J.T. Walton Newbold


Paris – London via Ruhr

(28 January 1923)

From International Press Correspondence (Weekly), Vol. 3 No. 2, 28 January 1923, pp. 18–19.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). 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 presented to the British people, both the supporters and the opponents of capitalism, by the threatened occupation of the Ruhr valley is serious in the extreme. The very fact that it affects alike the exploiters and the exploited renders it very difficult for a member of the Communist party of Great Britain to adopt a correct attitude. The German comrades naturally expect that the British worker should oppose with might and main the action of the French. They see it as an act of predatory capitalism, of imperialism in its most blatant form. The British worker, in so far as he is class conscious and intelligently, informed concerning the situation, regards it similarly, but he requires to keep clearly in his mind the fact that the offensive of French imperialism reacts most immediately and most severely upon the equally predatory capitalism of Great Britain. In the conference at Essen the difficulty that presented itself to the British delegation was that it feared, in declaring itself strongly against the French action, it might seem to assist the propaganda of the British interests which, rightly, see in the occupation of the Ruhr the death-knell of British supremacy in the heavy industries. To the Germans of all classes and to the French outside of the official financial and metallurgical circles, the advance of the French army to Essen and Bochum appears only to be directed against Germany. This, however, is not the gravamen of the whole affair. In reality, France, capitalist France, bankrupt but imperialist France, is attacking not so much Germany as, through Germany, striking a deadly blow at her age-long antagonist and competitor for world power, Great Britain.

If it were not for the fact, that Great Britain is dependent for its corn supply, for its meat, for its cotton and for many other essential raw materials either upon the U.S.A, or upon countries in South America from which ships must come along sea-routes easily to be menaced by the submarines and commerce-destroyers of the U.S. navy; were it not for the fact that Britain has been compelled by its creditor the U.S. government to reduce the size of its fleet and that the world commitments of Empire defence, are such that the British government cannot afford to maintain so many squadrons of fighting aeroplanes, as are at the disposal of Monsieur Poincaré, war between Britain and France would be a matter not of years or of months but of days and of hours.

The situation presented by the French advance into the coking coalfield of Germany is infinitely more menacing to Britain’s economic and political position than was the advance of Major Marchand to Fashoda in 1898. Then, only an outpost of the Empire was threatened, though Egypt and the Soudan had a great value to Britain, lying as they do on the flank of that road to India which is the spinal column of the British Empire, but the Soudan is removed from the Suez Canal, and it was “Honour” and “Prestige” rather than any more material safeguard that was threatened at the time of the Fashoda incident. Now, however, France is making her greatest effort finally to checkmate that cunning policy by means of which Britain has for centuries made it utterly impossible for any Power or combinations of Powers so to coordinate the resources of Western Europe as to make them financially, industrially and politically stronger than Great Britain.

It has. for centuries, been a first principle of British statecraft to prevent either Holland, Spam, Austria, France or Germany getting control of that region known as Belgium. A study of the map will show, whether you examine it as it is drawn at the present time or any time since the seventeenth century, that the rich manufacturing and agrarian territory of northern France and of southern Belgium, geographically and geologically one, has been cut across by an arbitrary frontier delimited by order of and in conformity with the interests of British commercialism. Again ever since the Congress of Vienna in 1814, when the British merchants had already begun, to appreciate the value to industry of coal, British statecraft has taker care to prevent the whole of the Saar coalfield belonging completely either to France or to Germany. Cunning Old England took very good care that these rich deposits should be divided between two hostile states. Again when in 1830 Belgium revolted from Holland with the approval of the English Liberals the enthusiasm of the latter for their new protege, “free” Belgium, would not go so far as to permit the bourgeoisie of Brussels making common cause with that of Paris and attaching Belgium to France. Britain has ever stood for the seif determination of “poor little Belgium”, well knowing that in this case justice right and liberty consort with the interests of the London Stock Exchange and die Manchester Cotton Market.

Prior to the industrial revolution, France was much more populous and economically much more powerful than Great Britain. It was only by a policy of encirclement that the money merchants of London and Amsterdam, employing as condottiere the hired soldiery of Prussia, Hesse and other German states, as well as the declining naval and military power of Spain, contrived to keep France from gaining and maintaining the hegemony of Europe and adding to it a great colonial domain. A century of class struggles and of war with the states of Central Europe has entangled France in complications which have made it impossible for her seriously to challenge Great Britain’s world supremacy. Added to this, France, with a soil much richer than that of Britain, has been handicapped by the fact that nearly all her coalfields lie on the frontier or far removed from the sea coast, harbours and great rivers. This has meant that, in, an age when economic supremacy is built on coal and iron in juxtaposition, France has suffered something akin to political eclipse. When, in 1871, Bismarck took from France the only part of the Lorraine orefield then being developed, it seemed as if France must sink to the status of a second rate power.

When, however, in the last decade of the nineteenth century it became commercially profitable to open up the populously rich areas of Lorraine and prospectors began to put forward great expectations of even richer iron fields in Anjou and Normandy the French metallurgical and banking interests found new hope. They learnt from the incident of Fashoda that as long as Britain and Germany remained economically intact and comparatively friendly that there was no hope of France securing control of the great resources of tropical Africa or of any other unexploited part of the world. They noted in the very same year as Fashoda that the Germans were commencing to build a navy upon a plan which was alarming to the British governing class. Immediately, they saw and made use of this heaven ordained opportunity to make bad blood between two empires traditionally in alliance or, at any rate, favorably inclined towards each other. A mysterious change came over certain jingoistic newspapers in London. The Daily Mail ceased to cry that France “must be rolled in blood and mud&rquo;

and commenced to shriek against the menace of the German navy. Next, the Unionists, the party of the successful industrial and commercial capitalists,, took up the cry of protection for the British steel industry against the competition of the German steel industry. Meanwhile there had ascended the throne of Great Britain an ancient roué, notoriously in the pocket of Sir Ernest Cassel and a group of Franco-Belgian moneylenders. Edward the Peacemaker – architect of the bloodiest slaughter in human history – the present Lord Balfour and sundry other British politicians made an alliance, secret in character, which was the diplomatic reflection of a financial community of interests already existing for some time between coteries of moneylenders around one or two houses in Paris, Brussels, Antwerp and London. This dirty gang set themselves – just like the equally unscrupulous rascals associated with the Deutsche Bank and the Bleichroeders their antagonists – to corrupt the mercenary politicians both, reactionary and reformist, of the Balkans Italy, Spain and Russia. Ten years of this intrigue and the French capitalists were able to hurl a combination of powers against the blustering might of German and Austrian Kaiserism. The result of the war is well known to everybody. When it came to making the peace, Britain and France alike held their hands up to heaven, swearing eternal allegiance to the divine principle of the self determination of small nationalities. This new policy of radical republican roguery consorted much more with the interests of France than those of Britain. The latter had no particular desire to see Austro-Hungaty divided up into a jigsaw puzzle of tiny states drawing their financial and military support from Paris but had to agree to it for, as we English say, “needs must when the devil drives”. France and Britain have spent four years in reducing Central Europe to chaos and its currency to ruin. The real reason for all this seeming lunacy has been a struggle, not between two ideas or between two empires, but between two groups of financiers, one of which rose io power in the early 19th century and held the Habsburgs in the hollow of its hand, the other which has risen to prominence within the last quarter of a century and has become immensely rich in “promises to pay” since the beginning of the World War. The old group may be summed up in one name – Rothschild. The new group in three names – The Banque de Paris et des Pays Bas, the Société Générale de Belgique and the Banque de l’Union Parisienne.

The former is the master of Andrew Bonar Law, the latter of Raymond Poincaré. The year 1923 will see some wonderful happenings as these two duellists and their much interested seconds dance furiously around each oilier. But that belongs more to the story of Central Europe and less to that of the Rhineland. Yet they are all of a piece. The question of the oil of Mosul, the mastery of the Straits at Constantinople (through which must pass the corn from Odessa and Constanza and the petroleum from Baku as also in payment therefore the cotton piece goods of Manchester); the question of Vienna and the railways and river routes of the Danube Valley; the occupation of the Ruhr – not one can scientifically be separated from its complement.

Some people think that Britain and France will arrange a deal and that in return for a free hand at Mosul and control of the oil, Andrew Bonar Law, a particularly stiff-necked Scotchman and, for a bourgeois a singularly honest fellow, will allow Poincaré to have his own way at Essen and Bochum. They forget that Andrew Bonar Law before he was a politician was a business man, and that he was in business as an iron and steel merchant. He understands probably better even than Poincaré, attorney of the Comité des Forges, the importance to industry, to armaments to statecraft in the capitalist era, of the disposition of the Ruhr, whether to a weak but independent Germany, a strong and arrogant France, an international control commission which would, probably, be under the thumb of the United States Government, that is to say of the United States Steel Corporation.

This is the problem, the whole mighty problem of the Ruhr, the Ruhr with its mighty river, the Rhine, with its efficient canals, with its stupendous steelworks, with its wonderful coke-ovens, with its gigantic collieries; the Ruhr, which if its coking coal and its machinery are allied with the nighty iron fields of Lorraine and Normandy and the finely equipped harbours of Antwerp and Rotterdam, will be a producer and a vendor of steel, the basic material of capitalist production; at a price and in a volume with which British capitalism can in no way hope to compete.

Sooner or later, somehow or other the proud, unbending British bourgeoisie whose flag “has braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze&rquo; will find a way to break the chains with which French imperialism is trying to bind Britannia. The issue can, in my opinion, only be – WAR.

What the British workers think at the present time scarcely matters. They are thinking very little at all about the Ruhr. Even if they were thinking, the Trade Unions have been so hammered by the capitalist offensive (which has, however seemed only to make their leaders more pudding, headed than before) that they could, in the circumstances of the moment, do little to help the German workers. It is for them a terrible danger, regardless of whether French capitalism enters the Ruhr alone or whether it comes accompanied – for the purpose of keeping an eye cocked upon it – by its fellow bandit, the capitalism of Great Britain.

In my constituency of Motherwell in Scotland where, in normal times, more steel is produced than anywhere else in Britain with the possible exception of Middlesborough, the works, considered according to our standard to be relatively efficient, are like toys in comparison with the work at Bochum, Rheinhausen and Essen. For two years some of them have been virtually closed down. For two years there have been from ten to twenty thousand workers unemployed in an area whose population does not exceed 80,000. These men receive in unemployment pay, inadequate to maintain them in Recency and productive efficiency 15/– a week each, 5/– for the wife and 1/– for each child from the Labour Exchange, supplemented, in some cases, by parish relief. This payment is, whilst utterly inadequate, yet greater than the weekly pay of a German steelworker, this means that our employers, some of whom, to my certain knowledge, are financially interested in Krupp, can use and are actually using the German workers as blacklegs to beat down to yet lower levels of degradation and misery the men and women.

The British workers, though not the workers in Motherwell, Barrow and certain other centres where the communist propaganda is intense and out influence strong, do not understand the significance of the occupation of the Ruhr. It is our business in Britain to point this out and to draw the only conclusion possible, that within capitalism only three things are possible – slavery, starvation and then slaughter!

Last updated on 10 August 2021