1980s >> 1982 >> no-932-april-1982

Running Commentary: Resourceful Destruction

The contradictions of the profit system become more stark and bizarre. While millions starve and go without even basic accommodation food is destroyed or simply not produced, factories are closed down and millions of people are made redundant and forced into idleness.

Making the picture even more grotesque is the fact that while our means of production are being deliberately underused to protect the profits of the owners, “our” means of destruction are being developed to a degree where death and damage can be caused as efficiently as possible.

Straining with potential for the satisfaction of human needs and production, the world is in fact seething with unmet need and on the brink of large-scale destruction. The government finances research and development into many areas including medicine, the environment, science, engineering, agriculture and methods of destruction (otherwise known as “Defence”).

A recent report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Science and Technology for the 1980s, provides a breakdown of the proportions of the general research fund which each of these areas receives, and is a good indication of the priorities which all governments need to adopt in order to “properly” administer capitalism. The report shows that more than half of the funds which the government allocates to research and development is devoted to the Destruction Industry.

The grants which will be received this year by the Medical Research Council, the National Environmental Research Council, the Science and Engineering Research Council and other such bodies will amount in total to less than the £1,750,000,000 earmarked this year for research into better ways of destroying things and killing people.

Bradford Wall game
On March 7, the Sunday Times carried an article about the Labour Party candidate for Bradford North, Pat Wall, who is also a member of Militant Tendency. The article quoted some comments made by Wall at a meeting of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). These remarks were regarded as being so wildly revolutionary and, that most feared of all things in the Labour Party, “Marxist”, that Labour’s organisation committee ordered the Bradford North Constituency Labour Party to hold a re-run of the selection conference for its parliamentary candidate.

What had Wall said, to cause all the ballyhoo? Well, he said that a Marxist Labour Government (evidently not the strike-breaking, wage-freeze, arms-dealing variety we know so well) would have to deal with the capitalist state machine as soon as it took office. It would “deal with capitalism”, he argued, by “abolishing the monarchy and the House of Lords and sacking senior civil servants, and military and police chiefs, and judges”. These vacant posts would then be filled by elections!

Two points need to be made. First it says a lot about the current condition of the Labour Party, when mild reforms like abolishing the monarchy and the House of Lords repeatedly and proudly espoused by Keir Hardie are greeted by them with such widespread and astonished horror. Second, it is worth observing the rather limited notion of socialism held by people like Pat Wall: for what is it about modern republics, that we should be so eager to attain? We get rid of the military and police chiefs and retain the military and police forces, but against whom will these forces be used? Then there is the sacking of members of the judiciary, only for their offices to be filled by “People’s Judges”. In all of Wall’s fiery rhetoric there was no mention of abolishing the property relations of capitalism, only of changing faces and prejudices of its high- ranking personnel.

Peking order
In this society, which places profits above people, wars, starvation, insanitary water supplies, hypothermia, terrorism and pollution are some of the ways in which life is endangered. But the human cost of capitalism is also extended in other more concealed ways.

Last month the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party directed that couples living in cities shall be permitted to have only one child, with peasants restricted to only two children. The directive indicates that some local authorities have already provided incentives and favourable treatment for families with only one child, including priority in entering kindergartens and better prospects in jobs and housing. It warns: “For those who do not follow family planning, appropriate economic restrictions must be enforced”. That is, the cost of a life for the unfortunate parents of a second or third child will be a fine.

The reason for this policy, which comes about as close as you can, along with insurance policies, to putting a price on a life, is that an increase in the birth rate has threatened the ability of the Chinese economy to maintain the already desperately impoverished living standards of most of its one billion people. This is the latest in a series of “coping-with-capitalism” policy changes which have been introduced by the Chinese government over the last two years and which have included the adoption of an American tax code system, the official recognition of a rising unemployment problem, and a switch in many industries to piece-rate work payments.

Another change of a more sweeping sort is a move to de-collectivise much of the land worked by the peasants and farm it out to family groups in the hope that a more rigorous competitive system will boost productivity. This U-turn from a pretended commitment to common ownership and equality to a boastful praising of the “merits” of private property is summed up in a New Year couplet pinned on the wall of a couple in Kao-cheng reported in the Guardian, (15/3/82):

Better live among men than in a paradise dream
Better farm my own patch than work in a team

An argument, no doubt, which the most ruthless defenders of private property will gladly applaud.

Second coming
In the search for solutions to our social problems in 1982, the theological dispute between catholics and protestants is about as meaningful as debating how many SDP political principles can be fitted on the point of a needle. The latest episode in this anachronistic religious battle centres around the Pope’s proposed visit to Britain.

On one side of this dispute catholics are excitedly awaiting the arrival of John Paul mark 2. For them, one glimpse of the visitor from Italy in the flesh and the sound of his words of divine wisdom will have a magically refreshing effect—although, if he were defrocked of his fancy costume, most of his ardent fans would walk past him on the street, unaffected.

On the other side of the dispute are assorted fanatical protestant revivalists who see the Pope’s visit as part of a conspiracy to subvert the dusty teachings of the Church of England. One of the organisers of the opposition to the Pope’s visit is the Reverend George Ashdown who recently proclaimed, brushing the cobwebs from his script, “Britain has always been the bastion of the Protestant religion. That is why Rome knows the Pope’s visit is so important. If they can seduce the House of Windsor, if they can repeal our Bill of Rights, then the Antichrist is home and dry. But God may yet intervene to stop him coming. He may send us a man, another Cromwell, a Wesley, to lead a great revival” (Guardian, 13/3/82).

Religious beliefs are superstitious and a positive hindrance to self-confident political action to solve social problems. Holding out hope and faith in men like Karol Wojtyla (currently employed in Rome as Supreme Pontiff) to help you through the various difficulties of poverty is a lost cause. In fact the conservative stand of the Church on political and industrial issues has been made quite explicit by Karol himself in his recent picas to members of Solidarity in Poland to be “moderate” in their demands and not to ask for too much, Establishing socialism cannot proceed if we are taken in by the humbug of horoscopes or of clerics telling of a future which is pre-ordained.

Korearists

Under Giscard d’Estaing the French bosses agreed, with government backing, to supply the South Korean regime with nuclear power stations and nuclear fuels. The French “socialists” were horrified to find Giscard “comforting a regime of terror”, and strongly condemned “a government which lends support to a dictatorial regime for purely financial ends” (Le Monde, 23/2/82).

Now that those in France calling themselves “socialists” have gained power, what has become of the trade with South Korea? Was the recent visit of the South Korean Foreign Minister to France (as an honoured guest at comrade Mitterand’s Élysée Palace) a summons to be told that socialists do not support any governments let alone the repressive excesses of the dictatorship in South Korea?

Not quite. Since coming to power the “socialists” seem to have changed their view about the desirability of the nuclear supplies contracts with South Korea (worth 6,000,000,000 frs.) and the possibility of further deals involving a subway system and a tidal power station, and comrade Mitterand has raised his champagne glass to the successful fulfilment of the contract.

Fighting for “socialism” alongside Mitterand, French Prime Minister Mauroy recently took himself on a visit to a nationalised People’s Factory where he ate roast beef and chips in the self-service canteen and actually mingled with the workers. “Nice to see you smiling when you’re under new management”, was one of his caustic remarks (Guardian, 27/2/82).

Of course, selling your life for a wage or a salary in order to produce profits for a minority to enjoy keeps you in poverty whether your employer is a private enterprise or the state; but in his stroll around the factory Mauroy met one worker who seemed very pleased with the new arrangements now that her factory had been nationalised. “Now I come in at 8.12am instead of 8.00am”, she proudly informed the Prime Minister. “It’s a start.”

Now that these workers have this extra 12 minutes to enjoy in the mornings we wonder whether any of them will choose to stay out later at night and make use of any of the amenities available to people in “socialist” France? A night at the Nova-Park Élysées Hotel in Paris, perhaps? A single night here in the Royal suite, for instance, costs £3,500 with VAT on top, at £616 a night (Sunday Times, 28/2/82) Breakfast is not included in this bill but then you may not have the opportunity to try it if you have to be a work by 8.12am.

Spacious middle grounds

Brian Magee was once a Labour MP. Now he has joined the SDP. Writing last month in the Observer, Magee said that both the Labour and Conservative Parties “maddened by persistent failure, have moved to extremes leaving nearly half the population of Britain unrepresented in the gap between”. The SDP is now supposed to be filling that gap but Magee unwittingly makes a very apposite point: that when both Labour and Conservative parties did persistently attempt to deal with capitalism’s problems with policies that were “moderate” (whatever that is supposed to mean) they became frustrated, “maddened by persistent failure”. Yet it is now the SDP which is trying to persuade us that what we need is “moderation”.

One group of people who seem to realise that the SDP would continue to run capitalism in a satisfactory’ way for the ruling class are those who openly support the system of minority privilege. Two recent SDP recruits illustrate this point. In a letter last month to the Devonshire Times, Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire, let it be known that he intends to join the Moderates. “Old Yellow Socks”, as he is known for his colourful taste in dress, owns 38,000 acres in Derbyshire, 30,000 acres in Yorkshire, a priceless estate of 1,200 acres in Eastbourne, a small country place in county Waterford (as he modestly describes Lismore Castle) and a few more “bits and pieces”.

A fellow recruit of Andrew’s is Roger Rosewell, who was industrial organiser for the SWP (1970-73) but who has now become an open defender of ruling class privilege, joined the SDP and published an anti-Marxist manual for employers—Dealing with the Marxist Threat to Industry. Who will be the next fighter for equality and great thinker to join the SDP? Prince Philip?

Gary Jay