Monday, July 10, 2017

What comes first? (1963)

Editorial from the February 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

To put it mildly, life under capitalism is an unpleasant business. Apart from the dominating problems, there are the lesser irritations which also go into the balance against the private property system.

There are, for example, the constant admonitions to us, from government, church, press and so on, to conform to the morality of capitalism. For the workers, this means an uncomplaining acceptance of the system. It means to work hard and soberly and to keep capitalism's laws. A man who ignored these precepts to the extent of neglecting his sick and hungry children in favour of a career of destruction and violence would not only find the finger of the law upon him. He would also be an outcast because he had offended against capitalism’s morality. We can all imagine—in fact we have all seen—the treatment the popular press would give to such a man. We have all seen the emotional headlines and the carefully horrible photographs, all designed to make the man seem a human monster.

Very well. A man like that would certainly be an extremely objectionable person, one with whom it is impossible to feel much sympathy. What, then, are we to say of a social system which acts just like that man? How does capitalism itself live up to its own morality?

Violence and destruction? The British government is now spending £1,709 million a year on its armed forces and their weapons. The United States, with its greater power and its heavier international commitments, is spending at the rate of £17,648 million a year on the same things, over £5,357 million of it on nuclear weapons.

Now what about capitalism’s sick and hungry children? All around us there is evidence that plenty of such children literally do exist, hanging on to life by their fingernails. We have just come through the Christmas period, a regular feature of which is the mass of appeals from all sorts of charities whose declared object is to feed and to help distressed children. We have seen the pitiful pictures of the wasted little bodies, near-skeletons with swollen bellies and desperate eyes. The people who organise these charities are undoubtedly sincere and are involved in a problem which is quick to move any human being.

These are not the only things which capitalism neglects. We have recently heard that the research unit at Hammersmith Hospital, which has been doing such valuable work in the field of kidney grafting, has had its future threatened by lack of funds. Nor is Hammersmith Hospital the only research centre suffering in this way. Mr. James Callaghan, the Labour Party Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, has said that he has heard of another “vitally important medical research unit which is living from hand to mouth.” Mr. Callaghan, of course, was gratefully wielding a stick upon the Tory government. Things were no better when Labour was in power.

There is one thing which all these charities and research teams need and which, within capitalism, might go a long way to assure their future. Money. Why don’t they have it? Because the capitalist class knows that its interests demand that it lavishes enormous sums upon making the means to kill and terrorise humans, even while the organisations which at any rate try to help humans are forced to penny pinch and to rely on charily.

Not that the answer is to support the charities. Those people who support capitalism and complain about its inevitable problems are as illogical as the man who drinks a bottle of whisky and then complains when inevitably he cannot walk straight.

The real solution to this is for the world working class to establish Socialism. This will be a world without armed forces and all that goes with them, without money and all that that entails, without the need for charities. It will be a world in which human interests are Number One Priority, in which the only motive for human activity will be human benefit.

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