“I have in my hand a piece of paper,” says Mr Stevens, CEO of Global Chemicals, echoing Chamberlain in unconscious admission that his promises of a profitable truce in the class war will turn out to be worthless, “which will mean a great deal to all of you. Wealth in our time!”
The ex-miners, crowded around the gates of the closed pit, are unimpressed.
“When the National Coal Board were forced to close the pit last year…” Stevens begins.
“It were a shame, that was!” heckles one of the workers, in Ignorant Yokel Speak.
“No, my friends,” says Stevens chummily, presenting himself as one of them, “we must not be bitter. We must face the facts.”
Note the ‘we’; the most abused word in political discourse. As in ‘we’re all in this together’.
“Coal is a dying industry,” asserts Stevens.
The miners shout “Rubbish! Rubbish!”
When it happens in reality, the idea that the mines had to shut because they were unprofitable will be rubbish. Mining was always subsidised.
“Oil is our future now and the government agrees with me. They have not only given us the go-ahead for our plans, they have promised us money for future expansion!” So the state is now subsidising a private company instead of nationalised coal and people’s jobs. “I have it here in black and white!”
There is general cheering. This story represents the working class, via the conduit of Welshness, as idiots. The feckless, changeable, easily-swayed mob – a trope that goes back a long way.
“Money for all of us! More jobs, more housing, more cars!” The promise of returned prosperity in the depths of the 70s.
In terms of when it was made, this is an odd scene. Miners were powerful and militant in 1973. They were unionised and they were winning. They weren’t sacked, helpless, grumbling no-hopers, stuck on the sidelines.
In terms of the future, however, this scene is actually prescient. By the late-90s, British mining – together with so much manufacturing industry – had been deliberately destroyed by the Tories, partly from a pure ideological objection to the idea of powerful workers and unions, partly as revenge for the miners bringing down Heath in ’74 (the year after this story was broadcast). Huge numbers of traditional working class jobs were annihilated by the Conservatives. Working class communities were wrecked in the process. In many ways, the sight of a crowd of workers, made redundant, closed out of their sold-off and shut-down workplace, listening to speeches about how coal is dead, being fraudulently told that their future lies in the trickle-down effect of private profit, is a sight that predicts the result of Thatcherism.
And when Stevens says “oil is the future” he’s only telling part of the truth. The future he really has in mind is one of the corporation as pure post-industrial power structure. Stevens is an administrator, a manipulator of executive practices, PR, lobbying, influence, delegated tasks, etc. This is, in its way, strangely prescient of the outward features of neoliberalism… which was, after all, just getting started roundabout 1973. The theory of post-industrialism is pretty specious, to be honest, but a lot of people believe in it, interpreting neoliberalism as a reorganisation of capital along lines of services and pure information, production being relegated to a quaint relic. This is largely bullshit, but it expresses something that a lot of people – some of them people like Stevens – believe: that capitalism can dispense with old-style workers, and all the dangers inherent in them, in favour of economies based on the shunting around of pure information. That this is Stevens’ dream is expressed by the fact that his company is secretly run by an insane computer that is also his alter ego… or should that be, his ‘alter id’. It’s aim is to create “total efficiency” in society (which is explicitly stated to be equivalent to the business dominance of Global Chemicals) by sacking all workers, abandoning coal (i.e. production), turning industry into a ‘post-industrial’ wasteland, brainwashing all corporate executives and linking all computers in the world into itself, thus unifying all information.
Trouble is, Stevens and his ‘B.O.S.S.’ have reckoned without the gothic, that eternal bad conscience. The gothic brings ghosts out of the disused mine… in the form of giant maggots. They are definitely ghosts. Ghosts – in the sense of the ghost story as we know it – are modern things. Gothic Marxism (perhaps most especially in the insights of Christopher Caudwell) has identified the ghost story as a quintessentially modern phenomenon. It is the worm in the apple of modern rationalism. And it is a very material genre. The ‘ghosts’ of M.R. James – effective founder of what we call the ‘ghost story’ – are gothic in that they represent the return of the repressed, but also material in that they emerge from modernity (manufactured things like prints and sheets and train tickets and mass-reproduced patterns) and that the tend to be icky and hairy and chitinous.
Giant maggots which signify the repressed dark secrets of capitalist production, erupting out of a closed mine, are ghosts in this sense. In this story, oddly, they’re the ghosts of the future.
James L Nichols
November 14, 2019 @ 10:34 am
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