1980s >> 1985 >> no-972-august-1985

Hunger for profits

Millions starve; food rots. Why? It is not inevitable that millions of our fellow human beings suffer agonising death for lack of food. We are capable of producing enough to feed them. But world capitalism is not geared to satisfying needs; the object of producing wealth is to sell it at a profit and if those who are starving are unable to buy what they need, there is no reason to bother about them. The economic principle of capitalism is that if you cannot buy you shall not have, even if that means death.

The market, contrary to the claims of its supporters, is not an efficient way of allocating resources according to people’s needs. If it is, why do people starve to death in Africa while food is dumped in Europe? Only the most insane social order imaginable can regard such a grotesque contradiction as “efficiency’. The object of the market is to satisfy the capitalists’ need for profits, not the workers’ need for goods and services.

At the moment the production of food is in a condition of crisis. What does this mean? You might think that it means that society is unable to produce enough food for human needs. In fact, although the productive forces are presently below the level necessary to produce enough for everyone, such a task is quite possible technologically. The present crisis of food production is a crisis of over-production: too much is being produced. But too much for whom? For the starving people in Ethiopia or Sudan or the many other regions of mass malnutrition which don’t make the news? How can there be over-production of food while there is such widespread and tragic under-consumption? Under capitalism the concept of over-production is only meaningful in relation to the market: when they say that they have produced too much food they mean more than can be sold, not more than can be used.

In 1984 stocks of surplus (to the market) beef trebled to 52,430 tonnes, worth £95 million. There was no shortage of unemployed workers or workers living on a pittance of a pension who would have been willing to consume this “over-produced” beef. But under the best of all possible systems it was wasted. Under capitalism it is preferable to let nobody have a commodity than to sell it at a price which will damage the profit of the capitalists. 144,430 tonnes of butter were in store at the end of 1984. In short, it was locked away, being wasted, making sure that it did not enter the market and damage profits. What other waste had the market system created in Britain by the end of last year? 92,705 tonnes of skimmed milk. 736,738 tonnes of barley, 10,151 tonnes of bread-making wheat, and 1,945.421 tonnes of feed wheat (Guardian, 14 June 1985).

EEC surpluses are even bigger and worldwide waste of food is incalculable. Then there is the food which is not available because governments subsidise farmers not to produce it. In Britain, for example, farmers are required by EEC regulations to limit the amount of milk produced each year so that its price can be kept profitable. Any infant could see the absurdity of paying farmers to limit a product while children are dying and suffering terrible diseases for the lack of it. In a society of co-operative production for use there would be a massive incentive to produce what people need.

In a socialist society there will be no market. no buying and selling, no money, no prices. Defenders of capitalism’s chaos claim that without the present economic mechanisms production would be inefficient. But. from the angle of the working class, who produce all wealth and suffer all deprivation, the waste and anarchy of the profit system is far from efficient. Only when the sole criterion of production is the usefulness of the product will we be able to speak meaningfully about the efficient allocation of resources. And only when we have got rid of world capitalism and established socialism will such a condition exist.

Steve Coleman