Toiling in the Rear
By ANTHONY HARTLEY ?intellectuals word Fabian used to invoke a vision of I intellectuals scrutinising narrowly the prob- lems of our time and suggesting solutions for them which managed to be heterodox and Socialist at one and the same time. The latest volume of international essays* to carry the im- primatur, however, is neither particularly start- ling nor particularly Socialist. Of course, it has been overtaken by events. Far and away the best of these essays (and the only one not to suffer from the time at which it was written) is John Strachey's lucid reflections on defence. Mr. Strachey's premises have not really been changed by Suez or Hungary. Others are not so fortunate. Thomas Balogh's 'Political Economy of the Cold War,' while making our flesh creep with the pos- sible economic threat from the Soviet bloc—in something of the same spirit, it must be said, as a nanny taking grim pleasure in her charge's failure to digest green gooseberries—evidently did not anticipate that Marshal Zhukov and the Red Army would have already made it creep to far greater effect. When T. E. NI, McKitterick writes at the end of a very sane essay on the Middle East, 'Given stability, even the Arabs might come to realise in time that the accession of Israel to an economic development organisa- tion would be of advantage. . • .' he is express- ing a hope that was hardly feasible before Suez ancl has become quite unrealistic since.
One phrase which recurs throughout these essays is 'economic aid to under-developed countries,' and this perhaps gives the clue to a more serious defect than failure to predict that the Soviet and British Governments would make fools of themselves at Budapest and Port Said. For this undoubtedly worthy slogan is in some danger of being overtaxed by politicians in search of panaceas. Trouble in the Middle East- * FABIAN INTERNATIONAL ESSAYS. Edited by T. E. M McKittcrick and Kenneth Younger. (The Hogarth Press, 18s.) economic aid. Trouble in SE Asia—economic aid. The idea is shared by such authorities on power politics as the Politburo and the State Department, and this is one reason which should make Fabians a little more cautious in using it. Would Soviet economic aid really make the Hun- garians support the Kadar regime now? Will the Arabs really be made to feel less hostile to the West and prevailed upon to give their revenge over Israel a miss by an Eisenhower plan or a Jordan valley authority? Or, to put it another way, ought there not to be some hesitation before extending economic assistance to regimes which dislike the West anyhow? Given that the possi- bilities of economic help are limited by our means, would it not be better, say, to give it to Dr. Nkrumah, who is our friend, rather than to Colonel Nasser, who is our enemy? Otherwise —and this is an agreeable weakness of the Fabian approach to foreign affairs—Great Britain and the West would be in the position of the kindly Victorian clergyman handing out buns and blankets to the drunks of the parish with the distant hope of making them go to church or, at least, stop beating their wives. But Britain is not in the position of the clergyman—nor, for that matter, are foreigners fools. In this question of economic aid the establishment of priorities is all-important. It may serve as a means of con- firming friends, but is unlikely to convert enemies.
The emphasis on economic aid, the Colombo plan and what have you in these essays is quite understandable. These are, after all, the last remnants of the idea that a specifically Socialist foreign policy is pbssible. The Conservatives have recently had a disastrous shot at embodying some of their pet party ideas in action. Suez was the 'New' Right's cropper. But one lesson of Suez affects the Left as much as the Right. It is that this country no longer possesses enough strength to act independently of her allies or. at any rate, of an ally. And Hungary shows very clearly who that ally must be. In a way hardly anticipated by the Left wing of the British Labour Party the strength of the American bond has been revealed, When Mr. Balogh writes that 'British basic bar- gaining strength in relation to America is far greater than generally thought,' he under- estimates the extent of American influence in the world today. Mobility in British foreign policy can exist in proportion to the possibility of draw- ing closer to the Soviet Union. And at the moment no such possibility is in sight.
The inevitability for this country of a close connection with the USA—whether odi or amo predominates—is one instance of a general truth. In the nineteenth century the public disputes be- tween the parties over Turkey or Egypt or South Africa represented something real, in that alter- native and radically differing policies were possible. Today most party differences over foreign policy are the merest shadow boxing— the Abadan 'scuttle' is a case in point; the Con- servatives, once in power, behaved in precisely the same way as their opponents whom they had attacked over a period of months before. A de- crease of power inevitably means a restriction of freedom of choice for nations as well as for individuals. Of course, this is not to say that no differences are possible or that, when a blunder like Suez takes place, it is not perfectly legitimate for the party in opposition to claim that it would never have done such a thing. What it does mean is that the course of sensible moderation which a country in Britain's position in 1957 must pur- sue, if it is to escape shipwreck, has no obvious connection with the programmes or ideologies of the two great political parties. To that extent those parties are dated, and, no doubt, something of this must be attributed to the fact that most of their leading figures had already formed political opinions before the war and have failed to catch up on the fierce rush of events since. Hence the frustration and the masochistic search for a policy which seems to be the main feature of British political life at the moment.
However, even in the spheres where a new lead is possible the Fabians are sadly lacking in con- structive suggestions. P. C. Gordon Walker has one or two sensible ideas about the Common- wealth (he may be over-optimistic about the ultimate effects of letting South Africa go her own sweet racial way without at least some mild protest), but Denis Healey, writing under the title `Beyond Power Politics,' is a disappointment. The 'European' idea is, surely, one of the more hope- ful developments of the post-war period, but it gets no encouragement from Mr. Healey. He pro- duces a number of arguments to justify what is evidently an instinctive aversion, and then gives the game away by writing: 'For example, the creation of a single continental market would mean giving Germany a European preference at the expense of her main competitor, Britain.' Who is talking power politics there—rather short- sighted power politics too?
The role of intellectuals in a political party, as the early Fabians well understood, is to ask awkward questions and to suggest answers that nobody else has thought of. Judged by these standards, the present essays fail. They may contain some home truths good for the souls of all of us, and Labour MPs especially—nobody, I imagine, would dispute Richard Lowenthal's sensible analysis of Soviet Communism, and Mr. Strachey is a shining exception—but as recipes for political action or stimuli to thought on British foreign policy they are about as much use as a long drink of cold water. On this front the Fabians have delayed too long. They are toiling in the rear now.