E. Belfort Bax

Gordon and the Soudan

(March 1885)

Gordon and the Soudan, Commonweal, March 1885, pp.9 & 10.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

About February last year two figures were circling round the offices of the Pall Mall, the one writing articles, the other being interviewed; they were those of the two ex-Governors of the Soudan, Sir Samuel Baker and General Gordon, then just returned from Brussels. About the same time (or a little earlier) Sir Samuel was zealously advocating in the columns of the same journal the improving of the situation provided by the defeat of his brother’s, Egyptian force at Tokar for the conquest of the Soudan and the establishment of a second East India Company, or syndicate of stock jobbers, who were to administer East Africa in the interests of commercial enterprise. The ex-Governors were avowed personal friends, so much so that of the first two messages sent by Gordon to England (on the resumption of communication between Khartoum and the outer world) last autumn, one was to Sir Samuel Baker, the other being to his (Gordon’s) sister. It is hardly too much to assume that the two habitués of the Pall Mall Gazette office were in close communication with each other during the “hero’s” stay in London, and frequently interchanged views on the matter with which their public life was most intimately associated. The sentiments of Gordon, moreover were known to coincide with those of Baker and the Pall Mall Gazette – at least, in his objection to the abandonment of the Soudan and his desire to see an English Protectorate. Shortly afterwards Gordon left England, professedly to effect the evacuation of the country and release the Egyptian garrisons.

Now we submit that the simple circumstances above indicated throw a light on what has followed, by which all who are not wilfully blind must see in this wretched business one of the most odious pieces of politico-commercial “jobbery” to which even this country has given birth. Whatever may have been the intention of the Government – if it had any – one thing is now quite clear, to wit, it was not the intention of Gordon or his friends that the Soudan should be abandoned if he or they could help it.

Most of the furious market-hunters had succeeded in raising the flimsiest and the most baseless of cuckoo cries for British intervention, that of the rescue of cut-throats, with whose dangers England politically was as much concerned as with those of Russian garrisons in Central Asia, who were there simply to bolster up the admittedly iniquitous rule of the Pachas, the majority of whom, as it has proved, were only too willing to accept the easy terms of submission offered them by the Mahdi, and the rest of whom put together would not equal in number by many thousands the lives necessarily lost in a campaign even the shortest; – after having by means of this hypocritical cant procured the despatch of their right-hand man Gordon, what do we find ensue? Is any serious attempt made to negotiate with the Mahdi on behalf of those precious Bashi-Bazouk garrisons as to the fate of whom the pathetic voice of the lachrymose Jingo, had been raised so loud in the land? No but the Christian hero after making one or two obviously impossible demands on the home authorities, proceeds to fortify himself within the walls of Khartoum, and with the help of the garrison and all the fighting men he can get together, to wage war on the surrounding tribes, whom he had just previously called his friends.

The epilogue to this action might have been easily foreseen. British troops were demanded to assist in the work of carnage. The situation thus created naturally afforded a splendid opportunity for a still louder and more pathetic wail than even that over the Bashi-Bazouks – a wail alone comparable in its intensity of anguish to the cry of the Nile crocodile in its midnight lair. “Gordon abandoned!” welled up from the organs of Tory-Jingo, Whig-Jingo, and – save the mark – Democratic-Jingo indifferently. Here was indeed a triumph for the market-hunter. The Pall Mall, St. James, Times and Telegraph chanting in militant harmony. An expedition could not start at once owing to the climate but the trick was done nevertheless. A Government whose sole policy is office cannot afford to disregard the plainly expressed wishes of the bulk of the upper and wealthy middle classes, its masters, even if its members individually wish to do so, which, inasmuch as they themselves belong to those classes is intrinsically improbable. However that may be, nay, however much the Government as a Government even, would have preferred, to keep out of the present quagmire, its hand was forced. A pledge was given, an expedition prepared, and, at the earliest opportunity, despatched for the ostensible purpose of rescuing the “Christian hero” – who had professedly gone out on a “pacific mission” with loud protestations of his power by personal influence alone to effect the object of this mission – and to rescue him from a situation he had deliberately created by his aggressive action. Such are the facts which have led up to the Soudan War. Who cannot see in them the hand of that great providence that rules our civilisation – the great god Capital, acting through his angels and ministering spirits of the bourgeois press.

Khartoum has fallen amid massacre (we are told). Gordon is killed. Who is to blame? We answer proximately Gordon himself, and ultimately the English capitalist class. Had it not been for the latter, Gordon would never have been sent out. Had it not been for Gordon’s inducements the inhabitants of Khartoum would never have fought against their own countrymen and thus excited the fury of the Mahdi’s victorious troops. What quarrel had they with the Mahdi? Little doubt but they would have gladly accepted the deliverance from the tyranny of the Pachas he came to offer, but for the gold and promises proffered by English spread-eagleism through its representative, Gordon.

Of course we must have the regulation gush, the regulation mock heroics, the regulation howl for the re-establishment of British prestige. Spartanlike bravery, truly, to slaughter ill-armed and ill-disciplined barbarians with the odds, as proved again and again, a hundred to one in favour of your coming out with a whole skin. It may be excellent sport, rather better than pigeon shooting, to catch hordes of Arabs in a trap as at Kirbekan, and then mow them down while they are trying to escape; but do not call it fighting, and spare us talk about its involving prestige.

Let the working classes of England remember that this organised brigandage was deliberately planned from the beginning and that Gordon’s “pacific mission” was only too obviously a blind. Had the relief of the garrisons been really an object of solicitude it could have been easily effected even when the “hero” was already shrieking for British troops to help him “smash the Mahdi”. Wilfred Scawen Blunt, not a “Christian hero” perhaps but an honest man, and one whose disinterested love for the Arab race is beyond question, was in a position to guarantee successful negotiations, had the opportunity been given him of making them. But such an issue was not quite good enough for the “influential” public for which the Pall Mall Gazette and its congeners write. Annexation would have been hereby indefinitely postponed, and the syndicate of stock-jobbers wanted to “leave their damnable faces and begin” at the earliest possible juncture. And they have got their way.



Last updated on 12.3.2004