E. Belfort Bax

British Foreign Policy

Or Bunkum, Brag and Brutality

(June 1885)

British Foreign Policy, Commonweal, June 1885, pp.41.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The issue has justified our prognostication in the April number of the Commonweal as to the course events would take. Even during the acutest period of the recent crisis we felt that a game of brag and bunkum was being played, and the legend of the fighting Briton trotted out for some inscrutable purpose of Cabinet-Providence. The truth has now come to light. The Soudan expenditure already incurred, which was much greater than had been expected, had to be made up somehow. The feint of a Russian war was a good pretext for a war-budget. We cannot but think that those who were seriously taken in by the alarm of war left an important factor in the situation out of account, to wit, the attitude of the Pall Mall Gazette. Was it likely that Mr. Gladstone would dare to face the wrath of Mr Stead’s journal? The London semi-official organ of the Russian Foreign Office evidently thought not and so did we. On the Saturday previous to the famous historic blast of war-threatening wind which swept the eleven millions into the exchequer, nemine contradiscente, the P.M.G. exultingly announced, in a leader headed “Deadlock but no War”, the speedy acknowledgement of Russian claims. The acquisition of the omnipotent evening organ certainly proclaims M. de Giers a consummate tactician. Of course everyone who has followed the career of the present ministry must have noticed its abject submission to every whim of this mysterious journal, how its policy has been shaped by it, how, oftentimes, protesting the while, it has suffered itself to be led about hither and thither, into one difficulty, then out of this into another, apparently all to please the P.M.G. That it has got nothing but kicks for its pains would seem to show that the relations between Downing Street and Northumberland Street are of no ordinary kind. Are we to suppose that the future historian will be able to reveal the intricacies of a secret mechanism of stock exchange intrigue or must we have recourse to the Psychical Society, or maybe Mr. Sinnet. The latter gentleman might possibly account for it on some hypothesis of metempsychosis. For instance, may not the soul of a wicked costermonger now live in the body of the great and loquacious premier, while that of his ill-used donkey lives in the “Christian hero”, who rules the potent evening journal? May we not see in the positions, reversed as they are, on a higher plane of being, the justice, of a cruel destiny? The soul of the premier ever striving, “onwards and upwards,” endeavouring to crown a career of popularity by a policy consistent with election speeches, and agreeable to the “new electorate”, is encountered at every turn by his horrid Nemesis – no longer an ass, but an editor, yet, stubborn and unyielding still – whose behests he cannot choose but follow. We suggest this as a “plausible hypothesis” to any reader of a “psychical” turn of mind. We may also commend it to the “Society for the Prevention. of Cruelty to Animals,” as tending to edification, since such a fate, even if barely possible, might well give the most hardened “coster” pause.

In consideration of the importance of the Russian business, the P.M.G. is inclined to let the Soudan go. So ministers are prepared, to announce the abandonment of the Khartoum expedition and the speedy evacuation of the country. There is one reservation, however, the Red Sea littoral. That railway is too sweet a morsel to abandon without an effort. The capitalist soul, expressing itself though Lord Hartington, yearns for the preservation and eventual completion of this “civilising work.” The capitalist heart is rent when it thinks of Berber, that virgin market, of the tons of shoddy and Brummagen which might be shot in there if only something would occur to afford a plausible pretext for a “protectorate” and the completion of the line. We doubt, indeed, whether British capitalism will consent to the final abandonment of this treasure after its having been once so near its grasp. But how about the thousand Irishmen who were preparing to join the Mahdi? Now this is rendered unnecessary, owing to the withdrawal of the Nile troops, they might do worse than assist Osman Digna to put a spoke in the wheel of the English trader, by seriously embarrassing the “civilising work” of his pioneer, the railway contractor.

Meanwhile “our” troops during the past month, have been again at their congenial occupation of slaughtering native children and burning villages. “The Arabs showed consummate coolness”, says the special correspondent of the Daily Telegraph describing the raid; “as a daring example one old greybeard, with two lads stood at bay; the latter were soon shot but the old man, though hit three times, stood, spear in hand, calmly awaiting our advancing bayonets.” This is the sort of thing with respect to which “her most gracious majesty Queen Victoria” feels moved to congratulate General Graham by special despatch. How now, gentlemen of the press, unctious newspaper hacks! You whose righteous souls are shocked beyond the reach of words by the exultations of an O’Donovan Rossa (once tortured well-nigh to death by English authorities) or at some paltry dynamite explosion; you average bourgeois who would hang the dynamiter you think endangers your own worthless commercial skin, with what words shall you characterise the type of Humanity embodied in one who can gloat over the dastardly destruction of a defenceless village and the massacre of its inhabitants. Not so much worse than Russia, eh? We ourselves have never set much store by the mere abolition of the monarchy, holding that, taken by itself and under present conditions, such a measure would merely result in the saving of some million or so a year to the middle classes of this country, a result to which we socialist are fairly indifferent one way or the other. We have even been accustomed to regard the present occupant of the English throne with the feelings of good-natured consideration usual in the case of an elderly female of fair average character. But this Graham business, with its speedy and gratuitous congratulation, has, we confess, revealed depths of blackness and cold-bloodied brutality in the official mind which words certainly would fail adequately to express. However great is the power of the ruling class and will prevail – that is for a season.



Last updated on 12.3.2004