Karl Radek


Lloyd George’s Resignation

(3 November 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 95, 3 November 1922, pp. 729–731.
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.

After being sixteen years in the English government and six years at its head, Lloyd George has handed in his resignation.

His resignation is the result of the vote in the Carlton Club, the organization of the leading circles of the Conservative Party.

This club, the financial and capitalist oligarchy of Great Britain has by a two thirds majority pronounced in favor of an immediate election, in which the Conservative Party has decided to take part as an independent party. And this suffices in a country which calls itself democratic, to bring about the resignation of the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, the only bourgeois politician in Europe who shows the faintest understanding of the international situation.

The overthrow of Lloyd George appears as one of the greatest historical events. Its importance can only be estimated when one attempts to portray, at least in general outline, the political development of England during the last thirty years.

Petty-bourgeois Radicalism against Imperialism

Lloyd George, the son of a village school-master – brought up by his uncle a shoe-maker in a remote corner of Wales – grew up in circles of petty bourgeois radicalism. The peasants, shopkeepers and hand-workers of Wales belonged to the non-conformist Baptist Church. They opposed the dependence of the Church upon the State; they were petty bourgeois democrats. Lloyd George was drawn into the excitement of the discussions and struggles against the payment of taxes to the State Church. His uncle, a shoe-maker was a Baptist preacher, and Lloyd George prepared himself for the same calling. As however, the Baptists required that their preachers shall engage in work, he was sent to a small provincial lawyer. And after practical acquaintance with the profession he prepared himself for examination. At the same time he toured the country as an agitator. From his childhood on Lloyd George lived under conditions of the greatest poverty. And until recent years he has remembered in thoughtful hours, the misery and the hard work of his mother, who after the death of her husband had to bring up her children.

These recollections were also the source of his efforts after social reform.

In the year 1890, in his twenty-eighth year he was elected Member of Parliament for the constituency of Carnarvon in which he was educated. At the same time he worked in a barrister’s office in London and lived with a colleague together in one dwelling. He was so poor that he was unable to practice as a barrister, solely because he did not possess the necessary money to buy his robes. His friend at that time relates, that never in his life had he heard such blatant accusations against the capitalist order as he heard from Lloyd George during these years.

When Lloyd George appeared in the political arena, England was passing through a very severe inward crisis. The period of the Manchester school was over, the period in which the whole of the English bourgeoisie stood for free-trade, for liberalism and for peaceful relations with all countries. German competition and the development of American capitalism, pushed the bourgeoisie on to the open road of imperialism.

During the period following the reform of the customs in the year 1846, England was the only strong capitalist power and she could rely upon the success of her cheap wares. The English bourgeoisie was therefore against the annexation of new colonies, against protective duties. Now, however, when the policy of protection was actually adopted in all European countries and in America, when English goods everywhere were faced with competition, there increased in England the effort after retaining the English colonies for English industry through a policy of protection. At the same time there increased the need for a strong fleet to defend the existing, and to conquer new colonies.

At the head of this movement which won the English bourgeoisie, stood Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. The Boer War was a result of this policy. Lloyd George entered as its strong opponent. During the Boer War he fought strongly against “Jingoism”, against the “religion of blood and iron”, against “the religion of imperialist robbery”. He repeatedly spoke at meetings in the face of the enraged crowds and even placed himself in danger of being mobbed.

The policy of Chamberlain did not achieve its aims. The opposition of the agricultural population of the English colonies who desire industrial products regardless of where they come from so long as they are cheap, is one of the chief hindrances to the economic union of English imperialism.

The interests of the broad masses of the English workers and of the English petty bourgeoisie developed in the same direction. The English petty bourgeoisie, apart from the high standard of capitalist development in England, occupied a higher position than the petty bourgeoisie of other countries, thanks chiefly to the cheapness of the most necessary articles of consumption. The “ cheap breakfast ” appeared as the means by which the bourgeoisie dampened the aspirations of the English working class. The policy of Chamberlain threatened high prices and the working masses were against this. Supported by the broad mass of the petty bourgeoisie and the workers, the English commercial bourgeoisie, the English textile industrials, who owing to the cheapness of their products had succeeded in retaining the world markets, took up the fight against the imperialist policy of protection. Manchester, the chief centre of the textile industry fought against Birmingham and Sheffield, the centre of the metal industry, against the chief basis of imperialism.

In the year 1906, the policy of the liberal bourgeoisie and of petty bourgeois radicalism was victorious. Lloyd George, one of the proponents of this policy entered the government as President of the Board of Trade. In 1906 he occupied one of the most important offices in the government, the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer where he remained until 1916. The first years Lloyd George spent in this office belong to his heroic period.

Against the imperialist program which claimed by means of a protective tariff to ensure high wages for the English workers, and to fill the coffers of the English government through import duties, Lloyd George proposed taxation of the great bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. Against the imperialist ideal of armaments Lloyd George proposed social reform which should improve the lives of the broad masses of the workers. On the 29th April 1909 he brought his budget into Parliament which he introduced by a speech lasting four hours. He concluded his speech with the following words; “This is a war budget. It must provide money for the unrelenting fight against poverty and the depression of the standard of living of the mass of the people.”

In order to get an idea of the spirit of agitation which animated Lloyd George at this time we will quote but one passage from one of his speeches: “ No land which permits the sick, the incapacitated workman, the widows and orphans to starve, has the right to be called civilized. Society has already some hundreds of years ago abandoned punishing even the greatest criminals with hunger and even in the barbarous stages of humanity the children of criminals were not subjected to hunger. What do we see now? In his riper years the worker loses his strength. Now he can do no more. Is it to be permitted in this rich country to reward him and his children with starvation?”

This spirit is expressed in all the speeches of Lloyd George at this period, the whole of which appeared in a book entitled Better Times, a book that one can regard as splendid propaganda material.

The bourgeoisie decried Lloyd George as a Socialist But Lloyd George was never a Socialist. He never sought to abolish capitalism. He was a petty bourgeois radical who endeavoured to abolish ground rents and to limit profits. Lloyd George’s budget evoked a mighty struggle in the House of Lords. The Upper House without right rejected the budget and characterized it as undermining the English Constitution. The new election resulted in a fresh majority for the Liberal Party. Lloyd George then carried through his budget and a whole number of social reforms.

The Victory of Imperialism over Petty-bourgeois Radicalism

The times of the victory of petty bourgeois radicalism are gone; gone also are the times of the victory of bourgeois social reform. England rejected the imperialist policy of Chamberlain, but she could not altogether abandon the stream of imperialism.

England in 1902, after she had concluded a treaty with Japan against Russia who threatened English imperialism in Central Asia, pursued the road of feverish armaments. After the collapse of Russia, England saw herself face to face with German imperialism which, freed from the pressure of Czarist Russia, enlarged its fleet. In the year 1904 there began the Anglo-French approchement which in fact was an Anglo-French alliance against Germany. The building of dreadnoughts strengthened the chances of German imperialism, because they reduced the importance of the old ships in which England had the superiority. The attempt of the Asquith government to come to an arrangement with Germany for the limitation of armaments led to no result.

English imperialism could not give up having a fleet at its disposal which should be as strong as any two other fleets in the world. Petty bourgeois radicalism could not retain its pacifist positions. And when in the year 1911 Germany sent her warship the Panther to Agadir on the West coast of Morocco, in order to show to the world that it would not permit France and England to hinder the expansion of German imperialism the liberal government of Asquith took up the defence of the British Empire. The German base on the west coast of Morocco could threaten the ocean routes by which England received raw materials and food.

At the time of this Morocco crisis, Lloyd George delivered his celebrated speech, in which he – the leader of petty-bourgeois social-reform-pacifism – threatened Germany with war. This speech of Lloyd George is not only a turning point in his history but a turning point in the history of present day English liberalism. This speech meant the capitulation of petty-bourgeois pacifism before the interests of heavy industry, before the interests of the imperialist annexation policy.

When, in July 1914, the English liberal government found itself faced with the open danger of world war, it already had no choice. When the Foreign Secretary of the English liberal government informed Parliament on the 3rd of August that England was not formally allied with France, but that there were moral obligations on the part of the English General Staff to the French General Staff, the question of England’s participation in the war was decided. The “defence of Belgium” was only an excuse. England could not possibly permit the victory of the strongest European power. And she entered into the imperialist war.

In this war the “Pacifist” and “Social Reformer” Lloyd George occupied the post of War Minister.

And he became the soul of the Entente. With the same passion with which he had but recently led the war for social reform against need and misery, he now brought all the forces of England into movement and organized her for the imperialist war. In the work of organizing the war industries he came into close relations with the actual leading circles of the British heavy industry, of English imperialism. And these, in 1916 made him chief of the Coalition Government, which not only united commercial capital with heavy industry but even connected these with leaders of the “Labor Party”.

In this government there was a leader of the “Labor Party”, Henderson, who helped George to influence the working class to renounce all social reform and to bend all its energy to secure victory. Lloyd George became the darling of English

capitalism No one possessed so much organizing capacity, no one understood so well as he how to persuade the broad masses that it was not a fight for capitalist profits, but for democracy, for the establishment of peace upon a firmer foundation in the future, for equal rights to development for all. No one understood so well as he how to fight against every attempt to end the war with Germany by treaty.

After England had succeeded in dragging America into the war, he turned Henderson out of the government, only because the leader of the Labour Party, out of apprehension of the pacifist tendencies in the working class, had ventured to concur in the convening of the Stockholm Conference of the social patriots who were to prepare a compromise between the combatants.

In November 1918 the Entente defeated Germany. Lloyd George was at the height of his fame. Liberalism lay with shattered limbs on the ground.

The Downfall of English Imperialism

With the instinct peculiar to him, Lloyd George perceived that the end of the war was pregnant with the greatest dangers for international capital. He saw the blaze up of the Russian Revolution and understood that the working masses returning home from the war would present their demands. And he attempted to preserve the unity of the bourgeoisie at all costs. He dealt most drastically against those liberals who desired the independence of the Liberal Party at the election. When some of these liberals under the leadership of Asquith entered the election as independent liberals, Lloyd George scored a magnificent victory over them. At the general election in December 1918 the Independent Liberals – the opponents of the coalition – obtained 31 seats, at the time when the Conservative Party received 358 seats and the Coalition Liberals 124. There were recorded for the coalition conservatives and liberals 5,295,000 votes while the Independent Liberals only received l,298,000.

This victory of the coalition not only expressed the intoxication of victory and the wish to lay the whole cost of the war upon Germany, but also the deep social reaction which the war had brought about. English industry which was very badly organized before the war, formed itself into one great organization which held the political rudder in its hands. Lloyd George became the representative of the speculating elements of English capitalism.

When the anonymous author of the book, Mirrors of Downing Street, indicates as a sign of the moral downfall of Lloyd George that he associates with doubtful personalities, (the author points to the friendly relations of Lloyd George with such speculators as Lord Sassoon or Vassily Sakharov), so this moral downfall is also an expression of the fact that the man who won the war has won a leading influence upon English capitalism. Lloyd George was their prisoner. And although he knew very well that the murderous Peace of Versailles would only be the starting point for new armaments and further wars – be declared so in his memorandum to the leader of the Versailles Conferences, he could not fight against the robber capitalist aims because, after the break up of the petty bourgeois radical party, he was left with no support save the chauvinistic majority in Parliament.

The whole policy of Lloyd George after the Versailles Treaty, the domestic as well as the foreign, was full of contradictions, mostly favorable to the imperialist elements. In his attitude towards the working class Lloyd George played the part of a muster of trickery. His sole concern was now to pacify and deceive the working class. At the beginning of 1919, when the miners rebelled and demanded the nationalization of the mines, he appointed a Commission of Enquiry which in the course of six months conducted a public investigation of the exploitation rights of the Coal Kings. The Commission evoked the great enthusiasm of the working masses. They rejoiced when Smillie, the leader of the miners clearly proved to the Duke of Northumberland that the sole source of right to the ground in which he held the workers in servitude was a 16th century document of an infant English king. The Commission decided on nationalization. But in the meantime, the danger was already past and Lloyd George had nothing but gibes for the miners. All the promises of Lloyd George over the free development of democracy were only barefaced lies. Never before did such an exclusive little clique rule England as in these times of “Democracy”.

In foreign politics Lloyd George followed well-defined aims. He clearly understood that England, who was faced with the greatest competition on the part of America, and on the Continent was faced with a struggle for hegemony with France (who was supported by an army of 800,000) must unconditionally seek support in Russia and Germany. He was an opponent of the intervention policy and of the strangling of Germany, Yet he was the captive of the imperialist forces and had to repeat like a parrot: “Germany must pay!” “The Soviet robbers must be annihilated.”

But it was evident that Germany was incapable of paying and that the “Soviet robbers” were very tough and did not surrender easily. Lloyd George took advantage of the victory of Soviet Russia, put an end to interventions and concluded a commercial treaty. He lacked all power, however, to make the English Government honorably execute the arrangements with Soviet Russia. He had not the power to overcome the sabotage of his Foreign Minister Lord Curzon, the champion of the Beaconsfield policy of weakening Russia. He came to Genoa with a program that permitted no agreement with Russia because the conference was convened under the slogan of the economic restoration of Europe – it demanded of Russia that she should assume liabilities which would convert her into a colony of the allies. He appeared as the supporter of the revision of the economic demands of the Allies upon Germany. Behind the scenes he sought to persuade France against slaying the hen that should lay the golden egg. Yet whenever France threatened to proceed independently against Germany he gave in as if the imperialist element in England feared the breakdown of the Entente, as being a leap in the dark.

In his speech at Manchester on October 14, Lloyd George even seemed to have perceived the madness of England’s Turkish policy. But this policy was carried through by him and its bankruptcy was the last stone over which he stumbled. The crisis in the East and the bankruptcy of the policy of the English Government was, however, only the last thrust by which Lloyd George fell.

The real causes of this overthrow are, first, that the war strengthened the capitalist reactionary elements of the English bourgeoisie and they believe that the Lloyd George mask is no longer necessary for them; secondly, the extreme danger of English imperialism in the Near East and in Asia, where the revolutionary forces of nationalism are being mobilized against it. In the Far East it runs the danger that in its attempt to sit on the Japanese and American stools it will fall between both, on to the European Continent where England was several times faced with the danger of a breach with France; the profound economic difficulties in connection with the inter-allied debts and the new protective tariff of America, all these dangers demand drastic remedies.

The Conservatives are ready to give up the magnificent intellect of Lloyd George for the price of a man with a stronger hand, though also with a stupid head.

The last gifted leader of imperialism has retired. The last leader who possessed constructive ideas for the salvation of capitalism no longer found so much power as could have helped him to carry out these ideas. The bourgeoisie requires the stupid but strong politicians. Yet these will not lie able to save it.

The overthrow of Lloyd George will open the way for a new grouping. It will bring in its train an intense sharpening of the international situation.

Last updated on 4 January 2021