Notes on the News
by Madawc Williams
- The Cold Peace
- Another inevitable trend
- Germany at the heart of Europe?
- War and Lord Aldington
- H2 Ho Ho Ho
- ‘Mrs Thatcher has been re-elected leader of the Communist Party … ‘
- Arrow in the Blue
- The blobs that become human
The Cold Peace
As we go to press, the ‘radish’ regimes of Eastern Europe are collapsing. They are ‘radish’ because the people running them were only red on the outside. (The term used recently by Lech Wales a, but has been around since the 1970s, if not before.)
The ‘radish’ regimes came into being after Khrushchev destroyed the legitimacy of Stalin’s way of doing things with his secret speech. There had been many idealistic Stalinists before 1956, there were very few afterwards. But Khrushchev, and Brezhnev after him, refused to let Eastern Europe dismantle the police-state structures that Stalin had imposed on them .. Such systems could only be run by ‘radishes’, people who operated the state machinery on a basically corrupt and cynical basis.
Right wingers in Western Europe are assuming that the fall of the ‘radishes’ means the end of serious socialism in Eastern Europe. They assume that Eastern Europe will meekly accept a take-over by Western capital, and the loss of the basic welfare provisions that the ‘radish’ regimes did indeed provide them. I doubt this. People who have carried through one revolution will be more than ready for another. People who are shocked by the modest privileges of their now-disgraced party leaders will not be happy with the much more drastic inequalities that a serious East European Thatcherism would inevitably bring.
And if we in Britain can manage to dump Thatcher in 1991 or 1992, we could be part of a worldwide move towards more socialism and more democracy.
[Thatcher was indeed dumped in November 1990. But meantime Labour had lost confidence in what it had once been. The world turned in wholly the wrong direction.]
Another inevitable trend
For most of the 20th century, people have been expecting world politics to carry on in whatever pattern they were at that point in time. And world politics has continuously and unexpectedly moved on to some new pattern.
The end of the Great War led to a brief period of chaos and change. This soon ended, to be replaced by a brief period of capitalist prosperity, up until the crash of 1929. After this the ‘inevitable trend’ was towards right-wing authoritarian regimes. In the 1940s, it was assumed that capitalist democracies were suffering an inevitable drift towards totalitarianism. The 1950s were another era of capitalist prosperity, and after 1956 the inevitable return of the Communist Block to capitalism was widely believed in.
Come the 1960s, and the prosperous and peaceful nations of the Western Alliance were faced with a sudden unexpected rejection of their values by the best of their young people. This was contained, but then the weakness of the USA after its ignominious retreat from Vietnam seemed to signal an inevitable trend towards Moscow-style communism taking over the world. From the mid- 1980s, after Thatcher managed to avoid the inevitable U-turn that Heath’s followers had been predicting, the new inevitable trend was towards a vigorous capitalism reducing the economic role of the state. This was strengthened by the success of capitalism in the ‘Little Dragon’ countries of East Asia.
The current ‘inevitable trend’ is a slight modification of the previous one. The vigorous new capitalism has encouraged right-wing authoritarian regimes to return to parliamentary democracy. Most dramatically in the Philippines, but more substantially in Spain and in Latin America. Meanwhile, Gorbachev’s reforms are seen as marking the end of serious socialism.
We’re about due for something wholly new and unexpected. If people on the left sit back and assume that it will inevitably be a drift back leftwards, then quite possibly it won’t be. Labour has a good chance of forming the next government, but it could end up as a period of quiet before the next bout of radical Toryism. Nor are the prospects good for a revival of state planning. What needs to be affirmed is the basic socialist moral position – everyone must benefit from the prosperity of the society they live in.
Germany at the heart of Europe?
There has been some understandable panic at the prospect of Germany becoming once again central in European politics. Understandable, because of memories of Hitler, and of Imperial Germany in the previous era. But nevertheless panic, not justified caution. Both Imperial Germany and Hitler’s Germany were made inevitable by the set-up in the rest of Europe.
In the 19th century, the Germans entered the modern world to find themselves second class citizens. It was a world dominated by vast militaristic empires. Under Prussian leadership, they built an empire and military machine of their own. Had they not done so, it is likely that there would still have been a World War One. Perhaps between Russia and Britain, perhaps between Russia and France – who knows? But it would have come one way or another.
After losing the world war, the Germans made a serious effort to be peaceful capitalist democrats even though the Versailles Peace made them second-class citizens again. Through no fault of theirs, that system broke down, and Germany was particularly badly hit. Hitler promised to set things right – and by introducing the pattern of state spending we now call Keynesianism, he did revive the economy. He also restored Germany to equal status with other Great Powers, as Britain and France weakly conceded to him what they had denied to German democrats. This left him so powerful that he could go ahead and start World War Two. Most Germans were content with what they had. Hitler pushed on after the Munich agreement because he wanted to fulfil his private dreams of a “Greater Germany’.
Defeated and divided after 1945, the two Germanys were finally given an equal role in the rival Eastern and Western blocks. Formally speaking, Germany is still under military occupation by the four wartime allies. But this has long ceased to be more than a formal truth.
In a united democratic Europe, no one nations or even any two together would be powerful or numerous enough to rule the rest. In any case, left-right divisions should become more important than national differences. Already this has been happening in the European Parliament – multi-national blocks form on ideological lines. Labour in Britain would find itself in a natural alliance with Socialists and Social Democrats in the rest of Europe against British Tories. This should be the pattern of the future.
War and Lord Aldington
If Jeffrey Archer could get half a million for being falsely accused of consorting with a prostitute, then it is not unreasonable to pay Lord Aldington three times more for being accused of being a war criminal. Especially since Nikolai Tolstoy and Nigel Watts made a conscious decision to target him for accusation, producing a pamphlet and circulating it to his friends and associates. The general scale of damages must certainly be reduced, by leaving it to the judge to determine the amount paid when a jury finds that there is a libel. But within the existing scale, it is far from unreasonable.
I was not surprised that Nikolai Tolstoy lost his case. I knew him from another context – a book about Merlin the magician. And from this I knew him to be careless and inaccurate, given to drawing. conclusions not justified by the facts. (‘Merlin’ was probably at least two men called Myrddin or Mervin, and not originally associated with Arthur, who was not a king in the oldest known forms of the legend.)
The facts of the repatriations had been known in some circles since the 1950s. Tolstoy, (of the same family as the author of War and Peace, but not a direct descendent), gained publicity by accusing specific individuals of guilt. His accusations against Harold Macmillan (Lord Stockton) gained some publicity, but libel does not apply to the dead. He was however foolish enough to also accuse Lord Aldington, who was still alive.
Without doubt, the individual rights of the Cossacks and Royalist Yugoslavians were ignored. Moreover, the Royalists suffered from a confusion with the Cossacks, who had indeed been fighting for Nazi Germany. Some people in the British establishment must have known what would happen to them. But Tolstoy was no less arbitrary in calling Macmillan and Aldington war criminals, because they had a role in what is now seen as a totally unjustified action. It should also be remembered that some undoubted war criminals did manage to slip into Britain among groups of refugees who were not handed back. War and its aftermath tends not to be fair to individuals.
References have been made to the Nuremburg War Crimes trials. The truth is, these did ignore the individual rights of those put on trial. It was often a matter of guilt by association. No doubt it was genuine guilt in many cases, but not in all cases. In the same spirit, ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ was hung for making Nazi propaganda broadcasts. By a bit of legal ingenuity, he was found to be a traitor even though he had openly sided with Hitler and was not a British citizen.
H2 Ho Ho Ho
Just in time for Christmas, Mrs Thatcher managed to make a large gift to the rich and greedy. The loss-making water privatisation has left a lot of well-off people with shares that can now be sold for rather more than their cost price.
While Tory politicians are explaining how they came to make another such gift to the share-owning classes, the lucky recipients will be laughing all the way to the bank. Unless they get run over and urgently need an ambulance, that is.
As we go to press, the ambulance men are still on strike. Thatcher is showing that she is still an ‘iron lady’, she will not pay these vital workers a small pay rise even though the public backs them against her by a remarkable 14:1 ratio.
The trouble is, there is no market rate for ambulances. It could be run on that basis crews negotiating rates for treatment from people lying bleeding in the road, or dying of heart attacks. Even the Libertarian Right would not go as far as that. But ambulances are an efficient and generally admired public service. Therefore she resents them – Just as she decided to abolish the efficient public provision of water. Therefore she is prepared to let the service suffer damage.
Thatcher has said from time to time that the NHS is safe in her hands. I’d reckon it would be safer in the hands of the Yorkshire Ripper! ·
‘Mrs Thatcher has been re-elected leader of the Communist Party … ‘
By chance; Mrs Thatcher’s re-election came just at the time when East European “Communist” leaders were dropping off like flies. That must have contributed to a BBC World Service announcer having her re-elected o the wrong side. But there’s a deeper point – party loyalty is as important to Conservatives as to Leninist Communists. A rebellion of one-sixth of the party is no small matter, in Conservative terms,
Also like Leninist parties, Tories have a way of quietly and ruthlessly ousting leaders who lose the confidence of the inner circle. Mrs Thatcher should beware the ides of March.
Arrow in the Blue
Early in November, the Blue Arrow / County NatWest affair led to eleven arrests. Things have gone quiet for the present, as legal work proceeds. Yet it’s such a big matter that I have to make a comment.
As the Independent put it,
“These were not people in some third-rate fringe bank that had strayed into a world in which it could not cope; they were not people who the City establishment would regard as on the ragged edge of acceptability. From elder statesman to rising star, all were at the core of some of the best houses in the land.” (November 10th 1989.)
It is notable that National Westminster, a large and well-respected clearing bank, has never the less had its reputation damaged by involvement with the world of share-dealing. Clearing banks provide a service. Share-dealers grow rich by playing complicated games with money. The City is essentially a game of Monopoly played with real assets. (Indeed, I recall that the game was devised by a loser in the real-life process.)
[National Westminster was later swallowed by the “Royal Bank of Scotland” Group, and suffered in the 2008 crisis.]
What those accused are supposed to have done is to have made a flop look like a success. Not all that unusual in the world of finance. Except that now they are being accused of breaking the law. Meanwhile, the rest us pay crippling interest rates to ‘maintain City confidence’. They may not have much confidence in us, but frankly a lot of us don’t have much confidence in them.
Britain’s industrial prosperity was created in the North, especially the Manchester/Liverpool region. It was frittered away by the City and other ruling circles in London. Never mind being an obstacle to socialism – City values can’t even run capitalism successfully.
The blobs that become human
Parliament has to decide if small blobs of jelly are to be given the same status as human beings. Human beings start out as fertilised eggs, and before that as unpaired eggs and sperms. But it is somewhat unreasonable to treat a fertilised egg as human before it has a few recognizably human characteristics.
The proposal is that research be allowed on pre-embryos. Up to 14 days, the blob of cells resulting from a fertilised egg may lead on to one embryo, or to two, or to nothing at all. Under normal conditions, many pre-embryos are lost before there are any signs of pregnancy. If these lost blobs acquired a human soul at the moment of fertilisation, the God alone knows what happens to that soul. Small prehuman blobs have little chance to do anything either good or evil! Belief in Christianity need not mean a rejection of research on pre-embryos. And indeed, the Archbishop of York has said that he finds it ethically acceptable.
These Newsnotes appeared in January 1990, in Issue 15 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs. You can find more from the era at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/.