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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 13. October 4, 1951

Platts-Mills on Russia and Peace

Platts-Mills on Russia and Peace

John platts-mills attended Balliol College, Oxford, as a law student from VUC, received a law degree, established a successful law practice in London, and was a British Labour M.P. from 1945 to 1950. The following notes very briefly deal with a few of the topics discussed at his meetings held recently in Wellington. It is difficult, in print, to give a satisfactory idea of his personality, suffice it to say that most of those who heard him, including those who disagreed with his views, were emphatic that he was a very fine speaker and an extremely interesting man.

In 1945 he was sent to Russia by Sir Stafford Cripps with a party of young people representing various organisations to help build up war morale in that country. In 1950 he again visited the USSR in connection with the Peace Council. Mr. Platts- Mills is obviously impressed by the Soviet Unions recovery from the war, and has never hesitated to state his opinions, regardless of displeasure from "High Places." No editor allowed him to be reported at any length, though less distinguished citizens with an anti-Russian bias are recorded in detail almost daily by the New Zealand Press. In the introduction to one of his talks Platts- Mills stated, "My impression of New Zealanders is that they have a marked independence of mind, a quality which has got me into trouble in the past. This characteristic independence of thought and mind is slipping away in country after country, and even here I suspect it has left your newspaper editors, who tell me 'We have marked independence of mind, we will block you out."

Platts-Mills said that after his visit to the USSR in 1950 he was amazed at the gigantic improvement of their living standards. "The Canadian Embassy told me that in two years the standard of living had been doubled." What interested him most was "the terrific interest that people everywhere in Russia were taking in education and culture. The theatres, ballet, opera, music were packed night after night. The thing I noticed was that at the same time the circus and other lower forms of entertainment were quite neglected. I asked Ehrenburg, the writer, about this and he said that the same sort of thing was going on in the libraries. The classics, books on art, philosophy, science and a surprising amount of Shakespeare in English as well as Russian were thumbed to death but pulp literature was not used very much. They say that criticism is not possible and not allowed in the Soviet Union but if an up and coming young writer or composer produces a new book or symphony, invitations to go and discuss their work pour on them from workers' organisations all over the country. Can we imagine that happening in our society?"

The Iron Curtain

"A myth," said Platts-Mills in reply to a question by a man who wanted to know why Russia would not let people through the Iron Curtain. "If you want to go to Russia present yourself at the Russian Legation and I am sure you will find them only too helpful—or, better still, make arrangements with your union to be sent as their representative." He went on to say that before 1939 the Russians were so anxious for people to visit their country that an Intourist scheme was operated to subsidise anyone brave enough to risk their own government's threats and go there. After the ravages of war the Russian government could not afford to carry on with this system and now passports were granted automatically by the Western nations. But "the standard of living of the Russian people is rising at such a majestic pace that the time is rapidly approaching when they will be able to open in tourist again." What was the position in Britain today—anyone who dared to go was likely to lose his job by merely announcing his intention to do so. Young people throughout the "free" world were threatened by their governments when they dared to set out for the Berlin Youth Festival, and groups of them were hindered by American bayonets on their way through Austria.

Platts-Mills stated that by the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations, Britain and France set up a series of buffer nations down the west of Russia to prevent "dangerous" ideas from escaping from that country. This fact was asserted by Lloyd George and Clemenceau, and was the origin of the Iron Curtain idea later taken up by Goebbels and Churchill.


Platts Mills said that the Western governments were telling their people that Russia did not want peace, and was preparing for war—what were the facts?

1.In December, 1950, the American ambassador to Moscow, Admiral Kirk, said that according to the best of his information (and his job is to find out) there was no sign of any special military, preparations in East Germany and Russia.
2.The "Economist" recently stated "It is clear that Russia has not started to re-arm."
3.Pastor Niemoller said in May, 1951, that he could find no evidence of extensive militarisation in East Germany.
4.It is often said that the Russians have never demobilised. On February 13, 1951, Mr. Attlee held that the USSR had 2,800,000 men under arms and at the same time stated that the Soviet Union had never demobilised—a curious remark when everyone knows that Russia had at least 15,000,000 men mobilised during the war. Strachey, in Dundee very soon after this, said that the Soviet Union had 4,500,000 men in the forces. Mr. Shinwell did better still and increased the number of Russian divisions from 175 to 200 in the course of a week. "Men who make statements like this are thoroughly disreputable. They rely on the fact that in our day, with mass propaganda and distortion people no longer consider seriously what they are told in the paper. It is the telling of the lie that is the important thing, because if you have the propaganda machine, then the man who tells the truth cannot catch up to you."
5.On May 15, 1951, the United Nations Council for Economic and Social Affairs published a long series of statistics showing that in man- hours and percentages of budgets utilised for defence purposes the USSR expenditure was well behind in proportion to that of the Western countries.

What are we to do?

"During the war," said Platts-Mills, "whenever the big three met their aides and advisers wrangled interminably and agreed on very little, but the three great leaders agreed and we won the war. So today I believe that if the great leaders of the world could be compelled to meet we should have peacc. There are those who say the Russians cannot be trusted—just supposing that they are all that these people make them out to be, and that their system alone is to blame for the present unrest, there is still no reason why we should not seek agreement. After all, you can trade with people you don't trust in civil life. If this can be done in civil life, then I say it can be done internationally. Let inspection and controls be the basis But we must not he Afraid to Seek Agreement.

—D.S.D. and D.W.