anti-imperialist camp” in the atmosphere of the Cold War played a sometimes decisive role since the 1950s. This applies e.g. B. for:


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Philipp Gassert : Anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism around 1968: Protests against US foreign policy . In: Gerrit Dworok and Christoph Weißmann (eds.): 1968 and the 68er. Events, effects and controversies in the Federal Republic . Böhlau, Vienna / Cologne / Weimar 2013, ISBN 978-3-412-21016-8 , pp. 153–170, here 159–166 (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  2. ^ Samuel Salzborn: Global anti-Semitism. A search for traces in the abyss of modernity. Beltz Juventa, Weinheim 2018, p. 88 f.
  3. Martin Kloke : Left anti-Semitism . In: Wolfgang Benz (Hrsg.): Handbuch des Antisemitismus . Volume 6: Volume 6: Writings and periodicals. De Gruyter Saur, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-11-025872-1 , p. 192 ff.
  4. ^ Samuel Salzborn: Global anti-Semitism. A search for traces in the abyss of modernity. Beltz Juventa, Weinheim 2018, pp. 46 f., 60 and 84 f. (here the quote).
  5. ^ Rudolf van Hüllen : "Anti-imperialist" and "anti-German" currents in German left-wing extremism . In: Federal Center for Political Education (Ed.): Dossier Left Extremism . Bonn 2008 ( online , accessed June 10, 2008).