From the May 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard
Having floored them at the polls last October, the Tory Party, like any good wrestler, has managed to sit on Labour's head and twist its arms. The Brighouse by-election was a good victory for the Government. Can Mr. Macmillan, then, do nothing wrong? Must he go on winning elections, until everybody else gives up? It must be very irritating for the Labour Party, who can be expected to grasp at every straw that swirls past them in the waters of defeat.
What are these straws? Mr. Amory’s Budget revealed some dissension in the Tory ranks, for whilst Labour members were cheering the Chancellor, Lord Hinchingbrooke, Gerald Nabarro and others sat in glum disapproval. More, Mr. Nabarro forced a division in the Commons. This was probably considered to be a bit thick in the clubs. Hinchingbrooke could be excused, perhaps, but that chap Nabarro, with his big moustache and loud voice and his L.C.C. education—really, it is too much. Labour, of course, gloried in it, forgetting the days when their own critics of, for example, Bevin’s foreign policy, were so unpopular. These men—Zilliacus, Platts-Mills and the rest—were called not cads, but stabbers-in-the-back, fellow travellers, and so on, and were eventually expelled from the Party. Of course, any government dislikes a split amongst its parliamentary supporters, because unity makes it so much easier to push through the measures necessary to organise British capitalism. That is why Nabarro is considered such a bounder and why Labour’s Russophiles were dealt with so sharply.
The tragedy is that workers are often taken in by these squabbles. The points at issue—whether Britain should have been more friendly to Russia after the war, whether Mr. Amory’s Budget should include such high expenditure- are unimportant to workers' lives. The cause of our poverty—the class ownership of wealth—goes on, whether one year we pay twopence less for our beer and the next twopence more for our cigarettes.
In any case, Mr. Macmillian has other things to worry about. This month, he must see through the conference of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers and later he must attend the Summit meeting. Although the recent bloodletting in South Africa seems, in human interests, to demand some frank speaking, the statement which will come at the end of the Commonwealth conference will probably be as platitudinous as ever. Doubtless, it will touch on what is called the value of the Commonwealth. In fact, the real value of this organisation lies in the commercial ties between its members. These ties are judged on strictly economic terms. Australia, for example, found in recent years that post war inflation had decreased the value of some of the duty preferences which Great Britain allowed her. Letting the so-called Commonwealth spirit go by the board, she agitated for—and got—some alterations.
Mr. Iain Macleod, the Colonial Secretary, was near the mark when he addressed the recent annual meeting of the Glasgow Unionist Association. The Guardian's report of his speech said :
Mr. Macleod said that we did not go abroad to govern: we went abroad to trade. It wasn't really true that trade followed the flag. It would be more true to say that the flag followed trade. So, if we were wise we could stay in countries we once ruled as traders, farmers, planters, shippers, business men and engineers. (22/3/60.)
Naturally, Mr. Macleod was trying to put it in the most attractive nutshell he could find, but the fact is there—empires are built upon the capitalist need for trade and expansion, which makes the deaths of the Sharpeville Africans—and of the millions of others who have been killed in defence of their master’s empires—especially bitter.
At long last, having sorted out whether it is better for the premiers to decide what their foreign secretaries shall discuss, or vice versa, the Summit meeting is at hand. It is a depressing fact that these conferences do little to ensure the future peace of the world. Perhaps the most propitious time for a Summit conference was in the war-weary year of 1945. Then, if ever, the politicians could have talked peace. Instead, as usual, they got down to carving up the world between the victors, conceiving the disputes from which a future war could be born. They divided Berlin. They divided Korea. Either of these, during the last twelve years, might have caused a third world war. There is no point in moaning over this. These conferences are arranged so that the various capitalist powers can discuss the issues of economic advantage and military power which are so important to them. Nobody can reasonably expect a peaceful conclusion. Yet workers put their faith in them, hoping that the representative of their government, like a champion boxer, will come out on top.
Which brings us back to Mr. Macmillan. Can he crush the rebellion behind him? Ride out the criticism of his neutrality on Sharpeville, captivate the Summit talks? If he can, and if that boom keeps going, working class support for his Party will probably increase. But this could have a serious effect. In 1950, a survey of the Greenwich constituency pointed to the conclusion that, if electors there had voted in accordance with their opinions (on steel nationalisation, and so on) the Tories, and not—as actually happened—Labour would have won the seat. This conclusion was repealed by a similar survey in 1951 in North-east Bristol. How ironical—and how galling for Mr. Macmillan—if he was so successful that all his supporters voted Labour!
This is no joke. In this country and all over the world, political parties are grappling for the power to organise the affairs of their capitalist class. It is working class ignorance and indifference that votes for the slick leader and the dazzling promises. Ignorance and indifference give capitalism each new lease of life, to continue its vicious contradictions.