Tuesday, July 31, 2018

"The Fourth Estate" (1921)

From the July 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

The value of the Press to the capitalist class as a bulwark is nowhere more evident, I should think, than in the Sunday newspapers. It is obvious that the average member of the working class finds that the seventh day of the week is the only day on which he can peruse the paper from front to back. On other days he has little leisure in the mornings save for a glance at the headlines and to-day’s nap on the sporting page as he sits in the 'wage slave' car.

But on Sundays it is different. He may lie abed and read to his heart's content— and incidentally to his brain’s confusion— all that the talent of Fleet Street and Withy Grove has to offer him. There is very little doubt, too, that this factor is counted for in the production of Sunday papers and is responsible for the matter they contain.

To a certain type of mind (the product of a rotten system, be it understood) the disgusting sordidness of the police court and the divorce court make appeal, and you will consequently find papers which make a feature of reports of the proceedings therein. But those with which we are most concerned are those which inculcate political notions favourable to the capitalist in the minds of the workers.

The impregnation of the unsuspicious brain of the worker is not done openly; it is disguised in clever journalese, catchy colloquialisms that he can understand and repeat to his mates on Monday morning, sensational headlines, and other things that go to make the stuff easily assimilated. .

A case in point is that of the “Sunday Chronicle” (29.5.21.)—a Hulton publication—a paper that affects a hearty, democratic, John’s-as-good-as-his-master air and serves out cheap clap-trap in large doses. The first article is one by that bitter enemy of the working class, Robert Blatchford. He is nothing if not topical, and he loves to shed a tear over the miseries of some sufferer or other. This time it is toil-worn horses.

Apparently, apart from the old gee-gees, there is nothing we need worry about this week. “God’s in his heaven,” the Kaiser’s at Doorn, and “all’s right with the world.” And with the implied hope that something will turn up next week R.B. makes our flesh creep for a couple of columns (with matter mostly culled from “Daily News” reports, by the way) and leaves us with the information that his stuff is “copyrighted in America and Canada.”

But we may spare a word about Blatchford, although he has been exposed and denounced in these columns more often, perhaps, than his importance deserves. One would guarantee that if he were to write a true article about the sufferings of old, toil-worn human animals thrown on the industrial scrap-heap because capitalism has no further use for them, and to tell the readers of the "Sunday Chronicle” that it is because one small section (the section that pays him for writing) of society owns the machinery of wealth production and distribution and can and does treat the remainder of society (the working class) worse than horses— if he were to do this, I repeat, then one could guarantee that R.B. would get the. sack, not only from the “Sunday Chronicle,” but from any other capitalist periodical.

But, as you must be aware, Bob has discovered long since that writing for the Capitalist Press pays so he is not likely to blow the gaff on them. 

On the same page we get a very usual type of journalese, the short, snappy type. It is remarkable, you workers, your masters don’t believe you have the intelligence to handle long paragraphs, so they jerk them to you in small doses! Jane Doe has been working in a mill (she didn’t wear the pretty frock she is posing in at the top, I think!) She thinks it is a jolly fine idea. And so do the mythical mill girls she quotes. They can go to sleep in the work time if they wish—and often do, mark you! And as one remarks over a dish of Irish stew and a jug of tea in the card room, “We’re not in a prison and we get plenty of fun.”

There’s a lot more like this I could quote did I “feel so dispoged,” but it will suffice if I just tell Jane Doe (although I hate to have to speak like this to a lady) she’s a liar. Still, to give credit where possible, I will admit that she has the excuse that she does it for her living.

The facts are nearly all contrary to Jane’s statements. I need only ask anyone who lives or works in a cotton mill environment whether I am right when I say in contradiction to Jane Doe that mill life is unhealthy; its victims are not, as a general rule, healthy, plump, and so on. Their teeth are not good (I think she says “splendid”); in fact they are far, far from it. The mills they work in are like prisons, and even worse. They do not sleep in their work time if they choose. And last, their homes are as a general role, not the little heavens of comfort and restfulness Jane Doe would have us believe.

If the verbose lady doubts this point the present writer will himself conduct her down dozens of streets in industrial Lancashire where .the “mill lasses” and their husbands prefer to sit outside on the pavement rather than endure the discomfort and foulness of their living rooms. And I can further assure her that if she is not squeamish she can be shown worse sights, and can hear worse sounds, than she dare ask her masters to publish or than her refined mind could contemplate without revulsion. But Janey is like Bobby, I suspect! Master pays better than truth!

On page 2 is an article in dialect written in praise of Jane and her boosting of the Lancashire cotton girls’ supposed idyllic existence, all written with the express purpose of counteracting the effect of propaganda that attempts to expose the vileness of the present industrial system.

It is on page 2 too that we strike a pathetic note. One who signs himself “Country Parson” is bewailing the vanishing of feudalism and the spirit that taught us— 
 “God bless the Squire and his relations,
And keep us in our proper stations.”
He tears our heart strings with the news that the Earl is forced by the crises-of to-day to sell his hunters, to reduce his staff of retainers, and to close a wing of the ancient baronial castle. But he relents in the last paragraph and wakes us to hope again with the happy declaration that the yeomen of England are proof against the virus of Communist propaganda and the tracts and pamphlets that are pushed under his doors, generally after dusk, which they know are written by drawing room intellectuals and are paid for by foreigners! And he prophesies in a confident peroration that “the staunchness and integrity of the yeomen which won for them the title “the backbone of England” may yet assert itself again.

Now one could go on from page to page, from paper to paper, quoting the virus of capitalism that our masters seek to infect us with. Just as in the Army they innoculated us to guard against the ravages of fever, so they innoculate us with the insidious propaganda we have instanced to guard against the ravages of clear and logical reasoning. For they know the mighty intelligence of the working class that enable it to produce the wealth of the world, can only be divorced from the intelligence of class-consciousness by the constant repetition by paid hucksters of fine words and maudlin sentiments each as are drivelled by our Robert Blatchfords, our Jane Does, and our “Country Parsons".

In conclusion, it is for the working class to read between the lines and search out the truth for themselves, and to throw to the ground the pillars of hypocritical "poppycock” which form the foundations on which capitalism stands, and to build upon the place where it stood a social edifice which has for its architect Intelligence and for its purpose the common weal.
S.



1 comment:

imposs1904 said...

Withy Grove was Manchester's very own version of Fleet Street, which leads me to believe that the writer of the article, 'S', was from the North West.