Karl Radek


The Anglo-French Conflict in Europe
and the Washington Conference

(8 November 1921)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. I No. 6, 8 November 1921, pp. 45–47.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2019). 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.

As the unexpected decision on the Upper Silesian question was handed down by the League of Nations Commission, the national German press asked why this shock was sent through the “innocent body” of the German Government which was given no opportunity to serve as England’s or France’s lickspittle, and which was thus left to its fate unused. The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Stinnes’ organ, in its article entitled Fair Play called Lloyd George’s attention to the fact that not only had he openly expressed himself for the awarding of Upper Silesia to Germany, but that he had also given Germany distinct written guarantees on the matter. This newspaper seeks to base the altered attitude of England upon an attempt of the latter to sabotage the Franco-German agreement at Wiesbaden. This article reveals only one of the factors that brought about the English change of front; behind the scenes, however there is undoubtedly a much more significant contest going on.

In his speech of October 8th at St Nazaire, Premier Briand pointed out that France could not possibly remain isolated, if it desires to maintain both the Peace Treaty and its own position in the World. He emphasized the necessity for real guarantees of the Peace of Versailles as a condition for disarmament. Noblemaire, the French representative in the League of Nations, delivered his speech in the same spirit. This speech is directed against the United States, which in the person of Wilson shouldered the responsibility of the Peace of Versailles in 1919, only to disavow it by a vote of the Senate. The immense interest which has been roused in France by the Washington Conference shows that France intends to make use of the opposition in the Far East to bring the question of guaranteeing the Peace of Versailles to the fore (although at present France is not in a position to carry out an expansion policy in the Far East, and although its possessions in Indo-China are not threatened by any one).

What does France offer America for these guarantees? This question is answered in an article published by the Paris Figaro on the 8th of October, which appeared at the same time in the Philadelphia Public Ledger. This article points out that in the near future America will possess the largest navy in the world, but that it has not enough naval bases on the African coast of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In Morocco it has a base opposite Gibraltar, and in Djibute, at the mouth of the Red Sea, one opposite Aden. Finally it has a base in Indo-China. Mention is also made of the French ports on the north coast of France and in the English Channel. The article proceeds as follows:

“During the War the English Government never denied that it would have suffered defeat if the Germans had occupied Calais, although the latter had no allies bordering on that sea. How will the eventual Anglo-French war turn out, if France should possess all these coasts, large submarine and aerial fleets, and be allied with the United States which possesses a great navy? It is understood that this is only an hypothesis; and it suffices that this hypothesis only be mentioned, for us to see that it is unacceptable. Is it even to be thought of that Englishmen, a people with a developed common sense, will be stupid enough to start a chess-game in which the position of the pieces condemn them to defeat from the beginning? Japan has a strong navy but poor bases. It has not at its disposal the naval bases of the British Empire, whose colonies, it seems, refuse hospitality to the Japanese navy. Japan can hardly start a war against France and the United States, if England remains neutral. England of course must count with the master of the English Channel, which for a long time has been considered English, although its main coast is French.”

This article in the Figaro, a serious conservative French paper, shows that France has a new weapon against England. She offers her aid to American Imperialism in the great contest for control of the Pacific, in exchange for French supremacy on the Continent. This was to be expected. In the last number of the Communist International, I wrote in an article entitled, The Outlines of World Politics as follows:

“If Japan is England’s trump against the United States, France is America’s trump against England ... For the present the United States policy towards Europe is one of experiment. The outcome of these experiments depends first of all upon whether the United States will definitely make up its mind to extend its influence in Eastern Asia. Should the United States decide to do so, Germany at once becomes America’s compensation object in world politics. Should it come to the first differences between America and England, the United States will leave this compensation object to France, in return for aid in the struggle against England. The English capitalist press is fully conscious of the significance of its attacks upon French militarism, which threatens England more and more, and which may become more dangerous to her than the former German militarism. France is England’s neighbour. With her submarine fleet, her aerial fleet, and her long-range guns developed to the present high degree, France, could, with the support of the United States, not only blockade England, but even undertake an invasion of England.”

The moment for France’s first bids has arrived. The appearance of General Pershing and the American envoy Herrick at the recent military celebrations in Paris, in spite of their reserved appearance, shows more convincingly than Figaro’s article that the diplomats are carrying on serious negotiations behind the scenes, on the question of Franco-American relations. It is only a question of how the English Government looks upon the danger of such an agreement. This question depends upon the estimate of Anglo-American relations with regard to the situation in the Far East. As is well known, the English press has attempted until now to represent the idea of a possible Anglo- American war as a fantastic conception. Recently however, this attitude, worthy of a Manilow, has disappeared. The English press begins to speak openly of the critical situation and of a possible solution of the Far East problem by resort to arms. An article in the well known English weekly, the Nation which also appeared in Figaro on the day that the French offers to America were published, sheds a characteristic light upon the change of front of the English press. In the Nation’s article it was pointed out that no talk of disarmament was possible, unless an agreement between America and England upon the Far East question were effected.

“Should that fail, Anglo-American relations will suffer a break, China will become the arena for economic struggles, the contest in naval armaments will assume the features of our old fight with Germany, together with all the horrors and all the misery which it finally brought about.”

At this point the author of the article remarks that this comparison breeds horror, but that the Anglo-American relations correspond to the Anglo-German relations at the beginning of the 20th century, when both countries faced the alternative of a peaceful agreement or war.

“The question of our relations with America,” the Nation proceeds, “is essentially an economic one. Before the war America was a debtor. Its capital was employed mainly in its own country. Thanks to the war and to the orders of the warring nations, America wiped out its debts and has become a creditor. It is now in possession of surplus capital which it wishes to export. Of course, this capital could very well be used at home, but then the profits would not be as great. Where then should this surplus be invested? The ‘Mandatory system’ offers no opportunity to any one but the mandate-holder, for the exploitation of the countries assigned to it. Turkey is already divided into spheres of influence. Very little value is assigned to Russia in America.”

The Nation is of the opinion that America foolishly underrates Russia.

“The chaos in Central and Eastern Europe, and the risks of business, intimidate the American creditors who are afraid to be hit by coming events. China is the country to which all eyes are directed. It is clearly to be seen that the financial magnates who dispose of such affairs have decided to concentrate all their energy upon the Chinese question. The United States Congress has just passed a law which exempts American companies in China from taxation. This law directs American capital to China. This is a basic economic fact. America has become an exporting country. As a consequence of this economic imperialism, will there not arise an armament contest and finally a war? This depends upon us. But the situation is becoming worse than the question of our relations to Germany in its day. This year will be a year of decisions, just as the year 1901 was in the question of relations with Germany. But in 1901 we were not only France’s ally, but also France’s friend. Now, we are an ally of Japan. Furthermore, the Anglo-German naval contest which was begun by the German naval program of 1901, never reached the bitterness of the Anglo-American naval competition. We were not then in danger of seeing the number of our adversary’s ships reach that of our navy in any short period of time. Besides, America cannot make any progress in its peaceful conquest of China without coming in to sharp conflict with Japan, if Japan persists in its annexation and occupation program and in its attempt to establish a protectorate over China. We are in the midst of a situation which in a short time must lead to war. Americans do not like the expression ‘Imperialism’. They reject the idea of political ambitions in China. We believe in their sincerity when they say that they only wish to do business in China, to help her develop her institutions. Were this business to consist only of the export of textiles and typewriters, there would be no danger. But here it is a question of building railroads, a question of mines and of big trusts, and we know what such things develop into.”

The Nation concludes therefore, that England should decline an alliance with Japan, which up to now has furthered the imperialistic policy of this Far East power. We know, however, that England does not want to decline such an alliance. This was shown by the policy of Lloyd George and Lord Curzon at the imperial conference, where they sought with all their power to prevent a break between the British colonies and Japan. It was also shown by the speeches of Lloyd George and Churchill, who flirted with the idea of an approach or alliance between England, America and Japan. The Nation is right when it considers such an idea as utopian, for, even if it were possible to affect agreements which would only postpone the conflict between America and Japan, the interests of these two countries are diametrically opposed to each other. Taking into consideration its economic surplus, the United States does not want any territorial conquest of China; it only wants to exploit the whole [of] China. Japan is not able to maintain its position in China, in case of an economic struggle. That is why it finds itself compelled to pursue an annexation policy. This situation reminds one of the difference in policies pursued by Germany and England with regard to Turkey, although there the territorial tendency of England was called forth not by any economic weakness, but by the necessity of uniting India with Egypt.

The acuteness of the question discussed at the Washington Conference compels the English government to take the question of Franco-American relations seriously. Were America to accept the offers discussed in Figaro, it would mean great danger for England. But even if things have not yet gone that far, and it is only a question of possibilities such possibilities alone must influence England’s policy in the direction of yielding to France. World politics as well as the whole of capitalism are dominated by the tendency of concentration of interests in the sense that the great powers are forced to concentrate their energies upon the main object of their desires. In their fight against German imperialism, the English were always masters of the political art of concentration. After the world war, England attempted to combat French domination on the continent, and at the same time to maintain its supremacy in the Near and Far East. Should it not succeed in these attempts, England will be compelled to leave Central Europe to be plundered by French imperialism, in order to defend its positions in India, on the Atlantic Ocean and in Central Asia. England is primarily an Asiatic power; that is probably it makes such a decision. There is also a new tendency in England’s policy in the Upper Silesian question, and in its somewhat different attitude toward Soviet Russia. The careful observation and study of this tendency will necessarily influence our own foreign policy in the near future.

Last updated on 10 January 2018