Monday, December 25, 2023

The ghost of Christmas yet to come (1995)

The A Word in Your Ear column from the December 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is Christmas morning and little children lay half-snuggled, half-sleeping in their beds awaiting the miracle of the gifts as advertised on TV and available for a price in their local shops. Parents toss and turn in the next room thinking of empty purses, overdrafts and sinister threats from the building society. Meanwhile, in the misty twilight between bad and worse, lurks the grim-faced oracle of times-yet-to- come. Can it get worse under this profits-first, needs-second system? Come, little ones, and see the bleakness of Christmas-yet-to-come.

You remember a time when there were just beggars squatting in the doorways. Folk knowledge had told that they were not always there, but it is all rather hard to remember. Then came the first of the families. Most disconcerting. The first dead body you walked round, careful to avoid the stench and flies, was always the one that stuck in your mind. Poor little thing—not enough money to feed it and the others, so . . . Then came the neighbours who had collapsed under the swamp of the threatening letters from the moneylenders. She was on drugs; the doctor put her on tranquillisers so that she would never properly have to think of those hopes she once had when he had the little shop and they bought the house. It makes you stop and think when you see the people from down the road out in the street begging for a few quid to feed the ones who might survive the winter.

Of course, the Straw Laws helped none. Jack Straw was one of the most hated Home Secretaries ever (they all are, aren’t they?). Although the Sun was full of praise for his measures to hose down the pavements at five each morning. “Spraying the No-Hopers", the kids call it. And the Prescott Act. long in planning but only realisable with a government that could get the unions to support the scheme, has done wonders to put the young jobless in uniforms and give them a dose of good old-fashioned discipline. The Lib-Dem amendment to cut all welfare payments to scroungers without A1 workfare reports was highly praised in a Guardian editorial.

The deaths from the nuclear blowout in the Ukraine show no signs of letting up. What woman would want to be pregnant this Christmas, with the rate of miscarriages and still-births greater than the number of healthy children born? Everyone saw it coming. After Chernobyl, when that report was issued in the late Nineties about the cover-up on deaths from radiated beef, there was a short scare that if another one went up it would be goodbye to a few million Europeans. They never said it would be as bad as it was when the next one did blow up. Will the war with Russia ever end? These weekly nuclear-alert drills are getting everyone down.

Who would have thought there would be a civil war in the USA? It’s the kind of thing we used to read about in history books. You expected it in Ireland or Yugoslavia, but somehow it all looked so stable from a superficial point- of-view . . . hundreds of thousands dead and who knows how many maimed and homeless? The wags say that the IRA are taking collections in Dublin pubs for the New York Police Militia who have been taken as political prisoners by the Nation of Islam.

The ads become more depressing every day. And there are so many more of them, even on the BBC now. Everyone wants to sell you insurance. It’s like one big protection racket. That one about the little boy with leukaemia who gets turned away from the State Market Hospital and has to sell his bike to get some painkillers . . .  I mean, come, on. there are limits to taste.

But that's the thing: there are no limits. The future of the profit system is not a subject for the delicate of taste or the nervous in mind to study. Best think that everything will just go on as it is. What a horrible thought! Best not think at all.

And the children wake up to find at the end of the bed the bargain models of the goodies which advertisers spent millions persuading them they wanted. What it is to be a carefree infant on such a lovely day. The parents take confidence that the kids will always be snug and forget for a while the abject poverty which the majority of the world’s kids are living in right now. The Queen will come on after the Tesco chicken-bites and reassure them that all is well in this sickest of social orders. She is the Ghost of Christmas Present. And whether what we have allowed ourselves to think for a while about the times to come does come? Well that is up to us to permit or forbid, for we make history, and we alone have the power to stop nightmares from coming true. Even Scrooge could see that. 
Steve Coleman

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

Wow, that was cheery.

I think I need a bottle of Crème de menthe and a Morecambe and Wise box set to cheer me up after scanning that in.