Editorial: A world fit for humans

The great mistake of the so-called Environmentalist Movement is that it treats the thing it seeks to protect as if it existed separately from the very conditions which put it under attack.

It is almost impossible now to read a newspaper which is bare of some sort of reference to pollution of the air or the sea or the rivers; in some cases, such as the Mediterranean of the Canadian Lakes, to a frightening extent. And we have recently been made starkly aware of the fact that there is a time bomb being rapidly built up beneath us — atomic power stations, oil refineries, chemical plants and the like.

Every so often something happens which confirms some of our worst fears — like the leak at Windscale or the explosion at Flixborough or the poison cloud at Seveso. These events are called accidents, which is a rather loose way of using that word.

And what about the places which actually sit on the time bomb? There is no lack of verbose planning experts (simple minded people may be surprised, or shocked, to learn that such places are actually planned) who contribute their worries about the pressures of urban decay (a nice name for slums) or development blight (a way of describing homes made uninhabitable by the motorway outside the bedroom window) or locational stress (which can mean the big jets screaming in just above the chimney).

So we might expect that there would spring up organisations, armed with facts and statistics and a measure of sincerity (as well, sometimes, with an injection of commercially inspired financial support) to oppose the chemical plant or the motorway or the airport runway.

Such organisations have an instant appeal. Who would not demonstrate against a great slash of concrete destroying a green and peaceful valley, where workers might expect to find some rest after the rush and tear of the week? Who is not outraged by the cloud of poison which is ceaselessly pumped into the atmosphere?

The question, then, is why these organisations, with their facts and their sincerity and their resources, fail. Why, after all their efforts to stem the polluting tide, does the environment steadily deteriorate and become even more threatening to the people who exist in it?

We live today under social system known as capitalism — an accurate name, since its driving force is the accumulation of wealth as capital. This gives that wealth a particular social characteristic; it is commodity wealth, produced for sale rather that for use.

For example, food is produced under capitalism not because people need to eat, but in order that it be sold; and literally millions of people starve simply because they cannot buy the food they need to live. Homes are built under capitalism, not because people need shelter and comfort, but to sell or rent; and literally millions of people are homeless or live in slums, because they cannot afford a decent home. The list of the ways in which capitalism fails to provide for the needs of its people is almost without end.

Capitalism has organised its communities — its towns and its cities — as basically economic units, to feed more easily its massive appetite for human exploitation in the productive process. This concentration makes for its own tensions; apart from those more obvious ones of the slums there are the subtle neuroses of the trim estates of semi-detached poverty, where every worker’s dream of his own mortgage millstone comes horrendously true. Or the outworn terraces, as close as the bugs which infest them. Or the high rise flats, once the final solution of the planners who never seem actually to live in them.

And every so often what small peace there might be found in these concentrations is shattered by a road being ground through, or a new runway laid down or great concrete towers of office blocks being raised alongside. The environmentalists wail and wring their hands over the destruction of something they like to call the Quality of Life — which begs an enormous number of questions.

It is because they ignore the basic facts of capitalism’s motivation that the environmentalists fail and must continue to fail. The alternative may not have their kind of glamour, the appeal of the instant demonstration or sit down before the TV camera, but it does have the more enduring quality of matching effectively with reality.

There is only one way of ending capitalism’s problems and that is to end capitalism itself. That said, there is only one alternative to capitalism and that is socialism. The new society will be one of common ownership of the means of production and distribution, which means that its wealth will be produced for use.

One immediate result of this will be that the priorities of socialism will be those of human interests and not minority profit. The quality of what we produce — whether it is food or clothing or housing — and of how we organise our lives will be, simply, the best we are capable of.

Socialism will be a massive transformation of every aspect of human life — our social and personal relationships, how and where we live and what surrounds our lives. The experiences of capitalism — its slums, its pressures, its assault upon the very air we breathe — will be no more than an evil memory.

Socialist society will give us a sweeter life; it will cleanse the food we eat, the water we drink, the very earth we tread. It will be a world fit for human beings to live in and it is waiting for us to make it reality.

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