1980s >> 1987 >> no-989-january-1987

Between the Lines: The Yawn of Capitalist History

“Politics” is boring. This might seem odd coming from a socialist, but the more TV presents what it calls “politics” the more this reviewer yawns. On Sundays we are treated to two consecutive hours of heavy political discussion: Weekend World (midday. ITV) and This Week, Next Week (1pm. BBC1). In these programmes the supposed “matters of the moment” are analysed, discussed and debated in a manner which leaves viewers who want to be informed believing that they are watching history in the making. Not so: they are in fact watching two hours of sterile political drivel of no importance whatsoever for the working class who constitute the overwhelming majority of society.


Take the programmes of Sunday, 30 November as an example. On Weekend World the Big Issue was Reagan’s credibility as a leader after being caught flogging arms to terrorists. The forgettable, dull presenter rambled for a while about international consequences and whether this affair “could reach Watergate proportions” — whatever they are. Fleet Street hacks were called in and twenty-second bits of edited wisdom were shown: “This is the biggest political crisis of Reagan’s Presidency” declared one of them. Who the hell cares whether it is the biggest or the smallest; what is it that the President is supposed to be credible at doing anyway? Six American political commentators participated in a studio discussion: “What do you have to say about what Mr Himmelfarb says?” asks the boring presenter. “He has a point, but I don’t go along with him all the way. I think big heads in the State Department will have to roll”. Let them roll. I thought to myself: let them rock, let them roll, let them do the hokey-cokey as far as I’m concerned. Are workers really supposed to care about how the bosses manage their deceit and allocate the seats on the Boards of National Governments?


Then on to This Week, Next Week which was all about Europe and NATO. A Tory Minister called Stanley — perhaps a cousin of Sid the Gas — was all in favour of more bombs — the only way to-preserve peace, don’t you know. Denzil Davies, the Labour man, said that Britain needs more bombs and the Tories were underspending on defence. (But not nuclear bombs, because they hurt people.) The Liberal speaking from a screen because he was in Bristol could not be heard at first, and then he could be heard but not understood. I think that he was saying something about a moderate approach to blowing up cities. A couple of Americans — again, on screens — said that more bombs are needed in Europe, and just to balance the programme there was a Minister who looked like he was sitting on an uncomfortable chair — on a screen from Hamburg — who favoured more bombs in Europe. None of them disagreed for a moment that war is on the agenda; none of them disagreed that more bombs, of one sort or another, were the way to achieve peace. This was “politics”. Workers were invited to take sides. At 2pm it ended and the East Enders omnibus came on: Michelle had married Lofty. Into the land of make-believe we go; but where had we been for the previous two hours?


Boys in Black and Blue
Did you know that British police use unfed dogs to terrorise unconvicted prisoners? Or that they point guns through prison cell doors at men from whom they want confessions? Or that they beat up grown men until they scream? World In Action (8.30pm. ITV. 1 December 1986) presented a clear report on how the men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombing in 1974 were the victims of police brutality which would have been expected in Nazi Germany or modern South Africa. What was unusual about the programme and therefore worthy of note — was that the evidence given of these acts being committed by the police was offered by an ex-policeman, Tom Clark, who was on duty at the police station on the night that the men who are now serving life sentences for the bombing were allegedly forced to confess to a crime they did not commit.


In fact, this latest programme is one of a series which has demonstrated very forcefully the degree to which the state appears to have framed innocent workers in the early 1970s for IRA bombings which they had no part in. This shows three things: firstly, that the power of the state to arrest and imprison workers is always going to be open to abuse as long as there is a need to get someone behind bars as revenge for the crime; secondly. it shows how campaigns of indiscriminate violence against workers, such as those which the IRA and 1NLA have pursued, create a situation in which it is easy for the police to persecute workers who take no part in violent activity; thirdly, it demonstrates that the undemocratic, anti-working-class methods of dishing out “punishment” for which the IRA is notorious are amateur in comparison with the dirty tricks and covert brutality of the official state terrorists: the police. It is just possible that as a result of exposing the alleged framing of the men convicted for the Birmingham bombing a few innocent men will be released from prison. But how many will remain there and how secure does their remaining there make you feel?


Enlightenment and Dogma
The age which historians have come to call the “Enlightenment” — the mid-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries — was marked above all by the abandonment of hitherto sacred dogmas. Religion came to be questioned and science permeated social thought with an obsessive determination to arrive at truths. In fact, as Engels was to demonstrate so well in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (a classic which has yet to be serialised on BBC2). the enlightened truths were only partial truths and that which was obscured was what was ideologically unpalatable to the capitalist class who appropriated science for their own ends.


Channel Four ran a four-week series, funded by a right-wing American foundation, called The New Enlightenment (8.30pm. C4. November/December 1986) with the purpose of expounding the “new” ideas of the so-called libertarian economists — the apostles of the illusory free market. But this was no account of enlightenment, even of a partial kind. This was dogma. The newly-enlightened followers of Hayek and his kind seek to perpetrate the myth that, left to itself without state interference, capitalism can adjust to meet the needs of the majority. Of course, there will still be deprivation and inequality and insecurity caused by wars and a lot else, but at least it will be “practical”.


Socialism is rejected by the newly-enlightened dogmatists. But it was abundantly clear from the programmes that these defenders of capitalism are clueless — not enlightened — as to the meaning of socialism. Not once did these dogmatists use the term socialism without in fact describing state capitalism. One of the first principles of science concerns definition, but it clearly did not occur to Professor Minogue (presenter of the programmes) that in attacking the deficiencies of what he called socialism, he was in fact attacking a system of wages, profits, money, nations — capitalism. In saying that socialism offers no alternative these pro-capitalists are trying a victim who is not even allowed to appear in the dock and, worse still, is represented in the dock by a witness guilty of the same offence as the prosecutor.


The whole concept of “balance” is spurious and there is no reason why one-sided programmes should not be shown. Our objection is to one-sided programmes which distort that which they purport to be opposing. When socialists are given our chance to put out a four-part series on the case against capitalism and for socialism — and we will be a long time waiting for an invitation from the TV controllers — we shall make sure that we address the best arguments for capitalism, that we deal with the profit system as it is and not as we might wish to make it appear. Socialism does not exist, but as a theory it stands as a mighty threat to the dogmatic ideology of capitalism, a threat reflected in the fact that our opponents, when given a mass audience before which to discredit socialism, are forced onto the ground of distortion and linguistic trickery.


Steve Coleman