We keep getting these sob-stories from organisations concerned with homelessness about how many people are forced to live in late-twentieth-century Britain without a roof over their heads. Shelter, for example, estimates that there are 150,000 young people (apart from the middle-aged and old) homeless in the country (Guardian, 26.10.89). Apparently the number living in squats (illicit accommodation, with eviction a daily possibility and virtually inevitable in the long run) had “almost trebled” since two years ago. One 20-year-old said “no employer would take anyone with no fixed address. To get a fixed address you need money, and to get money you’d need a job. So there’s no way out.” Except, of course, prostitution. To escape grinding poverty, not a few — both males and females — finally succumb. They don’t have to go looking for chances, either. “One in three young people questioned by the researchers had been approached for prostitution.”
In this most degrading of sales, as in all others, there are no sellers without buyers. Prostitution depends on the economic system of buying and selling. Without some people rich enough to buy sexual excitement. and others poor enough to have to sell it. prostitution would disappear tomorrow. (Why, I wonder, isn’t Mrs Whitehouse a Socialist?) These buyers aren’t going to shed tears at the steady recruitment to the prostitution industry which capitalism ensures.
It’s an ill wind which blows nobody any good.
One of the Rothschild family in the last century is supposed to have become interested in landscape gardening after buying a country house. He went so far as to give a lecture on the subject, beginning with the immortal words: “No garden, however small, should have less than three acres of woodland.”
After such expert advice, no one now has any excuse for having too few trees in the garden.
I’ve always made sure of having enough trees at my country place, particularly fruit trees. I love apples, eaters or cookers. If you get hold of some Bramleys, for example, you have the main ingredient of an apple pie, or tasty fritters, or a succulent apple charlotte. So when I was glancing through the paper (Observer, 29.10.89). I was sad to see it’s been a bad year for apples. 1976, it said, was poor enough, “but this year it seems even worse”. A Kent farmer said: “It has been a disaster for Bramleys”.
I was just reconciling myself to the idea that there would be fewer apples to go round this year, when my eye fell on the photograph accompanying the text. It showed an enormous pile of apples dumped in a field, and the caption bemoaned “a too fruitful harvest”. So that’s the problem! Reading the whole story again. I found the disaster was simply that there are “too many” apples. Farmers are being paid £75 per tonne by the European Community “to plough the apples back into the ground”: apples are “rotting in vast piles round the Kent countryside”: near Maidstone “at least £25.000 worth” of Bramleys were being “crushed into an expensive fertiliser by tractor wheels”. Research shows that the average person in Britain eats precisely five Bramleys per year — one every ten weeks. At the same time people eat well-advertised junk food, often almost valueless if not positively harmful — or even go hungry. The many thousands of homeless people living rough in Britain aren’t exactly over-fed. And that ignores the multitudes round the world who starve to death each year.
How do they see it, these apple farmers trembling lest their efforts to produce quantities of food should be crowned with success? Do they come back to the farmhouse in the evening saying “all the trees are healthy — no sign of disease. I’m afraid”? Or “masses of blossom has set, not a single gale or pest to give us a decent chance”? Or “the branches are bending to the ground with perfect fruit this year — were ruined”?
We capitalists know, of course, however much we try to conceal it from everyone else, that farmers are not aiming to produce apples, but profit. The number of apples is immaterial: if the profits are high, it’s a good year; if the profits are low, it’s bad.
And so the journalists who depend on us for jobs have to write whole articles about what a “disaster” it is to have a good crop of Bramleys.
Why do people keep saying mass unemployment is a bad thing? From the capitalists’ point of view, it’s a good thing to keep some workers unemployed “pour encourager les autres“; just as the wartime authorities shoot unenthusiastic soldiers to encourage the others (as Voltaire pointed out). Here’s a piece from the Daily Mail (26.10.89)
Profits in industry soared over the past year to their highest level for a decade, according to a survey. Productivity has leapt 43 per cent compared with six years ago and output per worker is still rising, says a review of the top 1000 companies in Business magazine. Each employee now turns out £57,400 worth of goods or services each year — £1000 more than last year. Average profitability — the amount of industry’s total sales which is profit — climbed to a record 9.9 per cent compared to 9.1 per cent last year.
Mind you, the papers shouldn’t make too much of a song and dance about it. Not all the readers of the Daily Mail can be stupid: some of them must begin to wonder why, if “each employee” produces £57000 worth of goods, he or she gets paid so much less than that.
The release of the Guildford Four (convicted of the Guildford pub bombing on no evidence whatever except for “confessions” which conflicted with and contradicted each other, which contained impossibilities. and which, it is now accepted, the police had beaten and blackmailed out of them) has been hailed as a triumph of justice. Quite right, of course. In fact, if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime you didn’t commit, in circumstances where there is no single piece of objective evidence at all connecting you with the crime, then all you need (if the Guildford Four case is anything to go by) is your innocence proclaimed by —
- Many writers and public figures who support capitalism, but cannot stomach its worst injustices;
- Two former eminent judges (in the Guildford case, Lord Devlin and Lord Scarman);
- The two leading churchmen in the country (Cardinal Hume and Archbishop Runcie);
- Two former Home Secretaries (Roy Jenkins and Merlyn Rees);
- A campaigning TV programme at peak viewing time (produced by Yorkshire TV);
- Two full-length books (one by Robert Kee, one by Grant McKee and Ros Franey);
- Radio and TV programmes, newspapers and periodicals in Ireland;
- Numbers of articles in England (for example in the New Statesman):
- The people who actually did what you were accused of (in this case, the IRA men whose confessions gave such detail as to prove they were genuine);
- And, finally, the Crown Prosecution Service (who refused to justify the convictions in the Court of Appeal).
If you’ve got all that going for you. then after only fifteen years in jail, being beaten up occasionally by other prisoners who loyally support the Establishment — you’re free!
It makes me proud of our capitalist propaganda services to think they can still argue that this is a triumph for British justice.
Members of Christian CND want to hold their own Remembrance Service on Armistice Day. They want “to draw attention to the appalling loss of life and human suffering” in war (Eastern Evening News, 31.10.89). ‘‘We want methods and ways to be found to prevent wars happening again.”
Obviously these simple people, who are still looking for ‘‘methods and ways” of preventing war, haven’t heard of Socialism. So all is well. These peace-time pacifists will be no more effective than they were on the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, when you had to jump out of the way to avoid being trampled to death by the rush of Christians, pacifists, Peace Pledge Unionists and so on into the recruiting offices.