Friday, April 16, 2010

Down Memory Lane: Clapham Manor Baths

On our way to the Manor Arms pub after distributing leaflets three of us noticed that Clapham Baths in Clapham Manor Street had been demolished and was now a mound of rubble. The place has a history. During the General Election in February 1950 it was the venue of a debate between the Socialist Party, represented by Harry Young, and a Mrs Curtis, who was the Liberal candidate for Clapham. Here's a part of the Socialist speaker's opening speech:
The chief characteristic of Capitalism is private ownership of the means of wealth production: Socialism implies common ownership. Therefore there can no penalisation of or discrimination against any person or groups of persons under Socialism. Today we have a class society—a community divided into groups, economically speaking. This division has nothing to do with biological characteristics. It is largely an accident of birth that makes one a capitalist. What determines his place in society is his economic position; and everything follows from that. Our habits, manners, speech, customs, ethics, all follow from this is division. According to a recent statement by Mr. Hall, the Secretary of the Treasury, "of the 550,000 people who die each year only 10% own more than £2,000, but these 10% between them own 90% of the total property."

It means that 10% of the people own 90% of the wealth, of this 10% many own vastly more than £2,000, some own £2 million. Therefore Class society means grinding inescapable poverty for the working class. People can be in a state of poverty without going short a meal or clothes. Therefore my second point is that we live in a class society and cannot escape from poverty.

The worker has only his ability to work to sell — the power of his muscle, sinews and brain. He therefore goes to work for wages, and receives only enough reproduce his labour power. The amount the worker receives is determined by what is required to reproduce his labour power, the surplus beyond which goes to the owner. It follows from this that the political interest of the working class is to overthrow the system which robs them. Everything else is idle nonsense, making no ultimate difference to their class position in society. This, therefore, is the reason we oppose all other political parties. They all stand for the same viewpoint—the Conservatives, Liberals, Labour Party and Communists—for a series of measures which they claim will eass the collar of poverty where it rubs too hard.

This system of society which we propose is entirely different from what we know today. After taking over the means of production the characteristics of Capitalism will disappear. Exchange will cease, for Socialism will replace sale by free distribution. Socialism will put into practice "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." Labour Exchanges, Stock Exchanges, Banks, Insurance offices will all disappear. Force will cease. There will be no question of what to do with the man who won't work; most people want to work; most would be only too glad to do a sensible job of work. Socialism will succeed by the enthusiasm and determination of the socialists who have brought it into being to make it successful.

We stand for a system which will be world-wide, democratic, and based on a community of interest of the individual and society.
Neither capitalism nor the case for socialism have changed since then (except that the price level has risen and we wouldn't now refer to the worker as "he" and "his"). Even what the socialist speaker said in his concluding remarks also has a modern ring:
It is our contention that there is no great difference between the other parties. I quote from a news report the statement of Lord Samuel at the Liberal pre-election Conference that, if they polled sufficient votes "they might be called upon to undertake Ministerial responsibility." "We must accept this challenge" he said. When occasion demands the minor sham differences are sunk and they unite as supporters of the capitalist system.
For those interested in such things, the result of the election was: Gibson (Labour) 23,300; Lowndes (Tory) 22,094; Curtis (Liberal) 3,071(6.26%); Draper (Communist Party) 619 (1.26%). The turnout was 80.64%. Those were the days.

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