The Passing Show
May Day, May Day
Definitions: (1) A radio distress signal, repeated at rapid intervals, for ships at sea. (2) A working class distress signal, repeated at yearly intervals. It’s the second definition which concerns us. You want me to justify it? Of course it’s not the way that Labourites and other left wingers will look at it when they assemble once again this year for their processions. To them it will be a fine opportunity to make the usual protestations of “solidarity’’, “peace”, “progress” and so on, with workers abroad which, for all the fire and eloquence with which they may be delivered, will be vague, empty, and not worth the ink that’s used to print them in the next day’s newspapers.
May Day demonstrations began with the passing of a resolution by the Second International Working Men’s Association in 1889 to set aside the First of May as a workers holiday, so that mass demonstrations could be made to affirm the international solidarity of labour. But solidarity for what? Workers may have avowed such solidarity in 1889, but there was precious little of it in 1914, except perhaps in the only place where nationality didn’t count—in the grave. It has been the same story many times since then to some extent or another, yet down the years the farce of the May Day ritual has been observed.
But a “distress signal” I called it. Well, take a look at some of the things they will be talking about this time. Vietnam? Wages? The Bomb? Pensions? Housing? A superficial conclusion might be that the scope of May Day has broadened since the early days, yet really all these issues can be put under the headings of War and The Poverty of Labour, both inseparable from capitalism and very distressing indeed. Taken collectively they represent a massive S.O.S., a cry for help from a working class floundering in a sea of bewilderment. But the orators who thump the tubs in Hyde Park and elsewhere are just as ignorant as the listening crowds of the way to answer the cry. There is a lifeline which is there for the grasping, but it cannot be thrown by such as the Labour and Communist Parties; it is the lifeline of Socialist knowledge. When the working class have reached out for that, in no time at all they can haul themselves high, dry and safe, to a new world.
The wheel has turned a full cycle and Mr. Geoffrey Bing, Q.C. is back in Britain again. This is the man who was once Labour MP for Hornchurch and who climbed aboard the Ghanaian bandwagon when it began to roll some years ago, becoming Dr. Nkrumah’s principal legal adviser. He wasn’t the only one to support that vicious and repressive regime of course, but although the two press interviews he gave at the end of March were noteworthy for the evasiveness of his replies to questions, at least he did say something. The other individuals and organisations in this country who hailed the new state, and incidentally sneered at us for refusing it our blessing, have all been conspicuously silent.
Now, what did our ex-Labour hero have lo say when he got back home? If we accept his version at its face value, whoever was to blame for the disturbing things that went on during Nkrumah’s reign, it was certainly not Mr. Bing. He was “not there” when the notorious Preventive Detention Bill was announced in the Ghana Parliament. He was “ill” at the time of Nkrumah’s removal of the Chief Justice, and so on . . . He didn’t say what he was doing in November 1963, when the Preventive Detention Act was amended to increase considerably the government’s already harsh powers. He does seem to have learned, though, how unpleasant prison can be (“the actual physical conditions of prisons in Ghana are deplorable”), and how nasty it is to be “manhandled by soldiers” (his wife had that experience). Perhaps some of the five-year detainees could have told him all about those sorts of things if they’d been let out in time. However, that’s the snag with supporting dictatorships; the boomerang sometimes hits you before you have time to get out of the way.
“I have supported ideas and not individuals,” said Mr. Bing on March 28 in a final disclaimer. Ah, yes. Thats the crux of the whole matter, and if Mr. Bing had not said it, we would have had to say it for him. indeed he has supported ideas, and always the wrong ones just like every other Labour MP. True, not every member of his former party would be a deliberate supporter of dictatorships just like that, but so long as capitalism lasts, there is always the threat of it sometime, somewhere. And no capitalist politician can ever be entirely above suspicion in that respect. Even the best of intentions are derided and destroyed in the capitalist jungle, so that the democrat of today (perhaps without realising it at the time) is often a trainee for the dictatorship of tomorrow.
This is where we came in
Take heart, Lord Robens and others Who supported nationalisation of the mines in 1947. You think you have problems with falling coal demand and competition from oil? Well, so have others: this time it’s the West German coal owners who are running into trouble and are actually being paid by their government to take pits out of production. On March 17th, The Guardian described the Bonn government’s actions as “. . . measures . . . designed to help the coal industry to adjust itself to the realities of industrial life.” Which is a nice way of saying “no profit—no production”, no matter if some people do go short of warmth this winter. Incidentally, it does illustrate one point contrary to Tory claims; and that is that the profitability of an industry is not realty affected by whether it’s nationalised. It’s the current market conditions that count.
But don’t get too shocked or surprised at the news from Germany, will you. Governments often act in this way. A few years back, the British textile industry got the treatment, and before that American agriculture. Yet there are plenty of ill clothed and ill fed people around, aren’t there? Profit is the raison d’etre as far as capitalism is concerned, not human need.