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Maurice Spector

British Imperialism Faces Dilemma
as Line-Up in Europe Changes

(25 April 1936)

From New Militant, Vol. II No. 16, 25 April 1936, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Galvanized by the Blackshirt successes in Ethiopia, British moral indignation is running high. At the League Council, Anthony Eden virtuously denouncing the bombings and use of poison gas, called for the application of fresh sanctions. But if we refrain from boiling over in sympathy, it is because our memory has not failed us. It is fairly modern history that British bombers, and under a “Labor” Government, persuaded Irak villagers to pay their back taxes more promptly. Less than a year ago, British planes rained bombs on the restless natives of India’s North-Western Frontier ... Lulled for a time by the habitual miscalculations of the military experts who dwelt soothingly on impossible terrain and coming rains, the British moral sense received and gave full bay with the Italian capture of Dessye.

But when it met, the dearly beloved League did little else than cluck its tongue and register its own failure. What sanctions have been imposed doubtless created economic difficulties tor the Fascist regime, and depleted its gold reserves. But they have not brought about its collapse. On the contrary, Mussolini lias been able to turn the sanctions policy of the League (read English) to his own advantage. This he has done by picturing Italy as a poor “proletarian’’ state whose road to a place in the sun was being barred by the fat imperialist powers. Incidentally statistics of the value of Italian imports and exports for the first four months after sanctions “went into effect” reveal that the USSR of Stalin actually increased its trade with Italy. We should be interested to have an explanation of this phenomenon from the Daily Worker or the League Against War and Fascism.

British Cabinet Quandary

The British Cabinet is in a quandary. The gorged Empire is caught between the pincers of more dynamic imperialisms in the East and West. The Italian conquest of Ethiopia would spell more than merely a diplomatic defeat of Eden. Mussolini would bestride the Mediterranean and challenge the British pickings in Egypt, Palestine and the Near East generally. It is this realization that shifts British attention swiftly from the banks of the Rhine to the headwaters of the Nile.

An Anglo-French alliance would bring the Italian upstart’s threat to the Empire and its communications to a halt. But the price that Baldwin-Eden would have to pay – sanctions and military action against Germany – is so high and the consequences so perilous, that British policy is momentarily in a state of confusion. The ideal and traditional British course is to hold the scales of the balance of power, to act as conciliator. This policy is harder to apply when the Channel has ceased to be the effective barrier to an attack from the continent. This is what Baldwin meant when he talked of the British frontier now being on the Rhine.

The Pro-German Orientation

The Cabinet is prepared to give the French General Staff the required guarantees against a German invasion of either Belgium or France. But the section of the Cabinet which is hostile to Eden’s pro-French orientation, and sympathetic to Hitler’s offer of a twenty-five year truce, points out that France is tied up with pacts in the East, (USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia). They ask why Great Britain should be involved in a war or the defence of France in the West, which would be precipitated by French commitments to her Allies in the East.

The politicians of this viewpoint reason that Hitler is no longer as isolated as he was a couple of years ago, and that Germany must be afforded a safety-valve for expansion, which is not at the expense of the British Empire or of the status quo in the West. The British desire to reduce the specific gravity of French supremacy on the continent facilitated German rearmament. That altered the whole political landscape and the impending fortification of the Rhineland further enhances Nazi power.

The smaller states now within the orbit of French protection will have to reconsider their position when French forces will likely find themselves immobilized by German rearmament on the Rhine. Rumania and Yugoslavia have already given clear indications of dissatisfaction; others may follow ... The great political risk of giving Germany a free hand in the East is, however, that a challenge to British interests would follow at a later stage.

These preoccupations of British Imperialism, the most vocal recent supporter of the League, strikingly manifest the humbug of the sanctions policy as a means of struggle against imperialism. The usefulness of the sanctions argument so far has been limited to lining up the liberals, social-democrats and Stalinists to fight for the interests of British or French imperialism against German or Italian imperialism, under the somewhat tarnished banner of the struggle to preserve democracy.

“Power Politics”

The Nations and New Republics are all engaged intoning that “if collective security goes, power politics return ... if international law is to be effective, agreements must be uniformly respected.” These liberal formulas are among the great contemporary “democratic” lies. Power politics, the politics of imperialism, of the struggle for markets, have never ceased to rule since the peace of Versailles. Or are we to be treated to a fresh dose of Wilsonian diplomacy? When did this “collective security” come in? The liberal twaddle about warring “political ideals” and “international law” only serves to obscure the basic causes of the imperialist struggle.

The greatest of all crimes is that committed by the leaders of the Second and Third Internationals who have turned their organizations into official supporters of the aims and slogans of such “democratic” imperialism as the British or French. But their struggle against Fascism and War was always shadow-boxing.

Neither war nor fascism can be overthrown without a revolutionary struggle against the capitalist-imperialist order that breeds them. The most powerful force for the destruction of both Hitler and Mussolini, and for the creation of the Soviet United States of Europe, would be the French Revolution. That, and not the Popular Front of class peace.

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