50 Years Ago – Eysenck at the LSE / Fitton for purpose

50 Years Ago: Eysenck at LSE – Socialist defends free speech

On Tuesday 8 May Professor Eysenck, who holds certain controversial views about the intellectual abilities of American negroes, was forcibly prevented from expressing his views at the London School of Economics. Responsibility for this political censorship was claimed by a Maoist group. Our comrade Dom Zucconi, an LSE student expressed Socialist opposition to this suppression of free speech, as the following report from the Daily Telegraph of 11 May shows:

“Tuesday’s incident was last night described as a ‘disgrace and discredit to socialism and a brief for fascism’ by Mr. D. Zucconi, a student who described himself as a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain when he proposed the motion to apologise to Professor Eysenck.

‘How does one best deal with fascism? With the butt-end of a rifle or with ideas? The political process is a battle of ideas and, unless you can rebut these concepts, you are lost’, he said.

‘In preventing him from speaking, you are resorting to the same tactics you accused fascists of using’, he told the meeting to loud cheers.”

For the record, the precise wording of the motion proposed by Comrade Zucconi and carried by a large majority at the LSE Union meeting was:

“This Union strongly deprecates the conduct of those present at Professor Eysenck’s meeting on Tuesday who appointed themselves to decide that nobody should be allowed to hear a point of view with which they disagreed. We place on record that only in the healthy atmosphere of free expression can ideas be debated, false ideas debunked and sound ideas developed. We therefore apologise to Professor Eysenck for the action of a minority in preventing him from being heard.”

The Socialist Party of course has always practised the principles expressed in this resolution. We have always been prepared to give opponents of Socialism a chance to express their views from our platform. This is because we are convinced that our views are right and that this will emerge from full and free debate—and if we are wrong we want to know, so that we can stop wasting our time.

Censorship, whether through the legalized violence of the capitalist State as enforced by the Courts or by the violence of self-appointed political guardians as displayed at the LSE, is anti-socialist and anti-working class and must be exposed whenever it rears its ugly head.

(Socialist Standard, June 1973)

Fitton for Purpose

Most readers will never have heard of Sam Fitton, but if you had lived in Oldham a century ago, or perhaps more recently than that, he would have been a well-known name. He was a cartoonist, poet and humorist, among other things, having originally been a mill worker. This year is the centenary of his death at the age of just 54, and he is remembered in an exhibition ‘Finding the Funny’ at Gallery Oldham, on till 17 June (for a review dealing with Oldham in the same period and mentioning him, see the January 2014 Socialist Standard).

Fitton’s poetry was written in the local dialect, part of a revival of interest in non-standard varieties of English, evidenced by the founding of the Lancashire Authors’ Association in Rochdale in 1909. His friend Ammon Wrigley is even commemorated by a statue in the Uppermill district of Saddleworth, now in the Borough of Oldham, but part of Yorkshire in Wrigley’s day. Fitton’s poem ‘My Owd Case Clock’ – about a grandfather clock – gives an idea of his wit, his use of language and his attention to social issues (available at allpoetry.com). Here are some lines:

When little Bill were born, th’ owd clock
Seemed fain to have one moor to th’ flock,
But while it smiled it little knew
His mother wouldna’ live it through;
It watched ‘em lay her in her shroud
An’ somehow didna’ tick so loud

His cartoons (for which see lancashirecottoncartoons.com) were often accompanied by poems. They covered a range of topics, from the tyranny of having to get up at five o’clock in the morning in order to be at work by six, to the custom of family members (often schoolchildren) bringing a hot meal to the workers at lunchtime. One dealt with how those who did not join any of the various unions could be cold-shouldered, whether in the crowd at a football match or in the pub. He depicted shuttle-kissing, whereby weavers (mostly women) used their mouths to pull thread through the eye of a shuttle. It was unpopular and was eventually shown to be responsible for the transmission of diseases such as tuberculosis, but it was not banned in Lancashire until 1952. Yet he seems not to have taken it too seriously, as one cartoon features a weaver called Matilda who turns down an advance from a fellow-worker by saying, ‘I’d rather kiss a shuttle than a face like thine!’

One cartoon from 1911 asks what would happen ‘If the peers had to work’. But, in an example with contemporary relevance, another from the same year unfortunately states ‘God save the king’, with reference to the coronation of George V.

The cotton industry in Oldham and more widely is long gone, with China and India between them now responsible for forty percent of the global production of cotton yarn and cloth. In 2015, though, a renovated mill in Dukinfield was used for spinning cotton, for the first time in the UK in over thirty years.


Next article: Obituaries – John Lee, Malcolm MacKay ⮞

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