Empire socialism defined
Empire socialism could also imperialist socialism, assuming you know what the term imperialism means in this context. It’s the nationalistic, narrow “socialism” of a relatively privileged, mostly white, section of the working class in a country that has, or used to have, an empire. The wider society it operates in has not addressed the evils of the empire and its toxic legacy. There is an underlying arrogance, and a stubborn love, of the consequences of that empire that doesn’t question the delusional norms of the wider society. The two most obvious places this is seen in the English-speaking world are the UK and the USA. Other countries have versions of socialism that work with their ruling class, but particularly in the UK the unquestioned flag waving deference to the nationalist dream is a constant source of surprise. Its symptoms may include: actively denying the lived experiences of people who aren’t part of the conventional white consensus, accommodating racism and sexism because it’s deemed to be politically expedient, silencing dissent because the dissenters want change to happen too fast. The mantra is about political power for its own sake, whatever it takes, even when it takes everything and has no principles worth speaking of.
It’s the “socialism” of the middle class apparatchiks in local government and the large public-sector trade unions that offer unemployment insurance instead of fighting for jobs. It’s a socialism that loves the status quo and is terrified when there is any kind of spontaneous response to new depredations of the ruling class. It’s a socialism that loves queen and country and is, as will be stated in this essay ad nauseam, utterly blind to the colonial past and present realities that stem from it. It’s what voting for the left wing of the bipartisan establishment gets you. A friendly, concerned face that feels your pain behind the capitalist axe, rather than an amoral spiv who is only out for quick profit. Amusingly both will be lying through their teeth telling you it’s for your own good. The final results of tangling with either are much the same. See the discussion of the white working class later in this essay.
This is a socialism that’s quite comfortable with institutional racism, with the patriarchy, and with killing brown people far away who don’t live in its country of origin or practice its approved religion. It’s also quite happy to ignore the murderous violence of the state at home, forgets it happened and even helps cover it up. For a quick review of this just look at how Keir Starmer dragged his feet over the extra-judicial execution of Jean Charles de Menezes and eventually gave up on the prosecution of the officers involved. The prosecution of rape victims who withdrew their accusations because of family pressure is another great victory in this list of achievements. Examples in the USA include all of the injustices that led to the creation of BLM, and the strange cognitive dissociation when US sanctions and economic manipulation wreck another democratically elected government that’s sitting on resources demanded by the capitalist machine and wants a fair price for them. A somewhat trivial example of this is Elon Musk’s recent triumphalism over military coups wresting control over resources in Bolivia, a more serious one is the military coup in Chile that killed thousands and the ongoing demonisation of Venezuela’s government. The USA has sent gunboats and murdered indigenes with no consequences in Latin America for hundreds of years, but it’s not something taught in school.
It’s a socialism of the status quo. It just wants a small number of the right kind of people to do a bit better, and to create jobs in the political class for its adherents. These mostly white, nice, do-gooders can smile down on the rest of us and make sure that we get what they think we should, including the invention of dreadful asinine Victorian finger-waving policies like benefit sanctions for people who aren’t part of the deserving poor. This was eventually built on to created the unmitigated disaster of Universal Credit. More broadly, instead of truly understanding our colonial heritage it wants us all to join hands together, and smilingly sing kumbaya or perhaps We shall overcome, but not today, just someday. It doesn’t like the uncomfortable truth that capitalism is essentially anti-life, and the consequences of following it to its logical completion is indeed a bitter end for everything we love and hold dear. It’s the socialism that gets involved in a struggle for rights, or to keep services running for people who desperately need them, and ends by calling on our masters and owners to treat us a bit more nicely while cruising swan-like off into the distance, instead of forcing them to give us what we need with no argument. It’s the socialism that calls for justice, but doesn’t actually make things become just. It’s a socialism summed up in the phrase contain it and kill it, when applied to any demands for radical change.
In summary, empire socialism is in essence a socialism that is acceptable to the establishment, not inimical to it. It can challenge but not overthrow the status quo. When the establishment is under pressure it can withdraw and undo all the beneficial things it may have done to keep people quiet in the blink of an eye with no conscience whatsoever. It claims to be pragmatic, but it is not; it is is the establishment’s way of keeping us quiet while it goes about its business. The pragmatism is the establishment’s pragmatism, and is solely about containing dissent and doing what little it can get away with depending on the balance of forces at the time.
It also only exists in an eternal now, history doesn’t exist for it. An example of this would be the nonsense of “colour blind” anti-racism, where the blindness does not acknowledge the history of discrimination that puts people far behind the dominant group, but just says everything is OK now, and ignores the still-extant divisions and systemic issues that people of colour still face. As Ibram X Kendi points out in How to be an antiracist colour-blind is nonsense, policies are truly antiracist if they help the people at the receiving end of racism. There is no other measure, neutral doesn’t cut it.
For example Blair was quoted as wanting social justice, which is nice and wooly, changing the fundamental social relations to remove the injustice wasn’t something that ever seemed to cross his mind. Challenging and changing social relations isn’t something Blair was ever interested in.