J.T. Walton Newbold


Britain – France – Belgium

(23 January 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 9, 23 January 1923, p. 68.
From International Press Correspondence (weekly), Vol. 3 No. 3, 26 January 1923, pp. 36–37.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). 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.

The situation in the capitalist world is developing from crisis to crisis with astounding rapidity and assuming a complexity utterly bewildering in its character.

The French have, by their occupalion of the Ruhr, certainly succeeded in bringing the German people and the German state into something very near to chaos. The mark, oscillating insolently in its course, plunges down from one level to another. Prices rise by leaps and bounds and within the country there is an increasing instability. The whole population, of all classes and of all parties, resents bitterly the occupation of the Ruhr. Different factions have different ways of expressing their discontent and different ways of seeking to make that discontent effective, but one thing is obvious that all feel, with an intense irritability, their powerlessness to check the advance of the plunderers of the Paris Bourse.

The French, on their side, are not finding that they are getting or are likely to get anything more by way of Reparations as a result of their action. Already loaded down with debt, they have decided that they will pay the German industrialists for the coal which they take away to France and even if they assume that they will ultimately recover this sum from the German Government it remains an assumption not likely substantially to improve their credit on the money market. Furthermore they are needing to meet the immediate cost of moving in and maintaining large bodies of troops. They are incurring a heavy expenditure which will have to be met either by borrowing or by taxation, processes which in the present temper of the world will not differ materially in their economic consequences for France.

The French have, if their aim is really or even primarily to alleviate the condition of their national finances, gone to work in a very foolish manner. They have adopted a course of action which can only serve still further to aggravate matters.

But the opinion is growing outside of France that the payment of reparations is not the reason for which the French Government has ordered the advance to Dortmund. The Daily Chronicle – the official organ of Lloyd George – has gone so far as to charge the French with seeking to possess themselves of the economic resources of the Ruhr, and has gone on to say that this would result in the same thing that was threatened by the Germans when they advanced into France.

Other English papers are not so direct and not so obviously hostile in the note they sound but all make it evident that they disapprove and distrust.

The official British attitude would appear to be an admixture of alarm at the action of France in jeopardizing the economic and political stability of Germany and of silent satisfaction at the spectacle of the French entangling themselves in a situation from which it will be impossible for them to withdraw with dignity. Probably, the British statesmen take the view that perilous as is the objective at which the French aim, viz:– the bringing together of the richest ore-fields, the finest coking-coal, the best water and railway transport and the biggest metallurgical and machine plants into one economic whole, such a project is fantastical, the British steel and coal masters would view with intense disfavor French effective annexation of Ruhr resources, but they view with almost equal approbation the putting out of business of the German plants at present competing with them.

The British diplomats have always favored the idea of France turning her attention towards the Rhine rather than seeking outlets overseas as in Turkey or the East. On the other hand, the newer economic powers in Britain, more fully understanding the importance of coal and iron in the modern world than do the officials of the Foreign Office are already warning their countrymen that France and Belgium controlling the Ruhr would be as grave a danger to the British as the Germans controlling Belgium, Northern France and Lorraine.

The banking interests in Britain realize how insecure are French finances and, probably, welcome the adoption of a policy calculated still further to undermine the fundamental stability of the French state.

At the same time, the British financiers and great industrialists generally can view with satisfaction a process which results in an immediate influx of orders for coal and also in a depreciation of the exchange value of the great workshops at present competing with their own establishments. These interests stand to gain by the liquidation of German capitalism and expect to be able to do very well for themselves when it comes to a general scramble lor the assets of defaulting Germany.

The British have been to some considerable extent successful in detaching Poland and Czecho-Slovakia from exclusive dependence on France. They have waited their opportunity and have come in with alternative aid of a financial character. The power of France upon the Continent has ever since 1914 been much more apparent than real. She profited by the first enthusiasm of the new national states but, this over, the support of her armies, more especially as Bolshevism became a less pressing danger within and without, became a luxury that they were ill inclined to afford.

France was too evidently aiming at suzerainty and at financial exploitation. Therefore, the new nations preferred to turn towards Britain, traditionally unconcerned with the internal affairs of Europe and interested rather to trade than to enter and to exploit.

Besides, today, Germany and Austria have become so patently enfeebled that the Succession Stales no longer tear them while they do distrust France.

The best brains of British diplomacy understand too well how far France has to travel before she can weld her several elements of economic power into one working system. What they fail to understand is how dangerous to peace with themselves is a state like France whose rulers and whose bankers are conscious to a degree of the nearness of that time when they must meet their innumerable clients, the petty bourgeoisie, with the confession that no longer can they pay them any interest. The danger is that the French banks and big bourgeoisie will precipitate another world war in a desperate endeavor to avoid default.

France, official France, realizes not only the inadequacy of the economic substructure to support her financial and imperial superstructure but she is acutely conscious that it is and has been Britain which is in large measure responsible for aggravating the handicaps nature herself has put upon her.

For once, but for how long who can say, France finds herself in the closest co-operation with Belgium. This union is a union built upon coal strata which underlie the frontier between the two countries, and make of one coalfield one industrial unity which expresses itself today in a financial union – the union gf money and credit in the Banque de Paris et des Pays Bas. the Banque de l’Union Parisienne and the Socièté Générale de Belgique.

Nature, economic geology, seem to cry aloud for the unification in one political system of the territories under which stretches one great coalseam from the Pas de Calais to the Ruhr, and on which stands one great industrial and commercial whole extending from Calais to Dortmund and Hamm.

That may be so but England willed otherwise. When trade was most important in the life of Belgium and when trade, moreover, centered around Antwerp and Rotterdam, Belgium inclined towards England.

Now that instead of commerce, of the exchange of all manner of commodities coming in and going out to and from Europe through Antwerp, industry, the heavy industry of coal and iron, has assumed priority in the Belgian economy, Belgian politics have tilted away from London and towards Paris.

In a rational political system – undetermined by historic jealousies and diplomatic intrigues – the whole of Northern France, the Scheldt, Trense and Rhine Valleys would constitute one political as one economic area.

England has prevented this. She has fought Spain, France, and Germany to prevent it. Her rulers will, if necessary, fight France once mure to prevent it

The French Government is at the old game. The British Government is at the old game.

We can go back across four hundred years of history and we can see this conflict proceeding, ever and again renewed.

It may be Richelieu, Louis Quatorze, Napoleon Buonaparte or Poincaré. It may be Cromwell, Marlborough, Pitt, Wellington, Grey or Bonar Law. Only the personalities change. Whilst the bourgeoisie of Britain and France prevail in their respective countries, the bloody battle will be again and again re-staged and re-enacted.

The eyes of the world may be upon Britain and France in the East. The eyes of those who know their history watch ever Britain and France on the Rhine and the Scheldt!

Last updated on 10 August 2021