Book Review from the December 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard
"I Took off My Tie" by Hugh Massingham (W. Heinemann, LTD.). 10s. 6d.
Mr. Massingham is an author of some reputation. Impelled by "curiosity and struck by the extraordinary fact that two communities were living side by side, each with its own peculiar customs, superstitions, culture . . . . and that each was ignorant of the other," he visited, and decided to live, in the East End of London, to see for himself how workers fare.
In dealing with a subject that has been dealt with before he succeeds in maintaining a sense of proportion. He does not dramatise, neither is he sentimental. He writes in simple language, and stimulates the imagination. Anyone living in the East End will recognise an accurate picture of life and work there. But what a drab picture. Dirt, noise, ignorance and sordid poverty . . .
Mr. Massingham seems to have met prejudice, suspicion and animosity wherever he went, even though he "took off his tie" and tried to be "one of us like." The people he met seem to possess a vocabulary which extended very little beyond a few fruity idioms, which, on paper, might excite literary-minded persons, but gives the impression that the worker is just a mental bumpkin. The trouble with Mr. Massingham's book is that it is superficial, and does not get below the surface. It leaves the impression that the horrible drabness of slum life is unalterable, something the worker is ordained to live. To be precise, it is literary, a picture in words; a picture which paints only what is seen, and nothing potential.
Mr. Massingham might be recommended to extend his investigations further into "the extraordinary fact" that "two communities: live side by side. He might enquire why there are two classes in society, why one of them is poverty-stricken, ill-educated, dispossessed, and has to sell its labour-power in order to live whilst the other possesses the means of living, does not need to work, and has leisure and the refinements of life. To do this he would not have to "take off his tie," nor live in the East End. He need only remove the literary wool from over his eyes and apply himself to a study of capitalism. He might then produce a more useful book, useful from a worker's or a Socialist's point of view.
A. G. A.