Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: Space Deaths (1967)

The Review Column from the March 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Space Deaths
The American space authorities knew that the pure oxygen used in their ships carried a serious risk of a rapid, intense fire. But to have changed to a mixed gas system would have delayed the entire American space programme.

If everything went perfectly according to plan, the danger would come to nothing.

In the same way, if everything had gone according to plan the early Comets would not have broken up in the air, there would have been no typhoid epidemic at Zermatt, the spoil heap would never have crashed down the mountain at Aberfan.

Capitalism is a society where economic rivalry — they call it competition—is not only inevitable. It is actually encouraged.

As one result of this rivalry, America and Russia are now engaged in a grim race. They are not probing out to the Moon merely to satisfy a lust for adventure but because the development of rockets has opened up space as a strategic highway, perhaps to be used in a future war.

No major power can now afford to ignore the ballistics of space. Each landing on the Moon adds to this knowledge, apart from the fact that it brings nearer the day when other planets become military bases for the great powers on Earth.

Neither America nor Russia can afford to fall behind. If this means that they have to take chances—with equipment, with buildings, with human lives—this is all part of the competition for top place in Space.

A big prize. Beside that, does it matter to capitalism that trapped inside the burning space craft there were three human beings?


Bank Rate Cuts
Bank Rate is generally regarded among the economic “experts” as a means of controlling the economy.

Put up the Rate, runs their argument, and you slow down production; put it down and production will start booming.

None of the experts have ever explained why, if it is really so easy to control capitalism, the economy ever gets into a crisis.

The Chancellors’ decision to reduce Bank Rate by one half per cent was greeted as a stimulant to British industry.

“One positive gain,” said the Daily Telegraph, “it (the government) hopes to see . . . is a greater willingness among businessmen to proceed with their capital investment programmes.”

Since September 1953, when Bank Rate was 3½ per cent, there have been twenty seven changes. Both Conservative and Labour governments agree that Bank Rate helps to control the economy, both have upped it to seven per cent in times of crisis.

But none of these changes have altered a course of economic events which was already set. They have, in fact, been made in response to those courses; they have been not an influence but a reaction.

Callaghan’s panic seven per cent last July was no exception and neither is the latest reduction. William Davis, the Guardian’s Financial Editor, put it:
I gather that the Bank of England advised the Chancellor a a few weeks ago that a half per cent cut in Bank Rate couldn’t be delayed much longer.
The economy of capitalism, as so many Chancellors have found out cannot be controlled, by Bank Rate changes or any other juggling. The Labour Party should know this, perhaps better than anyone.

For they once had a mighty Plan to defeat economic crises. But just like the Tories, they end up doing what the Bank of England tells them.


Export Incentives
Harold Macmillan, in one of his languid moments, once said that exporting is fun.

Harold Wilson, and Prince Philip, will have none of this. Exporting is a stern business. It is, in fact, a national duty.

In case there are any firms with a sense neither of fun nor of patriotism, the Labour government have provided some inducements to make them look favourably on exporting.

It is apt comment on whether Wilson really believes in the appeal of national duty, that these inducements are financial—tax rebates and so on.

By this the Labour government show how firmly they realise there is only one kind of incentive capitalism understands and that is one which improves the balance sheet.

This is basically what decides a company on whether to export their produce or not. Unless the financial bait is juicy enough, they will ignore all the speeches about national duty, and happily forego their fun, by concentrating on the home market.

This is how Derek Pritchard, chairman of the British National Export Council, put it in an address on January 18 last:
No one in their senses exports at a loss in the national interest. This is a sure way to go out of business. No business man today exports at the behest of politicians. He does it because he sees a chance of making a profit.
There is, of course, nothing exceptional about this statement. All production under capitalism is carried on in the hope of making a profit. If a capitalist thinks that a market, home or abroad, is too tough for him to realise his profit there, he will avoid it. Politicians and princes may blather about having fun and the national interest but in the end they have to face the uncomfortable facts of capitalist life.


The D’Ollveira Affair
The South African government have always made it plain that mixed colour touring teams were not acceptable to them.

For a long time the issue has been dodged by the sporting authorities of the countries which send teams to South Africa. Recently, the New Zealand Rugby Union was brought face to face with it; some of their best players are now Maoris and they were not prepared to go into Tests against South Africa without them. So they cancelled their tour.

Now the MCC are probably praying that Basil D’Oliveira will get them off the hook by losing form (and in the circumstances he will be something of a cricketing superman to keep it) so that the question of his selection does not arise.

Of course, the South African government have been accused of mixing politics with sport. And so they are.

But what were those ranting, hysterical thousands at the World Cup Final doing, but mixing nationalism—which, after all, is politics—with sport? Each foreign foul booed, each English foul applauded as an act of manliness, mixed politics with football.

South Africa’s ban on D’Oliveira is no more than the projection of their unsavoury political and racial theories into cricket. Anyone who objects to this, and who wants to see sport as a contest carried out for the sake of the game alone, cleanly and with no grudges, should ask themselves whether this will ever be possible in a society which fosters racism, nationalist hates and economic rivalry.



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