From the February 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard
A change in the personnel of the puppet group that moves in accordance with the string-pulling of the Imperialists who direct Government policy, may provide an excuse to introduce certain modifications in Government policy; modifications that have become necessary owing to new circumstances affecting the invests of this Imperialist section; but as such a change is not due to a fundamental alteration in social conditions, it has no important influence upon the general position of the working class, except in so far as better administration, from a capitalist standpoint, tightens the bonds of wage slavery and thereby worsens the workers’ position.
The recent statements of influential capitalist journals bear out this view in so far as it affects the change in governmental personnel from the Lloyd George group to the Bonar Law group.
The governmental change in itself provided a useful opportunity for shifting the responsibility for working class troubles from the capitalist system on to the latest scapegoat, the Lloyd George Coalition Government. The international exchange difficulties, the Eastern muddles, the reparation squabbles, labour troubles are all supposed to have been accentuated and made difficult of solution by the blundering of the late Government.
The fact that these international squabbles, muddles, and labour troubles “we always have with us,” in spite of numerous changes in Government and governmental policy, is conveniently ignored.
The “Observer,” a Sunday paper representing the big capitalists, trumpets the virtues of Bonar Law and the vices of Lloyd George. Of Bonar Law they write, in their editorial (7/1/23), after laying down certain alleged principles that should guide England and France on the question of German reparations:
“Mr. Bonar Law has been guided by these principles. He has done well, and won the increased respect of all men at home and abroad by transparent sincerity, good sense, good temper, and the quiet moral grit which has brought this deepening muddle to a plain issue at last. No one could have done more.”
And what of Lloyd George? In the same editorial occurs the following:
“The Entente was envenomed and almost destroyed by pretences of agreement. . . . The direct and indirect consequences of the final fiasco of coalition policy in Eastern Europe and Asia Minor changed the whole diplomatic situation from one end of Europe to the other.”
Bonar Law’s policy has brought the “muddle’’ to a “plain issue”; Lloyd George’s policy resulted in a “fiasco.” What was the fundamental difference between the two policies? Lloyd George hung on to France as it suited certain interests to do so. Bonar Law broke with France as it no longer suited these interests to continue the alliance in its old form.
The group behind the English Government, having got all they could get by alliance with France, lately found themselves fettered by such alliance in Eastern matters and in their dealings with Germany.
In the first place, the early settlement of the German indemnity is not a matter that seriously affects the interests of the more important English capitalists. At the moment English trade with Germany is improving and would be adversely influenced by pressing for fulfilment of reparations. The following provides one illustration of this fact:
“Last year we saw a sensational leap in the figures of our coal exports to Germany, which rose to 8,345,606 tons, being nearly equal to the total export in 1913, which was 8,952,328 tons. The rapid rise in our export of coal to Germany in the last three years will be seen from the following table:—
1920 1921 1922
13,457 tons 817,877 tons 8,345,606 tons
“Even last year’s figures are expected to be greatly exceeded in the near future, as Herr Stinnes and other German industrialists are stated to be in negotiation with British firms for the supply of large quantities.” (“Observer,” 14/1/23.)
The step taken by France has called forth certain rather significap^: comments. For example:
“Our hands will be free with regard to all the peace treaties. We shall no longer be bound by any of them. We shall have to pursue a quite decisive policy of separate settlement, both with Russia and Turkey.” (“Observer,” 7/1/23)
“We at least have recovered our freedom. We are no longer involved in a policy that has brought Europe to beggary. We can at last address ourselves to the task of re-establishing peace in the world. We have tried to carry out that task with France and have failed. We must look elsewhere, and especially westward for aid in an enterprise that cannot be discontinued if the white civilisation is to have a chance of surviving.” (A. G. G. in “Daily News,” 6/1/23.)
Here we see England’s freedom from the Peace Treaty obligations heralded with something akin to joy. But the Government did not wait for the break with France in order to “look westward,” as instance the negotiations that are going on between this country and America.
The replacement of Lloyd George by Bonar Law was the excuse for Britain’s alteration in policy in this as well as in other directions.
As can be gathered from the statement with reference to coal, quoted above, England is striving to obtain a favoured position with reference to Germany; France is also striving for the same object. Apart from the question of reparations, France bas another motive for invading the Ruhr Valley, as the following quotation points out:
"The real hope of Paris is that Germany, when fairly laid on the rack, will soon scream for mercy after the first cry of defiance, and that under French supremacy, political and financial, there will be brought about a huge economic combination between France and Germany, but chiefly an alliance of French iron and steel with German coal, coke and shipping.” (“Observer,” 7/1/23.)
One of the lines along which English “freedom” will travel is being indicated by the attempt to come to some sort of alliance with America and freeze out France. America is righteously indignant at France’s action, and America wants to take a larger share in the Eastern negotiations (see the "Manchester Guardian Weekly,” 8/12/22, on the Crane-King Report on Palestine), in which so far she has only had a representative with a watching brief. The following remarks on the Anglo-American negotiations are instructive :
“There are wider opportunities before the Washington negotiators. The funding of the British debt removes one of the inhibitions on American policy in Europe. Responsibility then rests more heavily on the two creditor countries for intervention of a constructive, even if limited, kind in Europe, where the course of affairs, without their help or influence, threatens their interests more and more gravely. Protest against the state of things which is developing will be useless unless accompanied by proposals for its remedy.”
“England and the United States have a common interest and now a common occasion for action in this sense. It is hardly possible that the conversation at Washington will not broaden out informally into a full survey of the immediate future in Europe. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer is there. Mr. Harvey, fully informed as to European conditions, and fully alive to the dangers now in plain view, is there. The risk, now immediate in Europe, of a decisive plunge into chaos, supplies such an occasion for a departure in policy such as there has not been since America took up Germany's challenge and entered the war.” ("Observer,” 14/1/23.)
Here we see foreshadowed a temporary bloc with America to skim the cream in European and Eastern negotiations. The two nations together make the most powerful financial and political bloc in existence.
The whole matter at the bottom is nothing more than the manipulations of certain powerful groups of capitalists for control of the sources of raw material (with particular reference to oil) and the arteries of distribution.
The policy of England and America scores with the majority of people on account of its apparent peaceful tendency.
Internally the English Government are in a strong position on the indemnity question. On the surface the French have committed what is virtually an act of war by invading the Ruhr Valley. So the English piously throw up their hands and protest their desire to “keep the peace.” In this they have the support of “labour’s opposition party.”
The National Joint Council of the Trades Union Congress General Council, the Executive Committee of the Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party has played directly into the Government’s hands by its protest against the French Government’s policy, winding up by demanding that the British Government "shall refrain from all measures of support or co-operation with the French troops in their present action,” etc., etc. (“Observer,” 14/1/23). Was this manifesto inspired? How the Imperialist group must smile! Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, the Leader of the Parliamentary Labour group, was not behindhand in making a pronouncement on the situation. Speaking at Port Talbot on the 6/1/23, he said :
“Lastly, in our policy regarding Reparations, we ought not to be ashamed to let the world know quite definitely that we must look after our own national interests, and not sacrifice them merely to keep up the balance of an alliance with France or any other country.” (“Observer,” 7/1/23.)
A very statesmanlike statement, no doubt, but what has it all to do with the working class? Who does "our” and “we,” etc., stand for in the above quotation? Evidently the British Imperialists, as the workers' interests are not national, but international, and at the moment are bound up with such questions as unemployment and labour conditions generally.
The plain and obvious facts of the case can be gleaned from the statements we have already quoted above.
The different nations alter their policies and their spokesmen to suit the interests of the particular capitalist sections that predominate. The section served by imperialist policies predominates at present in all capitalist nations. This section in England replaced Lloyd George by Bonar Law. The position, therefore, from the workers' standpoint, is the same all the world over. That position is that the struggle over trade routes and exploitable territory, with coalitions and breaks among capitalist nations, is a struggle that concerns the capitalists alone. These, struggles will continue to occupy the historical stage until capitalist rule is replaced by Socialist administration. This will come into being when the workers conquer political power and administer the affairs of society in the equal interest of all the members of society.