1950s >> 1955 >> no-611-july-1955

Speed and commerce at Le Mans

The tragedy at Le Mans, French automobile racing venue, on 13th June during the 24-hour “endurance” test in which one of the drivers crashed to death among the spectators, 85 of whom were killed and others injured, is a grim reflection of the price men pay in the quest for speed—or so it appears on the surface.

The question arises, why all this speed? Why should men risk their lives in order that a German “Mercedes” shall “lick” an Italian “Ferrari,” or an English “Jaguar” prove faster than both? Surely speed for speed’s sake is not the only reason for ignoring a death roll of 85 and risking a repetition? Let Mr. Charles Faroux, Le Mans director, answer our queries. According to the Bristol Evening World, of 13th June, he says:

“In an interview with the Paris newspaper Figaro: ‘Immediately after the accident I was asked to stop the race. In spite of the horror of the situation. I did not think the sporting trial should be stopped. The British set the example three years ago at Farnhorough. Even when a disaster of such frightful proportions occurs, the rough law of sport dictates that the race shall go on.’ ”

After excusing himself on the grounds of a precedent set by the British and claiming what he describes as the dictates of the “rough law of sport”—Mr. Faroux finally comes to the point and lets the proverbial cat out of the bag.

“M. Faroux said that if the race had been stopped . . . ‘Firms could have sued us for hundreds of millions of francs, arguing that we had made them lose terrific advantages obtained by a victor in the 24-hour Le Mans Race.’ ’’ (Bristol Evening World, 13th June.)

Apparently it’s the dictates of the “rough” law of commerce that worries Mr. Faroux. but in the trying circumstances he can be excused a little confusion of words. And so on with the race, despite the dead and dying, for what is at stake here is big business—national prestige and the sales that go with it for firms with a stake in the winning car. Be it engines, fuel, or sparking plugs, tyres, or even brake linings—there’s nothing like a win at Le Mans for pulling in the orders, human flesh and blood notwithstanding. Like all other commodities, cars are produced for sale only, and fast cars sell faster than slow ones in the same price range. Thus, rival firms compete against one another in the seething, constant struggle for trade which is expressed in incidents like Le Mans, with safety margins cut to beyond the limit. This is only one of the many facets of Capitalist trading conditions, which as we said earlier on, appears to be a question of speed—in actual fact it is a problem along with wars, poverty, slums and the H-Bomb. One cannot be solved without each other. Capitalism produces these problems; Socialism alone can bring an overdue end to them. Through the abolition of his wage- slave system, man will finally master his domestic affairs.

G. R. Russell

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