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Issue #1470      1 September 2010

Culture & Life

Menzies and chaos

It is surely ironic that when Australian television programs want to show viewers the impact of the outbreak of WW2 on this country they usually start with people listening to the radio while the then Prime Minister Robert Menzies hypocritically intones that “it is my melancholy duty to inform you that Britain has declared war on Germany and that consequently this country is also at war.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Menzies, 1954.

Like his British counterpart, Chamberlain, what made Menzies melancholy was his belief that Britain had been obliged to declare war against the wrong enemy. Politically, Menzies was an ultra conservative who revelled in the imperial glory of Britain’s “dominion over palm and pine”.

Britain’s Tories had sought to overthrow the Soviet government of the USSR since it first captured the Winter Palace in 1917. The only differences between Tories like Chamberlain and Churchill were over the British policy towards Germany.

Churchill correctly saw German imperialism as a deadly rival to British imperialism, coveting the same markets, the same territories, the same investment opportunities, and building up the armed might necessary to eventually take them by force.

Chamberlain and those of the British Establishment who supported him, on the other hand, were so intent on getting rid of the menace of Red revolution that they saw German imperialism as their natural ally, a willing tool that the clever diplomacy of the British Foreign Office could manoeuvre into waging war on the USSR while remaining on friendly terms with Britain.

In fact, from their perspective at the heart of “the greatest empire in the world”, they assumed that not only could they get Germany to pull their chestnuts out of the fire for them by a war with Russia, but afterwards they could dictate terms to the combatants favourable to Britain (vis à vis Russian resources).

Menzies wholeheartedly bought into this way of thinking. He travelled to Germany in the 1930s and returned an unashamed apologist for Hitler’s regime. Hitler after all had crushed the Communists, just as Menzies himself wanted to do (and tried to do as soon as the war provided the opportunity).

The Russian revolutionaries had shot their monarch, which certainly put them on the outer with a staunch imperialist like Menzies. When the Japanese empire began flexing its muscles, seizing Manchuria and then attempting to invade Mongolia in preparation for conquering Siberia, Menzies did not hesitate to assist Japan.

He drafted new laws to prevent black bans by Australian workers stopping the shipment of pig iron to Japan for armament manufacture.

His sobriquet “Pig Iron Bob” was not a compliment.

The recent Four Corners program on the imminence of a further financial crisis, likely to make the last one look like a mere rehearsal, emphasised, if nothing else, the inherent chaos that is the capitalist economic system.

Capitalism is a system built around the pursuit of profit. But Marx showed that despite all the smokescreens put up by capitalists claiming profit is the result of “buying cheap and selling dear”, profit actually derives from the capitalist precept of not paying workers the full value of what they produce. The consequence of this is that, overall, workers cannot purchase everything they make or hire all the services they provide.

Crises of overproduction are thus built in to the system: they are as certain as the sun rising in the East. And, since wars are the most effective way to use up the stockpiles of unsold goods, wars are also inevitable under capitalism. Since the end of the Second World War we have seen a truly appalling series of virtually non-stop wars around the globe.

The chaos of capitalism – its unstructured dog-eat-dog nature, its woeful instability, and its integral relationship with war – used to be a popular argument in favour of socialism: the planned economy vs the unplanned chaos of capitalism.

Predictably, the response of capitalism, since it is a system in the grip of an unquenchable thirst for new sources of profit, was to aggressively set about the dismantling of what few monetary and economic planning controls were still left. Government itself would become a commodity to be taken over by the “private sector” and exploited directly for profit.

New sources of profit however do not change the nature of capitalism, do not bring order to the system’s inherent chaos. Nor can they, of course, for the chaos is basic to the system itself.

By spin-doctoring, however, and the expenditure of an awful lot of time and money on generating and disseminating that spin, aided of course by capitalism’s domination of the mass media, the pundits of capitalism in many parts of the world have successfully beaten back or at least misdirected the popular calls for consideration of a planned economy, calls to see whether socialism is in fact a better system.

But no amount of spin doctoring or lying propaganda can long disguise the true nature of capitalism. Life itself – people’s own experiences – quickly reveals whose interests the capitalist system serves. And as the inevitable crises hit and the ruling class seeks to off-load the brunt of each crisis onto the working class, people reassess what the propaganda and spin said about socialism, about the advantages of a planned economy.

In many countries, from former parts of the Soviet Union to South America, people are pushing the propaganda aside and turning towards socialism again. For life itself demands that they do.

You can live with chaos for only so long.  


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