Thursday, March 23, 2017

War Lord—The Rise of Jingo Herbert (1959)

Book Review from the March 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Kitchener, Portrait of an Imperialist by Philip Magnus

“Your Country Needs You,” says the caption; and the Field-Marshal, with his heavily-braided cap and enormous moustache points and stares straight at You. This, the most famous of all recruiting-posters, has served to keep the memory of Lord Kitchener alive when other famous Generals and War-leaders have been long forgotten. The poster has become an object of amusement such expressions of patriotic sentiment being too crude and old-fashioned to serve the purposes of propaganda today. Nationalism and patriotism are still strong, but the propaganda necessary for their maintenance has become more sophisticated.

Kitchener was the idol of millions. The myth of his military prowess was carefully fostered by the Press, particularly the Tory Press. He was the embodiment of mistaken ideas and ideals about British Capitalism that became common among workers during the thirty years preceding 1914. and still have tremendous force today, though in different outward forms. For this reason Kitchener’s life and times are still of interest. He has attracted the attention of an able biographer in Philip Magnus, whose Kitchener, Portrait of an Imperialist, is an interesting and generally very readable account of one of Britain’s most influential leaders. Mr. Magnus does not attempt to glorify Kitchener—the gap between myth and actuality as presented in the book amounts almost to debunking. He does not write from any particular political viewpoint, though in an occasional purple passage he pays his respects to the Gun-boat politics and politicians of the 19th century. He puts Kitchener’s battles in their proper military perspective—and thereby robs his subject of much of the glory. The sources of information are excellent : the papers of the Salisbury family, who have been for long prominent in Tory politics, have been extensively drawn upon.

Kitchener was born in 1850, the son of a professional soldier who had the misfortune never to see active service; a mistake that Herbert Kitchener was to strenuously avoid. Being commissioned in the Engineers, he did not for long restrict himself to the dull tasks of surveying and land registration. He displayed considerable zeal and took good care to see that his efforts were brought to the notice of prominent politicians and military leaders at home. His energy and enthusiasm, together with his growing prestige among Tory politicians, led to quick promotion. He became the driving force behind the re-organisation of the Egyptian Army. He occupied increasingly important positions in Egypt, becoming Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Egypt was a British sphere of influence; in fact, if not in name, a British possession. Kitchener’s dreams of military glory were at last realised in 1898, when the British Government decided to reconquer the Sudan. The Mahdists were decisively beaten at Omdurman. Kitchener led an efficient well-armed force (there were Maxim-guns, artillery and gun-boats in the Anglo-Egyptian force) against poorly-armed poorly-trained Dervishes. The victory was certainly well-organised, even to the counting of the slain enemy. Kitchener showed his characteristic care for economy by cutting the medical services to the bone.

During the Boer War, first as second-in-command to Lord Roberts and later as Commander-in-Chief, Kitchener showed serious limitations that later, during the 1914-18 war, were to make him a nuisance to the British Government. In spite of his errors at the battle of Paardeberg his popularity in England increased. He had interesting techniques for dealing with recalcitrant populations; many of the inmates of his concentration camps in South Africa died because of insanitary conditions and lack of proper medical attention.

After the Boer war he went to India where, according to Magnus, he spent his time quarrelling with the Viceroy, Curzon, over the control of the Indian Army.

Kitchener meanwhile had become a man of wealth and property. He owned a large house and estate in Kent; he obtained considerable financial rewards for his services to the furthering of British Imperialism. He became joint owner with three of his friends of considerable land in Kenya. There was a law against non-residents holding land there, but the authorities obligingly modified the rules for Kitchener’s benefit.

The 1914-18 war provided Kitchener with his greatest opportunity to serve the British Ruling Class. He was appointed Secretary of State for War, with a seat in the Cabinet. In 1916 he was on his way to Russia to investigate the military situation there when the cruiser “Hampshire” in which he was travelling, struck a mine and sank. His death must have come as a relief to his fellow-members of the Cabinet; for by then he had outlived his practical usefulness and had remained in office only because of his tremendous popularity, which made him invaluable for recruiting new armies.

“Send a Gun-Boat”
Kitchener’s times can provide all the explanation that is needed of his popularity and influence. He was born into an age thirsting for Glory. A large section of the ruling-class saw the British Empire not merely as a string of outposts and a market for British goods, but as the possible basis of their own future prosperity; as sources of raw materials and unlimited land for development.

The Education Acts of the 19th century had caused a big rise in literacy among workers. The 1890’s saw the rise of the popular press. All the conditions were there for myth-making; Imperialist aims, the Press, and a large mass of people leading drab lives who needed dreams to make their lives more palatable. England, according to the Imperialists, was to be the centre of a world-wide prosperous Empire, despotically, but benevolently administered, Kitchener grew up in this atmosphere of “showing the flag,” when an affront to a British Citizen could lead to the despatch of a gun-boat. He was not slow to find a place in the schemes of Tory politicians. Kitchener was their wonder-soldier; of impressive appearance, his very coldness and aloofness were an advantage in building up the myth of his invincibility. The cold, distant figure can be more easily endowed with wonderful, mysterious qualities than can the ordinary human being. He became the embodiment of Patriotism, the God-like soldier ordering with a benevolent iron hand how the fuzzle-wuzzies shall live and work. Kitchener played an important part in rousing workers' enthusiasm for Capitalism. The Jingoism of these days, crude as it is, is not dead even today, as the response to the Suez crisis showed.

Ironically. Kitchener achieved his greatest popularity and power just as the opportunities for his type of Empire-building were beginning to disappear. The days of the conquest of vast territories by small forces armed with rifle, Maxim-gun, and a few pieces of light artillery, were drawing to a close. The backward areas of the world had been cut up; Africa had been parcelled out among the European powers with Britain taking the lion’s share. New conquests could only be made at the expense of other Capitalist powers.

The outbreak of war in 1914 placed Kitchener in a situation that was completely foreign to his training and experience. The days of small-scale war in Europe were over. War became a messy, chaotic business where squares, columns, cavalry attacks and the type of technical preparation necessary to send gun-boats up the Nile were to be out of place. No one man could hope to take complete control of a battle, as Kitchener had done in the Sudan, for the battle-front was hundreds of miles long. The first world-war was a tremendous clash of large industrial powers; Kitchener as an organiser of this large-scale war was ineffectual; the organisation of millions of men and. mountains of munitions was beyond him. He was gradually stripped of his power, Lloyd George taking over in 1915 the organisiition of supplies by being appointed head of the newly-created Ministry of Munitions. Kitchener still had an important part to play, however, a part that kept him in office until' his death. He was to give the Jingoism of the British Workers its greatest expression. He led an appeal to patriotic sentiment that created an enormous army on a voluntary basis. This appeal was Kitchener’s last and greatest service to British Capitalism. “Jingo” was to become a dirty word, but much too late to be of any help to the workers. Such was the importance of this appeal that little outspoken criticism was voiced in public until after his death.

Kitchener’s poster provokes a smile today, but the humour evaporates quickly when the appalling results of supporting national Capitalist groups is considered. Millions died and millions more were disabled in a war fought over profits, markets and sources of raw materials. No working-class interests were at stake; far from the post-war period bringing "a world fit for heroes.” 1921 brought slump and unemployment, even to the victors. The boast of 1918, “this is a war to end wars” proved empty. Within a few years Europe was preparing for another great conflict.

Even Kitchener’s dream of Empire came to little. Forty years after his death Nasser had succeeded in throwing Britain out of Egypt and had nationalized the Suez canal. All the conniving of French. British and Israeli politicans could not put the glorious dream together again. Egypt and the Sudan have gone, with Egyptian and Sudanese politicians bidding for the support of the new Dollar-Rouble Imperialisms.

The Myth
Capitalism needs myths to keep it alive. They are an important part of the ideology which provides the justifications for men’s actions. Mincing another human being with machine-gun fire is unthinkable to most people without the ennoblement of the Myth. Kitchener helped to provide a cloak of dignity for what calmly considered can only be called inhuman, murderous action.

The futility of the fighting on the western front, the advances measured in yards with casualties measured in thousands, were to discredit Jingoism. It was to be replaced in future conflicts by an appeal that was more subtle and which was accompanied by universal conscription, just to make sure.

The myth built around Kitchener was replaced by other myths with a rather different appeal, though none of them, not even Winston Churchill, had the power of the cold, sadistic Victor of Omdurman.

Capitalism elevated Kitchener, a harsh, inhuman man, to high rank, enormous fame and considerable fortune. He was to outlive his practical usefulness because of changes in methods of warfare to which he was incapable of adapting himself. He showed little real awareness of the enormous problems of organisation confronting the British Government in 1914.

The myth outlived Kitchener—it came to its end in the hideous, futile battles of the Somme and Passchendale—drowned in rivers of working-class blood.
F. R. Ivimey

Colonialists to the barricades (1960)

From the March 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

By one of those transformations common in our society, a group who were the heroes of yesterday have become the traitors of today. The French settlers in Algeria and their sympathisers in the French Army, who played a leading role in De Gaulle's return to power in May, 1958, have become today's dupes of “liars and conspirators"; working against the “Glory and Honour .of France." Revolutionary or rebellious groups who push their efforts too far are always likely to find themselves at the wrong end of a “whiff of grapeshot." Messrs. Biaggi, Ortiz, and Lagaillarde and General Massu must now be bitterly regretting their assumption that they could challenge De Gaulle. A study of the careers of the Napoleons would have enlightened them on the methods and ethics of the struggle for power. Monsieur Lagaillarde, a French Parliamentary deputy for Algiers, will probably have ample opportunity for studying the situation at leisure, for he is likely to be imprisoned for his part in the rising.

Positions have been curiously reversed in the past few weeks; many Moslems are supporting De Gaulle, and the French settlers are now against him. French rebels have shown less political astuteness than the Algerian Nationalists; the F.L.N., the Algerian Nationalist Army, have been careful not to take any action during the conflict between Algiers and Paris, although it would have been excellent militant strategy. The French colonists' hopes of dominating Algerian policy have taken a heavy blow, and it seems they must now take a back seat in French political and economic life.

The Algerian war has for over five years been a serious drain on France’s resources. Algeria is a vast, mainly arid country with desert, mountain ranges and few areas of cultivation except in the coastal fringes. Many of its people are adept at living and even fighting on what most Europeans consider a starvation diet. Through the refusal of France to give the Algerians some measure of freedom and independence politically and economically, many among the population have become rootless, having neither soil to till nor trade to work at. They have little prospects other than to work for the colonists at low wages. They have little to lose in joining the F.L.N., and they have the opportunity of hitting back at their oppressors. With the Europeans forming only a tenth part of the population, military operations arc terribly difficult and costly—for France. For hit-and-run raids, for sniping, for sabotage, for acts of terrorism, the nature of the country is ideal. Guerrilla warfare, with a stream of recruits to be drawn from landless, embittered Algerians, is a venture promising great future profit for a Nationalist movement. The F.L.N. has adopted a cold-blooded policy of harassing the Colonists and the Army in every possible way. It is a ruthless war, with no Geneva conventions or consideration for prisoners of war on either side. This appears a hideous situation to us, but it is still a war on the classic Capitalist model with two opposing groups getting workers and peasants to fight for them. The F.L.N. has fought with the methods open to them, and the methods include the slaughter of French civilians (including women and children), and of any Moslems willing to co-operate with the French. The F.L.N. is a “ political” army—the voluntary, enthusiastic fighting expression of Algerian Nationalism. Their activities can be modified to suit the political needs of the moment, as during the colonists' rebellion. The F.L.N. has repaid brutality with brutality, but the process has become too expensive for France. Every strong-point must be guarded, every road watched, every village picketed. And the F.L.N. are probing, probing everywhere, looking for the flaw in discipline, the weak spot, the broken-down truck, the flicker of a match that betrays the careless soldier.

The Colonists have shown attitudes and methods on the face of it repugnant to other nations. The frigid moral disapproval of other bourgeois groups can be taken with a pinch of salt, for any bourgeois group will display a disregard of its own political and ethical “principles" when its back is to the wall. Such mental and moral regression can be found among Kenya settlers, white South Africans, and among followers of the Nazi movement in Germany.

The regression is complete, entering into the very nature of their thinking. This failure of whole groups (or “ herds" to use Trotter's more scathing word) to assimilate changed situations and ideas takes on the character almost of mental disorder, as compared with the “norms" prevailing in more secure sectors of Capitalist enterprise. As in white South Africa, the Colonists continue to use senseless, brutal methods in spite of the triumphs of African nationalism all around them. Underneath the moral and ethical armour of all Capitalist groups there lurks the terrible brutality of “Mine, mine, mine!" a brutality that turns normally sane, reasonable people into torturers and murderers; a brutality that when it comes into the open makes a mockery of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity "; and at the first threat of insecurity turns Liberty into Dictatorship, Equality into the Police State, and Fraternity into the terrible comradeship of the Army uniform.

There are several reasons for France to retain a hold in Algeria; and uppermost till now have been the interests of the Colonists. They dominate the fertile coastal strip, they hold much of the trade, and are the rulers in administration and local Government. There are other French interests in Algeria that are becoming more important than the Colonists' dates, wine and raisins. These other interests have always been a powerful, but somewhat hidden factor in French Government policy; with the opening of the oil pipeline, however, these interests are now in the open, and overriding. Oil-production is estimated this year at 1,500,000 tons, and by 1965 it is hoped will be 50,000,000 tons annually. There arc certain economic difficulties in marketing this oil, but the French Government and ruling class are hoping that there will be a sufficient increase in world demand to absorb Saharan production. The reserves have been estimated as being of Persian-Gulf standards. There are also enormous reserves of natural gas that could be of great use to French industry and also in developing industry in Algeria. But these outsize oysters are-likely to remain shut unless the war can be brought to an end.

De Gaulle's return to power can only be understood against the background of colonial and economic trouble. De Gaulle was ostensibly returned because of rebellion in the Army and among the Colonists. "Committees of Public Safety,'' consisting frequently of right-wing organisations and individuals, sprang up everywhere in France and Algeria. But De Gaulle came to power not merely because of the Army's dissatisfaction with the corruption and ineptitude of successive French Governments, nor because of the scheming of reactionary politicians like Soustelle, but because French political parties were prepared to surrender an already tattered democracy in the interests of “National Unity.’' De Gaulle was the only political leader with sufficient prestige to command enough support to guarantee a period of stable Government. The issue was not “Algeria for the settlers,” but “National unity in order to place France once again among the front rank of European nations."

The Colonists have become the dupes of the Soustelles, Biaggis, and Lagaillardes. These incipient demagogues hoped to achieve a right-wing solution in Algeria; the suppression of Algerian Nationalism and the complete and forcible integration of Algiers with France. In the process they no doubt hoped to find themselves in power, not merely in Algeria, but in France. The recent rising has shown the true position; De Gaulle wants a settlement of the Algerian war—even at the expense of the Colonists. He would like to see Algeria firmly united to France, but he can also see the political realities. He appreciates that the F.L.N. is something of a brickwall, a brickwall that it is ruining France merely to chip. A successful, even if temporary, settlement would mean the end of ruinous war, the possibility of peaceful exploitation of Saharan oil— with French capital and technical assistance, and a secure testing-site for France’s atomic bomb.

The first indications of actual rebellion among the Colonists to reach outside observers were first the interview given by General Massu to a German correspondent; and secondly the meeting of the Mayors of the Algiers department. General Massu, whose tactlessness can only be interpreted as an attempt to sound the trumpet for a second, and much more drastic, May, 1958, expressed his dissatisfaction with De Gaulle's policy in Algeria—and said it in similar terms to those used by the Mayors. These gentry demanded the execution of Algerian Nationalists, and clearly stated the view, put into practice a few days later, that Algeria must remain French even if Paris decreed otherwise. M. Lagaillarde said, "Only one policy succeeds in Algeria, that of rebellion. We are ready to defend ourselves in arms.” (Quoted in The Guardian, 20/1/60.) General Massu was being in his reactionary way the starry-eyed dreamer. The conditions of May, 1958 no longer obtained. Even the Army, with a professional interest in the War, have shown themselves willing to obey De Gaulle. The Mayors were of course clinging tightly to their vineyards. Their premature rebellion has severely damaged their political prestige. Next time—if there is one—there will be much less confidence and enthusiasm. The cry of defiance may in the near future be replaced by the whine of the special pleader: open defiance for the more subtle and probably futile intrigue of the lobbyist. Still, the Colonists remain an important, but declining, factor not so much for themselves as for the use that may be made of them by demagogues like Soustelle.

De Gaulle's Intentions
Many interpretations have been made about De Gaulle's intentions, and his own statements contain contradictions, so that it is difficult to foresee precisely the course of events in Algeria. De Gaulle is trying to gain sufficient support among the Algerian leaders to make a settlement possible. He could offer, in return for co-operation, withdrawal of the Army to certain base areas and an increase of Algerian participation in economic and political life. He is seeking to achieve a settlement that will leave France with a limited, but important, hold in Algeria. A settlement would "pay” much better than the continuance of the war, which involves the possibility that the F.L.N. will be able to hold a position long enough to blow up the buried pipe-line. For the present, the war will drag on, with Dc Gaulle hoping that the deadlock with the F.L.N. can be broken. His policy can be summed up as “Profit for both sides." He has already achieved some “success”: the latest casualties among Moslems were reported to be among those demonstrating in favour of De Gaulle. The F.L.N. are hoping for a De Gaulle victory over the Colonists, and their lack of activity during the Colonists' rising points to a willingness to accommodate De Gaulle. The rank-and-file do not have very much to gain from either French Colonists or Algerian Nationalism. If an agreement was reached, however, and economic development went forward, they could hope for some improvement of their living standards. At least there might be the possibility of trade union action, which scarcely exists at the moment. The fate of any Algerians pushing their revolt too far would be the traditional “ whiff," this time administered by a legal Algerian Army backed up with French guns. The old cry of “Communist” will be heard and another section of the world's workers will discover the error of taking their leaders too seriously. The Algerians will find that they have but exchanged one set of oppressors for another.
F. R. Ivimey