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50 Years Ago: Old familiar faces

Here it is, then: Universities and Left Review. Very well got up, good typography; indeed, the Abbey Press (the people who print it) are to be complimented on having a range of bold, large and display types almost sufficient to keep up with the editors' delight in Names. The cover bears the contributors' names (Isaac Deutscher, Claude Bourdet, Peter de Francia, E. P. Thompson, G. D. H. Cole, Joan Robinson, etc..) in massive black letters, their topics in small ones. ( . . . )

What purpose, then, does the Universities and Left Review serve? Pretentious, empty of ideas, its material picked from ideological dust-heaps, it has set out to make a splash—or, as the first editorial put it, to take a beachhead. Its avowed purpose is to publish discussion on “the common ground of a genuinely free and genuinely socialist society.” Its way, the editors say, is “to take socialism at full stretch — as relevant only in so far as it is relevant to the full scale of man's activities.”

If that were true — “the full scale of man's activities” — it really would be interesting. But, of course, it isn't. Search the Universities and Left Review, and only in a line here and a phrase there will you find the working class mentioned. Professor Cole has a good word for them, and there is a little lofty patronage from David Marquand (“in the thirties, there had to be an effective mass movement for the intellectuals to join”) and E. P. Thompson (“the experience of rank-and-file political activity teaches us and keeps our ideas on the ground”). The names in the Universities and Left Review see themselves (bear witness, the articles on art, the cinema, architecture) as members of an élite: the General Staff on that beach-head, the upper crust of the “genuinely socialist society.” ( . . .)

Universities and Left Review seeks comment from the socialist viewpoint. It can be simply made. There is not a word concerning Socialism from beginning to end of the Universities and Left Review. Reformist claptrap, yes; pretentious verbiage, indeed; chatter about how things are for the intellectuals, above all. But of the interests of the working class, the great majority of mankind—not a whisper.

The most useful left-winger we ever saw was Tom Finney. The day he scored against the Arsenal—now, that was worth three-and-six.

(from article by Robert Coster, Socialist Standard, February 1958).