The Passing Show: Competitive Friendship
It’s a competitive system all right. Competition colours the whole of our lives and dominates our actions. It is praised and advocated as a worthy thing by all the capitalist parties, some more than others, of course, although none of them is so enthusiastic about it when their ruling class is in the weaker competitive position. But still, there is nothing much they can do about it but accept the basic proposition of competition. It is an accomplished fact of capitalism. And because of this, it often makes a mockery of friendship and subjects the most personal relationships to intolerable strain.
In the wider international political field, too, no alliance (or “friendship” to use a statesmen’s euphemism) is free from its buffetings. Indeed, even while swearing eternal brotherhood and clasping hands across the conference table, the politicians must always keep a sharpened knife to use against their former allies, should the interests of their ruling class so demand at any time. History—particularly in recent years—is full of such examples. Was it not Stalin, for instance, who signed a non-aggression and friendship pact with Hitler after having moved his forces half way across Poland to meet the advancing Nazi armies? Both men must have known at the time how worthless such a pact was, but it suited their interests to sign it. And less than two years later they were at war.
One piece of “non-aggression” was dead and another was born. Russia became the ally of Britain and U.S.A., once again amidst the toasts, the backslapping, and vows of everlasting friendship. Only since the war has some of the truth trickled out concerning the intrigue and double-crossing that went on. We know that the first atomic bomb was dropped not to end the war—it could have been ended some months before on the Allies’ terms—but to demonstrate America’s nuclear might and as a diplomatic trump card to be played at later conferences with the Soviets. Was it not Field Marshal Montgomery who, in the closing stages of the European war, wanted to race on to Berlin, not primarily to defeat the Nazis, but to forestall Russian occupation of the city?
Since those days, all sorts of re-shufflings have taken place and nobody can guess what new line-ups will emerge even in the near future. Which brings us back to our initial point. The more farsighted capitalist politician never assumes permanency of any alliance. He must be prepared to tear up treaties, stab ruthlessly in the back where necessary, and be in opposition to those with whom perhaps only yesterday he was wining and dining. In fact, even while the alliance is still in force, he must try and perceive future trends and warn his “friends” not to tread on his toes in any future bargaining session.
Stripped of any verbal niceties, this was the very point made by Prime Minister Douglas-Home when addressing Conservatives at Bury last month. Britain must not abandon nuclear weapons, he said, because she would lose her place at the top table when such matters were discussed between East and West. He went on:—
I want to make it quite clear that 1 am not going to get out of that chair and I will not see it empty. France, when she has a nuclear arm will be there. She is our close and valued ally. So, too, will China, if and when she has a nuclear bomb. But they will not, if I have anything to do with it, supplant Britain. If, as seems certain, they are to become nuclear powers it is more vital than ever that Britain should be at the centre where matters of war and peace hang in the balance.
No doubt the Bury Conservatives did not disagree with Sir Alec’s words. It is a fair bet that a Liberal or Labour audience would also be ready to echo their basic sentiment of pushing their masters’ interests at the conference table. In fact it will be interesting to compare Mr. Wilson’s public statements on such matters (should he become P.M.) with those of Douglas-Home. There won’t be much to choose between them. The same old game in fact, and bang up to date.
Scramble for Oil
An important background to the bloody struggle between the Algerian Nationalists and the French, was the discovery of oil and other minerals in the Sahara. Had it not been for this, the area would probably have been given its independence a long time before. As it was, huge sums of money were poured into its development and an army of half a million soldiers was tied down in trying to hold it for the French capitalist class.
There is news now that oil and gas may be found in large quantities under the North Sea, and it looks as if a new and bitter struggle will be focused here in the very near future. This is what is behind the rather hurried ratification by various governments of the Continental Shelf Convention, which divides the shelf between the states for exploration and exploitation. According to Labour M.P. Sir Frank Soskice, no less than eighteen countries are carrying out borings and oil companies have been prospecting there for two years, so there is a strong chance of new supplies being found.
But as work proceeds, so the rumblings of discord grow louder and already the West German government have issued a “hands off” warning to foreign companies. When the Continental Shelf Convention comes into force, they will no doubt assert their legal right to push the others out, but by then there will be American Overseas Petroleum Ltd. drilling in the area, as well as those already there. So keep your eye on the North Sea. There may be two big explosions there shortly, the first when the gas and oil come up, the second when they all start squabbling over who is to get the lion’s share of it. But whoever gets it, workers will not. Just another example of that “good healthy competition” we were discussing just now.
That surely must have been a nightmare on the M.l motorway during that foggy night of January 21st when crash after crash occurred, and altogether some two hundred vehicles were involved. It seems that the drivers simply refused to obey common sense rules, not only attempting to overtake, but doing so in some cases at speeds upwards of sixty m.p.h.
Well might Mr. Marples lash out at them in the Commons two days later. Well might he express horror “at this further series of multiple accidents.” It was an easy matter for him to lay the blame fairly and squarely where it belonged—on the shoulders of the foolish motorists who travelled too fast and too close to the vehicles ahead of them for safety. Indeed, reading reports of the minister’s statement, it is difficult to escape the impression that this was not just an attack but a counter attack. He has come in for some pretty hefty knocks from the “Marples Must Go” faction, but here was one time when he could throw their words back in their faces. His position was unassailable, and opposition criticisms fizzled out.
As far as he went, Mr. Marples was right, of course.. But only as far as he went. He seemed to forget that the whole idea behind the construction of the M.l and other motorways was not just to relieve congestion and get traffic moving, but to gel it moving quickly. They were built for fast traffic; that is why the pedestrian and the push cyclist are banned and there is no speed limit. If this fosters an attitude of recklessness at times bordering on the maniacal, it is a bit late in the day to complain.
Incidentally, contrary to claims made when it was opened, the findings of Professor W. Gissane and Dr. J. Bull after a three-year study of deaths on the M.l are that:—
. . . the risk of fatal accidents to car occupants and perhaps to lorry drivers, per vehicle mile travelled, is appreciably higher than on other types of road . . .
Speed is the order of the day in capitalist society. Speed with its handmaidens of greater nervous strain, injury and often death. It is against this sort of background that we must view the pile ups on the M.1 and the truly frightening casualty list on the roads in general (almost 7,000 deaths in 1961). This is what Mr. Marples may moan about, but is largely powerless to prevent. This is capitalism—on the move.