At home . . . and Abroad
Is inflation a real issue, or something blown up by the politicians? The Tories, just like every other government since the war, came bustling into power with assurances that they had the answer to it. And, as Heath has said more than once, there are votes to be won (and lost, although no politician likes to mention such a terrible prospect) by the party which can convincingly claim that they have done something effective about it.
They would probably feel safer if the people who are really supposed to know what to do—the financial experts, the economists and so on—did not look quite so much like blind men trying to find their way through a fog. If a few of them could at least agree on a solution it would be comforting to Westminster. But some want “cheaper’’ money, others “dearer” money; some want lower, some higher, taxes; some see the solution in a statutory wages policy, others in a voluntary one; and so on. These, let it be remembered, are the men who say that capitalism can be controlled and organised to operate in the majority interest.
There are in fact many signs that British capitalism is under great pressure and that some sort of a crunch is not far off. December saw some spectacular failures in profits, with British Leyland and ICI showing the way and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in really deep water. Despite all the claptrap about “our” interests, this is what the crisis is all about—the prospect that British industry is not meeting the first requirement of capitalism that it makes money.
The government’s first remedy for this is an anti-trade union Bill (just as the Wilson’s government was). A great deal of nonsense gushed forth when the Bill was debated, from both the “left” who completely forgot what Wilson tried to do and from the “right” who professed to see in this master stroke from the Tories the first signs of everlasting peace on the union/employer field. The fact is that whether there is a Bill or not, indeed whether there are unions or not, the class struggle is an unavoidable fact of capitalist life and will go on in some shape or form. One explanation for the confusion on both wings is that neither of them understand that fact.
For a time, despite the Bill, the government’s policies seemed to be in disarray but they pulled back some ground over what looked like a minor victory in the power dispute. (It was in fact a relative victory, depending on where you chose to say the battle started; in terms of wage restriction the workers can be said to have gained something.) Everyone who sat in the gloom, cooking their sausages over a candle, during the power cuts probably experienced some anger, although it may not always have been directed against the workers. Strikes and other industrial action is bound to affect people’s lives and if the power workers are so vital then why do they have to fight so hard to get their rise? Why aren’t they living like stockbrokers, who could go on strike tomorrow without putting anyone’s life or comfort in danger?
It has rather slipped out of the headlines recently, but there was a mammoth disaster in East Pakistan, not so long ago and it was still there, despite all the sacrifices on the Stock Exchange. It was a classic of capitalism’s simple inability to deal with its problems. The basin of the River Ganges is an area noted for its disastrous storms. So why do people live there? Simply, because they are too poor to move—and too poor to get out of the way when trouble approaches and when the disaster is there they are too poor to get help. It was a typical inglorious, inhuman muddle of a system which claims to be the most efficient possible.
To the east of this particular disaster, the war in Vietnam raged on, with the resumption of bombing of the North. In America the Calley trial lifted the veil on what it is like to be engaged in the war. Vietnam is sickening and it raises sickening passions. Yet here again a politician won votes on the promise that he would do something about it. In reality Nixon has been as helpless as his predecessors and, as the electoral return and the anxieties of the Republican governors show, his importance may cost him the votes he won. Meanwhile, the blood still flows.