The Passing Show

Declaration of Washington
The declaration issued jointly by President Eisenhower and Sir Anthony Eden after their recent talks in Washington must long stand as an object-lesson in the art of inserting the maximum amount of inaccuracy in the minimum amount of space. The declaration occasionally approaches the truth when it deals with the misdeeds of “the other side,” the Soviet bloc.; but when they dwell on their own records and aims, the president and the Premier rarely get even with hailing distance of the facts.

Theological Gambit
The Anglo-American leaders begin roundly:

“We are conscious that in this year of 1956, there still rages the age-old struggle between those who believe that man has his origin and his destiny in God and those who treat man as if he were designed merely to serve a state machine.”—(The Times, 2-2-56.)

Eden and Eisenhower thus blandly ignore both those of no religion who support the Anglo-American bloc, and all those fervent religionists—including the large Russian Orthodox Church, for example—who would die for the Stalinists. In fact the struggle between the two blocs has nothing whatever to do with religion or irreligion: each state has its tame churches to give it the divine sanction: the struggle is between the British ruling class and the American ruling class (who happen to have sufficient mutual interests to support an alliance) on the one hand, and the Russian ruling class (usually supported by their Chinese opposite numbers) on the other. But the desire for self-justification is strong: hence the habit of claiming the approval of the Almighty.

One for Ripley
But this is merely an opening canter. Warming to its theme, the second paragraph of the declaration runs (believe it or not):

“Because of our belief that the state should exist for the benefit of the individual and not the individual for the benefit of the state, we uphold the basic right of peoples to governments of their own choice.”

Or, as one might paraphrase it when one has regard to reality, “because of our belief in something we don’t believe in, we uphold what we deny.” The claim of Eden and Eisenhower to believe that “the state should exist for the benefit of the individual and not the individual for the benefit of the state” surely borders on the farcical. Both the President and the Prime Minister were in the highest counsels of Great Britain and the U.S.A. during the last war, when the state in each of these countries so far denied the elementary rights of the individual that it conscripted millions of its citizens and sent them off to kill other individuals and be killed themselves. Not only do Eden and Eisenhower believe that the individual exists for the benefit of the state: they go further—they believe that when called upon he should cease to exist for the benefit of the state. But official pronouncements would not read so well if they confined themselves to the truth, nor would they make such good propaganda.

What can be said about the second part of this almost incredible paragraph, where the signatories allege that they uphold the basic right of peoples to governments of their own choice? When one thinks of the Prime Minister giving his consent to this clause, at a time when British troops are on an active footing in British Guiana, Cyprus, Kenya and Malaya expressly to prevent their people’s having governments of their own choice, one can only feel grateful that the cares of high office have not deprived Sir Anthony of his sense of humour.

All my own work
Lack of space prevents the analysis of the Declaration in the detail it deserves. But one other paragraph must be quoted:

“During the past ten and more years 600 million men and women in nearly a score of lands have, with our support and assistance, attained nationhood. Many millions more are being helped surely and steadily towards self-government. Thus, the reality and effectiveness of what we have done is proof of our sincerity.”

Since Britain has been in the Empire racket longer than America, the insincerity of this statement is more immediately obvious in regard to Eden than Eisenhower. Britain attempted to retain her Indian Empire (which contains the great majority of the 600 millions referred to) by every means at her disposal. A great army was maintained there; any expression of opinion in favour of independence invited ruthless official action; if the people demonstrated for independence they were forcibly scattered and the leaders (including for example Pandit Nehru) thrown into British jails. Riots and shootings and massacres marked the progress of the years. At length the British power waned, and the British State could no longer afford to maintain the repression in face of the almost unanimous opposition of the peoples of the Indian Empire. And so the Attlee Government withdrew from India, being no longer physically capable of remaining there. It is this eviction of the British by the Indians which Sir Anthony Eden now tries to describe as a British achievement. It is as if a boxer, after fighting a dozen rounds, is at length knocked out; and as he is carried from the ring opens one eye long enough to remark “I retire voluntarily from the contest and claim all the credit for my opponent’s victory.”

Who said aggression?
No doubt if the British are thrown out of Cyprus this will also be counted as a great British contribution to the establishment of self-government, and the British ruling class will expect the Greek ruling class (which will take over from. them) to be duly grateful. But until this happens the task is to explain why Cyprus should not have self-government. In this connection a recent letter written to The Times (11-2-56) by Lord Vansittart is of considerable interest.

It appears that Britain has every right to be in Cyprus, because it “belongs to us.” Since Lord Vansittart coyly refrains from explaining how it came to “belong to us,” a word on the subject might not be out of place. Briefly, in 1877-8 Russia attacked Turkey, with the aim of seizing part of her Balkan territories; Great Britain, in the role of knight in shining armour, sprang to Turkey’s side to defend her against Russian aggression; the fleet was ordered to the Turkish coast, and alarm and counter-alarm succeeded each other. But when the smoke had cleared away, it was found that the noble British Government had taken advantage of the crisis to force Turkey to hand Cyprus over to British rule. The Cypriots, of course, had not been consulted.

It is this expert piece of sharp practice which Lord Vansittart now contends gives “us” the right to stay in Cyprus.

A little late to recant
But do not think that Lord Vansittart’s endorsement of this smooth-faced knavery means that he has no principles. He has. Or rather he used to have. He refers in his letter to “ the primary principles for which millions died in two vast wars”: and among them, it will be remembered, was the principle of self-determination. None was more vociferous than Lord Vansittart in his clamour for strict measures against German aggression before 1939, and for the merciless prosecution of total war against Germany between 1939 and 1945. But now, it appears, Lord Vansittart has had second thoughts. The principle for which millions died, to quote his own letter, no longer engages his support. That “self-determination should be automatic” Lord Vansittart now decries as a “delusion”. The Germans under Hitler, of course, were in favour of self-determination in certain circumstances; it was only the application of the principle to countries like Czechoslovakia and Poland that they objected to, because there it was against the economic interest of the German ruling class. Lord Vansittart has now accepted the pre-1945 German view of the matter, which could be summarized as “self-determination unless it conflicts with one’s own interests.”

And so Lord Vansittart changes his mind. But all the British soldiers who died in the war of which Lord Vansittart was the prophet, and in which he beat the drums louder than anyone else, they stay dead. The principle they thought they were fighting for is now found by the noble lord to be a “delusion.” If only it was as easy to bring the millions of dead to life again as it is for a politician to change his principles.


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