1960s >> 1967 >> no-756-august-1967

The Review Column: Peace

This, let us remind ourselves, is peacetime. At the time of writing no two countries are at war, in the sense of a formal declaration of hostilities.

 

Yet these are some of the events reported in just one day’s newspaper last month:

 

  • Riots in Hong Kong; four people killed. Gurkha troops take up position on the frontier with China.
  • Israel and Egypt exchange accusations over which side started the last bout of fighting in the Suez Canal area.
  • Rebellion in the Congo. Three United States transport: aircraft sent to give long range support for the government: forces.
  • Civil War in Nigeria. Government troops reported advancing rapidly southwards through secessionist Biafra.
  • American Defence Secretary McNamara admits that United States Marines suffered heavy losses in recent fighting along the southern edge of the demilitarised zone in Vietnam.
  • Mr. Kosygin, Russia’s Prime Minister, describes the world situation as “very grave.”

 

If some of these conflicts are complicated, this is only a symptom of the fact that capitalism is a mass of tortuous interests, treachery and coercion.

 

If they are persistent, this is an indication that capitalism continually produces unrest and insecurity, that it is a society which cannot be at peace.

 

And if there are statesmen whose only contribution is to tell us the obvious—that reveals the impotence of the men who say they can control capitalism, can tame its terrors.
There is, of course, a lesson in all this, about the future of the world and the welfare of the human race. But it will not be found in the morning newspapers.

 

Promises

Two of the most persistent of working class dreams are better and more plentiful housing and lower prices. It follows from this that these two issues are the subject of many promises, from politicians and others, and that much nonsense is talked about them.

 

Take housing. Tory Shadow Minister Sir Keith Joseph recently said that, provided everyone accepted a few brilliant ideas he had just happened to think up, the housing shortage in England and Wales could be over in five years.

 

This probably sounded quite plausible to anyone in need of a house, or to anyone who had forgotten that politicians are in the habit of promising to solve the housing problem, and that for a very long time they have been telling us that the solution to it was only a few years away.

 

Perhaps those same people have forgotten that Joseph was himself Minister of Housing when the Tories were in power; that he failed to abolish the housing shortage and failed even to produce any clear or original ideas about how it was to be tackled.

 

Now take prices. Take an article written in the Lloyds Bank Review last month, in which Sir Ronald Edwards, chairman of the Electricity Council, thought that “the average price per unit of electricity should be significantly lower at the end of 1977 than at the end of 1967 ”

 

This sounds as though the Electricity Council has found a secret denied to all other industries. But Edwards would be more convincing if he had not written his article at the very time when electricity prices are about to go up all over the country by about ten per cent. He would carry more conviction if his promise were not hedged about with all sorts of risky assumptions on future economic trends, which Edwards must know could easily upset his calculations.

 

He himself destroyed the whole thing with the obvious comment: “Only a fool or a prophet would stake his reputation on a firm forecast of electricity prices a decade from now.”

 

Capitalism is full of problems, and of smooth-talkers who say they can solve them. The tragedy is that so many people believe the promises, and fail to see the nonsense for what it is.

 

Zilliacus

Konni Zilliacus, who died last month, was the Left winger to end all Left wingers. The only man who was in step; the persistent thorn in his leaders’ sides; Labour’s unsleeping conscience. So they said.

 

Zilliacus had many disagreements with his party, especially on its foreign policy. He was one of those Labour M.P.s who found to their astonishment after the victory in 1945 that Bevin handled foreign affairs very much as they had expected a Tory Foreign Secretary to.

 

He was in almost all the rebel movements and eventually he paid for this, with expulsion. What Wilson has called “dog licences” were as necessary then as they are now; Zilliacus could not get back into Parliament until he had given the Labour leadership the necessary assurances about his future conduct, and they had accepted him into the fold once more.

 

Zilliacus was a prime example of what are called honest politicians. Perhaps we can accept this—although he never took his disagreements with Labour to the extent of resigning, nor did he come back on his own terms—but the fact is that such men are dangerous.

 

The so-called Left wingers encourage the idea that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Labour Party, that its only fault is a temporary deviation from the straight and narrow path, that a change of leadership is all that is needed to put everything right again.

 

No one will ever know how many futile votes this idea has won for Labour. No one will ever know the extent of the confusion and the cynicism it has caused.

 

What we do know is that the problems of capitalism are as acute as ever and that the political ignorance and apathy which supports the system is still there, encouraged by the Labour Party, by its members honest and dishonest, its leaders and its rebels.