C.L.R. James

Truth about ‘Peace Plan’:
Britain’s Imperialist Game

(20 December 1935)

Source: New Leader, 20 December 1935.
Transcribed: Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The cat is out of the bag – or at least most of it. Honest Stanley Baldwin, holding desperately onto the tail, has only been able to prevent the hindquarters of the unsavoury animal from displaying itself. It had to come, of course, but the moment was untimely. That was all.

The agitation appears to be taking the form of protest against the dismemberment of Abyssinia by those who believe in the Covenant of the League.

It is nothing of the kind. By the proposals of the Committee of Five the independence of Abyssinia was sold two months ago. The Peace Plan is the inevitable consequence of the previous Imperialist negotiations.

The Story of the Plot

Every worker knows today that in return for help against a re-armed Germany, Laval gave Mussolini a free hand in Abyssinia. Having made his bargain with French Imperialism, Mussolini, as Hoare informed the House of Commons on October 22, told the British Government that he was ready to talk Abyssinia with them. The British Government, as Hoare said in the same speech, never replied. The reason Hoare gives is, first, that they had to set up a committee, had to make investigations in the Sudan and Kenya, and at last were so upset and confused by events that they could not discuss the matter calmly (This sounds unbelievable but it is true, and can be found in Hansard for October 22).

The real reason is simple. They did not want to tell Mussolini ‘yes’. That could be used in evidence against them by the League later. But if they said ‘no’ and stood by the League, Mussolini, at that early stage, would have had a serious check. And if so, then goodbye to all hopes of joint exploitation of Abyssinia.

Since 1902 Britain has been trying for the Lake Tsana concession and had not got it. Japan was penetrating Abyssinia; America was beginning. And if Abyssinia got over this difficulty she would arm so that none of her European Imperialist neighbours would have another chance to do what they had been attempting by war and intimidation for fifty years.

The British Imperialists were right. On May 11, Abyssinia, desperate, offered British Imperialists, the Lake Tsana concession, after having refused for 33 years. The British Imperialists said ‘no’. To take it then would have been awkward. They could afford to wait.

Eden as Puppet

Up to late June, Peace Ballot or no Peace Ballot, they were bargaining with Mussolini. The famous Zeila offer of a British port to Abyssinia in return for territory to Italy has come up again. Eden, who made it, is the darling of all those, who put their faith in the League. But this gentlemen told the House on July 11 exactly why British Imperialism made it. ‘Had the proposal been accepted and allowed us to find a basis for a settlement, let us not forget that Great Britain stood to gain as much as any other nation.’ Eden, like all the rest, will use the League for purposes of Imperialism. If he did not, Imperialism would throw him on the dust-heap.

But Mussolini proved, from the British point of view, unreasonable. In Paris in late August, as was noted by the Foreign Correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (September 7), they offered him everything except the actual Protectorate, and still Mussolini said ‘no’. The British Government realised that he aimed at dominating the whole of the strategically powerful plateau of Abyssinia. That would be a permanent threat to British East Africa, and that they were not going to have. So they began to shout for the Covenant, the whole Covenant and nothing but the Covenant.

‘Action now!’ said Eden, and Britain led the way, the Labour Party, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Communist Party calling for more Sanctions and still more. But the British Government did not, and does not, want to fight Italian Fascism. If Mussolini persisted in being unreasonable they would have to fight him, and it would be better to fight a League war, or, as the Daily Herald put it two years ago, ‘a legal war’; they mobilised world opinion behind them, made sure of the future exploitation of Abyssinia by the proposals of the Committee of Five (see the New Leader of October 4), and then invited Italy to sit at the Board, but under the auspices of the League. Mussolini refused.

The British Government, though sorely perturbed at his unreason, stood firm, for British interests were involved. They had won the election on the League slogan, and had even started on the gradual imposition of Sanctions. They tried to bring Laval in. Laval bargained stiffly – he wanted a promise of help against Germany. The British Government haggled. They did not want to commit themselves so far. It is certain that if Abyssinia did not stop Mussolini they would have to give Laval his promise.

But here the course of the war and Mussolini’s internal difficulties played into their hands. The war is not going well. The Italians will never dominate that plateau. That is certain. The British Government therefore is first of all safe from the threatened danger, and, secondly, has got the League mandate of the Committee of Five to fall back on whenever a general settlement is to take place. It has got no more use for the League, and taking the bull by the horns produces this Peace Plan.

Workers and Imperialism

Eden, who was the chief mouthpiece of the League policy, feels rather an ass. Honest Stanley has once more deceived his admirers, but that clever confidence man will most probably get away with it.

Even if the Cabinet is severely shaken (which is doubtful) British Imperialism will not fight Italy either for Abyssinia or for collective security. It will fight for British Imperialist interests and nothing else. British Imperialism will stand firm til it is broken by the British working class, supported by the Colonial workers and peasants. All else is illusion and hypocrisy.

If Abyssinia is to be saved it will be by her own exertions and the help of the International working class.

Last updated on 29 June 2020