Editorial from the August 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard
It is only too easy to contrast the warm and lofty phrases of the United Nations' Charter with the hostile acts and vituperative speeches of the present period, only two years after the end of the war. "We, the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save successive generations from the scourge of war . . .”, already face the division of Europe, the Middle East, and the Pacific lands into rival Russian and American-British spheres of influence. Two years of meetings of the foreign ministers of the war-time Allies have resulted in Western Europe being enticed into the American camp by offers of aid while Russia, more crudely, orders its satellite States of Eastern Europe to stay away. The backslapping and handshakes are forgotten and now we have Mr. Bevin warning Russia in terms reminiscent of those directed against Nazi Germany. Speaking in London at an American Independence Day dinner on July 4th Mr. Bevin addressed these remarks to hie Russian ally:—
"They seem to think that our obsession for peace is a thing which entitles them to go on to provocation . . . They must not be surprised . . . that you can carry provocation too far. People will say one day 'We are tired of this.' There comes a moment when we say, 'We have had enough.' I say to my friends who take a different view from ours, 'Don't provoke that situation.' " (Daily Telegraph, 5/7/47).
And lest anyone should think that it will remain a war only of words the United Powers, which solemnly pledged themselves "to settle their international disputes by peaceful means," are at this moment maintaining 19,000,000 men under arms and spending on armaments £2,500 million a year more than in 1938. (News Chronicle, 13/5/47). Like the ill-fated League of Nations the U.N. already has its test case in the Balkans. A U.N. Commission having found that Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania have been helping Greek guerillas against the Greek Government, and the Russian group having declined to approve action to stop it, the British delegate on the Security Council, Sir Alexander Cadogan, declares:—
"If we cannot apply proposals such as those submitted by the Commission we had better tear up the Charter and pack up.” (Manchester Guardian, 4/7/47).
Everyone sees the drift towards another cataclysmic war. Everyone—except a certain "lunatic fringe” in all countries—deplores it; but very few understand why it is taking place, the Government spokesmen among them. These gentlemen have their neat face-saving explanations. They each see the cause in the inexplicably stupid behaviour of their opposite numbers. "I love the Russian people,” says Bevin. "The ordinary man and woman of the world wants peace. They want to be left alone. They want the amenities that civilisation can give them. Why split the world on some ideology, on such things as material determinism or Christian religion?” These are Bevin's words but they could be Truman's or Stalin's; the favourite theme of Russian Government spokesmen is the way the peace-loving masses of Britain and U.S.A., friendly to Russia, are being duped into supporting the hostile acts of their respective governments. The theme is plausible but is the most arrant nonsense no matter which side puts it forward. The world is not going to war because of ideological differences, though if war comes between the groups as at present divided—and let it not be forgotten that this grouping is no more inevitable and permanent than any past grouping—the Bevins and Molotovs, Attlees, Stalins and Trumans will find it a convenient banner under which to try to rally mass support.
What then is the cause of international rivalry in the modern world? To find it the worker in each country needs to look not abroad but at home; not at the relationships between the governments but at the relationship between the social classes; not at Foreign Ministers' protestations of good will, but at the thrusting, aggressive export drives of the Ministers of Trade, the ceaseless effort to find foreign markets and sources of cheap raw materials.
Oil offers a convenient illustration of the problem. Britain and France have little or no home petrol supplies and Russia and America, exporters in the past, are increasingly in need of imported oil products. The new and growing source is the Middle East, so the Middle East becomes a scene of violent rivalry between all the Powers, veiled, of course, under a propaganda smoke-screen, with charge and counter-charge of interference, imperialism, ideological war, foreign violation of sovereignty, etc., etc.
Because British capitalism needs cheap oil it seems perfectly reasonable to Mr. Bevin that the British Government should not abandon its position in the oil-producing Middle East. The American Government feels the same about its aid in money and arms to Middle East countries not yet fallen into the Russian orbit. But Russia’s rulers equally protest the reasonableness of their demand to control North-Persian oil, and to have, in all the countries on Russia's western borders, governments amenable to Russian influence.
The next obvious question is why cannot the peace-loving peoples of the world amicably share world resources to their mutual benefit? Why are they all represented by governments which preach peace and goodwill but foster war-producing trade rivalries? Here let us return to another part of the United Nations' Charter (Article 55) in which the governments pledged themselves to promote "higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development.” Who are the men who, as members of governments, are supposed to be carrying out this pledge? All of them are high salaried individuals, often with private fortunes, who look at the world through the eyes of the wealthy, privileged minority. All of them are committed to the task of making the capitalist system of society function. For whose benefit is the pledge supposed to have been made? For the benefit of the working masses, the exploited wage earners of the capitalist world. In spite of superficial appearances to the contrary class-divided capitalism is still the form of society in all of the countries of the world, and the ruling group, their protestations notwithstanding, are all of them forced to promote foreign policies dictated by the needs of capitalism in their respective countries. Capitalist competition for the world's resources and markets is just as much the determining factor in the world of to-day as it was in 1939 before World War II and in 1914 before World War I. All of the governments of the world are primarily concerned with making surplus value by the exploitation of the working class and with realising that surplus value by the profitable sale of the products in competition with the exporters of other countries. Let us put the matter to a simple test All the governments are committed to promoting “higher standards of living” for the workers, and many of them, including the British Labour Party and the Russian Bolsheviks, have in the past formally proclaimed their intention of abolishing the vast inequalities between the privileged minority and the exploited majority. Where then is there a government that is carrying out its pledge given in the Charter? All the governments are preaching austerity to the poor and resisting the demands of the workers for “higher standards of living." The Russian government lengthens the working day. The British government seeks to increase shift-working and night work and the use of systems of payments by results. The U.S.A. government introduces savage anti-trade union legislation. All the governments defend their actions by pleas of shortages, while at the same time defending a system which gives the privileged minority ease and luxury at the expense of the wealth producing class. In the “work harder" drives the rich are everywhere excluded from the hard and odious jobs deemed so essential.
The conclusion is simple. The United Nations' Charter is not faulty because of anything wrong about its appeal for peace between the governments but because of its implicit acceptance of the capitalist system that gives rise to class struggle at home and international struggle abroad. The United Nations’ Charter is a charter of capitalist governments, trimmed with pious and meaningless phrases pledging the representatives of an exploiting system to alleviate the worst hardships of those they exploit A working class charter would put different aims and put them in the proper order. Not a pledge to avoid war, with a tacit acceptance of capitalism, but' first and foremost a pledge to abolish capitalism and institute Socialism— from which all else would flow.