The Passing Show: Public Opinion

Our rulers must despise us. Only sixteen years have passed since the end of the war, and yet the governments of the world keep publishing more and more material revealing how far the real Allied war aims were from the “truth, justice, democracy,” and so on, which were the professed objectives. They would scarcely do this if they believed that the working class could learn from past mistakes. They seem to have no fear that the workers, having been shown how much they were fooled in the second world war, will refuse to be fooled in the third.

The latest revelation of what went on behind the scenes in the war comes in some American diplomatic papers recently released by the State Department. Marshal Stalin rejected a suggestion that the peoples of the three Baltic states should be allowed to vote on whether they wanted to join the Soviet Union, saying that when the Baltic countries had belonged to Russia before the First World War “no one had raised the question of public opinion, and he did not quite see why it was being raised now”(The Observer, 18/6/61). In other words, the Communist leader defended himself on the ground that he was only doing what the Czarist tyranny had done before him. President Roosevelt rejoined sympathetically that “the truth of the matter was that the public neither knew nor understood.”

Having settled—without asking them —the fate of the people of the Baltic countries, the three leaders proceeded to settle the future of the Poles. Stalin wanted a slice of Poland, so proposed to compensate the Poles with a slice of Germany. Roosevelt agreed, remarking he “would like to see the eastern border moved even farther to the west and the western border moved even to the River Oder,” although he added that “he could not publicly take part in any such arrangement at the present time” because “there were in the United States from six to seven million Americans of Polish extraction, and, as a practical man, he did not wish to lose their vote.” Mr. Churchill concurred; he said that “as far as he was concerned, he would like to see Poland moved westward.”

It seems a far cry from this secret carving-up of Europe to the public support for “democracy” and “the rights of small nations.”

I did not suggest
So far from telling the workers the truth about what was going on, they weren’t even honest with each other. In 1943 Roosevelt sent a message to Stalin through Joseph Davis, the U.S. Ambassador in Moscow (The Times, 19/6/61):

  I want to get away from the difficulties of large staff conferences or the red tape of diplomatic conversations. Therefore, the simplest and most practical method I can think of would be an informal and completely simple visit for a few days between you and me. . . . this summer. A problem is where to meet. Africa is almost out of the question in summer and Khartum is British territory. Iceland I do not like because for both you and me it involves rather difficult flights and in addition, quite frankly, would make it difficult not to invite Prime Minister Churchill at the same time. Therefore I suggest that we could meet either on your side or my side of Behring Strait.

Churchill got wind of this and sent a message to Roosevelt protesting strongly against being left out in the cold. So Roosevelt replied to Churchill:

  I did not suggest to Uncle Joe that we meet alone, but he told Davis that he assumed (a) that we would meet alone, and (b) that he agreed that we should not bring staffs to what would be a preliminary meeting.

So much for the standard of truthfulness of one of the “leaders of the free world.”

Larger moral issues
Despite the steadily declining influence of the Churches, they continue to give what support they can to the ruling class. The Rev. Dr. Maldwyn L. Edwards, in his presidential address to the Methodist Conference, spent much of his time denouncing the wickedness of the workers (The Times, 4/7/61):

   Dr. Edwards said the need was to realize man’s spiritual identity and to halt the discounting of God. The view that man had only himself to rely on had spread into such present day issues as industrial disputes and sex and family life. This wrong philosophy of human nature showed itself in industry, in lack of discipline or interest in work; absenteeism, excessive attention to short hours and long pay packets, and the quick readiness to strike for private interests regardless of the larger moral issues involved or the public suffering caused.

Dr. Edwards counters the fact that most workers spend their lifetimes in monotonous, boring tasks, or in single, meaningless operations not by condemning the society which organises production in such a way, but by blaming the men for “lack of interest” in their work. And how can employers be sure of their profits if there is absenteeism or lack of discipline, or if the men are prepared to strike to defend their standards of living?

Dr. Edwards went on: “It is not only necessary for management to play fair with workers and workers with management, but both must play fair with the community from whom they get their living and whom they are meant to serve.” This is quite erroneous. Capitalist production continues so long as a profit can reasonably be expected: that is its sole objective, not serving the community. And, of course, this fine impartial-sounding phrasemaking about both sides playing fair with each other is, in the context of our society, not impartial at all. It is exactly on a par with the church in a society based on slavery calling on the slave-owners and the slaves to play fair with each other. What is wanted in such a context is not fair play, but an end of slavery: and what is wanted in our society is not “fair play” by the capitalists towards the workers, but the end of wage-slavery.

Happy and useful life
In parliament recently Mr. Ramsden, for the Government, announced that the Vickers machine gun was going to be retained by the regular army until 1965, and by the Territorial army even longer. This produced what Punch (7/6/61) called a “sentimental scene.” Colonel Bromley-Davenport roared his approval, and Mr. Ramsden “with a.tear in his eye” paid tribute to “this extremely good gun.” The Labour Party was not to be outdone. “Mr. Mayhew from the front opposition bench wished it many years of happy and useful life.”

From Conservative M.P.s, belonging to an avowedly capitalist party, this is only what one could expect. But those people who still confuse Labourism with Socialism would do well to ponder Mr. Mayhew’s benevolent wishes for a machine-gun.

Alwyn Edgar