The Between the lines column from the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard
The future of socialism
Brian Magee's cosy studio discussions on BBC2 are like Oxford seminars for spectators; listening to Brian and his guest intellectuals toss around a few concepts is like watching darts on telly - it doesn't really matter whether they score a hundred and eighty or miss the board, the important point is that you're not getting a chance to throw the darts. Thinking Aloud (BBC2, 9 March) was supposed to be about whether socialism has a future. Dick Taverne, who should have realised long ago that he does not have one, came out with some predictable old drivel about socialism being outdated: there are no longer classes, the future lies with the terrific new ideas of the SDP (or was he saying that the future will be terrified by the new lies of the SDP?). Opposing him was Beatrix Campbell, a very trendy Lefty who thinks that Sweden is fairly socialist and the GLC was proof that socialism works. With confusion-mongers like her claiming to speak for it, what future does socialism have as an idea? Fortunately there was a third guest in the studio, Daniel Singer from France who showed more than a slight acquaintance with Marx's ideas. Singer began by daring to suggest that before the subject could be discussed it was necessary to define socialism; it should be made clear that socialism does not mean capitalism run by bogus socialist governments. It was left to him to state that socialism has never been tried, but that "if there is no future for socialism there is no future for the human race". It is a pity that the rest of the discussion was not conducted in such terms. Instead it was a mass of "to a certain extents" and "the trouble with socialism is . . . " Darts were not only missing the board, but being thrown at targets which did not exist. BBC2 calls it philosophy. I preferred Tony Hancock on BBC1 an hour earlier - at least he made a few points.
The future of socialisme
As if one night of nonsense-talking about undefined socialism isn't sufficient, Panorama (BBC1, 10 March) was concerned to show how Mitterand's "socialism" had failed to satisfy the French workers. In a series of articles over the last three years The Socialist Standard predicted that this would happen and has shown how it has happened. Needless to say, the "experts" on Panorama are too dim-witted to recognise that what has failed in France is capitalism in another form - nothing at all to do with socialism failing.
BBC head, Alistair Milne, was in a studio discussion presented by David Dimbleby (This Week, Next Week, BBC1, 23 February) and was being attacked by Mary Whitehouse who has made it her hobby of late to watch video tapes of the dirty bits of Eastenders. In defence of the BBC's new highly successful soap opera Mine stated that "Eastenders is just a modern version of the old morality plays." So, here we have an admission: one of the functions of soaps is to convey to audiences right and wrong ways of behaving. "Rightful" behaviour is shown to be socially accepted by the characters in the soaps and leads to eventual success, whereas "bad" actions are shown in such a way as to lead viewers to fear committing such moral transgressions themselves. A very good example of the same process at work is in the kids' soap opera, Grange Hill in which the characters are presented very clearly within the context of approved and disapproved behaviour models. Readers with other examples of how TV drama attempts to mould audience behaviour should send in references and we shall publish your observations in a future column.
A question to Mr Churchill
Winston Churchill, the grandson of the man who never objected to plenty of violence in the media but preferred it in real life, has moved a Private Members' Bill in parliament designed to keep obscenity off the TV. Apart from the fact that the BBC and IBA Charters already commit them to self-censorship, Churchill's Bill is daft because it proposes to make illegal TV showings of explicit cruelty to humans and animals. Does that mean that Mr. Churchill wants to ban all pictures of armies going about their legal business of inflicting cruelty against "the enemy" - including pictures of British soldiers in 1945 who went in for some pretty explicit cruelty against humans in Dresden? Does this new Bill mean that the plays of Shakespeare will be banned from TV - we are thinking in particular of such jolly scenes as the pulling out of Gloucester's eyes by his stepson in King Lear? And will it mean that we shall no longer see Crossroads or Wogan - for, let's face it, what can be more explicitly cruel to humans, not to mention animals, than those offerings? Socialists oppose censorship. And we shall certainly not censor Mr. Churchill's response to our questions if he cares to send one.
"Imagine a factory where there are no strikes." Have you seen the hideous Nissan advert? It would be interesting if the Gdansk shipyards went in for a similar TV-ad campaign in Britain. When is the denial of the freedom to strike something to be boasted about and when is it an infringement of "human rights"?