Thursday, June 23, 2022

Letters: Censorship or conformity? (1999)

Letters to the Editors from the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Censorship or conformity?

Dear Editors,

1. Michael Gill’s experience (May Socialist Standard) in having his invitation to participate as a Socialist Party representative on Kilroy withdrawn on the researcher learning of his political views, will surprise only those who thought that audience participation involved no pressure from the production team.

Whilst dissent is acceptable with the framework of conventional left-right politics, that is, over which party can run capitalism better, pressure to conform exists at all levels of broadcasting. That this happens at the highest level is made quite clear by the original 1927 BBC Charter. This state “Government has the last word . . . an absolute power of veto over BBC programmes”, and it can also instruct the Corporation to withdraw programme material even before it is sent.

But censorship such as Michael Gill experienced may result not from government instruction, but from either the personal bias, conscious or otherwise, of the production staff, or, as probably in this case, the sheer pressure on staff themselves to keep within the bounds of political conformity. They too, are workers afraid to step out of line and dare not risk being accused of introducing either irrelevant or contentious material.

The sympathetic presentation of Kilroy tends to obscure the fact that many personal issues touched upon are trivialised by not relating them to a deeper social causation. But then, if it were to do this, every such programme would point the finger at the wider audience’s acceptance of capitalism as the cause, and the closing catchphrase, “Take care of yourselves” would take on a wider significance. The banal might even give way to the exciting and adventurous.

But does the Socialist Party really expect the government media to provide a free unbiased platform for their views? I am not optimistic. Despite a number of Broadcasting Reports recommending that broadcasting provide an outlet for minority political views, I feel that the Socialist Party must rely on its own slender material resources for this.

2. Stewart King’s letter (May Socialist Standard) on the anti-working class activities of the Labour government evoked many memories for me. As one of the conscripts he mentions, dragooned into the army by that government, I refused their order to help break a London dock strike—one of the eleven occasions that government had used troops in industrial disputes. I was of course punished. In a perverse way, the 1945 Labour government helped make me a socialist.

But the history of politics is shrouded in myth, especially where the “social welfare” legislation of the post-war government is concerned, and I hope I may correct the misconception in Stewart King’s letter ascribing child benefit to them. The principle of Family Allowances had received general cross-party support in the wartime coalition government, but the Family Allowance Act was, in fact, given Royal Assent on 16 June 1945, the operational date being set for August 1946, to be implemented by whichever party was then in power. The government on 16 June was a Conservative-led caretaker government and the legislation was put forward by Hore-Belisha, a Conservative minister.

The Family Allowance Bill was therefore enacted some six weeks before the General Election put Labour in power on 26 July 1945. For obvious reasons neither Labour nor Conservative parties are keen to publicise this fact.
W. Robertson, 
Hove, Sussex 

Free access

Dear Editors,

Regarding recent letters urging socialists to avoid using the S-word, the Socialist Party should take account of Tom Jones’s article about life being so “dull and hopeless that a lot of people hope for nothing more”. And how “psychological effects of many tiring, boring hours has a knock-on effect” in that “workers are unable to imagine a world free from the drudgery of wage slavery” (June Socialist Standard).

While agreeing with your February view that it’s wrong to “surrender the word”, I think most socialists accept Paul Azzario’s April letter point that “socialism” can evoke an immediate disapproving “Pavlovian reaction”. And this conditioned negative response (which a very influential media is still reinforcing today) combined with today’s widespread pessimistic indifference does require an apposite approach. Not a Basil Fawlty “Don’t mention the S-word”—just avoiding using it too soon.

One feature that can overcome disinterest, pessimism and any latter negative reaction to the S-word is the free access to food, goods and services that common ownership brings. Concentrating foremost on promoting shopping without paying; free homes, cars, overseas travel etc; and all public services being available without any cost is a promise that cuts through social despair and attracts interest, even if with disbelief more often than not. Supported by the basic explanation of collective asset-owning resulting in an equal right to everything produced, together with other significant benefits, means voters find socialism—far better than socialism trying to find voters with premature S-word use, and detailed meanings which, given Tom Jones’s accurate report of downbeat thought processes, inevitably turns people off. Getting major advantages across first and why they aren’t pie-in-the-sky, then gradually introducing the S-word no longer unintentionally puts backs up. As Aki Orr’s February letter said, “adapt language and tactics” to promote socialism. Capitalism’s hopelessness has necessitated spin doctors to conceal defects and lack of substance. But the Socialist Party must also spin socialism to break through with trumpeted benefits and supporting content—not raising an immediate S-word obstacle which does regrettably stop socialists from communicating and the exploited from listening.

Regarding the Socialist Party name, despite its fundamental truth and long existence, is it not credible that a title-change to Free Access Party (or whatever) could ironically help increase socialist awareness and party support considerably? I cannot see a changed title causing upset as socialists will only be concerned with completing the journey as soon as possible—not the vehicle’s name conveying them (and which is to be abandoned once socialism’s established). Is a membership vote on this possible to settle matters and avoid further doubts and distractions?
Max Hess, 
Folkestone, Kent

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