On 16 October last, a local television programme highlighted the deaths of 13 children over the past year from curable heart diseases. It was an emotive programme that showed other children suffering from the same illnesses, some of whom are destined to die unless the problem is solved. For a few days following the programme, those needless deaths were a minor talking point; it made the inside pages of the newspapers and even elicited from the relevant Minister in the Northern Ireland Office an undertaking to look into the matter.
Most of the children who suffer from these particular heart complaints are successfully treated at the Clarke Clinic in Belfast — the only source of such treatment in the province. The requisite medical techniques are well known and the specialised equipment for their treatment is available. The missing factor is a paediatric consultant. The Clarke Clinic does employ one such consultant, Dr Conor Mulholland, but his overwork and dedication are not sufficient to deal with the workload and a second specialist is required. The cost of providing for a second specialist is £150,000 and this money is not forthcoming from the local Health Board. So little children have to die.
The programme makers interviewed a number of parents who had either lost children or whose children required the life-saving treatment. These parents have now formed an action group in an effort to force the authorities to make the necessary funds available. Understandably, the parents saw the problem in simple terms, of appalling government meanness. Their answer was straightforward and reasonable: the Health Board should hand over the paltry £150,000 and prevent further needless deaths.
Viewed thus, many of the grimmer problems that exist today in this country and elsewhere throughout the world could easily be solved. Some 15,000,000 children under the age of five die of starvation or hunger-related diseases every year. They do not die because there is not the food available to feed them. Their problem stems from the very same cause as the unnecessary deaths of the children in Northern Ireland: their parents or guardians do not have the money to buy what they need to stay alive
In the United Kingdom thousands of elderly people succumb to winter cold every year. They die needlessly of hypothermia because they do not have the money to eat properly and provide sufficient heat to maintain their body temperature. People eke out miserable lives in slums and hovels because they do not have the money to buy or rent decent accommodation. Handicapped people are denied the facilities to make their lives pleasanter through lack of money and, of course, millions of people suffering the multiplicity of painful, crippling and terminal illnesses that affect human beings could all make the same complaint about government meanness. Cures for cancer, arthritis and all the other terrible illnesses that inflict their miseries on people are starved of what, in capitalist society, is an essential element in the successful research equation — money.
Money. In the case of multi-millions of people its non-possession is a matter of life and death. In the case of those whose only access to money is through the sale of their labour power for a wage or salary, it is the seal of mere want or actual poverty on their lives.
Those with access to an abundance of money — and such people are never to be found among those who have to work for wages — have the best at their command. The best food, the best clothing, the best housing, the best transport; the freedom to enjoy leisure or study in luxury as, when and where required. In a word they have the best lives. Their money can buy them the best medical treatment available to ease their pain and prolong their lives and their deaths are not burdened by leaving problems for their loved ones.
Money, and the means by which the rich procure it, is the most potent force in the world today. The lack of money means death and suffering for countless millions and it imposes degradation and mean living on most of the world’s population. It is hard to imagine a single problem that will not yield to the power of money and. sadly, people like the parents of the children in Northern Ireland who die needlessly completely fail to understand why money exists in our society and the class interests it serves.
Take the demand by the Northern Ireland parents’ action group on the Northern Ireland government for £150,000 to save the lives of their children. It sounds logical and reasonable and must appeal to the political Left and various groups of well-intentioned reformers. But capitalist society is neither logical nor reasonable and the actual business of forking out the money is fraught with real problems for government, whether of the Left, the Right or the Centre.
True, £150,000 is pin money where governments are concerned. As we have seen, however, money can solve any of the social problems that exist in our society and most problems have one or more pressure groups to press their claim with government. In such circumstances only the self-interested are really clear about which problem warrants priority. The very success of one action group, which succeeds in forcing authority to concede its claim, may militate against the success of another and, in so doing, deny the hopes or increase the misery of some other group of suffering people.
These who demand that governments should advance funds for this or that good cause are, in effect, saying that the government — the agent of national capital — should take the required funds out of the capitalists’ profits, through taxation, in order to provide services for the working class. This idea, continually advanced by reformists of the Left, shows a complete ignorance of the capitalist laws of value and. against the background of vicious competition that exists within capitalism, could actually create more problems for the working class.
The current Thatcherite contention that the workers could price themselves out of jobs has as much validity now as when it represented the thinking behind the various wage freezes, pauses and guide lines that dominated the policies of all Labour governments since World War Two. Within capitalism jobs are dependent on investment and the level of wages and taxation has a direct bearing on the geographical location and area of trade or industry in which capital is invested and whether such investment is attracted into labour-intensive or capital-intensive enterprises. While it is futile to speculate on the possibility of the government being forced to fund, say, the 150,000 “good causes” represented by charities in Britain, it is possible that political stability or selective politico-economic considerations could force government to concede to demands for a wider consideration of social needs — thus effectively changing the distribution of surplus value to the extent that a falling rate of profit would be reflected in a fall in investment, a consequent loss of jobs and a following government cash crisis that would ultimately adversely affect all social welfare projects.
Governments just cannot serve two diametrically-opposed interests. Whatever the concerns of the individuals that make up the parties which seek a mandate to govern a society wherein there is ownership — either private or through nationalised state enterprises — of the wealth-producing machinery and the essential economic corollaries of such ownership — production for profit, wage labour, money and markets — concern, compassion and judgement has to yield to the requirements of capital.
It is the recognition of this fact that underlies the unique position of the World Socialist Movement. If the world in which we live was freed from the restrictions and encumbrances of class ownership and its complex, utterly wasteful and limiting money and marketing structure, it has the potential to produce an abundance of all the things that all human beings need or require. All the wasteful jobs necessarily associated with capitalism could be disposed of; co-operative and voluntary work could replace wage labour in producing and distributing all the things we require and everybody could have free and equal access to the things they need.
World Socialist Party of Ireland