Monday, November 25, 2013

L3 British civilization commentaire de texte

Text commentary L3 British civilization
Commentaire de texte L3 Obituary of Harold Wilson

Ce post fait suite au devoir sur table de la semaine dernière.
Ceci n’est pas un corrigé, mais quelques notes sur des éléments du texte que vous auriez pu faire ressortir. Si vous avez trouvé la moitié, c’est déjà pas mauvais.

Les erreurs principales restent les mêmes : paraphraser le texte, raconter des cours d’histoire sans se référer au texte, et, enfin, oublier de se poser la question clé ; qu’essaie de faire l’auteur (dans ce cas le journaliste de The Independent).

Voici le texte à commenter :

OBITUARY : Lord Wilson of Rievaulx
A homely, pipe-smoking, classless man, like a good family doctor
The Independent, 25 May 1995
Harold Wilson served as Prime Minister for almost eight years, then a peacetime record. For 13 years he led the Labour Party, winning four general elections and losing one. In 1976, shortly after his last victory, he gave up office for all time, to the astonishment of the world.
What was wrong? Was he suffering from a grave secret illness? Was some great scandal about to break? Why should a man held in high esteem by his party and who had just celebrated his 60th birthday resign from the prime ministership at an age when Churchill, Eden and Home had yet to form a government? The speculation was so lively that almost everyone missed the simple truth. It was that Wilson had had enough and did not intend to fight another election. He had no new solutions for Britain's old and recurrent problems and less energy than he had once had to sort out the party's internal feuds.
All but a few people missed too the historical significance of his resignation, that it signalled the approaching decline of the kind of demand-managed economy cum Welfare State which had begun in 1945, had been maintained by three Tory prime ministers and had been developed by Wilson. It was left to his successor James Callaghan to tell the party bluntly it was untrue that a government could simply spend its way out of depression and unemployment. The years of consensus between the parties and within them were coming to an end. The Labour Party was soon to be defeated by Margaret Thatcher's radical Conservatism; and, without Wilson to hold it together, was to lose some of its right wing to Roy Jenkins's breakaway movement, the Social Democratic Party, and to see the ''broad left'' flexing its muscles dangerously.
But the mystery of Wilson's personality was simply that it was all there on display. There was nothing more to know. He was a brilliant academic but no intellectual. There were no philosophic depths to probe. He was one of the few university socialists of his generation to escape the tamed and benevolent Marxism of the Left Book Club. He kept away from the Oxford Labour Club which was run by Communists and joined the Liberals. But in Huddersfield he joined the Labour Party before he was 20, the party ''that represented my highest moral and religious ideas''. He was a Christian, inspired by the ''social gospel'', finding his code of conduct in the precepts of the Scout Law and Kipling's ''If''.
''Shall we,'' he asked later, ''build a new Britain of fair shares and equal opportunity, or return to boom-and-bust days with their inequality and restrictive national production?'' That was, and remained, his socialism in a nutshell. In the controversy about the proposed removal of Clause IV of the party's constitution which seemed to envisage the public ownership of almost everything, Wilson took a relaxed view. ''Let it stand,'' he said. ''It is an ideal, not a detailed programme.'' Yet it was wrong to say that he had no ideology or for him to claim he was wholly pragmatic. He shared the conventional outlook of the revisionist socialists of his generation: a mixed economy, a Welfare State, supported on an expanding industrial base, part of it publicly owned, and full employment made possible by Keynesian expansion and trade-union moderation.

Et voici une esquisse de commentaire :

This document is an extract from an obituary which is aiming at evaluating Harold Wilson’s life and his contribution to British society. It is published in a newspaper which is left of centre, so we might imagine it was going to be generally positive about the Labour Party and Wilson[1]. Wilson is presented in the subtitle[2] in a fairly positive light: « homely, like a good family doctor »: that is, a person you can trust in difficult times. On the other hand a family doctor is not a great leader or a world changing statesman, and indeed the author presents Wilson as someone who hasnot really understood the changes in politics economics and society of the new neoliberal times.

Harold Wilson was prime minister from 1964 to 1970, and then again in the middle of the 1970s. This obituary was written in 1995, after Britain had lived through 16 years of Conservative government. We can see in the passage both evidence of the values and priorities of Wilson in the sixties and seventies, and the dominant ideas of the 1990s when the piece was published.

The heading reminds us that Harold Wilson was Lord Wilson when he died. This does not of course signify an aristocratic background. Wilson was made a life peer in recognition of his political career, as is very common with political leaders, trade union leaders and others, since the introduction of life peers in 1958. Wilson was in fact from a working class background, despite the journalist identifying him as " classless".

The writer presents the post-war boom Wilson ruled over as a time of consensus between the parties (others have preferred to speak of a ."settlement"). Certainly increasing social spending on the welfare state, the building of millions of good quality council houses to replace the slums the poor lived in previously, the development of health care free at the point of use, the use of nationalization of a large section of the economy (gas,electricity,steel,railways etc) were the key characteristics of this period, whereas privatization, low taxes for high incomes, and the reduction of the influence of trade unions have been the characteristics of the decades after Margaret Thatcher's 1979 victory. For this journalist, the changes seem inevitable.

The writer is not intending to simply recount Wilson's life ; he is also putting forward his own theory about the historical significance of Wilson's surprise resignation in 1976. He considers that Wilson resigned young because his ideas were out of date, and he suggests that Margaret Thatcher's ideas were more useful for Britain in the new age of crisis. We can see his attitude in his choice of words: Thatcher's ideas are described as "radical" whereas the influence of the left wing inside the labour party at the end of the nineteen seventieś he sees as “dangerous”. His  sarcastic reference to clause four as envisaging the public ownership "of almost everything" is not a left wing view of this clause.

The fact that being a political leader involves both dealing with questions of policy and with disagreement and disputes inside one's own party is shown at several points, Wilson's treatment of ..”internal feuds” is mentioned. We can see that the journalist has a negative view of internal debate in the Labour party. A few of the more spectacular divisions within the Labour party are also referred to : the split to the right which formed the Social Democratic Party at the beginning of the 1980s, and the struggle over clause four under the stewardship of Neil Kinnock in the mid 1990s

The mention of clause four allows the writer to contrast Wilson's opinion with that of later Labour party leaders who campaigned very hard to eliminate clause four from the Labour party constitution. Established in 1918, after the Russian revolution, the clause speaks of an intention “to secure for the workers... The full fruits of their labour” and is clearly of Marxist inspiration. The clause was eliminated in the 1990s, symbolizing the beginning of the New Labour party, which would soon be Tony Blair’s “third way”, abandoning many traditional socialist ideas and being as keen on privatization as were the Conservatives. The student grants of the 1960s and 1970s which allowed many ordinary people to go to university free, were replaced by tuition fees of several thousand pounds a year, and large student loans.

So the writer takes us through a series of contrasts : the politics of the years of the post war boom are contrasted to a later period, Harold Wilson is contrasted with what the writer says he was not: intellectual or ideological. Wilson is presented as a rather simple man, guided by simple texts like Kipling’s poem on the ideal English man, or the scout law (which speaks of doing one’s duty, and doing one’s best, important but not grand ideals. A scout is not a great leader!)

He does say one thing that Wilson achieved. He did not only continue the welfare state but « developed » it. The rise of university education for ordinary people inthe 1960s and 1970s, with the opening of many new universities and the establishment of the open university, and the advent of comprehensive education, which broke with the more elitist “grammar school system”, could be cited as examples of Wilsons contribution.

Although, as is traditional in an obituary, the writer underlines some of Wilson's virtues, he also uses the article to communicate his own opinion: that Wilson's ideas were out of date by 1976, and, he suggests, their replacement by neoliberal politics was a necessary development.

[1] Notice there is no need to waste time by copying out the date of publication and the name of the newspaper.
[2] Notez que le titre et le sous-titre sont plus important que le reste du texte, par définition, alors c’est dommage de ne pas en dire quelques phrases quand possible.

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