The Passing Show Column from the February 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard
The successful Indian invasion of Goa set off a wonderful display of coat-turning. Many of those who supported British aggression at Suez in 1956 opposed Indian aggression at Goa in 1961: and vice versa. So many politicians seized the chance of using the arguments which had been used by their opponents at the time of Suez. Those who had hailed the British and French armed forces' attack on Nasser were then discomfited by having to watch Britain and France pilloried at the United Nations Assembly, with the vast majority of the member-states condemning the aggression, and only two or three countries, most of them Fascist or racialist like Portugal and South Africa, supporting it. At that time no state shouted louder against this wanton aggression than India.
So with what glee have many MPs and others—chiefly Conservatives—waded in with righteous speeches and articles denouncing the Indian aggression, and using the very “holier-than-thou” arguments which were used against them with such telling effect in 1956. Even newspapers like the Daily Mail, which has supported the British ruling class for many years through thick and thin, whatever methods it has used—indiscriminate brutality to the civilian population as in Cyprus, executions for having associated with suspected persons as in Kenya, or naked aggression as at Suez, all defended by sob-jerking references to “our boys out there’’—even newspapers with this record came out quite unabashed against India. The Daily Mail, straightening its very tarnished halo, and raising its eyes piously to the heavens, even had the nerve to proclaim that no action which was morally wrong could be politically right. How any Daily Mail journalist could write that without the typewriter jamming is hard to see.
Right to rule
On the other hand, we had many of those who consider themselves left-wing or progressive weighing in on the other side. Very often they were the same people who pointed out (quite rightly) in 1956 that it is no good denouncing aggression only when it is committed by somebody else; that aggression is still aggression even when the aggressors are the British ruling class. But over Goa they had deluded themselves into believing that the Indian ruling class had some “right ’ to rule over Goa and its people stronger than the “right” of the Portuguese to do the same thing. So out came the argument that “aggression is wrong, but—well, this is different"—exactly the argument used by the pro-Suez faction in 1956.
What it all boils down to is this: if you support capitalism, you will end up by backing this or that capitalist state against the others, even when it goes to war, kills innocent men, women and children, and commits the most barefaced aggression. It is only the Socialist who sees all capitalist states for what they are, and sees that when their own interests demand it they will all kill, execute, and commit aggression however much they have denounced other states doing the same things in the past.
Independence for Balham
But that is far from being the only insoluble problem of supporters of capitalism. While we are on the subject, here is another. All “liberal-minded, progressive people" support, of course, “national independence"—i.e., the right of one state to throw off another which attempts to rule over it. On the other hand, as one descends the scale of communities, there must be a point at which this “right of independence” no longer applies. If, for example, a small London suburb like Balham (even though it is, in Peter Sellers’ words, the “gateway to the south”) proclaimed its independence, there would surely be very few people, even in the Labour Party, who would be prepared to rally to its banner and die gasping out “independence for Balham!’’ with their last breath. But—and here is the sixty-four dollar question—where exactly is this point reached?
A case in point is Ireland. Over the long years when the Irish propertied class was demanding its “independence” from the United Kingdom, the British ruling class said the British Isles was the smallest possible unit in this area which could claim independence: Ireland was too small. Against this, the Irish owning class argued that any community, even if part of a larger community, has a perfect right to split off if it wants to. Then when it became clear that Irish independence was only a matter of time, the capitalists of Northern Ireland began to claim the right to hive off from an independent Ireland. At this, the two parties did a smart about turn, and each stole the other's arguments. Now it was the emerging Irish ruling class which denied the right of a small part of a larger community to split off, while those who had previously said that the British Isles was the smallest community hereabouts which could claim self-determination now stoutly defended the right of no more than six counties in Northern Ireland “to determine their own future’’.
Another example of the same difficulty —and one which is causing repeated loss of life both among the “United Nations" forces and among the forces supporting Tshombe—is Katanga. One view is that the Congo is the smallest possible unit which can feasibly claim independence; the other view is that Katanga is large enough to stand alone if it wants to. The problem is in fact insoluble in capitalism, except by force. There is no valid rule which lays down how large a country must be before it can demand “ independence”. So the two sides—the Congolese ruling class which wants the mineral wealth of Katanga, and the Katangese rulers who want to keep if for themselves —fight it out in either open war or uneasy temporary peace.
The only permanent solution of the Katanga problem, and all the other problems of “national independence”, is Socialism. In a Socialist system of society there would be no national boundaries, no state frontiers, because there would be no ruling classes to impose them: so naturally there would be no dispute as to where they should lie. Those earnest supporters of the “ United Nations” who are now deeply puzzled about the Katanga impasse might usefully consider our alternative.