The Between the Lines Column from the April 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard
Next Left (C4, 8 pm, Fridays) offered four programmes packed to the edge of the screen with undiluted nonsense. Purporting to be about the failure of socialism in years past and the need for socialists to adapt to the new age, the series offered the most facile account of current world politics and not even an attempt at explaining what socialism actually means. It seems to be the case that when documentary-makers produce films about socialism they feel quite free to accept the fallacy that anyone who calls himself a socialist is one. Neil Kinnock, Bryan Gould, François Mitterrand, Brandt, Rocard . . . all of them advocates of state-run capitalism, and all of them called upon to discuss why the failure of their state-capitalist policies means that socialism has been tried and failed. The working class, we are told, is disappearing; the market is becoming more accountable to people's needs; planning has failed and "freedom" is the new buzz word. "Socialists" must adapt to these new conditions or become irrelevant. Instead of talking about social transformation socialists should be attending to more modest changes, we are informed, such as establishing workers' co-operatives and providing welfare services through the trade unions. The new "socialist" model is Sweden; "socialism" works there — even though Sweden is a capitalist country. No contradiction. No need to explain anything. The frauds who make these programmes are like the character in Alice in Wonderland who insists that words shall mean what they want them to mean. Channel Four's attempt to advise socialists to throw away our revolutionary principles and attend to making capitalism work was intellectually shallow, dishonest drivel.
Laughing all the way to the bank
Another bloody charity telethon. It is hard to switch on the telly these days without seeing either Kylie Minogue or a begging bowl. This time it was Comic Relief (BBC1, all evening, Friday, 10 March). No doubt there was plenty of sincerity there. So what? Since when has plenty of sincerity made the profit system run in our interest? This time we were treated to comedians making jokes to encourage workers to send in a few quid. In one night's nationwide collecting Comic Relief brought in about £10 million. About enough to buy a cheapish military fighter plane. The same night's Newsnight (BBC2, 10.30 pm) had a very brief report on the annual profit made by the clothing company, Viyella: £135 million — down on last year's figure. That's a year's profit for one medium-sized capitalist company. So, who is giving more to charity — the workers who collected ten million quid after a day of wearing silly plastic noses and bathing in custard for sponsorship, or the wage slaves at Viyella who donated all that profit to the capitalists in the biggest charity of all: The Wages System? The capitalist class are kept in the luxury to which they are accustomed because a majority of workers acquiesce to a system which puts the profits of the rich before the unmet needs of those crying out for help.
Free to beg
World In Action (ITV, 8 pm, Monday, 6 March) was a documentary depicting the miserable lives of kids who, having left home and come to London in search of work, find themselves in cardboard boxes on the Embankment by the River Thames. These youngsters — many of them under eighteen — are compelled to beg in order to live. Young girls are under great financial pressure to find a pimp and work for him. The programmes showed that the young beggars of London are a fast-growing population, products of a system geared not to encouraging the creativity of people, but to making them exploitable workers. If they are too young to be put to work and too poor to find shelter, then they are ignored as if they did not exist. This is the living reality of the great revival of Victorian values: the sight of homeless kids forced to beg for the price of some food — and probably for drugs once the culture of street frustration has finished with them. And these well-paid TV tricksters on Channel Four tells us that the socialist revolution from production for profit to production for human need is no longer relevant.