1990s >> 1996 >> no-1104-august-1996

A lot of people should know that

The Guardian Weekend supplement has for some time run a “Digitations”

..not a lot of people know that.

column—a compilation of facts and figures gleaned from various information bulletins and documents.


For the average reader—the Michael Caines of this world—they provide a momentary and quickly-forgotten eyebrow raiser; the kind of facts and figures you pop into the conversation at the local pub along with the refrain: “not a lot of people know that”.


To some, perhaps most, such information is trivia. To socialists, they help fuel our argument that capitalism is an insane social and economic system and one not fit for humans to thrive in. Our refrain on chancing on such facts is: “not a lot of people know why”.


What, for instance, is trivial about the fact that “UK family doctors tranquillise anxious people at the rate of at least 800,000 doses a day” (23 March) or that “in Bangkok, the homes of 98 per cent of the population are not linked to a sewer system”? (Ibid).


Here the stress of daily life for workers in an advanced industrial capitalist nation is juxtaposed with a similar economic system unable to provide the vast majority with the basics of life.


“Digitations” not only help to fuel our argument that capitalism does not operate in the interests of the world’s majority, they also help us dispel the arguments of our opponents.


We are often told the world is over-populated and that food and energy resources cannot keep pace with the demands of an increasing world population. However, “twice the world’s population could stand in the county of Devon” (4 May) and “in one season, French peasant co-ops were paid to destroy fruit and vegetables the weight of 17 Arcs de Triomph” (13 May).


Add to this the already widely known fact that landowners arc paid vast sums of money not to produce food and the problem of feeding the world’s population quickly diminishes.


As for energy? “Supplying solar powered electricity to 1,000 million people in poor developed countries would cost less than 0.3 per cent of annual military expenditure over 20 years” (30 May).


Time and time again the root cause of the problems facing humanity is the drive to make profit. Indeed, the vast majority of the problems we face are social problems, not natural ones. It is not logical to produce an abundance of fruit and vegetables under the laws of capitalism because an excess in supply invariably leads to a decline in prices and consequently profits. Similarly, solar powered electricity docs not generate the return on invested capital that coal and oil do. And the reason why “non-biodegradable plastic used in western Europe in a year would outweigh a line of Eiffel towers 32 km long” (6 April) is because biodegradable plastic is costlier to produce.


Socialists often refer to such alarming facts as these as the contradictions of capitalism. They include the fact, already mentioned, that millions of tons of food is destroyed while tens of millions starve; the fact that countless factories and machines stand idle while tens of millions are unemployed, the fact that millions of buildings stand vacant while millions sleep rough on the streets of the world’s cities. These are all social problems, not rooted in nature or sanctioned by the will of some god.


Marx once said that humankind only poses itself problems it is already capable of solving. Nothing could be more true. We live in a world in which we constantly face the threat of war, famine, disease and environmental destruction. Our society is plagued by crime, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, racism, sexism and every other type of ‘ism’. These are problems familiar to every country on earth, not just the poorest. And as in every country of the world the real cause remains the same.


Our problems stem from the way in which we organise ourselves for production—production for profit, not social use.


The means for the production of abundance, the technology and resources to comfortably feed, clothe, house and educate the world’s people already exists. They would, in fact, be enhanced were the artificial constraints to productive wealth— not profit—removed.


All that is lacking is a global desire for social change. Only when a majority of the world’s people voice disapproval of the system that impoverishes their lives and organise for world socialism can we get down to producing “digitations” to be proud of—how many new homes have been built, how many more mouths fed, how many solar energy panels installed, how few hours needed to be worked by the average individual. These will be the “digitations” that prove that socialism works.


John Bissett
  • More than 1 billion people live in absolute poverty, surviving on £175 per year.
  • 400 million people consume less than 80% of their basic food needs.
  • 13-18 million people die of hunger every year.
  • Every year an area of land the size of Ireland is turned into desert.
  • $1,000,000,000,000 is spent annually on weapons of war and destruction.