The Review Column: Another Crisis
Ever since the Labour government came to power they have mounted a continual campaign to persuade the British working class that their belts must be tightened because the pound sterling is under attack by international currency speculators.
At the same time Labour ministers, not reluctant to dabble in nationalism, have contrasted the sickliness of the pound with the indecent health of other currencies like the franc and the deutsch- mark.
When the latest currency crisis broke the official story had to be rearranged. Now it was the franc and the mark which were under pressure; new arguments had to be used to explain away the latest round of restrictions.
In the process, Roy Jenkins joined the list of Labour Chancellors whose catch- phrased promises have*been exposed. Only a year ago, Jenkins was talking about “two years’ hard slog” to see us through. Now, as James Callaghan snidely indicated, the two years have been extended indefinitely.
Jenkins was applying measures which have already failed. They have failed while he has been Chancellor, they failed when Callaghan held the job and they failed under the Tories who were at the Exchequer before October 1964. The problems of British capitalism, in other words, are long term and fundamental, not to be cured or even affected by short term tinkering with taxes, exchange rates and the like.
Long term, too, are workers’ problems. Soon after Jenkins’ cuts the House of Lords discussed poverty—no mean feat, since most of them have had no personal experience of it. Lord Beaumont, for example, told us that one person in every ten in this country falls into what he called “the general poverty bracket”.
Problems like that are not caused by currency difficulties, nor by an imbalance in a country’s trade. Poverty is an inescapable curse of capitalism and to eradicate its needs a fundamental change in society. That may be some way off but we can start by discrediting the politicians and their persistent, futile efforts to manage capitalism.
Nobody should have been surprised at Enoch Powell’s second outburst on immigration. He was bound to try to repeat the success of his Birmingham speech in another, equally well timed and stage- managed.
This time the opposition were readier for him and within a few hours the counter attack had started. Powell had changed his figures on the predicted level of immigration; he had refused the chance to speak on the subject in the Commons a few days before; his evidence was dishonestly selective.
Of course most of this was true but it ignored one vital fact Powell was not addressing the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor workers in race relations, nor his fellow politicians.
He was playing the old trick of speaking over the heads of his opponents, to the people with the votes. He was stimulating the smouldering racialism of the Midlands and of places like Brixton and Southall.
In these places the frustrations and restrictions of working class life are acute and have in some cases seem to have been accentuated by the arrival of the immigrants who, because they are so easily identifiable, make the perfect scapegoat for a demagogue.
Powell is bidding for power and, having chosen his path, he will probably stick to it. His Eastbourne speech must surely be followed by others, in the same evil vein.
At the moment, he is having no perceptible success; the working class show no sign of voting for an openly racist party. But if conditions change — if Labour’s unemployed pool should grow any larger — the resentments which now smoulder could burst into fire.
The workers, unaware of their class standing and interests, bewildered by the continual crisis of capitalism, disillusioned at their leaders’ failures, are inflammable material. The threat is always there. Had Enoch Powell never been born, some other politician would be doing the same work, blowing on the embers of panic and prejudice.
The pitiful victims of Nigeria’s civil war are the latest in a long line, preceded by such as Palestine, Algeria, Korea, Vietnam . . .
One estimate is that about one million children alone will die each month in Biafra unless they are evacuated or given proper food and medical attention.
The civil war has roused compassion all over the world and to many people, concerned at the death and suffering, the situation is full of perplexing questions.
Why won’t the Nigerian Federal government, as an act of simple humanity, allow food and medical supplies into the surrounded and shrinking Ibo land?
Why does the Labour government, which assured us that moral grounds caused them to prevent the sale of arms to South Africa, not take a similar stand over Nigeria, and stop sending weapons to the Federal forces?
Why can’t both sides simply call off the war?
These questions, and many others, are valid enough, except that they all assume capitalist states are guided by concern for human welfare.
When we realise that this is not so— that capitalist governments act as the property interests of their ruling class demand—the questions are not so perplexing.
The civil war in Nigeria, for example, is partly a struggle to flatten the tribal structure which was a part of the old society and to replace it with a national unity which is so essential for a modern developing capitalist state.
This is a ruthless struggle. Everyone is in the firing line; the Nigerian government are deliberately starving children because such tactics are an accepted and necessary part of modern war. The British government, for example, did it in both world wars.
It is futile, then, to wring our hands over Biafra. War is an inescapable part of capitalism and it cannot be removed by charity, no matter how sincere. The killing will not stop and Biafra will not be the last great tragedy.