Monday, June 20, 2016

Heralding 1984 (1958)

Editorial from the February 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Daily Herald, early in January, ran a series of articles by “experts” to answer the question whether 25 years ahead we shall be living in George Orwell’s nightmare, “with common man enslaved by the State” or will 1984 “be a year of dazzling brilliance of scientific promise—with common man enjoying the new fruits of the earth?” (Daily Herald, 6/1/58). Sir Miles Thomas foresees that travel will be faster, cheaper and safer. Sir Adolphe Abrahams does not think we shall have the 3½ minute mile; but football will still be the top national game, we shall still have the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race and the Cup Final will still be at Wembley. Jane Drew, “leading woman architect” thinks houses and streets will be more attractive, houses won’t be cold, and the “the TV set will take the place of the fireplace as the centre of the family circle.”

The Anti-Utopia Builders
Now the Herald is the organ of the Labour Party and claims to be socialist and the reader might well have expected to be told that 1984 would have seen the introduction of Socialism. The articles did not say that Socialism would be here or that it wouldn’t be here— the subject was just not mentioned. Several of the “experts” have either never heard of it at all, or, they think that it has nothing to do with their specialist subject; which goes to show just how little they know about Socialism.

In each of their supposedly isolated worlds the choice is between capitalism and socialism, there isn't any neutral no man's land. The kind of house you live in, the kind of vehicle you travel in and the kind of entertainment and sport you enjoy will depend on your position in society. If you are a wage-earner in a capitalist 1984 what you get will be what you can afford. All of this is a closed book to the Herald's writers and obviously doesn't have any importance for the Editor, or he would have directed his inquiries to the real question, whether Socialism will be here by then.

Capitalism, 1984 Variety
But one of the writers, Mr. Harry Nicholas, assistant secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, stands out from the rest, for he mentioned the word “socialist” His article, on the job situation, was the most deplorable of the lot. He answers the question very clearly, though without knowing he answers it. Capitalism it will be, with not a single essential feature altered. Not that Mr. Nicholas is pessimistic about it. He does not think “we will have any unemployment in the next 25 years, provided we have sanity in the financial sphere.” (He has clearly never examined the financial system if he thinks it isn't inherently idiotic). Automation, he says, will create jobs and markets. We shall be charitable and “in a good socialist way” we shall assist the backward countries and thus “create markets which will absorb the products of our industries” There will be fewer “'unskilled'” and more “skilled” workers, and higher standard rates of wages and less piecework. There will be more Company pension, sickness and other benefits to supplement the State schemes. Evidently Mr. Nicholas' optimism does not extend to the elimination of the wars that go with the struggle for markets. All he says in this field is that “because of the changes likely to take place in weapons of attack and defence, many of our Royal Ordnance factories and naval dockyards will have to be utilized for peacetime production.” He does not risk a forecast about the kind of weapons the other factories will be producing.

We may wind up by saying that while most of the contributions were useless, because the writers don't even know about the capitalist world we live in, Mr. Nicholas is pernicious as well because he has obviously heard about capitalism but sees no reason why or how or when it should be abolished: just like the Herald, and the Labour Party for which it speaks.

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