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Workers’ International News, October 1940


Britain Holds Out


From Workers’ International News, Vol.3 No.10, October 1940, pp.5-7.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Following the capitulation of the French and Belgian armies and the rout of the British army on the continent, the fate of the entire British empire, and of the imperial country itself, was in the melting pot. A mere threat on the part of Japan was sufficient to compel Britain to stop the passage of arms to China along the Burma load and a few days later, to withdraw the British garrisons in Shanghai and Tientsin in which latter district are £180 millions of Britain’s Chinese investments. This was eloquent expression of British imperialism’s admission that it could no longer defend its interests in the Far East and conduct the war against her German opponent at the same time. Those unprecedented events gave Japan a free hand in China and the Pacific so far as Britain was concerned.

Alarmed at these developments, Roosevelt hastily summoned a Pan American Conference at Havana in order that the Southern and Central States could be informed of his predatory intentions to grab the European possessions in the Western Hemisphere likely to fall under the domination of Germany. Mutual agreement was reached on this and other issues by the delegates but not without resistance from Argentine and Brazil for in the latter state alone British investments in January 1938 totalled £264,851,539 of which sum £160,428,664 was in Government bonds. Hence their solicitude for Britain’s interests.

During those fateful days prominent Americans were of the opinion that Britain could be overcome by Germany in 30 days and the head of the Hearst newspaper combine cynically opined that Britain’s war aims, whatever their original content, could not be other than altruistic since she no longer possessed an empire to defend. Nor were these the only gestures of despair for Britain from across the Atlantic. The Ford and Packard motor Companies who had previously been smacking their lips in anticipation of vast orders from Britain, refused most bluntly to supply 6,000 Rolls Royce aero engines. President Roosevelt, fearing that supplies of lubricating-oil, aviation spirit and scrap metal sent to Britain would be either destroyed or captured by Germany, proclaimed an export embargo on those vital commodities, which although mainly directed against Japan, was nevertheless effected against Britain.

As a further expression of the belief that the defeat of Britain was certain was Australia’s ambassadorial appointments to the USA and Japan, and the opening up of “joint” defence talks between the United States and Canada independent of the mother country. And coincident with these happenings was the occupation of Tangiers and the pronouncement of “pre-belligerence” by General Franco. Portugal, for long an outpost of British imperialism, hastened to conclude a trade agreement with her “pre-belligerent” neighbour.

Rumania, in whose oil industry half the capital was owned by Anglo-Dutch investors, suddenly, in her hour of gravest danger, and despite the vigorous protests of London, decided to renounce the British “guarantee” of her territorial integrity.

On August 1st Molotov delivered a speech on Russian foreign policy. Many British ears listened hopefully for an indication that Stalin, alarmed by Hitler’s successes in Europe, would move towards an alliance with the democracies. But, while attempting to hide the Kremlin’s pro-Hitler policy, Molotov directed his entire anti-imperialist phraseology against England, Japan and the United States. Not a word against the banditry of the Axis powers. In fact this speech underlined for the first time, that the Stalin-Hitler pact gave a free hand to Germany. Thus were the dice loaded against the British bourgeoisie when the Blitzkrieg commenced on August 8.

The infallibility of the German military machine has, however, received a rude set-back as a result of the operations against Britain. For the first time Hitler’s time table was upset by the failure of German troops to occupy London by August 15 as predicted by the German propaganda machine. The impression created overseas by the maintenance of the morale of the British populace is confirmed not only by the praise and good wishes of the United States and Dominions, which cost nothing and commit the donors to nothing, but by the more material demonstrations of the renewed confidence felt in the ability of the British High Command to hold the Axis at bay and stem the invasion until United States preparations reach a stage compatible with entry into the war.

The first indication of this new orientation was the exchange of fifty American destroyers for air and naval bases on British islands. This is a costly deal for Britain, for it means a veritable renunciation of their interests in the Western Atlantic, but it was a case of “Hobson’s choice.” The shrewd “democrat” in the White House lost no time in converting Whitehall’s difficulty into Washington’s opportunity. Mr. Cordell Hull apparently feels that Mr. Churchill has sufficient support to enable him to implement his pledge of June 4th not to scuttle or surrender the British navy in the event of a military defeat at the hands of Germany and Italy.

Almost overnight the fortunes of de Gaulle changed to Britain’s advantage. Chad, Congo, the Cameroons, the French Indies, New Caledonia and the New Hebrides transferred their allegiance from Vichy to London. The secret negotiations between British and the United States regarding Shanghai were brought into the open. The almost bankrupt government of tiny Switzerland, which, in face of an extreme social crisis, had opened trade discussions with Berlin, decided before reaching any conclusion, to hear what London had to offer. Greece, backed by Britain, made a firm stand in the face of Mussolini’s intimidation. Egypt, which despite strong pressure from London had refused to declare war upon the entry of Mussolini into the conflict, decided to resist Italian encroachments on her terrain. That she has singularly failed to do so suggests that even yet she prefers to follow Turkey’s course and remain as long as possible with a foot in each imperialist camp. Negotiations have again been reopened for the purchase of American aeroplanes and Packards are again showing interest in the aero engine contract. Feelers are being extended from London regarding the possibility of a £500 million loan from the United States via Canada.

Germany has attempted to keep the struggle concentrated on a short, single front so that the full force of her powerful striking arm could be effected, but the natural defences of Britain in the seas and the tremendous risks involved in the construction of special technical equipment, forces Germany to turn to the possessions of her barricaded enemy.

The conclusion of the German-Italian-Japanese Pact is an expression of the desire of Germany to divert the flow of American raw materials from Britain to the Far East. But it is also the manifestation that the European continent can no longer contain the dynamic contradictions within her boundaries, that a new phase of the war is opening up: the redivision and organisation of the whole world by the contending imperialist powers.

It is impossible for Germany to conduct any major operations against Russia while her hands are tied with the battle for Britain. Consequently, while the “ten year” pact can be enforced as a long term weapon against the Soviet Union, Germany continues her policy of “appeasement” to the Kremlin desires and at the same time prepares the necessary jumping off ground for an attack against her.

While the early phases of the war were decided mainly on the basis of the extraordinary superior military technique the new phase is giving time for the full productive forces of the British Empire to come into play and the even greater productive equipment and technique of the USA.

The economic blockade not only of Europe but of Britain too will become increasingly effective and this will mark the beginning of wholesale social convulsions. Long before the nations can complete their mutual destruction, the political and social structure of every country will be subjugated to the severest test. Revolutions will put an end to the war, but whether these revolutions will lead to success will depend upon the energy and devotion of the international socialist fighters who have grouped themselves around the Fourth International.

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