For the past few weeks I’ve been sorting through and curating the contents of a huge ancient trunk that came down here from my mother’s house more than fifteen years ago, after she died and her house was put up for sale. The material in the trunk dates from 1965 to 1973, and includes memorabilia and school papers from my time in England. I hadn’t laid eyes on anything in the trunk since it was put in there in 1973, so this has been a real trip down memory lane.
Tucked inside one of the school notebooks was a flyer containing the “Manifesto for Secondary Schools” from the Young Communist League. I took my O-levels and A-levels at Harrogate High School in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the late ’60s, and was probably handed the flyer by some politically zealous schoolmate in about 1969, when I was in the sixth form. I was largely apolitical in those days, so I must have stuck the thing in a notebook and promptly forgot about it. The trunk in which it rested for five decades was all but airtight, so the flyer is in pristine condition.
Readers will find it interesting to look at the demands made by the YCL and assess to what extent they have been met in the fifty-one years since the manifesto was printed. The people who wrote it must have been a few years older than I was at the time, which would put them in their early seventies now. Is that Jeremy Corbyn’s cohort? Are they the men and women who now preside over the Labour Party?
A side-note: In their tract the revolutionaries made reference to “racialism” in British society. Back then I was bilingual — fluent in both British and American — and kept in my mind an extensive lexicon of differences between the two languages, so that I could speak and write properly in the context of my schoolwork. I considered “racialism” to be the British version of what Americans called “racism”. Evidently the Brits have since adopted the Americanism, because these days you almost always read “racism”.
[There has been extensive borrowing in both directions since the Digital Age dawned. For example, I’ve actually seen British writers refer to the “sidewalk” instead of the “pavement”. Horrors! But it works both ways — Americans say “early on” nowadays, but I had never heard the idiom before I moved to England, and considered it a Briticism while I lived there.]
Below is the full text of the manifesto from the Young Communist League, ca. 1969. All italics are in the original.
MANIFESTO FOR SECONDARY SCHOOLS
A spectre is haunting the citadels of power — the spectre of revolutionary youth.
Our generation is determined not to make the mistakes of the present holders of power. We are determined to end hunger, racialism, social injustice and war. And our struggle for a better world does not stop at the school gate. There is much to be done in our schools.
Soon 18-year-olds may be considered adults in the eyes of the law. Therefore, from the middle of the secondary school, we demand to be considered as young people rapidly approaching adulthood. Senior students should have full democratic rights, including participation in the government of the school.
We make these demands, not only in defence of our own rights, but also in order that the secondary schools — in which all young people spend at leas four years — shall fully carry out their function as the most important institutions for the education of the members of our society.
These are our demands, and we are prepared to take direct action to win them:
|1.||Recognition of the right of the students of any school to form an autonomous School Council, which may discuss all matters affecting the school.|
|2.||Participation on an equal footing with the teachers, governors (who should be re-titled “lay advisers”), and parents in the government of the school.|
|3.||Abolition of corporal punishment and other Victorian methods of discipline.|
|4.||The immediate raising of the school-leaving age to 16, with all the necessary provision of buildings and additional teachers.|
|5.||The right to form political clubs and inter-school unions.|
|6.||The right of senior students not to wear school uniform.|
|7.||Abolition of military training units in schools.|
|8.||Complete revision of the examinations system, including the moving of the emphasis from examinations to continual assessment of course work. The content of G.C.E. courses and the methods of assessment must be under the control of the teachers and students, instead of being dictated by the universities.|
|9.||Grants for all remaining in full-time education after the age of 16.|
|10.||An end to religious instruction and assemblies in schools.|
|11.||Better opportunities on leaving school. The Youth Employment Service must be improved and there must be more university and college places.|
|12.||A new Education Act embodying the above demands, and providing for comprehensive schools for all, with the abolition of the grammar schools and public schools.|
|13.||Greater expenditure on education at all levels.
These demands can unite the majority of students. Out of this unity will come the strength to take action to turn this Manifesto into reality.
The Young Communist League will work with all who support some or all of the above demands. As revolutionary socialists we state two further aims:
|1.||More money for education to come from slashing the massive £2,200 million annual arms bill, and by heavy taxation on big business and the rich.|
|2.||To take over private industry and the State, and establish a Socialist Britain.
[There follows the YCL recruitment form, which is shown as an image at the top of this post.]
My school had religious (Church of England) instruction and assemblies, as described in Demand #10. It also practiced (or practised) corporal punishment, as described in Demand #3. It happened very rarely, but on occasion an intractable miscreant would be caned by the headmaster.
Harrogate High School was a grammar school, as described in Demand #12. A few years after I sat my A-levels it was merged with the secondary modern school next door, and the whole complex became a comprehensive school. As far as I know, the grammar schools have all but disappeared. But there are still public schools — after all, the aristocracy and the nouveau riche have to educate their children somewhere away from the common ruck.
I notice the impeccable English prose used in the manifesto. It was written by the last generation to be educated properly in what had up until that time been the best system of state-funded schools in the world — an education that those Young (now Old) Communists declined to provide for subsequent generations.