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Jack Weber

March of Events

Decline of the British Empire

(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).

Of all the great powers Britain is today the most vulnerable, the one that has most to fear from the inevitable changes that an unstable capitalism will bring forth. The end of Great Britain’s world domination was foreshadowed even before the war, with the rise of those colossal industrial rivals, the United States and Germany. The World War and the changes wrought since have emphasized the processes of decay rotting the foundations of Empire – and simultaneously threatening the very existence of the capitalist system as a whole. Viewed from any criterion of imperialist power – the decline of its capital export, the loss of naval supremacy, the threat of the new weapons of warfare that shift England’s “boundaries” from the Channel to the Rhine, the economic development of the colonies with the creation of a colonial proletariat capable of leading the movement for independence, the internal economic crisis at home – Britannia feels the sceptre slipping from her grasp.

Threatened in every direction and on every front, British imperialism is engaged in utilizing every means to stave off the evil day, to prolong its rule and with this rule the entire system of exploitation at home and colonial oppression abroad. Under these circumstances, it becomes the task and the duty of the class conscious workers to utilize every means to strengthen their forces and their organization, to unite the struggle of the British proletariat and the oppressed masses in the colonies so as to prepare to wrest power from their brutal imperialist masters. Otherwise the fragments of empire can only fall into the greedy hands of other imperialist powers, even more powerful than the present rulers and the masses now under the British whip will suffer new lashes from the new slave-drivers.

* * *

Radek and Conservation of the Empire

Radek, playing the Stalinist game, proposes to advise the English bourgeoisie in their frantic efforts at self-preservation as a ruling class. This is the inevitable outcome of a policy which places sole reliance on imperialist combinations to maintain the status quo. To the Stalinist bureaucracy that status quo includes the one concern that lies nearest to their heart’s desire, the maintenance of their own uncontrolled power in the Soviet Union. If the British bourgeoisie feel keenly the threat to their power in any major disturbance of the present world relation of forces, the Stalinists are no less chilled to the marrow by the specter of future wars – and revolutions. Tremendous unleashed mass forces, even when aimed at capitalist overthrow, are not to the liking of men whose sole claim to power rests on the stifling of mass forces.

Writing in Current History on Britain’s Way in World Politics, Radek bids the “wiser” conservatives in England to take the better of two courses in order to safeguard their system. At the present time the ruling section of the bourgeoisie is playing the game of balance of power once more. In order to preserve the empire intact, and yet allow for the expansion of a strangling Germany, the tories propose to tie Germany’s hands in the West and permit Hitler complete freedom in the East. Britain proposes to survive at the expense of the Soviet Union. This is a time-honored policy of “perfidious Albion,” – to make a deal with a possible aggressor at the expense of other powers. How does Radek propose to bring about a change of heart among the slave-drivers? By addressing himself to those “conservatives” who are shrewder and hope to preserve the status quo by means of “collective security” through the League of Nations. Radek warns that any breach of peace, despite any hope of the English that they can remain isolated and become the source of supplies for a warring Germany, can only result in a general world-wide war which would threaten the entire structure of the Empire. Far better for them to rely, in accordance with the sentiment of the British masses, on that preserver of peace, the League. And please note, my English friends, says Radek, if war should nevertheless break out, you would through this policy obtain the whole-hearted support of your masses.

“But if war becomes inevitable owing to the imperialist policy of Japan, Germany and Italy (not France or Great Britain, of course!) then the British masses, as was shown by the trade union congress and the Labor Party, will be all for the defensive measures adopted by the League (!!). Particularly since the entry of the Soviet Union into the League, those masses see in the League a guarantee that defense against German, Italian and Japanese aggression will not degenerate into a policy of imperialist deals at the expense of other peoples.”

In other words, Radek promises to cover British imperialism with the mantle of the Soviet Union if Britain will turn away from Germany. With the aid of Stalin, the masses will be led into thinking that defense of the empire is “defense of peace in general.”

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