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Albert Glotzer

Naval Bases and Imperialism

The Struggle for Position at the Coming Conference in London

(January 1930)

From The Militant, Vol. III No. 1, 4 January 1930, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The five power naval conference to be held January in London is another chapter in war preparations. The conference will present a picture of spectacular jockeying for advantageous positions and for further maneuvers in alignment of forces.

The world map today offers a sectionally divided picture. By agreement, the imperialist powers have designated the rights of possession among themselves to the extent that no part of the globe, with the exception of the Soviet Union, is free from capitalist domination. The last arrangement in division of territory was made following the last war and the defeat of the Central powers. But what appeared to world capitalism then as a “fair” distribution of the spoils, has today become obsolete in view of the decisive economic changes that have taken place in post war capitalism.

The New Economic Center of Gravity

The outstanding change in world economy is the transference of the economic center of gravity from Europe under the hegemony of England, to the United States. At the same time all facts point to the decline of England. American capitalism, contrary to its pre-war position, when it maintained Itself primarily on the basis of the home market, has its roots sunk in the soil of world economy. It dominates the European market, has penetrated into Asia, South America, etc., and in this way brought about the sharpest antagonisms between itself and the other powers.

America is pressing England ruthlessly. Any alliance between them can only mean the further domination of the U.S. The struggle for markets and a redistribution of colonial possessions and “spheres of influence” is driving headlong to war. This is especially clear in the pre-conference discussions and negotiations. While these changed economic conditions force the United States to lock horns with its outstanding competitor, England, they equally force her into sharpest antagonism with France, Japan and other imperialists. The contraction of the world market is forcing its solution through war. It is the only way that capitalism solves its contradictions.

The pre-conference atmosphere is an extremely bitter one. The preliminary discussions between the U.S. and England are looked upon with disfavor by the other powers. Japan, France and Italy reject the ratios of naval armaments laid down by these two countries. If there are to be ratios, they too demand an equal voice. Open talk of war is on the order of the day. John Steele in the Chicago Tribune of December 20, speaks of England as “our enemy”. Every power assumes a most bellicose attitude, backing it with threats to one another.

The Conflict in Ratios

The matter of ratios in armaments will appear to be the main issue at London. This alleged issue of difference is indicative of the nature of the conference. The ratio of 6–5–3 as agreed upon by the U.S. and England is disputed by the other three participants. Japan asks for an increase in the ratio to 10–7–7. France demands a naval strength of 800,000 tons. Italy calls for parity with France, with the added statement that she is willing to concede this point if France will in return allow her concessions in Northern Africa.

The issue of parity and ratios, if accepted at face value, can mean nothing. What is important for the unmasking of the London fraud is the more cogent question of actual war preparations. It is necessary to remind the working class that the parity agreements are not parities based upon a decrease in armaments and the ratios of strength, but are on the contrary parities and ratios based upon increased building and further expenditures for war. The establishment of parity or ratios between the imperialists is a meaningless cloak to mislead the workers into false security. Agreements between these robbers are less than worthless. The whole history of capitalist diplomacy shows this. London will be the scene where the gauging of each others strength will be attempted, where the more concrete steps for war can be taken, and from where a barrage of pacifism will be laid under the direction of reformism and social democracy.

The possesion of naval bases will play a tremendous role in the coming conflict of the seas. They serve as an intermediary point for supplies, refueling and ammunition. An examination of these naval bases of the three leading powers, England, U.S. and Japan will shed light not only upon the strength and role of these bases, but will at the same time give a picture of the areas of conflict. It will be seen too, that naval bases exist where the interests of the imperialists are the greatest, and as such serve also as a center of military operations against colonial uprisings. England’s Naval Bases Taking England first, her twenty-six bases form an almost complete circle around the globe. Beginning at Wei-hai-wei, on the East coast of China, directly opposite Japan, starts the first of a long arc of bases. Following along the coast Southward lies Hong-Kong. Singapore and Rangoon on the South marks the complete arc around China. From there a continuous path is cut around the whole of Southern Asia (in the main, India) beginning at Trincomales, to Columbo, and Bombay. The bases then proceed thru the straits separating Africa from Asia, at Aden, Port Sudan, Suez, Port Said, Malta and Gib[raltar. In the Med]iterranean Sea lies Malta and at the entrance to the Sea lies Gibraltar. Here we find a long line of naval bases stretching from the East coast of China, encircling the Southern coast of Asia, passing thru the straits, making not only a border of Africa, but also the Near East and Europe. Africa is similarly circumscribed. Aden, Port Sudan, Suez, Port Said, Malta and Gibraltar on the North, Freetown, and St. Helena, on the west, Simontown at the South Cape and Port Louis off the East Coast. In this hemisphere are located seventeen of England’s total of twenty six bases, since it is here that her possessions are the most numerous and the antagonisms the greatest.

Central and South America mark the second decisive section of imperialist exploitation. Here as well as in Asia, England and American interests clash most violently. In this section, England’s bases begin at Halifax on the East coast of Canada, continue to Bermuda, East of the United States thence to Kingston and Port Castries in the Carribean Sea. Port Stanley, East of the Southern end of South America marks the fifth base forming one line along the Atlantic coast of North and South America. The remaining four bases are in the Pacific. Esquimau on the West coast of Canada, King George and Sydney in Australia, and Auckland in New Zealand, complete them.

The seven bases of the United States are concentrated in the Central America and Pacific territories. On the map they present an almost straight line. Located in the Caribbean are two, one at Guantanamo Bay and the other at the Virgin Isles. Number three is located at the Panama Canal, which is of vast importance, since the canal serves as a gateway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, rendering transference of forces relatively less difficult. The remaining four bases are In the Pacific beginning at Pearl Harbor, proceeding westward to Samoa, Guam and the Philippines.

Japan’s six bases lie off the coast of China at Ryoyun, Eiko, Chingkai, Futamiko, Amami-o-shima and Bako. They are all definitely in the area of China, the main seat of Japan’s interest.

England’s Favored Position

From the above it appears that England is in a favored military position. There is no question but that the posession of so overwhelmingly a number of bases are a positive advantage over the supposedly greater fighting force of the U.S. But this is not the most decisive question. The bases indicate the areas of conflict, the centers of the greatest competition, but do not necessarily mean that the possession of a majority of them is the overwhelming factor.

The most decisive factor in the event of war is the resources of the various contenders. Increased building and expenditures presents a problem to all of the powers with the exception of the United States. Her resources place her in a most favored position. This is indisputable. While France demands her share of extended naval construction she is at the same time in favor of a let-up because of lack of resources. Likewise Japan, and England feel the difficulties. America alone can continue with a steady building program and will maintain this position. In addition no other country has its industries so completely organized on a war basis as the U.S. Particularly the two most essential industries to war, steel and chemical, are ready at a moment’s notice to prepare for war production.

New Methods of Sea Struggle

Another factor of importance which is also a point of difference is the type of warfare and methods to be employed. It is apparent that the old methods of ship versus ship struggle is giving way to undersea and air methods. This will call for faster ships and more effective guns. It will mean increased airplane carrier building and likewise submarine construction. In addition the fact the expense in the building of huge battleships is a tremendous one, plus their decreasing effectiveness, will lead an attempt to reduce their role in war. This reveals the whole MacDonald program of battleship reduction as hypocrisy.

But these questions are not the most important ones for us. At this stage the crucial problem is that war is on the horizon. The bloodbath is being planned, one that will far exceed the last war in brutality and slaughter. London is a preface to it. “Disarmament” and “peace” discussions, headed by pacifists and “socialists” are gestures made only to lull the international working class into a false sense of security. The time is ripe for struggle against the threat of war, with which capitalism is always pregnant. To arouse the international working class, to organize it to defeat the imperialist war with the weapon of proletarian revolution that is the task of the Communists.

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