Sunday, June 16, 2024

Food and Starvation (1976)

From the June 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The case of the SPGB against the capitalist mode of production is that production based on social need and democratically administered is far superior to the existing system of organized scarcity: a system which is subservient to market needs. In order to begin Socialist production, the old obsolete capitalist form will have to be removed, for the very simple reason that it does not work efficiently — that is, it does not satisfy social needs.

A report published by the Select Committee on Overseas Development, and placed before Parliament on 13th April 1976, made the claim that nearly 500 million people are verging on starvation (The World Food Crisis and Third World Development: Implications for UK Policy). This astonishing piece of information will undoubtedly stir a few consciences, but the mass reaction will be one of relative disinterest, as most workers are preoccupied with their own problems — a subjective and narrow attitude born out of the social conditions of capitalism. They do realize that there is a direct connection between people starving in Africa, Asia or India and the problems of unemployment, bad housing and poverty common in the Western world. Both sets of problems have a common origin, and can be traced to the contradictory situation where the means of production exist to produce capital first and wealth incidentally.

According to Sir John Baker, chairman of the Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation, half the people of Africa are undernourished, and he has been told that annual spending on defence by African states equalled three times the cost of their deficit in food. Uganda spends twice as much under General Amin on defence as it did under Oboto. Tanzania, Zaire, Ghana and Congo all spend more on defence than they do on agriculture (Times, 19th April 1976). The same thing applies in India where vast sums are spent on armaments whilst millions of people starve or are undernourished.

This is true of capitalism generally. As the competition grows keener greater masses of wealth have to be devoted to the upkeep of the armed forces by all capitalist powers. The “killing” industry is a constantly expanding industry, and in a class society this is as inevitable, as it is wasteful. Could the situation improve if all the nations could agree to disarm and direct their resources towards the production of food? This is not a new argument, and was used by the ILP before 1914, when they were opposed to the British capitalist class building Dreadnoughts (battleships) when they should, in the view of the ILP, have been spending money on social reform, i.e. providing housing and increasing pensions for workers. The same argument was put in reverse by Adolf Hitler before the commencement of the second world war, when he argued the case for “guns before butter”.

It should be remembered that the butter is the property of the capitalist class, as also are the guns, and because the capitalists choose not to spend their money on armaments does not imply that they will spend it on social reform. The two propositions are quite separate, and only muddle-headed social reformers could bring the two together. The capitalists spend their revenues where it will best serve their economic and political interest, and they have no enthusiasm for spending money on armaments in particular: they are always eager and anxious to curtail such expenditure. That is why all governments, including the American and Russian, are trying to reach agreements on policies which will limit expenditure on armed forces. The twentieth century has been interspersed with disarmament conferences, but generally speaking these have produced little or nothing. In fact, on at least one occasion they could scarcely agree on the shape of the table, and in the Vietnam peace talks held in Paris, months were spent on discussing the seating arrangements.

The Select Committee’s report referred to above told MPs: “The United Kingdom should oppose proposals for food aid except as part of the European Economic Community’s contribution to agreed food security stock”. That is, no aid to backward countries unless the capitalists of the European Community can tie up a sphere of influence in any of these countries who are suffering from starvation. The criterion is not whether people are starving, but whether Western capitalist interests would be served by supplies of food.

Production under capitalism is a strange phenomenon which is peculiar to a certain stage in man’s development. Historically necessary, its rôle has been completed, that rôle representing a phase in social development. Now it has become reactionary, and the growing anarchy which arises from increasing competition exposes its basic anti-social characteristics. The obsolete social system which retards human progress must be removed. By progress we mean the free and unrestricted development of the social means of production, having as our object the fulfillment of social needs and not production of private profit.

The planning of social production within a socialist society will provide a great opportunity to demonstrate the intellectual capabilities of ordinary men and women, as it is upon them that society depends. It is this exciting prospect of re-fashioning the world into a place of culture, harmony and plenty, that is the incentive behind the propagation of Socialist ideas.
Jim D'Arcy

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