C.L.R. James

The Game at Geneva

Behind the scenes in the ‘Thieves Kitchen’

(18 October 1935)

Source: New Leader, 18 October 1935.
Transcribed: Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Eden and Laval, on the stage at Geneva. At home, the Cabinet Ministers, the Capitalist Press, the Labour leaders, the bishops, all the firm supports of Imperialism, keep up a deafening din about collective security.

But though Imperialist Governments and their supports are all united in deceiving the masses, they cannot deceive one another. And some crude haggling has been going on between Britain and France during recent weeks. The prize is Imperialist booty, the pawns millions of unsuspecting workers. Each Imperialist Government wants to use the League as a collective security – but only for its own imperialist property!

The Bargain

Thus, up to July 11, British Imperialism and French Imperialism were not prepared to inconvenience themselves one inch for the collective security of Abyssinia. Sir Samuel Hoare, in the House of Commons, told Mussolini four times in the course of an hour’s speech that he admitted the need for Italian expansion. He also stood by the League, but if nobody else acted, Britain was not going to act.

And everybody knew that French Imperialism did not want to do anything having given Italian Imperialism a free hand in Ethiopia in return for help against the German threat to Austria.

After a lot of bargaining, the three agreed to divide Abyssinia on the basis of the 1906 treaty. This old-fashioned Imperialism received a solemn blessing and the appropriate holy water at the Geneva altar and the conversations began. Mussolini was offered everything except military domination. That, above all, was what he wanted. That British Imperialism was not going to let him have, even if it meant war.

Covenant Comes in Handy

Forthwith, the British Government began the talk of the Covenant, the whole Covenant, and nothing but the Covenant, dragging the unwilling Laval behind it.

Laval, too, supports the whole Covenant, but not in regard to British interests in East Africa. Eden’s assurances needed re-enforcement, so Hoare himself announced that he was coming to Geneva on September 11.

The day before, Laval sent to ask him what Britain would do if a country outside the League was guilty of aggression – meaning Germany. Hoare, at Geneva, told Laval that this country stood for ‘the collective maintenance of the Covenant in its entirety, and particularly for steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression.’

Question of Elasticity

Laval was not impressed. (It is a pity that the great masses of workers do not view the pronouncements of Imperialists with as much understanding as other imperialists do!) He asked the British Foreign Office point-blank to say if it meant to uphold the Covenant in regard to Austria. Hoare replied in a note full of aspirations ‘to establish the rule of law in international affairs,’ ‘streak of idealism in the British national character,’ etc., etc. He wrote also:

‘it is clear that there may be degrees of culpability and degrees of aggression ... that consequently the nature of action appropriate to be taken ... may vary according to the circumstances of each particular case ...’


‘... elasticity is a part of security, and that every member of the League must recognise, as the Covenant itself recognises, that the world is not static.’

Laval and French Imperialism know too well what that sort of promise means: They remember how this very National Government would not budge once inch to prevent Japan stealing a large part of China. Laval continued to pay his lip-service to collective security at Geneva while the British Government forced the pace. Laval’s chance came soon.

Need for Assurance

The British Government had its fleet ready in the Mediterranean. Nothing in the Covenant made it binding on one State to give assistance to another before the League had decided on Sanctions. So, on September 24, British Imperialism asked French Imperialism if it could count on the support of the French fleet in case of an Italian attack.

Now, for years French Imperialism had been trying to get this very point settled. As soon as German Imperialism moves against Austria, the French are going to move against it, League or no League. And the French wanted to be sure of support before the League met to decide who was the aggressor, how far he had aggressed, and all the loopholes by which Imperialist statesmen avoid their obligations.

The French reply, published in the press on October 8, shows exactly how much these gentlemen believe in their collective security. The note states:

‘The obligation of assistance which is contemplated, binding the two Governments, must be reciprocal’; and as if that was not enough, it adds: ‘that is to say, it must bind Great Britain with regard to France as much as France with regard to Great Britain.’

Future Prospects

British Imperialism asks about fleets, French Imperialism wants to know not only about fleets, but of land forces and air forces. German Imperialism is not going to sail to Austria. So the note specifies for assistance. ‘... on land, by sea or in the air. The undertaking of assistance must therefore operate in each and every one of these cases’.

And though the note does not actually mention Germany by name it says:

‘The preliminary assistance which the British Government proposes must therefore be equally assured whether the aggressor State is or is not a member of the League of Nations.’

Of whom are they thinking? Not America nor Japan nor Brazil, but Germany. The two Imperialisms cannot come to terms, so the Star, of October 8, tells us that ‘further exchange of views’ is to take place, possibly ‘through diplomatic conversations.’

Bribing Germany

Meanwhile, there is indication that British Imperialism is busy bargaining with German Imperialism. A Swiss newspaper reports that the British Government is trying to bribe Germany into supporting Sanctions by promises of a loan. Laval is watching jealously. And Germany, Austria, Hungary, who have no need for collective security (for they have nothing to secure) have been busy plotting with Poland and Finland.

So the Imperialists, just as before 1914, are seeking the only security they understand – military force and military alliances.

Their pre-war alliances and war preparations dressed up for the masses – that is what the Imperialists mean by their collective security through the League. Whatever Imperialism touches, it defiles and puts to its own ignoble uses. As fast as the Imperialists drape their skeletons, the class-conscious workers’ party will strip them bare. So we shall help the great masses to understand, and by establishing Socialist Republics, realise a genuine League, based on mutual co-operation and not on Imperialist plunder.

Last updated on 29 June 2020