The Old Order Changeth

Beverley Baxter's May 15 1942

The Old Order Changeth

Beverley Baxter's May 15 1942

The Old Order Changeth


Beverley Baxter's

LONDON, April 18 (By Cable). There never was a moment in her history when Britain was faced with so many imminent, fateful problems, yet there never was a moment when the British people have shared their thoughts so equally between the present and the future. That is the paradox which becomes more evident each day.

In the last war no one asked more than victory. It is true that Lloyd George promised to make Britain a land fit for heroes to live in, but that was a belated utterance and was regarded more as an excursion in phrasemaking than serious policy. As this war of endless blows upon the spirit proceeds to its climax, the people of Britain, especially the younger generation, are saying, “We will see this through to the end. Take our lives, our money, break up our homes, do what you like with us and wre will not complain—but when it is over there must be no looking back this time.”

If the British were a primitive people or had not enjoyed a long political education, such a spirit might well be the prelude to revolution. Between two world wars we saw revolutions in Russia, China and Italy, a coup d’etat in Germany and civil war in Spain. Why should Britain be immune from upheavals which beset other nations?

Perhaps the answer is, in fact, that the British are a thinking people whose minds act like traffic constables • upon the speed and vagaries of their emotions. Voltaire deplored this restraint ; he said England was an island and so was every Englishman. That is only half the truth but even so we can be glad that the salt spray of the North Sea separates us from the political contagion of the Continent. There will be no revolution in Britain after the war, there will be no barricades in the streets or internecine warfare of soldiers against the mob.

But there will be changes. Nothing on this drunken, rolling globe is more sure than that.

We saw something of the shape of things to come when Kingsley Wood brought in his budget a few days ago. On such occasions M.P.’s have the doubtful privilege of enjoying ringside seats. We are allowed to know nothing of the budget’s secrets before it is opened and merely revert to our permanent rank of citizens and taxpayers; every blow that the Chancellor throws catches us on the chin first. It was rather pathetic to watch the Peers Gallery; a painter or sculptor would have found good material in the spectacle of twenty noblemen whose mortgaged estates and dwindling incomes have brought them almost to penury, looking down upon the cherubic cupid who is Britain’s financial dictator.

When Kingsley Wood announced that there would be no further increase in the income tax supertax the peers brightened up momentarily, like doomed men who have been mysteriously missed by the rifles of the firing

squad. It is true that this small act of clemency did not go unchallenged. Our Communist M.P. and one or two of his extremist friends shouted, “Why don’t you make the rich pay?”

Immediately there came an answering roar from the Tories, “Where are the rich?” The Tory elephant was bellowing with outraged innocence.

“The truth is,” said Sir Kingsley, blandly, “that the purchasing power of the nation has passed to the workers. If we were to take away every penny of income above 2,000 pounds per annum the gain to the exchequer and the reduction in purchasing power would be about thirty millions of pounds.”

That is how revolutions happen in Britain; they are announced after they have taken place. The Victorian Era has died at last; that period of paradise for the rich is no more.

In claiming that this budget indicates the course of the future I do so because it evidences change in the economic financial standards. One vital new thought emerges from Britain’s stupendous effort. It is this— “If a thing can be done the nation can afford it.”

That is not a street corner phrase flung by extremists to the breeze. In the budget debate it was actually a Conservative who put it into words. No longer will the nation’s finance be run like that of a limited liability company. Capacity to produce and capacity to consume will be the dominating factors, not capacity to pay.

The capitalist system as we knew it—and it had many indestructible advantages— confessed its failure when its government destroyed food in a hungry world and paid producers not to produce. That affronted both the conscience and reason of humanity. The fires that burned surplus wheat and coffee also consumed the kingdom of unrestricted capitalism.

The question then arises as to whether capitalism as we have known it is finished, and if the pendulum will swing to complete socialism or communism. I cannot forecast what will happen in other countries but I am certain that Britain will not embrace either the theories of Karl Marx or the undiluted state bureaucracy called socialism. For one thing the British pendulum never swings very far; perhaps that has something to do with climate. No, the thinkers of Britain are as usual seeking a compromise. Long experience has taught them that the going is usually best in the middle of the road. They are trying to find something between pure individualism and pure socialism. Intervention of the state on a wide scale has come to stay but the problem is how to keep that intervention from killing initiative that can only be maintained under individualism.

Again I must call attention to a paradox. This war has convinced the British people that the capitalist system cannot go on as it was, but the swollen army of bureaucrats,inevitablein wartime,has sickened people of the idea of state control. State control is a negation of the human spirit, inhuman, incompetent, only fit for a nation of slaves or a nation just emerging from slavery. Admittedly in war it has to extend its frontiers greatly since the citizen surrenders his individual free-

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dom, but the British would not submit to it in peacetime. Thus you will see the embarrassing situation of the British political parties. The Tories know that capitalism is in the dock and the Socialists know that people are fed to the teeth with the pin pricks and the self-importance of myriad-headed officialdom.

Ten Point Charter

ANEW economic conception is being born with no political party to express it. That is interesting, for nature abhors a vacuum. It is the industrialists who are really thinking things out. Lord McGowan, head of the vast Imperial Chemical combine, is no stranger to Canada. The other day he outlined to me a practical vision of the economic future which was far ahead of anything that I have heard in Westminster. Professor J. M. Iveynes and Samuel Courtauld are others who are plotting the way.

From many sources I would say that the following ten points could constitute the charter of the new industrialism which would retain the best points of the capitalist system and avoid the worst points of socialism. I purposely leave out communism as it is utterly alien, to British mentality and could only be born out of disaster and despair.

Here, then, are the ten points:

One. Rights of workers must take precedence over rights of shareholders.

Two. In basic industries there should be a triple partnership consisting of management (which includes finance), the workers and the state.

Three. Employment of a definite section of the population must be a primary responsibility of each basic industry, in conjunction with the state.

Four. The only limit placed upon production shall be the limit of consumption. The whole world must be organized to carry this into effect.

Five. Gambling in commodities should cease. It should no longer be possible for a speculator in London, Paris or New York to determine the price and movements of essential raw materials.

Six. The profit motive shall be maintained, subject to the priority claims of workers. As far as possible there should be profit sharing, providing trade unions will abandon their present hostile attitude to such practical encouragement.

Seven. There must be family allowances so that more children will be born and parents will not have to endure so much sacrifice.

Eight. Finance shall be made the servant of the state and not its master.

Nine. Subject to overriding industrial policy laid down by the state in consultation with management and workers, the principle of competition should be maintained and encouraged. The power of chain stores should be curbed and the rights of the individual trader restored.

Ten. Primary producers must come under state control with definite, guaranteed minimum prices that will ensure a fair return and security, for the future character of the nation as well as its very existence depends upon the primary producer.

I don’t know how this will read to you in Canada. It will not please the die-hard reactionary and it will certainly not win the approval of left wing extremists. It may be that other countries will take a different road but over here I firmly believe the British are moving steadily for-

ward toward a form of state partnership with industry and workers in which the profit motive and individualism will be retained as spurs to the sluggish withers of bureaucracy.

The young men are thinking and they are thinking hard. They do not intend to make victory an end in itself. Their battle cry is “Victory and afterward,’’ and they do not fight any worse for that. Rather does it steel their purpose and strengthen their arm. They saw the blasphemous scandal of unemployment when they were boys and they swear that never again will men walk the streets begging for work. They have seen the hardship of the extra child, as if the family were purely the concern of the parents and not of the community, and they are determined that children shall not be an intolerable burden upon those who bring them into the world.

The yokel, the peasant, the illiterate foundry hand, the Cockney wastrel and the ignorant giant at the furnace have passed from our lives forever. While their exteriors have not changed and their voices still retain their dialects, their minds are informed. Newspapers, radio and the newsreel have brought information and education to the masses. The old conception of the world with one half saddled and the other half booted and spurred is over, and although Great Britain is the trustee of the past, holding to things and forms which other nations in their impatience have discarded, I would not be surprised if Britain should prove the leader of the new civilized order.

They have a habit of thinking of things first, over here. They transformed the world by discovering steam. They gave liberty to mankind when they forced King John to put his signature at the end of those crabbed Latin sentences which constituted the Magna Charta. They produced trade unionism and invented the week end as a human institution. They even invented the gentleman as an improvement on the swaggering cavalier of the Continent. They established monarchy on indestructible grounds by cutting off the head of a monarch. Now they are busy preserving the liberty which they did so much to give to the world.

The dagger is drawn at Vichy, the sword of Germany is red with blood and death rides the seas. But still the British find time to think of the world to follow, a fairer world, a kindlier world, a better ordered world.

I think it will come—and perhaps our children, when they gaze upon their inheritance, will not think too harshly of us who gave it to them.

Disappearing Silk

WHILE THE ladies are carefully guarding dwindling supplies of silk hose, and keeping a critical eye on the stocking industry’s efforts to produce satisfactory limb coverings from high-count cotton, the electric wire and instrument manufacturers are preparing to get along without the silk that they formerly used to the extent of thousands of

pounds annually. General Electric, for example, will use rayon and nylon as a substitute for silk insulation on wire when present silk supplies are exhausted. Silk tape, used in some phases of their work, will be replaced by cotton or rayon. And so it appears that a year or so hence many of us may wonder why we ever worried at all about shortage of silk!—Scientific American.