Editorial: Shall We Mourn?

On August 15th the newspapers displayed large headlines announcing the death of Lord Northcliffe, the newspaper magnate. It is an interesting sidelight on the sham hostilities of the papers, that those who were lately his bitter enemies—on paper !—are now deploring his loss as that of “a great national figure and a prince of journalists.”

Working men who ponder over the actions of such “great men” are not moved to deplore his loss. It is to them but the loss of one who has climbed upon their shoulders ; a member of the privileged class ; a staunch supporter of the evil that Capitalism signifies—the havoc of wars and the miseries of peace.

The daily Press, without exception, exists in the main, not merely to give news “calculated to attract at the moment the legitimate interest of a reasonable man or woman,” as one paper would have us believe, but to provide a source of income to the proprietors. In doing this, it endeavours to gloss over the worst features of Capitalism and keep the workers satisfied with the present system of wealth production, which brings ease and comfort to the propertied few, and overwork and misery to the property-less many.

A large slice of the revenue of a newspaper comes from advertisements. A paper that cannot command a large circle of advertisers stands little chance of surviving.. Broadly speaking, those who advertise in the newspapers (we are referring to large advertisers, of course) favour the paper having the largest circulation among those interested in such advertisers’ wares ; at the same time, being Capitalists, they will fight shy of a paper publishing information likely to harm their enterprises. Consequently the proprietors of a newspaper have two points of prime importance to bear in mind in the conduct of their journals—to obtain as large a circulation as possible, and, at the same time, to avoid, if possible, publishing anything that may offend their advertisers. The importance of the latter point many an Editor has learnt to his cost.

From the above we can see what attitude a flourishing newspaper must of necessity take towards the workers. It must side with the masters in keeping the workers in servitude. The news we are favoured with is selected with this end in view, though the papers dare not keep back some matters without risking a fall in the circulation upon which largely depends the quantity and value of the advertisements received.

Lord Northcliffe was a successful newspaper proprietor because his papers were conducted with a careful eye to these points ; in other words, he was an enemy of the working class.

How much the Press is concerned about the workers is illustrated by the statement of one paper (Daily News, 15/8/22), which, in an editorial, makes the following reference to Northcliffe’s death :—

“Next to the war, it is probably the most important fact in the history of this generation.”

What a callous lie ! The most important fact in the history of this generation is the fact that hundreds of thousands—ay, millions—of human beings are dying of overwork and underfeeding in presence of wealth, and means of producing wealth, accumulated in quantities undreamt of in the world before. Beside this the death of a newspaper magnate sinks into insignificance.

The Daily News (15/8/22) whilst commenting on Northcliffe’s death, made the following significant remarks :—

“His judgment of men was sound, with the result that he surrounded himself with a band of able colleagues and assistants, who did much to aid him in establishing and carrying on the manifold undertakings of which he was the founder.”

The above remarks may excuse us for making a little digression.

Turn, to the life of any of the so-called “Great Men” produced by Capitalism, and it will be found that the tale is nearly always similar; they climbed to wealth and fame by appropriating the product of other men’s brains.

In this connection two men in particular may be mentioned—Andrew Carnegie and Pierpont Morgan. Both acquired huge fortunes, and both accomplished this end by using the genius of others.

Carnegie, the “great” ironmaster, knew nothing of metallurgy, but employed those who did, and rose to affluence on the results of their genius. He successfully took the fruits of others’ toil from the time he got control of Woodruff’s invention of the embryonic Pullman car until his mills turned out steel made by the Bessemer process, the process discovered by a genius whose name is unknown.

Pierpont Morgan acquired much of his “fame” in connection with the organisation of combinations in the American railway industry. He is spoken of as having had a marvellous head for taking in the position of the affairs of a company almost at a glance. How did this “great” man do the trick? The following quotation from “The Life Story of J. Pierpont Morgan,” by Carl Hovey (Heinemann), gives the key :—

“All credit for this series of railroad rehabilitations is by no means his alone ; to one of his partners—the late Charles H. Coster—was assigned the task of solving the intricate and interwoven relations of railroad obligations, bonds, underlying bonds, collateral trust mortgages, and every other artificial form of securing a loan—and determining the amount fairly represented by each. Coster was a kind of rare genius, a sort of financial chemist, and possessed a gift of analysis in this new and difficult field; it often happened, when everyone else was baffled, that he alone was able to lay before his chief solutions clear and sound, which made it possible for Mr. Morgan to go ahead with his plans for a new structure” (p. 233).

That is how the trick was done ! And that is the way the “prince of journalists” did the trick.

When the workers of the world own the product of their labours, there will be no need for one to steal the work of another. Each will take his part in the production of needful things, and each will share in the enjoyment of such things.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, September 1922)

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