Saturday, February 13, 2016

Grim Warning (1969)

Book Review from the May 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

My Life by Sir Oswald Mosley Nelson 70s.

For a few years during the '30s the Blackshirts were familiar figures on the streets of London and other big cities. In their all-black uniforms with high necked shirts and broad, heavy-buckled belts, they were a new and disturbing feature of the British political scene—the nearest, in fact, that modern Britain had ever got to a private army.

The membership of the British Union of Fascists was never all that large, but they cast a long shadow. In their early days they had the support of powerful sections of the Right, with a vast amount of newspaper coverage exceeding that of any other group.

In one respect the early ''30s resembled today, in the amount of half-baked violence that came from so-called revolutionaries. Meetings were broken up and speakers shouted down, in the name of democracy, but as in the '60s with a footling ineptitude. The hecklers struck menacing attitudes and made bellicose noises, threatening action they had no power to carry out, in the pathetic belief that capitalism was on the point of collapse, and that the working class was behind them.

This gave the Fascists an excellent excuse for forming strong-arm squads. Fascist propagandists always claimed, when taxed with brutality, that they were only defending themselves. As a semi-military organisation, well trained and disciplined, the Blackshirts were able to make short work, both of their violent assailants and of perfectly peaceful and orderly opponents.

The founder and leader of the BUF was Sir Oswald Mosley. Flamboyant, good-looking, athletic, and a war hero. Mosley resembled the 'ideal man.' as portrayed in Edwardian boys' magazines—a tradition that survived well into the '20s and ’30s. This fact, combined with political ability and an outstanding platform manner, appealed to the type of mind that sought by quick dramatic means to cut the Gordian knot of unemployment, poverty, and disillusionment.

In this autobiography—a rather pompous but informative book—Mosley describes the twists and turns, of his political life. Born into the aristocracy at the turn of the century, he did all the expected things: went to Winchester and Sandhurst, served in the Royal Flying Corps during the first world war. was wounded and invalided out in 1916, and entered parliament in 1918 as a Tory MP. His marriage to a daughter of Lord Curzon, a former Viceroy of India and Foreign Secretary, was attended by royalty.

It was after entering parliament that Mosley began to emerge as a controversial figure. Bitterly opposing British action in Ireland, he left the Conservative party to become an independent. Later he joined the I.LP. and the Labour Party. Here he once again became controversial, embracing Keynesian theories that were unpopular at the time. He was regarded by many as the Labour Party's great white hope. He became a member of the 1929 Labour government, [only] to resign over its handling of unemployment. This marked the end of Mosley's career as an orthodox politician.

It was during the next decade that Mosley rose to prominence, hitting the headlines more than any other politician out of office. In the confusion that followed the collapse of the Labour government, and the crushing defeat suffered by the Labour party, new leftist organisations sprang up like mushrooms. One of these, the New Party, had Mosley as one of its founders. It was this party that slowly emerged as the British Union of Fascists.

The fascist movement in Britain reached its peak in the late '30s Just what would have happened to fascism in Britain, had it been left alone by events, is difficult to say. But like fascist parties elsewhere it slowly became overshadowed by Nazi Germany, and the drift into war. From about 1937 on, as the line-up became clearer, the B.U.F. found itself more and more unpopular.

The great irony of the second world war was that nationalists like Mosley found themselves in opposition to the war, while the Communist Party became its most ardent supporter. The war led to the suppression of the B.U.F, and the detention without trial of Mosley and other prominent fascists. After the war Mosley was to emerge into politics again as leader of the Union Movement, but never again to be prominent

Fascism was a product of its age. Slumps and unemployment, memories of the hideous losses of the first world war, and an exaggerated fear of Russia produced the climate in which it flourished. Fascism is for all time a grim warning to workers of the perils of short-cuts to salvation.
Les Dale

 

A Centenary: Isambard Brunel (1959)

Brunel in 1857.
From the October 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an obscure position on Platform One at London's Paddington Station the traveller may notice, with fleeting interest, a plaque which commemorates Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In early Victorian attire, he gazes across at the Gothic-like structure of wrought and cast iron, where his name once meant so much. One hundred years ago, this versatile engineer died, but there is still plenty of evidence of the part which he played in the days when British capitalism established its dominant position in the world.

Mechanical Environment
Brunei came from a well-to-do family. His father—Marc Brunel—was born in the Vexin area of France, where he studied for the priesthood. He left the church for the French Navy and, when the Revolution came, fled to America. Here, as American industry began to develop, he established himself as a successful surveyor and architect. He came to England, where he set up a factory for the mass production of pulleys, of which, during the Napoleonic Wars, the British Navy was using 70,000 a year. He later turned his attention to the cutting and shaping of shipbuilding logs (an early form of pre-fabbing) and the mass production of boots for the army, using 16 different processes to turn out some 400 pairs a day. In 1821, Marc Brunel fell on hard times and was imprisoned for debt.

So it was that Isambard Kingdom Brunei grew up in an environment of mechanical exploration and adventure. Not only in his own family, but all around, could be seen the physical manifestations of industrialism. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the output of coal and iron and the products of the manufactories and the reformed agriculture produced an insistent need for faster and bulkier land transport. In the Cornish tin mine areas and the Durham coalfields the Trevethicks and Stevensons were answering the demand by building the new railways. It is in this field that Brunei is best remembered.

Great Western Railway
After working with his father on the Rotherhithe Tunnel in the 1820's, Brunel designed and constructed several bridges and docks, notably at Plymouth, Brentford and Milford Haven. In 1833 he was appointed engineer to the Great Western Railway and for this company he did some of his greatest work. He was responsible for the first line to Bristol, with all the bridges and tunnels. (Part of his work consisted of negotiating with obstructive landowners). He designed the Wharncliffe Viaduct at Hanwell and the great iron bridge which crosses the river at Saltash in Cornwall. Later he turned to building ocean-going steamships larger than any previously known. In 1838 his Great Western started the first regular steamships service between Great Britain and America, making the voyage in the unheard of time of 15 days. This was followed in 1845 by the Great Britain, the first large vessel to use the screw propellor, which plied between Liverpool and New York.

Brunel also had his failures. His championing of the 7 foot gauge, which started the famous "Battle of the Gauges,” broke down in 1892, when the Great Western Railway adopted the standard gauge. On the South Devon Railway he experimented with a system of atmospheric propulsion, which proved a failure. Perhaps his most spectacular flop was the paddle steamer Great Eastern, a huge folly launched in 1858. The story of the Great Eastern is one of delays and casualties—it was never a financial success and ended as a submarine cable layer. The strain of building her broke Brunei's health. He had a stroke on the day he was watching her engines being tested—5th September, 1859—and ten days later he was dead.

Kings and Servers
Typical of his time, Brunei was impatient of restrictions on invention and careless of public opinion of his work. He reached his fame when the designers and builders of early industrial capitalism were raising their structures to the glory of Utility, Profit and Speed. Those were the days when the glass- vaulted roofs of Paddington and St. Pancras Stations had replaced the cathedrals and churches into which the wealthy landowner and merchant had once poured their surplus. When the railway viaducts and the Stock Markets took the place of the Cloth Halls—and King Coal sat in state on the High Throne, with child labour for his server.

Brunel's railways carried the products of the appalling working conditions of the time, when coal miners seemed scarcely human and children were lucky to work no more than a twelve hour day in the textile mills. For the workers the new capitalism meant hard work, low pay and indifferent food eaten in gaunt, soulless tenements scowling down on the Main Line. It meant squalid back-to-back houses crouching around the pit head and the viciousness of dockland. No gift of science or brilliance of design was directed that way. Here lived the beasts of burden, gin soaked and humble in their misery. In its exciting day of expansion, capitalism spurned the very people who made it possible.

No blame to Brunel for this. He was an inventive master whose abilities were used by a vicious and inhuman social system. Remember that, if you ever take a look at that plaque.
Jack Law

Education For What? (1974)

From the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

When it became clear that Industrial Capitalism was to be the road along which Britain was to travel in the future it became equally necessary that it should lay down plans for the education of its citizens. So we had the Education Act of 1870 where for the first time education for the working class was to be provided free and was to be compulsory. And so whilst the ruling class continued to be educated for leadership in industry, government, the Church and the armed forces, a basic education was visualized for those whose future lay as machine operators in the factories. This was the first stage in the evolution of our modern educational system under capitalism.

Karl Mannheim’s view of traditional education is “Education is rightly understood if we consider it as one of the techniques of influencing human behaviour and as a means of social control.” This is true in general of education throughout the history of class societies, but mass education comes about in co-relation with mass production of commodities and the act of 1870 brought in the era of “mass education”. In his work Diagnosis of our Time Mannheim, again, says:
I think it was the great merit of the Marxist approach as compared with the Idealistic one, that it realized once and for all that the life of culture and the sphere of valuations within it depend on the existence of certain social conditions among which . . . the class structure is of primary importance.
Despite advances in teaching techniques, the introduction of new subjects and the growing attention towards aestheticism (freedom of expression in art etc.) one agrees that Mannheim’s statement, i.e. social control, is still the underlying motive. Unwittingly he foreshadowed the advent and intention of the latest innovation—the Comprehensive School—when he advocated the introduction of an educational system which would mean “. . . the improvement of opportunities for the people to train themselves for leadership . . . and the selection of the best in the various fields of social life”. This, we may look upon as the second stage; one that has been forced upon the capitalist class by means of the rapid growth of technological science.

The capitalist world in general and perhaps the USA in particular has hardly yet got over the shock of the USSR being the first in the race to send a man up into space. Such was the blow to America’s educationists that when a book What Ivan Knows that Janie Doesn't was printed and distributed to American schools, a complete revision of American educational techniques was implemented. Russia’s success was of course the result of her implementing the Khrushchev Thesis of 1955 wherein he advocated the emergence of “the new man” who was to be educated to the fundamentals of technology and production. This new-type education (the Polytechnic school) is being hastily copied in Britain and elsewhere outside the Soviet Union. Russia’s educational system then like all others is geared among other things to provide a new meritocracy of scientists, technologists, artists and athletes etc. who will compete and if possible surpass those of the West.

Capitalism cannot allow talent to slip through the net. It is a far cry from 1871 when, at the passing of Forster’s Education Act, a sum of money was allocated which was roughly the amount spent on the annual upkeep of the Royal stables, to the present-day figure which comprises the biggest public expenditure next to that of the armed forces. As Michael Young says, we are witnessing a meritocracy of talent (which is nothing more than saying that clever working-class children are looked upon more than ever as being vital for the furtherance of capitalist technology and the maintenance of its ideology.)

Lord Butler, former politician and an academic, is clear on the role of education. He stated (in relation to students) “. . . the type of capital investment that will accrue with every year . . . and which has enormous value.” The American educationist Gardener states clearly the advantage accruing from education based on “contest mobility” when he says: - “A society like ours has no choice but to seek the development of human potentialities at all levels. It takes more than an educated élite to run a complex technological system”.

Education and élitism in general has hitherto looked to the “genius” as the summit of our culture. Modem capitalism has been forced to abandon this view. Future Socialist society will come about and will be sustained —as present-day capitalism is sustained—by “ordinary” men and women. The only difference will be that their education will be fitting for a free people in a free world.

Education is looked upon as a means of integrating the young into the logic of the prevailing system and the means of bringing about conformity to it. Socialist society will see to it that all will discover how to participate in the transformation of the world for the benefit of all.

John Berger, art critic, stated at a recent lecture sponsored by the Schools Council:
As soon as the young are encouraged to look and to analyse what they see, the inhumanity in our society is clear. The visual evidence of what is wrong is overwhelming . . . and I’m not here thinking of badly designed teapots or vulgar linoleum.
Berger was obviously concerned with the deplorable standards of aestheticism and the shoddy artifacts produced by capitalism, and he is right of course. Socialists are concerned with these, naturally, but are more concerned with the shoddy lives that the vast majority of the world’s people are forced to lead.

Socialists have a great regard for education knowing that it is only an educated working class that can bring about Socialism. Despite the state education afforded to children and adults today, despite the mass of capitalist propaganda, Socialists strive to educate and propagate the knowledge that will finally oust that which in the past and up to the present has helped to subjugate and exploit the world’s workers.
W. Brain