A Few Words on the Atlantic Charter
The Atlantic Charter drafted by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill lays down the principles of the post-war international settlement as viewed by the U.S.A. and Britain. It has now received the general support of Russia and of the small Powers allied against Germany. It suggests obvious comparisons with the attempt to settle world affairs after the last war and with the scheme the German Government has put forward for enforcement if they are the victors. If it were as easy to dispose of awkward problems as it is to draft fine sounding proclamations we could perhaps agree about the superiority of the Atlantic Charter over the Versailles settlement and over the German plan. There is this to be said for the Atlantic Charter, that it is phrased in terms which do not envisage dividing up the spoils of world trade for the benefit of the victors. In Point 4 it pledges Great Britain and the U.S.A. that they will endeavour, “with due respect for their existing obligations” (more about this later) “to further enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity.”
This has been compared with the third of President Wilson’s 14 points drafted in 1918, which promised similar equality of trade conditions, but only “among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.” In other words, Germany and her allies were in effect barred.
Similarly it may be compared with the plan for world settlement recently elaborated by one of the leading Nazi economists, Werner Daitz. This was summarised in the Times (September 10th, 1941); under this plan the world is to be divided into six groups, the East-Asiatic, the Indo-Malay, the European, the African, the North American and the South American. The European, which is to take in all Western Russia and Great Britain, is to be under German dominance and according to Daitz it will have complete control over Africa, and there is to be no nonsense of equal trading conditions: —
“Europe will exercise a dominating power over the world. She will need much less food and raw materials from oversea than heretofore, but she will remain the greatest selling market for the countries producing rawstuffs. Consequently, she will be able to dictate the terms on which she buys. What will happen to Australia if Germany refuses her wool ? Or to the Argentine if she declines her beef ? Or to the United States if she will have no cotton? Europe will be able to use the fact that she is the world’s greatest consumer and the world’s intensest centre of industrial production as a political lever to control the other Lebensraume.”
Promise and Performance
But while the words and sentiments differ, what about the prospect of fulfilment? It will not be forgotten that when President Wilson had been disposed of other men and other interests actually dominated the settlement, and paid not even lip-service to the liberal sentiments expressed by Wilson in others of his 14 Points.
Already there has been questioning about that innocent little clause in the Atlantic Charter which reads: “With due respect for their existing obligations.” At the meeting of the nine allied Governments held in London, on September 24th, the representative of the Dutch Government raised objection and said “it was the view of his Government that this reservation might diminish the beneficial effect of the whole clause.”—(News-Chronicle, September 25th, 1941.)
The City Editor of the same journal supported the Dutch Government’s protest though pointing out that that Government too is asking preferential treatment for its own interest. He added: —
“Politicians, business men and leading civil servants are already busily engaged in explaining away Point 4. Some of them are even reported to have argued with scant tact; in the United States that we must maintain exchange control and trade bilateralism as permanent features of our economic set-up, since we “cannot afford” to do without them.
Bilateralism is the system of trade which says, “I won’t buy from you unless you buy as much from me.” That system is in direct and irreconcilable conflict with the equal access principle, which says, “I submit to no conditions from those to whom I sell and impose no conditions on those from whom I buy.”
If Point 4 of the Atlantic Charter means anything at all, it means adherence to the latter, “multilateral,” system of trade, and it is disquieting to find even distinguished economists setting at defiance both our signature to the Atlantic Charter and the most elementary doctrines of their own science”.— (News Chronicle, September 25th, 1941.)
So already it is plain that Clause 4 is going to have a rough passage and if its opponents have their way, to quote the News-Chronicle, “all that in practice is likely to be left of a fine principle is a fine phrase.”
Who will Slay the Capitalist Giants?
All the emphasis in the Atlantic Charter is laid on the relations between nations, but what about the great capitalist combines at home? The Atlantic Charter sees the need to protect the small nations against dominance by the larger ones if they are to trade and have access to raw materials on equal terms. But if capitalism is to continue, as Roosevelt and Churchill take for granted that it will, how is this to be done? How will they deal with the great capitalist concerns like Unilever, Imperial Chemical Industries and similar concerns in other lands? Who is going to slay these giant international semi-monopolies which are the real dominators of world trade? What is the use of saying that trade is on equal terms, a fair field and no favour, when these octopus organisations are left with their tentacles sprawling across the globe, not to mention the fact that they will naturally seek to use their great influence with governments to advance their interests.
This is the acid test of the talk of putting capitalist trade on a better basis. Is there any intention among the upholders of capitalism of reversing a half century of development towards bigger and bigger monopolies? Some twenty years ago a Labour leader, Mr. J. R. Clynes, said that his party thought it better to have a large number of small capitalists than a small number of large ones. Would Mr. Clynes or any other Labour leader say that to-day? Indeed, how could they when they are committed to a programme of amalgamation and formation of great public utility corporations ?
Is Agriculture to be Destroyed by Cheap Foreign Imports ?
There is another awkward fact to be faced by those who think that fine words about equal trade conditions are a contribution to settling the world’s problems. Are any countries to be allowed to impose protective tariffs or give subsidies to agriculture or other industries in order to save them from bankruptcy in face of a flood of cheaper products from abroad ? The News-Chronicle, true to its free-trade doctrines, says that the Atlantic Charter rules out these practices, as it logically does, but where do the Conservative Party and the Labour Party stand ? The Conservatives and many individuals in the Labour Party are already committed to a policy of protecting agriculture in Britain against a flood of imports from countries able to grow food more cheaply. What do they understand by Clause 4? And if they demand protective measures or subsidies for agriculture how will they object to Germany and other countries following a similar line for various industries ? In short, how will the trade scramble after this war be any different from that before the war’?
Twenty odd years ago the Labour Party had an answer. They were prepared to take the free trade line and let agriculture or any other industry sink or swim without aid. In their 1918 “Labour and the new sogial order,” they said “we ourselves object to all Protective Customs Tariffs,” and on the question of agriculture they said specifically that nothing must be done which would raise the price of foodstuffs here above the price level of foodstuffs imported from abroad.
They would no doubt give a somewhat different answer now but change is not necessarily progress, and the task of making capitalism work harmoniously is at least as difficult now as it was then. Socialists have no doubt about their attitude. Capitalism cannot be made to work satisfactorily. It must be abolished. Those who think differently, and this includes all those who have hastened to applaud the sentiments of the Atlantic Charter, should at least face up to these problems and decide where they stand.
(Editorial, Socialist Standard, October 1941)