Disappearing Loyalties

The case of “The Disappearing Diplomats” brings to the front more of the ugly and curious features of “civilised” life in which modern governments are inextricably involved, whether they call themselves Tory, Labour or Communist. Warfare, and preparations for warfare have, as one of their necessary accompaniments, “spies,” “traitors” and espionage systems. Part of an espionage system consists of getting hold of people in a different country who have “inside” information and persuading or coercing them into selling it. The business is a sordid one and all governments are of necessity engaged in it. The defence of the mealy-mouthed is that the practice is so general that a country which did not follow the practice would be placed at a serious disadvantage. It is curious to notice also, as an example of modern hypocrisy that when the “spy” is on “our” side he is a hero, but when he is on the “enemy’s” side he is a scoundrel.

All through past history, that is the history of civilised society, this kind of thing has been going on; it is inextricably bound up with all systems based upon property ownership. At periods however it flourishes like a plague; such, for example, was the position during the Reformation, the French Revolution and even when the Nazis were on the upsurge. The knitting of the whole world together in modern times, with the corresponding anarchy of production, national rivalries and wholesale imperialism has taken the disease out of its old narrow setting and spread it all over the world. In the last thirty years or so this has been particularly noticeable because many old loyalties have broken down, new loyalties have not solidified, and disappointment, distrust and mutual suspicion is widespread. The disease has become so sweeping in its ramifications that frightened governments are engaging in thorough-going heresy hunts; people look askance at their neighbours and few are sure whom they can trust. Mutual suspicion has even invaded family life and relatives are held as hostages to ensure loyalty. In answer to a question in parliament, Mr. Attlee expressed this prevailing suspicion when he said, referring to vital military information,

“No one can be absolutely certain at any time that someone may not have information which he may possibly give away. All we can say is that the utmost care is taken with regard to every individual employed.” (Manchester Guardian, 12th June, 1951).

One curious feature of the modern espionage disease is the type of people involved in what may be called the seamier side. At one time the seller of military secrets was the unscrupulous cosmopolitan, the wastrel, those who were regarded as outride the pale of “respectable” society; now-a-days they are the product of select schools and universities—the cultured, the scientists, professors and the like. The “old school tie” has become badly besmirched in the modern imperialist conflicts.

Looking at this from one angle it is another of the curious features of to-day. Long ago the holding of radical views concerning society was associated with hob-nailed boots, chokers and disgruntled working men belonging to the poorer sections of society. Now-a-days it has become fashionable for the “cultured” products of aristocratic schools to make fleeting excursions into what they call “left” politics and after deriving some notoriety and excitement, fade out. These gilded chameleons make glittering and, to themselves, devastating criticisms of society for the consumption of admiring colleagues, but they have no real roots in the political movement. Mutual admiration groups full of the conviction that the sun shines out of them, they plod their allotted path to ignominy. They condescend to give their assistance to radical movements of one kind or another but when they meet with rough treatment or fail to achieve the prominence which they feel is due to them they turn back in disgust, berate those they formerly called their brothers m the struggle and, in the process, eat the words they formerly blazoned forth to the world as expressions of heartfelt convictions.

Whether the actions of these people have been inspired by sordid motives or genuine, if mistaken, convictions they are self-branded as false guides; in a word, ineffectual, out of touch with the social forces that determine policies. Consequently every now and again one or other of them produces a book of contrition which purports to explain why they have come to the conclusion that their former conduct was all wrong and they have now, like sheep, come back to the fold. To the socialist these professed explanations are simply examples of the general lack of political information of the non-socialist, whether he calls himself cultured or just plain working man.

Beneath all the trickery, duplicity and heartbreaks associated with espionage is the social system from which this sordid disease springs. In this modern age it is the capitalist private property system that throws up this along with the many other respect-destroying complaints; this system sets nation against nation, man against man, children against their parents and twists the finest products of human ingenuity into means to drag humanity through the mire. While it lasts there is no room for the brotherhood of mankind and the basis of mutual trust is frail. High-sounding phrases are only used as screens behind which the false, the mean and the sordid lurks. The abolition of property ownership will bring with it a fresh wind that will sweep out of social relations all the sordidness that clogs humanity’s upward march towards a full, secure and joyful life.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, July 1951)

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