In my little library of 1000 volumes on Churchill, Toye's is a very good addition and find indeed. This book makes you think, presents new information and ranks up with the best of the works which analyze Churchill and the era in which he lived. There is no need for Marxist revisionism, and imposing current mores – which may or may not be superior to ones in times past – on figures from other epochs. This is not history but distortion. In contrast, Toye amasses a mountain and information and parses it, looking at Churchill the man in politics and how he truly viewed the Empire. It is a fabulous theme.
Toye focuses on 2 aspects of Churchill's long career and does a superb job of sourcing, investigating and compiling the material. First, there is Churchill the defender of the British Empire and what it stood for in his own mind, namely: fair play, social and moral progress, civilization, military might, white-paternalism, economic and technological development.
“The strength and splendour of our authority is derived not from physical forces, but from moral ascendancy, liberty, justice, English tolerance, and English honesty.” [Election speech November 1903, p. 93]
Second, there is Churchill the flinty politician always on the lookout for political advantage. The political context is always important when analyzing Churchill's position on any topic. He was 'fluid' in the means to achieve goals, visions and his own ends.
Churchill's support of the 'empire' could wax or wane depending on the political moment and his own personal [and rather egotistical] necessities. For example, Churchill declined the offer of Colonial Secretary during World War I in 1916 after he was disgraced by the Gallipoli-Dardanelles fiasco, and hesitated for quite a long time in 1920 before accepting the Ministership of the same. The Near East today is in some measure a product not just of Churchill, but rather the experts in the department of Middle Eastern affairs he set up and staffed within the Colonial office, and who collectively, shaped the nation states, borders, and to some extent even, the geo-political divides of the Near East. Churchill usually bowed to expert advice. In any event here we have Churchill, depicted by Toye, as a less than enthusiastic standard bearer of empire and high Minister of all things Colonial.
Toye begins his book with the historical background of the Empire, the competing visions of imperial expansion within British Society, and the attitudes of Churchill's father Lord Randolph. From this base he traces Churchill's education at the hands of mostly pro-Empire enthusiasts who dominated the private school system, and Churchill's own ideas about the British imperial system garnered through travel and war in Africa and Asia. In this light I would recommend that you read 'My African Journey', which is a compendium of Churchill's travels in the first decade of the 20th century throughout Africa, and the 'Malakand Field Force', his work on fighting the Pathan Moslems along the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands. For example Toye quotes from a speech given in 1920 in the House of Commons by Churchill which reiterated his position from 'My African Journey' on the fact that indigenous populations had no right to be 'idle'. They were as capable as Whites. The speech is about the need to resettle European Jewry in Palestine which would benefit Arabs, Moslems, and the world in general. It is a portrait of the barrenness of Arab and Moslem society in Palestine. As true today as it was then:
“Left to themselves, the Arabs of Palestine would not in a thousand years have taken effective steps towards the irrigation and electrification of Palestine. They would have been quite content to dwell – a handful of philosophic people – in the wasted sun scorched plains, letting the waters of the Jordan continue to flow unbridled and unharnessed into the Dead Sea.” [p. 148]
Of course it was the Jews who developed 'Palestine' and it was the Jews who created a modern functioning and wealthy nation state. Arabs are better off in Israel than they are anywhere else. Churchill the tepid Zionist knew this. He also knew that Britain was the world's largest Muhammadan power during the early 20th century, and that British interests were served [and his own political interests] by appearing to be even-handed on the question of Israel and of Moslem sensitivity to social and geo-political matters in the Near East and Asia.
Most people don't know that Churchill was a social reformer in his early career from about 1906-1914 [see here for a review of his speeches on reform]. His policies during this period were 'radical' and openly socialist in some respects. Along with Lloyd George and Asquith, Churchill was a prime architect of the nascent British Welfare state. His rationale was simple, according to Toye:
“Churchill declared that the empire was no 'weary titan' but emphasized that if Britain was to keep it 'we must have an Imperial stock'. This required a free, well-fed, and well-educated population: 'That is why we are in favour of social reform'.” [p. 63]
As Churchill commented, he saw little glory in an Empire which ruled the waves but could not flush its own toilets.
As Under-Secretary in Colonial Affairs [1905-08] Churchill, as rightly described by Toye, argued for 'native' equality with Whites in British possessions as long as the 'natives' were educated and 'civilized' [an elastic reference point to be sure]. He roundly condemned acts of brutality against Zulu's and Indians in East Africa. He also, as depicted by Toye, sought to harness the strengths of the 'White' dominions around English concerns and needs, causing more than a few uproars in Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. It is fair to say that Churchill was viewed by most in the Dominions as a centralizer of English power and a man to be distrusted since he put England and her concerns above the independence and freedom of the Dominions. Churchill was portrayed as a Colonial Secretary who thought he ruled the empire by decree.
Whites in Asia and Africa generally felt that Churchill by 1920, had become a 'radical' against Empire and 'White privilege'. Churchill seem to believe in the restraint of 'White' power and the elevation of 'Native' rights. For instance in Parliamentary debates in 1920, Churchill brilliantly and tactfully heaped scorn on the army and its commander Dyer, for the 1919 Amristar massacre of some 379 Indians, with 1700 wounded. The British empire would simply fall apart if it was kept together only by force and the 'natives' were abused by White-racialists:
“What I mean by frightfulness is the inflicting of great slaughter or massacre upon a particular crowd of people, with the intention of terrorizing not merely the rest of the crowd, but the whole district or the whole country.” [p. 152]
In East Africa 'Whites' were somewhat alarmed by Churchill during his stay as Colonial Secretary. According to Toye in East Africa during the early 1920s, 'whites feared that Churchill would not safeguard their interests sufficiently and sent a delegation to Britain to press their case'. Churchill advocated equality of Indians -the civilized ones it should be emphasized – with Whites in all matters throughout the British dominions in Africa. The same held true for Blacks.
The rights of Indians within the African possessions was always a divisive political issue. So too was the question of Indian independence from the Raj. On these matters Churchill met with Gandhi and other Indian representatives and assured them that over time native self-government – within the Empire – was a surety but it would take time. Churchill rightly believed that in the early 20th century India was better off within the British system. It guaranteed, peace, development and progress. As Toye states, in Churchill's one and only meeting with Gandhi, the Indian sooth-sayer who purported to represent a great mass of Indians [he didn't], made little to no impression whatsoever on the British statesman. Even Gandhi and his acolytes agreed that British civilization was in the main good for India.
Churchill's pragmatism on Colonial affairs reflected his position on Ireland. He wanted a divided Ireland to remain within the English Imperial orbit, but as a self-governing entity in the south, and as a British controlled state in the north. Churchill supported both an Irish Free state or southern home-rule, and the right of Ulster or the northern counties to remain firmly within the Empire. Post World War I until 1922, Churchill was instrumental in brokering agreements to solution the Irish question. Being a Victorian-romantic, Churchill wrongly believed that southern Ireland would willingly stay within the Imperial system. Post 1922, this was an impossibility, but he showed good sense in recognizing the change in Irish politics and popular opinion over its attitude and linkage with the British empire.
One reason this book is so interesting – even though a few facts are incorrectly presented – is that Toye places Churchill's defense of the Empire within the context of politics, itself derived from shifts in the political-economy and socio-cultural ethos. Churchill was not a jingoist, but neither was he a Little Englander. He was not a Marxist Globalist like HG Wells who in 1922 proposed a world government and a world currency and the destruction of the British empire. But neither was he an exponent of unbounded and fantastically costly expansion – his rejected proposal in 1921 to withdraw Britain from Iraq is a clear example of a hard-headed man of finance.
In the main Churchill wanted all peoples within the Imperial system who were 'civilized' to be treated the same, and the use of violence and military power curtailed and managed judiciously. The 'Dominions' would of course be somewhat subservient to the concerns of England. From this point of view he was also certainly not a socialist-relativist equating African or Asian mysticism and savagery with English or British civilization. Neither did he want the 'White' Dominions to be completely free of English control. Certainly none of these viewpoints is 'racist' or overtly and uncomprehendingly 'Imperialist'. They are in the main practical and center around the question, 'What is best for England and her territories?' In all of this he was most certainly correct.