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Dwight Macdonald

Off the Record

(7 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 13, 7 March 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In a story about the next world war, printed in a recent issue of the English literary magazine, Seven, there is a marching song which today especially has a certain grim point to it. The author of the story is G.S. Fraser, and he introduces the song thus:

As they marched, they sang a song which had become popular during the war now known as the “dress rehearsal” – the Spanish Civil War. A singularly ribald composition, it was said to be the work of a young English communist who had fought in the International Brigade. For obvious reasons (it was coarse, brutal, unorthodox), it had not been included in his slim, posthumous volume.

The song went like this, to a good marching tune:

Many the skies and the omens above
But few the defenders and feeble the love:
As I passed by Lerida, I heard a man moan:
The beggars, the beggars won’t let us alone!

They regild the saints, they reopen the church,
By our fine-spoken friends we are left in the lurch.
Our cause was most moral, of words we had tons.
But the beggars, the beggars, who gave them the guns?

We went to old Stalin until we were sick,
He said we would beat them with dia-lec-tic!
He said that pure logic would see them in hell!
But the beggars, the beggars maneuvered too well!

We went to old Blum, and he spoke very high,
But he thought of Herr Hitler, and left us to die.
There’ll be weeping and wailing in Paris cafe.
But the beggars, the beggars, they’re well on their way!

We went to Old England, her heart is of oak,
But she soon made us feel we were sorry we spoke.
She wrote us some verse, but blockaded Bilbao
For the beggars, the beggars to give us the kayo.

O, all you fine rebels, whose guns go rantan,
I am a poor sod of a Government man.
I fought till I blistered, I walked till I bust.
But of all the damned beggars, you aren’t the wust!

Gas Masks and the Class War

All over England these days the ominous letters, A.R.P., are blazoned on billboards, sprinkled through the news columns, discussed over tea tables. A.R.P. means “Air Raid Protection” – a series of measures which have so far been put into effect with neither efficiency nor enthusiasm. A certain Sir John Anderson recently stated publicly: “People write as if we ought to aim at making war safe for civilians. My opinion is that we cannot make war safe for civilians.” Sir John’s opinion was heard all over England: he is Chamberlain’s Minister for National Defense. The reason for Sir John’s apathy is the simple fact that in England, as in the other great democracies, nine out of ten citizens are not “people of importance,” i.e., people of enough property to make any difference – except to themselves – whether they are blown to bits or not. Those who can pay for it have all the A.R.P. they want, and of the very best quality. Even in the gas masks issued by the Government to civilians the class lines are sharply drawn. I am told by a returned traveller that there are three types of masks, costing respectively $5, $2.50, and $.90. Every Englishman is free, of course, to buy whichever of these he likes. (“How just are the laws of the Republic,” said Anatole France, “which with stern impartiality forbid the wealthy as well as the poor to steal bread and to sleep in the parks.”) But somehow the well-to-do generally end up with the $5 type, which is a really excellent commodity; the petty bourgeoisie with $2.50 type, which is reasonably effective; and the great mass of workers and unemployed with the ninety cent type, which loses in a month or two such slight protective value as it originally had. My informant also told me that in a recent London slum fire, a tenement dweller put on one of these cheap gas masks to fight his way through the smoke and flames. He was found later, asphyxiated.

“Suffer the Little Children ...”

Last Sunday’s New York Times carries a revealing story on another aspect of A.R.P. in our sister democracy across the sea. The A.R.P. officials estimate there are 2,000,000 children in London and other cities who, in case of war, must be moved out into the countryside if they are to escape being bombed. They have been trying to find refuges for some of these children in the great English country estates.

“The protests,” comments the article, “may seem surprising to any one laboring under the impression that Britain is a democracy on the style of the United States or France ... Most British children living in the cities are poor. And as a Suffolk doctor put it very neatly in a letter to the editor: ‘Children from working class areas in the towns will not fit in with middle class or upper middle class families in the country. Their ways are completely different.’”

A hunting squire in Gloucestershire “urged the government to remember that slum children would not be happy in the country but would prefer the desolate South Wales mining towns – ‘more like what they were used to’.” Viscount Hailsham, until a few months ago Lord Chancellor, asks a whole series of “legalistic questions,” one of them being who will pay him for damage done his property by the children. The United Ratepayers Advisory Association has organized protests in 150 tax districts. Its slogan: “THINK OF THE DANGERS – DIRT, DISEASE, THEFT, VANDALISM, IMMORALITY, AND STRIFE!” Nonetheless, the article concludes in a more cheerful vein, “most of the better off are quietly preparing to put children either in cottages or in a separate part of the house where there is no good furniture to be scratched.” The Duke of Connaught, great-uncle of the King, has been pressed into service by the Prime Minister, who “felt it expedient to ask the royal family to show that such things are ‘done’.” The Duke has announced that he will allow 200 Cockney kids to find shelter in his country home. The article hastens to add: “The youngsters, to be sure, will not be admitted to the Duke’s house itself but will be put up in servants’ cottages ...” The Duke of Connaught suffers the little children to come unto him – but by the servants’ entrance, please.

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