1950s >> 1957 >> no-639-november-1957

The World of Plenty?

Socialists have always said that under this capitalist system the most decisive factor in production is the profit motive, and that production itself is geared to a marketing system that does not take any account of the real social needs of the community. We have said that capitalism channels all men’s efforts down the narrow inhibited path of commerce and reduces his vast potentialities in the field of production to within the bounds of profit making. These assertions and the whole tragedy of capitalism and its contradictions are exemplified nowhere with more grim irony than in the problem feeing the American Government, the problem of agricultural surpluses, the ever-increasing accumulation of unsold stocks of food in the U.S.A.

 

To release these huge surpluses on the world’s markets would inevitably cause a slump in prices of agricultural commodities, bringing in its wake disaster for the farming community, whose repercussions might extend even to an industrial crisis. From there might ensue a repetition of conditions that existed all over the world in the early 1930’s.

 

Since 1940 production on U.S. farms has increased one-third. This is due largely to the modernisation of farming methods, more machinery, better fertilisers, etc. The world’s markets could not consume the increased supplies at the existing prices, so to offset a fall in the prices of farm produce, and prevent large numbers of unemployed in agriculture, the U.S. Government employed a method of buying up all the surplus at subsidised prices This was not a great philanthropic gesture on the part of the Government directed towards the farmer. Besides the economic necessity of maintaining stable conditions in agriculture, this policy was also part of a political campaign to woo the vote of the farmer. This is a very important vote, as the agricultural community comprises a very powerful pressure group, and any party that antagonises them can expect at least vastly reduced support, if not electoral death. The policy of subsidising farm products resulted in even greater surpluses, for the subsidy was made flexible and higher prices were paid out in accordance with the success of overseas sales. In view of these price guarantees, even greater over-expansion was caused, with the consequent boosting of production.

 

These surplus food stocks are not only very costly (five billion dollars a year), but are becoming a great embarrassment to the U.S. Government.

 

An investigation was made by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation into the advisability of diverting food surpluses to the under-developed countries of the world, but the difficulties arising out of such a project were found to be so wide and varied that very little was done about any proposals put forward by this organisation.

 

The American Government, with an eye to increasing its political prestige in Poland during the disturbances there in 1956, made generous offers of help in the way of food supplies to the Polish Government. These offers met with stiff opposition from countries like Canada, who hold the markets in Poland, so this offer had to be withdrawn.

 

However, the most important effort made by the U.S. Government to reduce these agricultural surpluses was the creation of the Soil Bank in 1956. This is a system whereby farmers are paid to take acreage out of production; e.g., for 1957 the U.S. signed up 233,453 farmers to take 12,784,968 acres of wheat alone out of production in return for $230,974,475 in payments. This system was to operate over a period of three years.

 

Ezra Benson, the Secretary of Agriculture, did not want to put this scheme into operation until 1957, but politicians, with an eagle eye on the General Election of November 1956, brought such pressure to bear that he was forced to start making payments to farmers in 1956. The Soil Bank was hailed by the two major political parties as the solution to the farm problem, but they reckoned without the narrow individualism of men in business under capitalism.

 

In 1956 260 million dollars were paid out to farmers, and the organisation of the Soil Bank was so ineffective that money was even paid out to farmers who had already tried to grow crops on the acres they had donated and failed. Wheat farmers who received payments for taking wheat out of production grew barley or rye instead. In some cases the top soil was sold and the barren ground that was left was put into the Soil Bank. Pasture land was ploughed up and sown with crops. Fertiliser was piled on, and rows sown closer together. The combined result of all this was that in 1956 agricultural production broke all records.

 

Now let us turn to the desperate need for food that exists among millions of the world’s population. The Agricultural Review (October 1956) had this to say:—

 

 “Nutritional experts affirm that more than one-half of the world’s inhabitants, including many engaged in agriculture itself, are still not getting enough to eat.”

 

While the minimum subsistence level is assessed at 2,200 calories per day, it is stated that 1,166,000,000 people consume less than 2,200 calories. The poverty-ridden countries of India, Pakistan, China and Japan make up the majority of this number, but there are workers in every country suffering from malnutrition, including large numbers working in agriculture itself.

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These conditions exist because of the very nature of capitalism itself. There is no question of organising production so as to meet the needs and requirements of humanity. What is needed is a system of society wherein the means of production shall be held in common ownership by all of humanity instead of a privileged few.

 

Wherein production can be consciously regulated to meet human needs and requirements. Wherein commodities are not produced for sale to the highest bidder, but are produced for the benefit of all mankind. Only in Socialism can there be found the answer to the problems of the working classes of this world.

 

Joan Lawrence