1960s >> 1960 >> no-666-february-1960
Macmillan on Safari
Strangely for him, Mr. Macmillan left for his African tour with hardly a bang or a whimper. No funny hat at the airport. No enduring fatuity for the newspapermen. He must have been in serious mood, meant business. He seems to begin every year with a bit of travel, but it would be ungracious to suspect him only of wanting to escape the English winter.
Certainly, Mr. Macmillan had a case for going to have a look at Africa, for the continent keeps breaking into the news. (The March Socialist Standard will be extensively devoted to it) For the public there may be the empty phrases, such as his statement to the Nigerian Parliament on January 13th that “Britain’s primary purpose is the preservation of peace and justice and rising prosperity throughout the world.” But beneath these words is the concern of the British capitalist class for the continent where they were once so powerful and which is now slipping from their control. Over the past few years the pace of African events has increased tremendously. This year, the French Cameroons, Senegal, Soudan, Mauretania and Nigeria, among others, will become independent of the powers which have ruled them for so long. Their own ruling class will control the country. The past colonial powers must establish new relations with them, seeking to maintain the advantages of the old empire. Africa, lying between Western Europe and the Far East, is strategically important. It has great mineral resources and is a valuable future market for Europe’s industries. Little wonder, then, that Whitehall is so anxious to come to terms with the new African nationalisms.
Are the Labour Party put out by all this? Would they prefer the Tories to show their traditional hard face on colonial affairs? They did their best to make Africa an issue in the last general election and have named 1960 as Africa Year. This means that they will launch a heavy propaganda drive, starting with a month-long boycott of South African imports during March. But isn’t this rather odd? The Nationalist Party came to power in South Africa in 1948, when there was a Labour government over here. They had three years to impose economic sanctions against South African goods, yet took no such action. Again, why boycott only South African imports? What about those from Spain? And Portugal? And Russia? Indeed, far from wanting to exclude Russian imports, many prominent members of the Labour Party advocate an increase in trade between Russia and Great Britain. Curiouser still. Labour is trying to prove that its South African boycott will hurt hardly anybody. On January 13th The Guardian reported that Mr. Morgan Phillips stated at a press conference that “Even if the Labour Party’s boycott of South African goods in March is 100 per cent effective it is likely to affect little more than £2 million worth of trade.” Why organise the boycott at all, if it is so limited?
Labour will say that it is a matter of principle but the Tories may fairly object that the Labour Party are playing up Africa as an Opposition’s vote catcher. Certainly, the Labour government’s was not a good record on colonial affairs. They banished Seretse Khama from Bechuanaland. They put Nkrumah in jail, whence he was taken to become Ghana’s Prime Minister. Now that they are in opposition, this may be forgotten, if the exigencies of British capitalism force the Tories to suppress a colonial nationalist movement, that is fair game for a bit of vote catching. Yet at a guess, it is doubtful that Labour will win much support over Africa. The car and the telly will still determine how Jack votes.
However hard Jack may try to ignore it, Africa will continue to obtrude itself upon his attention. Since the opening of India and the Far East revived European interest, the continent has been dominated by the colonial powers. Inevitably, the colonies have grown their own capitalist class, who have wanted to run their affairs free from outside interference. Thus the colonising country has been faced with two policies. They could try to suppress the nationalist movement, as they have in Cyprus and Algeria. This entails the keeping of armies in the colonies and the expenditure of vast amounts of money—a problem familiar to the French government. The other course is to grant self government, as has happened in Ghana and Nigeria, whilst trying to maintain the old trading connections. This latter is not always possible. British traders have suffered many inconveniences in Ceylon since the island became independent and India and Pakistan have imposed severe restrictions on imports from this country.
Nevertheless, a colonial power will often prefer to agree to self government. But this preference can be overruled by strategic considerations, as in the case of Cyprus, or by economic needs as in Algeria, where the French are anxious to exploit the mineral wealth under the Sahara. Capitalism thrives on cheap and plentiful raw materials, on populous markets and commercial routes. Sometimes it needs wars and suppression to keep these things, and governments are there to see that this happens. Labour and Tory have been the same, their eye on the same ball. That is the message which will be between the lines of the report, nonchalant and civilised, which Mr. Macmillan will give us when he returns from his African journey.