THE WICKED UNCLE
By D. W. BROGAN
"AMERICA has plenty." My eye caught the headline in the Sunday paper. It was not a journal with wrtich I am familiar, but I knew that it supported the Government and I thought the headline interesting and disturbing. It was, of course, a sub-editor's shorthand, a summing-up of the report of Mr. ICrug's committee. But whatever may have been in the sub-editor's mind when he wrote this, I am afraid that some readers may have read it and felt a natural indignation that the people who had plenty were not handing it out quickly enough. And we may be quite sure that any such simple annoyance at the shilly-shallying of Uncle Sam will be encouraged by the large group of politicians and publicists who are determined to show that, for the British people at least, gratitude is not a lively sense of favours to come—for we are being encouraged to expect the favours and highly discouraged from displaying the gratitude.
It is surely one of the numerous ominous phenomena of the times that the British public has chosen to elect to the House of Commons so many ill-bred, ill-informed, blind leaders of the blind who, at a most critical moment in our history, are determined to make the economic policy of the Government which they profess to support as difficult as possible and the salvaging of the country as near impossible as they can manage. Some of these vociferous critics are, of course, not blind, although they are a cause of blindness in others. Their party passions (for their own version of the Labour Party and for the policy of the party whose views they so often share) lead them to accept, with resolution if not complacency, a policy of self-sufficiency helped out by that aid that the Soviet Government can or will give. That the immediate result will be a most serious lowering of the standard of living they know ; but they are willing to pay that price, though not quite so willing to tell their voters what is the price of that defiance of Washington and rapprochement with Moscow which they preach so warmly.
It is, however, the blind who interest me more. I have little fear that, in any show-down, the more intelligent spokesmen for the party line, or its parallel, will carry or even seriously bewilder the country. The real danger is in the present inevitable sense of wonder and anger that must be felt by the zealots who remember the brave days of 1945 and wonder must the bad days of 1931 come again. They may well wonder, for in the two years that have passed many of the fond hopes of that summer of victory and relaxation have gone with the wind. The simple recipes of planning and nationalisation are no longer being swallowed with quite the old faith. "Open sesame" is being shouted, but the magic door remains obstinately closed. Far worse, the backward and barbarous society across the Atlantic, which has insisted on shouting "Open barley," is not merely flourishing, but has to be approached from time to time with a request (made with manly independence no doubt) for a hand-out. From singing "The Red Flag" to "Brother, can you spare a dime? " has been a short but apparently unavoidable descent. We all regret the descent, but who should regret it more than the prophets who were worried about an American slump and pitied a people that knew nothing of the joys of planning ? For, sad fact, the economic reconstruction of the world depends on the society in which modern, i.e., Socialist, ideas have made least progress.
Since it is a painful thought, why think it ? And since many conversions to a State-directed economy were made under the mere pressure of fashion, the British political world is full of people clinging to the old fashion as a woman with nice legs clings to short skirts. So much of the mere bad temper about America is to be explained in terms of the irritation of a man who has put his money on a sure thing and has seen it beaten by a good many lengths by an outsider. Of course, the experience of the past two years is not decisive ; far from it. There are a great many complicated factors to be taken into account, but then the Labour Party (or any other party) does not win elections by complicated explanations. Having thrown open the doors of the new and vastly improved house with all the confidence of a bold speculative builder, the party is annoyed to find that there is no roof on and it is raining hard. It is naturally tempted to take it out of the man from whom it has had to hire an umbrella.
But the undignified peevislmessr towards the United States has other origins. Although we are continually being told how much better off we are than we were in 1939 and, apparently, being asked to pass a special vote a thanks to Dr. Dalton for it, a great many people feel worse off and feel (rightly) that they are going to feel a lot worse still. They feel that we have come down in the world and they notice that one country at least has decidedly gone up in the world. They don't like it. Who would ? So they are resentful. They feel somehow that America has plenty because she stole it from us. This is nonsense, but human nonsense. "Why," Napoleon was asked, "do your brothers and sisters for whom you do so much abuse you ? " "Because they think I have cheated them out of their share in the inheritance of their father, the late king."
Another group with whose distress it is also easy to sympathise is that which not merely said, but believed, that only a Labour Govern- ment could get on with Russia, and that a Labour Government would. To assume that the Communist rulers of Russia were only divided from their Socialist brethren by a few minor points was to display a good deal of innocence, but the Left is always well supplied with innocence, as the not remote past shows. Since the good relations with Russia are not visible, someone must be blamed, and so Mr. Bevin is blamed, so nefarious powers in the Foreign Office are blamed, but never Russia. Hence the pilgrimages to Sochi and the Kremlin, which recall, mutatis mutandis, the pre-1939 pilgrimages to Berchtesgaden and the Palazzo Chigi. So we get the vain pursuit after the unity of the working-class parties all over Europe and such descents as the defence in the House of Commons of the murder of Petkov and the preparatory apologetics for any future crimes of this kind that the "eastern democracies" (a new trade name) may find it advisable to commit.
Above all the United States is blamed. It is blamed for the Marshall plan, for the refusal to share the atomic bomb, for the unwillingness of American spokesmen to break down and confess in the fashion which Mr. Vyshinsky, that eminent law reformer, got accustomed to when the purges were on. And it is blamed with all the more heat because many, though not perhaps all, of the harassed pilgrims and prophets are now very doubtful if the Soviet Union is animated in its ruling class with quite the same principles, or moved by quite the same emotions, as they are. But a cold and objective look at Russia would call for intellectual heroism and, more difficult, emotional heroism. Professor Robbins has reminded us how hard it is to abandon intellectual capital you have accumulated —but how much more difficult it is to abandon a great emotional investment like that outpouring of love and trust that Soviet Russia has got from so many western intellectuals. They may shrink from total defence of all that is done by Russikand by Russian satellites, as a man besotted with love may shudder a little at some of the goings-on of a rather blown-on mistress. But if they do not descend to the role of an alpha robot of the party line like M. Louis Aragon in France, they do rally round when there is any serious criticism of their beloved from the outside. It is an old phenomenon:
"Venus toute entiere a sa prole attachee."
Far better than a timid hint to the lady to behave herself is noisy denunciation of the rival, firm and repeated assertions of the superiority of Russian conduct, prospects and principles. So horror at the investigation of Hollywood comes in handy as a salve to conscience as we await the next news of the trials in Rumania or Poland. So we have stress laid on the follies of Congress (a rich enough subject) but no such scrutiny of the follies of Parliament. We have all the sores of American life stressed, with insufficient attention paid to the fact that nearly all our knowledge of those sores comes from America, and that we know, in fact, about as much about what is going on in "the Socialist sixth of the world" as our fathers knew of Tibet. We are asked to wobble between terror of American economic imperialism and terror of American indifference
to Europe. we are asked to believe that the masses of the people of Great Britain are blindly devoted to a country of which they know nothing and highly critical of a country in which most working- class families have near kinsmen and to which so many hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, want to emigrate. We are asked, that is, to believe a lot of nonsense, which is not an uncommon request. But we shall be very foolish if we act on that nonsense, if we regard American wealth as simply the result of some confidence trick at our expense, and adopt the attitude of the man who takes a loan or even a free gift from an old friend not merely with the air, but in the words, of a man conferring a favour. America has plenty ; but not plenty for all the world, and there must be weary moments in which the leaders of America wonder whether it would not be better to -move up to the top of the queue nations whose political vocalists have rather better manners.