1960s >> 1968 >> no-772-december-1968

The Review Column: Rhodesia

Harold Wilson, who knows where the votes come from, has never lost any sleep over upsetting his left wing. So we know what to expect from any negotiations over Rhodesia.

It was clear that the stands originally taken in both London and Salisbury left no chance for discussion. Something had to give, if the two sides were ever to talk to each other again. In other words, some promises would have to be broken, some vows once fervently taken would have to be betrayed, some fierce political infighting take place.

Smith’s political problems were severe, only partly solved by the purge which got rid of men like Lord Graham and by the Rhodesian Front’s recent by-election victory. The big advantage he had was that the Rhodesians could make concessions which were more apparent than real.

Wilson’s problem was to drop the albatross of the original pledge that there would be no agreement to independence without some copper bottomed guarantee (to use one of the Prime Minister’s favourite phrases) of majority African rule.

The “No” in Nimbar was as unrealistic as Lennox Boyd’s famous “never” over Cyprus independence. Wilson quietly abandoned NIMBAR and suddenly most of the newspapers were telling us that this once-sacred principle was foolish and unreal. Of course the left wing fumed but who cared about them? None of the M.P.s who protested went so far as to risk their career on the principle by resigning their seat. The left have always stopped short of that.

Wilson went on governing and the negotiations continued by his man George Thomson in Africa. At the time of writing the talks have reached deadlock and Thomson is back in London, although it was clear that both sides were straining to reach agreement. Even so, now that there is this apparent readiness to abandon what were once called principles, there will probably be further efforts in the future.

After all, capitalists in Rhodesia and Britain, as well as the Rhodesian farmers, have a lot to gain by the resumption of friendly trading relations. They will not let a little matter of the suppression of a few million people obstruct the noble enterprise of profit.

Troubled Air

The British Eagle pilots were really very foolish if they ever thought that, because they were earning several thousand pounds a year, they held a secure and privileged position in the working class.

In fact, their fat pay packets were a reflection of what it takes, in terms of social labour and organisation, to put a multi-million pound jet into the air with a man at the controls who is trained and fit to avoid the expensive business of pushing its nose into the ground.

Basically, this is exactly the same way as the wages of all other workers—dustmen, miners, engineers;—are determined.

But of course wages, high or low, are paid only so long as it is profitable for an employer to buy labour power. The glamour of a pilot’s job may obscure the fact that it is all done to make profit, but that is the way it is.

The employees of British Eagle could not escape from this although as the glamour faded around them it was clear that their understanding of what was happening to them was no better than that of the average dustman, miner, engineer.

They simply trod the well-worn class path of seeking a scapegoat—in this case the state airlines and in particular BOAC, which has successfully opposed the granting of licences to the independent lines for the more lucrative airlines of the world. But BOAC are themselves not free of troubles.

Their chairman, Sir Giles Guthrie, complained that a half year’s profit of £8.2 million had been cut in half by the 17 days’ pilots strike last summer. These figures take a bit of swallowing but if they are correct then they are an indication of the importance which BOAC’s workers have to the line’s operations.

Striking workers are constantly being blamed for financial troubles and social disorder (although this was one excuse British Eagle could not use). The only thing this proves is that wealth is made by workers and that they, and not those who directly or indirectly receive the profits, are the useful, productive class.

It’s Nixon

Richard Nixon’s victory in the American Presidential election came after a long campaign—over twenty years long, in fact — during which he won a reputation for being ready to say or do anything to win political advantage.

This is one possible interpretation of Nixon’s early campaigns for the House of Representatives and later to the Senate, during which he rode on the widespread American neurosis about Communist activities. It also could explain a lot of his work while in Congress —for example his zealous pursuit of Alger Hiss.

The surprising thing is that the. allegation of a ruthless political ambition should be used against Nixon—that he almost alone among big time capitalist politicians should be condemned as the man it would be unwise to buy a used car from.

For where would any of capitalism’s leaders be without ambition? How far would he get, without a ruthless determination to exploit every fear, every prejudice, every facet, of mass ignorance? Would it have been wise to buy a used car from Lloyd George? Macdonald? Baldwin? Macmillan? Wilson?

Nixon is very much a political man, which means more than that he is ready to lie. It also means that he will approach the problems of American capitalism, to use a current word, pragmatically. He will not be tied by the emotions he has roused in his supporters; a lot of them are probably in for a shock.

The Republican campaign gave the impression that Nixon would be tough on demonstrators, would push a hard line on Vietnam, would cut back federal power and interference. This classical Republican image has never had any more reality than its opposite of the Democratic Party.

Faced with a situation which must be judged in terms of the interests of American capitalism, Nixon will find in many cases that he has no more power to keep his election promises than any one of his predecessors.

This will cause him no lost sleep. Presidents have to be even harder and more cynical than car salesmen.