HL Deb 08 November 1961 vol 235 cc350-63

2.55 p.m.

LORD BIRDWOOD rose to move to resolve, That this House notes with concern the division of great areas of the world by rival ideologies. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should perhaps begin by assuring your Lordships that I do not intend to press this Resolution to the point of asking the House to divide on it—that is, of course, subject to the approval of the House. I think it would be useful if I stated immediately the purpose I had in mind in raising this debate this afternoon. I hope your Lordships will agree that the tremendous burden of armaments which we have to endure today is the result, and not the cause, of our differences with the Soviet Union. It is quite true that armaments, once they are built up, in themselves create tension: but in this vicious circle of cause and effect chasing each other around, trace the story back to its source and one encounters always a fundamental divergence both of principle and of system as between ourselves and the Communists, which may be said to have given rise to this whole dilemma of weapons and missiles, with all their fears and their frustrations.

If I may put the matter in another way, we in the West and our adversaries in the East could take all our weapons and our bombs far out to sea and drop them to the bottom of the deepest ocean, but we should not have removed the chance of war. Most certainly we should have postponed the evil day—and, if we could follow that up with on-site international inspection and control of manufacture, it might be said that we could enjoy some years of physical peace with physical security. But so long as the ideological issue remained unresolved, as I see it, one by one the tensions would return; with them would come the armaments, and one day, perhaps, even though it may start with only sticks and stones, we should be back at the point from which we started.

I have sometimes wondered whether, at any of the international conferences, Summit or otherwise, any Western leader has ever thought of leaning across the table and saying to his opposite number, "You know, the trouble really all begins from the fact that you are Communists and we are not. And so where do we go from here?" It is with the purpose of, perhaps, having some idea of the answer to that question that I thought it would be useful to have this debate this afternoon. In doing so I believe that we shall come up against certain harsh and very challenging facts of international life which, in my view, are not too well understood.

Before I come to the heart of the problem I want to make certain points quite clear. First of all, I would ask your Lordships to accept that this is no witch-hunt. I am one who believed that McCarthyism, in so far as the defence of the Free World was concerned, was a disaster. I look upon myself as an eclectic in international affairs—that is, choosing the best and discarding the worst from all systems. That is how I believe progress is achieved. Secondly, I would stress that this is no attack upon Her Majesty's Government. It is out in the countryside, as I see it, that these matters are not as clearly understood as they should be. Nor am I saying that everything inside a Communist country is wrong, or that some of the results in themselves are not enviable. Indeed, so far as the standard of material life in Soviet Russia is concerned, I accept that it is bound to rise to those promised heights of washing machines and paid holidays that Mr. Khrushchev presented to the Twenty-second Communist Congress meeting in Moscow about a fortnight ago. After all, if unlimited power is placed in the hands of a few very efficient men (and those men most certainly would not hold down their jobs unless they were efficient) the surprise, to my mind, would be if it were otherwise. As I see it, organised materialism is just as able to succeed as materialism under a loose kind of laissez-faire system.

Next, I think I should say something about any qualification I may have for initiating this debate. I have not been to Soviet Russia, and I doubt now if I ever shall go. So far as the Russian as an individual is concerned, I accept completely that he is a warmhearted, generous, simple and sincere individual, perhaps more so than most. That being so, I would insist that it is not the individual that we have to face, but the system by which he is controlled. Although I have not been to Soviet Russia, I have had one experience that perhaps has been more useful: I have been to a Communist country and stayed there and travelled around with a party of 250 British Communists. That gave me an insight into the Communist method and the Communist purpose which I personally can never forget.

The last point I want to make is to meet immediately the argument that we should put our own house in order before we attempt to throw stones at others. If we were really to wait for Utopia in Britain we should have to wait a very song time indeed. The whole of my argument is based on the assumption that we cannot afford to wait for that time. It would be fatal to underestimate the seriousness of our own position. Nobody can view the situation to-day with complacency. There is crime, juvenile delinquency, hooliganism, prostitution off the streets but in the basements; the use and misuse of wealth, as witness the racket that goes on in property speculation alongside the news of 3,000 people homeless in London; moral neutrality, which I am told is preached as a matter of policy in some of the schools; and always the urge to grab for what one can get out of the system, without any desire to put anything back, which of course means to neglect completely the welfare of the country.

But always I see one hope, which is that under freedom there are always sufficient people around who recognise these conditions. Unlike the Communists, who are quite incapable of admitting any penalties whatsoever in their system, we can still count on a conscience where our own frailties are concerned. In a national emergency we can, and do, rise to the occasion. The trouble is that very few people would recognise our present situation as an emergency; and it is my belief that until we do so we shall remain in grave danger. I will return to deal with this a little more before I finish.

Meanwhile I should like to come a little closer to the problem as posed by our rival ideologies. I do not want to inflict on the House a homily on Communism, but I must remind your Lordships of the bare bones of a creed which is as deeply rooted in the minds of its high priests as are any of those beliefs which are sometimes expressed in your Lordships' House, shall we say, when we debate the affairs of the Church. As I understand it, Marx held that all social evolution was a matter of exact science. Dialectical materialism insists that there is a foolproof scientific explanation of history; that human relationships are governed by certain immutable laws which ensure that the human race moves through predictable stages inevitably to International Communism. But this does not mean that the Communist can sit back and allow history to do the job for him. On the contrary, the more he is convinced of final victory, the more urgent is it for him to hasten the process. The case I present is based on the assumption that the writ of Marx still runs.

To those who believe that these principles are no longer valid I confess I have nothing further to say, except that all the evidence of modern Communist leadership to-day is against them. But for those who would agree that these principles remain unchanged, then the practical interpretation of Marx is simple. It means that when Mr. Khrushchev slips into his speeches, as he so frequently does, those asides about the inevitability of a Communist victory without a war, then we must know that everywhere the whole great machine, whether the components are political or economic, or, alas! even cultural, is geared and directed with a deadly sense of long-term planning towards the attainment of that one end.

If, therefore, one accepts that this grand design to absorb us is in fact a reality and not a myth, the question which one may well ask is this: what is the meaning of the term "peaceful co-existence?" The Communists have provided us very clearly with the answer. It is set out with clarity in a document which is now over a year old but one to which we should, in my belief, return over and over again: the Declaration of the Eighty-One Communist Parties meeting in Moscow last November. I should like to quote briefly from page nineteen. We should remember that in this language, of course, the terms "Socialism" and "Communism" are, for their own good purposes, interchangeable. It states: Peaceful co-existence of States does not imply renunciation of the class struggle … the co-existence of States with different social systems is a form of class struggle between socialism and capitalism". And the theme is rammed home: Peaceful co-existence of countries with different social systems does not mean conciliation of the socialist and bourgeois ideologies. On the contrary, it implies the intensification of the struggle of the working class, of all communist parties, for the triumph of socialist ideas.

Once again, surely, the interpretation is quite simple. When we speak of peaceful co-existence, we mean exactly what we say, no more and no less. But when the Communist speaks of peaceful co-existence he in fact means the cold war; and it is exactly that same cold war of which he 'accuses us when we make any move to resist our whole social system and our way of life being brought down and undermined. These, my Lords, are the harsh facts of which I spoke at the beginning, and I think the next time we are asked to raise our glasses, as we shall be, and drink a toast to peaceful co-existence, we might recall these facts.

My Lords, I want to follow this analysis only one stage further, and turn from the goal to the method of its achievement. With Marx it was quite clear that there was to be no nonsense about ethics. Movements of normal social Christian content were just to be neither tolerated nor trusted. The whole matter was to be treated as one of cold political science. So long as the means of production are in the hands of the few, nothing can happen. But equal distribution of wealth, which is the reward of production, can come about only if the means of production are held in common ownership. The capitalist stands in the way, and he must therefore be removed. But since the capitalist in one country works in with the capitalist in another country, the only way to overcome that great trade union of capitalism is by workers everywhere uniting across frontiers. Workers of the world unite! Many of your Lordships will have known these formulæ off by heart.

The fact is that we do not realise the inner meaning of all this in so far as our own rights are daily affected. It meant, for example, about six months ago that just that one man with only a few comrades at his elbow was able to lose us £10 million worth of goods overnight in the Port of London. It means, if I read my paper aright, that again one man can threaten to bring the wheels of industry to a standstill by calling off the men in the great nationalised power industry. And he would be a bold man who would say that the Communist hand was not behind the trouble recently in the great Rootes industry.

It was left to Lenin to demonstrate that if Marxism was not only to survive but to spread its wings it could be only through the establishment of a hard core of dedicated disciples prepared to hack their way to power as a minority. Others have borrowed the technique of the minority, Hitler among them. But it has been the Communist who has been his own best advocate: Czechoslovakia in 1948, Hungary in 1945 and again in 1956, and East Germany in 1949; and each time it is a minority that wins through.

Once this great pattern of moulding and controlling 'history is understood, then so many of the day-to-day facets of the international scene fit into their allotted place, such as the attempt to condition the world into the acceptance of the Troika technique, whether it be at the United Nations or anywhere else, the exploding of a 50-megaton bomb, the existence and recognition of Eastern Germany, that is to say two Germanies, with the implication—and this is the important point—of complete parity as between the freely elected government of 55 million people and the imposed government of some 17 million people. People Who have been used to winning power from a minority are not going to be very worried by a position of parity in this country, where we see such moves as fomenting protests at the training of German troops on British soil, their association with the nuclear disarmament campaign and, above all, as I see it, the penetration of British industry.

Some of the international situations may present a facade of sweet reason, appealing to our sense of justice. We are tempted in the name of relaxing tension to yield a point here and a point there; we are tempted to accept what is called the logic of facts. This has been described as the "salame sausage process": one by one the slices of the sausage are asked for and yielded, and suddenly one wakes up one day to discover that the whole sausage has disappeared. I would beg that no situation, national or international, ever be judged in isolation as the slice of the sausage. Whether it be the case of the Communist secretary-general of the Miners' Union, demanding that the presence of foreign missile bases in this country be discussed at the meeting of the T.U.C. Council, or whether it be the Soviet delegation away in New York accusing us of sabotaging peaceful coexistence because we want to see items such as Hungary and Tibet on the Agenda, let our leaders know, and behind them let the people know, that these are all but variations on the same theme.

Perhaps this is the moment to take note of where the private trader stands in all this. Here I admit that I am up against the official policy of Her Majesty's Government, and, indeed, I find myself in disagreement with many good friends both in and out of Parliament. I am not saying it is a sin to trade behind the Iron Curtain. For example, I feel that the more trade we can achieve with Poland, the better. But if it is accepted that the Communist knows no frontiers, then I ask: where is the sense in building up your trade at the delivery end of the pipeline with Communist countries when all the time there are men who derive their inspiration from Moscow sabotaging production inside your factory?

Let us have this quite clear in our minds. The trader does not trade for the good of the soul of the man on the other side. He trades for his profit; and if 'his profit was not there he would not trade. This is a perfectly normal concept of trade within a system of free enterprise, but on the other side they do not trade within a system of free enterprise. For them all trade is subjected to the political object and has its allotted rôle in the plan. The trouble is that it seems quite impossible for the Western trader, brought up traditionally to regard trade as a perfectly normal professional matter for making a living, to recognise his negotiations with the Office on the other side as other than the normal negotiation of his daily experience. Frankly, I have been rather dismayed by the manner in which men in authority concerned with trade behind the Iron Curtain write off the political and ideological implications of their negotiations just as if they did not exist.

But apart from the morality of the matter, there are, as I see it, perfectly good practical considerations. The Russians are very good imitators. It is not difficult to place a few popular small contracts even for a prototype machine, thereby for £15,000 buying about £200 million worth of knowledge. It is not difficult to place contracts in France, Germany and Great Britain for cars with diesel engines, pick out the best features of each, and then in a year or so, from Czechoslovakia or Russia, undersell us in our own traditional markets wherever they may be in the world with data which we ourselves have conveniently supplied. When one recalls that in the Soviet Union labour can be pushed around like so many million pawns on a vast chess board, with never the fear of a strike or of questions from a public which is unaware of the sacrifice which it has to make, it will be seen that penetrating a Western market is not difficult to achieve. I would assume that this is what is meant by the term "the economic war". It seems to me odd that many of those who fully recognise the validity of the term are going out of their way to strengthen the hands of those who regard us finally as their economic target.

I would make one qualification—namely, that if it be true that the Russians are to-day becoming aware of quality in contrast to quantity, and are becoming aware of the value of consumer goods, then I can see a mutual advantage in the trade exchanged in an expanding Communist consumer goods market. Here, to me, the governing factor would seem to be whether the Russian ever knows the origin of the goods he receives. Does he know now, for example, that much of the equipment for the new Congress Hall in the Kremlin was supplied by West European firms? If he does not know where the goods come from, it is obvious he will attribute everything received to the benevolence of the system. It is for such reasons that I do not accept the view that merely through the abounding good will and understanding which flow from trade somehow or other the leopard changes his spots.

My Lords, may I now say one word of my own impressions about the balance sheet of all this? On the Communist side we see an abhorrence of something they call "the cult of personality", even though in the same breath the present inflation of Mr. Khrushchev would seem to be just that. We see a rigid classless equality imposed on all men which permits of no qualification, the State claiming to possess the individual and the fruit of his labour. Elections to test the will of the people are withheld until it is quite certain that they will accept the system in all its aspects 100 to nil. All the resolutions passed a fortnight ago at Moscow were passed unanimously. Politics impinge on the life of the people as a matter of course. Finally, my Lords, we see an explanation of the universe and its meaning sought in terms of man on earth and the degree to which he can master and control his environment, a process which knows no end to man's material and scientific achievements. Human sacrifice is as nothing when weighed against the fruits of collective planned endeavour.

Then, in complete contrast, in this world we know I think we see the free citizen rather enjoying the cult of the individual, believing that the individual should only surrender and the State only demand sufficient of his personal liberty as is necessary for the conduct of public affairs. Where exactly do we stand on equality? Frankly, I do not quite know the answer. Equality of opportunity?—yes, most certainly. But I state only my own view when I maintain that the attempt to keep up an imposed equality is retrogressive rather than progressive. I believe that the late Lord Acton spent many years writing a book on equality, which was never finished, and he came to the conclusion that complete equality and complete liberty were incompatible.

But to complete this balance sheet, of course we accept the test of the will of the people exercised through elections. We accept the verdict of 51 over 49. Paradoxically, I believe we judge the success of a political system by the degree to which it does not impinge upon our lives. Finally, in some vague conviction, we seek an explanation of the universe in terms which have nothing whatever to do with man or the exaltation of man, but which derives from something which we call God and which cannot now, and perhaps never will, be explained in terms of man's own will and man's power. I believe that we can trace this refusal of a mysterious or spiritual unknown by the Communists, with its equal emphasis on the omnipotence of man, in all that they say and do, certainly in transacting their own business. When one notices the appalling mess and confusion adult men can get themselves into, and the only remedy appears to be to round on the aged Voroshilov or Molotov, it is explained when suddenly one realises that finally these epople can only look inwards at themselves.

Further than that, on the Communist side of the balance sheet, when travelling around in a Communist country I noticed certain features of life which I envied. I noticed an exemplary attitude towards public duty, a high civic sense, apparently no prostitution on the streets, and no litter on the streets either. But always one was confronted with the terrible price to pay. In Russia itself I would say that these conditions are accepted because people have been so conditioned as to be unconscious of the price. In any case, what happens inside Soviet Russia I believe to be now entirely their own affair and no one is going to deny them their promised Utopia in terms of material welfare. But I think that in the satellites it is quite different. In the satellites, they are still aware of the penalty. If your Lordships can imagine the cold fear which descends on the innocent citizen when quite suddenly in a crowd he realises that, unless he does not shout the slogans of either abuse or applause when all the others do, he and his family are marked men, then your Lordships can have some idea of the nature of that price.

Many thousands have found that price too high to pay and, evading the policeman's knock, have found their way over to the West in the belief that they will discover a brave new world. As I have said, some of them have tasted disillusion. But because of that disillusion and because of our own failures, never let us abandon the faith that we over here have something to offer which is unobtainable on the other side. Some of your Lordships may remember that there is a moment towards the end of Ionesco's play Rhinoceros, when Daisy, the little friend of Berenger, the clerk, suddenly realises that she has to give up mental struggle and allow herself to be turned, with all the others, into one more roaring rhinoceros. She turns to Berenger and says: We must move with the times, mustn't we? There is infinite meaning in those words. We, as I see it, are in danger of just moving with the times. Whether it be in consideration of our own condition or whether it be a failure to recognise the enemy in our midst, too many of us seem to have become mere acceptors.

In this context, I was told once that I should be unpopular if I mentioned inside this House the movement known as Moral Rearmament. I think that your Lordships will agree that it will be a sad day when we say things only because we think that they are going to be popular in this House, and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that, in so far as Moral Rearmament moves against the times and holds that it is not sufficient merely to fight Communism but that Communism has to be answered by the presentation of something nobler and bigger, they are entirely right. They, and with them the others in the social services, the W.V.S. and the Salvation Army, in my belief, all deserve both our gratitude and our respect, because they are fighting this battle on a different dimension from that of our normal experience.

Yet to fight Communism at all, we have first to be convinced that it is there. We must know and recognise its nature. I ask: is there that recognition? Is 'there not too much of what has been described as "smug anti-anti-Communism"? Sometimes it seems hardly respectable to display indignation. We have to be roused by the dropping of a 50-megaton bomb. I am told that no large employer of labour to-day dare declare himself as anti-Communist. If that is true it seems to me that we have reached a fairly low ebb in our affairs. It may be that democracy moves in cycles and we have to tighten or relax controls over our own freedom according to the curve of the graph. This I hope was in the Prime Minister's mind when about six months ago, in reference to the Blake case, he said: We have this freedom which we are determined to defend and we have to see whether in its defence we shall have to make greater sacrifices of traditional concepts. Certainly there is need for those sacrifices if we are to achieve real unity, whether it be national or international, with our Allies. The ability to disagree, in which as democrats we take pride, is not admired by our enemies. Indeed, when they see anti-American or anti-German articles in the Press, they merely regard us as convenient fools, because we are throwing away the one concept of which they are afraid—namely, a unity of purpose which must be as much moral as it is material.

For myself, if I were told that, as a start towards the Prime Minister's "sacrifices of traditional concepts", we were forming a national Coalition Government to-morrow, I could only welcome the decision. Less than that, I would ask Her 'Majesty's Government: are they really satisfied that they know the methods of the Communists in this country? Do they really know what goes on in the docks and in the motor industry? Because, if they do, I am quite certain that the public do not and I feel that the public should know. Are they satisfied that they have sufficient legislative powers? Is there not scope for some form of inquiry into all this, with wide terms of reference and recommendation? I confess that I do not know what form it might take. I only feel that this is a question which must be asked on this occasion.

I have drawn attention to our own drifting condition, and I have made my views of an alien system clear. This double approach permits me finally to present my own view of the future. It is not realistic to speak of a way out. There is no short cut in this problem, but I think one can suggest the pursuit of an idea which at least leads down the right road. I am taking the case of Eastern Europe merely as an illustration, because what happens in Eastern Europe could also apply elsewhere. In Eastern Europe we do not seek the reinstatement necessarily of former régimes; we seek only the right of men and women to choose the Government under which they shall live.

But long before we reach that point there is one condition which must apply and, indeed, without which no choice for Eastern Europe could ever be free. I am referring to the removal of the physical barrier between East and West. The noble Earl, Lord Avon, in this House recently, spoke of the "cruel wall" in Berlin. That wall extends thousands of miles north to the Baltic and south to the Black Sea, effectively putting about 100 million people into a vast human cage. I sometimes wonder whether those individuals who, on their lawful occasions, fly high over it, with abounding admirable good will for Moscow or Prague in their hearts and official patronage to ease the way, ever give that barrier a thought as they pass over it, still less reflect on. what it represents. For it is the symbol, not only of the separation of man from man, not only of the imprisonment of the mind by refusing it access to another world, but of sheer primitive cruelty such as, for example, would prevent two lovers from marrying each other, except, of course, on terms of political surrender.

I would ask that, in framing future policy, always in the background there should be the search for the mere freedom of men and women and ideas, for news and newspapers to cross frontiers; for this, I believe, is the key one day to a reconciliation of two rival systems. This will require immense patience. It will also demand that, in all international negotiation, the existence of this barrier in all its forms be brought far more into prominence, with the technique of hard bargaining and reciprocity in conference, and outside conference a far more positive kind of publicity. To-day we recognise a thing called "organised international opinion" as a force, whether it be at the United Nations or anywhere else; and in so far as presenting the world with the visible evidence of this particular crime which has been with us for fifteen years, we have really done nothing. Few African countries and few Asian countries are yet aware of its existence. Coming nearer home, those who so admirably demonstrate sincerity in the name of self-preservation about bombs which have not yet dropped, seem to be devoid of a conscience where physical suffering on Europe's doorstep is concerned.

In pursuit of this goal of mere freedom of men to move, do not let us ever abandon an attitude or a policy merely because it appears at the moment unattainable. If we really want a just end to this particular corner of history and are prepared to work for it, one day it is my conviction that it will come. The search for a relaxation of tension in itself is not a goal; still less is peaceful co-existence according to the Soviet formula. The peace we are seeking is the peace which has been described as "the peace which passeth understanding." It would be far better to live on in a tension that can be endured than to slip down smooth slopes of political expediency, and find that with the disappearance of tension the will to win the only true peace had disappeared with it. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House notes with concern the division of great areas of the world by rival ideologies.—(Lord Birdwood.)