1980s >> 1986 >> no-977-january-1986

Happy New Year

I’ve hated Christmas for as long as I can remember. Since the day when, as a child, I realised that I’d been conned every year of my short life by stories about Father Christmas only bringing toys to good children — a sort of “no-strike” agreement in return for a Christmas bonus between me and my mother. Later I realised that all of Christmas is a con — from the birth of Jesus which it is supposed to be celebrating, to the “peace and goodwill” that is supposed to appear miraculously at this time of year.


Nowadays I get a sinking feeling in my stomach when Christmas cards first go on sale in the shops (usually sometime around the end of summer); I start to feel decidedly fed up by about mid-November when fairy lights and tinsel are festooned around concrete street lamps in the High Street; and by December, depression hits with a vengeance and I can be found loitering in travel agents frantically seeking out cheap holidays to places where they don’t celebrate Christmas.


Last year I succeeded: I flew to Israel on Christmas Day — not a turkey, mince pie or tinsel angel in sight (so long as you kept well away from Bethlehem where they tend to get a bit excited about it all). The irony of it was that in order to pay for this extravagant piece of escapism I had to work every night for two weeks at the post office — sorting Christmas cards!


But despite my loathing of the enforced jollity of Christmas I always used to like New Year. I liked the idea of seeing the Old Year out and starting the New Year afresh with fine-sounding resolutions scribbled furtively in a diary which, if I kept them, were sure to make me healthy, happy and wise, or so I thought. Of course I never did keep them, or at least not for very long.


As idealism faded and cynicism set in even the resolutions took on a more jaundiced tone: to stop killing myself by smoking cigarettes (that one, kept for over four years, is lately getting a bit frayed around the edges); not to be so bad-tempered, and so on. I also began to realise that I could make all sorts of resolutions but I was fighting against enormous odds in trying to keep them (besides, that is. my own lack of will power).


The society in which we live makes it almost impossible for most of us to be healthy, happy, or wise, no matter how hard we try or how many New Year resolutions we make. How can we become more healthy when the environment in which we live is profoundly unhealthy? I might resolve to swim twenty lengths of the swimming pool every day and only eat whole foods, but that’s not going to do me much good if I live next to a leaky nuclear reactor, or in a city where the air is polluted by lead-ridden exhaust fumes. I might resolve to give up smoking (again), but if I smoke to help me cope with the stress of everyday life caused by anxieties about money, work, housing or bills, then I might very well get a stomach ulcer instead. My resolve to be less bad-tempered is all very well, but if the reason I get bad-tempered is the daily frustration of not being fully in control of my own life then I am attacking the symptom and not the cause. How nice a person can you afford to be in a world that is not nice, where competition and aggression are highly valued attributes? And how can people become wise when they are constantly being fed misinformation, distortions of the truth and downright lies from the relatively harmless fairy tales about Father Christmas coming down chimneys to bring toys to good children to the infinitely more harmful fairy tales of politicians who tell us that if we, the workers, are good (work harder for less pay, don’t go on strike, don’t make a fuss about poor housing, health care and so on), then we will reap the benefit as “the nation” gets richer.


The truth of the matter is that, as individuals, we are extremely limited in our ability to change our own lives very much at all. We are part of a society which directly affects what we can or cannot expect from life, how we live our lives and even the way in which we behave towards each other. So if we want to be healthy, happy, caring individuals — if, in other words, we want to be fully human — we must first live in a society which permits those qualities to flourish. And capitalism, the society in which we all live now, certainly does not.


Capitalism is a system of society which divides people rather than unites them — capitalist from worker, men from women, blacks from whites, nation from nation. It teaches us competition not co-operation competition for jobs, housing and something that approximates to a bearable standard of living. The division between capitalist and worker is inherent in capitalism — their interests are totally opposed and can never be reconciled. But the divisions between workers are not inherent —they are encouraged by the conditions in which we live and work but could be overcome through a recognition of our common class interests, our mutual inter-dependence and, above all, the need for radical change.


So this year, when your self-image has recovered from the body-blow dealt it by your brother thinking you were the kind of person who would like the pair of pink lurex socks, or by your Auntie Flo being convinced that a Barbara Cartland novel was just what you always wanted; when you’ve been to Marks and Sparks to get a refund on a jumper in order to pay the electricity bill; when the last of the turkey has been metamorphosed into turkey curry; when you’ve replied “Quiet, but nice” for the last time to people who ask at work if you’ve had a nice Christmas; when the TV has stopped showing disaster movies, The Sound of Music and Jimmy Savile tormenting sick children in hospital; when the ankle you sprained leaping across the living room on Christmas Day to turn off the Queen has recovered; in short, when life has returned to humdrum normality, why not reflect on what your New Year’s resolution will be this year? Are you going to make pious resolutions to become a “better” person, which you have very little chance of keeping, or are you going to make this the year you start to take control of your own life? It would be nice to think that people throughout the world are scribbling the words: “I resolve that 1986 will be the year that I will organise democratically with my fellow workers to abolish capitalism and bring about a society in which we can all start to become healthy, happy and wise”.


Janie Percy-Smith