1960s >> 1961 >> no-685-september-1961

The Passing Show: From the top

Who is for democracy?

Not Lord Citrine, if we are to judge by his recent speech in the House of Lords. The Daily Herald (15/6/61) reported him as saying:

  The TUC leadership has been weakened at almost successive annual conferences in recent years.
I have sat and writhed in the balconies time after time when I have seen a wise, constructive policy put from the platform and defeated by the delegates on the floor.
This is lamentable, because I do not think that really broad-minded policy can ever come from the bottom.
I believe it must come from the top, from people who are capable of viewing the whole field.

This is a strong argument for dictatorship, from the man who was for twenty years general secretary of the TUC. If his views are held by many others in the head offices of trade unions, it would partly account for the yawning gap which exists in many unions between the officials and the rank-and-file.

Lord Citrine had more to say. He delivered a swingeing attack on the workers for their ignorance of economics. He said:

  The average worker has not the least realisation of the dangers of inflation. He does not understand that the economy can get out of hand and that savings can disappear overnight.

Perhaps the workers would show more concern about the fate of savings if the system we live under allowed him to accumulate any savings worth mentioning. But since one of the basic laws of capitalism is that the workers are paid only enough to keep them able to do the work required of them and to bring up the next generation of wage-earners, the protection of savings is a purely academic point for them. Those who have savings, i.e., the capitalists, will do their level best to see that nothing happens to them even if sometimes, since capitalism is essentially an anarchic system, they are not altogether successful. This is a problem for the capitalists, and we can leave it to them.

Lord Citrine, however, had better be more careful about upbraiding the workers for their ignorance. If they take him at his word, and find out the real nature of the present system of society, their next step will be to end it and to introduce Socialism. And what would happen then to Citrine’s noble title, and to the House of Lords where he airs his views, and to the cult of leadership which he supports?

Nothing defensive
Socialists have pointed out many, many times the absurd misuse of words when a ruling class arms itself with weapon-like bombs and then claims that is simply taking “defensive” precautions. The odd thing is that any ruling class, and its tame propagandists, can see this perfectly well—when the actions of any other ruling class are being discussed.

One example was seen recently in the Times. The Times leader-writers have very often discussed Britain’s “defence” preparations, the “defence” estimates, the country’s “defence” forces, and so on. But all this was forgotten when the executive of the Indonesian ruling class. President Sukarno, got Russia to agree to supply him with modern military aircraft. The Indonesian claim that these were merely for “defensive” purposes was seen at once as a hollow pretence. What was obscure to the leader-writers when it happened under their noses in Britain became crystal clear in the distant lands of southeast Asia. The first leader (5/7/61) said smugly:

  Jet bombers that are as advanced as any in the world have nothing defensive about them and it is obvious enough that West New Guinea provides the motive.

This is quite right, of course: one of the main aims of the Indonesian ruling class is to extend its rule over West New Guinea, which is at present still ruled by the Dutch. Obviously, as the leader says, modern jet bombers have nothing defensive about them. But what a curious case of selective blindness that the writer could not see that this applies to British jet bombers as much as to jet bombers in Russia or Indonesia!

In a world where many millions go hungry, one would have thought that the rich would try to conceal their more extravagant excesses of over-eating. But not so. One American gourmet is on a round-the-world “tasting trip,” and the Observer (6/8/61) tells us that he arrived in Tokio bringing with him:

   . . .  an alarm wrist-watch to time the grilling of steaks, a golden ball which will not sink immediately into caviar if it is over-salted, a miniature pair of scales for weighing meat and a microscope for checking its grain. He also carries a fourteen-point grading chart for statistical purposes.

Perhaps the very insensitiveness the members of the upper class, their willingness to display publicly the great gulf between the rich and the poor, will contribute not a little to their eventual downfall.

Alwyn Edgar