1990s >> 1991 >> no-1037-january-1991

Had a happy christmas?

It’s that time of the year again. When tired clichés abound. “It was different when we were young. We had none of this. Kids get too much these days. It’s not like it used to be. There’s no Christmas spirit about anymore, is there?”

  At the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, in 1837, no British children hung their stockings by a fireplace on Christmas eve; nobody had heard of santa claus; Christmas crackers did not exist; very few people ate turkey on Christmas day: it was not common to give presents; and the decorated and lighted Christmas tree was hardly known outside the royal court. In fact. Christmas day was not a very important date in the calendar for any kind of social ritual. (Christmas Past, Weightman and Humphries, 1987).

It’s that time of the year again. An inviting blanket of snow covers the house, the garden and the Mercedes. A million points of light, thrown on to the snow by the moonlight and the imitation brass porchlights, compete with the warm glow of the festive interior. Within is a picture of seasonal, domestic bliss. Whilst Samantha and Simon sip sherry on the sofa, their two children play contentedly beneath the glittering christmas tree. No last minute rushing around for this family. All the presents are wrapped, their goose half-cooked, their Sunday supplement lifestyle—the result of hard toil by their advertising creators—held up as a beacon of aspiration for the less fortunate masses.

It’s that time of the year again. When hundreds of volunteers devote their time to providing some of those whose normal abode is a cardboard box with food, heat, shelter and comfort for a few weeks. But, dependent as the organizers of such aid are upon the charitable auspices of others, the help provided can only be of a temporary nature. After that it’s back to the shop doorways and the railway arches. Still, it makes for a seasonal filler at the end of the six o’clock news, whilst most of us remain cossetted in our building society-owned homes, content in the knowledge that someone, somewhere, cares enough to provide some small relief for those less fortunate than ourselves.

In one of its please-give-us-some-money leaflets, the Salvation Army, describing itself as one of the biggest voluntary social work agencies in the world, presents an accurate picture of life under capitalism:

  Every day of every year the men and women of the Salvation Army meet people in trouble, angry, unwanted, no future. Scared, alone, broke. Out of jail, but no job in sight. Elderly, lonely, just enough money to get by. Young, no place to play but the streets. First job. not much money, in need of a place to live. Defeated, friendless, drinking a lot. Every day, the Salvation Army meets them. Some are overwhelmed by circumstances. or personal failure. Many are helped to get another start in life.

What’s your own good cause? Saving rain forests? Saving endangered species? Political prisoners? Famine relief? All you do is get the sales catalogue from the organization offering palliatives for that particular problem, and for £0.99 plus post and packing, you can both ease your conscience and impress the neighbours with the traditional-style embroidery, courtesy of widowed Laotian women of the Hmong hill tribe at the Ban Vinai refugee camp:

  Christmas is a time for giving and sharing. It’s the season of goodwill to all. When you buy from the Oxfam catalogue, you could he spreading a little goodwill to the other side of the world—to somebody who really needs your help. Can you think of a better way to express the true spirit of Christmas? Most of the products in this catalogue are made by craftsmen and women in the poorest countries of the world. Buying these products provides jobs and incomes in areas where both are scarce, and profits from their sale are returned to improve social conditions in the community or to develop production. (Oxfam catalogue, christmas 1989).

Yes, I can think of a better way to express human co-operation, development and potential. I can think of a better way to “improve social conditions”. Ways which owe little to spending eternity trying to alleviate the suffering caused by a social system based upon production for profit, not need But ways based upon an understanding by the majority, those who produce but do not possess, of the alternative to capitalism: socialism.

It’s always that time of the bloody year for the working class. Without an understanding of their class position as those who run society from top to bottom for the benefit of a small minority, who. because they own the means of production and distribution, live life like it’s permanently Christmas. It’s the working class who are crackers.

When the Salvation Army brass-band has long stopped playing Christmas carols in the street. When the advertisements are enticing you with thoughts of a two-week break from wage slavery in the sun. When seasonal goodwill has evaporated, and with it your sense of charitableness. When the toy which cost half-a-week’s wages lies broken on the floor. When the expense-induced hangover is throbbing in your temple. When you mutter the perennial refrain, was it worth it? Ask yourself. how long is it going to be before you give yourself the best present of your life? A wageless, moneyless, classless, stateless, leaderless society. Production for use, not profit. Socialism. Had a happy Christmas?

Dave Coggan