John Bird: The future needs a giant leap of a different kind

Will the old, radical politics dusted down and given a new lick of paint be up to the fight to save our planet?

I was not the only one in 1969 to be appalled at the waste of human energy that went into the landing on the moon. I was a revolutionary who believed all that money should be spent on helping the poor get out of poverty.

In 1969, not long after the death of Che Guevara in the Bolivian jungles fighting against a CIA-sponsored army, there was a model of a good revolutionary that I wanted to adhere to. And that was to try and overthrow capitalism and help the poor to become the ex-poor. How did you help them out of poverty? You took all the wealth off of the wealthy and destroyed their supporters in the State. In fact, “the whole of the State was in the hands of the wealthy” ran the argument, so the whole kit and caboodle had to go.

Spending billions on going somewhere else looked like the supreme act of human folly. So there was no way I was going to go around waving a Stars and Stripes for this “giant leap for mankind” as Neil Armstrong, one of the astronauts, said. It was a retrograde step to me, perhaps back to days of medievalism when kings, queens and princes tossed money up the wall on their pet follies.

No, I was going to overthrow capitalism and help establish the rule of workers over all. Wasting money on illusions like walking on the moon did not draw my attention and support; only my anger and disdain.

This idea of taking money out of the wealthy, expropriating the expropriators, really was attractive. It kept me busy for many years in this pre-Thatcher political world, which would largely all be swept away by the arrival of the Iron Lady. She beat the Reds and reduced them to the vanquished in that last big struggle over what you might see as the old socialist vs. capitalist conflict.

The Tories had won and I, like a lot of other people, settled down to the increasing spending power that seemed to come from mass consumerism. It was enormous, the flow of new and varied items that needed to be bought. Foreign holidays with drunken Spanish nights on beaches and in clubs, outraged sexual energy combined with car purchases, and more money for dresses and sundry distractions.

It might take more than a Red tide of leftish politics to overturn the superabundance of damage done to nature since man first landed on the moon

Thatcher seemed to win by providing more and more things to buy. And contrary to her grocer’s daughter from a provincial town – “don’t spend what you haven’t got” persona – she opened the sluice gates to credit. Under this new consumerism, you didn’t have to wait for that product you wanted. You just put it on the credit card.

House-buying went through the roof. We became increasingly reliant on having things instantly. And modern, conspicuous expenditure grew rapidly.

And there, like an augur of it all, at the opening new world order of shopping and purchases, was the spectre of the walk on the moon.


Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.

You would not be able to get to the bottom of the list of things that came out of the space race and the moon walk. It was a bit like discovering America, but quicker and deeper. America’s discovery liberated wealth and this was reflected in the vast increase in trade over the last 500 years.

But the lunar landing telescoped that enormous growth of product development into the next few decades. The grumbling Reds went off and either disappeared or retired to universities of learning. But as Lenin said, at times, the revolutionary flows through the open planes, and at other times, they pass through narrow passes.

And then when the anti-state, pro-radical political arguments gain credence to many young people, the continuity of professors in Marx and Engels etc that exists in its narrow passages bursts out anew. Or so the argument goes.

I missed the Apollo 11 moon landing. I did not sit up all night in July 1969, and yet I have lived to witness the enormous destruction that consumerism brings to climate change and to the most precious parts of our natural world.

Yet will the old, radical politics dusted down and given a new lick of paint be up to the fight to save our planet?

It might take more than a Red tide of leftish politics to overturn the superabundance of damage done to nature since man first landed on the moon.

The Apollo 11 expedition apparently gave us the modern microchip, the CAT scanner, memory foam, cordless tools, satellite TV and many more things from that inexhaustible list. But is this simply a variation of the tale where, in order to get straw spun to gold, the prospective queen has to give up her first child? Have we sacrificed the rights of future generations to a Rumpelstiltskin-like figure?

It is a very difficult thought to hold that all the big shit that’s coming down our planetary way was sown since Armstrong walked on the moon. As my mates sat awestruck, I took my washing down the laundrette.

John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief  of The Big Issue.