Imperialism and social reform english Social-Imperial Thought 1895-1914

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The Labour Party's foreign policy in the 'thirties still bore the marks of socialist anti-imperialism and pacifism, and its domestic programme was probably -- at this time of depression and of Laski and Strachey -- more subject to the influence of the class-warfare doctrines of Marxism than previously. Yet, clearly, Labour policy today is quite different. In so far as the primary objective of the social-imperialists of half a century ago was the conversion of organized Labour from class war-

fare and international proletarian solidarity to the 'national' interest, they can be said to have succeeded. The roots of this development were, as already indicated, complex and dependent on the great changes which had occurred in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So far as Labour's present attitudes are concerned, there were also more immediate determining circumstances. For one thing, the war of 1939 had indeed been a war for survival, and a German victory would have meant disaster for all classes. Further, participation in government, from 1940-1951, acquainted Labour with the realities of power, and, after 1945, with the overwhelming reality of a disillusioningly frank Soviet imperialism, a prospect which could only help to snuff out the remaining, already flickering, sentiments of socialist internationalism. To complete the picture, prosperity in the 'fifties, marked by three Conservative electoral victories, greatly dampened the socialism of class-warfare.

With a nationalist, Ernest Bevin, as Foreign Secretary, internationalism was relegated to the back-benches during the Labour governments of 1945-51. In fulfilment of longstanding promises, and in response to strong immediate pressure, the Labour government did act to give dominion status to India and Pakistan and freedom to Burma; yet it held on to other parts of the empire with at least as much tenacity as the succeeding Tory governments. It fell to Labour's share to bring Roberts' dream of national service to fruition, since conscription proved necessary to maintain an occupation army in Germany. In Opposition, after 1951, an image of the old internationalism flourished briefly in the group surrounding Aneurin Bevan, but the dominant leadership, as well as the rank-and-file, supported the 'national' policy of the government, while reserving its right to 'deplore' excesses, such as the Suez expedition, or to speak in favour of accommodation, when Tory policy seemed too unbending. With increasing awareness of dependence upon America, the area of freedom to determine foreign policy, especially in a time of nuclear warfare, became so narrow that Labour came to believe that it could not, even if it would, manage affairs significantly differently from the Conservatives. Soon Aneurin Bevan himself was converted to the dominant view.

On occasions, the old Radical spirit flared -- over 'brutalities' in Cyprus, for example. But the country was unsympathetic, and the Labour leaders deplored in subdued tones, in contrast to the violent Radical protests over the Jamaica 'massacres,' in 1865, the Boer War, and the firing at Amritsar. Labour was dependent on an electorate which, now that peacetime conscription had enlisted their sons in the armed services, was as little disposed as Blatchford had been to hear the acts of British troops maligned. Nor was Labour prepared to defend Free Trade, as in the past. Lancashire's workers now demanded protection against imported cottons, and, furthermore, it was better understood, as Blatchford and the Fabians had asserted earlier, that socialism -- a planned, national economy -- required the regulation of foreign trade and of capital transfers. The most dire foreboding of the Tariff Reformers had been justified. If the dominions did remain loyal for more than two decades longer without preference, revealing that Free Trade talk of imperial sentiment was not thoroughly unrealistic, there was no question but that England was no longer a power of the first rank, though it was very doubtful whether the adoption of the Chamberlain programme in 1903 would have substantially altered this outcome. Labour's traditional foreign policy could not but be affected by this development.

Labour's new foreign policy views were matched by its new position in domestic affairs. The Labour government of 1945 had embarked on a programme of nationalization, and had acted to effect a more equitable distribution of national wealth by an extension of social services. But nationalization alone was to prove not very attractive. The traditional cry of socialism had been 'equality.' While this appeal -- the Conservatives described it as an appeal to greed -- had been a stirring one during bad times, it seemed out of place in the relative prosperity of the 'fifties. After two defeats, a 'new Socialism' was being advocated, a domestic counterpart to the changing front in international affairs, a 'national' socialism in opposition to the class-conscious, egalitarian doctrine of Keir Hardie, a 'socialism' reminiscent of the still-born Fabian party of national efficiency, and even of the views of Joseph Chamberlain.

The 'new Socialism' berated Conservatism in much the same terms as the Tariff Reformers had attacked Free Trade. The

short-sighted policies of a capitalism, concerned only with private profit while neglecting the national interest, were contrasted with Socialism's concern for planned expansion -so that Britain might maintain her position among the industrial powers. The Tories were chastized for encouraging the export of capital and the trade unions were urged to postpone wage claims so that more money would be free for productive investment. The 'new Socialism' sought to transform socialist economics: the egalitarian, social-revolutionary aspects, predominant as recently as 1950, were now overshadowed by the economics of industrial expansion and of the 'national interest' -- a reversion to the Fabian model. 35

The social-imperialism of the twentieth century had united, in altered and sometimes distorted forms, three central tendencies of the century preceding-socialism, nationalism,



On the 'new Socialism,' see R. H. S. Crossman, "London Diary", The New Statesman, November 29, 1958, p. 751. Wrote Crossman in describing the programme upon which Labour expected to fight a forthcoming general election: 'What strikes me is that this new Socialism has been shaped by two men whose names are largely unknown to the general public. They are Dr. Thomas Balogh and Professor Richard Titmuss. Balogh is the Galbraith of British economics, and for years has been pungently pointing out the evils of ostentatious waste and industrial stagnation. But, unlike his American counterpart, he has been able to proceed from negative criticism of the affluent society to the positive concept of planned expansion which is the central idea of the new Socialism.' See also the exposition of this concept in Thomas Balogh, The New Statesman, November 15, 1958, p. 662. Wrote Balogh, in a jeremiad much like those of Joseph Chamberlain: 'The seven years of Tory rule have left Britain a much weaker country, knocked out of third place among industrial powers of the world by Germany, about to be pushed down to fifth place by China. This period, moreover, has left Britain far less able to grapple with the future . . . [it has] not been used decisively to increase investment, and thus to strengthen our competitive position in the struggle for economic coexistence with far stronger and more menacing powers. It has left the Commonwealth weakened, economic expansion at home has stopped. . . .' Balogh further denounced the Tory budgets which 'have encouraged the export of capital'; suggested that 'the trade unions, moreover, must understand that premature claims for higher wages will inevitably wreck any programme of broad and quickening social advance.' Just two years of a 'lull' in wage claims would mean 'another £600 million would be free to flow toward investment: our productive investment would thus be doubled, bringing our relative rate up to that of Germany or Russia.' If necessary, tax concessions 'to investment must be given to foster those industries whose expansion and increased efficiency is needed to meet increasing demands for capital and durable consumer goods and to meet foreign competition' -- especially steel, chemicals, and machine tools.

and even democracy, if not necessarily parliamentary democracy, at least that dependence upon public acceptance which characterizes mass industrial societies. It had, however, turned fully against libertarian individualism, that is, nineteenthcentury liberalism, and had had no truck with the generous sentiments of internationalism which had inspired both liberalism and socialism. It was indeed the absence of the specifically 'liberal' elements which characterized its special versions of socialist, nationalist and democratic concepts, and which left it open to the distortions we have noted in the period between the wars.

Today, the Cobdenites and the international socialists are virtually extinct breeds. 'War is a sport,' Bernard Shaw wrote in his last play. 'It used to be the sport of kings. Now it is the sport of Labour Parties.' And, certainly, the victory of collectivism over individualism has become one of the hallmarks of our time. To paraphrase Sir William Harcourt, all nations have become, more or less enthusiastically, social-imperialist now. If this is so, it would be futile to denounce a phenomenon which has possibilities for good as well as for evil. Nazism -German 'national socialism' -- was a most pernicious form of the doctrine, a largely successful attempt to call into being a state like the warrior states of antiquity. This Nazi version was, and unfortunately still is, a tempting programme for nations which regard themselves as relatively penurious and exploited. But social-imperialism is no more inevitably 'fascism,' than individualism is inevitably anarchy. The great positive accomplishment of less virulent forms of social-imperialism has been the victory over the dangers of open class-warfare in the industrialized West. Having seen some of the fruits of contemporary social-revolutions, we can better understand the fears of the social-imperialists at the beginning of the century and appreciate their efforts to conciliate the dissatisfied classes. Yet, when the alternative to class warfare -- and in the case of some social-imperialists, the desired alternative -- was the era of international wars in which we are living, we cannot suppress a shudder, or fail to pay proper respects to their opponents who upheld what was, in large part, the more admirable ideal, that of peace and friendly intercourse between nations, an ideal,

furthermore by no means incompatible with the pacific adjustment of differences between social classes.

In the West, we still have the will to circumvent the dangerous tendencies of social-imperialism -- that is, we still believe that individual liberty and peace, and consequently individualistic democracy and internationalism are worthwhile. We will not easily submit to the process which threatens to create a world of efficient camp-states, of warrior nations with nuclear armaments. There are, of course, many obstacles. In time, it must prove possible to duplicate, on an international scale, the decision taken in the first quarter of the century within the advanced nations of the West. It must prove possible to satisfy the poorer nations of Asia and Africa so that their peoples will not be persuaded to follow the path taken by the so-called 'have-not' nations of central Europe, during the 'thirties, a much more dangerous course in our day. Technological progress can provide the plenty required to resolve international tensions created by too great disparities in wealth between nations as it already has significantly resolved such tensions within the nations of the West. Fortunately, there seems to be awareness of the problem and of the nature of its solution. We can only hope that there will be enough time and determination.


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