Many muffins must have been choked over, in the tea shoppes of places like Tunbridge Wells, at the news that a Tory government may be thinking of scuttling the Royal Navy. In such places there is a perceptible effort to get time, if not to stand still, at least to be reined in. Retired admirals perambulate the streets in hazy dreams of those days of the great, grey battleships looming out of the Channel mists, of royal reviews of line after line of floating fire-power at Spithead or Scapa Flow.
Such people—although they would rather die among the muffins than admit it—have a marked affinity to Labour lefties. Both types vote for their party in the belief that it will not face up to the realities of capitalism. The only difference between them is in the differing realities that they believe will be evaded. And both undergo a nasty shock, when their delusions are blown aside.
Tory governments have done a lot of this blowing. Since they came back to power in 1951, they have not shown any great reluctance to move with the times. Under their rule British capitalism, as it had to, has pulled in its horns. The old British Empire has been dismantled, the armed forces reduced in keeping with the new, restricted influence in world affairs. Eden’s lunatic adventure into Suez in 1956 was a hiccup in this process, soon put right by the saner, smoother MacMillan who worked hard to get the Tories to accept what he saw was inevitable.
Now there is very little left, except for the dreams in Tunbridge Wells—and the Royal Navy, which once expressed in its flags, its guns and its vast ships the world wide expansion of British capitalism, has very little left too. There is no reason for a Tory government not to face this fact. It would be near madness for them, at a time of recession, to spend a lot of money on a navy for which the British capitalist class has little use, simply to placate some of its wilder supporters—in Tunbridge Wells or the Bacup working men’s club.
Mitterrand’s soft ‘socialism’
Francois Mitterrand, the new president of France, is treading a tightrope at the moment, trying on the one hand to retain his popularity with French workers by offering them sops such as increased minimum wages and security benefits, and on the other hand to remain respectable to the French Establishment.
Perhaps Prince Charles will have given him a few tips on how to do that when he went to see him recently. Certainly, his announcement that he will fully maintain France’s arsenal of nuclear weapons for the defence of French property will have reassured a number of people with property interests there.
This opportunist posing is not quite as curious as the headline which appeared in the Sunday Times on 24 May: “Mitterrand softens his socialism to win electors’’. Socialism means the abolition of all property and profit, and the planning of production for use on the basis of common ownership. It is not by its very nature something which can be “softened”, watered down or dressed up to “win electors”.
It is a harmonious social system which would solve the world’s present social problems. Mitterrand stressed right from the start of his campaign that he wishes to modify the present system, not end it. It can only be ended when the majority reject the inflated promises of all capitalist politicians, regardless of their labels. Do not trust anything, including this journal. We can only suggest the cause of our problems to you. The solution lies with us all. The need is to organise democratically, without leaders or promises.
An awful lot of venom is currently being excited, and expressed, in what is politely known as political debate. The unemployed—or rather those of them restless enough to demonstrate about their plight—shriek their loathing of Margaret Thatcher. To the Tories and to not a few Labour supporters—Tony Benn is a wild eyed fanatic who wants to legislate some nameless dreads into our lives. All of this is based on the theory that political leaders can initiate the crises of capitalism. If that theory were valid, capitalism’s history would be different, for if leaders can initiate a crisis they can just as easily terminate it. Yet this they never seem able to do.
Then again why is it that this turbulent, endless search for the perfect leader — or the perfect combination of them — never succeeds, so that there is always a clutch of the wretched people being reviled. spat upon, bombarded with stale eggs? Why is there always some threat, potential or actual, to set back the programmes for peace and plenty? There can be only one consistent and satisfactory answer. Political leaders do not initiate crises: they only respond to them. So it is more useful to regard their personalities in that light, as shaped by events rather than being able to shape them.
But such rational, supportable views of politics would deprive the competition between the capitalist parties of much of its excitement, a lot of which revolves around a personal dislike for the others' leaders. Except that there is an alternative to this futility—a proper understanding of the basis of capitalism and thereby of the ideas, political and religious theories, the philosophy and the morals, which spring from that basis. Such knowledge is much more exciting—because it is much more powerful—than parading the streets shouting for the demise of some leader or other. It is knowledge to change more than leaders—it will abolish them, and change society itself.