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International Socialism, Autumn 1967


John Strauther

Revolutionaries and Critics


From International Socialism, No.30 (1st series), Autumn 1967, p.33.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Raymond Williams
Chatto & Windus, 30s.

In the hard-back edition of his 1962 Penguin Special, a valuable documentation of the poverty of the arts and monopolisation of the media in late capitalist Britain, Raymond Williams has revised the text, figures and references, added appendices on educational television and the 1965 White Paper on the Arts (reprinted from Tribune) and a new preface, but not an index.

Williams’ conclusions and proposals, embodying a gradualist and therefore Utopian programme for ‘contributors’ control of cultural institutions, on the model of existing universities, remain unchanged, despite having been undermined during the intervening years by, for instance, recent manifestations of student insurgency for control against university administrations at Berkeley and LSE and the ensuing reactions, not to mention the present situations in the press and pop radio industries, together with the Labour government’s complacency. (Though in a brief postscript Williams does condemn Wilson and his government’s policies on radio and TV.)

The most substantial and interesting addition to the book is the preface, forming perhaps the most concise statement of the author’s centre-left political position, differentiating the ‘polarities’ of revolutionaries and critics as ‘the last, and of course serious, positions of our pre-democratic politics,’ and introducing his own slogan of ‘permanent education’ as against both.

The power and deficiency of Williams’ analysis lie in its cultural and political parochialism; its detailed criticism and practical diffuseness; the invocation of advertising as the enemy and the appeal to the memory of Aneurin Bevan ‘and the sense of the labour movement so many of us shared with him’ as the generalised ‘we,’ subject of the long revolution; hailing Jenny Lee’s white paper as the first snowdrop of spring. While that flower is likely to become stunted during the freeze, and Williams to continue determinedly the pursuit of permanent education, others, driven and moulded by forces enveloping education and culture, will organise and learn for the ‘destruction and then innovation of institutions, imagined at some finite point in time,’ which Williams rejects. For the problems of culture and class society cannot be divided.

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