Man’s creation of the wonderful technical marvels that dominate our modern world tend to make us forget the latent destructive forces of nature. It is only when a catastrophe such as the recent earthquake at Skopje smashes through our complacency that we realise with a start that here is a force, terrible in its might, that twentieth century man is as powerless to control as any painted savage.
Apart from the feelings of horror, grief and the real human desire to render succour and comfort, which people share irrespective of their political ideas, we Socialists have some comments to make on the social aspect of natural disaster that most others do not make.
After the giant earthquake at Tokyo in 1923, it was often asserted by those who had knowledge and interest in the then new steel or concrete buildings that serious earthquakes would not cause such devastation if rebuilding followed the new methods. Such an idea, vague and stemming from many sources, became as usual partially accepted on its face value by most people. Agadir and Skopje have shown that the brand new buildings collapsed like cards and had no more resilience than the old bricks and mortar.
Capitalist society has produced buildings that can take a heavy pounding from the machines of war. Our rulers even have hide-holes against the Big Bombs (for themselves, naturally) so the possibility of designing structures that can give greater safety for human life in the earthquake zones is possibly not so far-fetched. Earthquakes are spasmodic and can occur over a large area of the globe. The cost of repairing and rebuilding devastated cities, especially when the expense is spread over a wide field, is obviously cheaper than reconstructing thousands of towns in a new and revolutionary way. Capitalism as usual therefore takes a chance, with human life taking second place to the need to balance the books.
Powerful states can shoot men into space because such action is tied up with war preparation and the need to protect or grab property. The cost of the space race is crippling even to healthy states, but it continues unabated. Do we ever hear of any research being encouraged or even carried out on methods that will enable men to plot the location and build-up of earthquakes in the earth’s crust? Capitalism scares the pants off us with its “four minutes” H.-Bomb warning. How about a four-minute warning to help thousands escape from death and injury in an earthquake?
Yet another point has confronted us over this event. A well known radio and television commentator launched an appeal for funds in order to send prefab homes to Skopje. He stated that we have the men to make the units, planes to carry them to their destination, but we must have money to set the operation in motion. No money, no homes, however great the need or the desire to help!
Even in so great a need private property must not run at a loss!