Konni Zilliacus – 1945 Maiden Speech

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Konni Zilliacus in the House of Commons on 23rd August 1945.

I venture to take part in this Debate so soon after entering this House, because this subject is one very close to my heart. While I was still in the Army at the end of the last war, I decided to try to enter the service of the League of Nations, and I succeeded in that attempt. For 19 years I was an official of the League of Nations Secretariat. I entered the service of the League because I believed then as I believe now that world government is the only alternative to world war, and I believed then and I believe now that this country has a very special part to play in the great adventure of leading mankind into the paths of peace.

Some of the founders of the Covenant looked upon the League as the first step towards world government. It is my belief that the League failed largely because we lost the urge and the vision necessary to follow up that first step. At any rate, we did lose, and the second world war was the penalty. That is the price we have paid for our second chance, perhaps our last chance as has been said here before. Presented to us as our second and last chance, the Charter of the United Nations inspires mixed feelings, in some of us at any rate. On the one hand we are profoundly grateful to have been vouchsafed a second chance, and, of course, we must ratify this Charter and make the best of it; but on the other hand, 27 years after the launching of the Covenant and after six years of the second world war, this Charter is a very poor and timid affair. The Covenant, it will be remembered, was regarded by large sections of public opinion as a deep disappointment and as a very poor and unsatisfactory proposition, but the Charter of to-day is only the Covenant writ large. There are some improvements certainly, but there is not very much added to the Covenant. There is, of course, ode enormous difference, and a very great and beneficial difference, and that is that the Charter was first ratified, and by the overwhelming majority of 89 votes to two, by that redoubtable body, the United States Senate, which an American friend of mine once described as the graveyard of all the fallen hopes of world peace.

The second important fact is that one of the three foundation members of this Charter of the United Nations is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I venture to believe that the third and equally great fact is that this Charter is being presented for approval to this House by the first Labour Government to have a majority of its own. In a world where long-range rockets and flying bombs, world-wide air travel, television and wireless communication have become commonplace, the Charter strikes one rather, when presented as a foundation for building world peace, as a proposition to enter a horse and buggy race at Brooklands. In the light of the explosion of the atomic bomb, which has bludgeoned our imagination and bruised our souls, one feels rather that on arrival at Brooklands in our horse and buggy we find that the event has been changed without notice into a jet-plane race.

That is why I welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement the other day that the discovery of the atom bomb might make a revaluation of the whole situation, especially in the sphere of international relations, necessary, and the even stronger words that fell from the lips of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the opening meeting of the Preparatory Commission for the United Nations, when he said that the effect of the atom bomb on the organisation of security was such that, in the whole security sphere, a great many of our previous conceptions and a great many of the assumptions on which the San Francisco Conference had worked might have to be radically revised.

I hope that we take the San Francisco Charter in our stride, and ask ourselves incidentally, “Where do we go from here?” The Charter provides for its own amendment and can be used as the starting point for supplementary treaties and agreements of every kind based on this or that provision of its many clauses. Let me deal with one or two of the points that seem to me to arise in the present situation within the main features of the Charter. I believe that we should proclaim boldly that we regard the Charter as nothing more or less than an embryo system of world government, and intend to work as far as and as fast as we can to develop it in that direction. At the end of the last war, when the Covenant was first being elaborated to the world, a great statesman, Field-Marshal Smuts, with that union of lofty idealism and practical wisdom to which the Prime Minister paid such a just tribute yesterday, produced a remarkable pamphlet, “The League of Nations: a Practical Suggestion.” It was really a kind of public statement more than a pamphlet, for Field-Marshal Smuts was then a member of the Imperial War Cabinet. In that pamphlet he said that what we wanted was a League of Nations that would be real, practical and effective as a system of world government.

I suggest that nothing less than that should be the aim of British foreign policy to-day, and that all secondary problems and immediate issues should be approached in the light of that over-riding major purpose. It makes a real difference to the way in which we solve immediate issues if we approach them from the point of view of working for the realisation, as the Labour Party’s policy in 1935 put it, bit by bit and step by step, of a co-operative world commonwealth, or, as we approach the Charter, of the maximum infringement of sovereignty within which we will try to make ourselves as comfortable as we can on the basis of the balance of power. So much for our major long-term policy in approaching the problems of organisation raised in the new Charter.

I come to the economic and social foundations of this new peace machinery. The Charter is a great improvement in this respect and a great advance on the Covenant. For the first time, the improvement of social and economic activities and relations has been realised, as it were, officially and as a part of the structure of peace. I want to suggest four points that, I think, are worthy of attention in this connection. The first is the need for making the new specialist agencies, or, as I should prefer to call them, functional organisations, comprehensive, combining this new machinery and the bits that remain of the old machinery. For instance, the International Food and Agricultural Organisation should absorb whatever is left of the International Institute of Agriculture. The new World Health Organisation should take over what is left of the League’s Health Organisation and the old pre-last war international Public Health Office in Paris. The new organisation for transport and communications should find room within its framework for the universal Postal Union, and so on.

Second, there should be a sufficient measure of central direction and impulse to this whole rather elaborate and scattered machinery. That is the point to which my right hon. Friend and former colleague from Geneva, the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter), has already called attention. It is a serious problem because, owing to the degree to which States have clung to their independence of this new machinery, the danger is that, with the very multifarious economic, social and technical activities, we shall have Governments succumbing to the temptation, either of saying that they will not do a thing for fear of offending certain sections of public opinion, or of not doing a thing because they do not want to do it, and so “passing the buck” from one committee and conference to another ad infinitum. We saw the beginning of that kind of thing at Geneva, and it would be a pity if the scattered and loose nature of this new machinery should allow such a situation to arise again. Fortunately, the provisions of the Charter are so vaguely and lightly sketched that there is room for a great deal of initiative in this respect, and I hope that the Government will take the initiative in framing these new proposals on lines that will endow the Social and Economic Council with adequate powers of supervision, direction and co-ordination, and that it will base this organisation on the budget and general directives of the Assembly.

I hope, too, that the principle of the International Labour Organisation, the principle of direct functional representation which has been found so successful, will be extended to all the specialised agencies. For instance, in the organisation concerned with international economic relations, I hope there will be room not only for boards of trade, but also for national and international chambers of commerce, for national and international co-operative associations and trade union organisations; and in the transport organisation I hope to see the great international shipping companies, the national and international associations concerned with coastal traffic, railways and other forms of communication, as well as the international transport workers’ federations, seamen’s unions, railwaymen’s unions, postal workers’ unions and every kind of sectional interest directly concerned with these organisations. The arguments for that are the same as the arguments for applying the principle to the International Labour Organisation.

I come to the question of international trusteeship, to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister drew attention yesterday. As this system stands in the Charter, it does not advance us very far, for in Chapter 12, Article 76, it is provided that the principle of the open door shall be applied, subject to the overriding interest of the native inhabitants. That is a very true and sound principle, but the Charter allows it to be applied by the colonial powers on their own judgment and consideration. Article 77 provides that Governments may, if they wish, voluntarily put their colonies within the international trusteeship system, but are under no obligation to do so if they do not choose. The system applies primarily only to the colonies taken from enemy Powers in the last war and the colonies that may be taken in this war. So that what the system amounts to in the Charter is a very high-sounding formula for allowing us to take the colonies of the ex-enemy States and putting them within our Imperial preference system.

The Labour Party have a policy on this subject, which I hope will be in some form, in outline or principle, the policy of His Majesty’s Government. The Labour Party in 1943, at their annual conference, adopted a post-war policy on colonies in which they proposed, on the basis of reciprocity, to offer to put all non-self-governing colonies under a system of international trusteeship, and to apply to that system the principle of the open door, subject to the over-riding rights of the native inhabitants, but taking the judgment of the International Trusteeship Council on whether or not any particular measure of discrimination should or should not be regarded as necessary in the interests of the native inhabitants, with the right of appeal to the court on questions of law and fact arising out of such matters. I hope that that is still our policy, for, if that is the policy of His Majesty’s Government, we shall infuse honesty and vitality into provisions that at present seem somewhat hollow.

The central question of the organisation of peace is, of course, the question of the distribution and use of power. I welcome the fact that power in the Charter is to be openly vested in the permanent members of the Council, that is, the Big Five. I have no objection to the so-called veto of the Big Five. In the first 10 years of the League, the League worked effectively only because it was, in fact, run by England and France who have been Allies in the war, and still could pull together. They had to take account of the views of other States, because the votes of other States were necessary, and they were bound by the obligations of the Covenant; but they did, in fact, control the League jointly on the basis of the obligations of the Covenant, with due regard to the rights of smaller States, and although they were theoretically bound to apply sanctions to each other, such a contingency was unthinkable. As from 1934 onwards, the Labour Party advocated the revival of the collective system, laid in ruins by the appeasement policy of the self-styled realists, but the conclusion of an alliance between France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union within the League as the steel framework of peace in Europe, and by establishing the closest possible co-operation and association between this group of States and the United States as the foundation of world peace. That, I believe, was a close anticipation of the central security provision of the new Charter, and I believe if that policy had been adopted when it was first pressed by the Labour Party 10 years ago, we should never have had the second world war.

Let us assume for a moment that the primary problem of how to keep the Big Five together has been solved from the point of view of security. Obviously, if the whole of security rests on the solidarity of the Big Five, the major problem of security is not the assembling of international military forces to deal with aggression so much as the political problem of how to ensure that the Big Five pull together and do not fall apart. As long as they pull together, there is no aggressor in the world that would dare to stand up to them for five minutes. They therefore do not need any of the elaborate provisions of the Charter for assembling international forces from the ends of the earth, which is a dubious expedient and politically quite superfluous. All that is unnecessary as long as the Big Five pull together.

There is a secondary problem, the genuine police force problem of maintaining law and order. If the Security Council is to function effectively, it needs some kind of what I should like to call a handy all-purposes executive arm. The Labour Party’s policy contained in “The International Post-war Settlement,” for a genuine international police force to be put under the command of some commander appointed by the military staff committee of the Security Council, would provide the proper body for discharging the routine functions of maintaining world law and order that will fall to the lot of the Security Council. We have had two instances recently which may serve as cases in point. The first was the recent trouble in Syria and Lebanon. It would have been very valuable if we had had the Security Council in being and an international police force at its orders to maintain law and order in those territories, without arousing the kind of suspicion and national animosity that were aroused by the way in which the incidents had to be handled under existing conditions.

Again, we have had a good deal of potential trouble and unrest between Greece and her Northern neighbours. There, too, the kind of force that I am suggesting, and which is suggested in the Labour Party’s foreign policy, would be an extremely useful kind of force to carry out any routine police duties and investigations required by the situation. The Charter is an advance on the Covenant in that it rules out national intervention—the system by which a great Power would land marines or something of that sort to take care of the lives and property of its subjects in the territory of some other State which, in the view of the great Power, had not maintained order and which was too weak to resent this action, and such an international force would be useful to the Security Council to fill the vacuum thereby created. An international police force would carry out such policing duties as were necessary under the orders of the Security Council.

What about the major political problem of keeping the Big Five together? I believe that it turns very largely on whether agreement can be reached between the Great Powers on the question of their armaments. If there is any kind of competition or suspicion between them as regards their armaments, it is impossible for them to work together effectively, and any kind of alliance between them will not be worth the paper it is written on. On the other hand, if we do conclude an agreement on armaments, then we have laid the foundation for a solid working agreement as partners and allies in upholding law and order in the world. The question of the atomic bomb is crucial to that issue, because so long as we withhold the secret of the atomic bomb from the Soviet Union we make ourselves directly responsible for starting a race in atomic bomb research, which will be far worse than a race in armaments; indeed, it will be the most fiendish form of a race in armaments. I realise that the Government may have difficulty in stating now their position on that issue, but I do hope that they will at least repudiate the attitude adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who declared firmly and emphatically his opposition to sharing this secret with any other State in the world. A gloss has been given to that statement, perhaps quite unjustly, in certain parts of the Press. It has been stated by some diplomatic correspondents, for instance, that now there is a serious shift in the balance of power owing to our monopoly of the secret of the atomic bomb, and that from now on an Anglo-American bloc will function more or less as a unit in international affairs and will use their improved position in the balance of power to take a much tougher line with the Soviet Union about Eastern European affairs. Whatever hesitation the Government may perhaps quite rightly have about stating their positive policy on this matter before meeting the other Foreign Secretaries in council, I hope that they will make it perfectly clear that they do not propose to play Anglo-American atomic power politics against the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe.

So much for the question of power, in relation to the holding together of the Big Five, which is the central issue in making this new world organisation work. I should like to touch on the essential problem in its relation to our European policy. Let me take as a starting point two statements made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs during his magnificent address to the Blackpool Labour Conference last Whitsuntide. He said that the United States of America was a country which believed in private enterprise and that the Soviet Union had socialised her internal economy. Britain, he said, stood between the two with a tremendously progressive urge towards the socialised economy we need. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education just now made the same point that we stand, in many respects, half-way between the Soviet Union and the United States. It is a very important point, to which I shall return in a moment. The Blackpool statement went on: I think it was the late Lord Beaconsfield who once said Britain and France joined together are an insurance for peace, but Britain, France and Russia joined together are a security for peace. How can an Anglo-Franco-Soviet combination serve to keep together the Big Five? I believe it can do so in this way. The United States and the Soviet Union are at opposite poles in this social crisis which, at present, is convulsing the world. The real danger for peace—let us face it quite frankly and honestly—is that the Big Five may break up because their two greatest members drift apart owing to their too-different approach to the paramount social issue. But under no conceivable government on either side of the Atlantic could a breach be opened between the English-speaking nations wide enough to threaten peace. Thank God for that; we have reached the stage of civilisation in our mutual relations where that possibility is definitely ruled out. On the other hand, American reactions, I believe, could and might have pulled a Tory England out of Europe and into opposition to the Soviet Union, whereas American Liberalism and trade unionism will always be strong enough to prevent a breach between an Anglo-Franco-Soviet combination and the United States. Therefore, our way to keep the Big Five together is to cleave to our Alliance with the Soviet Union through thick and thin, and let nothing come between us or cloud the good relations and feelings which exist.

For what purpose and on what basis can we and France and the Soviet Union co-operate and form a firm and enduring combination within the United Nations Security Council? I believe we can do that by dedicating ourselves to the reconstruction, the unification and pacification of Europe. We are pledged to co-operate by the Anglo-Soviet Alliance, and I venture to believe we should work towards converting the Anglo-Soviet and Franco-Soviet Alliances into a comprehensive all-in agreement embracing on one side Great Britain, France and our Western European neighbours grouped in some form of economic and political union, and on the other the Soviet Union and the Eastern European group of States associated with the Soviet Union. The immediate objective of that combination, of course, would be to apply the provisions of the peace settlement to the ex-enemy States, but the constructive long-term purpose would be the unification and reconstruction of Europe. In that enterprise we could confidently enlist the co-operation and friendship of the United States and, so far as they were relevant to the situation, of China also.

On what basis can Europe be reconstructed? The point has been rightly made that political democracy is essential to the reconstruction of Europe, but I think it is equally important to make the point that Europe can be successfully reconstructed for peace only on the basis of a sweeping advance towards Socialism. I hope that His Majesty’s Government will make their position quite clear on that point, even at the risk of losing the appearance of national unity in foreign policy. The Labour Party declared in its own foreign policy statement, “The International Post-War Settlement,” that Socialism was a fundamental necessity to the realisation of our international aims as well as of our domestic aims. Why did we say that? The answer is quite simple; it is not even new. It is contained in Palmerston’s statement, “If you ask me what a good foreign policy is, I reply that it is a good home policy,” and in Gladstone’s statement, “If you want to understand a country’s foreign policy, you must examine its domestic conditions, for the two are inseparable.”

To-day, it is less than ever possible to separate domestic policy from foreign policy, for both are concerned primarily with issues of social justice and economic organisation. The dividing line between them has become so thin as to be well-nigh invisible. In home affairs we have national unity as regards our aims. We all want more houses, full employment, social security, better health services, better education and better pensions for the aged, and the only rock on which our national unity is split is the all-important question of the means to attain those aims. We believe that certain measures of nationalisation, a limited but definite advance towards Socialism, form the essential basis for reconstruction in this country. The other side do not believe that. I venture to think that in foreign policy we have the same unity of aims and the same difference as regards the methods necessary to attain them.

While those of us who sit on opposite sides of this House can debate this question, thank Heaven, in a spirit of mutual understanding, and a desire for compromise and agreement, those who represent the same two points of view in Europe are standing on opposite sides of the barricades with arms in their hand. These things are being settled by Fascist counter-revolution and by social revolution led by the resistance movements. The overthrow of Fascism in Europe has meant the downfall of capitalism, for the reason that the defenders of the old social order in Europe, with a few honourable exceptions who were promptly liquidated or expropriated, threw in their lot with Fascism and have been dragged down in its fall. They started as appeasers, continued as collaborators, and ended as Quislings; they are now pushing up the daisies or facing firing squads. The resistance movements, on the other hand, are based on the working class, and largely on Socialist and Communist leadership. Their reconstruction programmes involve a sweeping advance toward socialism. On the issue of political democracy and civil liberty we stand with the U.S.A. in opposition to the views of the regimes in Eastern Europe. We are entitled to press our views of political democracy and civil liberty. I am glad we have abandoned the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of European countries, because I think the job of reconstruction cannot be hindered by the claims of sovereignty.

The political formulae of Western democracy displaced from their social context can mean anything or nothing. I speak feelingly because I have seen three years of intervention in Russia conducted in the name of non-interference with the internal affairs of Russia, claiming to be solely concerned with political democracy and self-determination in Russia without taking sides either with the Right or Left. I have seen, at Geneva, years of appeasement of the Fascist powers, conducted in the name of non-interference. I have seen some people defend non-intervention in Spain. As for Greece, I leave hon. Members to draw their own conclusions. I do beg the Government to make it clear that when they are using this same formula of political democracy and self-determination they axe doing so in the context of the social struggle that is taking place in Europe, and that they will make it clear that in no circumstances and under no pretext whatever will British-controlled economic and military power be used to bolster up reaction and counter-revolution in Europe. Having pressed our view of political democracy and civil liberties, I hope we will also say that we share with the Soviet Union the view that economic reconstruction in Europe can operate successfully only on the basis of a substantial advance towards Socialism, because the old social order has been smashed materially and compromised morally beyond repair in Europe, and that we agree with the reconstruction programmes of the resistance movements under their Socialist and Communist leadership, wish them every success, and would be glad to co-operate with them on the lines indicated in their reconstruction programmes.

Let us say frankly that we believe Socialism is a fundamental necessity to the reconstruction of Europe and the spread of political democracy and liberty in Europe. Those were our words when we were in opposition; let us stick to this policy now that we are in power. We have acted on that belief in this country; let us act on it abroad. The necessity for Socialism does not stop at our frontiers, but expands throughout Europe. A new wind is blowing throughout the world and we are part of the wind. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said a few days ago that he hoped it would be understood that the coming into power of Labour meant something different in this House. It means something different throughout the world. For this election, if you like, is our British version of the Russian Revolution, or, better still, perhaps it bears the same relation to the Russian Revolution and to its successor, the resistance movements in Europe, as the Government and Parliament that brought in the Reform Bill of 1832 bore to the French Revolution, and just as the Whigs and Liberals of the 19th century made no bones about their sympathy and support for the middle-class revolutions that were engaged in cleaning up the remnants of feudalism and the power of the landed aristocracy on the Continent, I hope that Labour in this country, to-day as yesterday, will send its sympathy and support and give its co-operation to the resistance movements which are working for a new social order in Europe. Let the message go forth that the hopes of those in other countries who greeted the advent of a Labour Government with joy are not mistaken, that their great expectations are not to be dashed to the ground, that we are not merely a Tory “Caretaker” Government in foreign affairs, but that foreign policy from now on will be inspired by a new vision, a new spirit, a new hope, new aims and new purposes, so that those who have died in the war shall not have died in vain and that this country, the Mother of Parliaments, will once more take the lead in this difficult art of living, the art of government, and apply that leadership and new faith to that enormously difficult problem of converting the tangled and miserable world of to-day into a mankind living free and at peace under an effective system of world government.