1950s >> 1956 >> no-628-december-1956

Notes by the Way: So they couldn’t kid Mikardo!

So they couldn’t kid Mikardo!
Mr. Mikardo is Labour M.P. for Reading. Two years ago he visited Hungary and wrote about it in Tribune (17/9/54) under the title: “There’s very little poverty in Red Hungary,” though he thought their standard of living was 30 per cent below that of British workers. The declared intention of the article was to expose as fairy tales and “imaginative fiction” all the stories he had heard about poverty and discontent, surveillance by secret police, subjection to the Russian army settled in the country, etc. On the contrary, wrote Mr. Mikardo, he was allowed to see what he wanted, was able to talk freely and found people who “didn’t hesitate to criticise the regime.” He saw only few Russian soldiers and only one person wearing a Communist Party badge. He ended with the cocky avowal: “Old Mikardo isn’t an easy guy to kid at any time anyway.”
It looks as if Mr. Mikardo owes some explanation to the readers of Tribune.
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Pause for Humbug

  “It was one of those incredible situations that could only happen in London—Sir Anthony Eden and Russian Ambassador Jacob Malik sipping from the same loving cup. It happened last night amid the splendour of the Lord Mayor’s banquet in cathedral-like Guildhall.”—(Daily Sketch. 10/11/56.)

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Pollitt and the Red Army
Three years ago Mr. Harry Pollitt sent “greetings to the Soviet Army.” (Daily Worker, 23/2/1953). Along with the usual thanks for the debt “we” owe to the Russian branch of capitalism’s greatest industry, that for destruction, Mr. Pollitt said:

  “We know the Soviet Armed Forces will never be used for aggression, but are on guard for peace.”

The Communist Party should send him to Budapest to tell this to the Hungarian workers—but make sure that he does so under the protection of some Russian tanks and the secret police.
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The War that saved the Peace
On Saturday, November 17th, a week after the day set aside in remembrance of two world wars “ for peace,” two men were justifying two recent wars. One was Sir Anthony Eden, about the invasion of Egypt:

  “The truth is that we have checked a drift which would have ended in the loss of countless lives and more other evils than we can ever estimate.”—(Evening Standard, 17/11/56.)

The same day Mr. J. R. Campbell, in the Daily Worker, was justifying the Russian onslaught in Hungary under the tide: “The choice that saved Peace.” He claimed that it prevented “a possible prolonged civil war. This would have been pregnant with the terrible danger of a third world war.”
Eden and Campbell did not get together to concoct their joint story beforehand. It just happens that they are in the same line of business, that of justifying the brutality of their respective capitalist groups.
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Mr. Zilliacus and arms for Israel
Writing to the Manchester Guardian (6/8/56), Mr. Zilliacus, Labour M.P. for Gorton, explained his policy for preserving peace in the Middle East. One point was, as an immediate emergency measure, the provision of arms for Israel. We wonder what he thinks of his policy now. Perhaps he can get comfort from the fact that Israel got its arms—by capturing Russian and British tanks from the Egyptian army. We await, with all due reverence, Mr. Zilliacus’s new pontifical pronouncement on how to prevent capitalism causing wars.
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The Emotions of the “New Statesman”
The New Statesman, which tirelessly zig-zags about in its search for new ways of improving capitalism, has sadly admitted, in an editorial (3rd November, 1956) that it was wrong about Israel.

  “Most British Socialists felt emotionally involved in the well-being of Israel, and ever since 1945 this journal has supported the Israelis through good times and bad. But we cannot support Israel in her present action, or rejoice when we try to estimate its long-term consequences.”

Of course, the New Statesman does not speak for Socialists, and Socialists do not decide their attitude by emotional preferences for one capitalist government against another. The New Statesman sees Israel as a group of homeless, persecuted Jewish refugees, refusing to recognise that the State of Israel is something quite different. It is a new, expanding capitalist state, backed by finance and arms from overseas, trying to establish itself in opposition to the existing Middle East states, each with its own interests and aims.
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Now Nasser’s the Pin-up Boy
Disillusionment with the failure of its fatuous policy which favoured Israeli capitalism, the New Statesman will probably spend a few years admiring another capitalist figure-head, Colonel Nasser, until he, too, “lets them down.” Mr. Shinwell, formerly War Minister and Minister of Defence, in the Labour Government, has been unable to make the New Statesman’s quick somersault, and is very critical of the Labour Party’s attitude to Eden’s action. He says that “Now it seems there are many people in the Labour Party who regard Nasser as a hero.” (Daily Sketch, 3/11/56).
But Mr. Shinwell is like the New Statesman in letting his emotions decide his attitude—only his emotions are still stirred by Israel, not Egypt:

  “I glory—I repeat glory— in the fact that the Israelis have had the courage to defend themselves.”

What a pity all these emotions cannot be lavished on the working class in their struggle against capitalism.
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Abadan and Egypt
The dress rehearsal for the Eden invasion of Egypt was Abadan in 1951, staged not by Tories, but by the Labour Government. When Persia nationalised the Abadan oil refinery, the Labour Government was outraged, and though they had not even the fig-leaf pretence that this was an issue affecting all countries (the Eden argument about the Suez Canal), the Government immediately started using force to intimidate the Persian Government, which duly protested to the world at large and to the American President in particular. Mr. Shinwell discloses his part in the business:

   “When the Abadan situation emerged, as Minister of Defence, I alerted a brigade and sent them out by air to the Middle East—with the full consent of the Labour Cabinet.” -(Daily Sketch, 3/11/56.)

The Sketch adds this comment:

  “The 16th Independent Parachute Brigade Group was sent to Cyprus, and British warships to the Abadan area. But Mr. Attlee ordered the evacuation of the refinery.”

War was avoided, and the dispute was “settled” on a basis which enabled American oil companies to get a big foothold in Persian oil, a setback for British oil interests and the British Government that has rankled with them ever since.
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Movement for the Improvement of the Secret Police
The Secret Police and You is a pamphlet issued by the “Campaign for the Limitation of Secret Police Powers.” It is signed by the usual mixed bag of “ progressives,” including Labour and Liberal M.P.s, Aneurin Bevan, the Rev. Donald Soper, Kingsley Martin, etc., etc. Alarmed by such cases as that in which Mr. John Lang lost his job with I.C.I., apparently because his wife had been a Communist and he was, therefore, regarded as a “security risk,” the Campaign Council wants the procedure for vetting potential unreliables regularised and provided with safeguards for the innocent, while ferreting out the “guilty.” It has drafted a five-point code which “would impose a legal restraint on the arbitrary power of the executive and set standards both of fairness and of efficiency for the security services by obliging them to bring forward really convincing evidence.”
It thinks M.I.5 is not very efficient, and wants the job of identifying potential spies to be done by “experts.” since it is “a highly skilled business.” (Page 12).
They warn us that present procedure makes a mockery of “ all the legal safeguards of which England has boasted since the 17th century.”
On the face of it there seems to be no reason why the Campaign should not achieve some success with its proposals, especially if they can convince the Government that its M.I.5 could and should be made more efficient.
The one thing for which the Socialist searches in vain is any explanation why the working class should need a secret police. Judging from Hungary, where, at the first opportunity, the workers lynched all they could get hold of, there is at least some reason to suppose that workers don’t want a secret police at all. But here they are up against the Campaign Council.
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Professor Gilbert Murray’s support for war
Believers in the United Nations who have for years regarded Professor Gilbert Murray as a stalwart for that cause have been dismayed to learn that he defends Eden. His reasons were given in a letter to Time and Tide (10th November) in the course of which he wrote:

  “The real danger was that, if the Nasser movement bad been allowed to progress unchecked, we should have been faced by a coalition of all Arab, Muslim, Asiatic and Anti-Western States, led nominally by Egypt, but really by Russia; that is, a division of the world in which the enemies of civilization are stronger than its supporters. Such a danger, the Prime Minister saw, must be stopped instantly and since the UN has no instrument, it must be stopped, however irregularly, by those Nations who can act at once.”

His new hope is that the U.N. will create its own permanent “Police Force.”
Edgar Hardcastle