Britain in Deep Water

All within a few days, Ken Jones was dropped from the Welsh Rugby Union XV, and Sir Anthony Eden resigned the Prime Ministership of Great Britain; that should be sensation enough for one week. Jones, they said, was out of form and Eden was ill. If the former’s disappointment was a symptom of the unhappy plight of Welsh Rugby, then the latter’s retirement was as surely indicative of the decline of British power in the world, steepened by recent events and the failure of the Eden administration to deal with them successfully. This article will discuss aspects of the recent crisis and, perhaps rather riskily, engage in some speculation about it


Hostile to Britain


While Eden was an acutely sick man no illness has been diplomatically more opportune for, as his enemies in the newspapers put it, his policy was in ruins. Apart from other matters, the venture to seize the Suez Canal was a complete failure. Militarily, this operation could hardly have gone amiss—something else must have been responsible for the failure and the apparent lack of any clear-cut British intention. With hardly a doubt, this was the policy of the United States, which opposed the Anglo-French operation because the Americans are themselves determined to control the Middle East and the copious oilfields to be found there. This policy is no recent development; in the Evening Standard (5th October, 1953), Lord Hailsham, who is known to be sensitive on the point wrote that; ” . . . since the middle of the war the policy of the American Government in the Mediterranean has been almost always hostile to British interests.” A few weeks ago we heard of Mr. Dulles’ preference for being a Doughboy alone in the Middle East, rather than with British and French troops alongside. Even taking into account his later modification, it does seem that he let an outsize cat out of his Bag and was in fact stating the authentic State Department attitude towards Middle Eastern affairs. ‘


Whatever the truth, it is a fact that Great Britain has now almost entirely lost out in the Middle East and United States influence in the areas is strong to the point of being dominant. The latest blast of U.S. foreign policy—the Eisenhower doctrine, with its promise of military and economic intervention—has set the seal on the situation. It may be remarked that, whilst on the face of it the doctrine is aimed against Russian ambitions, there is a certain amount of evidence that this is not quite so. An open attack by Russia, which is needed to bring the doctrine into operation, is most unlikely. On the other hand, recent statements by American politicians have sounded like an invitation to the Kremlin to move in by other means. On May 1st, 1956, Mr. Christian Herter said at the Chicago Institute of Foreign Relations: “We should offer to co-ordinate our aid with whatever assistance the Soviet Union is willing to provide. If the Soviet Union proposed to build a steel mill, we should not feel bound to offer to build the same mill on more favourable conditions. We should, on the contrary, be willing to work out both with the Soviets and with the recipient country a programme to which both the Soviets and ourselves can each contribute.” (Weekly Review, 4/1/57.).


Nobody need be surprised at the prospect of a Russo-American line up in the Middle East; the exigencies of. Capitalism have been known to throw together stranger bedfellows.


Indian Ambitions


We should also not disregard the ambitions of the rising Indian Capitalist class in this struggle. Mr. Nehru has lately been coming and going from side to side of the Iron Curtain, although only recently he was suspected by Americans of being too sympathetic to Russian interests. It is an interesting thought that he may have been carrying messages between Washington and Moscow. What is more certain is that India promises to become a powerful factor in the troubles of the Middle East and to play her part in replacing the defeated British power. This would indeed be a bitter irony to the Foreign Office, that the departing Britishers should be replaced by two countries—India and the U.S.A.—who were once under London’s colonial thumb!


Serious though the defeat in the Middle East is for the British Capitalists, it is only the latest of the reverses which their policy has suffered since the end of the war. Apart from Egypt, there are the Far East, Australia and the Caribbean—all areas where the words of Whitehall lack their former power. The U.S. State Department has undoubtedly been the cause of much of this decline—and their preoccupation with the curtailment of British international power has often been pursued under the guise of some high-flown discussion, on human rights and liberties. In the Manchester Guardian of 25th. November, 1953, Mr. A. J. P. Taylor, wrote that “The (Atlantic) Charter was . . .  a by product of the Atlantic meeting (of Churchill and Roosevelt). The real purpose . . .  was to co-ordinate supplies and naval strategy. But the Americans had been alarmed by Keynes’s prophecy that ‘the post-war world economic structure could only be one of closed economies. They wished to tie Great Britain down to a liberal economic system, not to make a declaration of principles against Hitler.” Other meetings of the war leaders, such as the Yalta conference, confirmed the American desire to break the imperial preference tie-up which the United Kingdom had built and to nose her out of her colonies. The reverse in the Middle East may be very nearly the last straw for British Capitalists, jeopardising as it has their supplies of vital oil. (The Economist of 10th November, 1956, estimated that 70 per cent. of this country’s oil supply was cut off by the blockage of the Suez Canal).


A Conspiracy?


This reliance for an essential fuel upon the facilities of so unstable an area as the Middle East is rather strange. Opinion in some technical quarters has it that no real effort is being made in Britain to find substitutes for oil, and there is a certain amount of evidence to fortify it. Apparently obstruction seems to have hindered at least one attempt to produce a substitute for petrol. The Manchester Guardian of 11th February, 1957, reported on the results of efforts in this field by a Yorkshire firm of manufacturing chemists. The manager of the firm said that ”. . .  the Government stopped one ingredient so we formulated another. . . . When we approached the suppliers . . . we were told they had given an undertaking to the Board of Trade that they would not let it go . . .  we . . . now have had to write off the idea.”


A move to offset the encroachments of the U.S. Capitalist class is to be seen in the projected European Common market. If the State Department smiles upon such schemes, it can only be because they regard them as turning the attention of European countries away from the markets which America wishes to exploit and as bringing pressure upon Great Britain to weaken her imperial preference system. Anyway, the last laugh must be with Washington—the control they now have upon Europe’s oil supplies puts any such economic organisation under their thumb. We have seen what this means to European industry in the activities of the Texas Railroad Commission.


The threatened loss of their oil and enforced dependence upon United States mercies seems to have thrown British ruling circles into something akin to a panic. To add to their difficulties, the national unity which is usual at such times of crisis has been conspicuously absent. Such powerful organs of opinion as the Manchester Guardian, Observer and Economist, strongly opposed the Suez war and demanded Eden’s head in compensation. This indicates a serious division in British Capitalist thinking—possibly a revolt by industrial interests against the favoured oilmen. It is under such circumstances that a Churchill, or a Lloyd George can, by reason of his political acumen, assume the rôle of a great unifier and on the strength of this come to power. Sure enough, we have lately seen a considerable improvement in the standing of the perspicacious Mr. Aneurin Bevan, so that even the Tory papers who were once screaming for his blood now champion his cause against that of Mr. Gaitskell.


Crumbling Visions


The conflict in Egypt and the confusion which it has thrown up are nothing new to us; they are an accepted part of the Capitalist social system. The unpalatable fact is that it is the working class, in these bad times as well as in the supposedly good, who are on the dirty end of the stick. The petrol shortage has exposed some redundancy in the car and other industries and so hundreds of workers are seeing their vision of lifelong prosperity dissolve in the reality of the queue at the Labour Exchange. If it is any consolation, other visions are crumbling too. Great Britain’s Middle East policy of playing off and on and propping up puppet rulers, native armies and corrupt governments, has collapsed and the United States is picking up the pieces. A perilous, strenuous time for British Capitalism and those who try to organise it. Perhaps, after all, Sir Anthony was on to a good thing when he threw in the towel and caught the first boat for the Pacific.


Knife and Ivan.