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Ian Birchall

Speaking personally

(February 1986)

From Socialist Worker Review, No. 84, February 1986, p. 35.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

I WAS mystified by Martin Driscoll’s letter (January SWR) accusing me of chauvinism. Having carefully reread my piece on the Rainbow Warrior affair (October SWR) I am even more mystified.

1. I claimed that the affair showed a degree of anti-British feeling in sections of the French population. My immediate reason for noting this was that in listening to various phone-in programmes on French radio and reading the French papers I had noticed the recurrence of the following line of argument:

‘France has legitimate national interests in the South Pacific (New Caledonia, the Mururoa test site). The English-speaking Commonwealth countries in the Pacific (Australia, New Zealand) are hostile to the French presence in the region. Britain supports them in this and Greenpeace (based in Canada) is probably a tool of the British secret services.’

Admittedly the evidence is rather impressionistic, and I can’t supply comrade Driscoll with statistical information as to exactly how many French people believe these propositions, but I thought that the fact that such arguments were in circulation was of some significance.

2. I am certainly convinced (by thirty years of reading French books and newspapers and visiting France) that anti-British feeling does exist in sections of the French population.

3. I did not claim that the French cannot distinguish between Canadians, British and New Zealanders. I noted a tendency to consider that the various English-speaking countries have certain common interests that may be in opposition to the French ‘national interest’.

4. The political point of mentioning this question at all was to argue that the Rainbow Warrior affair might not be as harmful to the Mitterrand government as most people at the time were predicting. In this I think I have been proved right. Six months after this act of gross international terrorism (organised by a so-called ‘socialist’ government) the affair is largely forgotten, and Mitterrand, Fabius and the rest of the gang (except for the scapegoat Hernu) are all still in office.

5. I did not draw the cartoon that accompanied my article. However, it seems absolutely clear to me that this was a satire of national stereotypes. If comrade Driscoll cannot grasp humour of this sort perhaps he should stick to reading the Sun.

6. Finally, I would point out that in my original article I passed no judgment on French anti-British feeling – I simply noted its existence. How that makes me a ‘chauvinist’ I fail to see.

Politically, of course, hostility on the part of the citizens of one imperialist country towards those of another is something that must be opposed. But speaking personally as one who happens to have been born an inhabitant of the oldest and most vicious imperialist power in the world, I must add that my gut feeling is that anyone who hates Brits can’t be all bad.


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