J. T. Murphy

Co-Ops. and Empire

The Shame of a Great Working-Class Movement

Source: Workers’ Life, July 13, 1928
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

IT is doubtful whether there is anything in the history of the British Co-operative Movement which illustrate more clearly the departure from the basic aims of the Cooperative Movement than to contrast the early struggles of the co-operators of Britain with present day worship of British Imperialism.

Recall the days which gave birth to the Co-operative Movement. The workers were waging terrific struggles. Trades unionism was in its infancy, strikes were fast and furious. Great schemes of union organisation were tried and were broken. The Chartist movement was shattered. The workers had to think out ways and means of struggle and advance.

It was in these conditions that Co-operation had its birth. It was conceived as a weapon of advance against capitalism. It had to fight for its very existence exactly as the unions had to fight. Often the early co-operators had to meet in secret. Often when caught their members were beaten.

It grew in the conditions of class warfare. It was a weapon of the class-war.


Please read the Co-operative News

Mr. H. J. A. Wilkins (president of the C.W.S., presiding at a meeting of Empire delegates (April), said:—

“Co-oporstors were genuinely desirous of encouraging Empire trade. They were proud of the Empire, and the quicker the idea that they were not was removed from people’s minds the better.”

At the same meeting Sir Thomas Allen (director of the C.W.S.) said, in speaking to a toast:

“The Commonwealth and Protectorates.” “When we speak of the Commonwealth, we thought of that great confederation of free peoples united in one common bond of willing allegiance to him who was now seven times king and emperor. In that great confederation we still liked to think that Britain was the vital spark. Without the Motherland he thought there could be no community of nations, and without the cohesion of the British Empire there was not the slightest chance for the peace of the world. . . . He was glad the Imperial Conference, the Imperial Economic Committee, and the Empire Marketing Board were working together to cement the business interests of the Empire together.” (See Co-op. News May 5)

What Empire Is

The above are views of leaders of British co-operation, and there can be no question that these statements could be proclaimed joyously by the most patriotic Imperialist in the country. Every line breathes domination, exploitation, arrogance, and repudiation of the cause of the oppressed and exploited—the cause from which the Co-operative Movement grew.

What is the British Empire but the domination by armed force of hundreds of millions of workers and peasants by British capitalism?

To speak of it as a “Commonwealth of Nations” is the most canting hypocrisy conceivable. Would Ireland be a “Free State” or a Republic were it not for the fact that Britain’s army and navy and air force stands ready to annihilate the people of Ireland if they refuse the “Free State”? If my reader thinks not, please tell it only to gullible Englishmen and Englishwomen, but never to the Irish. Seven hundred years of insurrectionary history repudiates the lie.

Would South Africa be messing about with its flag to see upon which corner it can stick the Union Jack to conciliate Britain were it not for the fact that every Dutchman and every coloured man remembers Roberts and Kitchener and the hordes of soldiers which imposed British “fraternal relations” upon them?

Would Egypt tolerate for a single hour the presence of British troops in Egypt, the forbidding of public meeting, the denial of the most elementary rights of local government, the pinching of the Sudan, the possession of the Suez, the overshadowship of a British Governor, were it not Britain’s naval and military might, maintained and assisted by the British Labour Party and Co-operative Chiefs?

Ask any Egyptian who has not sold his soul for a mess of pottage.

Domination of India

Would India with her 300 million illiterates existing in hellish conditions after 160 years of British domination by fire and sword, by machine gun and tank, by air squadrons, by thousands upon thousands of soldiers, tolerate this “commonwealth” relationship under “him who was now seven times king and emperor” without these murderous death dealing powers ever over them?

Never, never.

Boycott Empire?

Of course, I know it will be asked, “Do you mean that the Co-operative Movement of this country should boycott the countries of the Empire!” We must answer at once—nothing of the sort. We propose that the Co-operative Movement of this country must have relations, trading and political, with independent co-operative movements of these countries, help them to develop on the basis of independent movements, assist them in the struggle of national liberation, identify them with the struggles of the workers and peasants of these countries against their own capitalists and against British Imperialists.

Unless the Co-operative Movement takes this course in the class war and the war of colonial liberation, it travels along the path of British Imperialism and is an instrument under Imperialism’s control.

These things are happening to the British Co-operative Movement and to the British Labour Movement alike. The Co-operative spokesman and spokeswomen breathe pacifism, and day by day build the Empire the instrument of war. Isn’t it high time cooperators joined the Communist Party, and that the Communist Party did more to revolutionise the co-ops.?