1980s >> 1984 >> no-957-may-1984

Editorial: Great Expectations

A working principle for many of those whose job it is to observe, and comment on, human behaviour is that people respond roughly in accordance with others’ expectations of them.

This leads to certain expectations about behaviour. For example, children from “broken” homes are presumed to exhibit symptoms of rejection and a low level of self-esteem. These symptoms are displayed in behaviour which invites further rejection and that confirms the person’s low self-esteem and so leads to further behavioural problems . . .

Other typical symptoms are oppositional responses—a persistent disagreement with others’ opinions and a refusal to meet reasonable requests—and a promiscuity in affections—a readiness to attach to any stranger who shows them the slightest interest. Oppositional behaviour provokes anger and frustration, which reinforces the child’s stubbornness. Promiscuity is received by the stranger as a response to their own charm and winning ways with children; their gratitude encourages the child to repeat the behaviour.

Another example is the case of the football hooligan. Many football clubs have a reputation for being supported (if that is the word) by fans (if that, too, is the word) who take pride in their name for violent intolerance towards anyone connected with the other team. There is, of course, a large element of fantasy in this. Plentiful graffitti claim that some great city, some concentration of the economic and political might of capitalism, is really ruled over by a handful of bored skinheads who huddle together on Saturdays at a particular spot on some football club’s windswept terraces.

Part of the attraction of a football mob for the impoverished and aimless workers is the sense of belonging which it offers in its tribal welcome and attempt at exclusiveness. There is also the perverse gratification in the tribe’s assault on the presumptions of property society. A gang of young supporters at an away game may get a thrill of power, when they move towards the stadium through streets which seem, to their imagination, as tense and as shuttered as in High Noon. It beats the workaday office or factory—or the dole queue—any day.

These are interesting speculations, as far as they go—which is not very far. Socialists are interested to widen and extend the field of observation and to comment in more fundamental terms. Pressures such as behavioural expectations are really part of the intellectual and moral superstructure of capitalism, inseparable from this society’s basis of private property in the means of wealth production and distribution.

Expectations must operate within the pattern set by capitalism. Families are “broken” only because they have fallen apart from the mould into which they have been compressed by the demands of capitalism. Under other social systems, with other demands and other moulds, capitalism’s “broken” family might be a coherent and stable unit.

The compression which capitalism exerts is principally on the working class to comply with their degraded social standing. Workers must accept that throughout their lives they will depend for their living on the sale of their labour power, on their own exploitation. They must come to terms with the fact that they will be alienated from the products of their labour, with all that that means in terms of social alienation. They will be subjected to persistent insult as they work to the demands of a production line, or wend their way through traffic jams of other frantic workers, or stuff themselves into rush hour ’buses and trains. Their home, perhaps the realisation of a dream, will be one of a mass of identical boxes on some prairie-like estate. They will die, as they lived, in poverty leaving their children—other workers to go through the same experience. And with all this they are expected to respect the class which exploits them, even fight and die in wars to protect the interests of that class.

Against that drab catalogue, what has the socialist to offer? What expectations do we have of the working class? To begin with, there can be no optimism for social progress until the workers come to understand their class position, what it means and why it is their lot to hold it. They must be enlightened to the mechanism of their exploitation, how it happens, whose interests it is in and how it causes their poverty. From that knowledge the workers must realise that they should not support their masters’ interests and they must assert their international unity, substituting their own consciousness and participation for blind faith in leaders.

In that climate the ideas of revolutionary socialism will flourish and dominate. Socialism will be a world of communal ownership of the means of life, which means production for use, free access to wealth, human harmony and a massive release of the people’s talents and energies. At present, under the expectation that the workers will repeatedly re-fasten their chains by electing capitalism’s representatives to the seats of power, socialists could be excused if at times we are appalled at the task before us.

But the human race has always chosen to survive and. even if in sluggardly fashion, to progress. Under capitalism, decadent and obstructive, survival and progress means the revolution for socialism and that is what socialists work for and look forward to.

Great expectations? No more than sober reality.