From the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard
Yesterday I witnessed a birth. In fact, I did more than that — I assisted in the delivery. Helping someone to be born was an exhilarating experience. It was, though, a distressingly less comfortable time for the mother, but the agonies of labour were soon superseded by the joy of the new arrival. There must be few things as adorable as babies in their state of initial innocence. The process by which babies develop into soldiers, prison wardens, politicians, financial consultants, lawyers, dole snoopers and bailiffs is, however, an awful nightmare.
William Morris once observed that the people least suited to bring up children are parents. While you can often see what he meant, it would be wrong to attribute the misery of our society mainly to parental mistreatment of children. Parents are responsible for indoctrinating many young people with all sorts of social prejudices which encourage them to be politically as- quiescent in later life. This sort of persuasion, though, is probably of minor significance when you consider the torrent of propaganda washed over young people by the schools, television and radio. Several problems of this profit system are put into especially sharp focus when considered from the viewpoint of the newly arrived baby.
Society today is class-divided. The majority of people labour to help produce and service wealth, most of which is owned by a small minority who can afford to spend their lives how they please. "It’s absolutely true that we won’t have to worry about rents or mortgages or anything like that”, said the Duke of Westminster before his marriage. He owns 15,000 acres in Cheshire, 14,000 acres in North Wales. 100,000 acres in Scotland. 900 acres in Shropshire, an estate in Fermanagh, shopping centres in Vancouver and a 12,000 acre industrial estate in Canada. What he owns in Hawaii, Australia and Mayfair is a list in itself. He also owns a plot in Belgravia worth over £l,000 million. It is unlikely, therefore, that the Duke will be stumped to find a space for any offspring or that he will get himself in a sweat about cheap ways to make a decent nursery. For the majority of people the pleasures of caring for and entertaining children are continually spoilt or diminished by money worries. The world has sufficiently advanced technologies and abundant resources to provide bright, stimulating toys made to the highest safety specifications for all children. Yet every year hundreds of children are injured by cheap, unsafe toys.
Every child could have access to open fields with fine facilities and properly furnished, inventive nursery areas. Most children though do not have these opportunities or else get them on rare occasions as special treats. Constrained by poverty, most parents have to make compromises over what they offer to children. Smug manipulators in advertising agencies work ever harder to bamboozle young minds with the desperate need to acquire some particular toy. Toys related to children's television programmes have been marketed for a long time but a new development here is the programme (often a cartoon) sponsored by a toy manufacturing company to plug its product. If parents are constantly worried by the expense of everything they wish to provide for children — food, clothes, books and toys — they are likely to be more tense, less patient and more run down than they would be if needs could be met without the obstacle of money. Unnecessarily vexed parents will not be as good with children as they could be. This in itself may be a cause of resentment in some parents which worsens the situation further.
Health and wealth
One of the greatest concerns among parents is the health of children. Health, however, like anything else in the profit system, comes at a price. We live in a society where money can buy you anything. £4,000 could, until recently, get you a new kidney from a living Turkish peasant whom property-society itself had pushed to that degree of desperation. The scheme, running at the Humana Hospital Wellington in North West London, has now been exposed but it is only a matter of time before another dirty racket is discovered. GPs are now being asked to subordinate clinical medical decisions to financial, accounting considerations in a plan that will give doctors a limited budget for drugs and buying hospital care. These proposals include a carrot and a stick. Dr. Michael Wilson. Chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs Committee, has commented:
The carrot will be a lure to provide the patient with less care and less in the way of medicines so that money is saved on the budget. The stick will be that if doctors go over their [drug] budget there are proposals for them to be fined. These, we believe, are not the type of incentives which should be pressed upon individual doctors caring for patients.(The Independent, 17 February)
Although kidneys-for-cash and account book medicine are repulsive practices they are really no more than savage examples of the general principle of health in the commercial world. Many GPs will tell you that over half of the problems during an average surgery could be cured by a few weeks relaxing on holiday in the sun. The sort of complaints most workers take to their GP are directly related to their work, environment or stress. Moreover, the sorts of treatment generally available are those which are financially viable rather than the best that contemporary technology can offer. Hence the urgent appeals for workers with particularly sorrowful plights (often selected by the press) to be sent to a special hospital in Hungary or the United States.
The maternity ward in which I was giving assistance was staffed by tirelessly dedicated and expert nurses, midwives and doctors who were chronically overworked and under-resourced. By contrast, a privileged few are able to have their pregnancies managed and monitored in lavish comfort in private hospitals and their children given fastidious care from the outset. Socialists do not, of course, begrudge anyone receiving such care. On the contrary — everyone should have access to it.
It is difficult to know how far the superstition and ignorance of religious dogma is a fading force in society. In any event, the arrival of many of the new babies in the maternity unit was greeted with a variety of religious nonsenses. Several babies were to be the unknowing subjects of various religious ceremonies purporting to place the new arrivals in the custody of one or other "gods". It is not unknown for religious people to express gratitude to their "god" for the safe delivery of a healthy baby.
Very young children, who rely entirely on older people for their initial understanding of the world, should never be inculcated with and misled by religious confusion. People who "thank god" for the safe delivery of a child must presumably think that "god" has some control over such matters. Where does that leave the babies who are stillborn? Was “god" negligent or just spiteful, visiting a retributive punishment to a sinful parent? Human society is the architect and builder of its own future. It is not being controlled from outside or above by another force; and nor should workers grind on in the mistaken belief that things will be better for them after they die.
The world outside the cradle
Babies are wide-eyed and innocent. The rat race soon encourages them to become frowning and pessimistic. Babies love affection and companionship. The world outside their cradles can be callous and alienating. Babies love to learn — they do so easily, rapidly and enthusiastically. This proclivity is, in capitalism, dulled and eroded by an education system designed to produce complaint wage-slaves. Babies are born without language, ideas, personalities or codes of conduct. The world outside is embattled with all of the violence associated with property, from the prison cell to the nuclear bomb. Millions of people starve and go homeless while a minority wallow in wealth. Amid the chaos, some people argue strongly that one or other legislative reform or a whole programme of them will do the trick and organise the profit system in a civilised way. That is impossible. Capitalism by its very nature cannot be democratic or work in the interest of the majority.
The baby I helped deliver was my daughter. Her life might involve a struggle through capitalism but it could flourish in a socialist society. The world that she and her generation will inherit depends on what we do now.