The News in Review column from the August 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard
Sour Rent Act
Speaking in Salford on June 12 Labour M.P. Frank Allaun complained that the 1965 Rent Act had "gone sour on us." In other words it wasn't working as expected. This, of course, is nothing unusual for Acts to reform capitalism, especially in the field of housing. The evidence that has accumulated for over a century points to only one conclusion: there is no solution to the housing problem within capitalism. Lack of adequate housing is just one of the many problems that capitalism causes for workers. Since capitalism is the cause it is futile to pass Acts to find some solution within capitalism. There is no such solution. Such Acts are doomed to failure from the start as they try to do the impossible.
Socialists have always said that reform measures can’t be taken at their face value as they don’t always work as intended or they give rise to new problems. Labour’s Rent Act is an interesting confirmation of this. Although this Act was not intended to cut rents, those who voted Labour can be excused for thinking so. After all, had not Labour fought the 1957 Tory Rent Act tooth and nail in Parliament? Had they not pledged themselves time and time again to repeal it? Since the obvious result of the Tory Rent Act was to lead to rent increases ‘‘repeal’’ could justifiably be taken to mean "cut rents.” In fact, the aim of Labour's Act was to fix a "fair” rent—what the rent would be if supply and demand were equal, a formula bound to justify increasing controlled rents. Rent Officers and Rent Assessment Committees were appointed to work out these "fair” rents.
Now Sir Sydney Littlewood, the president of the Greater London Rent Assessment Panel, turns round and tells his Labour critics that they "did not understand the Act they had passed,” saying that they had the mistaken idea that the object of the Rent Act was to curb rents. The object was, he said, to find a fair rent.
No wonder Frank Allaun is annoyed. But those who have been cruelly deceived by Labour have much greater reason to be. They've been taken for a ride by Labour once again.
Vietnam - a reminder
Some time ago Harold Wilson startled the world, stilled a revolt in his Party and got a lot of Publicity, by suggesting a Peace Mission from the Commonwealth Prime Ministers to settle the war in Vietnam.
A lot of people thought this was a dazzingly good idea.
But what happened?
The mission never went to Vietnam— it never, in fact, went anywhere.
Its members never met between themselves, let alone met the belligerents of Vietnam.
Some of the members of the Mission —for example, Nkrumah—are no longer Commonwealth Prime Ministers.
In other words, Wilson’s dazzling idea was an historic flop.
Meanwhile, the war goes on.
There will be no prizes for the next futile, vote-cadging suggestion.
Rebels too late
Few things have more searingly exposed the futility and absurdity of Labour’s so-called left wing than their “revolt” over the government’s policies on prices and incomes and Vietnam.
In all the fuss over the revolt, it seemed to escape notice that, not for the first time, the rebels were rather late.
The Prices and Incomes Bill was first introduced during the lifetime of the last government; the version which caused Frank Cousins to resign his Ministry is actually milder than the previous one.
On Vietnam, the Wilson government always made clear their support for American actions, including the bombing of the North.
In other words, the present government are simply carrying on the policies of the last. But in between there was the general election; that was the time for the rebels to make their disagreements known.
They might even have resigned from the Labour Party and fought on an independent platform. But they had probably all studied the fate of the Radical Alliance in Hull North.
So what did they do?
Well here are extracts from the election addresses of two of the Vietnam rebels:
Hugh Jenkins (Putney): . . . we need a longer period of office, with a more secure majority, so that we can get on with the job.
Sydney Bidwell (Southall): If you . . . intend to vole Labour again . . . may 1 warmly thank you in advance and urge you, in the name of our just and common cause, to make absolutely sure you use your vote.
No word of dissension disturbed the orthodoxy of these addresses. Hugh Jenkins was hanging so firmly on to Wilson's coat tails that he embellished his address with a picture of the Leader, pipe and avuncular expression and all.
There was plenty to protest about last March but the rebels held their tongues. And their seats.
De Gaulle in Moscow
Statesmen do not visit each other to exchange expressions of mutual respect.
So why did De Gaulle go to Russia?
French policy is now based upon acceptance of the fact that the days of independent glory, when France was a world power, are past. They ended in the mud on the Aisne and in the graveyards of Verdun.
For a long time, France took her new place in the world as a paid-up member of the American gang—a complaisant signatory of the NATO Pact, of the EEC and so on.
De Gaulle signified the first important change in this. Under him, French policy has been to solidify Europe into an area independent of both Russia and the United States, but dominated by France.
Hence the opposition to British membership of the Common Market. Hence De Gaulle’s famous visit to West Germany—and now his trip to Russia.
This last expedition probably followed from the French withdrawal from NATO, of which West Germany is still a member. Germany may yet become a nuclear power, may yet revive her expansionist ambitions.
For about a century Russia has been France's counterweight against German expansion; this fact has not been changed by two World Wars and a lot of bloodshed.
One of the significant things about De Gaulle’s visit, however, was the way in which the Russians reminded him, delicately, that they are more than a European power.
Russian interests and influence now extend all over the world—and they will fight for them world-wide if they are threatened.
So De Gaulle had to face another reality. After the usual cloak of meaningless communique had been thrown over the visit he came home, and the disputes and intrigues of capitalism's world conflict continue.
Escalation in Vietnam
In Vietnam the American bombers spread their wings wider and more lethally as the weeks go by. This is escalation, an ugly word the use of which is almost obligatory when anyone is talking about the war there.
Vietnam is not the first war to have escalated. The First World War developed with a terrible speed, on an almost predetermined course, into something so bitter and destructive that it changed the world for good.
The Second World War escalated— and in a way if is still escalating—from simple high explosive bombs, and High Commands solemnly declaring their intentions of protecting civilian populations, to the fireballs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This development went step by step, as the war became fiercer and more desperate. Each stage was justified by the commanders to their own consciences. It was an inexorable process; it showed up the fact that the development of wars is a one-way affair; they never escalate downwards.
This leads us to the heart of the matter. As long as society accepts war. as long as it accepts the system which gives rise to war. it can have no logical objection to the effects of war.
There is no such thing as a humane war, or a controlled war fought to rules. War is its own master, with its own momentum and its own rules.
The demonstrators, some of them incensed at the killing of children and other non-combatants, carry their banners and get themselves jailed. None of them protests against the cause of it all.
None of them, however sincere, are near the heart of the matter.
Poor Harold Wilson
Poor Harold Wilson, everyone is after him.
He has been stabbed so many times from behind that his back must resemble a kitchen collander.
Even before Wilson became Prime Minister, Aims of Industry and the Economic League were busily knifing him, with their anti-nationalisation campaign financed by private industry.
Then during the 1964 election he received another thrust between his shoulder blades from Hardy Spicers, who were apparently forcing their workers out on strike so that everyone would rush out and vote Tory.
The prospect of anyone voting against him was so agonising a wound for Wilson that he promised to expose the murderous activities of private industry in an enquiry after he was in Number Ten.
Nothing more was heard of this idea; perhaps Wilson was too busy because no sooner was he in office than the Gnomes of Zurich were at work with their daggers, threatening all he had planned.
And now the latest political flick-knife boys are the Communist Party, the '‘tightly knit group of politically motivated men" who apparently also stir up strikes but who have not yet thought of getting together with Hardy Spicers.
Perhaps some seamen remember the many trade union leaders who. from political motives, tried to force the Attlee government’s wage freeze down their members’ throats.
Perhaps some of them reflect that, like all its predecessors, the Wilson government is failing to deliver the goods as promised and must find excuses for its failure.
Perhaps, in other words. Wilson’s desperate search for a scapegoat will help some people to see through the dirty, futile game of capitalist politics.
One of the legends concerning Zaharoff, the ‘‘merchant of death," was that he acted as mediator in one of the South American wars at the turn of the century and helped to arrange a truce. He then sold arms to the two sides and a few months later when they had been delivered the fighting restarted. Part of this story could be re-enacted in the near future. The Times reported on 10 June:
The pro-Government Karachi newspaper Dawn reported that the Soviet Union has offered to sell arms to Pakistan on the same terms as she already sells to India.
It may be remembered that the recent war between India and Pakistan was followed by the Tashkent conference, at which Russia played the role of peacemaker. The fighting has stopped for the time being but the cause of the conflict remains. The conflict over Kashmir and other issues originating from private property society are still there. Increased arms spending by both sides provides attractive markets for the world’s arms makers.
In recent years Russia has broken into one market alter the other with its arms. So why not Pakistan? After all, business is business, and in his recent budget Pakistan’s Finance Minister. Mohammad Shoaib. announced that defence spending would increase from 1,360 million to 2,250 million rupees.
The interests of the Russian and American rulers require peace in this area. It is also vital that opportunities for profitable trade should be taken advantage of. This is just one of the many contradictions of capitalism. Zaharoff made a living by taking advantage of them when he could. Heads of state, pledged to look after the national capitalist interest, are forced to act in contradictory ways. Like talking peace while cashing on the arms market.