‘Why not give it up?’

There is an old but characteristic joke about a shopkeeper complaining about his business and declaring he was losing money on it. ‘Well, why don’t you give it up?’ asked his friend. ‘How can I?’ he answered angrily, ‘It’s my living.’

In the same way the apologists of the British Empire have for many years been telling us that the colonies were a losing concern and the British Empire a giant philanthropic institution, a sort of Barnardo’s Home for Backward Peoples, but when the recipients of our charity have tried to decline it, the apologists have declared Britain couldn’t possibly give up the Empire, it was her living.

In spite of the repeated demonstrations of the occupied, colonised, mandated and protected peoples that they wanted us out, the British Government has sent reinforcements in men, money and materials to the dependencies. This major export of human beings for occupation duties, has not been welcomed by the recipients or by the export itself. What is the reason, then? More realistic observers have told us we must guard our trade routes, such as the Suez, but it is hardly encouraging to those who sacrifice time, money and life for every inch of ground, to know that it is in order to open trade routes, for the advancement of other people’s careers or fortunes.

On the 6th March, H. Dalton told the Commons that Britain’s total expenditure for the last two years in Greece and Palestine was £87,000,000 and £82,000,000 respectively. Into these two countries, in whose future hardly anyone in Britain is really interested, we have been sending forced levies in the shape of conscript armies, totally unwanted by the overwhelming majority of all sections of opinion in both countries, with neither of whom we happen to be at war.

Had it not been for what is called ‘foreign policy’ not only would at least thirty more groups have been demobilised, many lives saved and many homes reunited, but there would have been enough left over for a fiver all round! And this does not include other countries with whom we are not at war but are occupying against the will both of the people and of the government, such as Egypt.

Suppose this had been put to the British public in the form of a referendum two years ago:
(a) Will you take a bonus of five or ten pounds, have thirty groups demobilised, and evacuate Greece, Palestine, Egypt, the Sudan, India, etc., or
(b) Spend £179,000,000 on maintaining troops in Palestine and Greece – and more elsewhere – which would have to be evacuated in the finish,
who can doubt what the answer would have been? 

But Democracy is not freedom. Just as Mussolini did not ask for approval of his African adventures, merely endeavouring to work up support by atrocity tales, so in a democracy the elected government does not need to obtain support for its foreign policy. Once elected it pursues a foreign policy equally foreign to the people at home as that of fascist imperialism. Our suggestion, that it should be left to those most directly concerned to decide whether they want to stay there against against the wishes of the population and their own inclination, is not democracy but ANARCHY


Freedom 1947-04-19