Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Our ‘Public’ Schools

(April 1958)

From The Newsletter, 19 April 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

George Darling’s remarks about the public schools at the Co-operative Party conference seem to have got under Tory skins – especially his statement that ‘many of them dishonestly use the endowments given to them in the past for purposes of public education’.

How some of the public schools, originally founded to provide free education for poor boys of their neighbourhoods, got rid of their responsibilities and became exclusive caste institutions without local roots (but retaining local endowments) is quite a story.

Take Harrow, for instance. The founder’s statutes said nothing about the age of entry.

So the lower forms were gradually done away with, until the Fourth came to be the form which a boy entered on joining the school.

Boys were not admitted before the age of thirteen, whereas formerly the age bad been seven – and an entrance examination had to be passed which assumed previous instruction in the classics at a preparatory school.

Then a rule was introduced forbidding boys to ride to school, either on horseback or in any kind of vehicle. Harrow parish is widespread and the school stands on top of a steepish hill.

Restricting the radius

This rule was followed by another requiring all boys to attend a roll-call immediately after the midday meal.

These two rules together in effect restricted the radius within which boys could live while attending the school to about half a mile, and were described by the Headmaster on one occasion as ‘our great security’.

Shortly after the Second Reform Act (1867), which created a substantial working-class electorate, a Public School Act formally abolished all surviving local popular rights in connexion with these schools.

Like the ‘reform’ of the civil service undertaken in the same period, this was a conscious reaction of the ruling class to the new political circumstances.

As Lord Houghton put it, arguing the vital necessity of special ruling-class schools: ‘It is not only a question of the moral and intellectual character of the higher classes: it is a question, I may say, of their political supremacy’.

In praise of Rothstein

The Nationalization of Women: Natural History of a Lie was the title of a pamphlet which Andrew Rothstein wrote in 1920 under the pseudonym ‘C.M. Roebuck’.

A splendid piece of debunking of anti-Bolshevik propaganda, it was recalled to my mind by Rothstein’s excellent reply, in World News of April 5, to an attempt in the Sunday Times to revive the old slander about Lenin having been a German agent in 1917.

Alas, this also makes one remember that during the slander campaign on similar lines waged in 1937–40 against Lenin’s greatest colleague, a campaign which ended in his murder, Rothstein omitted to bring out from his store of learning something which Lenin wrote in Pravda of April 16, 1917:

‘Can one even for a moment believe the trustworthiness of the statement that Trotsky, the chairman of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies in St Petersburg in 1905 – a revolutionary who has sacrificed years to disinterested service to the revolution – that this man has anything to do with a scheme subsidized by the German Government? This is a patent, unheard-of and malicious slander of a revolutionary’ ...

New Chiangs for old

According to a letter in the same issue of World News ‘the immediate issue in most “colonial countries” is the development of capitalism’ and ‘the main enemy of this development is monopoly finance-capitalism, imperialism’.

So what the colonial workers and peasants are fighting for is freedom of capitalist development, and what mainly threatens this is not their fight but imperialism!

How this takes one back to 1927 and the derailing of the Chinese revolution. How different the last thirty years might have been but for the dominance of this idea of the colonial revolution.

What the next thirty years will be like depends very much on whether it is shaken off in time.

Labour and public opinion

Do recent Gallup polls show that Labour is already ‘ahead of public opinion’ in calling for suspension of H-bomb tests (less than half are said to favour this), and would be ‘miles ahead’ if it were to advocate unilateral nuclear disarmament (which only a quarter are said to be for)? And if so, so what?

Even if the figures are sound, isn’t there a fallacy here? Public opinion is made, and nowadays one of the biggest agencies making it is – the Labour Party.

Many a citizen is influenced in deciding what he thinks about public questions, not only by what the Archbishop of Canterbury says, or Lord Beaverbrook, or Gilbert Harding, but also by Nye Bevan.

There is danger in these matters of trying ‘realistically’ to follow one’s own shadow.

Last updated on 10.10.2011