M. Philips Price

England and the Ruhr

(5 July 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 48 [28], 5 July 1923, pp. 477–478.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2022). 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 settlement of the Anglo-Russian crisis of last May was brought about by two factors in England – firstly by the opposition, which the government did not dare to ignore, of the organized Labor movement and secondly by the victory in the British cabinet of the group round Mr. Baldwin. As regards the first, Mr. Baldwin has openly admitted that the number of resolutions pouring in to him front the local Labor Parties and Trades Councils, I.L.P.’s and other Socialist branches, to say nothing of those of the Communist Party, was so great that he was unable to deal with them and that therefore he was compelled to hand them over to Mr. Henderson to answer them. There is no doubt that the ruling classes in England saw that, if the policy of Lord Curzon was allowed to succeed, a very dangerous internal situation would arise. The government of England, being now a government of the banking aristocracy, of the holders of Consols (“rentes”) and of passive capital, a peaceful policy abroad is necessary, in order to maintain the pound sterling. Lord Curzon’s policy, which represented the views of the Anglo-Indian bureaucracy and of the heads of the big “services”, Army and Navy, aimed at a breach with Russia at all costs, even if it implied the prospects of warlike disturbances in the East. This policy has for the moment been discredited. Mr. Bonar Laws’ policy of “tranquility” still holds the field.

But it is questionable how long the policy of the British government can remain really tranquil. A flood of light has been thrown on the real situation between England and France by the revelations about the new air-fleet programs. It has been an open secret for some time that the British opposition to France’s Ruhr policy has been dictated to no inconsiderable extent by the fact that the French air fleet is some ten times stronger than the British. The question before the Baldwin government was – did the continent of Europe matter for the British bourgeoisie sufficiently to make expenditure on new armaments with all their dangers of new wars necessary? For if was obvious that only if the British air fleet was approximately near the strength of the French fleet could the Baldwin government begin to talk to M. Poincaré in terms other than platonic protests.

Now among the industrial chiefs in England, there have for some time past been two tendencies. One of them, largely represented by the finishing industries in the North of England, the cotton trade and engineering trade, and the banks connected with them, feel that their best markets are on the continent and that there can be no hope for any large trade revival, as far as their industries are concerned, unless the purchasing power of Germany is revived. They point out that many of the British manufactures are of the type, intended for a while population in a high state of civilization and that there lore it is useless to expect that the relatively small and slowly increasing white population of the British colonies can replace the loss of the Central European markets. A recent report of the Federation of British Industries expresses these views in no uncertain voice. On the other hand there is another tendency, which the British government has to like into consideration and which is represented in the government by the First Lord of the Admiralty Mr. Amery, which would abandon Europe altogether and concentrate solely on the British colonies and dominions. The appointment of Mr. Baldwin as Prime Minister seems to suggest that not only has the Curzon clique with its anti-Russian policy been abandoned, but that also the industrial group in England, which is not prepared to abandon the continental markets altogether, will be allowed to have a voice in the policy of the government.

But what does this policy imply? it implies a more active opposition to the French in the Ruhr. And the first symptom of this was seen in the decision of the Baldwin government to raise the air fleet to 60 squadrons, whereby the British air fleet would be brought to about half the French fleet. That was to be a beginning.

But here the British government is faced with an internal contradiction. It must either abandon its policy of “tranquility” or else face the loss of its influence on the continent. And it is not only the trading and finished industry elements of the British bourgeoisie who want to counteract the French policy in the Ruhr, but also some sections of the big banking aristocracy. The international money lending interests in Wall Street and the City of London, the Rothschilds, Greufels, Kleinwerts, Morgans and the banking group, of which Mr. McKenna is the head and which is shortly to be represented in the Baldwin cabinet by McKenna himself, as Finance Minister; all these want to prevent at all costs the creation of a Stinnes-de Wendel heavy industry trust, the amalgamation of German coal and coke industries in the Ruhr with the French iron and smelting plants in Lorraine. They are opposed not so much to an amalgamation, as such, but to an amalgamation without their participation, because that would definitely exclude them from industrial, financial or political influence on the continent. Like hawks round a dying horse, they foresee that one day the German bourgeoisie will be faced with the necessity of stabilizing the mark and they wish to obtain their share of the guarantees fur the floating of an international loan. Stinnes shall not be allowed to be the only creditor of the bankrupt German Reich, nor shall he be allowed to have the sole control of the German railways.

And so the Baldwin government is on the horns of a dilemma, which, however, is typical of the anarchy within the capitalist system. For successful stabilization of the German mark and for the floating of an international reparations loan, peace and tranquility is necessary. And yet the necessary conditions cannot be obtained without preventing Stinnes from selling out the German Reich to the Comité des Forges. And in order to stop this a new British air fleet must be built, a new race for armaments must begin with France, the policy of tranquility, which is the necessary condition of stabilization and of an international loan must be abandoned. The vicious circle is complete.

And how will the British Labor Party deal with this situation, if, as seems increasingly likely, it comes into power in the not very distant future? Here it is necessary to discriminate between the heterogeneous elements, of which the Labour Party is composed. The present clique of labor intellectuals, who have captured the party machine and are running it in conjunction with the old school of trade union secretary can be trusted to follow in the “honourable traditions” of British diplomacy, if they get into power. The extraordinary affection of these people for the bankrupt League of Nations show that they either cannot or will not understand, that they are being made tools of by the international banking interests, who hope to get their profits out of the stabilization of the European exchanges. This conscious or unconscious partnership with the powers behind the British government has now been carried into another field. The Labor Party, at its conference last week in London, rejected a resolution, brought in by the I.L.P., demanding that Labor members in parliament vote against all army and navy credits as a matter of principle. In his speech for the rejection Arthur Henderson said, according to the Daily Herald: “They bad heard a good deal about the attitude of France. If France continues in her attitude, they could not afford to ignore the possibilities of defence.”

Just as the old school of British labor leader led the Labor Party into coalition with the bourgeoisie in the war against Prussian militarism, so the seeds are being sown of a situation, in which the same leaders will lead the Labor Party in a war against Poincaré’s militarism. The traditional policy of the British capitalist class to secure its domination by supporting the weakest power on the continent against the strongest will be carried on by the present labor leaders. On the other hand, there is a slow but very perceptible growth of an opposition movement within the Labor Party and not by any means confined to the members of the British Communist Party, who have by dint of hard work in the trade unions, succeeded in getting themselves elected as Labor Party delegates. The I.L.P., which with all its sentimental pacifism and confused, un-Marxian phraseology, has a healthy proletarian instinct and is sound at heart, is likely to play no unimportant role in fighting the opportunist policy of the right-wing leaders of the Labor Party. The attitude of some of these members of the Labor Party opposition is best seen by that passage in the speech of one of the Scotch I.L.P. delegates to the Labor Party conference, George Buchanan, who said: “armed forces are becoming a method of clubbing the workers in industrial strikes. If they wished to be logical, they must say that all these kinds of armaments were wrong and vote accordingly in the House of Commons.”

Last updated on 3 January 2021