Sunday, October 7, 2018

News in Review: Heil Banda! (1965)

The News in Review column from the December 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Heil Banda!
The tireless supporters of African nationalist movements will doubtless have been glad to hear that Dr. Hastings Banda, who was once one of their heroes, and who was once said to be a gentle, humane man, and who is now Prime Minister of Malawi, is running true to form.

Next July, Malawi will become a Republic and Dr. Bandas’ party—the Malawi Congress Party—is getting ready for the event.

First, they nominated (who else?) Dr. Banda as their candidate for the Presidency. Then they accepted some proposals which make it clear that Dr. Banda does not intend his Presidential rule to be restricted by the sort of checks which are on the leaders of a much maligned, imperialist country like the United States.

The Constitution the Malawi Congress Party accepted, and which will probably become law, lays it down that the country will become a one-party state with a President who is both the Head of State and the Head of the Government.

There are, of course, no prizes for guessing which party will be the only one allowed to exist and who will be the all-powerful President—or dictator, as he will be known in places where speech is still comparatively free.

This is typical of many of the new African states which are now under one-party dictatorships, run by the men who came to power on a promise to bring freedom to a people governed by a foreign nation.

On what grounds are the new dictatorships excused? Dr. Banda told his party’s convention: “It does not matter whether there is a dictator or not as long as the people choose the dictator”— which is exactly the argument used by, among others, Adolf Hitler.

This is hot a far-fetched parallel. A couple of weeks after the convention, Dr. Banda revealed what sort of dictatorship he hopes the Malawi people will choose. Commenting on the trial of the “rebel” Medson Silombela, he said: “I know he is going to be found guilty. What sort of judge can acquit him? After that you can come and watch him swing.”

Life under British capitalism is tough enough, but at least political leaders do not make it their business to go around pronouncing verdict and sentence before a trial is ended.

The rising capitalisms of Africa are no better than those of the older, more established countries.

The experience of Malawi—and of Ghana and Kenya—should be remembered, the next time there is an appeal to support a nationalist movement which aims to replace one type of suppression with another.

Failure of the incomes and prices policy
Mr. Brown,” wrote William Rees-Mogg in the Sunday Times last April, “Plough the Sands.” He was referring to the government’s incomes policy, to the incomes policies which have gone before, and to the near certainty of Brown’s policy failing.

Well, the policy has been running for about a year. We have had the Declaration of Intent, we have Mr. Jones and his Prices and Incomes Board, we have the Early Warning System and the TUC’s capitulation to it.

And we have Mr. Brown. Talking.

What else have we had?

Prices, we know, have gone up. What about wages?

The Motor Agents’ Association have agreed with the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the Transport and General Workers’ Union that from January 1st the basic rates of about 300,000 workers in the motor retail and repair trades will go up by between 14 and 16 per cent.

Figures arc pliable things but on any argument this rise is considerably more than the government’s hoped-for limit of between 3 and 3½ per cent. a year.

This is only one detail in the picture. In April the Scottish plumbers got a rise of 11 per cent.; in August Trustee Savings Bank Staff got 8.1 per cent. 

Between last December and September this year, the Index of Hourly Wage Rates, taking a base figure of 100 for the year 1956, rose from 152.2 to 160.2—an increase of 8 per cent. 

These developments have provoked Mr. Callaghan, the Chancellor of the Exchequer to confess that he is ". . . disappointed with the way in which the incomes policy has gone so far.”

There is really no reason for Mr. Callaghan feeling like this. Any incomes policy will always run up against a basic feature of the capitalist social system which the government are trying to run.

Capitalism imposes upon the mass of people the condition that they have to sell their working abilities in order to live. In its barest essentials—that is, in times of slump—this is a matter of living. At other times it is more a matter of defending and improving living standards.

Here is the root cause of the disputes over wages and working conditions. It is inevitable that the working class will struggle to get the most they can from their employers, and that their employers will protect their own interests.

Since the war, conditions in this country have generally favoured the working class in their struggle. A persistent shortage of labour has given strength to many wage claims.

Thus, although the trade unions may formally accept an obligation to restrain wages, the very conditions of their existence force them to do the opposite, for their members would hardly agree to hold wages down when they could push them up.

The assistant secretary of the TGWU showed how the trade unions justify themselves in this situation when he commented on the rises awarded to the motor men: “In fact, this was consolidating local wage rates into a national agreement and was merely formalising what already existed.”

This is what Mr. George Woodcock once called “a bit of good old TUC”, but in essence it is a fairly common sort of statement.

Whatever policy the government may try to impose, and the unions accept, the battle to consolidate and to improve wages will go on. It is simply part of capitalism.

Other incomes policies have failed in the past and Brown’s policy, brought in to such deafening fanfares, is failing now. However many times they are ploughed, the dead sands will remain.

Crisis in Rhodesia
The crisis in Rhodesia showed—if indeed it was necessary to do so—that whatever else we may be short of there is still plenty of nonsense being talked.

We heard, for example, talk about our “kith and kin" in Rhodesia, which suggests that there is a sacred, family tie between British workers and the Rhodesian ruling class. Perhaps this propaganda was effective: it was reported that the British government hesitated about sending troops to Rhodesia because they feared something like a repetition of the Curragh Mutiny in 1914.

We heard lots about the “rights" of majorities and the “legalities" of Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, as if such things are immutable and are not ignored and defied when it suits a governments’ purposes to do so. Human “rights" have had such a rough time of it during the past few years that it is surprising that any government still dares to speak in their name.

And, of course, we had the familiar racist nonsense, about the supposed inferiority of the African, and his inherent inability to behave in the same way as the established proletariat of the older capitalist countries.

There were signs that the decision to make a UDI was not reached without considerable argument in Salisbury. Mr. Smith prevaricated for a long time, after originally giving the impression that the break was due in the immediate future.

Perhaps this was a result of the arm-twisting by the British government. But whatever the short term effect of the sanctions, there is every reason to think that in the long run Rhodesia will weather the storm. It will find other outlets for its produce, and reach other arrangements on its international finances to replace those which have been ended. Indeed, there may even be some sort of tie-up between Rhodesia and some of the Negro African states. Malawi for one made it clear that it did not favour the imposition of sanctions, which might mean that the two countries will get together over a trade deal.

Mr. Wilson was at some pains to establish the fact that Labour's policy was a continuation of the Tories’. This did not prevent Mr. Heath getting what advantage he could from the situation, by making the familiar charge that, although there was no difference in principle between the two parties, Labour were bungling the job.

This basic agreement indicates that the British ruling class as a whole, whatever Lord Salisbury may think, realises what will be the result of a UDI. The present Rhodesian government can probably stay in power only by imposing a system similar to what exists in South Africa.

This will have its repercussions in terms of sabotage and other forms of violence, and in continual unrest. It will hold back Rhodesia's development into a modern capitalist nation. This may suit the interests of the Rhodesian farmers but the country’s industrialists, and the capitalists abroad who have money invested there, must take a different attitude.

They are more likely to be in favour of accepting the inevitable and salvaging what they can, as they have done in the other newly independent states of Africa.

If a Negro-dominated Rhodesia is inevitable—however far into the future it maybe—what is likely to follow? There will probably by changes in the white landholdings. Some of them may be split up and distributed to Africans; so called Land Reform often accompanies the success of nationalist revolts.

There will also be changes in Rhodesia’s social structure. The tribal chiefs will decline in power, to be replaced by a new ruling class, mostly with coloured skins. The African people will be developed into a fully-fledged proletariat.

And, if recent history is any guide, Rhodesia may well become another Negro dictatorship, with the new government’s opponents persecuted, exiled, even murdered.

Who can say that this is preferable to the white settlers’ dictatorship under Mr. Smith? For the people of Rhodesia the outlook is unpromising.

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