1960s >> 1967 >> no-749-january-1967

The Review Column: Out of Control

Politicians are fond of depicting themselves as men who have capitalism firmly under control.

They talk of capitalism as if it were a car, which needs only a touch on the brake or the accelerator to keep it humming smoothly along to prosperity. Or, like Richard Crossman last November, as if it were someone with a minor illness:

  For if it is vital not to let up until the medicine has really worked, it is equally important not to endanger the patient’s recovery by the kind of overdose which could transform a carefully calculated cutback into an unplanned crisis of confidence and a collapse of private capital investment.

This sounds as if the politicians really know what they are about, as if the economy can be cured without a lot of difficulty.

It might be more reassuring if it were not for the fact that from the start the Labour government have said they had the situation under control, only to be hit by repeated crises which, they confessed, took them unawares.

It might be more reassuring were it not for the long history of unpredictable economic ailments which have come upon capitalism—the Slumps, the Recessions, the Great Crashes.

And again if it were not for the long list of politicians who have gone down in confusion after telling us, like Crossman, that as long as they were at the bedside there was nothing to worry about.

Capitalism cannot be controlled, no matter how refined and delicately calculated its politicians’ policies may be. The system runs the politicians, not vice versa.

Perhaps Crossman knows this. One thing he certainly knows. Whatever the situation, a capitalist politician must always keep up appearances; he must never admit that the system has beaten him and even though the patient dies there must never be any verdict other than accidental death.

How to Build Houses
Labour’s election manifesto last March said “Our first priority is houses.” It asserted that in 1965 a total of 383,000 houses had been built and promised. “In the next five years we shall go further . . . we intend to achieve a . . .  target of 500,000 houses by 1969/70.”

What progress is being made?

The latest available figures—for October last year—show a fall in houses built of 3.252 compared with the same month in 1965. In the first ten months of 1966, there were 245 fewer houses built than during the same period in 1965. The Daily Telegraph reported “Much bigger falls are forecast for the first half of next year . . .”

Does this mean that the need for homes is declining?


A new organisation, a National Campaign for the Homeless—Shelter it calls itself—says that there are three million families in Britain living in slums, near slums or in grossly overcrowded conditions. London has 7,613 homeless people in hostels; Glasgow has 78,524 families on its waiting list; Liverpool has 73,733 unfit houses.


Is there then a shortage of building materials?


As the building figures go down the stockpile of bricks goes up; over 700 million are in stock now, enough to build nearly 50,000 homes. The President of the National Federation of Clay Industries, Mr. Kenneth Timperley, describes the recession in brick demand as “. . . quite the worst I have experienced in 30 years. . .”


Does it make sense?


More people in desperate need of a decent place to live, less houses being built, more building material being stockpiled.


An inhuman muddle, but it does make sense in terms of the economics and the priorities of capitalism, whether it is capitalism under a Tory government or Labour.


Bonn-Crisis Over?
The political crisis in Bonn was averted by the formation of a coalition government made up of the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats.


As a result Willy Brandt, Mayor of West Berlin, became Foreign Minister and Kiesinger’s deputy. Seven other Social Democrats joined the Cabinet.
Some people may wonder that parties which were once so hostile to each other can suddenly form an alliance. They may wonder that a party which calls itself Socialist can sit in the same Cabinet as one which openly stands for capitalism.


In fact the German Social Democrats, far from standing for Socialism or indeed any political theory, are one of the most adaptable parties in existence. Before they joined up with the CDU, it was strongly rumoured that they were about to throw in their lot with the other main German party, the Free Democrats.


This would also have been a painless business: the Guardian’s Bonn correspondent reported on the marked similarity between the two parties and said the Free Democrats had “. . . published a policy statement . . .”


All capitalist political parties are basically the same and, when the occasion demands they have no difficulty in closing ranks with each other. They have little respect for what they profess as principles and for the meaning of the very words they use. All of them are after political power, and will do any sort of deal to get it.


The flavour of capitalist politics is international. It is also extremely unpleasant.


In the Commons debate on Rhodesia on December 8 last. Harold Wilson said:


  The present situation in Rhodesia faces Britain with the greatest moral issue she has had to face in the post war world.

On the same day in the House of Lords, Tory Lord Ferrier was assuring the government:

  I and millions like me could never be persuaded to open fire on our kith and kin in Rhodesia.


In Salisbury, lan Smith has said all along that he stands for a settled, civilised way of life against barbarism.


In other words, however much both sides may disagree on other matters, they are at one in presenting their struggle with each other as a moral issue.


There is of course nothing new in this, although it is something of a mystery, why politicians think it is always necessary. There is no evidence that working class support for capitalism would decline, if they were told the truth about its power struggles.


Capitalism has many conflicts, all of them basically economic in origin. There is no morality involved in them, no human interests, no distinct division between right and wrong.


Wilson’s professed moral indignation against Rhodesia, for example, does not at present extend to South Africa, which has never made any secret of its support for the Smith regime.


The reason for this is plain. South Africa is too valuable a trading partner for Britain’s Labour government to want to upset.

The African states in the Commonwealth may protest at this, and they also use moral arguments to support their case.

Behind all this fog of confusion and official lies, the processes of capitalism grind inexorably on. They recognise no morality and the only issue they are interested in is a healthy balance sheet.