Monday, March 28, 2022

Branch News (1963)

Party News from the March 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

In these wintry days the thought of Spring seems a long way off. However, in preparation for the May issue of the Socialist Standard work has already commenced. The issue will in the main deal with the Housing Problem. Writers from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Midlands and London have been invited to send reports dealing with their areas—other articles will deal with political and economic aspects. Branches are urged to gear their meetings and literature sales drives for this issue— it probably will be enlarged--20 pages— and colour introduced — price at usual. Therefore, it behoves us all to sell at least twice the normal number of Standards in May. May Day Rallies and, we hope, better weather will enable an all-out effort to be made. A challenge, but one that we will all take up and see a greatly increased circulation.

Islington Branch is holding a meeting at the Islington Town Hall on Monday, March 11th, see details on Meeting page.

Paddington, Ealing and Bloomsbury Branches have arranged a three-branch series of propaganda meetings. The first of these was held in January at the Paddington & Marylebone Branch room. Comrade Hardy spoke on the Common Market. The event was most successful—comrades from the three branches supported the meeting and many visitors were there. Good questions and discussion ensured and it is hoped that the next event—a Brains Trust at Ealing Branch at the Memorial Hall. Windsor Road, near Ealing Broadway. will take place on Friday March 1st at 8 p.m. Bloomsbury Branch hope to arrange a meeting the following month. This first meeting was such a success that other groups of branches could well follow this example.

Annual Conference is being held at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square on Friday. Saturday and Sunday April 12th. 13th and 14th. Provincial Branches are asked to contact the Central Organiser at Head Office regarding accommodation required for their delegates. Early notification helps to ensure that accommodation is available.
Phyllis Howard

50 Years Ago: Britain and France (1963)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

But. it may be asked, why should we, the working class in England, care a straw for the workers of Paris? . . . Is not the Parisian worker our enemy? Is he not our competitor in the industrial world? Has not France for centuries been the great antagonist of England? Was it not Napoleon III who. after his ignominious defeat at Sedan, suggested to the victorious Germans that they should settle their differences and make war against the “common enemy’’—England? And was it not against France that Nelson and Wellington gained their most memorable victories?

But the revolutionaries of England recognise that, while we are compelled to compete with the workers of France in the industrial field, as with the workers of Germany and all other countries, we have also to compete with the English workers here, and the French and German workers are no more our enemies than our fellow wage slaves of Britain.

Yet, while we are compelled to compete with each other in the labour market, in spite of this there exists a common interest amongst the working class, an interest that recognises no distinction of race or sex. and that unity of interest is the abolition of the system which compels us to fight for a mere existence. This common interest attaches to the whole working class just as the capitalist class, who combat each other for the world's markets, have a common cause in keeping the working class in subjection.

From an article on the Paris Commune 1871 Socialist Standard, March 1913.

Old Time Music Hall (1963)

From the March 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

A gulf of time separates the original working class entertainer who amused his fellows with rough song and dance, from the plushy, awed restraint of the present- day Command Performance. The Music Hall of yesteryear is gone, never to return. Its roots were in the unsettled, lucre-mad savagery of the industrial revolution in the early nineteenth century. All that then remained of the abundant regional folk song and music of the English countryside went into the melting pots of the industrial towns to emerge in a uniform pattern of urban culture.

The rural culture, smothered in the slums of the towns, managed to find an outlet for fragmented skills and techniques in the drink-sodden atmosphere of the “pub.” In those days, the public house was new and quite distinct from the ancient inn. It had cut glass, fine woodwork and gas lighting, and offered more comfort and social contact than the home. It was to the early Victorian worker what the coffee bar is now to the Earls Court bed-sitter.

As industrialisation increased, the skilled worker obtained some change in living standards. Some of his wages remained after his basic needs had been met and the brewing trade had a fairly free field in mopping up this surplus. In time, the larger public houses had halls where beer, food and tobacco were helped down by the mixed talents of the entertainers, with the very necessary chairman in control.

It should be remembered that prior to the Theatre Emancipation Act of 1843, straight dramas were allowed only in Crown-chartered theatres of which there were but two in London. This law was evaded by wedging musical comic and acrobatic turns between drama and sketches—“Variety,” in other words. By the time the theatre was freed of restriction, the prolonged effects of State control had already funnelled variety into some form of theatre or hall, and here its ultimate flowering took place. The halls, along with the theatres, were the principal suppliers of performers in growing numbers. In the very poor areas a much lower standard existed in the form of the gin shops, where the “penny gaff” provided crude doggerel, larded with a hefty helping of bad language.

In the early days, the main halls charged admission, which was repaid in food and drink (wet money). This was an encouragement to spend more as the evening wore on. The entertainers were often employed on the premises in some other capacity and received a supplement for their extra efforts. Hence the development of such people as singing waiters. Many publicans were themselves capable performers, such as Collins of Collins Music Hall fame.

But it was Charles Morton who took a big step in the establishment of the music hall. In the 1850’s he enlarged his hall at The Canterbury by demolishing an American skittle alley and created what was for those days a super-modern theatre. Women were eventually allowed in—a good box office draw—and “wet money” was abolished in favour of set admission prices. This meant that artists could now be paid salaries and become specialised—an important change.

Morton himself was very conscious of the need to improve working class taste. Capitalism, after all, needed something more than just a mass of degenerate proletarians. So The Canterbury even sported a picture gallery and selections of opera and ballet were included in the programme; in fact, the first performance in Britain of Gounod’s Faust was performed at The Canterbury. Nor should we forget that in the I860's such halls as Turnham’s White Lion and the famous ’’Met” in Edgware Road, London, had their full-time ballets. Workers who frequented these places did not regard such art form as being above them or effeminate, and although one must allow that standards then were much lower than those of modern choreography, working class acceptance of ballet in its introductory form doubtless played a fair part in its subsequent development.

In the next few years, the halls separated from their public house origin and only the names continued to bear trace of the site of their birth. Laws were passed in 1870 ordering the closing of places of entertainment by midnight and prohibiting the sale of food and drink in the auditorium. This put paid to the Chairman, and correct theatre procedure took his place. But by then capital was flowing into this expanding business and a whole army of song writers, costumiers and small timers were earning their living at it. The audiences still sung, cried and thrilled with the performer, and the personal contact was still a factor, even though it was getting more remote.

By the I930’s, the music halls were in decline. A devastating world war and generally changing conditions saw to that, and it was not to be long before memories were all that remained.

It is interesting now to look back over the years of their heyday and compare them with the present. The most outstanding change is in the type of popular songs) Almost exclusively modern lyrics lean on a theme of sexual love and centre on the young, whereas the old music halls produced songs about almost every human emotion and experience. Love, bravery, misfortune, poverty, snobbishness, death and patriotism they were all there. Workers were still closely knit, even in the large towns, and the isolation behind the lace curtains of suburbia had yet to come. Personal misfortune was eased by the direct mutual aid of one’s neighbours. Today, the state has moved into this field.

As industry develops, every aspect of our lives becomes affected by it, and no field of human activity is left unscrutinised in the search for profit. So the trend in modern songs is not surprising. Who is much bothered if the fervour of young love is aroused by pop singers who, even by general standards, are poor, so long as the money keeps rolling in? Anyway, the ruling class are probably thankful that their young workers spend so much of their spare time shuffling and mooning about broken hearts and frustrated passions. Their minds will not then so readily turn to more awkward aspects of the system.

But modern capitalism has produced something else the quite untenable assumption on the part of many teenagers that we have moved into an era of slickness and high-toned quality in song production. A comparison of the pop songs of today with those of the old music halls will show the falsity of this. There is a difference between the two, yes, but a subtle, one; both are reflections of poverty not only in wealth itself but in the understanding of the capitalist world.

Private property society has divorced its workers from the means of wealthy production and has reduced many of our tasks to simple manipulation. It has also brought about a uniformity of taste, ideas and general behaviour which social reformers may wail about but which none of them can alter. We hope we have said enough by now to show that only a classless, property-less society will make any radical change in this state of affairs. It will be then that we can express ourselves fully and encourage variety in the truest sense of the word. But it is only the working class who can ring up the curtain on this new world.
Jack Law