1950s >> 1956 >> no-628-december-1956

Short Story: Street Lamps and Desire

There are two kinds of “leader,” one “born to lead” and coached in the proper schools, the other, risen from humble beginnings and arriving the hard way. What they have in common is the desire to remain “on top” having got there. Dai falls into the latter category. His status in the hierarchy of leaders was quite a minor one, nevertheless very important to Dai—and to those bigger leaders whom he served. Dai is a “leader” in Local Government, grown wise in the running of the affairs of “Fiddlesborough.”

After enjoying the ordinary education afforded to the average working-class child, he went to work in the mines, and his career can be said to have begun. Dai realised quite early that the average miner took little interest in union activity, apart from dues paying and occasional grousing, and less interest in political activity apart from occasionally casting a vote. He soon realised that workers were content to let others act on their behalf, and so he offered himself accordingly. He became Lodge Secretary, adding in the course of time official posts on various committees, including the Hospital Board, Y.M.C.A., and the local Civil Defence organisation.

His ultimate election to the Council was a sinecure. “Fiddlesborough” was an expanding community. New factories (manned by silicotic miners) were going up; houses being built; the social amenities needed looking into. Dai looked into them—at least he said he would, and leaders after all must lead somewhere. Dai chose street lighting as his battle cry (along with a variety of other things): he had read (on his way up) something about Lenin saying that Socialism meant the expansion of Electrical Power. What was right for a country was right for “ Fiddlesborough.” So Dai challenged the forces of Darkness and ignorance with the demand for more street lamps and power plugs in the home.

He “got in.” This was some time ago. Looking back from the modest demands of those days to the “Fiddlesborough” of today, with its 10,000 T.V. masts, 40,000 electric cleaners, not to mention the most streamlined automatic strip-steel mill in Britain, makes one gasp at the vast changes that have taken place—and all under the guidance of a town council predominantly Labour, in itself led by the powerful personality of our Dai, now Alderman David Jones, J.P., whose portrait in oils can be viewed every Wednesday and Friday in the Council Chamber at the Town Hall.

All this goes to show that the prizes offered for unstinted service are worth the effort. The workers are notoriously generous in their recognition of able leadership. Alderman Jones would perhaps agree that success, the achievement of one’s desire, can only come about by a close study of a situation. It is necessary to “hit on something,” in his case street lamps; from this one develops; one soon becomes accomplished in knowing what the workers want next, and so it is seen that happily the workers’ needs afford fresh “talking points” and increased status to the leader.

It is quite true that workers should have better street lighting, home comforts, good roads and services. It is also true that these amenities do not touch on the real problem of their lives—poverty and insecurity. Socialists continue to point out the need for the greater illumination that will expose the evils of Capitalism that actually condemn millions of people in millions of “Fiddlesboroughs” to want and starvation. A needy person’s wants are no more satisfied by walking on a well engineered highway than if he wallowed in a swamp. The world is full of leaders and would-be leaders of various stature, all busily engaged in “getting on” or trying to “stay there.”

Are you content to dribble your life away for a wage that merely keeps you in existence as a producer of wealth that you will never own for the privilege of sending your sons to any part of the world where Capitalist interests are threatened? Are you prepared to continue groping your way through the half-light of Capitalism street lamps withal ignoring the light that comes with the dawn of a Socialist World? If you are, then forget your dignity as human beings. Follow your leaders, and when the next holocaust comes along, give of your vast reservoir the sacrificial streams demanded for your leaders’ protection.

If you are no longer prepared to do these things, get down to it now. You can change “Fiddlesborough.” You can change all the Fiddlesboroughs of this world.

W. Brain