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Albert Glotzer

Great Britain and the U.S. at Ottawa

The Struggle Between the Two Imperialisms

(August 1932)


From The Militant, Vol. V No. 32 (Whole No. 128), 6 August 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


The Imperial Economic Conference held in Ottawa, Canada, for the past few weeks is of the deepest significance. Gathered here are the representatives of the domains comprising the British empire. The ostensible purpose of the gathering is to unite in closer bond the King’s “minions”. But as the conference progresses its object becomes clearer and all the more decisive. It is necessary to seek the driving force of the conference and for this we will divert for a moment from the actual proceedings.

The post-war period witnessed profound changes in the world economic and political situation. Upon the debris of the war arose unforeseen a new power, fresh and vigorous, unexhausted by the conflict. The United States of America became transformed then from a debtor into a creditor nation to whom the entire capitalist world is today indebted. In the course of a few years she dominated the European scene and opened war upon the world markets. Today America is the dominant world power.
 

America’s Rise to Power

American capitalism, through her own enormous resources, without experiencing the long winding road from feudalism to capitalism but building fresh upon a capitalist structure, her industries the most modern in the world, her technique of the highest, drove ahead to the topmost pinnacle of capitalist development. She displaced England as the financial baron of the world. In the field of militarism she has also surpassed the Empire. World politics is now dominated by the United States. And most important of all, in the field of foreign trade she has also displaced Great Britain. It is only necessary to cite the relative changes in the world market to understand fully what this displacement has meant. Prior to the World War the United States had 12% of the world export trade and Great Britain 18%. Toward the close of the past decade the figure was reversed with America in England’s place and England where America once stood.

Great Britain has not kept pace with this development of America. Her industrial technique for years remained unchanged. 19th century England could not keep abreast of the industrial apparatus of Uncle Sam. Her markets were grasped from her. Even her own dominions cast loving eyes to the United States. America invaded her South American markets seizing them one by one. Europe was already under the heel of Wall Street. In Asia the dollar penetrated deeply, ripping big hole in the British trade structure. And as has already been cited, in her dominions this same process took place.

It must be borne in mind, that the tremendous rise of American capitalism comes at a time when world capitalism is in decline. The hegemony of the United States exists at the expense of the rest of the world. Only by crushing Europe and putting her on rations has she been able to dominate there. By carrying on an intense assault upon the world market was she able to replace England. And there the conflict rages. The United States, seeks to perpetuate itself in power on the basis of domination of the world markets, made all the more necessary through her huge productive apparatus and by the contraction of the home market. England stands ready to defend her fortresses of world trade. Jarred and groggy she cannot stand many more steady blows.
 

Britain’s Demands

The stage is set; the play goes on. Great Britain is seeking closer ties with the dominions. The industrialization of the dominions brought them in constant conflict with the mother country. They challenged the seniority rights of England. To avoid open rifts, the Imperial Conference in 1926 established and recognized full equality of the dominions. That conference diminished their subordination to Great Britain. But it hardly solved anything. While politically holding the Empire together, it could not and did not solve the hard economic problems. They exist today. Represented by Stanley Baldwin, Britain demands that the dominions establish greater trade within the Empire. It demands that the dominions give preference to British-made goods for which in turn preference will given theirs. Britain will charge no duties on dominion goods if the dominions will likewise remove all tariffs on British goods. They plan to solve the crisis in that manner. But more than that the Imperial Economic conference is a direct challenge to the United States.

To establish a balance of trade within the Empire means to strike a blow against American capitalism. At present Canada is principally involved. The same condition however exists in the other dominions and in discussing Canada we speak for the general trends elsewhere. Of foreign capital in Canada, the share of Great Britain fell from 77% to 39% while that of the United States rose from 16% to 57%. The U.S. finds an outlet market here for 40% of her exports. On the reverse side of the picture 68% of Canadian imports come from the United States, as against 15.2% from Great Britain. Of 100 principle import items in 1930, Canada was supplied in the following ratio: The United States 79%, Great Britain 14%, and the rest of the world 7%. The following table of Canadian imports supplied by the United States is of extreme importance because of the key character of the industries:

Ratio of imports supplied by
the United States to Canada in 1930

  

  

91%

  

Electrical products

90%

Steel and Iron

90%

Machinery

99%

Automobile parts

98%

Automobiles

90%

Coal

98%

Farm implements

76%

Crude petroleum

99%

Gasoline

98%

Raw cotton

Great Britain exceeded only in textiles. In money values the relative import trade in 1930 was as follows:

Total Imports:

 

$1,248,273,582

United States

$847,442,037

Great Britain

$189,179,738

Dominions

$63,523,066

Foreign

$148,127,841

In addition it must be stated that of Canadian exports, 45% went to the United States. The aims of the conference become clear now. The conference aims at a general diminution of American trade within the Empire so as to allow for a general increase of Great Britain’s trade as one of the steps leading out of her severe crisis. The steps already taken to curb American products such as steel, machinery, electric will fail however from reaching their mark. There are 1,400 branch factories of American concerns in Canada. Any encroachments upon American trade will result in increased production of the Canadian plants to offset such restrictions as result from the conference. Almost the entire electrical industry in Canada is dominated or influenced by the United States. As soon as the announcement was made of an increase in the steel trade between Canada and Great Britain, which would necessarily result in a fall of American steel trade, the U.S. Steel Corporation declared its intention of expanding its Canadian mills at Ojibwa. Similarly this would take place with the automobile industry, electrical supplies and machinery.
 

Effects of Crisis

Thus Britain’s attempt to offset American trade in the dominions will be met with a powerful opposition. The crisis has had terrific effects on both nations. While America is adjusting herself for a big drive, Great Britain has already girded itself for battle. She is driving her first blow through the Empire. In the midst of the present crisis Canadian imports declined 27%. In this general decline American imports receded to 64.5% while that of Great Britain rose to 16.5%. The figures themselves while expressing the general effects of the crisis show the efforts of Britain to pull itself up by its bootstraps while the United States is acutely involved in the worst crisis of her history.

The loss of the immense Canadian market compromising 40% of American exports would indeed be a severe blow to the United States. While heretofore foreign markets absorbed only 10% of the surplus production in the United States, the present crisis has established this all-important fact: Imperialist America will open a planned and concerted drive upon the foreign markets of an immense character reinforced by the greatest military activity heretofore witnessed. There is no other way out for her. Her huge industrial apparatus which during the “prosperity days” functioned at only 60% of capacity, needs a far greater outlet than the shrinking home market. The absorption of surplus production must be sought elsewhere. It can find no place except in the field of foreign trade. The world markets continuing in a state of contraction are already divided. The United States arrived on the scene late: the division of the earth had already taken place. She must now win these from the other imperialist powers. And foremost of these is England.

In Europe she has already replaced her to a vast extent. She is dominant in Britain’s own dominions. In South America the trend is toward the United States. During the years 1913–27, the U.S. share of South American imports showed an increase from 24% to 38%, while that of Great Britain declined from 25% to 16%. In the rest of the world the same trend. At the expense of Great Britain the United States has gained hegemony. To maintain this it will be necessary for her to expand even more. But further expansion can come only in continued struggle with Great Britain. That involves a deep conflict. It has been raging for almost a decade. It will become more tense now. The Imperial Economic Conference is an example of this fierce antagonism. Here lies its significance.

To transform this into the language of politics is the task of the Communists. Even today the Stalinized Communist International, warped by its nationalist orientation, fails to grasp and fully understand the changes in post-war capitalism. In 1923 L.D. Trotsky, already established this fundamental change. In his brochure Europe and America, a few years later, he explained these new factors, tracing the decline of Great Britain’s power and its replacement by the United States. He pointed out that this significant change demanded the application of a policy on the part of the Communists concentrating specifically and orientating around this new situation. Had this been understood, it would perhaps in part have prevented such a miserable debacles in recent Comintern history as we have seen.

The dollar displaces the pound. America versus Britain. That is the tune of the world struggle. And therein lies the importance of the Imperial Economic Conference at Ottawa.


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