News in Review
Significance of Tashkent
The real significance of the talks at Tashkent had nothing to do with the dramatic death of Mr. Shastri, even though this did provide the press with copy for a lot of articles representing the man who had carried out India’s warlike foreign policy as a veritable Dove of Peace.
We are used to such mush by now. What really mattered about Tashkent was that it was the Soviet Union which called the two sides together and which, when the talks looked like breaking down, spared no effort to get an agreement.
The final communique mentioned the two leaders “deep appreciation and gratitude” to the Russian negotiators, and well it might. But the Soviet too, should have given their thanks to somebody, because their intervention in the dispute was anything but coincidental and was inspired by anything but concern for the security of other countries.
It is clear that Russia’s interest in pacifying the Indian continent arises from its struggle with China. It would be disastrous for Moscow if the Indo/Pakistan conflict were to get out of hand; apart from anything else, the continuing clash between these two countries gives China an opportunity to sign “peace pacts” with one or the other, perhaps to send “volunteers” to fight there.
On the other hand, a stable India, friendly to Russia, forms a very important part of a defensive cordon around China. Who is to say that one day there will not be Russian missile bases in India, trained on Chinese cities?
Now the truly striking thing about all this is that Russia has been allowed to intervene, and to exert considerable influence, without any protest from, indeed with the encouragement of, the Western powers.
Only a few years ago this situation would have brought the two sides in the Cold War close to a shooting match. And only a little farther back the same situation was a persistent nightmare of British Foreign Secretaries, obsessed as they had to be with the priority of keeping Russia out of India, and so denying her an outlet to the rich markets, plantations and mines of the Far East.
Times, as they say, have changed. British Imperialism was once thought to be the greatest possible threat to the world’s peace. There was certainly plenty of evidence of its ruthlessness, and of the deaths and troubles it caused. This led many people to assume that the end of the British Empire would mean a safer, happier world.
Yet now that this has happened, now that Britain calmly looks on while its old adversary walks into an area over which bitter wars were once fought, what has happened to the peace of the world?
We are threatened with greater and more terrifying wars than ever. There is as much, if not more, tension in the world than there ever was. There are still great power blocs, confronting each other over the markets and the raw materials of the world.
The reason for this is simple. The wars of capitalism are not caused by any particular line-up of powers, nor by the dominance of any one country. They are caused by the basic nature of capitalism itself, which cannot help but divide the world into competing units.
The dream of the old-time Indian nationalists may have been realised, and the nightmare of the old-time English Foreign Office have come true. But the black and fearsome reality of capitalism —which is neither a dream nor a nightmare — remains with us all the time.
Ever since the abolition of the death penalty, a careful watch has been kept on the murder statistics by those people who think that the only fit and just fate for a murderer is to be hanged by the neck, alone and ignominiously, until he be dead.
The Home Office figure for crimes provisionally classed as murder during the first nine months of 1965 was 185; on this basis, and with a little statistical juggling, and with a little emotion roused by admittedly rousing cases such as the “Murder on the Moors” trial, some sections of the popular press have published the conclusion that since the Silverman Bill became law murderers are running riot.
In fact, the figures prove nothing of the kind. The provisional figure for murders need bear no relation to the figure of crimes which are finally recorded as such. (In 1959, for example the provisional and final figures were 192 and 141 — in 1960 217 and 135.)
So a higher provisional figure for 1965 does not necessarily mean that the final number of cases of murder will turn out higher. The provisional figure can be affected by all sorts of influences, not the least of which is a concern on the part of the police for public and parliamentary interest in the matter.
If the murder statistics—for this country and for others, and for any period— prove anything it is that the death penalty has no influence in the matter. Punishing a murderer does nothing to help his victim, neither does it safeguard the future victims of other killers.
This can be extended to other crimes. There is no call to be particularly sympathetic to the criminal, who after all is making the best of a particularly bad world for himself, much as any law-abiding bank clerk. But facts are facts.
Severe punishment—the cat, the birch, the hangman’s rope—has no effect on crime. A book published some time ago (The Courage of His Convictions, by Tony Parker and Robert Allerton) drove this point home.
But at the same time, it pointed out that the go-soft-on-the-criminal school was equally wrong. They merely disgusted the criminal, who preferred to know where he stood rather than be patronised and manipulated.
The effect to beat down the criminal by punishment, or to talk him round with kindness, has taken up a lot of society’s time and energy. And in the result the crime figures go up or down quite unaffected by the methods which are used to deal with the problem.
In the process, a lot of favourite theories on both sides of the argument have been discredited. Most have been replaced by other, equally discreditable, theories.
The fact is that modern crime has its roots in modern capitalist society. Areas like Harlem, or the Gorbals, are a standing incentive to crime, because the best way to survive there is on your wits, and to strike first and talk afterwards.
Add to this the fact that capitalist society is one of privilege, where possession counts for everything, and you have the start of an explanation of, and therefore a cure for, the mass of crime which is such a problem all over the world today.
Whatever conclusions the criminologists reach over the new murder figures, and whether the death penalty comes back or not, of one thing we can be .sure. Without an understanding of capitalism, and of the problems it causes, crime will continue to flourish unhealthily in our midst.
Labour waves the big stick
Mr. Ray Gunter, who has always prided himself on his affection for blunt speaking, opened the New Year in characteristic style.
Up and down the country he went, making speeches with but a single theme:
“We must find a means of making the country understand that we can spend only what we earn . . .” (Blackburn, 5th January)
“We as a nation are living beyond our means” (Ilford. 8th January)
The reason for Mr. Gunter’s panic was, as we all know, that we are all living much too luxuriously, taking wages which are far too high, doing hardly any work in return, spending long holidays abroad and so on.
So Mr. Gunter and his colleagues speak up, treading a path well worn by previous Labour Ministers. But really, they have little to complain about. There is one thing they are forgetting.
It is now Labour Party policy to wave an enormous stick over workers’ heads in the matter of wage increases; “If we cannot or will not match our productivity to our spending,” threatened Mr. Gunter, “Unemployment will arise.”
Now the Labour Party always claimed that it was the Tories who would have to use threats in wage negotiations, and that a Labour government would be able to use its close ties with the unions to keep wages in check without having a stand-up fight.
In fact, the opposite has happened; the Conservatives leaned only very lightly on the unions and Labour Ministers have used threats.
What the Labour Party’s propaganda overlooked—not accidentally, of course— was that a Labour government would be committed to running capitalism, with all its conflicting interests—in this particular case the clash between workers and employers over wages, hours and so on.
In face of this clash, and in face of the conditions of labour shortage which generally favour the workers when it comes to a fight, the exhortations and the threats which come in so steady a stream from Labour Ministers are powerless.
There is no cause to offer them any sympathy. They asked for power to try to run British capitalism. And they got it.
After all, the big reason why the Labour Party got where it is today is that it has never encouraged the working class to face the facts of capitalism. There is an especial irony in the fact that those same workers who in their ignorance put the Labour Party into power are now themselves, unwittingly or no, forcing a Labour government to face some of the unpleasant facts of the capitalist social system.