Notes by the Way

Meeting in King Street
It has happened, and all who said it could not are confounded. After more than 30 years of fawning and grovelling the British Communists have rebelled. Through the columns of the Daily Worker they have dared to criticise the action of a representative of the Moscow hierarchy. It happened in the Daily Worker, on Wednesday, 10 November, 1954, when their correspondent, reporting the match at Wembley between the Arsenal and the Russian Spartaks, held that the Russian referee Mr. Nikolai Latyshef, gave a wrong decision. True, this is not the first time that the Communists and the Daily Worker have found themselves “out of line,” but on past occasions—as for example the support of the war against Nazi Germany in 1939—it has been inadvertent, a momentary failure to reverse fast enough. But this time there was no withdrawal, no abject confession and apology, and the next day the correspondent coldly brazenly repeated his statement:—“From where I saw it, Mr. Latyshef was wrong.”

The disputed decision caused uproar at the match and will, as the Daily Worker wrote, “be a talking point for many months to come.” Now that international athletic contests are no longer games but State occasions for enhancing stupid national prestige the incident will no doubt add its little quota to national hatreds Apart from that the moral appears to be that there is no fury equal to that of football fans whose team has been defeated by a better team.

Labour’s Mock Indignation over Commercial T.V.
The Labour Party Opposition have been making the most of their opportunity of attacking the Government’s decision to set up a commercial television system in rivalry to the B.B.C. In the House and in the Press they stormed about this sacrifice of “national” to private interests. The Labour-supporting Daily Mirror for days on end had hysterical front-page denunciations of what they said was a sell-out to Tory controlled money making interests. The Labour Party “decided to table a motion of censure on the Government for their refusal to introduce legislation to prevent political bias in the choice of groups given commercial T.V. ‘plum’ contracts.” (Daily Mirror, 4/11/54).

And earlier Mr. Ness Edwards, Labour M.P., who had been Postmaster General in the Labour Government and therefore nominally responsible for the B.B.C., raged against the Tory decision on the ground that, “under the false plea of ‘let the people decide,’ this Government is allowing Big Business to decide what the people shall be allowed to see.” (Forward, 24/7/54).

All of which is of course sanctimonious humbug. To start with what difference does it make from the standpoint of freedom from bias which group of financial and entertainment interests get contracts from the new Television Authority? It is stated by the Authority that any group contemplating applying must have financial resources running into three or four million pounds, so that only very wealthy groups of investors could be considered anyway, and such groups, whatever political leanings they have or if they have none at all, are and must be concerned with making a large profit out of it.

To which, the stock Labour Party reply is that the nationalised B.B.C. is, or can be, “above party” and concerned genuinely with giving expression to all views, including those of unpopular minorities. It is a plausible story, which, however, is shattered by the fact that for 30 years, irrespective of the Government in power, the B.B.C. would never agree to let the Socialist case of the S.P.G.B. be heard on the air. We don’t expect to fare any better from a commercially controlled organisation but at least we can’t fare any worse.

The Health Service versus Poverty
Like all reformists the men who conceived the idea of a National Health Service that was to be a radical cure for a social evil failed to reckon with the capitalist environment in which it was to operate. It required actual experience to teach some of them what Socialists told them beforehand. A chilling exposure is provided by “Hospital and Community,” by Professor Thomas Ferguson and Dr. A. N McPhail, published for the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust by the Oxford University Press and reviewed in The Lancet (12 June, 1954). The authors write in their preface:—

“It seems clear that further breakdown is sometimes precipitated by the transition—often sudden and dramatic— from the protective care of the modern medical ward to spartan conditions outside. Hospital treatment is usually only an episode in the general care of the patient: and the health services cannot stand in isolation from other social services. There is a ‘limit to what Medicine can do to preserve fitness in the face of bad conditions of living and working.”

The Lancet continues as follows:—

“Their study was made between 1950 and 1953. Of the 705 patients originally seen in hospital, 548 were seen three months later in their own homes and 474 were seen two years after leaving hospital. By that time, 171 of the original group had died, and the remaining 60 were untraceable. Of the 474 seen after two years, 265 were working at their old jobs, though 30 were judged to need lighter work and 18 were unfit for work under ordinary conditions. Of 91 who had found new jobs, 3 were thought to be unfit for work, and 33 could have done their former jobs. Some 50 had done very little work, and 106 had done no work at all, since leaving hospital. Nearly a fifth of those in work at the end of two years were in jobs which were unsuitable, having regard to the demands of the job and the conditions of the men; and the proportion doing such unsuitable jobs was highest among those between the ages of 45 and 65, and among unskilled rather than skilled labourers. After two years, only 111 of these 474 men could be regarded as cured, though a further 193 had maintained the improvement achieved in hospital; 106 had not improved, and their health was unsatisfactory; 64 were worse than when they left hospital and some were going downhill. Moreover, 129 had been readmitted to hospital on more than one occasion during the two years. These figures gain life from the case-histories which FERGUSON and MACPHAIL quote. They write of gross overcrowding; of walls “soaking and falling down” or “running with water”; of parents and children sleeping in box-beds sunk in these soaking walls; of men with failing hearts housed at the top of tenements; of unskilled labourers with heart and lung conditions returning to their jobs as navvies; of stokers with angina shovelling coal; of men finding work within their compass, but being ordered to take on heavy extras by officious charge-hands: in short they describe unending waste—waste of life and health, waste of hospital resources. These authors are admittedly writing of an overcrowded industrial area where housing is notoriously shocking, and the paper by Professor LANE and his colleagues which we publish on p. 1229 shows that in Salford at least the picture of reablement and resettlement is far more cheerful. Nevertheless FERGUSON and MACPHAIL are able to quote surveys from other regions where the findings have been similar.”
Among the remedies advocated by the authors is the need for better housing: “ . . . in many cases rehousing offers the only hope of improvement”

The Lancet says:—“The living conditions described by these authors were destroying the health not only of the patients who were studied, but of their wives and children.”

We can agree with the Lancet’s conclusion that “this impressive study shows once more how our very intentness on cure can take our minds off prevention,” but what the authors and the reviewer fail to realise is that what they describe are aspects of the poverty problem, and the only cure for that is the “prevention” of capitalism by abolishing it.

Religion, Handmaiden of Russian Capitalism
Capitalism in Britain, France and many other countries has had to face the problem of preserving religion and the church, because they are a useful aid to the ruling class, and of curbing their power when they threaten to become a “State within a State.” Russia has followed a similar course and a new Government statement shows the dual attitude of simultaneously encouraging anti-religious propaganda while protecting the Church against too-zealous opponents who take literally the old Leninite denunciations of religion. The following is from the Daily Worker (12/11/54), in which their Moscow correspondent summarises a statement issued by the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party.

“Some Party officials and newspapers had gone too far in the campaign against religion by being offensive to the priesthood and churchgoers.
“These cases occurred when believers quite unjustifiably were considered politically. unreliable. Often anti-religious propaganda sunk to the level or trivial anecdotes.
“The central committee gave stern notice that it would in no circumstances countenance activities affronting clergy or believers.
“It was no good disregarding the fact that among loyal, active citizens there were some who held religious views. The Party’s attitude toward such people should be tactful and considerate.
“It was foolish and harmful to have any suspicion about a Soviet citizen for his religious convictions.
“In Socialist lands, the Church played a different role than in capitalist countries where they supported the ruling classes, though this did not prevent some members of the clergy from sharing the viewpoint of the working class, the statement said.
“In the Soviet Union at present the clergy were generally loyal toward Soviet power—therefore, the battle should be only on ideological grounds.
“Mr. Khrushchev emphasised that correction of mistakes must not lead to the lessening of anti-religious propaganda “which is an integral part of the upbringing of the working masses.” He said the Party could not be impartial and neutral toward religion.”

This Overtime Business
The action of the dock strikers who fought to have overtime made voluntary instead of compulsory and whose leaders claimed a “complete victory” while telling them to go back and “do all the overtime you can” has drawn attention again to one of the lamentable developments of recent years, the widespread practice of overtime being a normal thing in industry. In past years trade unions fought continually to reduce hours of work with the intention of having more leisure, but since 1938 though standard hours have been generally reduced from 48 or 47 to 44 or less the average hours of work of adult men are actually slightly above the pre-war level, 47.7 hours in 1938 and 48.3 in April of this year. This is one of the reasons why, although wage-rates for the standard week have increased on average about the same as the cost of living, average earnings have risen considerably more; the hours worked in excess of the standard week of 44 hours are reckoned as overtime and paid at usual overtime rates.

A Times correspondent (26/10/54) wrote:—

“More overtime is being worked in Britain today than ever before in peacetime. In many industries employers rely on regular overtime to fulfil their commitments and workers rely on regular overtime to maintain their standard of living.”

This development has come about with the tacit or open approval of many trade unions and was encouraged by the Labour Government as it is by the Government now in office, just as both Governments have sought to increase piece-work, another feature of capitalism that was once opposed by active trade unionists.

The irony of the situation is that whereas in the 19th century it was the employers and their newspapers that resisted workers demands for shorter hours it is now left to that organ of capitalism, The Times, to suggest (in an editorial 5/11/54) that “the excessive extension of systematic overtime is having a number of undesirable results,” and to ask for inquiry into the possibility of reducing it.


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