Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Catching Up, Keeping Up

Apologies, should have posted this a few days back but it was resting in the draft section of the blog. Making the title of the post all the more apposite.

My guess is that John and Rob over at the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back have been popping the pro-plus like they are smarties, but just to keep you up to speed, they have placed the following posts on the blog in the last few days:

  • Iranian President Ahmadinejad's letter to the American people
  • Remembering CND
  • Rendition To Torture
  • Socialists and Cuba
  • Penal Profits
  • As I'm on the subject of the Small Party Getting Blogwise, Alan of Mailstrom blogging fame has been rifling through back issues of the old WSM journal, the World Socialist, that was published for three or four years in the mid-eighties, and has put the following articles online:

  • Money Must Go
  • How Socialism Can Organise Production Without Money
  • Building Profits versus Building Homes
  • Of the articles that Alan has posted, 'Money Must Go' is the real curio. The original exercise in 'blackboard socialism', if you like, it was an attempt to put forward the case for socialism in jargon-free language through a dialogue between 'George' and the 'Professor'. Its quaint style and language has 1940s screaming all over it, and if it had ever been adapted for the silver screen Mickey Rooney would have been cast as George, with Monty Woolley doing a turn as the Professor.

    What with the various incarnations of 'World of Free Access', the World in Common project and Capitalism & Other Kids Stuff in more recent years, SPGBers are more used to this approach of trying to get the ideas across - even if not every SPGBer agrees with this method - but from reading Robert Barltrop's history of the SPGB, 'The Monument', it appears that in the day many members of the SPGB frowned upon this pamphlet 'cos they considered it "unscientific", but other SPGBers looked upon it a lot more favourably and were wont to sell the pamphlet 'under the counter', so to speak.

    The authors of the pamphlet, 'Philoren', were two SPGB sympathisers by the name of Phillips and Renson. I don't know much about Phillips, but I vaguely remember reading Jerry White's obituary for Israel Renson in an old issue of the History Workshop Journal many years ago. (It's online but you have to pay a subscription.)

    From what I can recollect of the obituary, Renson (1906-1986) was a chemist from Hackney in East London who, though never actually a member of the SPGB, was an active sympathiser of the SPGB from the 1920s onwards after hearing one of the great SPGB outdoor speakers, Alex Anderson, speak at his regular speaking pitch in Tottenham, North London. According to White's obituary, right up until his death in the mid-eighties, Renson - at that point in his late seventies - continued to distribute about twenty Socialist Standards every month to a regular round of readers and sympathisers. I remember the evident exasperation in White's obituary at Renson's - a man who White obviously thought very highly of - continued political attachment to the SPGB over many decades, suggesting something about Renson falling under the "penumbra" of the SPGB as a young man.

    I'm guessing that White had his own axe to grind 'cos, if I remember rightly, he was a Labour councillor on Islington Council in the mid-eighties, and the old Islington Branch of the SPGB was very noisy and visible in the eighties, and were probably an irritant to the hard left in the local Labour Party, who weren't used to being called on on their lack of socialist credentials.

    As well as being a socialist and chemist, Renson was a local historian (of Hackney) of some repute, hence his obituary in the History Workshop Journal from Jerry White, who himself was a local historian (of Islington). A link to Renson's personal papers can be found here


    Just followed the link for Renson, and found the following biographical information about him:

    Israel Renson was born in 1906, the third child of Jewish immigrants from Russia. Mr Renson Senior was born in about 1860 in Mir, in European Russia and had left Russia about 1890 to become the minister to a congregation at Bath. After a dispute over religious orthodoxy he left in 1892 and came to London, moving many times in the East End. Israel Renson was born in Scarborough Street, but in 1910 the family moved to Colvestone Crescent, Hackney. He went to Sigdon Road School from 1911-16 and then to Dalston Central School. Between 1917 and 1918 he was evacuated to Reading.

    "After leaving school in 1923 Israel Renson was apprenticed to Daniel Vahrman, a chemist in Fournier Street, just off Brick Lane until 1926. While serving his apprenticeship he also attended evening classes at Chelsea Polytechnic to do the examinations required by the Pharmaceutical Society.

    Israel's departure from the Fournier Street business co-incided with the period of the General Strike and it was this period that began his strong socialist leanings, though he had attended many meetings in the East End from 1919 onwards, and sympathised with the Socialist Party of Great Britain, though he never became a member. This arose from his belief that active socialism and running a business were incompatable.

    After a brief and unsuccessful job with a large chemist's firm, Israel Renson went to work for a chemist in Well Street from 1927 to 1935, after which he was able to start up his own business in Classic Mansions, on the south side of Well Street. His political interests continued and he also went to Communist Party meetings in the 1930s. Out of his socialist beliefs came a text on the abolition of money; this was published just after the Second World War as 'Money Must Go' under the pseudonym 'Philoren'. Israel was also active in local affairs, taking a great interest in the local history of Hackney. He was a founder member of the Hackney Society and the Victoria Park Society, and assisted in publications, as well as producing his own work on Broadway Market. He lived with his eldest sister for many years in Skipworth Road and died after a short illness in 1986."

    Well, they got the date of the publication of 'Money Must Go' wrong, and it's unclear from the excerpt if the author knew that Renson co-wrote the pamphlet, rather than being the sole author of the work, but it is definitely a wee insight into a time when the SPGB had an influence out of all proportion to its size.


    daggi said...

    if you like, it was an attempt to put forward the case for socialism in jargon-free language through a dialogue between 'George' and the 'Professor'

    Sean-John-Matgamna-Alice-Paddy-Dollard-O'Keefe-O'Mahony used to do a nice line of dialogues like this one - the film fan that he is, it is entirely possible that before sub-editing one of those taking part in the imagined debate on Kosova/Russia/Livingstone was Mickey Rourke.

    daggi said...

    - or Rooney.