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Jack Weber

March of Events

Naval Race Forebodes War of the Pacific

(5 January 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 4, 5 January 1935, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The first international imperialist truce in the building of naval armaments has come to its predestined end. Theoretically it will remain in force till 1936; practically the powers are already at work to start off anew in the race for capitalist domination of the world. Lasting for a decade, the Washington Naval Pact was nothing but a temporary truce, affording a breathing spell to the nations just emerged from war into a critical economic and political period that necessitated the most far-reaching changes and adjustments among the imperialist robber nations. In the war Europe, victors and vanquished alike, had lost, America had won. Germany had been ruined, but England was also badly shaken and her world position so much weakened that she could no longer demand and enforce by might of arms complete supremacy on the seas. America had captured the world’s trade, had become a creditor nation on a par with the foremost foreign investor, England. This victory, American capitalism meant not only to retain but to extend at the expense of all other capitalist rivals until it would command that imperialist hegemony of the world that it felt essential to give full and proper play to its advanced technique. To signalize its newly gained strength, America started afresh, on the very eve of the peace conference, a naval plan that “stunned the world”!

* * *

The Imperialist Naval Race

It was the “peace” President Wilson, who proposed the 1916 naval plan that was to give America the largest fleet in the world. He proposed to construct in three years the most powerful dreadnoughts afloat, that would render obsolete all the navies in the world. This program was interrupted by the entrance of the U.S. into the war but at its conclusion, just before Wilson sailed for Paris, he said to Congress: “I take it for granted that the Congress will carry out the naval program which was undertaken before we entered the war.”

In the new 1919 program it was then proposed that in three years America should build sixteen capital ships, besides a large number of cruisers and destroyers. Although England then possessed a bigger navy than all the rest of the world combined, this ambitious program would have placed the U.S. in first place on account of the size of post-Jutland super-dreadnoughts to be built, their weight of armor and guns. The armament race was on!

The new war was to be a decisive battle for supremacy in the Pacific, a conflict for the complete control of the only market still undivided among the imperialist free-booters – China. Primarily this meant a ruthless struggle between America and Japan. Hence Japanese imperialism, despite its relative poverty in money and resources, was forced as a matter of its national capitalist life to respond by starting the construction of even bigger ships with heavier armament and guns than those proposed by America. Nor was England to be outdone, for she too began the laying down of vessels to be the largest in the world.

* * *

Necessity for Truce

In comparison with the Anglo-German naval race of 1907 to 1914, the pre-war affair was a mere bagatelle from every point of view. The cost of the new construction to the U.S. alone would have been more in three years than Germany had spent in twenty-five. And this does not take into account the indirect costs for new docks and harbors to house the new fleet, besides the fortifying of Pacific fuel bases to render the fleet effective.

The cost became a particularly disturbing factor when the slump of 1920 occurred. Then too the Panama Canal acted to limit the new race. For this Canal could afford passage only to the size of vessel allowed for in the American plan, whereas to meet the forty-three and forty-five thousand ton ships of the Japanese and English plans, the U.S. would have had to build ships that could not be passed through the Canal. The threat of an immediate war between America and Japan in 1921 found American capitalism in a difficult position too, since it did not possess any adequate base of operations close enough to the new scene of conflict.

For these and other reasons American imperialism found itself forced to back down temporarily and to call for a truce in the naval race started by itself. The result was the Washington Pact of 1922. In this pact the size of battleships was limited to those capable of traversing the Panama Canal, the five-five three ratio was accepted (England thus yielded its historic mastery of the seas), the Anglo-Japanese Alliance was abrogated, at least in words, and an agreement was arrived at not to fortify the Pacific Islands any further. In the present situation all this stands nullified. Japanese capitalism feels itself firmly enough entrenched in Manchuria, the historic starting-point for all invasions into China, to continue her adventure further. Her demand for naval parity throws down the gauntlet to American imperialism at a time considered favorable by the Japanese militarists American imperialism cannot refuse the challenge. The War of the Pacific seems close at hand.

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