Obituary: Frank Evans
Older members will be saddened to learn of the death in October of Frank Evans at the age of 86. Frank Evans was the son of an early Party member who himself joined in 1929. He was one of the handful of members who, before the war, had had a university education. After the war he was active in the old Lewisham branch, contributing to the work of the Party as an indoor lecturer, occasional writer and, above all, as a tutor for the well-attended series of education classes the Party ran for the influx of new members in the immediate post-war period. When he retired from his job with the old London County Council he moved to Somerset where he lived for the rest of his life.
Frank Evans will also be remembered for his controversial contribution to the ferment of ideas in the Party in the early and mid 50s. In a series of articles entitled “The Nature of the Socialist Revolution” that appeared in Forum, the Party’s internal discussion journal, he developed a frankly gradualist conception of the coming of socialism. According to him, society, thanks to increasing productivity, was evolving in a more equal and human direction; exclusive property rights, class privilege, the coercive state and money-commodity relations were gradually withering away. The end-result of this process would be a society of common ownership and production solely for use. From this he drew the conclusion that what socialists should be doing was to identify, and identify with, these tendencies rather than seeking to get the working class to take their class struggle against economic exploitation a stage further and establish socialism as a revolutionary political act.
Today few would argue that society is evolving in a more equal and humane direction, let alone a socialist one, but the then recently-established welfare state, the growth of the state sector and state control generally, and the (unexpected) post-war boom gave this view a superficial plausibility in the 1950s. In one sense this was an attempt by someone from a Marxist background to grapple with developments within capitalism which Marxist theory didn’t expect to happen, in particular not just the non-appearance of a slump after the war (which was widely expected in the Party) but the actual improvement of the living standards of most workers leading to an attenuation rather than the accentuation of class antagonisms.
Needless to say, these views were highly controversial as they challenged not just the Party’s theory of socialism coming through the class struggle but also its refusal to advocate reforms. They were shared, however, by a number of other members, most of whom left in 1955. Frank Evans himself did not leave until 1958 and, no doubt because his father had been a member and his sister still was, always retained a sentimental attachment to the Party and kept in touch with members.