Despite many years’ experience to the contrary, working class men and women still cling assiduously to the belief that politicians flitting hither and thither to meetings in various parts of the world can solve the problems which capitalism produces.
This is an impression which capitalist politicians encourage and which some of them may even believe, at least at the start of their careers. It was the Labour Party who claimed in 1945, for instance, that they would stand a better chance of settling differences with Russia than the Tories, because of their better understanding of Soviet politics. But in the event, Mr. Molotov said “No" just as frequently to Ernest Bevin as he would have done to any Tory foreign secretary. Since those days we have had any number of international conferences, meetings of heads of state, not to mention sessions of that prime piece of organised post-war futility the United Nations. Yet capitalism has steered its usual bumpy course from crisis to crisis, at times drifting perilously close to the brink of another world war.
These are the things to bear in mind when considering the news that the British and Russian premiers have exchanged invitations to visit each other’s country this year. Mr. Wilson has expressed pleasure at the prospect; he told reporters he knew Mr. Kosygin well, and had had a long talk with him when last in Moscow. Which was no doubt intended to foster the idea that such cosy informality has the edge over the protocol of the conference table. Many people would agree with Mr. Wilson. They think that if direct and personal contact can be established—like friendly neighbours chatting across the back garden fence—international rivalry will ease and relations between the states improve in some mysterious way. But they are wrong.
When the Labour government took office last October, they were soon caught up in the whirl of international negotiations. Mr. Wilson went early to Washington and ministers were scattered about the globe at various conferences. Mr. Brown has recently been to Sweden. But they are not the only ones to go trotting around like this. At the time of writing, Chinese high-ups are busy getting neighbourly with Indonesia’s Sukarno, and it is only a few months ago that President De Gaulle returned from a visit to South America. It is the sort of move that statesmen are always making, but whether the discussions are informal or otherwise, they will be concerned with the interests of the particular capitalist classes involved, and not with those of the working class.
Wilson’s government, for example, have been trying to re-assess British defence policy and standing in Europe, and the Moscow visit is only a sequel to Washington last Autumn. It could be that there is a big re-alignment of powers coming as a result of China’s emergence as a nuclear power. Possibly Russia will draw closer to the West. The question of Britain’s entry into the Common Market may be re-opened (despite strong Labour opposition to it in the past), and some agreements may have to be re-negotiated. Still others may be scrapped altogether in the tussle to keep British capitalism in the running among the major powers.
All this will doubtless be represented as being cf vital concern to every one of us. There will be talk of “our” interests, “our” exports, “our” foreign policy, etc., when in fact workers have no stake in any of it. For most of us the wage packet is the limit of our horizon, and whether Britain is in or out of the Common Market will have no effect on that basic fact, any more than will the efforts of all the political leaders.
Leaders come and go, but capitalism outlives them all, bringing the usual trail of misery and destruction in its wake. Only a Socialist working class can do anything about that.