The Fat of the Land

Even a newspaper like The Sun should be asked to explain itself at times. On 22nd November its editorial said: “Britain’s future is bleak, sombre and perilous . . . the British are fat, lazy, complacent — and deeply in debt”.


Who are “Britain” and “the British” in this statement? Clearly, The Sun does not mean everyone. Harold Wilson and Edward Heath are both fat, but they are not deeply in debt with bleak futures. Denis Healey is fat. So is Reginald Maudling. The Houses of Parliament are full of fat people, and they are only outweighed by the Institute of Directors. Nobody supposes, however, that these are the target of The Sun’s unkind words and its sombre warning.


What it means is the working class, and it’s a funny thing how the idea of a working man being fat is equated with national disaster. In the late nineteen-fifties a report that 5 per cent, of working-class children were obese was greeted in much the same way as Noah received the forecast of rain. The proper, acceptable proletarian physique is thin as a whippet, with only muscular development in the working parts. Anything above that is degeneracy, and doom to the rate of surplus-value. Haven’t you ever wondered why they put weighing-machines in public places everywhere ?


The Sun was in fact commenting on, and supporting, a report on “Britain’s plight” by the Hudson Institute of America: experts say poverty is on the way. On the same page, pronouncements to the same effect by James Callaghan, the Labour Foreign Secretary, were reported :


Britain is teetering on the edge of a plunge into poverty . . . Mr. Callaghan said: “I hope we are touching bottom. I hope we don’t go further down—but the indications are not good.”


On 5th December similar forecasts and warnings were given in a review by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. According to this, in 1975 prices will rise still higher and unemployment will grow. Both teams of “experts” had plans to urge. The National Institute thought import controls would prove necessary; the Hudson Institute would remedy things by “a new national six-year economic policy” run by “Britain’s best economists and administrators”.


The latter scheme is presumably to ensure that, whatever happens, the fat and the thin remain distinguishable. How little use it would be otherwise is shown by one of The Sun’s remarks:


Leadership—or lack of it—is one element, of course. We are all of us unfortunate to live in an age of political pygmies.
But perhaps we are already beyond the stage where we could be rescued by inspired leadership.


Which is saying that things have come to a crisis under unimpressive dolts, but would be no better under geniuses.


The fallacy of all this is treating the impending crisis as an abnormality. Words like “doomsday”, “peril”, “saving Britain” and “the Dunkirk spirit” imply it to be a millennial catastrophe; but that is only a way of calling for more sacrifices from the workers. The reality is that the crisis is a normal phenomenon of capitalism.


It has nothing specially to do with Britain, with policies adopted by governments in this country or the attitudes of trade unions. It is in fact world-wide. Other countries have trade crises and large-scale unemployment (how does the Hudson Institute, which attributed Britain’s problems to the “lazy, complacent” population, explain the depression in America ?).


What is most normal of all is working-class poverty. Callaghan’s talk of a “plunge” into poverty is, for the majority of the population, like warning someone standing on a cigarette paper that he’ll fall. What kind of “plunge” for the homeless? or the pensioners, the unemployed, the low’-paid who cannot afford to buy newspapers? It recalls the Liberal speaker in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists frightening his hearers — “men wearing broken boots” and “toil-worn women” — about the “Black Ruin” of Socialism, and the author’s comment:


It never occurred to any of these poor people that they were in a condition of Ruin, Black Ruin already.

Because of the perennial cry that “we” must wake up and (vide The Sun) “fight to make it all right”, it is useful to bear in mind that British industry was highly prosperous when that episode was written.


The 1975 outlook for the working class is bleak and sombre; not for the reasons given by the “experts” (whose predictions are only guesses), but as the perpetual situation under capitalism. It is worth pointing out that in the post-war years Socialists have been told repeatedly that capitalism has changed or is under control, and a major slump could not happen again. Will you believe us now, please ?


One other statement made by The Sun needs explaining. It said:


For too long we have deluded ourselves into thinking that “redistribution” of wealth—i.e. soaking the rich— was the answer to our problems.


The “delusion” has been spread by the reformists of the Labour Party, which The Sun supports. The “plain fact” that insufficient wealth is produced is the consequence of capitalism, which Labour and The Sun support. Socialists have for over seventy years exposed these phoney remedies and pointed to the only solution to the problems.


The plain fact is that there simply isn’t enough wealth to redistribute.


Robert Barltrop


Our cover illustration is of the successful Socialist Party meeting held in Trafalgar Square in September.

With acknowledgements Suomen Kuvalehti, Helsinki.