Thursday, February 25, 2021

So They Say: Sea Fever (1976)

The So They Say Column from the February 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sea Fever

The "BUY BRITISH” campaign launched recently by Mr. Peter Shore, the Trade Secretary, is making little progress in a number of fields. While Mr. Shore has little to offer but a redundant call for patriotism, the international realities of capitalist society have left him behind. The General Council of British Shipping has become concerned recently at the growth of the Russian merchant shipping industry. The Russian fleet is expanding at a relatively fast rate and coupled with heavy government subsidies, they offer reduced rates of carriage.

In a pamphlet published on the 16th January the Council concludes that the Russians are deliberately under-cutting other shipping industries in order to increase their share of the market.
  Unless checked, West European trade could come to depend increasingly on Eastern bloc transport within the next five years.
The Council therefore, representing the interests of British shipowners, have called for "Western governments” to introduce legislation which would restrict the use of Russian vessels should the owners fail to “negotiate” an agreement on how the cake is to be divided. They feel of course that the homegrown capitalist shipowner is to be preferred.

However, the British Shipper’s Council, which represents approximately 250 of the largest importers and exporters, has put the issue into perspective Their members have interests too: one of which is to take any economic advantage from a clash of interests among ship-owners.
   The council (British Shipper’s Council) acknowledges the dangers posed by the growth of the Russian merchant fleet but argues that its members cannot put national sentiment above the interest of their companies.
Daily Telegraph, 16th January 1976.
Coincidentally on the other side of the page, we have a report of Mr. Shore’s address to the British-Soviet Chamber of Commerce on 15th January. And what was he telling this hawk-eyed assembly—why, that it was “absolutely essential that Russia should place some substantial new orders with British industry quickly.” No doubt if the orders are forthcoming, Mr. Shore will advise the Russians that they must be carried in British ships.

To Heel, Fido

There has been considerable opposition in the US to the granting of landing rights for Concorde from what is termed “the environmental lobby.” Various arguments are put forward concerning noise levels, pollution and possible damage to the stratosphere ozone layer. Although these factors cannot be discounted, the real pressure is coming from the American aero-industry which sees the plane as a threat to their commercial interests. However the considerable capital tied up in the project, and the repercussions which would result from the supersonic “white elephant” being scrapped, has ensured that the government will take any and every step to over-ride the objections. The public hearing in Washington held to discuss the pros and cons of Concorde was informed rather neatly by Mr. Kaufman, the British Minister of State for Industry, that Concorde would not break international noise standards for supersonic aircraft—because no such standards exist.

It was not surprising then to find that when the President of the Heathrow Association for Control of Aircraft Noise, the Bishop of Kingston, put the view to the hearing that noise from Concorde “will cause great distress to people’s lives,” he drew some hostile comments from the official British representatives. Mr. Kaufman referred to the Bishop’s contribution as “froth and emotion;” “a kind of Monty Python sermon;” and “a kind of music hall act.” Although we are in little doubt of the Bishop’s abilities in this direction, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, felt that they could have been better employed elsewhere. Showing the extent of the usefulness of the church to the capitalist class, he asked:
  Surely, too, in his diocese there is work to be done which could fully engage his bounding energy? Is there not religious apathy to be fought, lax morality to be countered? Are there not humble homes to be visited and prayed in? Are there no hard-pressed clergy who look for help to their father-in-God? Would it not have been more useful, not to say more appropriate if he had devoted his time to spiritual matters rather than the temporal sort of sky-piloting for which I grant licences?
Daily Telegraph, 10th January 1976.

Bark, Fido

More light was thrown on the relationship between the Catholic Church and the British government during the early war years when Foreign Office papers from 1940/1 were recently examined by the Jesuit periodical, Civilta Cattolica. According to the Jesuits, the Vatican radio was under pressure from the government to broadcast anti-Nazi propaganda which was often re-transmitted by the BBC in “distorted and provocative” form. The supposed neutrality of the Vatican, coupled with the fact that the radio was directed towards 40 million Catholics, meant that it was a propaganda outlet of importance. The British and German foreign offices were engaged in a "continuing struggle” to influence the broadcasts, until, after 16 months, Pope Pius XII decided to avoid further controversy, and stopped them in April 1941.

The British Foreign Office was initially angered by the decision—Sir Robert Vansittart (then chief diplomatic adviser to the government) describing the Pope as “One of the feeblest ever.” Later, Sir Alec Randall—who had been Secretary at the British Legation to the Holy See—reflected:
   The Vatican wireless has been of the greatest service to our propaganda and we have exploited it to the full. No other neutral power would, in the face of this, have persisted so long in furnishing us with useful material and risking violent criticism from powers with which it is in ordinary diplomatic relations.
Times, 15th January 1976.

Production for Profit

Production in capitalist society takes place when the owners of the means of production expect to realize a profit from the sale of their commodities. When that expectation decreases because the market becomes “overburdened” or because demand has fallen, production is tailored accordingly. The important point is that “the market” is made up of buyers and sellers. From the market’s point of view, once a worker has spent his wages he no longer has any requirements. However real his needs may be they are not an element of “demand” in the production of those commodities which he cannot afford to buy. In short, commodities are produced for exchange, not for use.

Questioners at our meetings are sometimes surprised to learn that food is a commodity and exhibits the same characteristics as other commodities. “Isn’t food for eating?” we are asked, “No, food is for sale” is the reply. Mr. Adrien Ries, chief counsellor in the agricultural sector of the European Commission, speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference in January, highlighted the effect of production for a market:
  The demand for food is limited and not capable of huge expansion. This means that the income to farmers as a group is not capable of rapid expansion through continued increases in output. (Our emphasis)
Times, 12th January 1976.
While it has become an accepted fact that well over one half of the world’s population suffer from a lack of decent sustenance, and millions die annually as a result, here we are told that demand for food is limited. Mr. Roger Bennett, also speaking at the conference asked:
  How does one measure productivity? It can only be done by increasing profits. We have had a very good example of this in the past year with the potato producer. Nature has come along and depressed his total production to the point at which there is a shortage and has raised profits. There is a salutary lesson in all this for all of us.
There is a lesson to be learned, but not from these twisted teachers "Ah yes they might say "but within the context of capitalism, our remarks are realistic." Ah yes, but that is the point, look at the ugly realities of capitalism and then ask why such a system should continue.
Alan D'Arcy

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