C.L.R. James

‘Honest’ Stanley in a Fix

What next in the Abyssinian Dispute?

(27 December 1935)

Source: New Leader, 27 December 1935.
Transcribed: Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The events leading to last Thursday’s debate mark a turning-point in the history of the class-struggle. British Imperialism had used the League to stop Italian Imperialism’s threat to the British Empire; had used it to secure the common exploitation of Abyssinia by the proposals of the Committee of Five; had used it to win the election; and now, having been in secret communication with Mussolini, only wanted to throw the League over as quickly as possible.

Honest Stanley Baldwin had got away with the Trades Disputes Act, he had got away with the Sedition Act, he had got away with the India Act, by which British Imperialism gives Self-Government to India but controls £80 out of every £100 the Indian Government will spend! He had even got away with the abolition of Snowden’s taxes on land, which Honest Stanley’s Government had sworn never to touch.

Lies and Evasion

Surely his rugged honesty, some hard rugged lying, and some honest rugged bluff (‘my lips are sealed’) could turn this awkward corner? The cowardly Labour Party would snarl a little, something else would turn up, and people would forget.

But Baldwin rushed it too quickly. Egypt, Japan and the Miners made him act too crudely, and in addition he, like most of us, thoroughly misunderstood the strength of the pro-League feeling in this country. He had to turn back.

The mess the Government was in can be seen by a study, not of the Press, but of Hansard. Hoare said he was strongly pressed to go to Paris (col. 2005) while Lord Halifax told the House of Lords the same evening that Hoare did not go to Paris to discuss terms, but while he was there Laval asked him to do so as a matter of sudden emergency (House of Lords debate col. 278)

Honest Stanley said he did not know what Hoare was arranging in Paris until he got letter on Monday morning (col. 2027). He said that he had no time to study the documents before the leakage took place, and then the Cabinet had to consider whether they would repudiate an absent colleague or not (col. 2028). And yet, not ten minutes after, he told the House that never at any time during the week had he and his colleagues any idea that they were breaking their election pledges in consenting to these terms. This will go down in history as the stupidest thing ever said by any Prime Minister in the House of Commons, and shows the mess honest Stanley was in.

Chamberlain answers

But amid the stream of lies, something nauseating and sometimes comic, one question – what would the Government do now – remained unanswered, until Neville Chamberlain wound up the debate.

After saying (col. 2113) that Mussolini might fight if oil sanctions were imposed, he continues:

‘that need not necessarily stop the imposition of oil sanctions, and if the League should decide that oil sanctions be applied, and that they can be effective, and should we be satisfied that all members of the League, at any rate who matter, are not only ready to give us assurances, but are preparing to take their part in mounting an attack, which may be sudden and unexpected, we too are prepared to play our part and agree to the imposition of an oil sanction.’

So now we know. ‘Action now’, said Eden when British Imperialism wanted to check Mussolini. But today ‘if ... and if ... and if ... then we shall apply an oil sanction.’

But the masses of people can see quite clearly whether an oil sanction is applied or not. And if it isn’t, honest Stanley will be seen to be what he really is.

Signal at Danger

This is the dilemma. To save the Government’s face some sort of gesture must be made with sanctions against Mussolini. But the Government cannot risk a war for the sake of the League they have never believed in, or for Abyssinia. The pro-League feeling in the country is in part fear of war and in part distrust of Imperialism and all its ways. This distrust has been deepened by last week’s events. The stage is set for a great mass swing to the left.

But towards what? Labour is hopeful. But it lives on dreams. The British bourgeoisie, with the world as it is, are not going to allow Attlee and Morrison to muck about with the country, fiddling with everything and settling nothing. Parliament is now dangerous for the Imperialists. They will turn to Fascism. That is the next move, and we must be ready.

Last updated on 29 June 2020