1960s >> 1961 >> no-687-november-1961

First Things First

There is nothing more that devoted well-meaning people could have done. Over the years they have altered, added and improvised to try to meet the requirements of changing knowledge and needs. But as it stands now. the structure of this early Victorian hospital has outlived itself and what the place really needs is to be pulled down and rebuilt.

Surely, ask the very innocent, that would cost too much money—there isn’t enough of it about, you know? And this is echoed by many an “economic expert” who would deny any claim to naiveté.

Not enough money about? Stick your head out of the ward window and watch the giant machines tearing into wet London clay and the skeleton of a flyover taking shape before your eyes. Don’t leave the window open too long, though—the drilling, bulldozing and blasting of the great new road development scheme must have a devastating effect on the poor patients. They did think about spending some more money on the scheme, to make it quieter and so easier on the patients’ nerves. But in the end they decided that roads come first and sick human beings somewhere after that.

Perhaps many motorists agreed with this decision. Certainly, they grumble enough about the need for new roads and the amount of tax which goes into licences, petrol and so on. Yet they would be wrong to think that the flyovers, underpasses, motorways and the rest are built for their especial benefit and enjoyment.

Let us begin somewhere at the beginning. Our society is based upon private property, which means that a few people own the means of life. This leaves a lot of people who are virtually propertyless. and who therefore have to work for the few owners. In this work they create a surplus which must be sold so that the capitalists can realise their profits. These profits are used by and at the discretion of the international, wealthy ruling class.

This set up raises some tricky problems for the capitalists. Traffic jams prevent profitable goods being moved efficiently; they even stop workers getting to work on time, which means that they might not turn out as much surplus as they should. So traffic jams, in the name of profit, must go.

Again, if motor cars are to be stuck forever in jams and queues, a lot of potential buyers may decide to use some other form of transport. The motor car market is already none too healthy; if there was a developing hardness against the industry’s sales jargon there would soon be panic stations in the plushy showrooms. So would there be in the al fresco salons on old bomb sites, where many workers obtain their latest model.

And what about that other great commercial group which has motoring interests clutched to its bosom? What of the oil companies? We all know that the noxious, smelly fluid can overnight turn a flyblown, sandy waste into a world danger spot. It has lined the pockets of shareholders all over the world, and enabled a handful of Eastern potentates to count their wealth in Cadillacs instead of the traditional camels. No need to point out that the oil boys think an efficient road system, with lots of cars using it, is very important.

These are the reasons why the excavators scrunch outside the hospital walls, and why ordinary, decent people think it right to put motor cars higher up the scale of values than sick and ailing human beings.

For sick workers contribute little, or nothing, to the profitability of capitalism. They are, in fact, an expense, which is covered by taxes on property, the National Insurance levy and philanthropy.

Capitalism can be attacked coldly, with fact and arguments on economics, history and the rest. This does not mean that we do not see through the cloying mess of moral standards and human values which capitalism foists on us. It is useless merely to try to be humane; for many an uphill struggle to implement a reform has been followed by capitalism’s unhappy knack of encroaching upon the reform, when it clashed with some sectional economic interest.

No, we need a bigger change than that. Something to make human beings free and secure. We’ll have roads under Socialism, and we will have sick people too. But both of them will be in their place.

Jack Law