George Padmore 1943
Source: Left, No. 84, October 1943.
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg for Marxists.org 2007.
Confident of a United Nations’ victory over the Axis, and with it the emergence intact of the British Empire (including the territories now under Japanese occupation), British imperialists are busy formulating plans for imperial reconstruction after the war. A number of official and unofficial committees have been set up to survey the economic, political and social problems of the various imperial territories, and to work out methods of consolidating and strengthening the bonds between the Dominions, India, the Colonies, Protectorates and other non-self-governing areas, and the British Crown.
Mr. Churchill has frankly stated that he has not assumed the responsibilities of the King’s first Minister of State to preside over the liquidation of His Majesty’s far-flung imperial dominions. Like all pro -consuls, he believes, as Earl Baldwin once declared, that “the British Empire is an instrument of Divine Providence for the promotion of the progress of Mankind.”
In an analysis of British Imperialism one salient fact must always be kept in mind: that England without an Empire would be merely a geographical expression, an insignificant island of 46 million people off the fringe of Western Europe. England’s world greatness is based upon her imperial structure, chiefly upon India, that brightest jewel in the Crown of the British Raj. For this reason, whatever concessions or modifications the post-war world may witness in colonial reconstruction, no British Government -Tory or Labour- will ever voluntarily relinquish Britain’s hegemony over her sources of raw materials, markets and reservoirs of man-power. And this is all the more true as it becomes evident that America will emerge front this war the greatest imperialist nation of the twentieth century, and as such, Britain’s chief commercial competitor for the markets of the world. Guided by this principle of self-interest, she is determined to preserve her status as a great world Power, come what may.
Before this war, Britain drew annual tribute amounting to £200 millions from her overseas investments, which returned to this country in the form of foodstuffs and raw materials. Today, with the loss of a number of her investment sources, British imperialists must cling more strongly than ever to the advantages which a Colonial Empire provides.
The covert struggle between Britain and America for imperial mastery is being pushed more and more into the open as the determination of the war is considered to be approaching nearer. And this struggle is being voiced by prominent British and American capitalists. There is knowledgeable recognition that “a fundamental difference in psychology existed in Britain and America which would make team play between the two nations extremely difficult after the war.” This is the expressed opinion of no less a figure than the President of the American Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Erie Johnson, who imparted it to a press conference at Washington (on September 2), after a three weeks’ visit to Britain. Britain, Mr. Johnson went on to say, believed in controlled markets, the United Suttcs in free competition. It was not, he asserted, necessary to reconcile these two divergent views but it was necessary to recognise them.
Wendell Willkie also believes in free competition on the world’s markets, and particularly on the markets of those territories now forming parts of the British Empire. This is the underlying motive of his ostensibly democratic championship of freedom for colonial peoples, which he puts forward in his book, One World. Freed from the political control of their present British rulers, the native bourgeoisie would inevitably turn to America for the provision of capital, capital machinery, and all other instruments necessary for the development of industrial economy. For there is no doubt that with its greater industrial potential, most advanced technology and financial resources, America today occupies the same relationship towards world economy as Britain did during the last half of the nineteenth century, when she was the workshop of the world, and the City of London the greatest money market. Hence wider markets are an absolute necessity for U.S. capitalism, and as things stand, they can be secured only at the expense of the British Empire.
Capitalists in both countries recognise this most clearly, and that is why, as Mr. Eric Johnson stated, Britain believes in controlled markets, the U.S. in free competition. But while, as Mr. Johnson further maintained, it was not necessary to reconcile these two divergent views, there are sections, both within the British Empire and the U.S.A., which believe that they can be reconciled through some form of mutual co-operation. This will be expressed through a closer working agreement with America and the British Dominions in the exploitation of colonial territories, especially Africa.
The political blue-print of this new Anglo-American partnership was first expounded by General Smuts, the wily Boer statesman responsible for the imposture of the Mandates System. He comes forward once more as the strategist of the new Colonial Imperialism. “Condominium” will now supercede “mandates.” The cloak of altruism will once again screen imperialist self-interest.
Briefly, Smuts proposes to group the various British colonial regions according to their geographical position into federal units. For example, the Caribbean territories, including British Guiana and British Honduras, will be united into a kind of West Indian Federation under a joint Anglo-American Commission in which Canada will participate. The West African colonies of the Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Nigeria, together with the adjoining French regions, will be brought into a West African Federation. Here again, America will have to be offered certain interests, because of the proximity of points like Dakar and Bathurst, Freetown and Liberia, to the South American countries (Brazil in particular). In East Africa, a similar group will comprise Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda, British, French and Italian Somaliland, and parts of Abyssinia, under South African and British control. The native territories of Basutoland, Swaziland and Bechuanaland will be incorporated into the Union of South Africa: and the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland, with the Belgian Congo and the Portugese territory of Mozambique, will be linked up to form a Greater South Africa. This would provide new lands for the increased white population which the South African Governmcnt intends to promote as a means of augmenting the present white minority population, to counter the vast black populations in these areas. They will also provide an internal market for the South African industries which have come into being since the outbreak of this war, and which will have to be turned over to peace-time manufactures in order to stave off unemployment and economic collapse.
A similar scheme is envisaged for the islands of the Pacific arid the regions of East Asia. In that part of the world, England, America, Holland, Australia and New Zealand will operate as joint partners, while certain territorial concessions will he made to China, possibly at the expense of French Indo-China and Siam. Britain, however, still intends to retain Hong Kong and sole control of India and Burma.
This, in simplified outline, is the Tory blue-print of post-war Empire.
British imperial experts believe that such a form of joint administration between the English-speaking races will provide the basis of a lasting alliance between Britain and America, and will at the same time satisfy those American business circles which advocate the “Open Door” policy in British imperial territories, whereby they can have access to raw materials on the same terms as the British, and markets for their goods.
This new colonial “Regionalism” as it is being called, has the support of circles most closely interested. Practically all sections of European opinion in South Africa, for example are eager to benefit from some sort of international participation of this kind. They have only been divided as to who should participate. In the past, some have been for the participation of Germany, but General Smuts, representing the City of London, has for many years looked towards British interests to help promote South African mining economy, and he now welcomes the idea of American participation. He has been guided in this orientation by the fact that Germany was considered to have territorial and political aims in South Africa, and other parts of the Dark Continent, while America is not wishful of assuming the responsibilities of colonial administration, being quite willing to exert her imperialistic responsibilities through the methods of dollar imperialism, which she has been using in South America, Cuba, Haiti, Liberia, and elsewhere.
Speaking to Reuter’s Special Correspondent in Pretoria on August 27 last, General Smuts declared himself “all in favour of the Americans coming to Africa, and I support the idea of consultative councils on which America, as well as Britain and other interested countries, would be represented. America wants to trade and is opposed to imperialism or annexation.”
In fact, Anglo-American capital is already well entrenched in the Union of South Africa. It holds the major interest in the Witwatersrand gold mining industry through the Anglo-American Corporation of South Africa, Ltd., which also has interests in the diamond mines, and in the copper development companies of Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo.
It is not unlikely that this co-operation of America in exploiting the natural resources of Africa and other parts of the British Empire will to a very great extent suit the interests of Yankee capitalism and British colonisers. There is to be a new dictionary of euphemisms. Just as “Regionalism” is to replace “mandates” so “partnership will oust “trusteeship.”
The form of “partnership” envisaged will give the native peoples of Africa some wider representation on legislative councils, probably through the addition of one or more unofficial members. This will be done in order to placate progressive public opinion both in Britain and the colonies themselves, but there should be no shadow of doubt that the British imperialist will not give us real administrative control. The Governor will always be there to exercise his powers of determination and veto. Even where a wider democracy is permitted through the Constitution – Jamaica has been given universal suffrage – the ultimate result will be the same, as it is in Ceylon, which has the most advanced Constitution of all the British colonies. The Governor’s veto, however, decides affairs in the final resort, and in most instances the wishes of the people come to nothing.
Lord Hailey, who has replaced Lord Lugard as the chief authority and spokesman on colonial affairs, addressing the Royal Central Asian Society on July 7, on “The Colonies and the Atlantic Charter,” said that he was “one of those who join in believing that the opportunity should be taken of instituting Regional Councils for dealing with the dependencies, suitably grouped for this purpose. These bodies would endeavour by consultation and joint discussion to co-ordinate the economic and other policies of the dependencies and would review the progress made by them.”
The personalities which would make up these Regional Councils are indicated in the choice of the Committee just appointed by the Colonial Secretary to advise “on questions of economic policy in relation to the Colonial Dependencies, including particularly matters of general policy arising on programmes of economic policy.” The extremely reactionary and arch-imperialist Duke of Devonshire is the Committee’s chairman, and apart from one or two economists, the members include only representatives of the City of London. There is Sir William Goodenough, deputy chairman of Barclays Bank and also on the boards of the Commercial Union Assurance and the Mercantile and General Assurance; Sir William Howitt, director of Ashwell and Nesbit (Engineers), and of the Constantine Steamship Lines; Captain B.H. Peter, managing director of Westinghouse Brake and Signal; Sir John Hay, director of the Ocean Marine Insurance, the Mercantile Bank of India, and over twenty different rubber companies and other colonial undertakings. It is quite obvious where the interests of this Committee lie – certainly not with the colonial peoples. They are the self-same interests which have been and still are exploiting the colonial peoples.
In the new “Regional” plan, the Americans will supply the finances through investments, etc., while British interests will retain political and administrative control. In this way the satisfaction of the post-war colonial needs of Britain and America will be made to dovetail as far as possible under the exigencies which will arise as a result of America’s emergence from the war as the greatest capitalist Power. So long as Britain remained the dominant Power, she could dispense with any co-operation such as “Regionalism” anticipates; but imperialist crisis makes this form of co-operation necessary, while leaving political power in British hands. For retention of political control means retention of a certain amount of economic control.
The British Labour Party is also giving its endorsement to “Regionalism.” It has for a long time advocated placing colonies under international control, and is earnestly supporting the various educational and labour bodies which the Colonial Office is setting up, and which, while erecting a fine democratic front, are actually time-stalling machines. Despite its paper declarations, the Labour Party in practice differs very little from the Tories on the fundamental principle of Imperialism, and its collaboration in matters of imperial conduct is practically implicit.
Where Labour leaders differ with the out-and-out die-hard imperialists is on the question of the undisguised exploitation of the natural resources of the colonies with cheap native labour. Labour is in favour of a more widespread extention of social services, education, and the like. It is a humane colonialism, which envisages self-government of some of the colonies at a hazily distant future. It is all a very gradual process, to be accomplished by slow stages, and emerges out of the Labour Party’s general conception of Socialism as being the last stage of Capitalism. That is why it is able to adopt such confused resolutions as the following, which was accepted at the Labour Party’s recent conference:
“This conference expresses to the Colonial people its appreciation of their participation in the United Nations’ war effort; it declares that the terms of the Atlantic Charter and the ‘Four Freedoms’ should become active principles in Colonial administration and proclaimed in a special Charter to the Colonial peoples; it demands that all forms of political and economic imperialism shall be rapidly liquidated; it urges the abolition of ‘Colonial status’ and the rapid realisation of genuine partnership between this country and the Colonial peoples; it insists that the Government (in consultation with the Colonial peoples) shall press on with the social and economic welfare of their territories, including adequate education, health and nutrition services, and the attainment of political rights not less than those enjoyed or claimed by British democracy; it asks for the application of a Socialist policy in the economic organization of the Colonies, and the acceptance of the principle of international supervision and accountability in Colonial policy and administration.”
But how can there be a socialist policy in application to the Colonies when there is no socialist policy in Britain? And of what kind is the international supervision to be in present circumstances? Certainly only the “Regionalism” of General Smuts. So that, in the end, all protestations and resolutions of the Labour Party notwithstanding, its policy on Colonies and Imperialism is almost indistinguishable from that of the Conservatives.
In the final analysis, however, what the post-war world will bring to the British and other Colonial Empires depends to a large extent upon events in Europe, and these are now beginning to shape themselves.