1960s >> 1965 >> no-732-august-1965

The Passing Show: Letters to the Editor

I once wrote a letter to a sports magazine criticising an article which appeared in the previous issue. To butter up the editor and to try to ensure publication, my opening words were:—“I think your magazine is the best bobsworth on the market” and when I turned expectantly to the correspondence columns the next week, there was my letter—minus everything except the first sentence.


It is what they call editing, in theory to tidy up the prose, but in practice—at least with the raggier papers like The Daily Mirror—to mutilate the letters and publish perhaps a line or two only from those selected for publication, to suit the editorial policy. Just take a glance any time at the “Viewpoint” section in The Mirror and you’ll see what I mean. Some of the letters are so short, it would be difficult to write less and say anything at all and the parts that the editor chooses to allow are often puerile and inconsequential.


But that’s the Mirror. Certainly other papers, such as The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian are not so restrictive and many of the letters you will find in their correspondence columns are several column inches long. Which is as well, for in addition to making the whole thing more interesting, it encourages expressions of opinion from all sorts of people including prominent Labourites and Tories. Here, for instance, in The Telegraph of July 8th, is Conservative A. P. Costain trying to explain away his party’s failure to solve the housing problem in their thirteen years of office. He blames it on to “increased population and higher living standards’’—not really a very novel excuse. And side by side with him are Labourites Frank Allaun and Stanley Orme proclaiming the right to strike but conveniently forgetting how tough their government gets with strikers whenever it gets the chance.


But perhaps the most intriguing contribution comes from a Mr. Raymond V. McNally, who extols the virtues of inequality and pronounces this dreary doctrine with a Bumble-like pomposity. “Of course, absolute equality and prosperity for all are impossible of realisation”, he writes,


   But it is possible, as Britain has demonstrated, to level all classes to the same approximate standard by deliberate redistribution of wealth.


Now I’m glad he said approximate. At least that gives him some sort ot get out, because he gives no data to support his claims and with ten per cent of the population owning ninety per cent of the accumulated wealth after all the years of alleged levelling (official figures, not ours) the process must indeed be very approximate. And like other confessed supporters of capitalism, he holds the United States up as a guide and mentor for us all; even the scandalous waste which has horrified Vance Packard and Thorstein Veblen, he does not think at all amiss, it’s all part of a “dynamic economy” and the general scheme of things, apparently:


   Indeed everything in nature has its aim and purpose, whether it concerns man, plants or the stars; inequality and suffering play an important part in the general evolution.


Under which heading we can of course group such horrors at Vietnam, the Congo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and we can show at the same time, the lengths to which some people go to justify their support of a vicious and inhuman setup. Actually on closer inspection, it’s little more than the old “human nature” argument dressed up in fancy phraseology, and which we encounter at least once in every meeting.


There were probably replies from other readers to this and other letters appearing on that day and we may be sure that the controversy waxed furious—and spurious. For interesting though it may be, it will all have a basic assumption— the acceptance of capitalism. You will not often see a letter from a Socialist because it would not be of sufficient “general interest” and after all, the editor has his circulation figures to keep in mind. Yes, it’s interesting to read the correspondence columns but they will really come alive when the Socialist movement grows and controversy about an entirely new world starts to show itself.


Off the Ball and Chain 
Estartit is on the Costa Brava. It has the Mediterranean sea, lots of sunshine and six miles of glorious sands. It caters overwhelmingly for the English Tourist (“just not Spanish enough for me” said one pretentious female) and they pour into the area throughout the holiday season, swimming, sunbathing and sometimes upsetting their stomachs with too much Spanish food.


Under the influence of the warm climate, it is interesting to watch people’s reactions. There are some who never forget they are British and wear a collar and tie even on the hottest days, and then there are those who try to be madly, gaily, Spanish and wear the largest sombreros they can find. But for most of them, it is a time to relax and forget their wage earner’s status for a week or two. And just for those few days, briefly, their guard is down and they can talk to complete strangers in a happy and friendly manner. It is so enlightening to see it all, but surely some of them must ask themselves the obvious question: “Why can’t we be always like this?”


It’s a fair enough question too, because the comparison with everyday working life is so stark that even the non-Socialist must be painfully aware of it. But although that may be so, he cannot explain it; no doubt he dislikes working for wages but he has no idea what to do about it (except perhaps dream of winning the pools) and it’s certain he does not realise how far reaching are the effects of wage slavery.


For this wage workers’ world is drab and insecure, but more than that, laden with resentment and suspicion, part indeed of a whole world of resentment and suspicion that is capitalism. Even his next door neighbour he is reluctant to really trust, and as for his workmate—a prospective competitor—that’s often worse. Life for most workers is certainly no holiday.


But it would be different in a Socialist world. By that I don’t mean we would spend all our time lying on the sand getting fried like a lump of rock salmon. What I do mean is that given a world of common ownership, work would be everyone’s ambition—a way of self expression that the present system just cannot provide. Freed from the strains of competition and the cash nexus, we could meet people from far and wide on truly equal and friendly terms, because the cause of suspicion and fear would no longer exist. That refreshment and recuperation we seek so desperately today in our yearly break, Cotswolds or Costa Brave, would be there every day of the week in the work we do and the useful, beautiful things we would produce.


Eddie Critchfield