30 March 2009

Socialist ideology among people of influence

Dame Janet Vaughan[1], like Mary Adams[2], was a Fellow Traveller, as communist sympathisers were then called. In Mary Adams’s environment I picked up on a lot of the basic attitudes of communism. As they came out in communist propaganda, they were blunt and unvarnished, without the justificatory ideology in which modern British socialism has wrapped them.

The hatred of innate ability was very clear, with no complicated suggestions that it was evenly distributed over all social classes. Working class to be promoted, precocious achievement to be prevented.

Mary Adams quoted with approval the Russian prescription that children should not be allowed to read before the age of seven; they should be having social interactions. If you wiped out of my mind all the associations arising from everything I had read before the age of seven, and the conclusions which I drew from it, a very significant part of my mental background would be gone. In fact it would not be possible, as so much of what I thought later depended, implicitly or explicitly, on my early reading.

A belief in socialism implies in practice a wish to deny opportunity to innate ability and independence of mind, particularly in combination. At least, I have always found it to be so.

So it was singularly unfortunate for me to go to Somerville, where Dame Janet was a violent and ruthless implementer of communist ideals. It is not surprising that tutors at Somerville took every opportunity to trip up those with high IQs or aspirations to achieve something in their lives.

Recently there was an article about some ‘gifted children’ in the Daily Mail (25 March 2009), applying to them the system of interpretation already in existence at the time of my education, and applied to me both by the local community in Essex and by Dame Janet.

In this system of interpretation, ‘ambition’ can only be the result of parental influence and is likely to make them ‘abnormal’; taking exams is described as ‘pressure’, getting ahead of other children is likely to isolate them from others (which is regarded as a bad thing), and ‘normality’ and ‘normal social interactions’ are stressed as overridingly important.

From an old-fashioned point of view it might seem strange that a person with strong communist sympathies, implying as they do a hatred of innate ability and personal ambition, should have been considered a suitable person to appoint as Principal of an Oxford college.

[1] Principal of Somerville College, Oxford, 1945-1967.

[2] A former Head of Television Talks at the BBC.