When Democractic Socialism was at its best phase

Under Gandhi’s influence we can say now that the rest of the nationalist movement was under an unclear mindset about our Independence. We were still made to believe in the benign rule of the British government. It was the emergence of Hitler, we in India too began to think of the threats on the lines of what the British thought of the events in Europe. Just now I was going through a book on Hugh Gaitskell (1906-1963), a book by admirers and friends of the much-admired Labour Party leader in Britain. Some of the contributors to the volume, Maurice Bowra, John Betjeman, Margaret Cole, Douglas Jay, Roy Jenkins, Clement Atlee are all known names. In a personal sense I also knew them all while I was at Oxford. In a much more personal way I knew Hugh Gaitskell himself! Yes, he was a New College man and I used to see him in the New College Quad or at the dining hall where he would come after an overnight stay in the College rooms. I happened to occupy the very rooms he had once occupied as a student in the College. In fact, this fact was revealed to me by my scout(the English servant who kept my room ).

He would chat with me occasionally and it was he who first told me about Gaitskell and what a wonderful student he was and how he had then become the most admired Labour Party leader. In fact, it was 1959 and there was a General Election and all my Oxford College was in a sort of buzz over the outcome of the elections. We all eagerly expected debated the prospects of Gaitskell becoming the Prime Minister.

But alas! He lost the elections. The book before me is a collection of tributes by those who knew him so intimately. Now, reading it after so many years, I was particularly drawn towards the personality of Gaitskell for his family members were all once government servants in India. The very first photo in the books is he as a child held by his Indian aye! A white child with a black Indian maid!

He went to the best public school and Oxford’s New College. My College had the reputation of nurturing a large number of labour personalities. What the young Hugh Gaitskell growing as an young man out in the world and talked all about the growing social inequalities in UK. In the background of the rise and consolidation of Communism under Stalin, there was this intellectual debate of creating a just world,a just social order. In UK, there was already the socialist movement, the founding of the Fabian Society in 1885 itself.In 1887 Fabian Tract Facts for Socialists were published.In 1889 Fabian Essays published. The duo, Beatrice Potter,a well-off girl from a merchant family met a low born and yet a bright man, Sidney Webb(”she adjusted her sights to the scruffy, rather ugly little man in the shiny suit”)and she married him in 1892.

As they say the rest is history. That is the history of the rise and growthy of the British version of Parliamentary Socialism, as an alternative to the Soviet Russian Communism.

As I now look into the dusty volumes on the subject, as I was an ardent Fabian Socialist since my Oxford days and I used to collect all the books and writings and biograpies of the so many finest thinkers of the period, my mind wanders forth and back! The Webbs were a prodigious couple, they write much and it was they who, in spite of being strict democrats, wrote such volumes like “Soviet Communism: A new Civilisation?”(1935).

– V.ISVARMURTI

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