George Walford: Why Not?
The letter below was sent to the Socialist Standard on 16th February 1977. It has not been printed. It has not been acknowledged.
The Socialist Standard
(Intended for publication)
Robert Barltrop’s article “Question of Intelligence,” in the Socialist Standard of December 1976, has just been brought to my attention. The article arises from the announcement, in the Sunday Times, that Professor Cyril Burt had “published false data and invented crucial facts to support his controversial theory that intelligence is largely inherited.” Robert Barltrop quotes a reference to Burt from a pamphlet by Harold Walsby, SPGB – Utopian or Scientific? published by the Social Science Association in 1949. Walsby accuses the SPGB of ignoring the evidence provided by Burt and others and says this shows the “scientific” SP case to be nothing more than emotion disguised as science.
Barltrop, basing himself on the Sunday Times article, tries to turn the argument against Walsby:
The ‘evidence’ Walsby thought conclusive was emotion wrapped as science, and whoever used it to illuminate ‘the psychology of workers’ would now be in the dark.
It is a neat piece of debating technique. The only trouble with it is that its operative phrase, the fulcrum on which it turns, collapses when examined.
The evidence to which Walsby refers is “the actual stastistical-psychological investigations by Prof. Burt, Thompson, Cattel and many others… ” This evidence, as a whole, has not been invalidated. It has not been shown to be “emotion wrapped as science.” One of the investigators named has been convicted of faking his results, but Barltrop himself quotes the Sunday Times – which he believes when it suits him to do so – as pointing out that the revelations do not totally invalidate even Burt’s work. And the work of the other investigators stands as firmly as before.
Having met Robert Barltrop’s main point squarely (it is, by the way, a minor issue in Walsby’s pamphlet, occupying less than one page out of fifty-six), I must draw attention to something else in his article likely to mislead people not familiar with Walsby’s work. Barltrop mentions the view “that a large portion of the population were constitutionally incapable of learning much or running their own lives,” and says “Typical examples of this appeared in the writings by Harold Walsby.” I challenge Mr. Barltrop to produce even one example of Walsby saying this.
The implication in Barltrop’s phrases is that Walsby regarded the working class as being mentally inferior. He did not.
He did hold that the majority of the workers would never understand Socialism, but he also held that the majority of the capitalists would never understand it either.
Finally – and this is what matters – who is right? Walsby or the SPGB? Walsby held that the majority of people, workers and capitalists alike, would reject the Socialist case. The SPGB holds that the majority of workers will accept it – if not, what is the point of presenting it to them? Since 1904 the evidence has been consistently in Walsby’s favour. The overwhelming majority of those who have heard the Socialist case have rejected it. I repeat: the overwhelming majority of those who have heard the Socialist case have rejected it.
The SPGB tells us this is not because the material conditions are not ripe for Socialism. Walsby quotes from page 12 of the SP pamphlet Socialism:
… we need not wait for further advances in the means of production. Every requisite is already in the hands of society.
According to the SPGB the material conditions are ripe for Socialism and the workers are capable of understanding Socialism. But we don’t get Socialism. The theory of the SPGB cannot explain this. Harold Walsby’s theory does explain it. It explains how it comes about that the overwhelming majority of those who have heard the Socialist case have rejected it in the past, persist in rejecting it now, and will continue to reject it in the future. Also – and this is a harder task – Walsby’s theory explains how it is that a tiny minority comes to accept the Socialist case.
Geo. W. Walford
6 April 1977