Socialist Society hits the press with rents leaflet campaign

20 February 1968

Today’s Guild Gazette draws attention to the recent formation of a new Guild society – Socialist Society:

Members of the newly-formed Socialist Society have been distributing some 60,000 leaflets to Council houses on Merseyside against the impending rent increases.

As a result, 90,000 Council tenants are likely to go on rent strike.  The leaflet, which was written and printed by members of the Socialist Society and the International Socialist group, emphasises the burden put on the ordinary working man by interest charges.  “The figures are fantastic,” said Martin Barker, “of £7.5 million collected in rents last year, 94% went to the money-lenders.”

Socialist Society were immensely encouraged by the immediate response.  Tenants in Speke quickly contacted the students, and are organising a meeting and a demonstration.  Yesterday, tenants from several estates met the Skelmersdale Tenants Action Committee, who are already on rent strike, and urged them to stay on strike until Liverpool could join them.

“The students’ leaflet has certainly harnessed the anger of Liverpool tenants”, enthused one of the Speke tenants.  “Their actions will convince the ordinary people of Liverpool that not all students are high and mighty”.

The new Society gives as its main aim “to support all workers struggles”.  They give as examples the rents campaign, collections that they are making for Lucas-CAV Fazakerley where there is a strike against the vicimisation of the convener, the support they gave to the Roberts-Arundel workers, and the joint meeting of students and workers last night on the issue of “getting rid of Polaris without creating redundancies.”

Footnote from the future (2010)

This was a time of  intense debate, reorganisation and emergence of new organisations on the radical left –  a consequence of disillusionment with the policies of the Labour government of Harold Wilson (1964-70) and influenced, too, by international issues such as the Vietnam War and the events of May 1968 in France. This period saw the emergence of the International Socialists and the International Marxist Group – both Trotskyist factions which would exercise considerable influence in student radical circles.The IMG were influential in the editorial board of Black Dwarf, the alternative political and cultural newspaper published between May 1968 and 1972 by a collective of socialists that included Tariq Ali, Clive Goodwin, David Mercer, Mo Teitlebaum, Adrian Mitchell, Sheila Rowbotham, Sean Thompson, Roger Tyrrell and Fred Halliday.

Another example of this was the publication of the May Day Manifesto as a Penguin Special in 1968, edited by Raymond Williams and with contributions from the likes of EP Thompson Stuart Hall, Ken Coates, Terry Eagleton and Michael Barratt Brown.

As far as Liverpool Students Union is concerned, Dave Robertson recently recalled the founding of SocSoc as happening like this:

SocSoc was founded as a split from LabSoc at some point in early 68. I remember being instrumental in the split, but with some misgivings. Pete [Cresswell] was (I think) secretary of LabSoc in his 1st year, but my good friend Sue Richards was the real cause of my hesitation. Both Pete & Sue remained behind for the time being. I don’t think Sue ever forgave me.

I forget the reasons for the split. I’m sure they were deeply ‘principled’, masking several layers of infantilism, adventurism & general opportunism. It’s pretty certain opposition to Labour’s support for the Vietnam war would have been a prominent reason. Foreign Secretary, Michael Stewart spoke in the Mountford around that time, and we rudely hassled his speech – not surprising since he never once mentioned ‘socialism’, referring only to ‘liberal democracy’ throughout. The first Grosvenor Square/VSC demo took place in March ’68, and SocSoc took several coaches down to London. I remember being hugely chuffed that so many people wanted to go on the demo (c. 300) until it dawned on me, as we assembled the contingent for the march, that the majority were just bunking a subsidised trip to London and were sloping off at the first opportunity.  Then ‘we’ll always have Paris’ (May/June) and so on. By autumn ’68 and the second VSC march, SocSoc was pretty dominant. All it took to convert into a mass SocSoc were the twin ‘social justice’ issues of fair housing; and anti-racism. They would come in 1969.

Pete Cresswell adds this:

I can’t recall the circumstances around the founding of Soc Soc but at the time it seemed to be an offshoot of the International Socialists, at first anyway (Martin Barker and Lol McGinty).  I wrote a letter to Gazette denouncing its commitment to ‘supporting all strikes’ (the London dockers had just struck in support of Enoch Powell!) and remember Vernon Trafford (remember him?) congratulating me on my letter.  He was on the far right of the Labour Party.   As an officer of the Labour Society I went to lunch with Michael Stewart before the meeting and then asked a hostile question about Vietnam at the meeting (very well attended).  Brian Key (later a Labour MEP) was the secretary of the Labour Society, I think.

The letter in Guild Gazette to which Pete refers went like this:

Sir

In view of SocSoc’s committment to support “all workers’ struggles” I wonder when the principals of that Society intend to declare their support for the struggles of the London dockers to gain approval foer the views of Enoch Powell?

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

2 thoughts on “Socialist Society hits the press with rents leaflet campaign”

  1. It was definitely IS, not IMG, that organised the tenants’ action. I know from painful experience, having been landed the task of leafleting every one of 7500 houses on the Speke estate. But the IS dominance of SocSoc was very short-lived. It ended when I quit IS in protest at their insistence that a huge quota of their newspaper should be sold to SocSoc members. I reasoned that nothing was more likely to drive people away from a fast-growing SocSoc than the prospect of being forced to buy some arcane Trot rag.

    IS, or SWP as it now is, still faces the same problem today. It’s currently undergoing the mother of all bust-ups over paper sales v. mass movement

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