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A. Roland

The United States Is for Free Trade
in British Empire

(7 March 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 10, 7 March 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Ottawa Agreement Is Set Aside

The United States has always been for its own unrestricted right to. trade freely – inside the British Empire. This aim it has finally, achieved, at least as a promise on England’s part. The agreement just signed by Halifax for Great Britain and Welles for the United States sets aside the Ottawa agreement which was designed by England to shut this country out of the British imperial preserves.

The attempt on the part of the capitalist press to place a truly international significance on the new agreement hardly holds water. True the pact does the handsome thing, for the benefit of skeptics, by saying that similar arrangements are open for all nations “of like mind.” It is to be doubted whether other nations, handicapped in their competition with American mass production, will prove very anxious to avail themselves of the opportunity to let down all bars to United States businessmen.

The eight points of the Joint Declaration of Intentions may be nicely sugar-coated for public consumption. But they are part of the hard bargain driven by the Yankees in return for their lease-lend aid to England. Churchill attempted slyly to evade paying this price in the first agreement, the Atlantic Charter, signed by Roosevelt and himself. There he had inserted in the section dealing with the letting down of trade barriers a little clause to the effect that commitments already in existence were to be excepted. This brought a loud outcry from the Yankees. The present Declaration pins Churchill down and does away with the loophole left in the Atlantic Charter. The Ottawa agreement is thus dead and buried.

Conflicting Interests of Two Nations

Halifax naturally makes use of the new agreement to show that after all the Americans were unduly suspicious of their English cousins. This is a bad business and must be corrected. He has no illusions concerning the difficulty of building up sufficient trust between the two nations, particularly in the post-war period. His words are worth quoting on this score:

“But the difficult time comes when the physical danger is removed, and no one who remembers the period after the armistice of 1918 can help but wonder whether our two peoples will manage to work with each other better than they did a quarter of a century ago. It is an easy but insecure assumption that comradeship in war will, of its own momentum, carry over into peace.”

The Ambassador is more than right. Particularly is this the case when the aims of the two countries in the war are far from being identical. The aims of two capitalist countries in a world war cannot possibly be the same, for each seeks its own best interests. The economic interests of England and America on a world scale are in conflict with each other.

The actual terms of the Declaration (probably contained in notes of interpretation exchanged between the foreign offices rather than directly in the printed document) are far less important than the basic assumption underlying the agreement. These assumptions are Utopian to say the least. They assume that world economy can be brought back to a more or less even keel on the foundations that existed before 1939. Trade and commerce will be resumed where it was left off before the second world war. Only this time the Anglo-American bloc will see to it that its dominance over the entire world is maintained.

The assumption is an obvious fallacy. The inability of all the warring nations to repay their debts, both foreign and internal, is rightly taken for granted by everybody. The sudden swing that will be necessary from a war production such as the world has never before seen, involving from sixty to eighty per cent of the total production of every single big capitalist country, back to the production of civilian goods, will obviously bring an economic crisis. Those economists who talk hopefully of evading such a crisis by piling Up mass purchasing power during the war which Will be released for business stimulation the moment, the war ends, shut their eyes to reality.

Real Barrier to World Economy

The tremendous sums of money being spent on the war represent the super-wasting of actual wealth. The machinery of civilian production is being allowed to run down while the nation devotes itself to total war. The reconstruction of the productive apparatus will require almost as much wealth as is now being squandered for war purposes. The amount of purchasing power “stored up” in the banks for the masses (even if we suppose a scheme such as that of Meynard Keynes is accepted) would not be a drop in the bucket so far as the real amount necessary for setting the machines going again is concerned.

The second world war is impoverishing the world at a breath-taking rate. The scorched-earth policy – where it is applied instead of just talked about – may be an “all out” war measure, but how will all of the wealth destroyed be replaced?

The more realistic economists have warned that the standards of living of the masses will have to remain at the low level of wartime until what wealth remains to society has first gone into the effort to rebuild the forces of production. A world at a lower level of existence all around will hardly encourage trade and commerce.

The anarchic methods of capitalism cannot possibly bring real economic recovery after this war. Nor can any one country, even two countries like the United States and England, bring order out of chaos. That is the great fallacy that underlies the thinking of the reactionary capitalists who suppose that they can re-establish what has gone forever. The Declaration of Intentions merely declares this purpose. The Intentions cannot be labelled good ones, for they stand in the way of a better world. The barriers to world economy are not mere Ottawa agreements but the very system of capitalism itself.

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