1980s >> 1982 >> no-940-december-1982

Editorial: The street where you live

The most famous, instantly recognisable, thoroughfare in the world is probably not Piccadilly or the Champs-Élysées but Coronation Street. Stand any visitor from abroad in a narrow, serried street of Victorian red brick homes and they will excitedly know it — will know that all working class life is there. It was in some forgotten flash of brilliance that the name was born, juxtapositioning as it does a great festival of ruling class privilege and dominance against the harsh lives of the dominated, unprivileged people of Coronation Street.

But of course there are real life places called Coronation Street; it is no uncommon thing, for the ruling class to celebrate in this way. In Britain, military victories are marked, not just by raising statues and memorials but also by places like Trafalgar Avenue. Waterloo Road. The memories of the more notable politicians — notable because of a particular ability to mislead the working class — are enshrined in concentrations of workers’ dwellings bearing names like Churchill House, Balfour Road. (There is a complex of flats in London, which quickly became odorised with working class poverty and despair, where each block is named after some hero of the post-war Labour government.)

Then there are roads which are named to mark workplaces there — the places where workers from the red brick terraces attend each day to submit to their own exploitation. Thus we have such as Laundry Road, Distillery Way, Copper Mill Lane. Someone who travels each day from their home in Churchill House to work in Laundry Road, returning in time to switch on Coronation Street, should be in no doubt as to where they stand in the class order of present day society.

Naturally, there are no streets named after things which the ruling class would prefer to forget; none named after failures and defeats. There are no Blitzkrieg Avenues on the town maps of Britain; there is no such place as Horatio Bottomley House in memory of that arch twister (but very effective recruiting agent). Thus we are encouraged to believe that capitalism provides cause only for celebration and congratulation, that it is an unbroken process of triumph and enterprise.

A most recent example of this comes from Manchester, where a newly converted block of flats now glories under the title of Falklands House. In that city of sooty relics of Victorian capitalism, they have not forgotten how they should mark the system’s grisly history. “We thought”, said the estate agent “we’d like to honour the lads.” The owner of the flats was less discreet: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

And so it was. And so are all the others — Churchill House, Laundry Road, Coronation Street … In themselves they are all continual reminders that we live under a social system in which a minority- class monopolises the means of life and that the rest of us are allowed access to those means only on the terms of being exploited for the profit of the minority. They remind us that capitalism is a society of divided interests and of unnatural national boundaries, each one encompassing a ruling class whose national interests are opposed to those beyond their frontiers. Capitalism’s wars are not triumphs to celebrate, but the bloody execution of conflicts between one owning minority and another. They impress on all workers that capitalism is a society of class privilege, in which socially redundant parasites enjoy massive wealth and symbolise their dominance in opulent consumption and in crass, archaic rituals.

It would be more appropriate to call those places Famine Street, or Exploitation Road (for the industrial estates). Mendacity Way (for Westminster, Whitehall and the like). Privilege Park (for the pricier parts of the city). These names would symbolise that capitalism is organised repression, murder and destruction.

Socialists do not just stand against that social system. We do not condemn capitalism as an immoral interlude in history; we analyse it as a necessary, developmental episode in human progress. Each social system ends as the social relationships it imposes become out of alignment with its developing production of wealth. This crisis can be resolved in only one way — by a revolution to basically change the social relationships.

Capitalism has fulfilled its historical role, and its social relationships now act as a restraint on the forces of production. In this past year, typically, tens of millions of people have starved to death while tens of millions were taken out of the productive process because it was not profitable to keep them there. In contrast, socialism’s production will be patterned on human need; there will be no restraints on it apart from natural ones. Socialism will be a society of abundance and freedom, when human beings will co-operate for the common good.

The case for socialism is overwhelming and it is everywhere around us — in the pain and disease and fear of capitalism, in the shops and the factories and the offices, in the pubs and even on the street where you live.