Passing Comments: Aggression

While all capitalist powers are by their nature expansionist, this tendency is seen more obviously in the behaviour of those who came latest to the game of international grabbing; and many of these new powers are grouped together at present under the leadership of the Soviet Union. Thus one of the most telling weapons in the propaganda armoury of the Western Powers is that of “resistance to aggression.” But, of course, neither bloc is unimpeachable on this count, and perhaps we should not hear quite so much about “defence against aggression” from the NATO powers if they were not in the majority in the United Nations. This majority enables the United States to get its own views as to what is and is not aggression endorsed by the United Nations. Endorsement of the American view is made all the more easy by the fact that “aggression” has never been legally defined: indeed, those who talk most loudly about resisting aggression are the most reluctant to define exactly what it is they wish to resist. It is as if there were no laws laying down what constitute burglary, merely a court which decided each time a dispute came up whether or not a burglary had been committed, and if it had been which party to the dispute was the burglar. This lack of definition is very useful to the NATO powers, for if aggression were defined it would be very difficult to explain why such open acts of aggression as that of India against Hyderabad were tacitly condoned.

Entirely justified

The Soviet Union has now taken the question up again in the legal committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations in Paris, and has submitted a long list of acts which in its opinion should be proclaimed aggressions by the United Nations. The Western Powers have of course voted against this move. The reasons for their doing so were given in The Times of January 19th with a frankness which must have been embarrassing to them. The Times said openly that a definition of aggression would mean that many acts of the Anglo-American powers would under such a definition be ruled as aggressive—

  “In fact, a detailed list of definitions would he endless and would certainly prejudge, as aggressive, many acts which when the time came could be entirely justified…. During the present tension in the world no power wishes to be committed to military action on the bask of arbitrary rules attempting to govern every eventuality.”

The wisdom of this stand from the point of view of the Western Powers was again demonstrated soon afterwards. On January 28th the American, British and French delegates on the political committee of UNO were making the usual threatening speeches about “resistance to Communist aggression” in S.E. Asia, when the Burmese delegate got up and drew the attention of the meeting to the fact that an army of Chinese Nationalist troops under General Li-Mi had invaded the Kengtung province of Burma after having been thrown out of China by Mao Tse-Tung’s forces. The Burmese army had given battle to these Chinese Nationalists, but had been unable to defeat them decisively. Two days later, in the plenary Assembly, the Burmese delegate again spoke of Kuomintang aggression, and pointed out the connection between the reluctance of the Western Powers to define aggression and their equal reluctance to act when the aggressor was one of their allies. He said:

  “Doubts were being expressed in some American quarters about the presence of any Chinese troops, in spite of confirmation by the United States embassy in Rangoon that the Formosan Government had been asked for its co-operation in getting them out. It could be seen from this example that, even when an act of aggression had taken place, people were disinclined to accept undenied facts. The Nationalist troops would get out fast enough if those states which had been against defining aggression but had favoured collective measures in the United Nations told the aggressor, accepted by many ‘under another name.’ that all aid and recognition would be annulled unless the ‘invaders’ were immediately withdrawn.” (Times, 1-2-52.)

Home and away
It is not only those promises and pledges relating to home affairs which the Conservatives have had to discard since the election. The promises made by the Tories in international politics have also been thrown overboard. One of the main features of many Tory election speeches was a promise that if Churchill were returned to power Britain would recover her freedom and independence in world affairs, and would resume her natural position of leadership. The unspoken idea behind such promises is that a nation owes its position in the world not to its economic resources and military power, but to the “great men” which lead it. The worth of the idea can be seen in the rapidity with which the pledge has been abandoned. It was not long before the election that Churchill protested vigorously in the House of Commons against the appointment of an American admiral as Commander-in-Chief of the naval forces of the Western Powers in the Atlantic. But the realities of power—60 per cent. of the naval forces in the Atlantic are American and only 30 per cent. British —have now forced Churchill to agree to just that. In extenuation the Conservatives say that Churchill has obtained a million tons of American steel but has had to give up equally valuable tin and tungsten in return, besides paying the Americans double the present British price for their steel.

Second fiddle
The subsidiary position of British capitalism can also be seen in the attitude of America in those parts of the world where the British Empire is crumbling, and where Britain is being pushed out of strategically and economically valuable areas. In Persia, America stood by when the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. was given its marching orders by the Persians, and the American-led World Bank is now trying to arrange terms on which the Persian capitalists themselves can carry on the production of oil. In Egypt, America watches from the sidelines. On January 29th a State Department spokesman said that America had no intention of mediating between Egypt and Britain. “The Government was not at present contemplating any moves and it had advanced no proposals” (Times, 30-1-52). A recent report made by the Senate foreign relations committee to the Senate was even more definite:

  “The report also contains a specific assurance to the Senate from Mr. Acheson, the Secretary of State, that an attack on British forces in Egypt would not bring the North Atlantic Treaty into operation.” (Times, 23-1-52).

Mr. Acheson here appears to have abandoned even the theory that aggression is only aggression when it is aimed against members of the N.A.T.O. alliance; now it seems that only attacks made on the areas where the United States has a direct influence are to be considered as aggressions. Clearly, as far as America is concerned. British capitalism’s chestnuts are to remain in the fire.

Fall in and follow—America
When Mr. Churchill addressed the American Congress on January 17th, he said plaintively “it would enormously aid us in our task if even token forces of other partners in the Four-Power proposal were stationed in the Canal Zone.” But even though, as the Times put it, such forces would be “considerably smaller than the token forces which they (the Americans) always talk of other United Nations countries having in Korea,” Congress has not even considered the idea. Later in the same speech Mr. Churchill reassured the Congress that there was no danger of British insubordination by saying “we must persevere in the tasks to which, under United States leadership, we have solemnly bound ourselves” He continued:

  “Britain and the United States were working together in the same high cause. Bismarck once said that the supreme fact of the nineteenth century was that Britain and the United States spoke the same language. ‘Let us make sure,’ said Mr. Churchill, ‘that the supreme fact of the twentieth century is that they tread the same path.’ ” (Times, 18-1-52).

The concessions Mr. Churchill has already made, and the tone he took in this speech, make it certain that he realises how this will be done; by British capitalism following in America’s footsteps, not the other way round.

On January 20th the Sunday Express proposed that there should be a “two-tier meat system,” under which every citizen would have a small ration at a low price, plus the opportunity to buy more at world prices.

  “Socialists will argue that the mass of the nation cannot afford to pay the world price for meat. That is not true. Every family in Britain spends, on average, £1 a week on tobacco. As a nation we spend per head on drink, tobacco and gambling an average of 18s. I0d. a week. If meat were available, most sensible people would soon cut some of that spending and buy meat instead.”

Here the Sunday Express employs, one can only assume deliberately, one of the oldest fallacies in numbers—the “average” fallacy—in order to put across a political point. “The average family,” we are told, “spends £1 a week on tobacco.” And “per head” we spend “on average” 18s. 10d. per week on drink, tobacco and gambling. If the Sunday Express’s average citizen spends 18s. 10d. a week on these things, no doubt the Sunday Express’s “average family” of 4 will spend £3 15s. 4d. per week on them. Perhaps the Sunday Express leader-writer doesn’t see his own fallacy. At any rate, if he is not being intentionally obtuse, he must be astoundingly ignorant of the living conditions among that great mass of the population of Britain which still lives on incomes of under £10 a week—some on incomes a good deal under it—if he can assume that “on average” a family of 4 will spend £3 15s. a week on smoking, drinking and gambling. The fallacy lies in the pretence that there is any real meaning in taking the average in cases where the numbers to be averaged vary greatly. For example, the leader-writer who wrote the above quotation would make a very bad recruiting officer: he might march off eight 10-year-old boys and their 80-year-old teacher to join the army on the ground that their average age was nearly eighteen.

Incidentally, if the Sunday Express’s figures are correct (perhaps an unwise assumption) they indicate that the spending on luxuries among the upper class must be very high to bring up the average for the whole country to 18s. 10d. a week per head, since the workers cannot afford to spend anything like that much.


Sound Basis


Captain David Cammans, Assistant Postmaster General, perpetrated a similar fallacy when he said:


  “Mr. Bevan wants us to believe that a country which spends £778 million on tobacco, £488 million on beer. £650 million on gambling, and £107 million on going to the cinema every year cannot afford this charge of £10 million to put the national health service on a sound basis.” (Times, 4-2-52).


Captain Gammans’ error here is to take for granted that there is a connection between the total figures of consumption in a country and the rate of consumption among particular groups and individuals within that country. But perhaps Captain Gammans, in spite of having been chairman of the Adamant Investment Corporation and director of five other companies before he became a minister, has been confused by the large sums involved. Let us therefore put a very simple case for the captain and any other readers who may happen to be as backward at statistics as he seems to be.


Elementary paragraph for Tory M.P.s


It is now common knowledge that there are 88,000 persons in this country who admit to having incomes of between £40 and £120 a week after tax, not taking into account income tax evasion and perquisites and expenses accounts, apart from those fortunate few who admit to having incomes even higher. Let us take a mythical figure in this income group, Sir Jasper Turnip-Head, who has an income of £120 a week after tax. In Sir Jasper’s village there are ten cottages, each occupied by a labourer and his family living on about £6 a week. Now Sir Jasper puts aside £20 a week towards extending his shareholdings, and he finds that his living expenses come to about £50 a week. Sir Jasper keeps a small yacht, and hunts regularly, and has an account with a wine and spirit merchant: altogether his luxuries and entertainments come to about £50 a week. The labourers find, though, that after the necessities of food and clothing have been paid for, and after the rent has been handed over, there is only 10s. a week for each family to spend on beer, tobacco and so on. Along comes the government investigator, and he discovers that all the inhabitants of the village. Sir Jasper included, spend a total of £55 a week in luxuries and entertainments. Sir Jasper is much moved by this news, since the country is passing through an economic crisis; so he calls the villagers together and tells them that since, on the average, each family is spending £5 a week on luxuries, they could all afford to go without quite a lot of things they now buy.

Alwyn Edgar