Rocky Foundations of the New World
The “brave new world” is still news, bat as its vague outlines emerge in the public speeches of allied statesmen and in various articles and statements by prominent people, the new world of dreams recedes farther and farther away. The jokes made by working men on the subject suggest that in general the view is held that the high-sounding phrases which have travelled round the world are but “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
An article in The Spectator (October 30, 1942), under the title “The Quest for Aims,” put as definitely as anywhere else an interpretation of governmental view on the subject. Discussing the criticism that Russia and China “were not sure whether we knew what we were fighting for,” the writer goes on :—
Russia and China are both fighting because the soil of their country was wantonly invaded, the United States because her fleet, lying in a harbour of one of her oversea possessions, was made the object of outrageous and treacherous aggression. We, as a plain matter of history, because not our own territory, but that of Poland, which we had pledged ourselves to defend, was attacked by Hitler. Having entered it we have bound ourselves to make no peace till Hitler, and all he stands for, is swept away, and till Japan is finally crushed. That is a simple and sufficient statement of war aims.
Peace aims are another matter. We did not go to. war, and never should have, to reconstruct the world, but so much of the structure of the world as it existed before 1939 has been destroyed by war that reconstruction is essential, and the task of planning that enterprise and carrying it out will tax all our wisdom and all our energies. Here it is a question of proceeding from the general to the particular, from agreement on principles to their application. The difficulty of even making a beginning is illustrated by the vigour of some of the protests against the apparently innocuous statement that we are fighting for the defence of Christian civilisation. That, it might be supposed, was of the nature of a truism, or near enough to a truism, to be incapable of being an irritant. A Christian civilisation is not a condition of life in which (to quote from last week’s debate in the House of Commons) belief in the Athanasian creed is forcibly imposed. It denotes rather a regime, based on common conviction and consent, in which the virtues, Christian, but by no means exclusively Christian, of justice and truth and good faith and freedom of conscience and defence of the weak—the very antithesis of the qualities inculcated in the Germany of to-day—are accepted as the guiding principles of national as of individual life.
We regret the length of the quotation, but the elusiveness of the ideas hidden in clouds of words makes it necessary in order to extract something concrete.
Here we see that the war is for the purpose of defending Christian civilization and the peace aims to reconstruct it from the ruins of war. In the first place reconstructing is rebuilding what has existed, not building something new, and secondly, justice, etc., etc., was the alleged object of the French Revolution, the American Revolution and various other upheavals since. The civilization we got from these was first of all the factory system with all its early abominations of child labour and so forth, and in recent years all the evils that church dignitaries and statesmen are now holding forth upon as ugly features that must never reappear.
As, however, the social system of pre-war days (Christian civilisation) based upon private ownership of the means of production, which involves the two antagonistic classes of capitalist and worker, is to be reconstructed then it requires no great thinker to prophesy that the evils of pre-war days will be with us in the future like old but disreputable friends.
This forecast is substantiated by the plan for the post-war world drawn up by 120 leading industrialists, who are, of course, typical representatives of the capitalist outlook, and, moreover, are the type of people who in the past have determined social policy and are economically and politically strong enough to continue to do so.
The signatories to the plan are interested in various industries such as banking, chemicals, munitions, engineering, coal, steel, etc. Among them is Lord Melchett, Lord Perry, Sir Samuel Beale, Sir Francis Joseph and Mr. J. V. Rank.
The Daily Express (November 11, 1942), discussing the plan in an article entitled “120 Big Business Men Plan their Post-War World,” says it is “ based on the first essential: Private enterprise must stay,” with the profit motive included. They are against the extension of State ownership and operation in peace time, which they contend would he a national calamity. And further:
They do not think it is “theoretically possible” for “big combines and amalgamations to retard invention, restrict production, or maintain or raise prices unduly. It would, however, be checked,” they say, “by public opinion.”
This project of the “new world,” as sketched by influential capitalists, has a far better chance of reflecting reality than either the hazy promises of politicians or the groundless expectations of well-intentioned reformers.
An American writer, examining the future position of Britain in an article entitled “Can Britain Live in the New World Order” (Asia, October, 1942), has no illusions about the shape of things to come. To him it means an alteration in the balance of competitive power with Britain taking a back seat and helped along like a lame dog, as the following extract illustrates, and the lamest part of the dog is represented by the workers :—
No doubt the British will have to reorganise their economy. They will probably find it necessary to reduce the national standard of living. They will simply have to consume less and to produce more. British industry will have to be modernised and placed on a competitive footing; it will have to change to different lines of production. Britain will have to rely less and less on the traditional export stand-bys:—cotton goods, bulky iron goods, simple consumer articles, coal—and turn increasingly to the production of industrial machinery for export, machine tools, chemical products, complicated consumers goods, high quality textiles, including textiles of artificial fabrics. Above all, Britain will have to rely less on income from interest, banking and insurance services. Local agriculture will have to produce more of the foodstuffs consumed by the population. Finally it may prove necessary to resort to planned emigration.
It may be thought that the above unpleasant forecast is an over-statement by a prejudiced “foreigner,” but it also has a fair chance of representing the grim reality, and we may once again witness, as happened after the last war, posters on public hoardings with pictures of labour leaders embellishing exhortations to “produce more” in order to enable industry to get back on a paying basis.
It is taken for granted that Britain’s carrying trade is gone beyond recovery, but it may well be, owing to war time concentration upon the production of the huge transport aeroplanes, that competition for sea trade will be replaced by competition for aerial transport, and thus a fresh fight for economic supremacy be inaugurated that will blot out the bulk of the present New World ideals.