Harry Young (1901-1996): Жизнь и труд (Life and Labour #2)

In contrast to my previous ‘Life and Labour‘ post, this entry looks at Harry’s professional life, outside of his role in the Young Communist League and, importantly, how his political affiliations affected his employment.

Following his return to London, from Moscow, in 1929, Harry found himself ‘[tramping] the City touting for translation work in order to raise a few coppers’ when it was suggested to him to ‘apply to the London Telephone Service for a post as Foreign Language Operator.’

The opening of the London Paris ISD in 1963
The International Trunk Dialling Desk‘ at London Telephone Exchange

The post took its toll on Harry. In fact, he declares that ‘I hated it. I loathed it.’ His shift pattern consisted of ‘three evenings or 7 or 8 pm to 11 or midnight, and two nights, so called “all the ways” of twelve hours.’ Despite his hatred of the hours, he continued the work, while training at ‘the Northampton Polytechnic […] to learn “engineering”, mainly lathe work, fitting and turning and blacksmith’s work.’ If this wasn’t enough of a demand on his time, he was ‘still active in the Communist Party’ which eventually the cause of some trouble for Harry professionally.

After ‘haranguing a sizeable crowd in Victoria Park, Hackney,’ one Sunday afternoon, the very next morning he was ordered to ‘report to the Superintendent of the London Telephone Service […] at once.’ The purpose of the meeting, as Harry recalls, was to ‘demand and “explanation” of [his] Communist Party activities’ and to intimate that ‘”these were inconsistent with [his] position as a Civil Servant.”‘ In keeping with his mischievous character, Harry notes that he told the Superintendent ‘”I did not know what he was talking about” […] especially when he showed me photos of my self on the public platform’ which, unsurprisingly ‘dumbfounded him’.

Despite his efforts, Harry eventually was convinced to ‘abstain from further political activities’ and forced into the position of ‘Relief man’, which came with a drop in hours and wages. The ‘utterly ludicrous’ affair left Harry with little choice but to resign his position.

Following the debacle at the telephone exchange, Harry worked, for a short time as ‘a Foreign Correspondence Clerk at B. Elliot and Co., of Kings Cross’ before adopting the post of editor ‘of the English version of the “Monthly Communist International” publication. Now this appointment is where Harry truly thrived!

‘The Communist International’ October 1919

During my research, I came across some of the articles that Harry wrote and published during his time at the ‘Communist International’ – and there are a lot! Some of them penned under the pseudonym ‘Horatio’, Harry’s Socialist ideologies were given the perfect outlet – he could speak to an ever-increasing audience without even opening his mouth. Far from all being propaganda, like his speeches, some of his articles pose some quite critical arguments. His 1922 article ‘No More War?‘ challenges the notion that peace followed the end of the First World War. He argues that ‘It was the IMPERIALIST war. […] a war for the bourgeoisie and their BIG BUSINESS’ and that ‘even the four years which have passed since the “World War” have seen nothing else but war’ (between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat).

After his focus switched from the aftermath of WW1, he produced a piece in 1954 that asked the question, ‘Are the Workers Better Off?‘ in response to a suggestion in parliament that Capitalism ‘improves the condition of the working-class.’ Harry argues that the so-called improvements were based on the Capitalist strategies of:

  1. Stretching the number of hours worked;
  2. Speeding up in the same hours as before; or
  3. Cheapening the stuff the workers live on.

He concludes that ‘no matter which way it is done, the worker is worse off

Stuart Macintyre echoes Harry’s sentiments of the implementation of Capitalist control. He suggests that ‘[for] the Communist it was perfectly natural that the class which owns the means of production […] should strive to control every aspect of life and thought of society, encouraging here, suppressing there, thus by direct and indirect means securing its privileged position.’ (‘British Labour, Marxism and Working Class Apathy.’ 1977, 480)

Harry’s writing strives to expose the controlling nature of Capitalism, through a logical dismantling of the facts that supposedly justify it. If the masses can understand how they are being controlled by Capitalism, then surely they can resist it!

The marxists.org archive holds no less than 48 of Harry’s publications, the last one written in November 1989, seven years before his death, which offered a passionate criticism of Capitalist control over natural resources, entitled ‘Why Water is a Commodity.’

If this collection says anything about Harry’s professional life, it shows that the seed of Socialism that was planted in him during his childhood, evolved into a lifelong commitment to its cause. As with so much of the subjects I cover in these posts, there are endless other instances and observations that would, no doubt, be of interest to you, dear reader, but these must be saved for another time.

Burnett, John, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography vol. 2. Brighton: Harvester, 1987. YOUNG, Harry 2-858

Macintyre, Stuart. ‘British Labour, Marxism and Working Class Apathy in the Nineteen Twenties.’ The Historical Journal 20.2 (June 1977): 479-496.

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