1960s >> 1968 >> no-762-february-1968

The Review Column: Non!


France’s veto on the British approach to the Common Market added a little more to President de Gaulle’s reputation.

The cartoonists feverishly added another lump to his nose, another crease to his face, another shadow around his eyes. The leader writers dipped their pens deeper into the vitriol and Wilson virtually wished the General dead, when he said that time was on the side of the British application.

Bogymen are always useful to capitalism’s apologists; they are convenient outlets for frustrated nationalism and scapegoats for the unavoidable problems of the system.

In Britain, these apologists often demand that the government follow something like the policies of de Gaulle, who is determined to expand French influence and power.

This is unpopular in Britain only because it runs counter to the present interests of the British ruling class, Since the war they have seriously misjudged the course of events in Europe, first paying lip-service to European unity, then deliberately trying to frustrate the negotiations for that unity, then choosing to keep the trading links with the Commonwealth rather than join the Common Market.

The erosion of British interests in the Commonwealth, and the hope that there were fatter pickings to be had on the Continent has caused another look at Europe. But the British ruling class still want to have it both ways, to have the EEC fashioned to their design. The French conception of European unity, on the other hand, is one dominated by the interests of French capital.

The fact that the Six are divided over the rejection of the British application shows that even the organisations which are supposed to be based on common interests have their conflicts. If the British government eventually joins, the disputes will continue, over other issues and throwing up other bogymen.

Capitalism is a mass of diverging interests; even its unities are full of conflict

No Arms for South Africa

Most of the criticism which followed the government’s ban on arms sales to South Africa assumed that the decision was almost the single handed work of Harold Wilson.

The Prime Minister was supposed to have been inspired by opposition to racism—in other words, by political principle. This might be more convincing, were it not for the fact that the whole thing blew up at the end of a year which the Labour government had devoted to proving that its political principles do not exist.

The ban will of course make little difference to the South African government who will obviously get the arms they need elsewhere; few weapon salesmen can resist a fat contract. But presumably this had little influence on Wilson who must have acted, if not for political principle then for political reasons.

One of these could well have been that the government’s record has put a severe strain upon the loyalty of its supporters. Last year was one of unbroken gloom for them, culminating in devaluation, another upward lurch in prices and the promise of an even gloomier 1968.

Then Wilson’s policy on Rhodesia is clearly a stagnant failure; no amount of indignant patriotism can expunge the image of the “toothless bulldog”.

If the Labour government had been seen openly to be giving support to the South African regime there would have been a further strain on the Labour Party’s loyalty and on the government’s relations with the new African states.

This settled, Wilson’s superior political skill gave him an easy victory over Healey, Callaghan and Brown; he could appear before his party and the world as the unspotted, high principled defender of the brotherhood of man.

The only remaining question is whether Wilson misjudged his members. Over the past three years they have absorbed a tremendous amount of disillusionment, including the government’s about-face on immigration control. Who can be sure that arms for South Africa was their sticking point? In a party without principle anything is possible.

Backing Whose Britain

Of course Prince Phillip was heartened by the news that some workers were volunteering to work an extra half-hour a day without pay. He is the figurehead of the British capitalist class and if anyone is going to gain out of this it will be them.

For the workers it can only be a dead loss—adding to their working day without getting anything for it. For the employers it might be a clear gain—extra work, extra production which they don’t pay for.

Cutting dividends makes no difference to this. The level of dividends does not affect the amount of profit made from the exploitation of the workers; to cut dividends simply means that more money stays in the company, to be reinvested, distributed later in dividends or used in some other way the directors decide. Whatever happens, it belongs to the employers.

The Prince said that extra work for nothing would soon lick all our problems. But whatever the level of pay, whatever the length of the working day, the working class have always suffered the problems of poverty.

The employers’ problems, too, have always been there. Well-publicised, gimmicky campaigns will do nothing to help them. Apart from anything else, however hard the workers work the things they make cannot be sold without a market. The employers have no control over this; that is why firms go broke and why workers often find themselves out of a job.

Perhaps the few typists who started it all—although others before them had done the same thing, but without such a clever and well-managed publicity drive—did so from the best of motives. Perhaps they thought they were making a sacrifice for the common good—a reasonable enough incentive.

The tragic fact is that they are misled. They have no Britain to back; to think that they have a common interest with their masters is to fasten their chains more securely upon themselves.

If the representatives of the privileged class are heartened by this it is only because it must keep them more secure in their social and economic superiority.