Birth Pangs

It’s true what they say, “If men had to bear children, there’d never be more than one in a family”. The infusion pump bears a small plaque that says, “Donated by . . . , Fun Run. 1985”. There is no bean-bag, no birthing- stool no background Mozart or Barry Manilow, just an interminable time that gives us a new insight into the concept of “labour”. When Eleanor, our daughter, finally emerges, our relief is quickly followed by wonder at the sight of the techni-coloured baby who has just joined the human race.


Like the proverbial Martian sent to discover whether there is intelligent life on the Planet Earth, a baby starts life with a completely open mind about the new world s/he now inhabits. Our Martian day-tripper, being a completely rational being, flees back to his own planet after half a day, convinced that the inhabitants of Earth all belong to a huge lunatic asylum. Research has been unable to pinpoint the exact features of life here that upset the alien so. but there is some evidence to suggest that exposure to Murdoch’s tabloids. coupled with soaps and game-shows, exerted an unbearable stress on the Martian whose sense of good taste is much more highly developed than ours. Some commentators wondered whether a glimpse of a social system that keeps millions in poverty and hunger might not have affected the visitor but this analysis was dismissed out of hand by Prime Minister Thatcher on the basis that Martians don’t pay the poll tax, and therefore can’t vote.


But for the new-born there is no escape from a society where people are trained to think that individuals are powerless to alleviate hunger, or poverty, or homelessness, or misery. Instead, they are led to think that giving a few pounds to charities is the limit of their ability to change the order of things. It’s not that people don’t recognise the need for a better system, the infant could do that. But unlike the infant who has still to be conditioned, society’s rulers have persuaded the rest that there is no alternative. You don’t have to read the Sun, and you don’t have to watch Eastenders or The Price is Right. You can probably avoid having fairy-stories preached at you by some reactionary, misogynist in a pulpit. But unless you happen to be a member of the capitalist class you will find it almost impossible to provide food, clothing or shelter for yourself without allowing capitalism to exploit you.


A child who, on entering the world, discovers that his/her parents belong to the ruling class, is hardly likely to squallingly demand to be instantly handed over to a working class family. As s/he lies in her/his cot dreaming of the life of privilege and luxury stretching ahead — benefits derived from the exploitation of those forced to sell their labour-power in order to live — does it occur to the infant to question why a majority continue to run capitalism for the benefit of a minority?


Asked for my occupation when registering the birth I am sorely tempted to state “Wage Slave”. Driving home from the hospital I slot Lindisfarne into the cassette and sing loudly to Lady Eleanor. Then I think about my future reply to my daughter’s unasked question. “What did you do in the Class War, Daddy?”.


Dave Coggan