Review: March 1972
The blast waves of the Aldershot bombing continued to spread, with the police searching the homes of some members of International Socialism and causing an uproar of protest as they did so. Loudest among the protesters were the I.S. members themselves, striking poses of offended virtue that the fuzz could think them capable of involvement in such nefarious activities. The bombing itself was the occasion for a fresh flourishing of the unhealthy fantasy that in a dispute like Northern Ireland only the other side can be guilty of indiscriminate killing. In the last war a similar act of sabotage against a German Army headquarters, killing a few civilians in the process, would have been reckoned a triumph of the forces of light over those of darkness.
A similar fantasy raised its head again in the case of the naval officer who sold secrets to the Russians to get money to pay off family debts. This was a desperately tragic story, of a man caught up and crushed by the ruthless machinations of capitalism. Yet beneath the emotions roused by the case was another; the assumption that there was something particularly dirty in that officer selling the secrets of the force of which he was a member. Yet a Russian who does the same thing is not condemned as a traitor. The basic point in both cases is that capitalism is a vicious, dirty society which makes human beings act in vicious, dirty ways. And that is exactly what they do, on all sides, all the time.
In Northern Ireland, viciousness reaches new peaks almost with each passing day. It is not so long ago, that we were worrying that if things went on as they were someone would get killed soon; now, a death hardly rates a news story. It was not so long ago, again, that some elements on the left were calling for the introduction of British troops who, they said, would act “impartially” and so be an improvement on the B Specials. Those some people are now raging about the actions of the Paratroops and are becoming deeply absorbed with establishing, in many incidents, who fired the first shot, who offered the first provocation and so on. These are tragic irrelevancies. On both sides, it is members of the working class who are dying in Northern Ireland. And, as ever, they are losing their lives in a conflict in which their interests are not in the slightest degree involved. That is the one relevant fact about the war there and it does not need a tribunal or enquiry to do anything about it, but a conscious act by the people to end this society of conflict.
No signs of such consciousness, yet, in the preliminaries of the Presidential election in America. For the Republicans, Nixon seems to have it all sewn up and to be indisputably their candidate. The Democrats have not yet recovered from Chicago 1968 and are split wide open, with the wound of George Wallace especially festered. As the results of the first primary elections came in, Wallace was seen to be collecting substantial numbers of votes—and in Florida victory, no less—which gives him an ever more powerful base within the Democrats. The other candidates, in the customary way, had to put a brave face on their defeat and to describe their beating almost as a strange sort of victory. Wallace claims to represent the opinions of the average worker in America and in the sense that he calls to mind much that is ugly, frightened, bigoted and confused he may be right. Workers feel that way, and take refuge in extreme political ideas, because capitalism is a society of fear, without security; it is a divisive system. If it ever comes to a President George Wallace, with all that implies, the responsibility for it will extend a long way beyond the bigots of the Deep South.
Roy Jenkins made a speech, which brought at first ecstatic joy, then embarrassed confusion, to his supporters. The joy because any words from the lips of elegant Jenkins are now treated with a reverence previously reserved for such white hopes of the Labour Party as Ramsay MacDonald, Stafford Cripps, Harold Wilson. The confusion because the speech was at once interpreted as a bid for the Labour leadership which, in these days of difficulty and disarray at Transport House, is reckoned in some quarters to be becoming more and more open. In fact in the present situation any speech by Jenkins must be a move in the leadership game but any aspiring Labour leader would be foolish to write off a man as cunning and ruthless as Wilson. At any rate Jenkins showed in his speech that he has all the cheek needed for a political leader, since he came out with all the corny old stuff about looking for a new style of politics, new idealism, for compassion, justice, principle. It was all as if the Labour government of 1964/70 had never been, as if Jenkins had not been a prominent member of a government which consistently fought the working class, which passed racist laws, which set out with the avowed aim of reducing workers’ living standards. If he ever makes leader he will eventually be exposed as Wilson was exposed, and as every Labour charlatan has been exposed before him. The Labour leadership carries with it a distinguished pedigree of cynicism and Jenkins has shown us that he is worthy to take his place in that sordid line of descent.