Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Disguised Taxation

(September 1958)

From The Newsletter, 13 September 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Memorandum on public library charges issued by Finchley Constituency Labour Party is to be discussed today in the BBC’s World of Books programme.

This document shows the illegality and inequity of the charges now made by many public libraries for reserving books.

Any calculation of the tax burden on the working people of this country must nowadays take into account not only taxes openly so called but the increasing variety of ‘charges’, such as the Health Service charges, national insurance contributions and so on.

Book-reservation charges belong to this category, and are a heavy burden on students and old people.

I have heard arguments used in defence of reservation charges which remind me of the ‘coals in the bath’ canard of the early twenties (‘If you give workers houses with baths they only put their coal in them’) – on the grounds that ‘most reservations are for trashy novels’.

Starving our libraries

Some say, too, that just as the municipal refuse-collection service undertakes to clear only one dustbin per house per week, and anything more than that has to be paid for, so anyone who expects such service from his public library as the reserving of a book is asking for ‘something extra’ of the same order, for which he ought similarly to expect to pay.

It seems to me that the analogy is rather between the person who regularly ‘supplies’ a full dustbin (as against the one who only half-fills it) and the person who makes conscious, demanding use of his public library: why should the latter have to pay extra any more than the former?

What lies behind the controversy, of course, is the starving of our libraries of the financial resources they need to increase their staffs and expand rather than restrict the services they offer.

All done by mirrors

People sometimes wonder why the Soviet leaders consider it worth while to support a number of ‘friendship’ and ‘cultural relations’ societies in this country, since they must realize how unrepresentative they are.

One of the answers was indicated at the July meeting of the executive committee of the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR.

Commander Edgar Young, that widely-travelled fellow-traveller, gave an account of a visit he had made to the Hungarian-Soviet Society while touring Hungary, and said that the Society was ‘very anxious to receive SCR publications’.

Hungarians and others under Khrushchev’s rule who have no means of getting a balanced picture of the British scene may well be persuaded by means of the publications of the SCR and similar bodies that wide circles of British trade unionists, intellectuals and so forth are in solidarity with the Soviet bureaucrats – an idea that cannot but discourage resistance to the oppressors.

Jolly old pals

A speech of Rosa Luxemburg’s is brought to mind by the news that Lord Alexander of Tunis has accepted the presidency of the Anglo-German Association.

In her last speech, on December 30, 1918, little more than a fortnight before she was murdered by reactionary officers, she said:

‘You will all have read how the German troops in Riga are already marching shoulder to shoulder with the British against the Russian Bolsheviks.’

And she pointed out that the social-democratic officials responsible ought, by their own laws, to go to prison for this: ‘For by the German penal code it is an offence punishable by imprisonment to enlist German soldiers for foreign service.’

The German forces fighting in Latvia in this period, against the socialist revolution, came under the command of Lt-Col. Alexander, Irish Guards, now Field-Marshal Lord Alexander.

Death of a Labour interventionist

Though Alexander is still very much with us, another living link with the intervention in Russia recently passed away in the person of Lord Baldwin, better remembered as Oliver, ‘Labour’ son of the Tory leader Stanley Baldwin.

He served at the opposite end of the long anti-Soviet front, in Transcaucasia.

His memoirs, Six Prisons and Two Revolutions, aroused comment for their anti-Semitic sneers, and for their attack on ‘the British Labour Party, who consistently urged the withdrawal of the British troops from Georgia at a time when their presence would have saved both Georgia and Armenia’.

As the book appeared in 1925, however, during a major witch-hunt against the Left in the Labour Party, Baldwin got away with this.

Return of Kalmucks

All familiar with the ballad of Abdul the Bulbul Emir will remember with affection the name of the bold Kalmuck, Ivan Skavinsky Skavar, his worthy adversary.

Soviet News recently reported the re-establishment of the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in the USSR.

The Kalmyks – or Kalmucks, as they are better known here – were among the nationalities which were deported bodily from their homelands in 1943–45 because some of their members had allegedly collaborated with the Germans.

Most of these nationalities – not all – have been allowed to return in recent years.

Evidence of the restoration of the Balkars, another of these victim – nations of the Stalin era, to their native mountains, appeared in the accounts of their experiences written by the British climbers who lately visited the Caucasus.

Last updated on 17.10.2011