Not being an English-raised Marxist, I didn’t really know who GDH Cole was, not until hearing Thee Faction’s hit single ‘(Don’t Call on Rock’n’Roll) Call on GDH Cole‘. So I knew the name, and that he was worth calling on. I trust those guys. Shortly thereafter Mark explained that he was Oliver Postgate’s uncle and the inspiration for Professor Yaffle in Bagpuss. Pretty damn swoony.
So I thought of him fondly, though still in great ignorance. Uncovering Death of a Millionaire in one of Mark’s many boxes of books, I pulled it out to read. And now that I am writing this, I thought perhaps I’d find out a little more…but life is a little busy, so I am just going to lazily quote from Thee Faction’s website. It starts out interesting with the description of GDH Cole as a ‘Bolshevik soul in a Fabian muzzle’.
GDH Cole was born in 1889. Between then and his death in 1959, he effectively did all the things you’d expect a man of the British Left to do. He wrote for the Guardian, the Left Book Club and the New Statesman, he ran the Fabians, he was huge in the cooperative movement, he was a Professor at Oxford…
Why do they love GDH Cole apart from being the inspiration for Professor Yaffle? Not for the Fabian bit thank god. No, they’re all about Guild Socialism:
A million and one blueprints for socialism exist. Most lead unavoidably to Stalinism, because they hand everything over to the State. Guild Socialism doesn’t. That whole area of life that exists between the individual and the state is what needs to be democratised: Civil Society. So where Stalinism destroyed all the space between the individual and the State, ensuring that the State was everything, Guild Socialism offers a path to a socialism where the State is almost nothing.
That sounds interesting. I won’t quote any more at you, I will wait until I have read some GDH Cole for myself.
It is too late to take their advice and stay away from the detective fiction though…I did, however, really love the gossipy bit about Beatrice Webb thinking he had no sense of humour.
There were a handful of things I really liked about the novel — and it wasn’t absolutely terrible, especially as it helped me to sleep and I needed that. It wasn’t too didactic either, and I learned of the existence of hotels without signs for the right kind of people.
The driver was a small, wizened old man, looking somehow ridiculously out of place in his taxi-driver’s uniform. You realized why, when you heard him speak. Then you knew that he was an old horse-cab driver, driven to a change of occupation that the times should change. He glanced, with small, suspicious eyes, at the two police officers… (61)
I read that and suddenly a window opened up to me, the change from horses to cars, the cost to human beings. I like sentences that do that.
The next one actually made me snort:
“I began,” said Pasquett, “as you know, by getting myself into the confidence of the Bolshevik fellows down here. That was easy enough, I found, where I showed them letters from Lenin, and a few other things like that. (149)
And the grand finale, the moral of the tale?
The trouble about you, Arthur, is that you’ve been badly brought up. You think you’re a bit of an iconoclast; but away down in your mind you’ve a profound veneration for property, and law and order, and middle-class morality, and all the other things you criticise in those funny little books of yours. I had all of that knocked out of me quite early…It’s only that I’m not civilized, and you are. (287)
I can’t quite imagine Professor Yaffle saying that, but possibly just imagining what the world would be if he could…