1950s >> 1958 >> no-651-november-1958

The Passing Show: ’Ardies’ ’At

’Ardies’ ’At
At the Labour Party conference the executive only narrowly escaped defeat on a motion which advocated the integration of the public schools in the state system. This would mean the end of public schools as we know them, and the speakers who called for this won the applause of the conference. The executive finally succeeded in getting the motion rejected only because the majority of those old props of the platform, the union block votes, was behind them.

But what difference would it make to our society, which rests on the exploitation of the many by the few, if every public school was closed down tomorrow? Some Labourites seem to come near to believing in this connection that if we all dropped our H’s and spoke with provincial accents we should have taken a stride forward towards Socialism. It reminds one of the people who, when asked why the Labour Party claims to be Socialist, recall that Keir Hardie turned up at the House of Commons in a cloth cap, and seem to think that it clinches the argument. But the important thing is not how you dress, but what you do; not how you speak, but what you say.

Miss Bacon’s Dislikes
Even the speakers from the platform had to join in the general denunciation. Alice Bacon, M.P., who replied to the debate for the executive, said, “we all detest and dislike the public schools.” If by “all” she meant all the people in the Labour Party, the statement is not true. Many leading Labourites not only went to public schools themselves, but send their children there as well. The reason is simple and obvious—they think that children get a better education at public schools than they do at state schools. The equipment and accommodation at the average public school is much better than it is at the average state school, teachers at public schools get more social prestige and higher pay, so teachers with the highest academic qualifications tend to go to them, and most important of all, a teacher at a state secondary or grammar school often has to take a class of thirty-five or forty, while his public school colleague can concentrate on a much smaller number. Naturally those Labour leaders who can afford it send their children to public schools.

Under new management
But the question goes much deeper than this. Even supposing that we had absolute equality of opportunity—which is impossible in a Capitalist society—even supposing that no member of the ruling class could give money or shares or a better education to his children, and that while the Smiths and Browns provided the Capitalists of this generation, the Joneses and the Robinsons provided the Capitalists of the next (again, impossible, but let it pass) even supposing all this, we should have exactly the same society that we have now. So long as we have a Capitalist society—part private and part state, like the Conservatives want, or a little-less-private and a little-more-state like the Labourites want—we will have the exploitation of the mass of people, the working class, by a small minority, the ruling class. To support Capitalism while demanding equality of opportunity is like supporting burglary, provided everyone has an equal chance to become a burglar. Equality of opportunity in our present society simply means that each generation of Capitalists would have different names from the last lot. But who in the world cares what they are called? To alter a familiar line, a sewer by any other name would smell as foul.

The Socialist Answer
Of course, there would be no public schools in a Socialist society. It would be impossible for one child to be huddled with forty others in a badly-vefltilated room opposite a soap factory, with the teacher wondering how he can keep up the instalments, while another is in a class of ten or twelve, in an airy room in pleasant surroundings. In a Socialist society, the members of it would determine what education would best fit children for living, and the children would have equal opportunities to benefit by it. But those Labourites who call for the abolition of public schools in our present society are confusing, as they so often do. the effects with the cause.

The Methods of Colonel Grivas
There are some facts about Cyprus which seem to have been forgotten.

Colonel Grivas, who is the head of Eoka, has a long history of extreme right wing activity, and of willingness to resort to violence to achieve his ends. It would not strain an over-used word to call him a Fascist.

Grivas took the opportunity of the feeling aroused by the announcement by a member of the British Government in the House of Commons that Cyprus could “never” be given its independence to begin a campaign of terrorism in the island, which still continues. This campaign is directed not only against the British, but also against Grivas’s political opponents among the Greeks, who make up more than eighty per cent, of the island’s population. Grivas has killed more Greeks than he has Britons. This fact has been repeatedly stressed by the British authorities. Some of the Greeks have been killed by shooting, others by being beaten or hacked to death in circumstances of revolting brutality: both men and women have been murdered.

 

A Death in Famagusta

 

In early October a British woman, the wife of a soldier, was shot dead in the streets of Famagusta. At the time of writing it is not known who did it. Eoka have issued leaflets denying responsibly, and the authorities say that if it was an Eoka gunman, this is the first British woman killed by Eoka. However, it seems more likely to have been done by Eoka than by anyone else.

 

This was a most deplorable crime. The woman had five children, the youngest being still in arms. What happens to the children now? Inevitably the crime must have a terrible effect on them. There is a saying that if you educate a woman, you educate a family: and there is a grim sense in which it is true to say, if you kill a woman, you kill a family.

 

More Deaths in Famagusta

 

As soon as the crime was known, a body of British troops descended on the district of the town where the murder, as it happened, had taken place. Famagusta is not a large town, and in it numbers of Greeks have been killed by Eoka because Grivas did not like their politics. No doubt in this district there were many Greeks who have had friends or relatives shot or otherwise brutally done to death by Eoka.

 

The British troops cordoned off the district, and proceeded to arrest every young man they could find. Within hours a thirty-year-old Greek was dead from suffocation, having been thrust into an army lorry with many others who had the misfortune to live in the area; an eighteen-year-old Greek was also dead, in circumstances which have not yet been revealed; a British soldier had been accidentally shot dead by one of his own comrades; ambulances were running shuttle services carrying injured Greeks from the temporary compounds where they were being “questioned” by British troops; no less than two hundred and fifty Greeks had been treated for injuries (“only” sixteen had been retained in hospital, said an official spokesman—”only” is an interesting word to use in this connection); and a twelve-year-old girl, having seen the “questioning” in progress, ran away in terror and died of shock. Apart from this the material damage, such as car-windows and shop-windows smashed in, was considerable.

 

These figures of casualties are those given by British official sources: unofficial sources put the numbers of dead and injured higher. (At first even an official spokesman said five Greeks had died during the operations, according to The Observer. October 5th, 1958, but subsequently he admitted less.)

 

Revenge—on whom?

 

If the dead and wounded Greeks, down to the twelve-year-old girl, had all been proved members or supporters of Eoka, then the British ruling class could claim that their soldiers were taking revenge—assuming that revenge, rather than the usual claim of “justice,” is to be the British aim in Cyprus. But the victims of this military brutality were simply those Greeks who happened to live in the area—people who, the British authorities admit, are terrorised by Grivas and have suffered more in the way of Eoka killings than the British themselves.

 

Broken heads, but no violence

 

Sir Hugh Foot, the Governor of Cyprus, one of whose duties theoretically is to look after the welfare of the citizens under him, issued a statement after these events saying “Our first obligation is to stand against violence,” but made not even the most perfunctory expression of regret for the activities of the British troops. Presumably death and injury do not come within his definition of violence when the sufferers are only Greek Cypriots. The War Minister, Mr. Soames, has denied that the troops concerned were out of control; for which one can only conclude that the things they did were not objected to by their officers and commanders. Mr. Soames said that he was very satisfied with the conduct of our troops in Cyprus (Manchester Guardian, October 7th, 1958). According to a BBC broadcast, Mr. Duncan Sandys, the Defence Minister, claimed that he was proud of the way the British troops had behaved.

 

Pride—and prejudice

 

Couldn’t you have said, Mr. Soames, that you would have been even more satisfied if the British troops had injured only two hundred, say, of the local inhabitants, instead of two hundred and fifty? Couldn’t you have said, Mr. Sandys, that you would have been even more proud if the soldiers during these operations had caused the deaths of only three people, say, instead of four?

How satisfied, how proud, can you get?

Alwyn Edgar