1990s >> >> no-1046-october-1991

Access, free and not free

In moments of exhilaration, we socialists have been known to indulge in some highly optimistic assessments of our importance in the order of things. In our more commonplace moods of despair, we are prone to underestimate the impact we have on public opinion and social affairs. It is not surprising, therefore, that we have given only limited attention to the extent to which some of the brighter sparks amongst the advertising fraternity have found it opportune to take over some of our dreams and to filch our terminology for concepts they can harness to their merchandising schemes.

Of course, we are all too familiar with advertising which trades upon the everyday fears of working people to sell us insurance or a multitude of products we are led to believe will obviate the shortcomings of their market rivals. A recent feature article in the weekend supplement of the Guardian dwelt upon how a go-getting PR woman clawed her way to success by utilizing the phraseology of the ecological movement to sanitise her sales efforts on behalf of clients. This prompted me to ponder the even more cynical plundering of socialist ideas which had been going on over the past few decades with similar purposes in view.

For all the efforts of our opponents to find us guilty of association (by their reckoning) with Russia’s “communist” tyranny—although they and not us were Stalins war-time allies—it remains generally true that when someone gives an objective hearing to our aims and democratic, non-violent methods it is more likely than not they will be received very favourably, albeit with the reservation that we are excessively “idealistic” and expect far too much of so-called “human-nature”. It is quite rare for us to be criticised for advocating some kind of totalitarian nightmare. In my opinion, the professional publicists have quite shamelessly purloined the most attractive single feature of the sane society we propose, namely “free access” to what we require from the socialist community’s pool of resources.

Since the high-street banks have been concerned to sign up most of us for their credit-card method of money-lending (my own comes with the blessing of my trade-union) their advertisements referring to a “cashless society” have borne an ironic resemblance to socialist aspirations. Surely it is possible that the adoption of the name “Access” for the name of the best-known UK credit-card was a direct consequence of some bright spark in the advertising industry listening to one of our open-air meetings and carrying off the phrase as class-war booty? And. for that matter, where did John Major latch on to the notion of a “classless society” if not around Clapham High Street in his days as a Tory councillor in the London Borough of Lambeth?

E. S. Grant