This is why the Tories, along with the Wiemar Republic in Germany took to trying to ‘out Marx’ the socialists with competing statist plans in order to steal their thunder, that seemed at the time, so alluring.
The essay below is the latest in an occasional series by our expatriate English correspondent Peter on the history of the Socialist Left in Britain.
The Red Evolution III: The Left, The Far Left and The Hard Left:
The Long March Away From Sense and Sensibility
Sometime towards the end of May, 1963, I joined what was then the Portsmouth West Constituency Young Socialists. This was surprising for a number of reasons, particularly since I lived within the constituency of Portsmouth South and had held no particular political convictions up until then. Also, in view of my background, I could just as easily have enrolled in the Young Conservatives, as had a number of my former school friends.
I had been brought up in an environment of Conservatism, my mother having been an active member of the Conservative Party for as long as I can remember. I also went to an independent school after being awarded a scholarship. Prior to that, had attended a Church of England Primary School, thereby ensuring my exposure to Conservatism and conformity from very early childhood. Then there was Portsmouth itself. With a population in 1963 of around 190,000 and falling, Portsmouth had more in common with older cities and towns in the North of England than with its more genteel neighbours on the South Coast.
Portsea Island, where most Portmuthians lived, was, and still is, considered to be the most densely populated area in the UK outside of London, in spite of the large areas that were bombed flat during World War II. By 1963, most damaged parts of the city had been rebuilt, although it was claimed by some that those planners, architects and building contractors involved in its reinstatement and re-development had all but ripped the heart from the city and had inflicted more destruction upon its soul than had any of the blockbusters and incendiaries used for this purpose by the Luftwaffe.
Portsmouth West constituency was a depressed working class area that contained Her Majesty’s Royal Naval Dockyard, the principal Royal Naval establishment in the UK at the time and the biggest single employer in the city. When World War II was at its height, it maintained a workforce of 27,000 but by 1963, only around 12,000 remained. Dockyard pay was known to be well below the national average, although this was offset by the fact that, even when there was no work, nobody was ever laid off and job security was guaranteed. Unfortunately for non-dockyard workers, their wage rates were often pegged by their own employers to dockyard levels, and, unlike the Dockyard workforce, they had no guarantee of job security. One way or another, nobody living within Portsmouth West Constituency was particularly well off. To the outsider, this looked like fertile ground for rampant socialism, but this was far from true. From 1945 until 1966 Portsmouth West Constituency had returned a Conservative member to Parliament and, over the same period, had participated in serially electing a Conservative-dominated local Council. To this day I cannot understand why this should have been, but it had no bearing at all on why I joined the Labour party.
Since the age of five I had been in full-time education, being infused and indoctrinated with a level of knowledge and dexterity which those in authority felt I should acquire. I had been taught how to read, write, count and calculate. I had also been taught to do all these things in Latin, French and German as well, and had left school with the required number of certificates to prove it. However, I soon realized that in spite of all the effort I had made, along with that of my teachers I still knew nothing of any consequence, except, maybe, how to win pub quizzes. For instance, it was only after taking a job with an insurance company that I found out what insurance actually was, and I knew very little of Government, Government agencies, what they did and why they did it. Joining a political party, I thought, would help me find out how things worked and fill the vast void in my awareness and understanding. I’d had enough of conservatism for the time being, and in 1963 Portsmouth, Labour was the only viable alternative.