An Abundance of Riches: Item No.2  This is AMERICA

 

Beyond Coal: the SWCC and Its Concealed Seams

 “SWCC” stands for the South Wales Coalfield Collection. This internationally significant collection is housed at two locations: the Richard Burtons Archives and the South Wales Miners’ Library. The Archive holdings include written documents, manuscripts and photographs. The Miners’ Library is custodian of printed material (books and pamphlets), posters, Lodge banners, oral history recordings and a variety of press cuttings.

The SWCC has its origins in two major research projects conducted by the departments of History and Economic History at Swansea University. Between 1971 and 1982 researchers went out into mining and former mining communities to gather and preserve the written, visual and oral histories of the industrial communities of South Wales. With the ever increasing threat from the contraction of the mining industry, this material was in great peril: much of it was on the verge of being lost. Since then, the collection and preservation process has continued, and has welcomed donations from unions, educational institutions, media companies and individuals, to mention but a few. The SWCC is now one of the largest, most notable and unique archives in the United Kingdom.

This series of articles is aimed at highlighting non-coal or coal mining related printed materials within the SWCC, and to demonstrate the diversity and research value of these holdings. Individual items of particular interest will be showcased, evidencing the wider scope and contents of the SWCC, investigating its profuse and unprecedented nature and focusing upon its importance to a greater understanding and respect for the history, culture, society and politics of the South Wales coalfield.

Item No.2 

This is AMERICA

Derek Kartun, 1947

Location: The South Wales Miners’ Library, SWCC pamphlets, Brinley Griffiths, Box 5

AUG This is America Derek Kartun

“The astounding contradictions of America make up a pile so high it is difficult to see the top…This is a country which has a tear gas industry for strike breaking: where in parts of Texas you are still more likely than not to carry a revolver.”

Derek Kartun (9 August 1919 – 11 January 2005) was a complex and difficult to define individual. His family were of mixed European and Jewish heritage and their milieu was that of abundant luxury and interest, mixing with the cultural bourgeoisie and international artists of repute. Derek himself was a somewhat incongruous amalgamation of left-wing activist, captain of capitalism and journalist. Upon leaving school he worked in an advertising agency, then as a script writer for “B” movies for M.G.M, where he met his soon to be close friend the writer and journalist Claud Cockburn.

During World War Two Kartun found his political purlieu in the Communist Party. He produced a number of books and assisted Cockburn by penning articles for his somewhat contentious news-sheet The Week. He joined the staff at the Daily Worker in 1945, eventually becoming its Foreign Editor, which led to his bearing witness to the April 1948 Siege of Jerusalem and the painful birth of the new state of Israel.

Kartun and his wife, Gwen Farrow, immersed themselves in the world of the left-wing intelligentsia, their home in Kensington becoming a focal point for those of a similar bent. By the time of the Hungarian uprising and its brutal suppression by the Soviets in 1956, Kartun was becoming disillusioned with communist dogma, and transferred his allegiance to the Labour cause.

Kartun then spent a number of years oiling the wheels of capitalism, becoming chairman of the clothing company Staflex, before making a return to writing in the form of a series of spy novels.

Although never one to blindly follow the Communist manifesto, Kartun retained a strong sense of injustice for all of those who were oppressed or exploited by “the system”. In “This is AMERICA” he writes of American life in general, with special attention payed to its ethos, political set-up and economic structure, describing the deleterious consequences of an over-commercialised culture on those exposed to its capitalistic whims and omnipotent political establishment.

 

Joanne E Waller, South Wales Miners’ Library