Friday, August 19, 2016

North American grand tour (1980)

Party News from the January 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

What better to do at the turn of the year than look back at one of the more enjoyable times in 1979. I was fortunate to take a five-week break in the USA and Canada last September and was able to combine a holiday with Party activity. The size of the American continent amazes me; it is a pity that capitalism denies access to its many beautiful places to the majority of people.

First stop on the trip was America’s Hyde Park — Boston Common, a place with a history of political meetings and regularly used by the World Socialist Party of the USA in the past. For a couple of hours I had a good crowd of 150, with plenty of questions. An awkward customer from Texas was soon quietened by those who wanted to hear what we had to say. It was predominantly a young crowd, and the questions were so similar to those we get in this country. The members used the meeting to give away introductory leaflets and handbills advertising the meeting the following day in Faneuil Hall. It is a small world; after the meeting a young girl came up and said she had heard me speaking in Hyde Park during August while on holiday in London. The Pope spoke on Boston Common a week later, but he didn’t take questions.

The members were far too optimistic in hiring Faneuil Hall, which holds about 700. It is a lovely building, a landmark in American history always open to visitors. We did not fill it by any means. There was only a small constant audience although many people came in, took photos of the interior (and occasionally of the speaker) and listened for a short while. My only claim to ‘fame’ in this hall is that here Edward Kennedy recently announced he would be standing for President; he used the same lectern for his notes as I had used.

South to Sullivan County Community College, attached to the State University of New York, for a lecture entitled ‘New Directions in English Politics: Views of a British Marxist’. A small but attentive audience had many questions and points in discussion.

Canada next stop - first Victoria on Vancouver Island. A half-hour TV programme with live questions, including one on the state of the British cotton industry! A two-hour interview with a reporter from the Victoria Times resulted in a reasonable write-up for the Socialist Party of Canada. The indoor meeting arranged by the Victoria Local was very satisfying, some of the audience meeting us for the first time.

A lively two-hour lunchtime session at Victoria University provided questions covering a wide range of subjects. One student, hearing our attitude to Russia, immediately walked out, saying it was the duty of socialists everywhere to support the Soviet Union. A pity he didn’t stay to argue his case.

In Vancouver, Comrade Roddy had arranged a radio and TV show. The radio phone-in programme brought a number of varied questions and many nationalist views from white Canadians concerned about the Vietnamese boat people coming to the American continent. The TV interview lasted only about eight minutes but was in prime time, a programme similar to BBC Nationwide. The interviewer fed some delightful questions which enabled me to cover a lot of ground.

From one side of Canada to the other — next stop Toronto. A young member was keen to have a go outdoors, so we held a meeting. It had been raining all day, but we gathered a few people and it gave him a chance to air his lungs. I feel sure he will be speaking there regularly this summer. Another radio interview with a sympathetic questioner brought my Canadian trip to a close.

Back down to New York for two radio shows within a couple of hours. I had 30 minutes with the Arlene Francis Show, one of the most popular in New York. She had intended to devote a lot of the programme to the British National Health Service and the current agitation in the USA for something similar. When I told the programme producer the socialist attitude to such schemes, the plan was dropped and the time was allocated to questions on our case.

The second radio show lasted for 45 minutes on a station that devotes all its programmes to minority groups. The interviewer covered a tremendous amount of ground, from the Common Market to rising nationalist groups; he was more than surprised at some of my answers. His only regret was that the programme had not gone out live; had this been so, he was sure the lines would have been ringing with questions. Transmission was due the following Sunday, but I had to give way to Fidel Castro who was in New York and took my slot. This is a station where it is hoped to get the WSP another hearing, dealing more with the Western Socialist.

My thanks to all members in the USA and Canada who did so much in arranging meetings and broadcasts. Any other SPGB speakers who can make the trip will find it a refreshing contrast to the constipated attitude in this country to socialist participation on radio and TV.
Cyril May

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