The News in Review column from the February 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard
Cunarder on the Clyde
Both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth were built in the Clydeside shipyard of John Brown.
When it was confirmed, on the eve of Hogmanay, that the same shipyard had won the contract to make the replacement for the Queen Mary, both God and Commercial Television celebrated.
Church bells rang out in the Clydebank parish of Kilbowie. Scottish Television look huge press adverts, which crowed that the right yard had won the contract. Perhaps they are hoping that their blatant appeal to ignorance and patriotism will persuade some of the five thousand who will be employed on the new Cunarder to spend some of their wages on television sets.
No bells rang on the Tyne and in Belfast, homes of the other two firms competing for the contract, Swan, Hunter, Vickers-Armstrong and Harland and Wolff are probably hoping that John Brown’s preoccupation with the new Cunarder over the next three years or so will leave a more open market for them.
But this is by no means certain, British ship-building is still struggling, pushed hard by the Japanese and the Swedes and some Continental yards. The Cunard affair underlines the fact that in such competition there can be only one winner. There could be gloomy times ahead for the shipyard workers in Belfast and on Tyneside. Perhaps Scottish Television will make a small donation to their soup kitchens.
The profitability of the new Cunarder is doubtful. More and more people are crossing the Atlantic by air, and fewer and fewer by sea. The shipping lines have largely given up the struggle to compete in cheap travel, and now concentrate on selling the sea voyage as a more gracious and rejuvenating way of travelling than a clamourous jet flight.
The new liner is designed to accept these conditions. It will be a flexible ship, with accommodation which can be rearranged into two classes and a draught shallow enough to permit cruising, if this seems more profitable. Meanwhile the ageing Queens have to face competition from more modern, faster ships; next year Sweden and Italy enter the race.
This uncertain world, into which the new liner will be launched, does not resemble the leisured and gracious image which Cunard once built for themselves.
The reality of capitalism is grim, and never grimmer than when a proud example of craftsmanship and ingenuity is pushed out into the rough seas of commercial anarchy.
Agin' the Guinea
Next month, at Largs in Scotland, the Labour women will hold their annual national conference.
There they will discuss the customary sheaf of meaningless and hypocritical resolutions.
Consider, for example, the motion which condemns the practice of pricing goods in guineas and which calls on the government to abolish the guinea system.
On the face of it, this may seem a genuine expression of a desire to protect the consumer interests of the working class. But let us look at it a little deeper.
We are all familiar with the ruse of pricing in guineas. Perhaps some people are actually taken in by it, and think that a suit costing fifteen guineas is no more expensive than one costing fifteen pounds.
But such people are obviously beyond the help of pious resolutions. They would be just as easily deceived by another, equally transparent, trick if the Labour women got their way over the guinea.
So what will the conference be worrying about? Do the Labour women think that abolishing the guinea will do something to stop prices rising? Are they looking for an excuse for their government’s failure to keep that part of their election programme?
Let us get down to basic facts. The Labour Party supports capitalism, which is a system of production of goods for sale and therefore a system in which there are buyers and sellers and prices at which they buy and sell.
The interests of buyer and seller are directly opposed. One wants the price to be as low as possible, the other wants it as high as possible. These opposing interests are mostly asserted in ways which are within capitalism’s laws.
Sometimes they are asserted by illegal methods. And sometimes they are asserted by methods which, while not illegal, are not exactly honest. These methods include monopoly control and such diddles as pricing something worth half a crown at two shillings elevenpence halfpenny and the use of guineas instead of pounds.
Whatever method is used, it must be the forces of the market which finally control the fluctuations of a price, however it is expressed. All of this is very proper and necessary to capitalism, even if it sometimes means that prices rise sharply, or come crashing down in a slump.
Sly ruses, by buyer or seller, have no effect upon that. They are only a part of capitalism's competitive scramble. Individual members of the Labour Party may not like some of the effects of the scramble, but they ardently support the social system which produces it.
It is that basic issue, and nothing else, that they should be discussing at Largs.
Prices: up, up, up
“We was robbed!” has always been a favourite complaint of the Labour Party when contemplating the frustrations and the failures of their governments.
In 1931, they said they were beaten by a Bankers’ Ramp. After the war it was the unmanageable dollar gap. Last November the Gnomes of Zurich were said to be busily undermining the finances of Labour Britain. Now the grocers are on the rampage.
Rising prices are proving to be one of the government's big problems, especially in the grocery trade, where items like frozen foods, biscuits and sausages have recently gone up. This is not the end of it: during four weeks spanning the turn of the year, nearly one thousand retail prices were increased.
All of this makes Labour's promises in their election programme, New Britain, to introduce “ . . . new and more relevant policies to check the persistent rise in prices” look pretty sick. So the squeal —"We was robbed!” can be heard" again.
The 15 per cent surcharge does not apply to foodstuffs, so there is no excuse there (for price increases). . . to pretend that an extra 6d on fuel justifies an extra 1d or 2d on a particular tin, packet, or bcttle . . . is just plain nonsense.
Now what does this amount to? Mr. Cousins also complained; ”. . . some of the firms . . . are already making record profits.” What that means is that the Labour government are being given the run-around by the grocers; it means that they cannot control the mechanisms of capitalist society.
In the same way, if we accept the excuse that there was a Bankers’ Ramp in 1931, it follows that Labour could not control the international financiers. On the same argument the Attlee government could not control its financial crises and now Mr. Wilson’s lot cannot control its own retailers.
But the Labour party, like every other capitalist party, has always claimed that they can control capitalism. Hence their optimistic election talk of plans, control, priorities, all of which evaporates in face of reality.
The reality of prices is that they do not depend on the level of import duty and taxes. In the short run, the fluctuations of a price are governed by the forces of supply and demand, which means that the seller will charge as much as the market allows.
This is exactly what the grocery trade is doing, and what Mr. Cousins is complaining about. But nobody who supports capitalism can complain when the system takes its logical course.
Mr. Cousins cannot complain and the Labour government cannot complain. Neither can the millions of people who put them into power.
“Malawi,” said Dr. Hastings Banda recently, “is at war.” He is not the first of the leaders of the new States on the African continent to-make such a declaration.
Egypt, we have been told, is at war. So is Zambia. Nigeria and the Congo are immersed in internal conflicts of varying intensity. And so on.
There have been, of course, no formal declarations of war. But that is not what Dr. Banda and his counterparts mean when they use the word.
The new states are struggling to establish themselves against pressures both external and internal. One of their governments’ problems is to break down the old tribal allegiances and substitute a wider ranging patriotism.
Africans who once thought of themselves as belonging to this or that tribe, under this or that chief, must now be persuaded that it is better to belong to a developing capitalist nation, under this or that leader or dictator.
And how is this achieved? The techniques are wearyingly familiar. There are the patriotic declarations, the empty mysticism over the new flag, the dark warnings of impending danger from outside, the calls to arms. There is also the synthetic worship of the new nation’s leader—the personality cults of men like Nkrumah and Banda.
Part of this process is the “discovery” of alleged plots against the security of the state. Dr. Banda said that his former Foreign Minister, Mr. Chiume, is combining with the Zanzibar rebel Mr. Okello in a scheme to invade Malawi. Neighbouring Zambia is to spend £7 million on “defence and internal security,” double its border posts and step up its naval forces on the boundary rivers and lakes.
Dr. Banda appealed to the Malawi people to arrest any strangers and report them to the Congress Party; “ Investigate every strange face,” he said.
This is like a small-scale re-enactment of Europe in the Thirties. It is also reminiscent of the spy-scares which helped to keep war fever up to pitch during the two world wars.
But the African nationalists always claimed, when they were struggling for power, that they would be above the tricks and subterfuges of the old colonialist powers.
There need be no surprise that they have turned out to be different. Tricks and lies are always used in the fights between capitalist powers. As the new, African states enter these fights, it is inevitable that they should use the time honoured methods.
Perhaps Dr. Banda is right; perhaps Malawi is at war, for in war the first casualty has always been the truth.