Dickens was referring to the depth of the French Revolution, but the words are very apposite to 2011, not only in Britain, but nearly everywhere. This will be a year of revolution in many places, to chaotic trouble in most other places and to decline, suffering and misery almost everywhere else.
In Britain it is obvious that the present government has no idea what to do, except to help their friends where they can. Their friends are the bankers, those who run our financial and globalised capitalist institutions, many of whom are major donors to the Tory party, and the very rich they know from schooldays, who take as much money as possible to tax havens and pay as little as possible here. We are facing massive unemployment, great poverty and all that goes with it, hunger, a crime wave, massive violent demonstrations that the police and even the army (if loyal) may be unable to control, let alone put down. The conditions described by Disraeli, Dickens and Marx will return, but seem worse when contrasted with the last fifty years.
What did we here before that? It was not a bad time, although the middle classes hated it. It was the age of Attlee and the first labour Government, brought about by a generation that had gone through a long and painful war, that was willing to adopt a humane and civilised socialism where spending power after heavy taxation was about one to fifteen and nobody went totally hungry. Classes were not levelled but expenditure was. Education was available to anyone willing to make the effort. The arts flourished and were cheap. We had a flourishing, talented and high quality BBC radio and the beginnings of television. There was full employment at low wages, but enough to provide food, shelter and the basic necessities. Everyone knew that it was better than war. Compared to today there was little corruption and greed was pointless.
During the fifties things got a little better every year. That would happen today if we had an Attlee, a Bevan, a Crossman, a Crossland, a Jenny Lee (although she came later). Is it really impossible to find public-spirited, idealistic, unselfish individuals who see socialism as the only humane and sensible answer to a world of mixed ethnic populations that will soon be killing each other to survive.
Natural disasters have augments man-made ones, but politicians glib talk of growth, recovery etc. This is clearly impossible, while creating unemployment through cuts where there should be shared austerity, rationing and controls on rents, prices and all public services that should be back in national control. It will have to come of course, but it may be revolution of left or right that brings it about, or it may be another world war, bringing in one country after another because of ideology, religion, deprivation or resurgent nationalism.
Unfortunately few people still know to think, how to analyse what is happening daily about them, how to escape the dreamy existence that began to disappear about four years ago. The fault lies with a corrupt press and media generally, with equally corrupt politicians, with an educational system that has become a disgrace, with too much population, world shortages of what we have come to think of as essentials, an infectious wave of fanaticisms and a wrecked eco-system that we have created ourselves, thoughtlessly.
Think on these things and what we can do, as individuals, as members of society, as members of the species that might easily become extinct.
Not a word here is an exaggeration.
Not a word!
John Calder 27/1/2011