Labour Imperial Establishment, and Protecting British Power, and Interests in the Decolonisation Process: Bevinian Atlanticist View in A Bi-Partisan British Post WWII.

Labour Imperial Establishment, and Protecting British Power, and Interests in the Decolonisation Process: Bevinian Atlanticist View in A Bi-Partisan British Post WWII.

As for import needs, they remained the same as in 1938, in addition to the fact that terms of trade had also moved against Britain; “invisible earnings had fallen through the loss of one-quarter of the merchant-marine, and liquidation of over £1 billion in foreign investment. Britain’s external liabilities were nearing £3.5 billion by the middle of 1945 – a seven-fold increase – yet her reserves totalled less than £500 million.”7

According to the calculations, over the next three years, before Britain could pay its way internationally, further debts of at least another £1.25 billion would be incurred. Furthermore, given the many changes in the country’s economic predicament, “it was expected that in order to achieve long-term solvency the volume of British export would have to be at least 5 per cent higher than before the war. This figure was later revised to 75 per cent. Yet, in June 1945, no less than 45 per cent of the nation’s employable man-power was still directly or indirectly directed to the war effort. Conversion to the needs of peace had barely begun.”8 As a result “the material fruits of victory were not much in evidence.”9

If not among the public, defence, foreign and colonial policy received considerable attention in the Labour Party. This was as a result of the emergence of two new super powers, the United States, with its possession of atomic weapons, and the Soviet Union, which would clearly have such weapons soon. Moreover, the Labour leader, Clement Attlee, had already been, even before the Second World War, speaking of Labour’s commitment to the ‘abandonment of imperialism’ in the colonies. This was partly because of the Labour’s colonial doctrine, and, therefore, it is essential to bring this to our attention. Although the economic pressures on the Labour Government were a principal cause of its post-war decolonisation policies, ideological factors played a leading role in influencing Labour leaders in formulating their policies.

“The Labour party always considered itself primarily a socialist party and only to a limited extents as Marxist. Its organization and doctrine grew out of the pragmatically oriented British trade-union movement and an old humanitarian Christian reform ideal, which at times entered a phase of social and political radicalism and took over the liberal inheritance. This characteristic tradition of the British working-class movement, which survived in years to come in spite of the adoption of some Marxist theories, also determined the Labour party’s colonial doctrine.”10

The British Labour party until 1914 did not have an anti-colonialist doctrine which could differentiate it from the continental socialist parties. “In 1900, led by Bernard Show and Sidney Webb, the Fabian Society even openly supported imperialism and rejected the pro-Boer attitude of leading liberals.”11 But, in the years which followed, Sydney Oliver, C.R. Buxton, Mary Kingsley and E.D. Morel’s influence, who represented the liberal or radical tradition, made itself felt. They were more interested in the actual situation in the colonies than in a theory of imperialism. They demanded more active reforms, to improve the lot of the native population, instead of the withdrawal of the colonial power. “Hobson provided the Labour party with a ‘doctrine’, since he interpreted colonial imperialism in economic terms; however, Hobson was not socialist nor even a Marxist, but a radical reformer who anticipated the concept of trusteeship in his demand for an ‘enlightened’ colonial policy.”12 During the first World War the Labour party had already adopted the mandate principle of future League of Nations and also made international control a focal point of its colonial programme. In this there were two aims: “to prevent a new rivalry for colonial acquisitions among the world powers, and to replace capitalist exploitation by a policy of reform which would ‘develop’ backward ‘people’ and prepare them for self-government.”13

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