Foreign Affairs: 100 Years
The Future of History
Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?
IT IS often said by extreme left-wing critics that the British Labor Government is pursuing a Socialist policy at home and a Tory policy abroad. In evidence of this they point to the fact that the Tories applaud the Government's foreign policy and denounce its domestic policy. They allege that the Labor Government has wholly failed to make a new and friendly approach to the Soviet Union. They assert that the foreign policy of the British Government is dictated by Washington and Wall Street. They declaim that the Foreign Secretary has restored King George of the Hellenes and has done all in his power to protect Franco in Spain. Finally, they accuse the Foreign Secretary of being pathologically hostile to Communism in any form and of having thereby alienated the sympathies of the resistance movements and progressive forces throughout Europe. Underlying all this criticism is the implication that America and Britain are forming a bloc directed against the Soviet Union.
These attacks are concentrated on the person of Ernest Bevin, Britain's wartime Minister of Labor and present Foreign Secretary. At first sight, the accusers must recognize in Bevin a redoubtable adversary. He did not want to be Foreign Secretary. He wanted to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Prime Minister asked him to undertake what has turned out to be the more formidable task. Bevin has fulfilled in his lifetime Job's dictum, "Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward." He has spent 36 years of his life in "combat and trouble and contention of one kind and another." Always he has fought for the industrial and political rights of the working class from which he is sprung. Today his accent is as broad as ever and his method of speech direct. "It is forgotten in this age," he said recently, "but when the Soviet did not have a friend I got dockers and other people to assist in forming the Council of Action and stop Lloyd George attacking them. I fought the Arcos Raid and I called it silly. I fought Churchill's interventionist policy for which we are paying now. I fought every attempt to break off relations . . . The thanks that I got for it was an attempt by the Communists to break up the Union that I built. I said to Maisky on one occasion, 'You have built the Soviet Union and you have a right to defend it. I have built the Transport Union and if you seek to break it I will fight you. . . .' After that there was a slightly greater respect for my view. I think that is fair."
This passage from a speech by Bevin is doubly interesting. First, it reflects his great strength of character, which is expressed in simplicity of thought and expression. The speech was addressed to this year's Labor Party Conference at Bournemouth. He was about to justify his policy with regard to the Soviet Union, but he first desired to create a favorable emotional response from his audience. These words went far to creating it. As he spoke, his audience could see the burly figure of the man who had been the first to denounce MacDonald and Snowden as would-be traitors to the Labor movement. They could hear him recall Labor's fight for the Soviet Union in its hour of need, which he himself had helped to lead. They would ask themselves what possible motive Bevin could have for betraying as Foreign Secretary the cause for which he made sacrifices as a union leader.
Secondly, the passage reflects Bevin's apparent weaknesses. The egotism is inescapable. Moreover, he seems to admit the accusation that he identifies the activities of the Communists with Moscow. But so do many observers of foreign affairs. Even Mr. Henry Wallace speaks of the Communists in America as following faithfully every twist and turn of Soviet policy. The opinion of Bevin on this subject is of great value. It is true that he played a huge part in building the Transport and General Workers Union. It is true that he has been for 20 years probably the ablest and most powerful trade union leader. If he states that the Communists and crypto-Communists are agents of Moscow, he should be a more reliable witness than some of the intellectuals who deny it.
These are essentially superficial considerations. But they condition the emotional approach of members of the Labor Party, young and old, towards Bevin and his foreign policy. Only once in recent years has Bevin failed to receive tumultuous applause from an important Labor gathering when assailed by his critics. That was in December 1944 when as a member of the Coalition Government he tried to defend the Coalition policy in Greece. He was faced with an impossible task, but even then the affection which he commanded from a majority of those present was apparent.
It seems certain that Bevin's position in the Labor Party is unchallengeable and that he will always be supported by a considerable majority of Labor Members of Parliament and of other leading personalities, such as trade-union leaders, in the Labor movement. One reason for which his position is so unchallengeable is the vehemence of his more extreme critics. Labor Members of Parliament such as Platts-Mills and Zilliacus show the greatest courage in their attacks on the Foreign Secretary, but their criticism is often indistinguishable from that of the Communists and of Moscow. Zilliacus is the best informed of the tiny group of Labor members who consistently attack the motives as well as the policy of Bevin. Yet he said at the Labor Party Conference at Bournemouth, "Everybody agrees that at the present moment our foreign policy is unhappily making us the white hope of the black international, and it consists in an under-the-counter coalition with the Tories to enter into an unavowed Anglo-American bloc." Neither Zilliacus nor Platts-Mills nor any of their two or three closest supporters ever utters a word which may reflect on the Soviet Union. To them the Soviet Union is white; America and Britain are black.
Such criticism plays into the hands of Bevin. He knows that his fundamental honesty is generally accepted. He knows that such shrill, almost hysterical denunciations will drown the voices of his shrewder and more numerous critics. He knows that many Labor members are very uneasy at the manifest drift of international affairs. He knows that on particular issues such as Greece or Spain there is great disquiet among trade-unionists as well as politicians. If there were to be a straight vote on certain aspects of his policy in Greece, he might even be in danger of defeat. But always he relates his policy in each individual case to the wider problems of Anglo-Soviet relations and the need to make U.N. a reality. On the wider issues he is sure of a great majority, particularly as he will be so bitterly attacked by those whom he regards as crypto-Communists.
The central problem is, of course, the problem of relations with the Soviet Union. The Labor movement has for long regarded itself as not merely the friend but the protector of the Soviet Union. A considerable but dwindling section of Labor opinion regards the Soviet Union as a Socialist country with which a Socialist Britain ought to be on terms of intimacy. The idea that "Left should understand Left" is widespread. At the Blackpool Labor Party Conference which preceded the General Election, Hugh Dalton said, "A British Labor Government would be more likely to create more quickly a state of confidence between London and Moscow than any alternative Government in this country." It is undeniable that arguments of this kind did form a considerable part of the propaganda of the Labor Party at the time of the General Election. Hugh Dalton was regarded as a likely Foreign Secretary, and it was believed that he would fly to Moscow as soon as possible after receiving the seals of office. A great new attempt would be made to establish particularly close relations with the Soviet Union. It is only fair to record that the great speech on foreign policy was made by Bevin and that he was much less optimistic on this issue than his colleagues. "I say this to my Russian friends -- I hope they are my friends -- whom we have stood by for 25 years, when they were a nation at bay. You cannot settle the problem of Europe by long-distance telephone calls and telegrams. Round the table we must get, but do not present us with faits accomplis when we get there . . . the cards should be on the table -- face upwards." There was an unmistakable note of caution in his words and in his voice. Oddly enough he used the words a little later, "Left understands Left, but Right does not;" but they were used about France, not about Russia.
It is doubtful whether Bevin regards Russia as "Left" in the sense in which he himself is "Left." He does not denounce the Russian régime, because it would be highly undiplomatic to do so. But one derives the impression that he believes it to be an authoritarian form of government with a secret police and with concentration camps. At the same time, he insists that without Russian coöperation it is impossible to lay the foundations of peace. He insists that he does everything possible to come to fair and reasonable agreements with Russia. He discussed the Anglo-Russian Treaty in Moscow. "I offered to extend it to fifty years. When Generalissimo Stalin said, 'I should need to amend it,' I said, 'Let me know what would suit you. . . .' Regarding trade, Sir Stafford Cripps offered to fly to Moscow to discuss trade . . . I proposed in Moscow that we should open up a direct reciprocal air service between Moscow and London. . . . Well, if I cannot get reciprocity, what can I do? I cannot make them reciprocate. I cannot go to war and force them." Bevin counsels patience. He pledged himself to continue to seek permanent understanding with Russia. He believes that in the last resort it is deeds and not words that influence policy. He hopes that hard work will produce a number of agreements which will revive European trade. "Let the goods flow from the manufacturers to the peasant, and food from the peasant to the manufacturing districts. Let Europe live again." Bevin hopes that practical coöperation in such matters as these will lead to a wider settlement which will give security to all. Progress must be made by stages.
On the face of it, the charge that Bevin is particularly hostile to the Russians may well seem strange. It was the Russians who attacked Britain first, and not vice versa. They placed Greece and Indonesia on the agenda of the Security Council and alleged that British troops were a menace to world peace. If Bevin replied bluntly and provocatively, he can hardly be called aggressive on that account. A tame and moderate answer to such charges might well have been regarded as evidence of an uneasy conscience. But it is here that Bevin's position vis-à-vis the Labor Party is weakest. By way of answer to the extreme charges of the Russians, Bevin justifies the past policies and conduct of Britain under a Tory Prime Minister and with a Tory Foreign Secretary. He appears to accept the doctrine of continuity of foreign policy, which would be rejected by a great majority of the rank and file of the Labor Party. The Labor Party is anti-imperialist by tradition just as the Tory Party is imperialist by tradition. Of course, much ignorant nonsense is talked and written about British imperialism. In general, the influence of Britain even under Tory Governments has been pacific during the last thirty years. All the same, there is a strong feeling among Socialists that the alliance of imperialists and capitalists in Tory administrations was largely responsible on two occasions for policies which led to war. They cannot understand why Labor's Foreign Secretary should be so unwilling to make a clear break from the past.
Oddly enough, the criticism of British policy in Greece today is that it is not sufficiently undemocratic. Without doubt the majority of the Greeks at the recent elections wished to vote Right rather than Left. The unfortunate characteristic of Greek politics is that they tend to extremes. A Right Government goes very Right and uses methods reminiscent of the Metaxas Government. Similarly, no doubt, a Left Government would have gone very Left and become in due course a vassal of Moscow. The objective of British policy in Greece has been to support the moderate parties and to have a Government of Liberals and Socialists. The policy has failed because the British Government was not willing to interfere too drastically in Greek politics. The Foreign Office insists that British influence in Greece must be used within the limits of democratic persuasion. The present Greek Government was put into power at an election which the official British and American observers agreed to have been fairly held. Bevin and Hector McNeil are willing to bring pressure to bear on the Greek Government, but they are not willing to force that Government to take steps which are necessary for the safeguarding of the political and industrial freedom of the Greek working class. What will happen when British troops are withdrawn -- as is urged by Winston Churchill -- one does not know. Greece is in an extremely precarious position where she needs the support of world opinion. Measures taken by a right-wing Greek Government which alienate the sympathies of liberal opinion in America and in Britain are the height of folly. It may still be possible that the Greek Government can be persuaded by British and American influence to see the wisdom of policies of moderation.
Greece is a good illustration of Bevin's difficulties with his critics. On each issue on which he is attacked, it is obvious that events are moving against him. (Both in Palestine and in Spain conditions are worse than when Bevin first took office.) But the real causes of the present situation lie in the past. The over-all effect of the policies of the British Coalition Government during the war was to give indirect support to the so-called "legitimate" governments. The British Government did not seek to impose such governments on the peoples of the liberated countries, but their indirect influence in many ways was given in support of such governments. For example, Britain armed the resistance movement in Greece. Then at the time of the attempted coup d'état in December 1944 Britain disarmed E.L.A.S. and E.A.M. But the Greek security police remained armed and have since remained under arms despite a pledge to the contrary given by the Labor Executive in December 1944 at the Labor Party Conference. The importance of the police in Balkan countries can hardly be overestimated. Their influence on the elections must have been considerable. But most of the damage had obviously been done before Bevin came into power.
In Spain also Bevin has an unfortunate inheritance from the past. He maintains that above all else the Spaniards want peace. If left to themselves, they will eventually overturn Franco (for whose government Bevin has often expressed dislike bordering on disgust). But Bevin is convinced that attempted interference in internal Spanish affairs is not only of very doubtful validity under the Charter of the United Nations but even calculated to strengthen Franco. All the steps which critics advocate would in his opinion amount only to "meaningless gestures." Withdrawal of the British Ambassador would mean the withdrawal of the man who is today best able to intervene for the protection of those whom Franco persecutes. It would mean the withdrawal of the very people on whom Bevin relies for advice as to the true position in Spain.
There is much to be said for this view, and there are certainly a large number of knowledgeable observers (including Lord Beveridge) who agree with it. But it is reasonably clear that the majority of Socialists disagree -- many of them violently. It is sad to think that Britain which fought Fascism longer than any other major Power should be the only country to retain an Ambassador in the capital of the last surviving Fascist European Power. It is more than doubtful whether the Spaniards and others regard the retention of our Ambassador as a meaningless gesture, particularly when considered in conjunction with such other British actions as Sir Alexander Cadogan's confident repudiation of Russian allegations as to the presence of German scientists and technicians in that country. For psychological reasons alone, the Doctrine of Avoiding Meaningless Gestures is dangerous. The refusal to make a gesture which everyone else is making is widely interpreted as being very meaningful.
On the more important issues of the use of economic or other sanctions against Spain, Bevin's critics are necessarily ill-informed. Indeed, in the whole field of foreign affairs it is all too difficult to cull the facts a knowledge of which is essential to the formation of a sound judgment. Much depends on the attitude of other governments, which are accurately known only to those having access to "Top Secret" files. The most that can be fairly said against the policy of the Labor Government towards Spain is that their actions appear to protect Franco whereas they should be willing to take the lead in attacking Franco. Maybe, when an appropriate occasion arises, action will be taken which will show that Bevin's policy was "reculer pour mieux sauter." That, at any rate, would be the wish of the majority of supporters of the Labor Government.
Of course, there are many who take a much more cynical view. They see British policy towards Spain as an aspect of a general policy of preventing the spread of Communism. It is even suggested that concern for the security of Gibraltar is a factor of importance in the determination of our actions with regard to Franco. The same cynics would allege that a main objective of British policy in Palestine is to keep that country as a base for British troops. This very cynical attitude towards British policy is held by a small number of critics and an even smaller number of supporters in the Labor Party. It is, however, far more widely held abroad. Those who are in constant contact with Labor Ministers find it astonishing that they can be regarded as Machiavellian planners. If the British Labor Government were preparing for war against the Soviet Union, they would be adopting very different policies in Germany, in Egypt and in India. Above all, they would not have rushed demobilization as far as they have done. It is quite irrelevant in this connection to refer to the development of weapons of mass destruction by Britain and America. Aggressive wars even in the future will demand very large numbers of troops. The only Power which retains very large numbers of troops is the Soviet Union (possibly through exaggerated fears of American or British aggression). The only Power able to occupy and hold down vast areas of territory is the Soviet Union. From the strictly military viewpoint, aggressive war by Britain or America directed against the Soviet Union is unthinkable and impossible. For these reasons it is not reasonable to accuse the Labor Government of being engaged in some sinister plan to involve other Powers in a war with Russia. Mistakes may be made in the administration of British foreign policy, but they are not made deliberately and malevolently.
The gravamen of the most effective criticism of the British Government lies in a very different direction. It is that the Government acts too slowly and without imagination. For instance, Britain bears a terrible responsibility for the present plight of the British zone of Germany. But the true case in regard to this has not been brought home even to the people of Britain, who have had to accept bread-rationing as a consequence. The British Government and Bevin in particular have played the leading part in placing food on the agenda of the United Nations. Herbert Morrison's visit to America was a continuation of the efforts of Britain to avert famine in Europe. Even de Valera expressed his admiration for the conduct of the hard-pressed British people in accepting further reductions in their diet for the benefit of the starving Germans. But the British Government did not act openly with the courage which they in fact possessed. They allowed their opponents to produce a fairly convincing case that bread-rationing was partly due to ministerial muddles. This unfortunate result is mainly due to the unwillingness of certain members of the Government to have its policy based on morality rather than expediency. What an effect on world opinion would have been produced if Britain had openly avowed what she in fact did and had said, "We are reducing our ration of bread in order that our enemies may not starve!" In considering the Government's policy in this and other matters, one is often reminded of Milton's phrase: "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue."
Again, there is the vexed question of diplomatic appointments. Here there have been no imaginative changes of personnel in key positions. The impression prevails that in most countries the officials who represent Britain are lovers of the old-fashioned kind of British imperialism, such as Wendell Willkie described in his book, "One World." Of course, it is very difficult to make great changes overnight without thereby endangering efficiency. But there is strong evidence that in many countries, particularly the Balkans, British diplomats have more affection for the ancient régime than is wise in the modern world. Bevin (unlike Dalton) had no personal knowledge of the officials in the Foreign Service. This must have been a great handicap to him. Bevin's important contribution in greatly increasing the numbers and standing of Labor attachés to embassies and consulates throughout the world is worthy of praise. But the reports on which vital decisions are made come often from old-fashioned diplomats. They are, of course, far abler and much more liberal in their views than the extremists of the Left acknowledge. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a diplomat with greater experience, good-will, ability and common sense than Lord Inverchapel. Sir Alexander Cadogan has exhibited a combination of restraint and shrewdness at the meetings of the Security Council which one cannot fail to admire. But without respect to individual persons, there is a strong case for a complete overhauling of many diplomatic appointments. Significantly, some of the younger Labor Members of Parliament are now representing Britain at international conferences.
There is not space to deal at any length with the complicated problem of Palestine, where Britain is seeking to hold the balance between Arab and Jew. There are today twelve times as many Jews in Palestine as when Britain first occupied that country. This is not a record of which Britain need be ashamed. Again, since 1934, Britain has herself taken nearly half a million refugees of one kind or another, including 70,000 Jews. Indeed, the record of Britain in respect of persecuted peoples (including Jews) is better than that of any other major Power. But, once again, we have been far too slow in arriving at a decision. Moreover, it is difficult to see why we have not already insisted on every country taking a fair quota of such of the displaced Jews in Europe as cannot be taken in Palestine. British visitors to America are astounded at the one-sided version of the facts about Palestine which is presented to the Americans. But they must ruefully admit that we have not taken the bold and imaginative action before U.N. which would have put the American and other Governments "on the spot."
The British Government has been widely applauded for its actions in India. These have at any rate shown unprejudiced observers that acquisitive imperialism plays no part in British foreign policy. If disinterested good-will and patience can bring a peaceful future to this Continent, the Government will have achieved a great, almost miraculous, result. The difficulties will prove far more menacing than most of the Government's supporters realize. Many shrewd critics will insist that Britain should remain responsible for Indian security until the new Indian Government or the United Nations is strong enough effectively to guarantee that security.
Over all falls the shadow of the atomic bomb and the other weapons of man's destruction now being devised. Britain's Prime Minister played a leading part in the discussions from which the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission arose. Since then, Britain has not played a distinctive part in the deliberations of the Commission. This may in the long run prove to have been a correct policy -- if Britain is able later to help bring the Russian and American viewpoints together. On one question Britain will stand firm. We shall always advocate international control of atomic energy and shall never be content to accept the kind of proposals which Mr. Molotov appears at the moment of writing to have in mind. It must be admitted by a close student of the work of the Baruch delegation that America has gone very far towards meeting Russian suspicions. Indeed, the author of this article stated at the Labor Party Conference in 1946, "It is the fact that capitalist America has proved to be far more progressive in this matter than Socialist Britain and that Communist Russia has made no proposals whatever upon it." Russia has in fact made proposals, but they are vague and impractical.
How can the men of the Politburo be persuaded to accept inspection of their national territory and to assist in the execution of measures for the control of all weapons of man's destruction? It is overwhelmingly in their interest to do so. Russia would be in grave danger in a world in which a dozen powers possessed weapons of mass destruction. There are many persons to whose interest it is to promote war between Russia and America. Common sense must impel the Russian leaders to coöperate. Unfortunately, Communist ideology impels them at the same time not to coöperate. According to this ideology, they need only wait for the collapse of capitalism in America and other countries, and its supersession by Communism. It is their duty as Communists to help to promote conditions in which this violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie may take place as soon as possible.
Here in my view is the crux of our problems in foreign affairs. Can America and Britain persuade the Soviet Union to abandon ideology as a motive in its foreign policy and to hold fast to considerations of security and common sense? They must certainly be willing to go to the limit in meeting legitimate Russian suspicions of the western Powers. They will do much to undermine Russian ideology if they can maintain stable labor conditions in their own countries and promote full employment. Finally, they must use all means, orthodox and unorthodox, in public and in private, to ensure that the Russian leaders realize the enormity of the doom which will await their country as well as others if we do not succeed in banishing forever recourse to war as an instrument of national policy.