Class Interests, Not Morality, Determine Policies (1958)

In the Sunday Times on the 10th August Rebecca West wrote an article in a series “The Destiny of Man” that commenced with an article by Julian Huxley.

We are not here concerned with her contribution to the discussion apart from a particular paragraph in her article. After referring to certain statements of Ovid on morality and comparing them with statements by Julian Huxley, Rebecca West makes the following comment:

   “Sir Julian is perfectly right; this idea is bound to inspire men to mighty moral and intellectual efforts; and that is just what it has done, People throughout the centuries have gone on and on, lending an ear to the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount and the pagan moralists, building hospitals and homes for the old, treating children kindly and trying to establish justice, instead of taking the easy path and turning into handsome young bulls and going off after Europa.” (The last phrase is a reference to Ovid’s statement.)

Now let us take a glance at these “mighty moral and intellectual efforts.” But before doing so let us make it clear that we are concerned with what has in general happened, and not with the well-meaning efforts of a few people here and there who have been inspired with a desire to help humanity to better things.
In the early years of the present century Lloyd George, a British cabinet minister, admitted the shocking conditions of the aged poor in what he called the richest land under the sun. The origin of hospitals was largely due to the need to renovate soldiers wounded in battle so that they could rise and fight again. When Britain was undergoing the industrial revolution that made it the most powerful country of its time children of tender age were working long hours in factories that have been described as veritable hells. Every capitalist government, as well as those on the way to being such, have claimed, when embarked upon imperialist policies, that they were “trying to establish justice.” But what justice was meted out to the hundreds of thousands of Africans that were transported in coffin ships to America and elsewhere during last century for the profit of slave-owners and slave-traders? Where do the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount apply there?
Coming to more recent times we may ask what moral motives were behind the two wars that have devastated the world, or the Korean war, or the other instances of armed savagery that have devastated vast areas and brought misery to millions of the earth’s inhabitants..
On the same page of the Sunday Times the Prime Minister of Australia, R. G. Menzies, has a defence of the sending of British and United States forces into the Middle East. He uses the old threadbare argument that it was “purely defensive.” Every nation taking armed action makes the same claim. It is true they are defensive actions, but not in the sense that Mr. Menzies wants us to believe. They are actions for the purpose of defending the profit hunting of sections of the capitalist class.
The United Nations Charter was supposed to provide an assembly that would settle disagreements between nations and thus prevent the recourse to armed conflict. All disagreements were to be submitted to this body before action was taken. In fact the opposite has happened ever since the Assembly was founded.
Mr. Menzies, who claimed to be aiming at true national independence and ordered peace, makes the following statements in his article:

    “That Great Britain and the United States had a right, without any violation of the United Nations Charter, to send forces for purely defensive purposes into the Lebanon and Jordan is, I think, clear. The reasons for this view are essentially practical, and are affirmed by many actions already taken by leading members of the United Nations, without challenge in that body. . . . With the invitation or consent of the established Government of the receiving country, it is quite clear that the ‘sending in’ of forces is completely legal and proper.”

That let’s out Russia’s action in Hungary and also shows what a complete fraud the United Nations Charter is. But it also shows up the hypocrisy of the propaganda by Western official spokesmen in favour of national groups oppressed by a tyrannous government. For instance it would be “completely legal and proper” for the Western powers to send armed forces into Russia at the request of the Russian Government to quell any rising against the Government of Russia! But of course Mr. Menzies would probably reply. “Ah. that’s different!”
The ex-president of the United States, Mr. H. S. Truman, also made a contribution supporting the armed intervention in the Middle East. In an article in the Daily Express, 21st July, 1958, he said:—

  “The President has made a momentous decision and proclaimed a policy which every citizen of the United States should support.”

In his enthusiasm he goes further, stating that it ought to be made clear to Nasser and the Arab leaders that the Western nations were not going to be blackmailed because of their need for oil.

   “The fact is that the free world now has access to ample oil resources outside the Middle East, from which they can supply all their industrial, domestic, and strategic requirements.”

Behind this statement is the fact that America has a surplus of oil—but American capitalists are still determined to keep a firm grip on Middle East oil, and any other sources they can get their hands on.
He slipped up on one point, however. He says:—

   “Nor is there any hope of a better future for the Arabs if, on the pretence of freedom, so-called republics are set up by brutal military coups such as occurred in Iraq.”

Since he wrote that the Iraq republic has been recognised by the U.S., Britain, Italy, Japan, and others. With cold-blooded cynicism the British Government stated its recognition two days after the memorial service to King Feisal. The reason for the speed? According to the diplomatic correspondent of the Express (Daily Express, 2nd August, 1958) the reasons were as follows:—

   “The first is that Britain wants to give every chance to the new regime to prove its loyalty to ‘international obligations,’ like oil agreements and membership of the Bagdad Pact. The second is that the Government is determined that Britain shall not be beaten by Germany—one of the first to recognise the new regime—Italy, Japan, and other countries in the trade race in Iraq.”

There it is in a nutshell without any humbug. The kind of inspiration that is behind the policies of all capitalist nations. As another correspondent put it, even more bluntly, the matter of prime importance is “ to keep the oil flowing.”
Rebecca West’s moral uplift moves in curious ways. Another illustration of them is contained on the same page of the Sunday Times from which we have already quoted, but this time in its editorial column.
Commenting on the cruise of the “Nautilus” under the Polar ice, the editorial column has this observation:—

   “The strategic implications of the voyage are revolutionary and will fundamentally alter concepts of global warfare,”

Historically Rebecca West’s idea of moral uplift may be fantastic but there is a moral in all this; that as long as the actions of governments are determined by economic class interests there will be cynicism, brutality and war. The only way to remove these evils is to abolish the source of class interests—the private ownership of the means of living. Only the establishment of Socialism can do this—there is no other way.

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