T. A. Jackson
Source: The Communist, June 4, 1921.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
THE Twenty fourth day of May has come and gone. Those who had been reminded of it beforehand remembered that it was “Empire Day” and, unless they had something important to do, behaved as they thought the occasion demanded. The workers—if they had any work to go to. Failing that they went on looking for some, and the quality of their anxiety was in no wise mitigated by the remembrance that they were the “heirs of the mightiest Empire that the world ever saw.”
It would in truth require a front of brass and a conscience compounded of triple-tanned leather to feel exalted on such an occasion and upon such a theme. With locked-out miners, “Havelocked” in seamen, suspended railwaymen and striking ship-stewards, forming salient masses upon a background of unemployed, half-employed, and reduced workers, those who rule us and control us may be able to use their power to muster the juvenile victims of the prevailing system in the elementary schools, to manuvre them through the mazes of an idolatrous incantation before what is falsely called the “national” flag, and to inflict upon them suggestions calculated to work for the greater glory of Greed and the permanent establishment of Capital’s Kingdom here upon Earth. The young are at their mercy, and have a natural appetite for romantic tales which end upon a note of “happy ever after.” But for any grown-up person capable of distinguishing even between a pound of cheese and a railway terminus it has ceased to be possible to pretend that the British Empire can be associated with anything at all resembling honour, decency, pride or satisfaction.
Hard words? Hard facts. The map of the British Empire is painted red with the blood of its victims. Take for an instance not Ireland or India or Africa, but Egypt: for Egypt gives us, a typical Empire Day message. Thus the Press: “Cairo, May 23. Demonstrations have been forbidden . . . . A number of arrested rioters have been birched”—“rioters” of course, meaning “demonstrators.” While the little English child (in an hysteria intensified in many cases by underfeeding) was regarding the “national” flag with religious awe and mechanically induced veneration the little Egyptian child was busy bringing water to wash the wounds inflicted upon its father as a reward for his National zeal, and his naive supposition that the reiterated promises of English statesmen should be acted upon as though they were the words of honourable gentlemen.
When the little English child grows up into a big white man, with real red blood in his veins, he will, unless things alter, regard himself as by divine right the superior of “Gippoes” and “niggers.” He will feel himself called of Higher Powers to kick all such from his path should they presume to “come between the wind and his nobility.” His nationality and its appropriate pride will seem the hall mark of righteousness—in him—even though his ignorance be abysmal, and he be incapable of using with intelligibility the speech of his native land. In the Universities of England, exquisitely spoken Dons will glow with enthusiasm over the task of reconstructing the state and magnificence of Rameses II. or the military splendour of Thothmes III. The language and the customs of the ancient Egyptians will provide material for scholars and embroidery for writers of popular fiction. But the living Egyptians and their hopes and aspirations, will be a mere matter of police—of interest only to subordinate Civil Servants and news editors thirsty for “splash” headlines. Even dead Egyptians only matter—[witness the 36 natives of Alexandria whose corpses were scarcely cold upon Empire Day]—when they have been long enough dead, to quicken an interest in the obscurities of the Pentateuch.
Egypt (a province of Turkey) was occupied by the British in 1882 avowedly to protect the bondholders who had taken advantage of the weakness of Turkey to squeeze profitable concessions and drive hard-fisted financial bargains, for which Egypt (tied to Turkey) was a security. A Nationalist rising, was crushed by British military force, lest the Egyptian people, or any section of them, might refuse to be further exploited in the name of their nominal suzerain for the profit of cosmopolitan finance.
When the deed was done the British Foreign Secretary (Lord Granville) found it necessary to assure the Powers that the British force only remained “for the preservation of public tranquility” and that the British Government were “desirous of withdrawing the force” as soon as the state of the country and the maintenance of the Khedive’s authority “will admit of it.” In the meantime, he added, they felt it their duty to “give advice” and for that purpose they were still in occupation on the outbreak of war in 1914.
Egypt being still at that point (nominally) a dependency of Turkey, was at once involved in the war. It was declared a British Protectorate and placed under martial law; a puppet-Sultan being set up as the figure-head of British Protection. The Egyptian people were invited by a moderately-worded proclamation to do nothing to hamper the British Military activities against their late (nominal) over-lords and they were led to suppose that if Egypt remained tranquil substantial concessions awaited them.
Egypt remained tranquil. The native press was heavily censored; the imported foreign press was censored; the post and telegraph were censored; but Egypt remained tranquil. The Legislative Assembly—which had never been allowed to legislate—was forbidden to assemble. Contrary to the proclamation, Egyptians were recruited for military service—in Labour and Army Service Corp—and ultimately the enlistment became secretly and illegally compulsory. Add to this the commandeering of food, fodder and animals, with tardy and inadequate payment for the things seized, and to cap all the rise of prices and the spread of epidemic disease, and the growth of discontent needs no explanation. And even then Egypt remained (outwardly) tranquil.
With the Armistice came the revolutionary crisis. Those Egyptians who had acquiesced in the British Protectorate as an exceptional measure now hoped for the reward of their patient submission. They expected (as the professions of the British Propaganda Department and the “Principles” of President Wilson had led them to expect) the declaration of the Independence of Egypt. They were not even admitted to the Peace Conference; and their demand so to be was answered by a tightening of the martial law and an intensified censorship.
Under these circumstances a new Nationalist Party came into being. Its leaders (notably Zagloul Pasha) were deported and then (March, 1919) at last, Egyptian patience was exhausted and the country rose in rebellion—to be crushed in the normal “Black and Tan” manner. Although the rebellion, as such, failed disturbances of one kind and another have continued intermittently ever since.
General Allenby tried to keep the British Troops in the background, but as the native police for the most part share in the National enthusiasm this policy had to be modified. Lord Milner attempted to patch up a truce by means of a “mission to inquire” which duly inquired—from behind machine guns and death the shadow of encircling aircraft—the inquiry being rigidly boycotted by all sections of the native community. Industrial strikes, for the first time in the history of Egypt, became an everyday occurrence.
The situation as it stands is that the British Government are seeking to impose upon Egypt a sort of tame administration which will look something like independence, and be nothing of the sort. The native Egyptians persist in their demand for independence; and hence, cavalry charges, fusillades, riots and birchings.
The British Press, with its characteristic impudence (and still more characteristic confidence in the gullibility of its public), seeks to represent the present disturbances as purely directed against Greeks. It carefully conceals the fact that such “Greeks” as there are in Cairo and Alexandria are large employers of labour and their hangers on, so that anything of the nature of proletarian unrest must take the form of hostility to “Greeks” and other “foreigners” to Egypt. Moreover the maintenance of British Rule demands a close solidarity between the agents of that Rule and the financial interests—be they Greek or Barbarian—which provide the only soul actuating its vile body.
Whether at home in Britain or beyond the sea in Ireland, Egypt or India the record of “English ideas of Government” is the same. For those who have all that there is to have—yea and more a1so! From those who have not shall be taken away even the hope which is all they have!
In the dark days of the war nothing provoked official British indignation so much as the suggestion that the Germans really thought themselves able to rule the earth better than anybody else. In the dark days of the peace nothing provokes the same indignant wrath so much as a suggestion that the British Empire is not able to rule everybody better than they can possibly do it themselves. This is the Pax Britannica before which the Morning Post burns incense and at whose shrine “Thy Servant Alfred” functions as Grand Lama!
Not until the Proletarians of Britain learn to respect themselves as men should will there be a chance of relief from the greatest and most disgusting humbug that ever reared it shame blatant over all the earth.