LONDON LETTER

A Challenge From Mr. Smith

BEVERLEY BAXTER June 1 1949
LONDON LETTER

A Challenge From Mr. Smith

BEVERLEY BAXTER June 1 1949

A Challenge From Mr. Smith

Articles

BEVERLEY BAXTER

A MAN who leads more lives than one receives more letters than, say, his next-door neighbor. And when among the day's correspondence there is a letter from someone unknown which runs to 2,000 words it. is apt to be put aside to Wait until there is leisure to peruse it.. But. in he p~si I his morn i iig there was one from `l'oron to tim I. exceecleil 2,000 words and which carried this arresting heading: A challenge to Ueverlev Baxter to take a fresh look at. terrain which is peculiarly his uwii.'' Well, a challenge is a challenge. soniet fling which one iiuist I('ce})l (a' (I('('liii(', but. cannot, ignore. `I In ant h r of this pum rt icular letter is Mr. Charles Russell Sini t Ii, of Box 31)1 Adelaide St reel Post. ( )flice, Toronto, ()nt Mercifully it is typed and iiiercifully Mr. Russell Smi I h (V~ as 1 i is nut inc below his signature, for like many men of strong charac ter his signal Lire is more individualistic than legible. The case which \l r. Russell Smith argues and he argues it brilliantly is that miten like myself are so close to the British scene and Ho coiicermie(l with dav-to-(iay political differ ences that we are :i llow ing the l3riI ish case to go by (letault. lie claims that. Britain's good name is not .heing Ia niin~e I by her enemies. ``whose power to hurt has been blunted by centuries of trying,'' but h the apologetics of her friends. He is good enough to say that I have the ear of a pe.)ple ``wearying f )r the song of a hard or the voice of a proj bet and certainly tiring of the occasional waves of' doubt and condesce sion which sweep the North American conlinent. like a blurring mist..'' `[[`hen he adds this penet rat ing and colorful paragraph: ``You belong to the general ion of Canadians who remember the 24th of May in the days of its real glory. It is the general ion which marched en unasse into 1914, and which today as the senior level of Canadian life wields substantial and penetrating intl uence. It is an audience Continued on page 28

Continued from page 14

which took its seats while the orchestra was tuning up around the turn of the century, saw the curtain rise and lias been sitting through every act of the fabulous performance which includes the entire life story of modern science and industry from the automobile to the atom bomb.”

It is true that we belong to a generation which has seen such alterations as would normally not have occurred in five centuries. And it is equally true that we are still young enough to play some part in the second half of the fabulous century. But I would remind Mr. Russell Smith that there are two generations on our heels who will not necessarily accept our opinions as holy writ.

Dealing with the first part of my correspondent’s case—the failure to put Britain’s case to the world—let me first point out to him that at any given moment the bickerings of political parties seem trivial and even harmful. Why not a national government with all parties working for the state and not for petty advantage?

1 heard that cry in 1931, when the world financial crisis overwhelmed Ramsay MacDonald’s weak Socialist Government. As a result we formed a national government with MacDonald and Baldwin at its head, declared a general election and literally swept the country. The opposition that came back was so tiny that it could almost have reached Westminster in a single omnibus.

The Government was so powerful that it swiftly put through harsh but necessary measures which saved the country from bankruptcy. But following that the lopsided Parliament lost its vitality, because compromise became an excuse for laziness. At the general election of 1935 the national government again had a big majority, though not nearly as big as in 1931, and an undynamic Parliament faced

the superdynamic challenge of the rising dictators in Europe.

It. has always been true that where there is a weak opposition you will find a weak government. The party system, no matter how much it may merit criticism, is the one and only guardian of democracy. When last week in the British House of Commons the Conservative Party shouted down Aneurin Bevan and refused to let the Undersecretary of State for Air speak it meant that British political life and British democracy were in a healthy condition. What is more the people, regardless of political affiliations, were invigorated by the angry roar that swept from Westminster across the country.

There were no such scenes in Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, it could not happen today in Russia or any of her satellites where freedom has died.

1 know that when we attack Socialism we seem to be disparaging not only the government but Britain herself in the eyes of the outer world; but it is a sign of democratic vigor and .should be recognized as such.

Yet even on this point I would concede one argument to Mr. Russell Smith. When British citizens go abroad they should not. disparage their government or its political system beyond the normal limits of political controversy. I have known prominent Britons visiting America who have told the people there that they are fools to give money that will only be used to finance Socialism. Marshall Aid is not for the British Government but for the nation.

And now I must add something which will make me appear to be breaking the very rules which I have just laid down. In other words, I claim that it is the Socialists themselves who are defaming the country which they govern.

There is nothing less like a Nazi than a British Socialist, yet the latter, consciously or unconsciously, has adopted the propaganda technique of that brilliant, malformed little devil, Dr. Goebbels. The Herr Doktor laid down the Continued on page 30

Continued from page 28 rules that if the Nazi Party was going to seize power it must make the German people lose faith not only in their elected representatives hut in the Reichstag itself; it must convince the workers that they were exploited by employers, cause the people to grow increasingly sorry for themselves, and denounce not only the Weimar Republic but the monarchy that ended with the abdication of the Kaiser in 1918.

Thus did the Nazis destroy simultaneously the faith of the people in republicanism, in monarchy and in democracy. From that to the seizure of power and the establishment of one party rule was a comparatively simple step. And the world was plunged into disaster.

1 do not believe for a moment that the British Labor Party wants to destroy democracy or lessen respect for Parliament, but it suffers from the curse of all left-wing movements, inasmuch as it must breed class division and destroy respect for the past. So successful has been their campaign against “the years of Tory misrule” that vast numbers of people believe that the Britain of their fathers was a place where human decency existed only among the poor. Nor do the propagandists take into account that there was ever such an institution as the Liberal Party or a Liberal Government. Apparently the Conservatives were in power for an unbroken period from Ethelred the Unready to Churchill the Defiant.

Unfortunately that policy of denigration applies even to the Socialists’ attitude towards the empire. Ask any child in a Socialist family what the British did with their empire, and the child would almost certainly answer: “They exploited the natives.” Well, if clearing the jungle, building harbors and railways, establishing sanitation and health services and creating employment add up to exploitation—then the charge is true. Certainly there were greedy men who cared for nothing but money, but were there no martyrs, no idealists, no dreamers?

The influence of Britain in the world has been wise, constructive and peaceful. We who were born in the outer empire have reason to know how true that statement is.

And how heavily Britain has paid in blood for her guardianship of so large a section of the world! In his letter Mr. Russell Smith quotes from a poem written in the dark days of 1918 by Rudyard Kipling:

“Across a world where all men grieve

And grieving strive the more,

The great days range like tides and leave

Our dead on every shore.”

When I first went to the U. S. after the Hitler war I was asked over and over again why the British did not clear out of India. Our presence there seemed to affront the conscience of freedom-loving America. I made such reply as seemed adequate, explaining that our whole policy in India had been to guide her people toward self-government, but I wish that I had had with me the words contained in Mr. Russell Smith’s letter:

“Nothing in historical experience or prophecy had prepared the world for the spectacle of a handful of Britons gathering into their hands the management of 250 million people living 6,000 miles away. Macaulay complained that most people in Britain in the early days of Indian occupation found it beyond comprehending, and simply hoped that nothing too bothersome would come of it. Looking back, even in the light of

successful accomplishment, it staggers the imagination.

“Here was a turmoiled agglomeration of races, nations, principalities and tribes, languages, religions, castes and customs, such as nowhere else in the world had ever gathered together in comparable space. It was a seething, interlocking mass, reduced to a state of complete anarchy by 1,000 years of devastating strife. When in this singular collection were to be found some of the most warlike races on earth the smallest measure of success must be considered in the realm of the miraculous.

“When in 1946 the British Government reached its momentous decision to relinquish the burden and hand over the reins of authority, those who had been anxiously watching the progress of Indian affairs through the smoke and flame of world events hung breathless on the outcome. It would provide the supreme test of the structure created by the long patience and genius of British administrators.

British “Wise and Cain'”

“What has emerged is awe-inspiring beyond the normal power of description. Two gigantic, antagonisticcommunities have been successfully disentangled and reconstituted into two powerful dominions—great going concerns—meeting their colossal problems with more apparent competence than all but a few of the world’s long-established nations. They hold, jointly or severally, a creditor position in a world of debt. They have an economic and industrial structure which places them among the strong of the earth. With language, law and order provided, they stand on the threshold undreamed of among Oriental races.

“Between the wonder of this eminence and the abject chaos prevailing at the beginning of the 19th century lie 150 years of British management. The net gain represents the supreme gift of the British people to the people of India—and to civilization.”

In the 15 years I have been writing these letters I can have left little doubt of my love for Britain and my admiration for her people. Yet it does not seem to me that I would have rendered justice either to Britain or my readers if I had been satisfied to do nothing more than extol her virtues and ignore her faults.

No man can be great for 24 hours a day or he would be unbearable, and no nation can be great on each of the 365 days in the year.

At the present time in Britain we are going through a political and economic experiment which amounts almost to a revolution. I have never denied the importance of that experiment or doubted that there would result some things of enduring benefit to ourselves and modern civilization. But in all revolutions there are excesses, the only difference being in the degree of violence.

Fortunately, the British people are wise of judgment and calm of spirit. The channel that separates us from Europe is one of sanity as well as water. If Great Britain goes down the lights of civilization will go with her. Because the people accept their destiny there has not been a voice of any consequence raised against the Atlantic Pact, although it links our existence irrevocably to Europe.

I salute her sense of the centuries, her faith, her courage and her powers of endurance—but with both the written and spoken word I claim the right of a democratic citizen to point out the errors of her ways when Britain is less Great than her past and her future demand. ★