December 1954

on the World today

OVER the past half decade Britain has approximated ever more closely the ideal of the successful modern democracy. Politics is stable and placid, so much so that the two big parties — which are nearly even in popular favor according to the opinion polls — are desperate for a genuine issue to fight about.

Industrial production has never been so high. British firms repeatedly demonstrate their newly won competitive prowess by entering the lowest bids for building dams in America. The statistics for dollar intake have not indicated such good health since the war.

The refinement of manners is a source of wonderment to visitors. An American magazine marveled recently at the signs in the grounds of Westminster Abbey, “Please Do Not Walk on the Grass Unnecessarily.” Equally indicative are the sign as you approach Middlesex Hospital in London, requesting you not to blow your automobile horn, and the smaller discreet sign as you pass the end of the same block, “Thank you.”The readiness of motorists to come to a halt at pedestrian crossings to let people get to the other side is such that it constitutes a traffic hazard to cars that follow.

It is said, not without point, that the only conspicuous misery in the land is to be found among those current historians, the reporters, who have to scratch very hard indeed for troubles to write about. This past autumn the reporters’ only two remaining sources of acrimonious incident — which is apparently as necessary to the news as salt is to potatoes — have both been very nearly removed, and the press is threatened with a still blander diet in the future.

Those two remaining sources of trouble have been Britain’s bad relations with America, and the split within the British Labor Party. Oddly, both problems — that of Eden and that of Attlee — have been eased if not resolved by one and the same development: the French refusal to ratify the European Defense Community treaties for rearming Germany within the Western alliance.

Crark in the alliance

Regarding relations with the United States, the French nullification of four years of American planning threatened to bring to an ugly climax a long chronology of increasing friction within the alliance. When the frictions began — over the H-bomb in the Pacific that “got out of control” — people here rather enjoyed the novel experience of shouting at the wealthy nation they had dared speak to only in menial tones for so long.

The British were rather proudly satisfied when the frictions continued at the Geneva Conference with Eden daring to pursue a line of policy independent of the American State Department for the first time. But by midsummer the novelty of telling the United States off began to pale, and the endless exchanges of editorial recriminations between the British appeasers and the American warmongers began to cause irritation and some worry about where the alliance was headed.

Finally, with the collapse of EDC, these evolving sentiments turned into outright fear as to where America’s anger and disenchantment might lead. People began to take very seriously the stories that the United States might either rearm Germany unilaterally or withdraw to some extra-European periphery. Either step would certainly have caused France to seek security against Germany by reviving her moribund alliance with Russia, and that would have destroyed the Western alliance and made Joseph Stalin the prophet of our times.

London reassures the French

So Anthony Eden began a race against his great ally’s ripening ire. He canceled his trip to Manila and the conference on Southeast Asian defense. He sent requests to interested nations to come to a conference in London to discuss alternatives to EDC. His fears about the way feelings were developing were rather confirmed when both Dulles and Adenauer expressed indifference.

Undaunted, Eden adopted a new strategy: he had his conference piecemeal, as it were, by visiting each of the European capitals involved in turn, proposing an alternative to them and asking them to come to London. His alternative was a typical British improvisation. He proposed reviving the nearly forgotten old Brussels Pact, whereby the West European democracies had promised mutual military aid before the North Atlantic Treaty was thought of. The Brussels framework permitted controlled rearmament and it offered France guarantees of British aid of longer duration and more automatic effectiveness than does NATO. Within this framework, Germany could be rearmed.

The nations expressed just enough interest to consent to come to London to discuss the matter. At the conference, Eden put life and hope into things by making his offer — nearly sensational in British terms — to transfer four British divisions and commensurate air power to the control of the majority wishes of the Brussels Pact partners. Britain could hardly improve on this means of reassuring France of British support.

The plan was tentatively accepted by all. Its chance of ultimate ratification by national parliaments is not at this writing ascertainable. However, that was almost a secondary consideration to people here. What was primary was that the increasing friction with America seemed to have been terminated. When Secretary Dulles left the London Conference, he paused at the airport to praise Eden’s initiative and vigor. His statement was aptly termed an “ecstatic reappraisal" by a British press which was in no way discountenanced by losing a major theme for editorials.

The event proved the climax of an exceptionally good year for Eden, who badly needed a good year. For nearly a generation the young man with the mustache and the hat had been tediously destined for great things. It seemed almost that Fate had told him from the outset of his political career that he would be prime minister if he made no mistakes, and that he had therefore made the not making of mistakes his purpose in life. His return to the foreign office after the elections of 1951 was, as usual, competent and undistinguished. Then circumstance struck him a blow from which it was widely thought that he would not recover, politically speaking — he became ill and had to absent himself from politics last year for a series of operations.

The triumph of Anthony Eden

During that time, Sir Winston Churchill put forth his attractive and dangerous proposal for a “meeting at the summit” with Malenkov. When Eden returned to work, the best that was expected of him was that he would restore order and dull safety to the nation’s foreign relations. Instead, he seemed to catch fire. In the Berlin Conference at the beginning of the year he produced the plan for free elections in both divisions of Germany which prevented the Russians from making propaganda out of the meeting. In the spring, he held the Geneva Conference on Indochina together singlehandedly, when the French cabinet had fallen, Dulles was sulking on the sidelines, and the Communists were stalling.

By keeping India informed daily, and to that degree involved, he put on Red China the only pressure to which it was susceptible — the fear of offending neighbors like India who might lend their territories to the Western nations for military bases.

Had the Geneva Conference collapsed, there is little doubt that the flower of the French army would have been destroyed or captured, along with several billion dollars’ worth of American military hardware that would have become an important weight in China’s side of the scales in Asia. This was the measure of Eden’s achievement.

There followed Eden’s settlement in Egypt, for which he faced a rebellion of the imperialist wing within his own party (that is, he dared to make a mistake), and the settlements in Iran and Trieste — the whole structure of successful diplomacy crowned by the London Conference on Germany.

The British Gallup Poll paid the foreign minister a high compliment. It said that 63 per cent of the people thought it was time for Churchill to retire from politics. It indicated that if he did so and left the party reins to Eden, the Conservatives might win the next election. It indicated that, failing this, Labor was likely to win. The proper young man with the mustache and the hat had become the difference between victory and defeat to his party.

Attlee retains control

If the patching up of Britain’s relations with America involved a dramatic personal climax, so did the easing of the other trouble spot on the body politic, the division in the Opposition Labor Party. Aneurin Bevan, the Titan of the left, suffered a fall from popular grace in the fight over German rearmament, and there are many who predict he will not rise to any great importance in British affairs again.

The Labor split developed in 1951, the party’s last year in power, when Bevan resigned from the Attlee cabinet because it put a small charge on the free health service Bevan had established as Minister for Health, and because it had embarked on a larger arms program than Bevan thought could be sustained.

The feud has gone on for nearly four years, taken many forms, and involved many issues, but its basis is simple: by 1951, the Labor Party had fulfilled the program it had come to power on six years earlier — a program of nationalizing some industries and effecting a redistribution of wealth — and the question arose, where did the party go from there?

The same general philosophical issue has arisen in every socialist party in the world. Some (loyal to Attlee) felt that the party had done enough changing of the nation’s society and economy and that it should thenceforward merely consolidate and administer its welfare state efficiently. In a word, these wanted to convert the party into the new Liberal Party of Great Britain. Others (under Bevan) felt that the party should move on into revolutionary socialism, nationalize — in stages — the bulk of economy, and see wealth distributed on a still more egalitarian basis.

This essentially philosophical conflict was made dynamic by its expression in personalities: Attlee’s thin little voice and figure disguise an extremely tough and resolute character, and Nye Bevan is vain, capable, and brilliant, and has an exasperating streak of irresponsibility.

The Bevanites have challenged the orthodox leaders many times, but the rise of the German issue offered them their greatest opportunity. In opposing the rearming of Germany, they would attract to their support members of the party who otherwise had no affinity to the extreme left. If, at the annual policy-making convention of the party, the Bevanites could muster enough votes to write a ban on German rearmament into the party’s official policy, it would cause extreme difficulty to Attlee and his friends, who have too long been committed to some form of German rearmament to change or even to modify their positions at this late date.

When the delegates came to the actual convention, it looked indeed as though the Bevanites would have a majority of the votes on the issue. But on the eve of the conflict, the Attlee group met in a smoke-filled room with wavering leaders of a union that had hitherto been opposed to German rearmament and had now changed their minds. Moreover, to silence the biggest guns on Bevan’s side, it was decided that the party’s executive committee had to speak with one voice: that is, Bevan and his six followers on the executive, a minority, might not speak at all.

With these precautions a resolution favoring German rearmament scraped through. The majority for it was small. But the decision appears to have been final. For, like spirits exhausted, the Bevanites fell back from their near triumph unable to make any further challenge.

Of the rank-and-file delegates who had opposed German rearmament, many were glad that a decision had at last been reached, though adverse to them. There was a general sense that Attlee and Morrison, and Attlee’s personally chosen successor, Hugh Gaitskell, were in firm grip of the party once more after nearly four years of serious divisions.

Exit Nye Bevan?

The night after this decision, Aneurin Bevan — who had left the executive committee of the party for the first time in a generation — addressed a packed hall outside the convention. All the old twists of oratory were tried, but where there had been cheers before, there were now embarrassed silences.

Bevan was able to summon no good alternative answer to the problem of what to do about Germany. His attacks on Attlee fell flat, as they were almost bound to, for had not the former Prime Minister just returned from a good-will trip to China and Russia during which he earned bitter criticism from the bulk of the American press? It was pretty hard to make out a case that Attlee was turning right in view of that.

Bevan’s final weakness, and possibly his central one, was that in regard to internal affairs he was not able to produce any argument that his intensely advocated socialism had any relevance to the new problems Great Britain faces. His long experiment in striving to foment rebellion in a working class whose standard of living has improved very greatly, without telling arguments either for his case or against those he opposed, had failed.

Nye carried no conviction; he made his case appear to be a personal one rather than a disagreement on principle. Even his chieftains on the platform beside him looked embarrassed. Bevan announced that he would launch a campaign outside the executive committee to gain support. But barring a very serious depression or other national crisis of major size, few commentators gave him a chance of coming back to a position of power.

The victor in this conflict, Clement Attlee, won praise in the main literary production of the season in London: the appearance, after an interval of fifteen years, of the last four volumes of Professor Arnold Toynbee’s monumental A Study of History.

In the section of that work which deals with prospects of Western civilization, Toynbee listed two major achievements on which hopes might be based: 1) the softening of the rough edges of industrial capitalism by the creation of the first welfare state in a heavily industrialized nation, and 2) the relinquishment of India, Pakistan, Burma, and Ceylon as parts of the British Commonwealth. Both these were done by Clement Attlee’s Labor Government.