Max Shachtman


What MacDonald
‘Accomplished’ Here

(November 1929)

From The Militant, Vol. II No. 17, 1 November 1929, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“A tremendous contribution to the peace of the world.” “A titanic blow for peace.” “One of the greatest forward steps toward naval limitations that has been taken.” “A practical step toward world peace, a long step toward sanity.” There are the lyrical extravaganzas with which the American capitalist press greeted the visit of Ramsay MacDonald to Hoover. The reality of imperialist politics is far more prosaic than all this wordy blabber. The MacDonald-Hoover negotiations were not a step toward world peace, or toward world disarmament. They were one of the many preliminary peace-time skirmishes in which each side tried to make the best of its position in preparation for the war between the United and England which is already traced out for the future.

The alleged aims of the conversations were: The reduction of non-capital ships and the achievement of parity by 1936. Neither navy is to undertake the building of new units for the next seven years. The British fleet is to be conceded a certain small cruiser superiority for “policing and trade route protection” purposes which give it, no actual combat superiority. Heavy reductions are to be made in both destroyer and submarine fleets, the United States to permit about 200,000 tons of destroyers to become obsolescent by 1936 and Britain about 75,000 bringing them down to virtual parity. A similar decimation is to take place for submarines.

This marks the second big naval defeat of Great Britain. The first was at the 1922 Washington conference where the U.S. broke up the Anglo-Japanese alliance and forced capital ship parity upon England. In that field, the U.S. now has built, under construction, or authorized, 525,850 tons, while England has 556,350 tons. The big disparity between the two competing powers lay for seven years in the cruiser category. At the Washington conference, Britain maintained that it required a minimum of 600,000 tons, and no agreement could be arrived at.

At the Geneva conference in 1927, the American delegate, Gibson, proposed a maximum of 250,000–300,000 tons, which failed to find the agreement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Bridgeman, who insisted upon a minimum of 450,000 tons, and a total amount of 70 cruisers. On this point the conference collapsed, but American pressure increased and even forced, subsequently, the repudiation of the Anglo-French agreement (as it did the Anglo-Japanese in 1922) by the Conservative government. Under MacDonald, the British demand has finally been scaled down to 339,000 tons, and instead of 70 cruisers, 50 are now “required”. This brings about a virtual parity with the U.S. in spite of its 35 cruisers, since “we” have a number of 10,000 ton cruisers equipped with 8-inch guns that have a firing range of thrice the power of the 6-inch guns mounted on most British cruisers.

The United States has achieved a temporary victory over the British lion and the picture presented at the Spithead review in July 1914 of the British fleet as the mightiest in the world can now be relegated to a museum with many other of Britannia’s glories. For the time being, England has been forced to submit to the iron arrogance of the United States, MacDonald came to the brooks of Rapidan not as a magnanimous bearer of peace but as a representative of the once most powerful empire in the world that cannot stand the furious pace its bloated American cousin can set, and comes to beg for a respite. It is not the peace-loving English social democrat who has won the belligerent American imperialists to the cause of brotherly love. It is the financial domination of Wall Street that has forced the once haughty naval power down to parity on the seas.

The center of world economic power has shifted in the last decade from Europe (specifically, England) to the United States. The U.S. despite the resistance with which it is met and will be met in the future in an even broader and more belligerent degree, is attempting to put the European capitalist countries on an ever smaller ration in world economy. Its direct, even if unwilling, agent in Europe is Great Britain. It is no accident that the first Labor government, also under MacDonald, put through the Dawes Plan in Germany. England has become the European collection agent for Washington and Wall Street. An examination of the disposition of German reparations under the Young-Morgan Plan will indicate this. The creditors of Germany receive their payments directly as follows: England, about 1/5 of the total; France, about ½; Italy, about 1/10; the United States about 1/30; and the rest is divided among Belgium, the British Dominions, etc. But, one of the German payments received by France, Italy, Belgium and other lands, a third or more must be paid immediately by each of them to the U.S. Approximately the same amount must be paid also to England. England, in turn must pay such an enormous sum to the United States that the final disposition of the German payments is approximately as follows: France, 1/5; Belgium, Italy, the Dominions, etc., 1/6 and the United States, about 2/3. England is left to hold the sack, with virtually nothing!

Or, regard it from another angle. Sir Leo Chiozza Money, the British bourgeois economist, points out: “We have agreed to pay to the U.S. for two generations, about 38 million pounds a year. This sum we are to collect yearly for 60 years, as to £18,000,000 from Germany and roundly as to 120,000,000 from France, Italy, Greece, Jugo-Slavia, Portugal and Rumania. That is to say, we collect money in Europe and pay it [ov]er to America, the income almost exactly equalling [words missing]utgo. Agreements ... condemn this generation and the next and the one which succeeds it to pay tribute to the U.S. not our own tribute, but tribute painfully collected by Britain in Europe from nations large and small. Shall we set out the effect of the agreements for the year of 1980, fifty-one years hence, when the names who are now tempted to squabble will long have been forgotten? Here they are:

Agreement by Britain to the U.S.


Agreements to pay to Britain:
By France


By Italy


By Rumania


By Jugo-Slavia


By Portugal


By Greece


By Germany





The extent of the financial domination of the United States is graphically depicted by these telling figures. They explain the reason for the unusually bitter fight made by Snowden at the Hague conference and his victory over France, which resulted in an increase of Britain’s share of the unconditional German annuities from $14,292,000 to $22,867,200. It also becomes clear why, when the New York Federal Reserve Bank raises its discount rate from 5 percent to 6 percent on August 8, the Bank of England must, a few days later, raise its rate from 5½ percent to 6½ percent, the highest in eight years, in an attempt to coax back some of its fugitive gold from Wall Street and prevent a curtailment of credit even though it aggravates the unemployment situation in such badly-hit British industries as coal, steel and cotton.

These dynamics facts, and not the pacific cooings of, MacDonald, are the motivating force in England’s retreat to parity with the United States. MacDonald knows these painful realities just as well as Baldwin did when he was forced to throw the Anglo-French alliance overboard. He also knows that the retention of England’s 50 cruisers is not for the “peaceful” purpose of war, and they are fit for nothing else. All the mysterious technical “explanations” of naval “experts” and sundry pacifists cannot conceal that.

It has been proved that cruisers, as well as battleships, as a defensive protector of trade vessels and routes are a gigantic fraud. Britain’s scores of dreadnaughts plus its 50 cruisers would provide convoys for about three dozen escorts – in case of a war with Japan, let us say – for such routes as Auckland to Panama, Sydney to Wellington, Honolulu to Panama, Hong-kong to Honolulu, Colombo to Aden, Hong-kong to Singapore, for the coastal traffic of East Africa, India, Burma, China, Australia and the intricate systems of the East Indian Archipelago. For adequate protection, literally hundreds upon hundreds of cruisers would be needed. Raiders could make mince-meat out of trading vessels. It would take a force of ten ships, going at 15 knots, twenty-nine weeks for one search of the Indian Ocean alone. A Japanese fleet of 30 modern cruisers, intent upon crippling Pacific and Indian trade, would require a fleet of hundreds of cruisers to force them to remain at their bases.

It is plain that cruisers are meant exclusively for active naval engagements of an offensive character, which have nothing at all to do with the high-sounding purpose of the peaceful protection of trade.

In other words, although – or precisely because – the U.S. is trying to put the European powers on an ever diminishing ration, the latter are driven to ever more desperate resistance, an ever louder clamor for a larger share in world economy, which leads steadily to a sharpening of the antagonisms that make for war. Even in the face of American financial domination, England must carry on a struggle, underneath all the gracious gestures of MacDonald, to retain as much military, naval and political power as possible in store for the coming clash that will decide the supremacy of the world to the accompaniment of 16-in naval guns, aerial bombs and trench fire.

* * *

The attitude of France, Italy and Japan and their special role in this struggle, already manifest and sure to come out more openly when the projected Five-Power conference takes place next January, either in London or Geneva, are of special significance. But an analysis of these factors must be reserved for another article.

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