The recently sickening ravages of property and life wrought by Hurricane Katrina have been extensively covered by the media, but with some rather glaring omissions.
The first was that a society based on the rights of property over life had a great deal to do with exacerbating an already traumatic situation. What we witnessed the most on television were pathetic yet stark scenes of poor people huddled in a sports stadium, homes lost forever, awaiting supplies and aid that took endless days to arrive. During this time more people died, the ill were uncared for, and conditions of existence plummeted to unsanitary levels often associated with the shanty towns of South America or Turkish prisons, but not with the United States of America. While these already traumatised people had to endure an additional trauma of abandonment and lack of the basic wherewithal to survive, millions of homes and offices unused and awaiting buyers sat empty around the country. But they were not available to the million homeless of New Orleans, whose life savings had been lost in homes rendered rubble, or who simply never had the savings to invest in their own house.
Nobody on television asked the most salient question of all: “should people struck by terrible tragedy be victims of charity at all, or should they instead be automatically entitled to society’s wealth simply by demonstrating clear-cut needs for homes, hygiene, food, clothes, and comfort?” Society as presently constituted is not geared toward the satisfaction of our needs, but rather to the sale of commodities to yield profits, and such a society proved itself demonstrably incapable of meeting needs of the dire and desperate kinds that followed on the heels of Katrina. But hey, there are already millions of homeless and poor people in the United States who are not entitled to those vast numbers of empty homes awaiting purchase, so why should these victims of extreme weather be any more fortunate?
Had you or I decided to by-pass the sleeping government and simply pick up a couple of homeless individuals and drop them off in another town, we would have had to do so only by taking time off work. Most of us, as workers, have commitments to our employers that may not be so casually by-passed. And in capitalism, even relief efforts are subject to the welfare agencies’ budgetary constraints. Ever heard of the tens of millions of starving and ill children who die each and ever year around the world for whom there is simply not enough money to go around? While relief for those left in New Orleans was certainly offered by the Red Cross and eventually by the state, few asked whether it is sane or even effective to meet critical human needs depending upon how much money or how many volunteers may be assembled. What if those of you donating a few dollars at supermarkets for Katrina victims simply don’t raise enough? Does that mean that the plight of those struck by disaster is entirely the result of your personal failures, or of a society in which wealth is produced only to be sold, and not to meet our needs? We socialists think the latter.
Nobody on television asked whether by rights the wealth of society should not be automatically due to all individuals. Thus, the million New Orleanians with homes tragically destroyed suddenly enter into that category of “homeless,” those without the monetary means to buy or rent. Nobody on the idiot box asked the most obvious question: “why shouldn’t homes be available to anybody who needs them?”
A further question never raised in recent television coverage was about the severity of the storm itself. Many scientists around the world are now convinced that the ecological devastation wrought by modern society has played its part in altering global weather patterns, even while conservative politicians and owners of polluting industry deny such hypotheses and try hard to keep them from being discussed in the media. Tropical forests are vanishing at the rate of city sizes per day, ice is melting at the polar caps, storms are increasing and worsening, temperatures are rising, ozone levels are diminishing. Quite a few scientists have made calculations that if present levels of ecological destruction continue unabated for the next ten, twenty or thirty years, then catastrophic alterations in weather will no longer be avoidable, even if pollution were stopped after such a date. While it is difficult to be certain if the damage to the planet caused by capitalist production has been responsible for recent changes for the worse in weather, one thing is clear – such dire warnings from the scientific community are not going to be taken seriously. This leaves us rightly concerned whether we are heading into an era in which such similarly devastating phenomena as Hurricane Katrina will not be exceptions, but the rule. What are you all going to do about it? When will citizens take control, and stop leaving critical decision making to leaders of all parties led by the supremacy of corporate interests. What are you personally going to do to render this planet a joy to share, to create a society for you and your children that meets our needs?
The World Socialist Party of the United States is a companion party of the World Socialist Movement. It aims to bring about a nonviolent revolution in the ownership of the means of production from private or state to common. In such a society, money will no longer be necessary, as the things and services we require to live fully (food, clothes, medical services, homes, transportation, and other modern human needs) will be freely available to all. This is because the means of production will be owned in common by the entire community, and will be democratically controlled by that community as well, a society in which leaders are replaced by truly democratic decision making of all citizens.
In a society of common ownership, all war in such a nationless world will be immediately abolished, while the end of starvation and dire poverty will quickly follow suit. Without the barriers of economic cost holding back human progress, more ecologically sustainable ways to provide energy and production for ourselves will be immediately planned and created on a global basis. We will become for the first time in history a truly human family looking after itself.
Dr. Who (World Socialist Party of US)