Friday, July 2, 2021

Election nasties (1983)

From the July 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

When it got to the point of the politicians telling us that 1983 was to be one of the most important elections ever, we knew we were in for a campaign of stupefying bathos and irrelevance.

While there was much sympathy for the apparently doomed Labour Party (the Daily Telegraph, in a leader a couple of days before the poll, said "For a party that is supposed to be terrifying us . . . Labour looks oddly loveable”) it was really the Tories who began with the more testing task. As the outgoing government, they had to convince millions of people that several unpalatable things were actually good for them and that they should volunteer for another five years of the same. As indeed they did.

Things like class society with the profit motive rampant. Things like unemployment forcing workers out of their customary poverty and into deep hardship. Things like the sexual and personal repression which are often thought of, through a misreading of history, as Victorian moral values. Things like patriotism which is used to inspire ordinary, peaceable people to attack other ordinary, peaceable people they don’t know and have no quarrel with.

In order to get some advantage from persuading people that such things are good for them, the Conservatives needed also to claim that they came about through their deliberate policies. Unemployment, for example, had to be represented as something which could easily be abolished or diminished through high state spending but which is kept in being as the price of something else which is good for us called Beating Inflation. As everyone should know by now, because politicians of all parties have been telling us for many years, inflation is one of the few things a government does not claim to be able easily to control. It is, they say, an enemy which can be kept in check only through great skill (theirs) and hardship (ours). But what everyone should, but does not, know by now is that inflation is actually in the government’s control; it is a contrived policy which they choose not to reverse and actually has no overall significant effect on our living standards.

Perhaps it was the exertion of pretending that the Tory government had planned all these things for our especial benefit and had them under control, rather than having them foisted on them, which caused Margaret Thatcher to go mad during the campaign. The famous image of the Resolute Approach is not really an initiative but a cobbled up response to events. Ignoring this piece of reality had its effect on Thatcher and television watchers throughout the country, although not qualified in psychiatry, became worried at her obvious mania.

Foot’s problem was to paper over the wide and deep cracks in his party by relating almost every question and argument to the issue of unemployment, presumably because he thought that this was a vote winner for the Labour Party. There was small chance of his succeeding and it must also have been rather exhausting for him as it required him to forget that under the last Labour government, in which he served so fanatically, unemployment doubled and was on the upward path when they lost power. In this Foot showed he has the amnesic talents required by many a mental patient and by all serious politicians. Throughout the campaign Labour’s inconsistencies — on nuclear weapons, on what they call defence, on how they relate to the wilder fringes of loony reformism called the left wing — kept catching up with Foot. Under close questioning he tried to be nimble but was exposed as evasive, cynical and politically bankrupt.

The press — even so normally sympathetic a paper as the Observer — were notably cruel to him. Yet Foot could still pull in the crowds, large affectionate gatherings of devotees of the idea that he is a man of unswerving principle who, provided he does not disappear altogether through the personality change, will one day deliver us all to the Promised Land. As polling day drew nearer he seemed to lose heart. Perhaps he was reading the Sporting Life; the bookmakers, with a properly hard-nosed assessment of reality, began to discourage bets on the election result and started offering odds on who would replace Foot when the Labour Party lost.

Perhaps the SDP/Liberal Alliance claim to be the mould-breakers of British politics who will cast out the Old Gang would have appealed to someone in a natural despair at the alternating futility of the two parties which have shared power over British capitalism. But the SDP leaders themselves sprang from the Old Gang and were responsible, when they were ministers, for many of the policies they now so heartily denounce. Of course the other part of the Alliance, the Liberals, have a trump card; they can claim not to have recently had the chance to fail which is just as well for them in view of their record when, all those years ago, they were in power. In any case their policies now are no more than a variation on the same reformist hash as offered by the Labour and Conservative parties. It was when they were faced with an unexceptional political crisis that the mould breakers showed how similar they are to the despised Old Gang.

Worried at first by their poor showing at the opinion polls, they moved quickly to make Jenkins their scapegoat. A nasty, but revealing, clash was narrowly avoided when in the nick of time the Alliance poll ratings went up which allowed all SDP/ Liberals to go back to saying how much they admired and supported Jenkins.

This disreputable incident illustrated the ability of the opinion polls to inspire panic or complacency, according to their findings. It was poll ratings which caused the initial assumption that the Labour Party would lose the election, hardening into the certainty that Thatcher would have a majority comparable to Attlee's in 1945. Labour’s depression at their years of schism and confusion, their weak showing at by-elections, their failure to profit from the Thatcher government’s problems and to win some of the nauseous flag-waving glory from the Falklands war, seemed to blind them to the fact that the polls have a history of fallibility. In 1970 the Wilson government, at first confident of victory, lost the election although at one point the polls had them leading by over 12 per cent. In February 1974 the Tories, fighting among the black-outs of the Three Day Week on the theme of Who Governs the Country, were at one time ahead in the polls by 6.5 per cent but in the end they narrowly lost. In October 1974 and again in May 1979 the polls gave the winners a much larger percentage of support than they eventually notched up.

Perhaps more important for them, the Labour Party’s reliance on unemployment as a vote winner was also not supported by history. The only comparable period, in terms of numbers out of work and general elections on a popular franchise, was the twenties and thirties. Labour were in office, as a minority government, in 1929 partly on a pledge to cure unemployment and when their brief, wretched span was ended in 1931 they suffered the most crushing defeat in their history. The monthly average of unemployment during 1931 was 2,717,000 or 21.3 per cent of total employees. At the election the National government won a majority of 497 — a result caused, not by concern at unemployment but through patriotism and fear at the crass failure of the MacDonald government to control capitalism. When the next election came in 1935 unemployment had fallen to 2,027,000 but at 15.5 per cent it was still a serious problem: ". . after four years (of National government) unemployment, depression, misery still overshadowed the land” (Britain Between The Wars, Charles Loch Mowat). But the voters were still mainly satisfied with Conservative government; the best the Labour Party could do was to increase their MPs from the freak number of 51 to 158, leaving Baldwin with a majority of 247 over all other parties.

Whatever success might have attended Foot’s desperate efforts to conceal his party’s miserable disarray on other issues was effectively nuked by Jim Callaghan's headline-catching declaration in favour of British capitalism keeping its own nuclear armoury. Foot might well have been deeply hurt by this act of ingratitude for when Foot was one of Callaghan's ministers his standing as Labour's left-wing conscience was useful in reconciling the party's doubters to the policies of strikebreaking. holding down wages, cutting public spending, racist immigration laws and so on for which that government will always be remembered. After Callaghan’s intervention Labour spokespeople grew increasingly despondent while Thatcher, seeing an unexpectedly emphatic victory looming over the horizon, became ever more manic. At times she went too far even for seasoned media hacks, addressing the galactically great Robin Day without his title and upsetting the faithful Daily Telegraph, which may have been responsible for an element of objectivity creeping into their reporting, the crux of which was their giving some space to a reasonably accurate piece on the Socialist candidate in Islington South.

So yes, it was an election of familiar bathos. Labour supporters were excitedly convinced that at all costs the Tories must be thrown out without knowing why since Labour is fundamentally no different. The Conservatives treated it as a crusade against the threat of revolution although they could not explain why something they called a revolution was designed to keep the same capitalist social system in being.

For the unwary it might have been very confusing because in one sense all sides could take heart from the result. The election spelled out again that, whatever stress and degradation capitalism subjects them to. the working class have a large and enduring appetite for the system. The people in the advertising agencies could be excused for believing in a diabolical power to convince the workers that facts and experience go for nothing and that what counts is an ability to present those facts and that experience in a distorted and deceptive way. So yet there is hope for the Labour Party and the Alliance.

Amid all despair, only the Socialist candidate in Islington stood apart. There was no bathos in that campaign, only a rational, conclusive case for the new society. It was a small effort compared to that of the big parties, and solitary, but as significant as the oyster's grain of sand.

Crisis of the Left (1983)

From the July 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whatever happened to the Labour Party? Remember how they used to tell us that Labour was “the mass party of the working class” — the party that workers would instinctively turn to, like Mullahs to Mecca. If you wanted to be “in with the workers”, said the Left, the Labour Party was the place to be. On 9 June the workers made it clear to their patronising would-be leaders that the party was over — that they could not be relied on to flock to the support of Labour Party capitalism, like cattle voting for “compassionate” slaughterers. The workers of Britain gave the party which tried to con them that it stood for their interests the biggest kick in the teeth for fifty years. These are the facts:
  • In 1979, 11,506,661 electors voted Labour — just under 37 per cent of those who voted. In 1983, 8,460,860 electors voted Labour — less than 28 per cent of the total national poll, which was itself 3.3 per cent lower than the total national poll in 1979.
  • In 1983 the Labour Party lost its deposit in 125 of the constituencies contested: well over one in five of the deposits it paid. This was a larger number of losses than the Labour party sustained in all four general elections in the 1970s added together.
  • Not since 1931, when Labour polled just under seven million votes, have so few electors voted Labour; not since 1918, when Labour’s percentage of the total votes cast was 24 per cent, has Labour received such a low poll.
  • More than one in four electors did not vote on 9 June; a quarter of the electorate regarded the differences between the main parties as too insignificant to go out and vote about.
The Labour Party has all but had its death certificate written for it by the workers of Britain. Frantic efforts are now being made to revive its fortunes; a leader of the Wilson-Callaghan calibre is being anxiously sought; the Right is blaming the Left and the Left is blaming the Right. Fraternal purges are on the agenda.

Why did the Labour Party fail to defeat a government presiding over capitalism in the midst of a recession which is hitting the workers hard? The answer is that workers preferred the openly capitalist policies of the Tories — whose disgusting prejudices appealed to the mass of the pro-capitalist workers — rather than the vaguely idealistic capitalist utopianism on offer from the Labour reformists. Margaret Thatcher offered “more hard times ahead”, to be followed, if the wage slaves behaved well, by a higher standard of poverty; the Labour Party offered a relative capitalist paradise, where unemployment would be brought down to “acceptable levels”, nuclear weapons would be removed to foreign soils and the exploited would be legally robbed with humanitarian administration. The workers have tried the utopian recipe before and concluded that if the governments of Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan — not to mention Mitterrand, Andropov and other Leftists — is what the reformers have to offer, then they would stick with the more accomplished thieves of the Tory Party. The fact is that the Labour Party has no alternative; it never did have a remedy for the ills of the profit system, and it never will, because capitalism is an inherently anti-social system which continuously throws up more problems and contradictions than the reformists can solve.

The Labour Party, which was formed after the Socialist Party of Great Britain, has always claimed that it is impossible to persuade a majority of workers to understand and want socialism. The advocates of reform politics have persistently argued that workers must be drawn to “radical politics” by the carrot of reform and then led to the new system without them knowing it. Socialists have heard this elitist, patronising drivel from Labour politicians for a long time: “leaders” like Tony Benn who saw himself as a man who would win the masses to Labour by making promises to change capitalism which could not possibly be fulfilled; like Joan Lestor who argued that it was only in the Labour Party that real social change could begin; like Ossie O'Brien who, in a debate against the Socialist Party, admitted that the socialists may be right, but the Labour Party would get more votes come the elections. These deposed leaders, and the others who received the message from workers they had expected to follow them, can contemplate where their opportunism got them on 9 June. Our candidate was defeated because the workers rejected the revolutionary socialist ideas which were clearly stated in our manifesto, and which we urged workers not to vote for unless they agreed with them — the "populists" of the Labour Party lost despite their opportunist grovelling for votes.

As usual, the vast majority of sects and factions on the non-Labour Left abandoned their opposition to both the Labour Party and elections in order to work like horses for the election of a Labour government of British capitalism. As usual, they all had plenty of small-print qualifications, lumps in their throats, "no illusions”, “conditional” backing and the rest of it, but when the campaign opened and sides had to be taken, the Left chose the side of capitalism with a red rosette.

The Socialist Workers’ Party is as good an example as any of the absurd twisting of these 'reformist hypocrites. Consider the words of Paul Foot in Socialist Worker on 5 December 1981:
Again and again, since the war the hopes and ideals of hundreds of thousands of people who have worked for Labour governments have been frustrated. . .
A good enough reason for not voting Labour. Alex Callinicos. in the same paper on 28 May 1983, gave an even better one:
Labour’s is a programme aimed at harnessing and controlling capital, not destroying it . . . Labour in office would attack the living standards of its own supporters in an effort to restore profits.
Quite correct. So did the SWP urge workers to reject this party which frustrates the hopes of those who support it, exists to defend capital and would attack workers’ interests in order to restore profits? On the front cover of Socialist Worker of June 4 the headline said it all: “STOP THE TORIES — VOTE LABOUR". Such hypocrisy is not something to be ignored; to urge workers to waste the power of the vote on a party which they know to be anti-working class shows just what contempt the SWP’s leaders have for their dwindling flock of followers.

The Workers' Revolutionary Party manages to carry out the Oppose Labour — Vote Labour political somersault within the course of the four pages of its turgidly written manifesto:
They (the Labour Party) have capitulated to every attack by the Thatcher government on the working class. Labour’s leaders unconditionally support capitalism and its state machine.
Therefore it follows, does it not, that:
In constituencies where we are not standing we call for a massive turn-out by the Labour and trade union movement to vote against the Tories by casting a critical vote for Labour.
Why did they not be more clear and tell workers to “critically" vote for the party which “unconditionally support(s) capitalism and its state machine"?

The Communist Party, as usual, advised workers to vote Labour where its candidates were not standing. The Militant Tendency, like guests who are thrown out of the party and run around the houses telling everyone what a great time they had, strained every muscle for the election to state power of the party which devoted a day of its last conference to passing overwhelmingly a resolution to kick them out.

At the end of the day, the leaders looked behind them to see that the sheep were flocking in their thousands to follow other shepherds — or to follow none. The Trotskyist logic of electing your enemies to power was swallowed by the gullible fools who think they are a vanguard; but the rearguard, once again, was not there. The Labour Party is one step nearer to the political grave which its record of broken promises has dug for it. Of course, the working class followers of the politically bankrupt Labour Party opted not for socialism, but to abandon their futures as sacrifices to Thatcher’s god of Profit. In the days to come socialists will be working with all the force at our command to show the workers that there is an alternative to the corpse of Left reformism and the viciousness of naked capitalism. The election is over, but the struggle goes on.
Steve Coleman

Voices in the wilderness (1983)

From the July 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

More than half of the workers we canvassed in last month’s election campaign were cynical about the promises of all the main parties standing. For three weeks every five years, the British ruling class expects us to think about “politics”, that is, about which band of professional liars will administer our poverty for the next period. We attended all of the main parties’ meetings in order to sell socialist literature, as part of our campaign in Islington, and at each meeting we saw the same few faces, sadly devoted to the empty rhetoric of their indistinguishable leaders.

In Islington South and Finsbury, where the only genuinely socialist candidate was standing, the Tories kept quite a low profile. Thatcher’s talk of Victorian Values had been dropped for the duration of the campaign, since for most workers, the only way in which hard work and thrift prove profitable is when our bosses profit from our hard work and thrift. The Tory leaflet spoke of “the quality of our armed forces”, “controlling secondary picketing” and “larger export markets”; all matters only of interest to those who own and control the wealth of Britain, not the millions who produce it.

The two favourites in the race for power in Islington South were the Labour and SDP candidates. The Labour Party relied almost entirely on the “lesser evil" myth. Realising that capitalism under the Labour varnish is quite unsavoury to many of the workers it exploits, they told us that we had to vote Labour, to avoid the greater horror of capitalism tarnished by the leadership of Thatcher. The idea that to get rid of Thatcher’s capitalism the only possibility is to support Foot’s capitalism is as stupidly dogmatic as the Tory claim that there is no alternative to their policies. Tactical voting is based on the assumption that sheep must follow one another on to a limited number of bandwagons, then shuffle around until the least obnoxious compromise can be found. It denies any kind of clear principle or aim, and any possibility of real social change through democratic persuasion.

The election was taken over, especially in Islington, by the most cynical slander and manipulation on all sides. The social system represented by all the major parties has become bankrupt of ideas. They have almost run out of ways to secure workers’ loyalty to the system which exploits us. Consequently, more time was spent attacking their opponents than claiming any positive merits for their own policies. Many people we canvassed said they agreed with the revolutionary alternative we were standing for, but would vote Labour through an almost religious, irrational attachment to traditional loyalties. When they start to act more in accordance with their real disgust at the Labour Party’s cynical running of the profit system, what is regarded as possible and impossible will rapidly change. Perhaps the most ludicrous example of this contradictory attitude came from the misnamed Socialist Workers Party. Some of their members passionately attacked the Labour candidate at a public rally, shouting out that Labour had always inevitably betrayed the workers because it was running the capitalist system. Finally, they were told from the platform, “No, no. You should be campaigning for a Labour victory”. They replied, to the audience’s bewilderment, “We are" and, sure enough, their paper told people to Vote Labour, even though the Socialist Party of Great Britain was posing the revolutionary socialist alternative.

We were faced with three well-oiled machines, prepared to stop at nothing in their desperate vote-catching. The Labour candidate even referred at a public meeting to the SPGB campaign slogan, "Vote for Yourself for a Change”, and claimed that the Labour Party embodied this no-leaders democracy! Their confidential instructions (from above, of course) tell a different story:
DO NOT ASK: "Will you be voting Labour?" That is bad canvassing. Voters say yes to get rid of you/make you happy/ deliberately confuse you . . . If person says "I never vote”, mark on card. We do not wish to antagonise by calling again. Sometimes people tell the truth!
One of the most infamous careerists in the constituency was the sitting MP, George Cunningham. He was elected through the Labour Party in 1979 and then transferred to their Old Boys’ Club, the SDP. In some circles he is known as George Conning’em, since that’s what he’s been doing for the past five years. Most people wouldn’t mind a pound for every baby he’s kissed. When we challenged him to a public debate, he arrogantly replied that we would have to find someone to give us publicity elsewhere, he was too busy proclaiming his commitment to democracy and free speech to mess about with petty things like public debates. Now that he has lost his job at Westminster, we plan to offer him the publicity he once denied us, by repeating our challenge to debate.

One leaflet contained compliments about Cunningham from the Daily Mail, The Times, Observer, Guardian, BBC and Punch. In other words, he is a model capitalist politician, expert at persuading people to leave control in the hands of a minority. Another shows a cartoon of him with a big, tightly-clenched fist, and another with a foot stamping on the neck of an alligator marked Creeping Extremism. The local SDP campaign was based on the "left extremist" scare, traditionally popular with the fascists. SDP Agent Chris Pryce was quoted in the Islington Gazette as saying:
Make no mistake, Chris Smith is one of the most extreme Labour candidates in the country. His constant harping on gay rights, his open support for punks and squatters and other fringe groups is now common knowledge.
Of course, at the time Pryce was not aware that the SDP were soon to join the fringe groups in Islington; on the other hand. Smith is now at Westminster, and there has been no revolution in the conditions of the workers in Islington or anywhere else.

One day, while leafletting in Chapel Market alongside the SDP, one of their members explained to us that they only had short leaflets there, since the people wouldn't understand a more detailed manifesto. It was claimed that Labour posters were displayed in the windows of empty flats by the Labour Council because there was so little genuine support for them on many of the estates. Some Labour canvassers were reported to have resorted to telling people that Cunningham was ill or not standing, and that it was illegal to display his posters. All of this vicious in-fighting among politicians standing for the profit system took the place of real debate over policies. It was not just Cunningham who refused to debate with us; we had also been refused by the Labour candidate Smith, and by both the SDP and Labour candidates in the Islington North constituency.

Islington CND planned and advertised a public debate between the candidates on the question of nuclear weapons, but this had to be abandoned since they refused to comply with the regulations which demand that all candidates be invited to such meetings; they did not want to give a platform to the candidates from the National Front and the British National Party. They even tried to use a legal loophole by asking if we would formally put the costs of running the meeting on our election expenses, which would have allowed them to leave out the fascists. We refused, pointing out the illogicality of opposing somebody because they are against free speech, and then denying them the chance to air their ideas. If the NF and BNP had to explain themselves on a public platform, most workers would be quite capable of rejecting their vicious and divisive racism, without having CND to censor it for them. Moreover, the NF, like CND. is against the American nuclear bases and missiles because they are nationalists. Indeed, the manifesto of the NF, with its support for import controls and getting out of the Common Market, shares with much of the Left the nationalist, anti-working-class policy of British state capitalism.

The real local issues were hardly dealt with at all by the six parties who stood against the SPGB and world socialism. One in five workers in Islington are unemployed. Over ten thousand are on the housing waiting list, despite there being many empty homes. An increasing number of young people there are turning to heroin, despite having friends who have died on it. On certain housing estates, violent racist attacks constantly threaten thousands of people. Since 1975, under Labour and Tory governments, the number of hospitals in Islington has been reduced from five to two. The Labour Party has failed again and again to live up to the expectations of its supporters, because it operates within the confines of the anti-human system which lies at the root of all these problems. When challenged about the possibility of a genuine socialist alternative, the Labour candidate told us, as would any Tory, about the need for “realism”. In other words, keep a system of war, poverty and institutionalised misery, rather than end the sacred rights of property.

The contradictions of the present social system cannot be reformed away by the rhetoric of individual politicians. In health, housing and so on. profit comes before need, accumulation before consumption. In the week of the election, houses in Islington (Barnsbury and Canonbury Square) were advertised costing £130,000, £154,950, £197,500 . . . The people buying these properties do not suffer the housing problems for which the area is notorious. As long as this class division remains, the majority will be in an inferior, insecure position. The Labour Party’s Plan for Jobs was just a policy to retain profits for a minority and wage-slavery for the rest. As the local community paper, the Islington Gutter Press explained:
None of these (Labour) objectives will be possible without the co-operation of the trade unions . . . Yes. the trade unions will have to show restraint and they will have to abide by the National Economic Assessment. But we believe in them and we believe in the future of this country.
As long as capitalism has lasted, not a single day has gone by without discontent and dissent burning on somewhere. But the enormous potential for revolutionary change has, for the past century, been channelled into fruitless reformism. Workers won the vote in the late nineteenth century but instead of using it to end the profit system, they have used it to give capitalism a longer lease, sometimes through Labour governments which have understandings with the unions. The Socialist Party of Great Britain stood in the election on a uniquely different basis, of working-class unity and democratic revolution. The solution to the chaos of the market system is. like the problem it solves, world-wide despite the nonsense spoken about the Socialist Republic of Islington and despite the fact that one of the local candidates was the Islington and Finsbury Party.

85 more nails . . .
In our manifesto, we asked people not to vote for us unless they were fully in agreement with what we stand for. After all, socialism could only be established if a majority were prepared to take the necessary action democratically, and with responsibility. True democracy cannot be enforced or introduced by methods of secret infiltration. The little media coverage we received during the campaign thought this was quite a joke, since to them democratic elections must involve not open persuasion and consistency but slander, vote-catching and opportunism. The electorate of Islington South and Finsbury were happy to oblige with our request not to vote for us if they were still suffering from capitalist conditioning and prejudice: we polled 85 votes, against 13,460 for the Labour Party, 13,097 for the SDP, 9,894 for the Tories, 341 for the National Front, 94 for the British National Party and 102 for the Islington and Finsbury Party. But as many as two in five voters in Islington abstained, sick of the failed promises of these political leaders.

Abstention, however, is in its effect little different from acceptance of the status quo. We are gradually building a separate political force which will be able to use the vote in a revolutionary way. The local Socialist Party branch in Islington has multiplied its membership more than five times over since its formation about five years ago, without admitting to membership anyone who is not a socialist, fully aware of the nature of the change we propose. Unlike the politicians who have been elected to run the system of class division, we will not vanish from the scene or suspend canvassing for five years. The debate between production for the profit of a few and production for the use of all is now more pressing than ever. We will be stepping up our activities of street-selling, canvassing and running meetings in Islington in the months ahead. Each worker declaring a practical commitment to a classless, world society of democratic control and common ownership represents another nail in the coffin of capitalism.
Clifford Slapper

World hunger — why? (1983)

From the July 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is now common knowledge that up to two-thirds of the world’s population suffer from malnutrition while millions actually die from starvation each year. Why is this? Why in a world of potential plenty is so elementary a human need as food neglected for so many people?

Some would deny that we live in a world of potential plenty and claim that the cause of world poverty and hunger is natural scarcity. That, in other words, some people starve simply because not enough food can be produced. Certainly today sufficient food is not produced, but this is beside the point. What we need to know is whether or not, in the present state of scientific knowledge and productive techniques, enough food could be produced adequately to feed the whole population of the world.

There can be no doubt about the answer to this question: agronomists and other scientists who have studied the problem are all agreed that the world has the potential to produce enough food to adequately feed its present population, and more.

Here, for instance, is the view of one of the contributors to a special issue of the Scientific American on Food and Agriculture in September 1976. In his article on “The Development of Agriculture in Developing Countries" W. David Hopper writes:
  As one considers the tropical farming world and the technology now available or soon to be available, there can be no grounds for pessimism about the latent potential of the world to feed increasing numbers of people for a long period ahead. Whether that latent potential will be harnessed to the benefit of man is the question.

  It is important to recognise that the world’s food problem does not arise from any physical limitation on potential output or any danger of unduly stressing the “environment". The limitations on abundance are to be found in the social and political structures of nations and in the economic relations among them. The unexploited global food resource is there, between Cancer and Capricorn. The successful husbandry of that resource depends on the will and the actions of men.
World malnutrition and starvation, then, is not a natural but a social problem. Its cause must be sought not in any lack of natural resources but in the way society is organised.

World society everywhere rests on the basis of the monopoly of the resources of the world, natural and manufactured, by minorities, either privately as individuals (as generally in the West) or collectively through the state (as generally in countries like Russia and China). As a result the world’s resources are used to produce wealth, not to satisfy human needs but to be sold on a market with a view to profit.

Each economic or political unit (enterprise or state) into which the world is divided is in competition with every other such unit, both to acquire raw materials as cheaply as possible and to sell its products as profitably as possible. This economic competition brings into being economic forces — the world market — which are beyond the control of any of the competitors and to which in the end they must submit.

It is in fact the world market that rules the world. Acting like a natural force beyond human control it has much more power than any national government and forces governments to comply with its economic laws whether they want to or not. At the moment the world market is in the depression phase of its economic cycle, an economic fact about which governments can do nothing and to which they must adapt their economic policies. In other words, as the French Minister for Economic Affairs, Jacques Delors (who speaks from first-hand experience) has put it. the world "is in the grip of forces which nobody masters" (Club de la presse, 19 December 1982).

It is this anarchical world market system of artificial scarcity and organised waste that is responsible for poverty and hunger in the world today. The law which governs production everywhere is “no profit, no production”. Which means that if there is no profit to be made from producing and selling a good then that good will not be produced, even if people desperately need it. As the mass of the unemployed or underemployed in the so-called Third World do not have any money incomes and therefore do not constitute a market, they do not count for the present system of production geared only to meeting profitable market demand. Their very real human need for food is not “effective”, to use the jargon of modern economics, so they are badly fed and, in many cases, starve to death.

What makes matters worse is that under the present system every year, despite mass hunger, food is destroyed: fruits are left to rot, milk is poured down mines, coffee is used to fuel trains, and so on. From a human point of view this is quite scandalous but we are dealing with a system that has a logic other than the satisfaction of human needs, as is also shown by the well-established American policy of paying farmers not to grow food. The Common Agricultural Policy in Europe too has paid farmers to pull up trees and to slaughter cattle as a way of maintaining price and profit levels. But giving away these alleged "surpluses" is no solution. Quite the reverse, for within the context of a market system giving food away free makes matters worse by narrowing even further the market and so discouraging production.

The present world system is also one of organised waste — the most obvious being armaments — which is directly linked to the competitive, ever-raging struggle for profits. For, although in the end it is a state’s economic strength — its competitiveness — which enables it to succeed, its political strength — its armed clout — is also an important factor.

When a conflict arises (over markets, sources of raw materials, trade routes, investments, outlets) it becomes a trial of strength and, even if the matter is settled peacefully by negotiation, the outcome still depends on the relative strengths of the two sides. The Labour Foreign-Minister-who-never-was, Aneurin Bevan, once expressed this fact of present-day life quite well when, opposing CND at a Labour Party Conference, he said that he didn’t want to go into the conference chamber naked. No statesman wants to do this, which explains why each state (including those in the so-called Third World with underfed and starving populations) seeks to have the most powerful armed forces that it can afford. The waste of armaments is immense, not just the arms themselves and military expenditure generally but also the destruction caused by the wars which are always going on somewhere in the world.

If all this waste and destruction were eliminated and the resources involved redirected to constructive ends then the world could more than adequately feed, clothe and shelter its present population. World poverty, hunger and ignorance could be completely eliminated. But this would require the abolition of the present system of minority ownership and production for profit, and its replacement by a new system organised on a completely different basis.

During the early stages of the discussion of the law of the sea-bed. President Nixon (of all people) referred to the oceans as "the common heritage of all mankind”. The same phrase occurs in the treaties about Antarctica and the moon. These treaties declare that no state can establish territorial rights nor any individual private property rights over these areas — that, in other words, they belong to nobody. What is required is that this same principle should be extended and applied to the whole globe: all that is in and on the Earth should become the common heritage of all humanity.

On this basis there would be nothing to prevent the world’s people organising the production and distribution of wealth simply and solely to satisfy their needs as individuals and as a community. Production would no longer be restricted by the law of “no profit, no production” nor any longer governed by the blind economic force which the world market represents. Instead it would come under conscious, democratic social control and be oriented to what after all is its only rational end — satisfying human needs and wants. In these circumstances production could be rapidly increased to levels which would ensure that every man, woman and child on this planet was adequately fed, clothed and sheltered. The mass hunger and deaths from starvation which characterise the world today would remain only as bad memories of what no doubt will be commonly agreed to have been a barbarous past.

The Earth the common storehouse of all humanity; the production of wealth solely for use not sale or profit; a world without arms — is this an unrealistic Utopia? Not at all. It is the only logical and rational way to run the world given the present high stage of development of the forces of production. Because a solution is so simple and obvious does not mean that it won’t work.
Adam Buick