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Fourth International, September 1944


Charles Hackett

US and England: Imperialist Rivals


From Fourth International, vol.5 No.9, September 1944, pp.286-287.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


As the war against Germany enters its final phase, the smoldering conflicts in the camp of the Allies gains more and more overt expression. One of the main antagonisms is, of course, that between the United States and Great Britain. As Trotsky pointed out nearly twenty years ago, “England is still, after the US, the richest and most powerful country. It is the main rival, the main obstacle” to the drive of the American imperialist colossus for world hegemony.

The war has revealed Nazi Germany and Japan as pretentious upstarts, whose over-developed military machines proved to be in no way commensurate with the tasks of imperialist plunder they set themselves because of their inferior economic potential. They have risked a desperate military gamble to avoid being wiped out as factors in the domination of world markets. The gamble has turned out to be futile. America’s productive might weighed more in the scales of war than all the German and Japanese military installations prepared painstakingly over long years.

Aside from the explosive problems arising out of a revolutionary Europe and the existence of nationalized property on that sixth of the earth’s surface incorporated into the Soviet Union – both of which hang as a permanent threat over the head of Yankee imperialism – the only serious obstacle to American domination of the world now resides in the rivalry of Great Britain, in the existence of the British Empire.

In the course of the war itself, both powers have been jockeying for position, preparing for a showdown that must come after the war. Naturally, the preponderant wealth of the U.S. has already given the Yankee capitalists important new advantages in the subdued struggle. But British imperialism is still far from reconciled to the role of junior partner in the plunder of the world, in which she has so long held first place.

In 1924 after exposing the “American ‘pacifist’ program of putting the whole world under her control.” Trotsky wrote:

“It is not very likely that the bourgeoisie of all countries will consent to be shoved into the background, to become vassals of America without at least trying to resist. The contradictions are too great, the appetites are too monstrous, the urge to preserve old rulership is too neat, the habits of world domination are too powerful in England. Military conflicts are inevitable. The era of ‘Pacifist’ Americanism ... is only a preparation for new wars of unprecedented scope and unimaginable monstrosity.”

Part of this prediction has already been verified in the case of Germany and Japan. Will it be verified also in the case of Great Britain?

Unless revolution threatens British capitalism first, it seems inevitable. Churchill has already declared that he “did not become the King’s first minister in order to liquidate the British Empire.” But that, in effect, is the demand made of him by the rapacious overlords of Wall Street as the price of continued peaceful collaboration.

The area of conflict between the two powers stretches over the surface of the whole globe and penetrates every phase of economic, commercial and political activity.

In the Middle East, Anglo-American rivalry has been somewhat complicated by the presence of remnants of what was once French imperialist power. Both of the Anglo-Saxon powers are anxious to make a clear sweep of the beaten and bankrupt French “Ally” – rival before settling things among themselves. The methods are described in an interesting article on The Explosive Middle East which appears in the current Fortune by one of its editors who has been there.

“We have taken a hand,” he relates blandly, “in neatly ousting the French from the Levant.” The method is indicated in the writer’s size-up of the region:

“In the Arab world sweetness and light and pretty idealism have not the slightest appeal if they compete with cash and force.”

He goes on to give a few illustrations of “clever” British use of both cash and force and centers attention on an event that made headlines not so long ago: the revolt by which Lebanon gained “independence” from De Gaulle’s French empire. Here is his uninhibited account.

“An election was held in the Lebanon in which a good deal of hard cash changed hands. The French administration spent certain sums of money to secure a parliament and cabinet relatively favorable to French influence and economic interests there. Meanwhile Sir Edward Spears, head of a somewhat ambiguous diplomatic and military British mission, was reputed to have sponsored the circulation of other considerable moneys.

“At any rate, and at whatever costs, the election went strongly anti-French, and a newly extremist government declared, unilaterally and without warning to the French, that the mandate was finished forever.”

The French nullified the elections, arrested the government and put in their own appointees. An “armed rebellion” ensued. But let the author continue in his own words:

“Then the fun began ... In Lebanon cities French tanks and Senegalese troops clashed with demonstrators. The British Ninth Army stood on the alert ... Anglo-American pressure prevailed, with the consequence that France took a gratuitous beating – and a humiliating loss of prestige, This coup d’état was conducted in the name of the Atlantic Charter.

If in the “French” Lebanon the British and the Americans can both have great “fun” in playing with the aspirations of the masses for freedom, in toying with their very lives and blood, the British begin to lose their sense of humor in “British” Egypt. For, as the Fortune editor remarks, “Egypt is also likely to offer us some promising markets, provided means are found to convert into dollars the dammed-up buying power now reckoned in pounds.” That becomes ominous for the British. The British loss of wit is even greater in India. There they are downright angry at the very mention of the “Atlantic Charter,” the mockery of which so tickled them in Lebanon. For in India, by compensation, American mirth grows even more expansive.

Only the other day Senator Chandler of Kentucky caused a new diplomatic uproar by charging that Roosevelt’s plenipotentiary in India had been declared persona non grata by British officials there. After repeated denials from the state department, from Lord Halifax, the British Ambassador and other official sources, the Senator proved his charge by making public a secret note sent by officials in India to the Churchill government in England. The note commented: “It is regrettable to have to use censorship in defense of such attacks by our greatest ally.” The attack referred to was contained in a letter sent by Phillips to Roosevelt. Chandler also made public the Phillips letter. The evidence – access to such highly confidential material – indicates that the whole affair is inspired by the highest authorities who, of course, remain behind the scenes for the present.

What did the Phillips “attack” consist of? Here is what Roosevelt’s plenipotentiary said in his letter, made public through Chandler:

“The British Prime Minister, in fact, has stated that the provisions of the Atlantic Charter are not applicable to India, and it is not unnatural therefore that Indian leaders are beginning to wonder whether the Charter is only for the benefit of white races.”

Utilizing the military difficulties in the Far East, and declaring in support of his contention, that “General Stillwell has expressed his concern over the situation,” Phillips draws his conclusion:

“While India is broken politically into various parties, all have one object in common – eventual freedom and independence from British domination ... It is time for the British to act.”

Phillips’ attack consists in resorting to the use of the Atlantic Charter against Britain in India, in the same way that the British (with American support) resort to it against the French in Lebanon. That’s all. Only in the eyes of the Raj, what’s good enough for others, is not cricket when applied to it.

The “pattern of colonial cooperation” is clear. The purpose of the Atlantic Charter no less so. In this respect the letter says:

“I feel strongly, Mr. President, that in view of our military position in India, we should have a voice in these matters. It is not right for the British to say this is none of your business, where we alone presumably will have the major part to play in struggle with Japan.”

As long ago as 1934, the Trotskyist theses on War and the Fourth International said:

“Continuing by inertia the discussion on the liberation of the Philippines the American imperialists are in reality preparing to establish themselves a territorial base in China, so as to raise at the following stage, in case of conflict with Great Britain, the question of the ‘liberation’ of India.”

The tours of Willkie and Wallace, the machinations of Phillips and Roosevelt, demonstrate before our very eyes the power of Marxist prediction contained in that simple sentence written ten years ago.

In his effort to bolster the case for American intervention in India, Phillips in his letter feels compelled to reveal a very significant truth.

“The peoples of Asia,” he says, “ – and I am supported in the opinion by other diplomatic and military observers – cynically regard this war as one between fascist and imperialist powers.”

Phillips wants to use the Atlantic Charter in order to cover up the fact that this is precisely the kind of war it is. But in the very course of the American dispute with Great Britain, the masses of Asia will see it only confirmed all the more. They will learn to recognize American imperialism in its full brigand’s character. In that wider recognition of this truth, in the resulting distrust of all imperialist promises of freedom, in the development of their own independent struggle for liberation, the masses of India and of all Asia will upset the applecart not only for British imperialism but for its ambitious Yankee rival as well.

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Last updated on 12.9.2008