1960s >> 1960 >> no-676-december-1960

The Passing Show: Freedom of the Press

In recent years many newspapers have been forced to cease publication or to sell out and merge with their competitors. No longer are only small papers involved: in the past few months papers as well known as the Sunday Empire News, the News Chronicle and the Star, have gone the way of the rest. It is a cliche that the Freedom of the Press is in practice the freedom of rich men to spread their views through the newspapers they own. Those of us in the Socialist Party know only too well that without vast amounts of capital the Socialist Standard has been able to reach only a small minority of the working class. But the conditions of entry in the newspaper stakes are becoming even more stringent than ever before. The News Chronicle lost money (and therefore, in a capitalist society, had in due course to close down) even though it had a daily readership of over one million. People other than millionaires have not been able to produce a healthy daily paper for many years: now, even the lesser millionaires must be getting worried. Once any millionaire with a taste for it could partake of the Freedom of the Press: now, apparently, only multi-millionaires are allowed to join the club.


The news that the Archbishop of Canterbury is going to visit the Pope makes one wonder what they will talk about. At any rate, we can be sure it won’t do the working class any good. For the Pope agrees with the Archbishop that capitalism is a fine system. This is from the Sunday Press (18/10/59):


  The Holy Father yesterday contrasted the appalling exploitation of workers at the beginning of the century with their present-day pleasant working conditions. Management and labour, working together in harmony, had created a new situation where the workers had never had it so well.


The reader may think that at least it is something that the Pope realises that things were bad sixty years ago. But, of course, everyone will agree that things were bad sixty years ago. The ruling class and its allies are prepared to admit anything except that the present system is bad. In the early years of the century, when the Socialist Party was already working, speaking and writing about “the appalling exploitation of workers,” the then Popes were supporting the capitalist system, just as the present Pope supports the capitalist system now. In fifty years’ time, no doubt, the Pope (if there still is one) will be talking about “the appalling exploitation of the workers in I960.” But it does no good to attack the evils of half a century ago: they can’t be altered now. What must be done is to attack the evils of today—i.e., the evils which are inseparable from the capitalist system.


Pray and work

And what has the Pope to say about the present? He gave, apparently, a “rousing warning against those who trampled the sacrosanct rights of the human person’’—but had no word to say of the Catholic-supported Fascist government of Spain, which denies the workers the most elementary democratic rights. And he rounded off with some advice which must have had every capitalist in the audience standing and cheering:

  The Pope recommended the workers to practise Christian virtues and follow the motto of St. Benedict, “Ora et Labora” (pray and work). In so doing, you will earn the treasures of heaven, he said.

Believe that if you like. One thing is certain: you won’t earn treasures anywhere else.

Monkey business
At a furniture factory in Houston, Texas, three chimpanzees have begun work sealing cushions and doing other simple jobs. The factory-owner plans to replace one employee each week with a chimp. To the factory’s workers, this means the threat of the sack, the threat of unemployment. But there is more to it than that. Surely this news item underlines our present predicament. These human beings—members of the human race, which produced Michaelangelo, Beethoven, Shakespeare—are now reduced to spending their working lives doing monotonous, repetitive jobs which could be done as well by chimpanzees. This is not a question of spending a couple of hours a day, or ten hours a week, tending machines, which people may well decide to do under Socialism, in order to produce enough of the necessaries of life and at the same time free themselves for the rest of the time to develop their personalities as they think best. This is a question of workers spending their entire working lives on stultifying tasks.


The Daily Herald (12/11/60) printed an article which said this should be stopped because of the harm it would do to the human ego. “. . . There are things that the human ego rejects, out of hand, without another thought. And one of those things is the realisation that one’s occupation, one’s life work, could be done equally well by a chimpanzee.”This must typify the difference in political thought between reformers and Socialists. The writer of the Herald article would stop the chimpanzees doing “these jobs, because it makes obvious the degradation of human beings involved— this, of course, would do nothing to stop the degradation. Socialists, on the other hand, want to abolish the system which leads to men spending their lives in this way.


No trivialities

From an advert, in The Times (19/10/60):


  The owner of a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II has his sights firmly on fundamentals and is never decoyed by passing trivialities. A philosophy reflected in his choice of motor car. . . .


So that’s how you get a Rolls. Next time you see anyone driving a broken-down old jalopy tied together with string, don’t assume rashly that it’s because he can’t afford anything better: no, it was his philosophy which led him to choose that model. If you feel that you have your “sights firmly on fundamentals” and the rest of it—well, your philosophy clearly entitles you to a Rolls. Better apply direct.


Alwyn Edgar