in the last issue of New Left Review, William Norman drew our attention to some significant omissions in Signposts for the Sixties—culture (especially the problems of the mass media) and “democratic control and participation in a mass industrial society” (especially the problems of bureaucracy and the trade unions); another omission is the problem of personal and civil liberty, and it would be easy to think of others. In view of the multitudinous leaks to right-wing newspapers by members of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, it is scarcely a breach of confidence to tell the readers of New Left Review that the absence of these subjects from the home policy statement is due not to carelessness or confusion but to the fact that substantial cuts were deliberately made during the various stages of its growth by members of the Home Policy Sub-Committee of the NEC, in conformity with the wishes of the Party leadership.
Signposts for the Sixties began as a 3,000-word draft prepared in the Research Department at Transport House last November. About one third of it reads as follows:
Advertising and marketing attract huge and increasing resources, creating new wants, distorting existing wants, moulding the market to fit the goods—that is, regulating people for the convenience of production . . . The co-existence of private affluence and public squalor is not merely unintelligent—it is wasteful on a prodigious scale . . .
Topsy-turvy rewards, irresponsible power, absence of social purpose—these factors combine to degrade the quality of life. Where money is king there is little room for any other values. The press is becoming increasingly determined by the volume of consumer expenditure it can offer advertisers, the economies of the printing press and the whims of wealthy proprietors. Commercial television is primarily an organ for selling, and public service broadcasting is starved of resources. The cinema just survives by courtesy of advertising intervals and ice cream sales, while the theatre outside of London is in sharp decline . . . At the same time as our cultural values are being eroded through the mass media, our working lives are being re-fashioned to bring us nearer to the ideal of the acquisitive society, the ‘organisation man’: cautious, plagued with status worries, unaware of others’ misfortunes so long as he is for the time being ‘all right Jack’. In work and leisure alike there are increasing pressures towards a mass ‘mediocracy’, with values, interests and opinions all mass produced, pre-digested, and lavishly pre-packed . . .
To stop the drift our first need is a clear purpose, a socialist purpose. What is our socialist purpose? To extend democracy. At present democracy is confined to civic rights and local and national elections. Socialists seek to extend democratic principles to the rest of life, to establish a new order based on democratic socialism. The essential principle of democracy is recognition of the inherent dignity of man, of the absolute and equal value of every individual. We all have an equal and vital stake in society, we all have equal duties to society, we all have claim to equal participation in the big decisions of government—as of right, simply through being adult citizens, and not through any special merits, attainments or associations. One man, one vote, one value.
Socialists seek to extend these democratic principles from our government and courts to the rest of life. Just as we are all equally involved in the affairs of state, so we are also involved in the affairs of our work, leisure, education, social security. We therefore have duties to society in these spheres also and rights too—to some degree of participation in all the big decisions which affect our daily lives, so that power will no longer be used in the interests of the powerful, but instead be made accountable to those affected by it. Only then can the full resources of society be harnessed to the socialist purpose—the emancipation of man from the limitations previously imposed by his struggle for survival in a hostile environment, so that the human fulfilment that was once the mere dreams of visionaries may become the everyday experience of ordinary people . . .
Democracy in Local Government: Local authorities can be high-handed and autocratic. A vital democracy flourishes best at a local level. We must re-shape our local authorities, give them a bigger part to play, encourage livelier participation in their affairs. At the same time we must restore local initiative in the press and in cultural life, and actively work for a live sense of local community.
Democracy in Industry: Industry not only exists for people, it also consists of people. Just as people’s involvement in the consequences of government decisions qualifies citizens in a democracy to participation in the choosing of that government, so in a democratic socialist society workers’ involvement in the consequence of management decisions should qualify them for some participation in the control of management. There are many possible forms this could take, many exciting possibilities, many daunting difficulties. We cannot take a rigid view in advance. We need experiment. The important thing is to make a start.
Democracy and Bureaucracy: Paradoxically, the very extent of our public services means that the individual is often subject to an arbitrary power. As a patient in a hospital, as a resident in an old people’s home, when applying for pension or national assistance, when in dispute with an insurance company or the inland revenue or customs—time and again the individual is placed in a position of dependence, with inadequate safeguards. We need to set up effective new organisations to redress the inferiority of ‘us’ relative to ‘them’, to protect the individual citizen’s rights against the arbitrary power of organisations, to ensure that the public services really do serve the public. Many of our social institutions, particularly
those for the sick, the old, and the handicapped, will not fill our democratic needs until their whole attitude is more humane, until they recognise they are dealing with people with a right to their individuality, and not just the ‘cases’, ‘precedents’ and the like.
Democracy and Minorities: Democracy is based on respect for the dignity of the individual, and this implies tolerance of diversity and compassion for the wayward. Our social legislation needs more consideration for the differing tastes and weaknesses of others. Our penal arrangements need less ugly vindictiveness and more constructive humanity . . .
No, you won’t find any of this in Signposts for the Sixties. In the 15,000-word draft that was prepared in March, about a fifth of the space still appears under such headings as Distorted Values, Defending Personal Freedom, The Needs of Adult Citizens (i.e. cultural needs) and An Up-to-Date Democracy. An attack on the present state of the mass media leads to the following conclusion:
If we want a wide choice of programmes and papers, if we want entertainment and information for their own sake rather than as a by-product of commercial advertising, then the community must be ready to act to get them.
And proposals are made to prevent press mergers and strengthen the Press Council, to make “independent” television genuinely independent and set up a public third channel, to break the cinema monopoly, to built a National Theatre and to set up a National Sports Council. In the field of personal freedom there is a similar conclusion:
Organisations exist for the convenience of people and not the other way about. In a democratic socialist society people stand upright; they have no need to ingratiate for favours.