Thursday, September 23, 2021

Obituary: George Meddemmen (2004)

Obituary from the September 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are saddened to have to report the death at the end of June, at the age of 84, of our comrade George Meddemmen. He was born in Camberwell, South London, in 1920 and joined the old Bloomsbury branch in 1947. In later years he was a member of Central Branch living in Rayleigh, Essex. Comrade Meddemmen taught art and design and much of his contribution to the party was in this field, designing for instance posters and the front covers and inside illustrations of the pamphlets on war, Ireland and the miners’ strike we published in the 1980s. Asked last year to record his reminiscences he wrote: “I was on demob leave in 1946 after six year war ‘service’ in the artillery (a number of my works, painted during the Italian campaign, are in the archives of the War Museum) and thanks to Tony Turner in Hyde Park, I learned of the party and joined. Apart from my artwork, I’ve done little of note for the cause. My dizzy heights were reached in the 50s, when I chaired one of the Party’s Sunday evening public meetings in a T. U. club in Gt. Newport St, W1. (Those meetings were very well attended, before TV gripped so many people’s bottoms.)” Which shows that being a soldier is not a bar to later being receptive to socialist ideas.


Blogger's Note:
There is a recording of George Meddemmen speaking of his war years (and his early life) available on SoundCloud.

Obituary: Daphne Cottis (2004)

Obituary from the September 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are sorry to also have to report the death in June of comrade Daphne Cottis of Southend who originally joined the Party – in Southend – in 1944. Older and not-so-old members will recall that she often represented Southend branch at Conference, together with her husband Harold (who died three years ago), as well as volunteering to run the literature stall that is always set up on such occasions and maintaining a Socialist Standard round locally. She was also a keen supporter of Southend United football club and for many years acted as a steward at their home matches.

Socialist exclusive (1984)

Editorial from the September 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

In September 1904 the Socialist Standard came alive and politically kicking: the first issue of the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s journal declared:
. . . we are all members of the working class, and cannot hope that our articles will always be finely phrased, but we shall at least endeavour to lay before you on every occasion a sane and sound pronouncement on all matters affecting the welfare of the working class. What we lack in refinement of style we shall make good by the depth of our sincerity and the truth of our principles.
Today, we can look back on that promise and ask how it has stood up to the test of eighty years during which the events of capitalism have given many an opportunity for it to be kept or broken.

In the First World War we might have gone the way of a host of confused reformists and, telling ourselves that we were only postponing the revolution, given support to one or other of the rival capitalist groups who were in conflict. That would not have been a postponement of socialism; it would have been its abandonment as our policy. Instead our socialist principles demanded that we stood out against the slaughter of workers by each other; “. . .no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working class blood . . ." was how the Socialist Standard expressed our opposition to capitalism’s wars.

Before that war had run its course there was the Russian revolution, which offered false hope to many workers seeking for some relief from the miseries of capitalist society. These hopes, of course, persist to this day; it is still possible to find “communists" who argue that capitalism in Russia and its allied states is different in some basic way from capitalism elsewhere. The SPGB have never entertained such delusions and as early as 1918 the Socialist Standard exposed the undemocratic and anti-socialist actions of the Bolsheviks, pointing out that the new rulers in Russia would have no option but to organise the development of capitalism there with all that that meant in terms of the repression and exploitation of the Russian workers.

The twenties and thirties brought much questioning of capitalism, of whether the slump meant that as a social system it was about to collapse, of whether it would be better organised under a Labour government including an element of ex-trade unionists and the like. Such ideas could only originate in an ignorance of the true nature of capitalism, of how it operates and of what is needed to abolish it. Socialists knew that the system would not, could not, collapse of its own accord. We knew that organisations like the Labour Party, with their promises to run capitalism stealthily in the interests of the working class while they reformed it out of existence, were attempting the impossible. The Socialist Standard put these attitudes; we were not surprised when the two Labour governments failed and when capitalism ground on its repressive, destructive way. Neither, unlike so many people who had put their faith in such delusions, were we disillusioned. Socialist principles had shown that reformism is futile, a diversion of the energies which should be devoted to bringing about a social revolution. Labour government could be no more successful than any other in controlling the anarchies of capitalism. The society of class ownership could be ended only when the working class in the majority understood the need for this and how socialism would be the next stage in social development. Nothing less would do.

The confusion and the irrelevance of the reformists was exposed again by the Second World War, when they argued that democracy was at stake and that the defeat of Nazi Germany (with which they falsely equated the safeguarding of democracy) must take priority over all other objectives including, inevitably, the struggle for socialism. Socialists again opposed that war. arguing that democracy was not an issue in it and that in any case democracy could be defended only through the will of a consciously democratic working class — which meant, in fact, by socialists. The war would not, we argued, make the world safe for freedom nor for peace. Since 1945 dictatorships and repression of the most brutal and pitiless kind have flourished throughout the world and millions have died in wars during this time of “peace”. The socialist case, which the Standard stated with all the force promised in that first issue, has been fully justified.

Since 1945 there has been small reason to feel that there has been any decline in the adherents of the case for reformism. The problems of capitalism persist, indeed in many cases they can be said to worsen. This is the nuclear age, when war promises to be an instant, all-obliterating matter from which settled human life may not be able to recover. World-wide, famine regularly wipes out tens of millions of people.

In many countries there are clumps of refugees, homeless through the conflicts of capitalism and the system’s artificial, inhuman national barriers. Poverty in its simplest form, in which workers struggle day in and day out to make ends meet and to gain access to the most unremarkable of life’s needs, persists. In 1984 poverty has the added impetus of unemployment, to which government’s inevitable response is to tighten the screw on workers, to grind down their already perilous hold on adequacy. But to each of these problems the reformists have their apparent, seductive answer. War, they say, can be eliminated by the capitalist powers agreeing not to behave like capitalist powers. The same can be said about nuclear weapons; the mighty states which have made them should simply agree that it has all been a waste of time and throw them away. Famine can be solved through charity, poverty by an adjustment of state benefits. And so on.

The reality of capitalism is that such problems are endemic to the system. They flow directly from its basis and in one form or another they will endure for as long as capitalism lasts. The reformist case is that capitalism need not be abolished (although some reformists profess this to be their eventual, distant, objective) just yet because it can be modified so as to be acceptable to people. All the evidence destroys this myth and points to the conclusion that socialism cannot be delayed. It points to the conclusion that reformism is not only futile but reactionary, since it aims to postpone socialism when this in fact means the abandonment of the aim of social revolution and therefore the continuation of capitalism with all the problems which so concern the reformists.

The Socialist Standard has stated the socialist case on these issues because it is the official journal of the SPGB. We are an organisation of workers who are conscious socialists; we may ". . . lack refinement of style” but we offer an understanding of capitalism and of the need for socialism which amounts to no less than the only hope for a desperate world. Socialists are democrats; every member of the SPGB stands equally and we have no use for leaders, who exist to lay down policy for, and to instruct, those who are not clear about where they should be going. A democratic political party must control, in the majority, everything that is said in its name and that is what happens in the SPGB. The Socialist Standard, today and for the past 80 years, has stated a clear and uncompromising case for socialism.

Socialists are satisfied — but no more — that our case has stood the test of time and has been kept clear and forceful for all these years. But we are aware that progress towards socialism is desperately needed; we are not satisfied that the workers remain so wedded to capitalism, so susceptible to the specious propaganda for the social system which exploits and degrades them. If we look back, then, it is only to draw the lessons of the past and to apply them in the future. The years since 1904 have taught us of the need to refuse compromise, to stand for socialism and for that alone and to insist that the revolution is an immediate possibility; the working class can and must understand socialism and opt for it. That is the continuing task of socialists everywhere and the Socialist Standard, as their journal in this country, will carry on with it until socialism becomes reality.

When that happens, the role of the SPGB is at an end. A classless, united society will have no need for any expression of class-divided society; there will be no privileges, no coercive machinery, no medium through which ownership on the one hand, and denial of access on the other, are expressed. Neither will there be political parties, which exist as proponents of class interests. The socialist parties alone represent the interests of the working class; when that class is abolished with the establishment of socialism the socialist parties, along with all others, will cease to exist.

There are many ways in which the SPGB and the Socialist Standard are unique and one of them is the fact that we are busily working for our own extinction. That should not of course deter any worker who thinks that socialism is the answer to the problems of modern society. Eighty years of the Socialist Standard is enough and it is time we were able to use these columns to write, thankfully, our own obituary.