The Home and Abroad Column from the May 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard
In Britain the chaos of capitalism continues, with the Tories’ election promises to control the economy rapidly turning sour. Prices are streaking upwards so that wage claims, far from the three per cent to which the Wilson government tried to restrict them, are now being made for rises of up to thirty per cent. Unemployment, not to be left out of the act, is also on the up—814,000, the highest since May 1940 — and likely to reach a million before the end of the year. Heath, rather than confess that his policies are bankrupt and his pledges lies, blamed the jobless total onto "inflationary” wage claims, another issue on which he differs from Enoch Powell, who continues to insist (correctly) that inflation has other causes. The fact is that this particular crisis has lasted since 1963, which is a pretty good record for a social system which claims to be orderly and efficient. With a crisis like that, who needs a slump?
On the subject of statistics, the 1971 Census provoked the sort of indignation which would be better reserved for the real degradations of capitalism. A lot of the protests were the result of the sort of neurosis about "privacy” which capitalism fosters in workers who have little else to protect themselves with. This, does not, of course, gloss over the fears about other aspects of the Census; this government now says that the information would not be used against the people who give it, but governments have been known to break their word . . . And the whole exercise was designed to suit capitalism, to help its governments plan the system more efficiently and its industries to operate more effectively. The gathering of such information will be a necessary part of socialist society; capitalism misuses and corrupts everything it touches.
A deposed politician, like a spanked child with its thumb in its mouth, has his consolations. Often it’s a place on a lucrative board; sometimes (Robens, Marsh) it’s a well paid job as boss of a state industry. Or it can be selling one’s memoirs. George Brown’s have come out, very much in the style we might have expected, and launched at a luncheon where the modern Jimmy Thomas treated his audience to a speech freely sprinkled with swear words. We might have guessed that Wilson would have upstaged his old rival, by not only getting his memoirs out at record speed but also by stealing the headlines, with a legal battle over who had the publishing rights. It seems that these men are going to have sharply differing recollections of the same events. It also seems that the version of each will tend to favour himself against the other. This is no mere bickering but the deadly business of political infighting in which truth usually becomes lost in the fogs of battle. It will be a fruitful beld for the political historian of the future; everyone seems to be getting something out of it except the workers, who were tricked by the Labour leaders, then exploited and repressed by them.
Who, or what, is to blame for the massacre of My Lai? The trial and conviction of William Calley has stimulated interest in the notion that people should not be held entirely responsible for their actions and that it might be more instructive to examine the society in which they developed. (This notion does not, apparently, extend to Charles Manson, who seems to be clearly mad; perhaps because there is no political capital to be made out of doing so.) The important question is, how far are we going to take this notion? As far as to argue that all eccentricity, crime, deviance, has its roots in society? That it would be better to do something about war itself, and the social system which produces it, than about the frail individuals who are caught up in it? We need not delude ourselves, that anything like this sort of questioning will be allowed. It is too pointed, too rational, too threatening to capitalism.
The Calley case illuminated the fact that atrocity comes naturally with war. If we needed more evidence, the flare up in East Pakistan supplied it. Here is another example of a part of what is called the Third World, the newly independent nations which were going to be such a force for peace, drowning itself in blood. The division between India and Pakistan was largely drawn to satisfy religious prejudices, yet here we have people of the same religion freely slaughtering each other. Religion was not the issue in this war, but an economic clash. Just like in the old days, before national independence was even a possibility.
One of the emerging capitalist nations which will be interested in the events in East Pakistan is China, whose relationships with the West have changed so dramatically. This was an example of trade following not the sword but the ping-pong bat, or rather the other way round. We can be sure that many firms are licking their lips at the chance of getting in on the massive market of China, getting a share of what has so far been reserved for those companies prepared to risk American displeasure. Travel firms will try to open up the country with their package tours and hotels. And spare a thought, amid all the rejoicing, for the poor deprived holders of Chinese government stock, who have not had a dividend for so long and who now sniff some money in the air. Wonder what happened to all that talk about Socialism in one country?