Sunday, September 8, 2019

The United Front in France (1936)

From the June 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the General Elections which took place in France late in April and early in May there was a considerable gain of seats by the parties grouped together in a “United Front.” As a consequence a new Government has been formed, under the premiership of Mr. Leon Blum, the leader of the French Labour Party (“Socialist Party of France”). In the Cabinet with members of his party are also representatives of the French Radical Federation. The Communists (who promoted the United Front) while unwilling to enter the Cabinet, promise to give loyal support in Parliament and in the constituencies. The supporters of the Labour and Communist Parties are overjoyed at what they regard as a victory of outstanding importance. They foresee the early destruction of the power of the French ruling class and the abolition of poverty and unemployment and, naturally, the British Communists urge that this example of unity be copied here without delay. Let us see how this policy was applied and the results it has brought and is likely to bring. We shall then be in a position to answer the question whether such a policy should have the backing of the workers and the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

How it was done
The chief parties to the pact were three in number, the Radicals, the Labour Party (“Socialist Party of France”), and the Communists. The last two are indistinguishable in aim and outlook from the British Labour Party and Communist Party. The Radicals are quite correctly described by the British Communists (see Daily Worker, April 30th) as “The French Liberals.” They are a capitalist party, but favour moderate social reforms. They were formerly the largest single party in the French Parliament, but had not a majority of the seats.

The method by which the United Front agreement operated has long been practised in French elections – indeed, it was practised by the same three groups down to the 1924 General Election. The electoral system is based on a double ballot. At the first ballot only those candidates are declared elected who get a clear majority of votes over all the remaining candidates. At the second ballot, a week later, a further vote takes place in those constituencies that are not filled at the first vote. At this second vote the successful candidate is the one who tops the poll, whether he gets a clear majority over the rest of the candidates or not. In the great majority of constituencies there has to be this second ballot, as very few candidates get a clear majority over all other candidates.

The United Front parties agreed to support each other at the second ballot by withdrawing the two candidates who were least successful at the first ballot. Thus, if a Radical failed to get a clear majority at the first ballot, but nevertheless polled more votes than his Labour and Communist opponents, the two latter withdrew at the second ballot and all three parties backed the Radical. Similar withdrawals of Radicals took place in favour of Labour and Communist, and of Labour candidates in favour of Communists, and Communists in favour of Labour.

The result was as anticipated. The United Front group increased their total vote a little (about 270,000 votes), but gained a considerable number of seats. Owing to the uncertain allegiance of various individuals and sectional groups the position is somewhat uncertain, but is roughly as follows: The United Front group gained about 67 seats, and now numbers 381, out of a total of 618. The two other groups of parties, the Centre Group and the Conservative Group, have about 94 and 143 seats respectively. The United Front consists of 145 Labour, 72 Communists, 115 Radicals and 49 others, and, therefore, has a majority over the rest so long as all members of all its parties stand together. For various reasons, however, this is not likely to be the case for long. Some of the Radicals are certain to break away rather than continue association with the Labour and Communist groups.

The programme on which the United Front candidates fought shows clearly what is the outlook of the electorate.

The United Front Programme
The programme was a vague one, containing a series of reform proposals. They included a guaranteed minimum wage, a 40-hour week, pensions at 60 or before, public control of public services, including the Bank of France and the railways, suppression of the Fascist Leagues, abolition of private manufacture of armaments, etc., etc. The programme included also support of the League of Nations, the necessity of the maintenance of armaments for national defence, and efforts to secure disarmament, in which Hitler would be asked to join.

Within the joint agreed programme the separate parties put forward their own specific demands and slogans. The Communist slogans were “Long Live the Popular Front,”  “Bread – Peace – Freedom,” “For a Strong, Happy France – vote Communist,” “The Rich must Pay,” “Long Live the Union of the French nation – against the 200 families who plunder France” (Daily Worker, April 27th). The Labourites complained that through maintaining what there was of internationalism in their propaganda they were less effective in appealing to the growing nationalism of the electorate than were the Communists with their appeals to patriotism. According to a correspondent of the Daily Express (May 4th) the Communist election posters were decorated with the national colours, blue, white and red! “They have stolen the patriotic thunder of the Right. They have waved the Tricolour, not the Red flag.”!

In short, as the Liberal-Labour-Communist alliance wanted to win a majority at all costs, they had to put forward a capitalist reform programme – spiced with appeals to fear of Nazi Germany – which would gain a majority of votes. As a newspaper correspondent said, their programme had “to be vague enough to enable Radicals and Communists, friends and enemies of private capitalism, to enter the same fold.” (Times, April 25th). The correspondent of the Conservative Daily Telegraph (May 13th) found “nothing alarming” in the programmes of a Labour and a Communist candidate: “They were at great pains to dispel the conception that any revolution would follow in the trail of their parties’ success at the elections”!

The Price of Compromise
Those who advocate the policy of a United Front with capitalist parties do not always realise that they have to pay a heavy price for the capitalist support they buy. The French Communists were, however, under no illusion. They were willing to pay the price and have admitted it frankly, and they have certainly been more successful than their equally compromising, but less astute, British colleagues. Their seats increased from 10 to 72. It must, however, be borne in mind that this was not mainly due to increased votes (although their vote nearly doubled since 1932), but to the operation of the pact. If the Communists had joined the Radical-Labour pact in 1932 (as they did at earlier elections) they would probably have had 50 seats instead of only 10.

These are some of the items in the price they paid for joining hands with the Radicals. Labour and Communists stood as United Front candidates and in consequence had to sacrifice much of what was distinctive in their own programme. They had to deny to the workers that “Socialism is the only hope” and independence the only method. On the contrary, they had to say that capitalism is not so bad after all, provided that its representatives are Liberals, not Conservatives, and that it is administered by a Lib.-Lab. Government. They had to help save the Radical party from being reduced heavily in size. Here are some statements from Communist sources about how they helped the Labourites and Radicals. The Daily Worker (April 29th) denied the suggestion that the pact only helped the Communist Party: “This is not true. The Socialist vote has also increased compared with the last election in 1932.”

The following day the Daily Worker quoted from the Russian Communist paper, Izvestia, the statement that the Radicals “have preserved their influence among the main mass of their voters. This was the direct result of the fact that they had joined the Anti-Fascist People’s Front . . .”

This, it will be seen, proves that the Communists made and kept a bargain which was fair to the Radicals, but saving a capitalist Liberal Party from extinction is queer work for an alleged working-class party to be doing. In the same issue of the Daily Worker is an admission as to the way this party may be expected to act now the Communists have helped to save them. They “are rather apt to be in the United Front during elections, but out of it, and in the camp of the reactionaries after the election.”

The passage quoted below is taken from At the Parting of the Ways, by P. Braun, and has bearing on this policy of entering into pacts with capitalist parties in order to fight “reaction” It relates to France.
 It is hardly necessary to point out that such a system of sometimes tacit, and occasionally open, agreements played chiefly into the hands of the social-reformists of various tints, who represent themselves as fighters for ‘democracy’ against reaction.
This book was published by the Communist Party of Great Britain, and consists of an explanation of resolutions passed by the Communist International. The book goes on to give the “new” and correct policy decided on by the French Communist Party, a policy of “unswerving opposition” to Radicals and Labourites – “the voting of Communists for Radicals against the ‘rights’ should not be permitted.”

The book was an official Communist publication, but was published in 1928. What was demonstrably correct in 1928 is not – in Communist circles – of any interest in 1936, for in the meantime the foreign policy of the Russian Government has taken a new turn, and all sub-organisations have to come into line.

Capitalism Continues
The next question to consider is the outcome of the United Front victory.

The Communists and Labourites are making extravagant claims about the new Government. The Communist Daily Worker (May 4th) promised that victory would mean the abolition of slums in Paris; and the Communist leader, Maurice Thorez, says, “We have at our disposal a majority amply sufficient to carry out our programme, and the members of our party can face the future with joy.” (Daily Worker, May 5th).

These hopes are, of course, doomed to early disappointment. Where there is capitalism there will always be poverty, class-conflict, and discontent, and capitalism will remain in France. Just as Mr. J. H. Thomas declared on behalf of the Labour Government in 1929, that it proposed to work within capitalism, so Mr. Leon Blum, leader of the French Labourites, makes a similar declaration now. At first the election results frightened the capitalist investors, but Mr. Blum soon made a “reassuring statement,” and this “relieved the tension” on the stock exchange (Daily Telegraph, May 12th). Mr. Blum’s assurance was that he would govern “within the present social regime.” (Times, May 12th).  He also said :
  The aim of the Front Populaire would be to maintain buying power by preventing the diminution of wages and by the stimulation of all forms of economic activity – the possibilities being, of course, limited by the fact that they were working inside a capitalist system which they could not at present abolish. (Manchester Guardian, 11th May. Italics ours.)
The French Labour and Communist parties are thus caught in the trap into which the advocates of compromise always fall. They promise to solve certain urgent problems by entering into pacts with capitalist parties, hoping perhaps to gain strength later on to press forward. They forget that in taking on the administration of capitalism they do not gain strength, but lose it. They at once begin to earn the unpopularity and contempt which always centres on the Government which carries on capitalism. The effort to solve problems inside capitalism creates uncertainty, mistrust, apathy and despair among the workers who have cherished false hopes, and it correspondingly helps the Conservatives and Fascists later on.

A United Front for Great Britain
What, then, of a United Front in Great Britain, as advocated by the Communists? If modelled on that in France it would include the Labour Party and some of the Liberal Party groups, but in practice there is not much likelihood that either Liberals or Labour Party would consent to enter a pact with a party so unpopular and insignificant in size as the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Let us assume, however, that the Communist Party grows sufficiently in size and influence to be able to compel the Labour Party to come to terms, what would happen then? In the first place, if a United Front were formed, both Labour Party and Liberals would lose the votes of timid electors who would fear association with Communists, however innocuous the reform programme the latter agreed to support. On the other hand, in the unlikely event of an agreement being reached to withdraw opposition candidates in the constituencies, a United Front might, as the Daily Worker claims, have won a majority at the last election and then “there would have been no Baldwin Government.” (Daily Worker, April 29th). Instead – on the French example – there would have been a Labour-Liberal cabinet instead of the present Conservative-Liberal-National Labour cabinet. What difference would it have made? Doubtless it would have granted some more reforms, perhaps the raising of the school-leaving age to 15 without exemptions, and shorter hours, increased old-age pensions, etc. But it would have carried on the administration of capitalism, which means that it would perpetuate the private ownership of the means of wealth production and the consequent poverty and subjection of the workers. It would have helped employers against strikes. Nothing essential would have been changed. Capitalism and the forces making for war would be with us as now. Why need we wonder what might happen? We know by past experience. The present premier, Mr. Baldwin, is a Conservative. From 1906 to 1923 the premiers were Liberals. Did they keep peace and bring prosperity? No, Poverty, war and crisis. One of them, Mr. Lloyd George, formerly hated and denounced just as Mr. Baldwin is now, would certainly be one of the Liberal ministers in any such United Front Government. Moreover, have we not had two Labour Governments depending on Liberal support? What did they do to help overthrow capitalism? All they overthrew was themselves, hopelessly discredited. In Australia, Labour Governments with big majorities ruled for years and ended in similar abject failure.

The advocates of forming a United Front with non-Socialists and anti-Socialists cannot quote a single instance anywhere of the working-class being materially helped, or of the Socialist cause being aided, by their policy.

As against all this political wire-pulling, the Socialist Party stands for the policy of independence. Before Socialism can be achieved, control of the political machinery has to pass from the capitalists to the organised Socialist majority. It is the plain duty of Socialists, therefore, to work to remove the capitalists from Parliament and to avoid like the plague all pacts or propaganda which can only perpetuate in the workers’ minds the idea that capitalist rule is not so bad, provided that the capitalists are Liberals or Radicals or Labourites, not Tories or Fascists.

Unity is absolutely indispensable before Socialism can be achieved, but it must be unity of Socialists: on a Socialist programme and in a Socialist Party.
Edgar Hardcastle

Notes by the Way: Workers, Beware! All Your Property is at Stake! (1936)

The Notes by the Way Column from the June 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Workers, Beware! All Your Property is at Stake!
Nobody can complain any longer that they do not know what they stand to lose if they don’t go to war. Mr. Churchill has told us, in the Evening Standard (May 1st). The article is about German preparations for war, and how this affects us.       
One looks at the people going about their daily round, crowding the streets on their business, earning their livelihood, filling the football grounds and cinemas. One reads their newspapers, always full of entertaining headlines, whether the happenings are great or small. Do they realise the way events are trending? And how external forces may affect all their work and pleasure, all their happiness, all their freedom, all their property and all whom they love ?
You see now how it is. If you, the workers are not ready to defeat Germany in war, then all your property is at stake!

You, the 17½ million adults who don’t own even £100, must be ready to fight for Mr. Churchill and his class, so that their property is safe.

Mr. Churchill boasts that he never ran away from criticism. Very well, let him tell us why the propertyless majority of the population should sacrifice their lives to protect a country owned by somebody else.

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Prominent Labour Leader Admits that Our Policy is Right
The case put forward by those who believe in trying to improve and reform capitalism step by step is that the accumulation of reforms would gradually diminish the gulf between rich and poor until one fine day Socialism would be here. Socialists have always pointed out in reply that this argument overlooks the subordinate and almost defenceless position of the workers against the attacks of employers, and the enormous stream of wealth flowing into the possession of the capitalists year by year. All the money spent by the Government on old-age pensions, unemployment pay, etc., is less than the amount the workers have lost in wages through unemployment and the wage reductions which have taken place over a period of 15 years. Instead of the gulf being removed it has, at best, remained as it was before. In short, all the efforts of the reformers have been wasted so far as helping forward Socialism is concerned. They have barely kept pace with the growth of new problems and the worsening of old ones.

A man who has worked for reforms for over a quarter of a century is Mr. Thomas Johnston, M.P., who held office in the Labour Government, 1929-1931. Reviewing a book on the inequality of wealth, he makes what is to him an amazing discovery, although it is only what the S.P.G.B. has been telling him all these years. Here are Mr. Johnston’s words, taken from Forward (May 9th, 1936): —
  So that despite all the social reforms—all the era of pensions and health insurance, the poor as a class are no less poor than they were a quarter of a century ago.
Having admitted that his party, the Labour Party, has been building on sand all these years, Mr. Johnston should have gone on to explain what fundamental change of aims he proposes. We await his answer. The next move is with him.

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Practice and Precept
The Daily Worker (April 29th), in a review of a new edition of “The Poverty of Philosophy,” by Karl Marx (Martin Lawrence, 5s.), reminds us that, in spite of its age, it is a very useful work. Many of the ideas it attacks are as widespread and as dangerous as ever they were; for example, the two opposite notions that the workers should support free trade because it means cheap food, or protection because it means more work. Once it is realised that under capitalism the workers’ wages rise and fall in fairly close relationship with the value of the workers’ labour-power, or, in other words, with the cost of living the demand for free trade is seen to be nothing more than a demand for bigger profits for the manufacturers. They pay lower wages because the workers’ cost of living is less. Marx showed historically how this resulted from the abolition of the Com Laws, and the Daily Worker reviewer agrees with Marx: —
  To-day both Free Trade and Protection are being boosted as panaceas for poverty; these keenly pointed criticisms expose both as different methods of capitalist exploitation. No worker who wants to get his bearings in the Free Trade controversy can do better than master what Marx and Engels had to say about it.
There is, however, one odd thing about this. The Daily Worker is the mouthpiece of the Communist Party. At the General Elections in 1929, 1931 and 1935 the Communists were demanding Free Trade and the abolition of tariffs! A typical instance is their 1931 Election demand, “No taxes or tariffs which raise the price of food and clothing to the workers.”

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“He (President Roosevelt) is fighting to save the capitalist system, and not to destroy it”.— Sir Arthur Willert, Press Officer and Head of the News Department of the Foreign Office, in an article on American politics. (Times, April 29th, 1936.)

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How Wars Arise—A Capitalist Confesses
Mr. S. W. Alexander, City Editor of the Sunday Express, is an enthusiast for capitalism, yet in a moment of candour he admits that capitalism and pressure for war are inseparable. This is what he says: —
  The British Government is asking for assurances: from Chancellor Hitler. He will doubtless give them, for I doubt not that he is a man of peace.
   But these questions are not decided by men. Economic forces are the big pressure which changes men's minds overnight.
   Hamburg people live on trade, and Germany cannot pay for her imports. unless she is permitted to. export
  And people who cannot trade will arm, and, despite peaceful protestations, they will one day use arms to get freedom to work and live.
  So, unless some big international political change takes place, Britain too will be forced—failing revival in voluntary service—to have conscription to get the men to use the immense quantity of arms that are now being manufactured, in such haste, for our own protection.—(Sunday Express, 10th May.)
Here is a highly paid and influential man, one of those on whom our rulers and masters rely for guidance and information, who complacently accepts preparations for world war as if that is the only thing humanity can do. He would say, no doubt, that there is an alternative, the adoption by Governments of policies which would remove tariffs, quotas, and restriction schemes, which interfere with trade. But he has no great hope that they will, so let us, he says, prepare for war. If he would ask himself what are the forces which induce Governments to enter into trade conflicts with each other he would realise that asking them to behave otherwise than they do is to cry for the moon. Capitalism produces poverty and trade depression and Governments cannot alter the facts by trying to be wise. Only by getting rid of buying and selling and profit-seeking will the destructive forces disappear.

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Russian Oil for Italian Bombers?
As the Communists are so full of advice to the British capitalists as to what they ought to have done to prevent the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, what have the Communists to say about the Russian oil supplied to Italy throughout the war? One answer they have given is that it was supplied under contract, and that as the League did not impose oil sanctions, the contract remained. Why, then, was not the contract terminated? And in any event do the Communists admit that Russia is bound by commercial profit-seeking considerations, like other Powers?

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Two Vote-Catching Parties Quarrel
Mr. McGovern, M.P. (I.L.P.) has hard things to say about the Communist M.P., Mr. W. Gallacher (New Leader, February 14th). He says that in Gallacher’s Election address there was no mention that he was a Communist candidate, and no mention of the word Socialism. “It was the poorest document I have ever seen and could have been issued by any Liberal.”

Mr; Gallacher must have learned this vote-catching trick from Miss Jennie Lee (now Mrs. Aneurin Bevan), or some other of Mr. McGovern’s I.L.P. colleagues.

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What Socialist Propagandists have to put up with
Thanks to the Labour Party and Liberals, Socialists have to spend much of their time combating wrong ideas about Socialism. Here is one, from the Liberal News Chronicle (April 1st, 1936): 
  Central Electricity Board . . . is the body that runs the Grid. Buys electricity from the generators, sends it over its wires and sells it to the distributing companies. One of the outstanding and most successful examples of Socialism. Set up by a Conservative Government in 1927. (Italics ours.)—(News Chronicle, 1st April.)
The Central Electricity Board, like every other capitalist enterprise, pays tribute to the capitalists out of the exploitation of the workers. The annual payment to investors is about £2,107,000, equal to the average wage of 17,000 workers. All that the investors have contributed to the construction and operation of the grid system is to grant permission for their property (accumulated from the exploitation of the workers in the past) to be used. Even the ancient plea of "risk" has no bearing on this, since the investment is guaranteed by the Government, both as to capital and interest. 
Edgar Hardcastle

SPGB Outdoor Propaganda Meetings - June (1936)

From the June 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Click on picture to enlarge.

Material World: India Goes Dry (2019)

The Material World Column from the September 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

India, Asia’s third-largest economy, is facing perhaps the worst water crisis in its history, with millions of lives and livelihoods at risk. Indian temperature highs have been breaking all records. Overuse of rural groundwater is threatening food production and the country’s food security. The acute water shortage has devastated villagers’ agriculture. Major crops including maize, soya, cotton, sweet lime, pulses and groundnuts – drivers of local economies – have suffered, livestock left starving and thirsty. Scientists predict the region will experience harsher extreme weather events and water shortages. India’s water crisis is far from even-handed – the elite in the country remain relatively unaffected while the poor constantly try to cope with what water there is.

The struggle for water has intensified in many parts of India, where villages and cities have run out of water. Groundwater, the source of 40 percent of India’s water needs, is depleting at an unsustainable rate, Niti Aayog, a governmental think-tank, reported in 2018. Twenty-one Indian cities – including Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad – are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020, and 40 percent of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030, the report said:
  ‘60% of nearly 17,000 groundwater wells monitored to check ground water level showed a decline compared to the average level of the last 10 years,’ said Kishore Chandra Naik, chairman of India’s Central Ground Water Board. ‘The decline is because of extraction, whatever may be the purpose for it.’
Bangalore, India’s ‘Silicon Valley’ hi-tech hub, is no longer a city of lakes. Bangalore, which had more than 260 lakes in 1960, now has about 80 – and most of those are ecologically dead. Bangalore’s population has more than doubled to about 12 million since 2001 and is predicted to hit 20 million by 2031. Bangalore’s groundwater is running dry. Unprepared, city authorities did not adequately plan for Bangalore’s growing water needs. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board can provide only about 60 percent of the city. Much of the shortage is met by private traders. But as well operators drill deeper and deeper to find water, the price per tank has tripled over the last 15 years.

Chennai needs 800 million litres of water a day to meet demand. At the moment, the government can provide only 675 million litres, according to the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board. Its four major reservoirs have fallen drastically to one-hundredth of what they were at the same time last year. Chennai depends on more than 4,000 private water tankers for its everyday water needs, with every tanker making up to five trips a day. Altogether, the tankers deliver 200 million litres of water a day.

A worsening drought is amplifying the vast inequality between India’s rich and poor. In Delhi, India’s capital city of almost 20 million people, the wealthy in central Delhi pay very little to get limitless supplies of piped water – whether for their bathrooms, kitchens or to wash the car or water a lawn. They can do all that for as little as £8-£12 a month. Delhi’s privileged district gets about 375 litres of water per person per day but residents in lesser neighbourhoods receive on average only 40 litres. In one of the numerous slum areas or the sprawling housing estates on the outskirts, there is a daily struggle to get and pay for very limited supplies of water, which is delivered by tanker rather than piped. And the price is soaring as fast as the water is depleting.

The Delhi water board’s 1,033 tanker fleet is well short of the city’s requirements. Hundreds of private water tankers are operating. Most private tanker operators in Delhi either illegally pump out fast disappearing groundwater or steal the water from government supplies. In Delhi, nearly half of the supply from the Delhi water board either gets stolen with the connivance of lowly officials or simply escape from leaky pipes. The situation has given rise to a ‘water mafia’ where criminal gangs and corrupt politicians which have total control over who will get how much water in the city and practise price gouging. People totally dependent on tankers are saying they are being held to ransom.

Chennai’s highest court ruled that groundwater was the ‘backbone of India’s drinking water and irrigation system’ and companies extracting it for profit without permission were engaged in criminal ‘theft’

In village after village in Mumbai’s hinterland, the wells have run dry due to a persistent heatwave with estimates suggesting up to 90 percent of the region’s population has fled, leaving behind the sick and elderly to fend for themselves in the face of the water crisis. ‘

By the end of May, 43 percent of India was experiencing drought, with failed monsoon rains seen as the primary reason. With 80 percent of districts in Karnataka and 72 percent in Maharashtra hit by drought and crop failure, the 8 million farmers in these two states are struggling to survive. More than 6,000 tankers supply water to villages and hamlets in Maharashtra daily, as conflict brews between the two states over common water resources. About 20,000 villages in the state of Maharashtra are grappling with a crisis, where no water is left in 35 major dams. In 1,000 smaller dams, water levels are below 8 percent. The rivers that feed the dams have dried up.

‘The water crisis is worsening,’ admitted Shakespeare Arulanandam, a bottled water producer, ‘In the future we can only pray more fervently and hope for good rains to ensure there is enough water to go around. It will be up to the Gods.’

Together with our fellow socialists in the World Socialist Party (India), we urge our fellow-workers not to rely upon the divine. What is required is a change of social system where water is recognised as a natural resource to be shared fairly according to needs and, if a shortage means some form of rationing, it is done rationally and not reliant upon what people can pay.