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International Socialism, Summer 1964

Chris Gray

Sounds Radical

From International Socialism (1st series), No.17, Summer 1964, p.32.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The Radical Tradition
R.H. Tawney
Allen & Unwin, 30s.

‘A precipitate enthusiasm for audacious novelties is not among the characteristic weaknesses of our fellow-countrymen.’ The above is a typical sentence from this posthumous selection of Tawney’s writings. Tawney shows here how much this phrase applies to him.

In term of both quality and subject-matter, the collection is a mixed bag; three essays on ‘the pioneers’ (Lovett, Owen, Ruskin), two essays on class in education, two on the WEA, four dealing with social democracy in some form, and one on social history and literature. All are written in the characteristic Tawney style – measured, rolling periods, sometimes completely unreadable. The Cicero of British Socialism has done it again!

As far as content goes, the essays grouped under the title Politics are the most interesting, and of these the one on nationalisation of the coal industry is outstanding. It outlines and defends the proposals of the 1919 Sankey Commission on the mines. These were specially designed to inhibit bureaucracy, and included pit committees of workers’ representatives at pit level; District Mining Councils and a National Mining Council provided machinery for taking up complaints of consumers. These proposals give the impression of being far superior to the legislation of 1946. The essay ends with a section on industrial democracy. The whole is reproduced from a Labour Party pamphlet, which shows the greater awareness of the movement in those days. Tawney gives a good description of alienation (without using the word) and only fills down on the remedy, advocating permanent National Councils of workers and employers in basic industries – as a first step. This is all very British, and it is not surprising, though most unfortunate, that the two later essays in this section, written in 1949 and 1952 respectively, are merely eulogies of the moderate, gentlemanly approach. Le style, c’est 1’homme méme with a vengeance.

The book ends with a genuflection from Hugh Gaitkell which reads like a reminiscence of Confucius, or St. Paul, or ... (readers will doubtless think of further examples). How sad!

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