1940s >> 1941 >> no-442-june-1941

Editorial: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hess

 The landing of Rudolf Hess by parachute was rather more than a nine days’ wonder. People are still debating whether he is mad or sane, whether he left Germany in a hurry in order to escape a vindictive Fuehrer or a jealous husband, whether he came to sue for peace or to warn us of the wrath to come, whether he was Goering’s emissary offering to bump off Hitler, or Hitler’s emissary offering to liquidate all the other toughs.

 In short, at the time of writing, nobody knows anything, and any guess is as good as any other. Time alone will reveal what Hess is after and whom he wants to betray. It is, however, possible to consider the point of view from which Hess has been surveyed by various people. From the military standpoint of gaining an advantage over the Nazis it is no doubt a sound policy to work on the lines of the saying:

    “ My enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

 It seems fairly clear that, with this in mind, those public men who were convinced that Hess is now an enemy of Hitler, were at once inclined to find merit in him. Hence the remarks in The Times (May 14th): “It is thought that Hess, essentially an idealist, may have acted out of disillusionment,” and “Hess has always had a quite false and idealised view of Hitler.”

 Are there “good” idealists and “bad” idealists, as The Times defenders say? Is he a “good” man or a “bad” one, or, like the curate’s egg, good in parts? Or good only sometimes, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

 Which brings us to the fact that the Labour Party, and, to some extent, the Communists, have always acted on these lines in their political dealings. Hess, a leading figure in German Nazism, apparently quarrels with his associates and is suspected of being willing to help in their destruction. Politics in Great Britain in the past 40 years have had many Hesses, and almost invariably the Labour Party has been willing to welcome them, support them, and even give them positions of influence. In the early years of the century Mr. Lloyd George was savagely denounced by the Conservatives and some sections of his own Party, and this was sufficient to make him popular with wide circles in the Trade Unions and the Labour Party. They regretted it afterwards, when Lloyd George was Prime Minister of the Coalition Government, particularly in the years immediately after the last war. Yet, when Mr. Lloyd George was out in the political wilderness he found favour once more with the Labour Party. Mr. Winston Churchill has been the object of similar changes of affection in the same circles. Again, the Labour Party gladly received into its ranks the group of Liberal M.P.s who quarrelled with the official Liberal Party over the last war. The Labour Party never stopped to ask whether these men had radically changed their political principles. From the same short-sighted viewpoint the Labour Party has always been ready to support and associate with groups of industrial capitalists who from time to time denounce the bankers, or to identify itself with free-trade capitalists against those who were imposing import duties. Over a period of years the Labour Party has supported the small capitalists against the big ones, supported the co-operatives against the small trader, supported the farmers against the Government, and the agricultural workers against the farmers. Always the principle —if it can be given that dignity—is the same. Always, if a political Hess quarrels with, or is kicked out by, a political Hitler, the Labour Party feels drawn to him.

 Not so the Socialist Party. Socialists only want to know whether an individual understands Socialism and is prepared to work consistently for its achievement. If he is not, and if, indeed, his utterances and actions show that he stands for capitalism, we are not moved by the fact that he may have quarrelled with the other defenders of capitalism.

 That the Labour Party behaves as it does indicates weakness and uncertainty and confusion of mind. They are unaware of the nature of capitalism and of their own aims; hence their inability to distinguish between socialist conviction and a mere quarrel about the recurrent problems of capitalist administration. The Socialist Party knows where it is and what it wants and does not need to cling to Lloyd Georges and other disgruntled Liberals for the illusion of strength.

 For the workers who are concerned with the real problem of their emancipation and the building of a different and better social system, the only sure line is to give up trusting and hoping in the temporary convulsions of the political Jekylls and Hydes.

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