1950s >> 1952 >> no-573-may-1952

Notes by the Way

Not this Churchill.

Mr. W. Arnold-Forster in “The Disarmament Conference” (National Peace Council 1931, page 23) wrote:—

“So lately as 1886 Lord Randolph Churchill resigned the Chancellorship of the Exchequer rather than stand for an armament expenditure of £31 millions. He regarded that as an indefensibly enormous expenditure in peace time.”

Whatever Winston learned from his father it certainly has not been a taste for economv in armaments and Lord Randolph seems to have held views the reverse of those now propounded by his son. In a letter to Lord Salisbury at the time of his resignation Lord Randolph wrote:—

“The possession of a very sharp sword offers a temptation, which becomes irresistible, to demonstrate the efficiency of the weapon in a practical manner. I remember the vulnerable and scattered character of the Empire, the universality of our commerce, the peaceful tendencies of our democratic electorate, the hard times, the pressure of competition and the higher taxation now imposed and with these factors visibly before me I decline to be a party to encourage the military and militant circle of the War Office and Admiralty to join in the high and desperate stakes which other nations seem to be forced to risk.”

* * *

Getting Safer and Safer.

The argument of the armament enthusiasts is that if a country is strongly armed the enemy country will fear to attack and thus peace is preserved.

The flaw in the argument is that as all countries join in the armaments race they all become stronger. If they all double their armaments their relative strengths are as they were before.

In 1886 Lord Randolph Churchill thought that something under £30 millions a year was sufficient to provide safety from attack. By 1913 the annual cost had grown to £77 [millions] and his son Winston thought that was not enough, as also in 1939 when it was £523 millions. It is now £1,377 millions, which even allowing for greatly increased prices is about 15 times as much as in 1886.

So now we all feel safe; or do we?

* * *

Engels on the 1888 War Threat.

Two years after Churchill resigned Frederick Engels was reflecting on Bismarck’s increase in German armaments and on the likelihood of a general European war. Along with some accurate and inaccurate forecasts but including the anticipation that war destruction in Europe would give American industry world supremacy, he wrote:—“I imagine . . . that the plan is not to push things to extremities, to more than a sham war. But once the first shot is fired, control ceases, the horse can take the bit between its teeth.” ((Marx Engels. Selected Correspondence, Martin Lawrence Ltd., p. 456.)

* * *

The World Textile Slump.

In a useful survey of the factors leading up to the present slump in the textile trades the Manchester Guardian (26.3.52) shows that it is world-wide, America, Japan, Belgium and other countries being hit as badly as Britain. The principal cause is stated to be the way in which the countries which formerly imported textiles are now manufacturing their own supplies and looking for external markets.

“World demand for cotton textiles increases as population increases, but the actual volume of imported textiles is falling as more and more countries make and consume their own. .. . The process goes on; India, once Lancashire’s great market, is now a formidable exporter. Pakistan, since partition the largest potential importer, is now building up her own production, as in Burma. Other countries in Latin America, once importers, are now on the edge of becoming exporters. Hardly less important are the political changes which have shut off the Communist world from the industries of the West and of Japan. It was the great mistake of the Japanese that in rebuilding their textile industries after the war they refused to realise that theft marketing field had vastly shrunk.”

In the meantime Russia is now entering the world market not only with textiles but with textile machinery, these being among the Russian products displayed at the recent International Industries Fair at Bombay (Manchester Guardian 28.1.52). It was however remarked by the Guardian’s correspondent at the Fair that the Russian textiles were being offered at prices appreciably higher than those at which the Indian Mills can put textiles on the market.

* * *

Are there Too Many Textiles?

The Manchester Guardian can discern no solution for the world textile slump except that bankruptcies will thin out the competitors and, in face of falling prices and fiercer competition, the governments whose policy has been to build up their own textile industries will curtail their plans.

All of which means that British and world output of textiles would be reduced, not merely by temporary suspension of production but for a long time ahead by the reduction of manufacturing capacity.

Which would of course be a very sensible course of action if it were true that the world has too many textiles. But it is not true, as the Guardian writer could easily verify without even going farther afield than his own doorstep. Let him look round the Manchester streets and visit the workers’ homes (including the unemployed cotton workers) and see if the workers and their wives really are “glutted” with shirts and sheets, and socks, suits and dresses. He would soon find firsthand evidence of a condition that exists in all countries; that the mass of the population make do with the minimum of textile goods (and those of poor quality) because their demands are limited not by need but by their wages.

As it happens the wording used in the Manchester Guardian editorial (26.3.52) is strictly accurate:—“The world’s textile industries have been over-producing; their outlets are now choked with stocks.” The textile workers are not out-of-work because the world’s needs have been satisfied but because the “outlets are now choked,” the outlets being determined by what people have the money to pay for.

After the last war we were told by Tory and Labour alike, and heard it often in speeches at United Nations’ gatherings that never again was the world to see production being restricted while needs were unsatisfied. Capitalism is determining otherwise. When the Guardian writes:—“There is no easy ‘Socialist’ remedy; there is no easy capitalist one” the correct version would read:—“There is no capitalist remedy; there is no remedy except Socialism.”

* * *

Then Let Us Increase Production.

Early in March Lieut.-General Sir Thomas Hutton, general manager of the Anglo-American Council on
Productivity spoke at a productivity conference at Leamington Spa. According to the Sunday Times (2.3.52) he “ said . . . that an overall increase of productivity of five or ten per cent. which was perfectly possible, would solve the whole problem of the crisis caused by our inability to pay our way.”

He was not talking about the textile slump but about the productivity of British industry generally, which he said is often only half to two-thirds as high as productivity in America. Had he been addressing Lancashire textile workers he might have told them that if they would increase their productivity to the American level Lancashire’s competitive position would be improved and things would be better. One wonders however what he would have said if it had been pointed out to him that American textile workers are also suffering unemployment “Of New England’s 140,000 textile workers some 62,000 were out of work.” (Manchester Guardian, 26.3.52).

* * *

The Communists and the Atom Bomb.

The logic behind Communist Party attitudes towards all issues is that whatever Russian capitalism does is right. But as this must never be admitted they are forced to put forward other arguments to justify whatever policy they are pursuing at any time. This leads them into difficulties each time Russian policy changes. The atom bomb is a case in point

When America alone had the Atom bomb they could use the simple argument of denouncing it altogether. But in 1949 the Communist Daily Worker (26.9.49) announced that Russia had then had the Atom bomb herself “for at least two years”—which means that they were working on it for years before. The Daily Worker then had to think up an argument to show that it was a bad thing for America to have the atom bomb but a good thing for Russia to have it. So in its issue of 24th September, 1949, the Daily Workerused the argument that Russia’s atom bomb “will encourage peace-loving people everywhere” because this meant that “the United States no longer possesses a monopoly of this terror weapon,” and this would “restrain the ‘ atomaniacs.'”

So far so good. But early in 1952 the British Government announced that it too had the bomb, it having been completed under the Labour Government.

The Daily Worker, 18th February, 1952, dealt with this new situation. It pointed out that the British bomb “has been produced without the assistance of the United States of America.” But at this point the logic of the former argument no longer served. Logically on its own argument the Worker could have said that as the Russian Atom bomb made Russia safer so the British Atom bomb made Britain safer, for did it not represent a further breach in the American monopoly? Instead however of saying that peace-loving people welcomed it the Daily Worker now called it, as far as Britain is concerned, “an unmitigated curse.”

It went on to describe it as:—

“A coward’s weapon, designed for the unrestrained massacre of the civilian population. . .”

The Daily Worker editors know as well as anyone else that all war weapons are designed to kill, maim and destroy and that in all wars the civilian population as well as the Armed Forces are the target of all war-making governments,

If the Russian government thinks fit to use its atom bombs civilians will suffer; but then of course the Daily Worker will think up some new justification to exonerate Russian capitalism.

The advance lines of the justification have already been provided by the Russian Professor Kretov who has broadcast to Russian listeners on “just” and “unjust” wars. (Reproduced in the Manchester Guardian 28.3.52.)

He names several sorts of war that are “just.” “The most just, legal and holy of all wars is a war whose purpose is the defence of a country in which socialism has triumphed.”

Under this head of “socialist” countries he lists Russia and her satellites.

We can imagine the Daily Worker arguing (like all the capitalist apologists for war) that as the war is “just” so are all the “necessary” weapons for waging it.

* * *

Wages and the Cost of Living since 1939.

For various reasons all calculations of the movements of the average level of wages or of the cost of living are liable to some margin of error and should be regarded as approximations only. Even when a factor which causes error is known it may be impossible to measure it. For example wage rates indexes are based on trade union or other standard rates of pay. It is known however that in recent years of low unemployment workers in some industries have been paid more than these standard rates while in times of heavy unemployment many workers are forced to accept less than the standard rates; but nobody can know to what extent this factor operates in either direction. The index of wage rates therefore represents movements of agreed rates of pay not of the rates actually paid.

Similarly the Ministry of Labour Cost-of-Living Index showed hardly any movement between 1941 and 1947 though the cost of living was rising. This was due to the way the government used subsidies to keep down the prices of articles on which the Index was based. The cost-of-living rose but not the Index.

It also has to be remembered that the figures are “averages” and may look quite unreal to individuals whose conditions happen to be well below or well above the average. For example while on an average wage rates are more than double what they were in 1939 this average includes miners and agricultural workers whose wages are about three times the 1939 level, and also includes dock workers and lorry drivers whose increase has fallen far short of the average.

Subject to these reservations the available figures show some interesting features.

The official cost-of-living index covering the period 1939 to 1947 showed an increase of only 31 per cent. This was absurd and nobody treated it seriously. Workers making wage claims at the time soon ceased to pay any attention to it and wage rates during the same period rose by about 66 per cent.

Since June, 1947, the new official cost-of-living index, which is at least much more reliable than the old one, has shown an increase of 33 per cent.; but during this period wages have been lagging behind and have risen by only 28 per cent.

If comparison is made between August, 1939, and the present time it would seem that the average level of wage rates has about kept pace with the cost-of- living.

The official figure for wage rates (arrived at by combining the old wage rate index which ended in 1947 with the new index which started in 1947) shows an average increase since 1939 of 113 per cent. Professor Bowley’s Index of wage rates also shows 113 per cent, if coal miners are excluded, and about 120 per cent if they are included. (The technical reasons for difficulty about coal miners’ wages are explained in the Times“ Review of Industry ” March, 1952).

If we took the official index figures for the cost-of-living the increase since 1939 would be only about 75 per cent. The figure is however of no value. An alternative provided by the London and Cambridge Economic Service shows an increase of about 111 per cent., i.e. a figure almost identical with that for wages. (See Times “Review of Industry” March, 1952.)

H.

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