From the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
INTRODUCING A DIRTY WORD
There are lots of things in our lives that we don’t find it easy to talk about. Some of them are even "taboo". But there's one thing which we talk about, all of us, all the time, and never give its proper name because that name is, for most of us, a rather dirty word. That thing is Politics. It is such a dirty word that you could well be ready to throw this leaflet away right now. But before you do, think back for a minute on the conversations you’ve had this week.
What were they really about? Did you complain about the price of something which has gone up again? Did you talk about problems with the Council, or with your mortgage, or with your wages? If you work, did your boss get you down again this week, or was it the fighting in the office? If you’re unemployed, were you depressed because you walked past shops and people who all seem to live on a separate planet? Or was it a row with a loved one over money, or with the kids, or just because you’re so tired and full of stress that anything sets you off?
If your week sounded anything like that, you're not alone. What happens in our lives is not entirely up to us, and when we talk about life we are also making political statements about how we would like things to be. Politics is only a dirty word because the Thatchers and the Kinnocks have made it into a game that you play in parliaments and score off the opposition.
Their games are none of our concern, but our own lives matter, and the politics of our lives must matter to us as well. In the coming weeks we will be putting some leaflets through your door. They will be about politics, but don’t be put off by that. The things that worry you, that may be mentioned above, are the sort of politics we want to talk about. Not party politics, or 'real-politik'. but real life.
COMMON SENSE ISN'T EVERYTHING
What happened in 1066? Well, not the Battle of Hastings, for one thing - that was apparently around 1087. It must have happened to you that you’d believed something for years without question only to find out one day that it wasn’t true after all. Life is full of popular myths that, like the Battle of Hastings, may be interesting to explode but don’t really matter to anyone. But one myth that is still around, and matters rather a lot, is the myth of 'common sense'.
If something is ’common sense', it is true. Many of the ideas we hear through the TV and papers are put in this way. We take them very much for granted. They are what is called "realism". In our last leaflet we talked about the dirty word ‘politics'. Politicians are fond of "realism" and "common sense approaches". Nowadays you don't have to prove somebody wrong, you just call them "unrealistic" or "naive". Politicians have managed to make everybody else’s ideas sound childish and naive. Major and Kinnock, like the good Mummy and Daddy they try to be, know all about 'common sense'. They should, they manufacture most of it.
The problems that we have in our lives, that we mentioned in our last leaflet, don't get talked about by the papers or politicians. That is left to us, on our own, in pubs or among friends. Why do we have to work for bosses? What is the point of saving when inflation eats it all up? Why do people starve when supermarkets throw food away? But it's not common sense’ to talk about things that Kinnock is not interested in.
In the next few leaflets we are going to ask exactly the sort of questions that Kinnock and Major are not interested in. The sort of questions you don't read about in the paper, or hear on 'Question Time’.
Some of the conclusions we come up with might well sound like science fiction, and not common sense at all. But they might also sound just like things you've said yourself in the past. Try not to lose patience with us. Things which aren’t ‘common sense' aren't automatically wrong. We ask you to judge for yourself.
COPING WITH A BAD ATTITUDE
In our last two leaflets we have explained why we think politics should not be a dirty word, and why 'common sense' answers aren't necessarily right answers. We hope you saw what we meant by that.
Here are some examples of this 'Common Sense', and underneath, the feelings, or as they are more usually called the "Bad Attitudes" that a lot of people have about them.
Common Sense: This is a prosperous country.
Bad Attitude: Where is all this prosperity when you're on the dole or three months behind with the mortgage?
Common Sense: If you want to 'make it', work hard and be thrifty.
Bad Attitude: Like my parents did, and look at them. Besides, what's the point when some yuppie can make my life’s earnings in twenty minutes on the Stock Exchange?
Common Sense: Other people are worse off than you. If you've got an ounce of decency you should be grateful, and give to charities.
Bad Attitude: Alright, I can't walk past a collecting box without feeling guilty, but however much I pay, the problems don't seem to go away. If anything they get worse. Why don't the government pay?
Common Sense: Politics is for politicians. I wouldn't fancy trying to run the country.
Bad Attitude: Mind you, for £35 thousand a year plus expenses I couldn't do any worse than them, could I? All they care about is their own power.
If you have something like this 'bad altitude problem', don't despair. There are others like you, not in hundreds or thousands, but in millions. Just think of election-time, when you get to make your own mark for democracy. In spite of all the rousing speeches, the rallies and the broadcasts, many people still don't bother to vote. They obviously think it makes no difference to their lives who is in power and who isn’t. This, we are told, is because they have a bad attitude. Perhaps so. Perhaps, too, if speeches and policy reviews don't matter to them, they should get together and find out what does. They might find out they’ve got quite a lot in common. With each other. With us. With you.
Taken from a series of leaflets produced by our Lancaster branch.