The Passing Show column from the February 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard
Magic of the New Year
The beginning of last month was the signal for church bells to ring out, for everyone to wish everyone else a happy new year (probably few believing that they would achieve it), and for silly people to risk a chill and throw themselves into the fountains at Trafalgar Square. Every year it happens with monotonous regularity—every year it is just as futile and stupid.
It all stems, of course, from the time-honoured illusion that somehow the advent of a new year automatically wipes out the mistakes, horrors and heartbreaks of the last 365 days. A sort of magic aura surrounds this arbitrary dividing line, with the old year depicted as a very old man plodding wearily to his grave, and the new year as a lovable little baby—as if youth itself were any guarantor of our fortunes. A new leaf has been well and truly turned, and the way ahead is clear.
What a false idea, but it is one to which most people cling and to which politicians, press and pulpit all pander, although it depends on whether you are a member of the government or opposition party, just what sort of new years message you utter. For instance, Prime Minister Douglas-Home thinks that we are in for a year of "splendid opportunity . . . five years of exciting progress . . . prosperity widely shared . . . etc. But Liberal Leader Grimond talks of increased inflation and " . . . a decisive year for Great Britain . . .”
Further afield the new U.S. President Lyndon Johnson tells Mr. Khrushchev of his confidence that “peace on earth, goodwill towards men . . . we can make it a reality," at the same time as his French opposite number de Gaulle is announcing his determination that France shall have the H-Bomb as quickly as possible. You see what a silly season it is? A time, in fact, when anything can be said and excused, no matter how senseless, because nobody really means what he says then, anyway.
And what, belatedly, do we think of the prospects for 1964? Why, the same as for any other year or at any point in any year. It doesn’t take an Old Moore's Almanack to tell us that capitalism will continue, and its problems with it. For most of us it means a drab and insecure life, and as much as ever the threat of war hanging over us like an angry black cloud. Nothing very magic in that.
Profit trends in 1963
For most of us drabness and insecurity, but for a minority just the opposite. This is the standard condition of capitalism with which we are so familiar, but now and again it is thrown into relief by a news item such as the Guardian report of January 1st. This tells us that 1963 was a good year for company profits with a net rise of over 12 per cent, in the case of 199 firms listed in Exchange Telegraph’s statistics service during December last.
The total for almost 4,000 companies exceeds £1,450 millions and is over three per cent. higher than 1962. Just shows, doesn’t it, the exploitability of the working class—and this in the year of the great freeze-up and close on a million unemployed earlier on.
But not for them
There is one thing (among many others) on which all the capitalist parties agree, and that is the need for “wage restraint.” They have all said it—in fact Mr. Grimond is in favour of a national maximum and of sanctions against firms who “grossly exceed what is justified.” All sorts of arguments are used to try and persuade workers that the less they have, the better off they will be.
But when it comes to M.P.s’ salaries, we hear a very different story. It was not long after the last war that they voted themselves a rise of £400 a year, and now a three-man committee is going to look into the whole question of M.P.s’ and Ministers’ pay, with the promise of an early report. This has the support of all parties in the Commons. What is the betting that: (a) the committee will recommend an increase, and (b) it will be speedily voted into existence by the grateful members? And will you hear then of any argument about restraint? Not very likely.
The oppression in Ghana worsens almost daily. A judge there has been dismissed for bringing in a verdict which displeased President Nkrumah, and the acquitted prisoner has been re-arrested under the Preventive Detention Acts. He’ll be lucky to get out in ten years.
The president is not resting there, however. He is seeking by referendum to confirm his dismissal powers, and it’s a fair bet he will get his way because opposition to his wishes is a punishable offence. Then one more nail will have been driven into the coffin of whatever limited political democracy once existed.
We cannot help remembering at a time like this that we were urged to support the struggle for the establishment of Ghanaian independence, and it was the Movement for Colonial Freedom who assured us that it would hasten the removal of the old colonial yoke and the birth of democracy. The Socialist Party was not popular because we refused our support, but our arguments are the same now as then, and subsequent developments have proved the soundness of our stand.
So let us repeat that colonial freedom means freedom for the rising native ruling class. The workers in Ghana and elsewhere are becoming painfully aware that they have changed their white bosses for ones with darker skins, that is all. It is no part of our job to encourage the establishment of capitalism, whether democratic or dictatorial. Our aim is a world of Socialism, and then democracy in the fullest sense of the word will be a reality.
The Movement for Colonial Freedom is obviously not a Socialist body, but even the limited freedom which they hoped for in Ghana has not emerged. It is a time for them to eat their words. But more than that, it is a time for them to seriously consider the case for Socialism.