Monday, August 15, 2016

The Review Column: Bombs in Orbit (1967)

The Review Column from the December 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bombs in Orbit
A few years ago the nuclear powers (there were then only three of them) signed the Test Ban Treaty, amid mutual congratulations at their humanity in lifting a shadow from the world.

Since then, a lot has been happening.

France and China have got the Bomb and have tested it. The older nuclear powers have carried out numerous underground tests and have devotedly improved the delivery systems of the bombs they already have.

Russia and America, apart from their well publicised space adventures, have fired up many unannounced satellites, which have gathered the data needed to develop a more deadly type of missile guidance.

Now, the Russians have FOBS—the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System—missiles which go into orbit around the earth and are brought back from space onto their targets.

The American Defence Department have stated that, in their view, the FOBS presents no greater threat than an equivalent number of the old, comparatively simple intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Anyone who can find consolation in that is free to do so. Meanwhile, U Thant’s report to the United Nations states the grim opinion that the world (or some states in it) now have enough nuclear weapons to “eliminate all mankind”.

It is pertinent to point out that the latest Russian horror has come into being in the year when they are remembering the 50th anniversary of the revolution which, they say, introduced Socialism.

What a way to celebrate! And what a comment on the true nature of that revolution, that one of its results has been to add an even more fearsome weapon to the arsenal of an already desperately unsafe world.


George Brown
A section of the press has been gunning for George Brown for a long time. That was why, when Brown put on one of his displays of temperament at the dinner given by Lord Thompson, some newspapers revealed a sudden, strange interest in meticulously accurate and detailed reporting.

Brown is by now established in popular estimation as a man who is always ready to show off his personal weaknesses in public. It is, of course, not unknown for politicians to have personal weaknesses of every kind but usually—as is now being increasingly revealed about the private life of the late Lloyd George, for example—the self-appointed guardians of public information have no qualms about suppressing the facts.

Brown’s tormentors excuse themselves by saying they are worried that a British Foreign Secretary should act in so undignified a way, because this must damage British interests abroad.

The first thing to say about this is that whatever influence the British capitalist class may have in international affairs is founded in their economic and military strength and has absolutely nothing to do with the personalities of their diplomats.

The second thing is that a Foreign Secretary must become involved in all sorts of unsavoury matters. He must promote, agree to, arrange, all manner of treachery, duplicity and intrigue. He must deceive and, if he can carry it off, bully. Sometimes he must back his word with armed force—with destruction and killing. He lives in a savage and cynical world.

It is typical of the hypocrisy of capitalism in general, and of this affair in particular, that all sides in it should think it is perfectly alright for a Foreign Secretary to dabble in the slime, provided he does so with all the traditional ceremonies and dignity.


By-elections
There have been Labour governments before, and Labour governments with unpopular policies, and Labour governments which have lost by-elections. But in all these things the Wilson government are breaking the records.

The Attlee government, just after the war, were unpopular—they imposed the wage freeze, they rationed bread and potatoes, they met the severe winter of 1946/7 with drastic power cuts which sent thousands to bed early in cold, dark homes.

Yet at the by-elections they held the line; as one monotonous result after another came in, it seemed the two big parties were immovably entrenched, each in their respective seats.

Wilson’s record is different. The loss of constituencies like Walthamstow and Leicester means that almost nowhere are Labour candidates safe; that the most massive majority is now vulnerable.

This is a surprisingly rapid change in voting sympathy; it is, after all, only some eighteen months ago that the voters, seemingly mesmerised by the magic of Wilson’s political trickery, swept Labour back into power with an increased majority.

Disenchantment was bound to come and what is now in question is whether, under the pressure of these reverses, Wilson will lose his nerve in the same way as Macmillan did after Orpington.

Either way, and even if in a few odd constituencies like Hamilton the electors decide to vote for one of the smaller parties, there will be no change worth getting excited about. As long as the working class express their frustrations and disappointments by turning from one capitalist party to another the problems they complain about, and which persuade them to change their vote, will continue.

So will the deceits of the political leaders’ magic which, however dazzling in the proud, confident morning of victory, always fades in the dim despair of reality.

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