Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Building a future (1994)

From the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

I am one of the many tens of thousands of construction workers who are currently unemployed. Disunited, we must be patient and wait. Surviving on the State prescribed pittance as pliant trapeze artistes on the unravelling "safety net" which so enchants reformers. Turning useful people into beggars is a historical, and inevitable,principle of the capitalist system. Perhaps this time, we have got to be extremely patient before capitalist investors decide that the opportunity of making profits from our labour power is a distinct possibility. Until then we must needlessly hang on, suffer quietly, await our masters' call.

Twenty-eight years ago, when I started working as a hod-carrier on the buildings, the economic circumstances were quite different from today. The demand for labour was high, consequently wages and degrees of freedom had been rising. Capitalism was in the boom phase of its cycle, and the construction industry anticipating even larger profits was in the process of restructuring itself. The design of buildings was slowly beginning to change, as were materials. Every aspect of what is a labour-intensive industry had to be cost effective.

Cash-in-the-hand wages were starting to become the norm for bricklayers and hoddies in London. No sick pay, holiday money or wet time for us, after all we were screwing the State, weren't we? Being a nomadic trade—I have had well over 100 jobs—where being a realist is forced on you, the majority took full advantage of the economic situation. It was quite usual for men to jack because there was no crack on the job, teabreaks were too short, or, because you couldn't get a sub when you wanted it. The sub was very important, its availability was one indicator of an employer's liquidity. It was a simple case of once bitten twice shy. Nearly everyone who has worked for subcontractors for some time gets bumped, at the first sign the realists abandoned ship before it sank.

The Monday Club was in full swing at this time. If 50 percent of the workforce turned up on a Monday the subbie was in raptures all day about how loyal his "boys" were. Building trades unions at this time were generally recognised as the niche of opportunists, liars, and the bribeable. Consequently, negotiations over wages took the form of "we want another shilling an hour". If it wasn't forthcoming, then the tools were immediately thrown into the bag and the ladder descended. A new start was just a phone call away.

It was fully understood that what we built during a working week was worth more than what we were paid, it was wholly transparent. The remainder being shared by the layers of pimps that thrived through our labours, this too was understood and despised. Creating profits, through the unremitting appropriation of surplus value from its workers, is the sole function of the construction industry. Building homes, etc is purely incidental to the process.

No boom lasts forever. The speculative jamboree of overproduction ended abruptly and inevitably. A few capitalists went bust. The shrewd, and well-connected ones are still there, conniving their way out of their latest short-lived binge. The long boom was over, and those few freedoms have never returned. The barbed-wire around the sites was in the process of being re-erected, and a new reality was beginning, one that over the coming years would increasingly subjugate the realists.

New income tax laws had been imposed, and were strengthening. Tax was being deducted at source which meant a 30% percent reduction in wages for those without exemption certificates. We were now self-employed--small businessmen no less. A great many workers, inspired by media reports of large sums of money to be earned, had travelled to London. These were among the first to taste the dole. Realists understand that they are disposable. Skint, most of the smaller and more liberal subbies were back on the scaffold with their "boys". The illusion that they had been more than just intermediary workers in the production of profits was still obstinately imprinted on their thwarted minds.

A small elite of subbies were now in a position to more effectively exploit for their masters those who were still in work. Afternoon tea-breaks disappeared and have never returned. Apprenticeships, which had been declining rapidly amongst firms since the rise of the subbie in the early sixties, were now just a source for contrite prattle by reformers. The derisively-paid, and deftly-worked improvers became their replacement. The week in hand was introduced, and the sub became extinct.

Competition between workers became more ferocious than ever. It was common practice when starting a new job to be put to work with the fastest bricklayer on the job; if you didn't keep up, you were down the road before breakfast. Few workers now questioned this, and some gained pleasure from it. Guilt, if you thought you hadn't done enough, and fear of what might happen, became as inseparable from your being as the trowel was from your hand.

A brutal system can create brutes, and the surviving subbies seemed to be in agreement on the type of foreman that they needed to run their jobs. Only the thug would do, no knowledge of bricklaying was necessary. A bully with a watch and few scruples replaced the tradesman. The old boys said that they'd seen it all before, no one really believed them.

Semi-literacy, and a knowledge of various state institutions, form the background for many bricklayers and labourers. Alcohol, and latterly drugs, are an integral part of the everyday working life for most. When the sack can arrive at any moment, to anyone, regardless of ability, just "to keep 'em on their toes"; where working conditions can vary from working in shin-high mud, to ramshackle scaffolds; where names and faces over the years become a blur, simply because of their frequency. And forming friendships is fraught with problems, then escapism becomes a necessity. And callousness a shield.

It's an upside-down world under capitalism. Those who are most useful suffer the lowest social esteem. But, laze in a masterfully-built mansion, and devise ways of turning human sweat into profit and you are to be admired, knighted even. After all, how would we cope without them, once the plans had been drawn and the footing dug and concreted, the walls built and then plastered, the joist and trusses nailed into place, and the roof battened and slated. Surely, we would be lost without a parasite to then sell the building?

A common dream, voiced amongst many workers that I came into contact with through the years was to build one's own home. A few achieved it. Some of those have now lost it. The possibility for all to achieve this dream can become a reality. By uniting, together we can begin the work of tearing down the barbed-wire than surrounds our lives, and bring nearer the day when we can establish socialism, and with it our freedom.
Andy Matthews

Egypt: Workers’ Struggles, Trade Unions and the ‘Left’ (2013)

From the September 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Workers’ struggles were an important aspect of the Egyptian upheaval from the start. While the world media focused on the political demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, mass protests and strikes erupted, especially in Alexandria and other provincial cities, over such everyday issues as wages, conditions of employment, managerial corruption, bread supply, shortage of housing and grossly inadequate municipal services. For example, people living in the Al-Wahat oasis in the Western Desert expressed their anger at the contrast between the huge sums being spent on tourist amenities, including a luxury hotel carved into the mountainside, and the neglect of their own needs (New Left Review 68, p. 24).

State of insurgency
This remains the pattern today. The run-up to the military takeover at the end of June saw a wave of strikes and protests. In March six cities – Port Said being worst affected – were ‘in a state of virtual insurgency, paralysed by mass civil disobedience and ongoing battles between protestors and security forces’ (Brian Slocums, thenorthstar.info, 5 March). Altogether there were some 2,000 strikes in 2012. One Egyptian activist, Hossam El-Hamalawy, argues that Morsi’s evident inability to ‘stabilise the street’ was one of the main reasons for his removal (jadaliyya.com).

Although many grievances are specific to a particular firm or locality, certain demands are being pursued across the country:

- a minimum wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds (£120 or $180) per month

- the right to strike

- the right to organise independent unions to replace the state-controlled unions of the Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (EFTU) inherited from the Mubarak regime

- regularisation of contracts for the many workers on insecure short-term contracts

Workers in firms privatised under Mubarak often demand their re-nationalisation. Other demands concern the special problems of workers in the ‘informal sector’ (who get no social benefits) and residents in ‘informal settlements’ – that is, officially unrecognised shanty towns (who get no municipal services). There is widespread opposition to the economic package imposed by the IMF.

Trade unions under successive regimes
There were several attempts to form independent trade unions under the old regime (in 1990 and during the strikes of 2006—2009), but only the current upheaval has made it possible openly and systematically to organise an independent trade union movement. The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) was established in January 2011.

In October 2011 a group of activists broke away from the EFITU to form the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress. So there are now two groupings of independent trade unions, claiming three million members between them. The reasons for the split are unclear.

The electoral victory of the Moslem Brotherhood was a setback for this process. The military government that succeeded Mubarak had accepted the right of workers to form independent unions, but Morsi tried to reassert state control of the unions by reviving and reforming the EFTU.

Striking transport workers were accused of ‘treason’; officials of independent unions were prosecuted for ‘inciting to strike’ with five from the port workers’ union sentenced to three years in prison. The independent unions responded by joining the movement to unseat Morsi.

There is some question concerning how independent the EFITU is of the current military regime. El-Hamalawy accuses its leaders of compromising with the generals, suspending strike action and encouraging workers to increase production. He attributes this to the influence of Nasserite ideas, which make them vulnerable to ‘patriotic’ appeals.

Making sense of the Egyptian ‘left’
The last three years have seen a profusion of new and revived political organisations in Egypt. Quite a few of them claim to be ‘left-wing’. Keeping track of these groups and parties is difficult due to the speed with which they change their names, split and merge, and enter and leave alliances. To add to the confusion, in some cases several different English translations of the same Arabic name are in circulation. Moreover, differences inside a single organisation are sometimes at least as significant as differences between organisations.

That said, it seems possible and useful to make a few distinctions.

First, there is a divide between an ‘old left’ and a ‘new left’. The old left draw inspiration from the initial period of the post-colonial state, when Egypt was led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Under the old left can be placed openly Nasserite groups like the Democratic Arab Nasserite Party and the National Progressive Unionist Party (Al-Tagammu), and also the revived Egyptian Communist Party.

The ‘new left’ groups are really ‘new’ only in the Egyptian context, as they model themselves more or less directly on ‘left-wing’ tendencies that have long existed elsewhere. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Egypt Freedom Party resemble the European social democratic parties – that is, they advocate very mild reforms within capitalism in the name of ‘social justice’. The Socialist Popular Alliance Party (formerly the Socialist Party of Egypt) appears to be a more ‘left-wing’ version of the same thing – that is, the reforms they stand for are a little bolder.

There is also a Trotskyist organisation called the ‘Revolutionary Socialists’, which has close links with the Socialist Workers’ Party in Britain.

The Egyptian Popular Current, created after the 2012 presidential elections by the ‘left’ candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, seems to be an attempt to bridge the old and the new left. It too uses ‘social democratic’ language while at the same time appealing to Nasserite nostalgia (Nasser’s son Abdel Hakim is involved with this party).

Allying against the ‘main enemy’
Another important division concerns the strategy that the ‘left’ should adopt in dealing with the other three major forces within Egyptian society:

a) the state and the military institution as its core

b) the Moslem Brotherhood and Islamists in general

c) private business and the parties that represent its interests.

The crucial questions for Egyptian ‘leftists’ are these:

1) Which of these three is our ‘main enemy’?

2) Should we seek to ally with the other forces against the ‘main enemy’?

A few purists insist that the state, the Islamists and private business are all enemies and the ‘left’ should consistently oppose them all. But most Egyptian ‘leftists’ do not consider this a realistic stance.

There is also a view that gives clear primacy to economic issues and asserts that the cultural divide between secularists and Islamists is of secondary significance. The main enemy is therefore private capital and the ‘left’ should not cooperate with pro-business liberals like the Free Egyptians Party. This too seems to be a minority view.

The ‘old left’ and especially the Egyptian Communist Party traditionally follow a line that equates Islamism with fascism. This makes the Islamists into the main enemy. The ‘old left’ is willing to support a military crackdown on the Islamists (Sabbahi publicly expressed his support on 5 July). Part of the explanation may be that the Nasserites as well as the ‘Communists’ fully identify ‘socialism’ with state capitalism. And Nasserism itself, after all, was a movement of army officers.

Much of the ‘new left’ also consider the Islamists the main enemy. However, this approach is rejected by the Trotskyite ‘Revolutionary Socialists’, who identify the state as the main enemy. Their slogan is: ‘Sometimes with the Islamists, never with the state’.

Curiously enough, this stance reflects the influence of Chris Harman of the British SWP. In his book The Prophet and the Proletariat, an Arabic edition of which was distributed in Egypt by the local Trotskyists, Harman argues that ‘socialists can take advantage of contradictions within Islamism’ and ‘on some issues we side with Islamists against imperialism and the state’ – examples of such issues being the Gulf War and the ‘struggle against racism in Britain and France’. In the current Egyptian context this means that so-called socialists must defend the Islamists against the state – and themselves against the Islamists! (Harman’s book is available online at www.marxists.de/religion/harman)
Stefan

Between the Lines: The future of socialism (1986)

The Between the lines column from the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The future of socialism
Brian Magee's cosy studio discussions on BBC2 are like Oxford seminars for spectators; listening to Brian and his guest intellectuals toss around a few concepts is like watching darts on telly - it doesn't really matter whether they score a hundred and eighty or miss the board, the important point is that you're not getting a chance to throw the darts. Thinking Aloud (BBC2, 9 March) was supposed to be about whether socialism has a future. Dick Taverne, who should have realised long ago that he does not have one, came out with some predictable old drivel about socialism being outdated: there are no longer classes, the future lies  with the terrific new ideas of the SDP (or was he saying that the future will be terrified by the new lies of the SDP?). Opposing him was Beatrix Campbell, a very trendy Lefty who thinks that Sweden is fairly socialist and the GLC was proof that socialism works. With confusion-mongers like her claiming to speak for it, what future does socialism have as an idea? Fortunately there was a third guest in the studio, Daniel Singer from France who showed more than a slight acquaintance with Marx's ideas. Singer began by daring to suggest that before the subject could be discussed it was necessary to define socialism; it should be made clear that socialism does not mean capitalism run by bogus socialist governments. It was left to him to state that socialism has never been tried, but that "if there is no future for socialism there is no future for the human race". It is a pity that the rest of the discussion was not conducted in such terms. Instead it was a mass of "to a certain extents" and "the trouble with socialism is . . . " Darts were not only missing the board, but being thrown at targets which did not exist. BBC2 calls it philosophy. I preferred Tony Hancock on BBC1 an hour earlier - at least he made a few points.


The future of socialisme
As if one night of nonsense-talking about undefined socialism isn't sufficient, Panorama (BBC1, 10 March) was concerned to show how Mitterand's "socialism" had failed to satisfy the French workers. In a series of articles over the last three years The Socialist Standard predicted that this would happen and has shown how it has happened. Needless to say, the "experts" on Panorama are too dim-witted to recognise that what has failed in France is capitalism in another form - nothing at all to do with socialism failing.

Milne's admission
BBC head, Alistair Milne, was in a studio discussion presented by David Dimbleby (This Week, Next Week, BBC1, 23 February) and was being attacked by Mary Whitehouse who has made it her hobby of late to watch video tapes of the dirty bits of Eastenders. In defence of the BBC's new highly successful soap opera Mine stated that "Eastenders is just a modern version of the old morality plays." So, here we have an admission: one of the functions of soaps is to convey to audiences right and wrong ways of behaving. "Rightful" behaviour is shown to be socially accepted by the characters in the soaps and leads to eventual success, whereas "bad" actions are shown in such a way as to lead viewers to fear committing such moral transgressions themselves. A very good example of the same process at work is in the kids' soap opera, Grange Hill in which the characters are presented very clearly within the context of approved and disapproved behaviour models. Readers with other examples of how TV drama attempts to mould audience behaviour should send in references and we shall publish your observations in a future column.

A question to Mr Churchill
Winston Churchill, the grandson of the man who never objected to plenty of violence in the media but preferred it in real life, has moved a Private Members' Bill in parliament designed to keep obscenity off the TV. Apart from the fact that the BBC and IBA Charters already commit them to self-censorship, Churchill's Bill is daft because it proposes to make illegal TV showings of explicit cruelty to humans and animals. Does that mean that Mr. Churchill wants to ban all pictures of armies going about their legal business of inflicting cruelty against "the enemy" - including pictures of British soldiers in 1945 who went in for some pretty explicit cruelty against humans in Dresden? Does this new Bill mean that the plays of Shakespeare will be banned from TV - we are thinking in particular of such jolly scenes as the pulling out of Gloucester's eyes by his stepson in King Lear? And will it mean that we shall no longer see Crossroads or Wogan - for, let's face it, what can be more explicitly cruel to humans, not to mention animals, than those offerings? Socialists oppose censorship. And we shall certainly not censor Mr. Churchill's response to our questions if he cares to send one.

Capitalist Utopia
"Imagine a factory where there are no strikes." Have you seen the hideous Nissan advert? It would be interesting if the Gdansk shipyards went in for a similar TV-ad campaign in Britain. When is the denial of the freedom to strike something to be boasted about and when is it an infringement of "human rights"?
Steve Coleman




A Common World

Editorial from the April 1984 issue of the World Socialist


Across the entire face of the planet useful labour is held back and subject to domination by world capital. World Socialism will establish the freedom in which it can concentrate its energies solely on human needs.


This will be world co-operation to produce more food; to provide housing, sanitation and clean water for the hundreds of millions who endure sub-standard conditions or live in squalor; to provide health services; to construct a safe world energy system; to stop the despoliation of the planet and the pollution of its atmosphere, its seas, forests and lands; to provide for education and enjoyment; to provide for movement and communication. These are the urgent needs for which world socialism will release the immense resources of potentially useful labour, now held in check by the insanities of the profit system.

Useful labour must realise its own needs. These are the needs of co-operation, of mutual interest, of free development, and above all, the need of free access to all the productive means and resources which are its own universal inheritance.

Everything that is best in this inheritance has one source and one source alone -  that of useful work in all its variety. The work of arts and crafts; the work of science and applied technique; the work of tool making and providing machinery; the work of building and farming; the work of transport, education and health services. All these are skills which have been accumulated throughout history from the first flint implement to the space vehicles of today. This represents the accumulated power of useful labour.

Wherever we look throughout the world we can see the evidence of the best things that useful labour can do - once it can flourish in freedom for human needs.

But also now wherever we look, we see useful labour confined and in shackles. It suffers the waste of unemployment; the demoralisation of poverty and constricted development. Its use is distorted in a world armaments industry through which has been built the means of human destruction. The work of providing for needs is ignored, whilst hundreds of millions are under arms. Labour is forced into the divisive moulds of nationalism and competition.

Wherever we look labour is isolated from the means of production and resources by the laws of exploitative class relations. In its individual exchange with capital, wage labour works as a meaningless economic function, obeying the blind laws of commodity production and the economic tyranny of capital accumulation. Labour is the source of profit and not the activity of providing for needs.

Yet only useful labour, in co-operation, has the power to build a better world and to become the means of mutual care; to work in harmony with itself, with others and with nature. It is a power which is in common between all humanity, rising above the differences of race, culture and language, and the widely differing routes by which humanity has emerged from history. From this diversity, useful labour can enrich all human experience - in co-operation. This universal, self-realisation of useful labour can only be achieved by the human relations of common ownership, democratic control and production for use. In every world problem, in every common hope which remains unrealised and in every common experience of failure and disillusion, is the voice of useful labour demanding its free expression. World socialism provides its clear and conscious political direction.

World Socialism will operate with one simple and ordinary human ability which is universal - the ability of every individual to co-operate with others in a world wide community of interests.

This World Socialist journal is committed to the work of bringing this to fruition. The co-operation which exists now between the Companion Parties for World Socialism will take this work forward and this has only one direction -  the principled growth of the World Socialist Movement.


Politics of Live Aid (1985)

From the September 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

I confess to being one of the millions of people throughout the world who watched the Live Aid concert, and one of the smaller number of Bob Dylan devotees who sat up half the night and saw it through to the bitter (as it turned out, in view of Dylan's abject performance) end. And I admit to having enjoyed watching all those super-stars strut and stagger, prance and pose on my TV screen. But this was supposed to be more than just entertainment, and to remind us there was, during the sixteen hour concert, repeated showings of a particularly haunting and harrowing film of Ethiopian famine victims. Bob Geldof, the concert's moving force, also continually reminded us that the purpose of the programme was to raise money, and he succeeded. Forty million pounds is a lot of money for a charity to raise in one go.

But Geldof also asked the question: why do people starve on one side of the world while on the other people are paid not to produce food, or "surpluses" are allowed to rot? He said that no-one had yet answered that question for him satisfactorily. I hope reads this article.

On the surface the answer to "what causes famine?" may seem obvious. Shortage of food causes famine, and the present food shortage in Africa is the result of drought. But is this really true? Why, when the world can be turned into a "global village" for the purposes of transmitting pop music , can it not be turned into a "global village" for the purposes of distributing food?

In fact the immediate cause of famine is a combination of events, which includes such things as successive years of drought and crop failures leading to the creation of deserts. But there is no inevitable relationship between even a number of crop failures in successive years and famine. The latter is more likely to be due, not to be an absolute shortage of food, but rather to its unequal distribution both between countries and within a country. So for example:
it is rarely the urban poor who suffer famine (because of access to wage labour) which is usually confined to rural populations which in many under-developed countries have little direct relationship with centres of political power, and therefore little influence (Frances D'Souza and Jeremy Shoham, "The spread of famine in Africa", Third World Quarterly, July, 1985)
And besides the environmental causes of famine there are also political causes such as warfare.

The immediate effect of food scarcity is rapidly rising prices and the movement of men to urban areas in search of paid work that will enable them to buy food for their families. At the same time farmers begin to sell their live-stock like goats and sheep in order to raise money. This leads to a fall in meat prices and hence in the purchasing power of the farmers, who are then forced to sell more valuable assets like plough oxen. When all these options have been exhausted, whole households and villages are forced to move to towns or relief centres in search of food aid:
Mass migration, usually taken as the first sign of a famine, is in fact a terminal sign of distress, and at this stage it is almost impossible to prevent mass deaths, however great the relief effort (D'Souza and Shoham, op, cit).
 The situation in much of Africa is clearly now in this terminal phase. And yet as long ago as December 1982 the Food and Agricultural Organisation said that Ethiopia would need 400,000 tonnes of food aid in 1983; no action was taken and the country needed 1.5 million tonnes by 1985. So why did the world not respond earlier? One answer is politics:
If countries supplying food aid want to ignore famine warnings they will. One reason why the famine was so bad in Ethiopia was that America, which is now supplying half of all Africa's food aid, was sending only a trickle of aid until October 1984. Ethiopia's government has few friends in Washington (The Economist, 20 July, 1985).
 The famine-stricken countries themselves may also, for domestic political reasons, not wish to acknowledge the existence of the problem. In Sudan for example, as late as mid-1984 the government claimed that there was no famine in the country for fear of the political consequences of admitting that people were starving.

But even when the existence of the problem is admitted and a decision is taken to do something about it, politics intrudes. The aid "industry" has vested interests: people who rely on the aid agencies for their jobs may be unwilling to co-operate fully with representatives from other organisations, which leads to pointless duplication of effort. For example, in 1983 Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) received over 300 fact-finding missions from aid donors. They got so fed up with escorting people round the country that they are now refusing all international aid.

Most aid comes from national aid programmes rather than international relief agencies, and much of it is "tied". This means that the recipient government gets money provided it spends it on goods produced in the donor country. Clearly if the motive is to increase exports the interests of the starving in Africa are likely to come a very poor second to those of the rich in the donor country.

Another form of aid is "programme aid" whereby food is given to governments to be sold on the market. About a third of all America's 3.1 million tonnes of food aid and 60 per cent of that given by the EEC takes this form. In theory it enables recipient governments to buy seed and agricultural implements from the proceeds of the food sales; in practice the proceeds are just as likely to be spent on maintaining the armed forces.

Within the recipient country politics frequently affects the distribution of food aid. In Ethiopia the government has tried to prevent food from being distributed in the provinces of Tigre and Eritrea in an attempt to literally starve the rebels in those areas into submission and to force them to leave the region for feeding centres in other areas.

So in entering the aid business Bob Geldof should tread warily: it is a minefield of national and corporate interests, political manipulation and profit-seeking which is likely to destroy the good intentions of the politically naive.

For the sad truth is that despite the razzamatazz that surrounded the Live Aid concert the amount raised, though enormous by the standards of most charitable appeals, was a pittance when compared with the scale of suffering. Workers who gave money to the Live Aid appeal cannot afford to give enough to make a significant impact of the famine, since most of us rely only on a wage, salary or state benefits to provide for ourselves and our children. We do not own the wealth of the world; it is not ours to give.

Aid is in any case a contentious issue: some have argued that it has damaging effects for the recipients since it has the long term effect of weakening the capacity of communities to survive independently. Certainly it has been used for political and economic ends by the international capitalist class to create spheres of influence in the "Third World" and to maintain client states.

But a more important limitation of aid is the effect it has on the donors. Whether it is individuals giving to charities like Live Aid or governments making pious statements about the amount of aid they have provided, a dangerous illusion is created. The illusion, firstly, that something is being done, that we really can "feed the world" through charity and the efforts of a few dynamic and well-intentioned individuals like Bob Geldof. Both have politically disastrous consequences.

Famine is not a temporary upset in an otherwise harmonious world order which can be put right by a quick injection of money and sacks of grain: it is an endemic feature of a world system of society which dictates that those who have money to buy food can eat, and those who have no money must starve; that unsold food produced in one part of the world will not, in general, be transported to where it is needed because no profit would be made. For in our society food is not produced because people need it, but because those who own the farms and the land can make a profit from it. And if it cannot be sold profitably then it is left to rot.

So while it may be comforting to believe that Live Aid has significantly helped those suffering in Africa from the insanity of capitalism, it is dangerous because it ignores the real causes of world hunger. To perpetuate the myth that charity can solve that problem obscures the urgent need for political action to get rid of capitalism. We can eradicate famine: we have the technology, knowledge and productive capacity to produce enough food for everyone and to transport it to wherever in the world it might be needed. There is no need for people to starve but they will continue to do so as long as we produce goods for profit. To remove capitalism requires a much bigger commitment on the part of the working class than it takes to give a fiver to the Live Aid appeal. But whereas giving money to charity might give you a feeling of having "done something" to help the hungry (which lasts until the next awful pictures of unnecessary suffering are flashed onto your TV screen), working for socialism will bring the reward of knowing that you are helping to create a truly humanitarian society in which no-one, wherever they live, will die of hunger. And then we can all listen to pop music without feeling guilty.
Janie Percy-Smith