The Political Notes Column from the November 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
Labour's nuclear duplicity
An article in the Guardian (September 25) is pretty revealing about the way the Labour Party leadership (and in particular the last Labour government of 1974-79) struggled with the task of doing all the dirty work necessary in the interests of British capitalism while at the same time keeping at arms length all those naive Labour idealists who had believed in the sincerity of their leaders’ protestations—while they were in opposition.
The article is a review of a book called Britain and Nuclear Weapons by Laurence Freeman. The story is all too familiar. The Labour Party in opposition had said all the usual “progressive” things about disarmament, like “Ban the Bomb”. When the Foots and the Benns and the rest of the slippery conmen had become the government, the needs of British capitalism took over — including the need to replace the ageing Polaris submarines with spanking new models (and not much chance of doing a trade-in—almost unused, one owner, immaculate trim . . .). The book “explains the embarrassed silence of the Labour Party leadership throughout the ’70s while £1,000,000,000 was being spent on a new Chevaline warhead for the Royal Navy. As a separate issue, the nuclear deterrent had been quiescent for a decade. The important thing was to keep it that way, maintaining the force without drawing attention to it”.
Such is the contempt of the Labour leaders for the sheep who follow them. And how justified this was, was evinced by the antics on the issue of the nuclear deterrent at the shambles which they called a Conference. Here we had these same leaders with the impudence to support more of the same CND rubbish that had been exposed for what it was by the end of the ’60s. And why should they not? They knew that not a single delegate in the Winter Guardians (the pun was made by the typewriter but let it go) would tackle them on their record. It’s the old story, of course. As long as workers behave not like homo sapiens but like sheep, they must expect their leaders to go on fleecing them.
As expected, the Social Democrat-Liberal coalition under Helmut Schmidt won the German elections at the beginning of last month. Once again we have to record the sad fact that the working class in a country have misused the power the vote gives them and have returned to power political parties pledged to maintaining the capitalist system which is the root cause of the problems they face. For the German Social Democratic Party, despite being descended from the party which Marx and particularly Engels had mistakenly hoped could be an instrument for socialism, has long since ceased even to pretend to want to change the mixture of private and state capitalism which exists in Germany and other Western European countries.
The only surprise—though quite without significance—was the relative success of the Liberals, or “Free Democrats”. At one time the possibility of them not winning any seats in the Bundestag was seriously discussed, but in the end the threat posed to them by the “ecologist” Green party came to nothing. Most of those sympathetic to the ecologists failed to put their vote where their mouth had been, a bogeyman like the demagogic Christain Democratic opposition leader, Franz-Josef Strauss, being enough to send them scuttling back to vote for the Social Democratic Party as an imagined “lesser evil”.
One factor in the German workers’ misuse of the vote might be that they were not encouraged to treat the election as a serious affair. Anybody visiting a German town in the weeks leading up to the election could be pardoned for thinking that he had come at Carnival time. He would not have been able to walk down a shopping street without being offered badges, balloons, stickers, wine, beer and, maybe, even a leaflet, though most of this would have been taken up with a smiling photo of some candidate and his name in big letters plus a list of vague electoral promises.
The two big parties organised mass rallies at .which the political level was no higher than at the conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties in America-brass bands, rhythmic chanting and foot-stamping and cheering whenever the great Leader—Helmut or Franz-Josef—paused, precisely to allow for pre-arranged cheering to break out. There can’t even be the satisfaction of recording that a reasonable percentage chose to abstain as a vague sort of protest against this farce which the major parties made of the election. For the turn-out was over 90 per cent and of these nearly 98 per cent voted for one or other of the three major parties.
Following the recent assassination of the former dictator of Nicaragua, General Somoza (no tears, by request), the obituaries referred to the fact that the country had been run as a family property of the Somozas for fifty years. The founding father (founding uncle, actually) was a murderous tyrant in the best South American tradition. This Somoza’s rise to power was engineered by the USA and when the attention of the President was called to his monstrous tyranny, he replied in the immortal words: “I know he’s a son of a bitch. But he’s our son of a bitch”. And who was this president? Nixon? Johnson? No, the great reforming New Dealer—Franklin D. Roosevelt himself.
The Observer (October 5) had a report from America which gave a grisly account of what was in store for those who were lucky enough to be part of the small minority who survived the holocaust of a nuclear war. With lethal doses of radiation all around, and with the impossibility of organising any sort of life amid all the destruction, the only iron rations a sensible person would have with them would be the “formula” which the Euthanasia Society is going to publish (in a booklet which it seems they dare not issue). It has of course been clear all along that even if such extreme measures as covering your head with a jacket, whitewashing the windows or—the ultimate defence—hiding under the staircase where the Angel of Death can’t find you, would save you from the effects of a megaton H bomb onslaught (and obviously the writers of the government pamphlet on the subject must have been wetting themselves laughing while they were writing), you would be awfully jealous of those who were lucky enough to have been killed and free from the pain of life in this capitalist vale of tears.
Not that this has prevented a mini-boom in nuclear shelters—there is, as they say, one born every minute. And a man called Popkiss—the son of a Chief Constable, no less—has, according to the Guardian, published a book whose first edition has sold out (get your order in for one of the next edition at once). Scorning the government measures as quite inadequate, Popkiss gives better instructions for the lucky readers. This includes methods of getting to the countryside as soon as Armageddon starts. This is going to be difficult, it seems, because the authorities will block the roads with their traffic and their tanks. But Popkiss has no doubt that he will be able to get away. He has carefully noted all the back doubles out of Southampton where he lives. And if you buy the book you will get to know all these useful tips. (As the Guardian reporter pointed out, Popkiss will find that all the back doubles of Southampton will be blocked by all the thousands of readers of his book. However, he will have made a pile out of it by then. You can’t win ’em all. And you can’t take it with you.)
Does nobody want to know the little fact that there is a simple method of avoiding a nuclear holocaust? Simply abolish capitalism, the cause of all wars in the modern world (and of all the other social evils as well). Why wait till the bombs are falling?
L. E. Weidberg