August 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard
As many people who have been roped in for some minor offence know, the “half bricks’' case is only the part of the iceberg above the water. It does not need a cynic to wonder whether the official, explanation for the rampages of Detective Sergeant Challenor, that he was overworked and mentally sick, is just another cover-up.
To be imprisoned for something which you have not done is galling in the extreme; no sum of money can restore a period of lost liberty. To be submitted, in addition, to the sort of indignities which Challenor and his men were accustomed to visit upon their unfortunate arrests is intolerable.
Yet outraged sympathy for the victims is not enough. Why is it only now admitted that Challenor was unbalanced? Did this not show up in court when he gave his evidence? Was it not apparent to his superior officers?
The plain, awful fact is that a system of law-enforcement must rely in some cases on men like Challenor, and upon magistrates and high police officers closing an eye to any doubts about the methods he has used to gather the “ evidence” which puts people away.
Crime must be an undercover business, which means that some police work must also go underground. It is a known fact that often, when the police think they have a criminal in their grasp, they are not above cooking a bit of evidence to make their case conclusive. Only occasionally are these practices uncovered—in most cases the accused is guilty anyway.
But sometimes he is not. Challenor's victims suffered nothing worse than a spell in prison, bad as that may be. In the case of Timothy Evans there is good reason to believe that the police technique cost a man his life.
Capitalism is not without its legal rights and it is anxious that these should be protected. But in the end the complex scientific police force and massive judicial machine which capitalism has developed to protect its property structure depends on the man on the beat.
It depends on the distraught detective, the not over-sensitive constable, the inspector with a down on political demonstrators. These men have an awesome power over someone’s life—and too often there is nobody to call them to account for their actions. Property society is a dirty business and so are the various organisms it has fashioned to maintain itself. It is hard going for anyone who tries to keep it all clean and above board.
Politicians say some silly things, some of which live on to mock their memory long after they are dead.
One of these was Alan Lennox Boyd's famous “Never” over Cyprus. When he said that, the British government seemed immovable over the fate of the island, basing their attitude on the 1956 Colonial Office Report:—
Her Majesty's Government formally recognised the principle of self-determination, but considered its application not to be a practical proposition at the present time on account of the existing situation in the Eastern Mediterranean.
To support that classical piece of diplomatic evasion, hundreds of British soldiers—and not a few civilians—were killed. The strife and the confusion in Cyprus have persisted until today, even after the so-called truce, the island remains one of the world’s ugliest spots.
And among the confusion, a certain fact gleams. Lennox-Boyd—now Lord Boyd—is a political ghost, his foolish words gone down in history. The policy he applied is almost dead. Britain is no longer hell bent on staying in Cyprus.
Only reluctantly did Whitehall agree to send a British contingent to the UN force in Cyprus; they are now anxiously pulling their soldiers out. Lennox Boyd made many biller attacks upon enosis but his latter day successor, Duncan Sandys, now refuses to be drawn on the issue.
This sort of volte face is not new, nor particularly remarkable. But it is pari of a very sordid story and someone should point out the moral of it.
The British government have now virtually admitted that, even by their own standards, the casualties of the war against EOKA were incurred for no good reason. This sort of things has happened before and each time it happens it should rouse the working class to a fury of dissent.
But they are never so roused. Each time the call goes out for another lot of colonial cannon fodder—for Aden, for Malaya, for Borneo—there is no hanging back. The official propaganda about primitive savages desecrating the graceful achievements of the British colonisers, continues to be accepted almost without question. There seems to be no end to it. No wonder politicians say so many silly things—they get away with them so easily.
The Tories are doing their best to blow up Nationalisation into one of the big issues of the coming general election. In this, they are helped by organisations like Aims of Industry (Say No To Nationalisation) and most of the big steel firms, who are preparing to sell themselves dearly if they are taken under State control.
Naturally, this side are rather careful in their choice of arguments. They stress the large deficits which, after payment of interest, are declared by some nationalised concerns. This impresses many workers who, although they live on the edge of insolvency, like to think that the Bank of England and the other State industries belong to them.
The anti-nationalisers make cracks about slate in the coal and dirty railway carriages, although they know perfectly well that these existed before the State took over.
All this is good for a laugh. It may even win a few votes. But it ignores the basic facts of nationalisation.
State control is not something dreamed up by the Labour Party in the nineteen forties. It has nothing to do with Socialism. It is an old established method, which the capitalist class have used from time to time, of trying to deal with particular problems. All three big parties in this country have had a crack at it—including the Conservatives.
Because of this, the capitalist class generally take a view of nationalisation rather different from that of the theorists of political parties who, apart from their concern with their theories, are also worried about getting into power.
This viewpoint is being pressed, as the election draws nearer, by some of the papers which speak with the voice of the capitalist class as a whole. The Economist, although it does not welcome the prospect of steel nationalisation, was pleading last May for the “least bad way" of imposing it. The Observer of June 21st concluded that:
Ideally it ought to be possible for a Government, whether Labour or Tory, to launch new, competitive publicly-owned enterprises . . . public ownership and competition, far from being contradictory, are complementary.
The Guardian at the beginning of last month went into the figurework of the matter, comparing the incomes of some private and State industries. They pointed out that what the Prime Minister has called “the junkyard of nationalisation" in fact has “some extremely healthy giants ” in it.
The meaning behind this is that capitalists as a whole are not over interested in political theories on nationalisation, or indeed on any other matter. They treat political policies on their merits, by which they mean their profitability, sometimes in isolation, sometimes to the economy as a whole.
Thus they may require some industries to be nationalised, because they are large and nationally important or because they have an appetite for investment which only the State can guarantee to satisfy. (The Guardian says that the Electricity Boards are investing enough money every ten days to build the Channel Tunnel.)
Both Labour and Conservative Parties, as their recent policies show, have broadly adopted this attitude. On the hustings they grapple with each others' shadows but in the background the business of capitalism goes on undisturbed.