2000s >> 2009 >> no-1257-may-2009

Pathfinders: Socialism on drugs

When young people ask if there would be drugs in socialism, they don’t have  in mind things like Seroxat and Prozac, they mean Skunk and Poppers. We can’t  say these things would be ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’, because the status of ‘law’  in a cooperative stateless community remains to be debated. What we can say  is, if people need a drug and there is no good, scientific reason for not  manufacturing it, it will no doubt be produced.

Capitalism has a funny attitude to drugs, both the legal, medical kind and  the illegal, recreational kind. Legal drugs with important medicinal  properties are often not produced because there is no profit in doing so,  often because the patents on them have expired and lie in the public domain.  This is the problem facing the new ‘Polypill’, a cocktail of five very cheap  drugs which evidence suggests may halve the rate of strokes and heart  attacks in middle-aged people (‘The polypill: Medicine’s magic bullet’,  Independent, 31 March). It works, but it won’t be produced because it doesn’t  make money. Much the same can be said of many other cheap, unexploitable  drugs which would save millions of lives in developing countries yet can’t  turn enough bucks for the big boys. Instead the drug companies concentrate  on research into diseases of rich, white Westerners, such as obesity and  skin cancer.

Where there’s a wallet, there’s a way, but even if you accept capitalism’s  own profit-oriented logic, its attitude to illegal recreational drugs still  fails to make any kind of sense. From Al Capone to Afghanistan, the history  of drug prohibition by capitalism continues to represent one of the most  bizarrely stupid aspects of a social system never notable for its good  judgment. The lesson of America’s prohibition period should have taught the  world that if you banned coffee today, you would create a coffee mafia  tomorrow, in the process creating an unnecessary and, from the ruling class  point of view, expensive ‘war on coffee’ simply to deprive people of  something harmless that they like. We would also see a crime problem at  every scale from coffee barons and their private armies to burglaries and  back-alley shootings over a jar of Maxwell House in Manchester.

Most of the arguments against illicit drugs are bogus, unscientific and  politically oriented. In particular, the idea that legalisation would create  a massive social problem of a drug-crazed free-for-all is not borne out by  the experience of Holland, or more recently of Portugal, which  decriminalised illicit drugs in 2001. There, it turns out, drug usage and  associated behavioural pathologies are among the lowest in all the EU  countries, especially when compared to those countries with very restrictive  drug laws (Cato Institute White Paper, 2 April).

While the drugs ‘problem’ is not a make or break issue for socialists, it  does illustrate how capitalism tends to operate in defiance of any logic,  even its own. Even leaving aside more pressing issues like poverty, war or  climate change, it ought to be obvious from this that it is simply not  clever to leave major decisions about production and supply in the hands of  an unelected and uncontrollable minority. The capitalist ruling class are  making the whole planet ill, and there’s no magic pill for that.

Arthouse socialism

One accessibility issue about which there would be no question whatever in  socialism is that of copyright, so the young Swedes recently convicted of  copyright infringement over their Pirate Bay file-sharing site would have no  case to answer in a society of common ownership (‘Court jails Pirate Bay  founders’, BBC Online, 17 April). Their defence, that their web server did  not contain illicit material, was always a long shot. True, they weren’t  handling ‘stolen’ goods themselves, but the court took the view that they  were doing the equivalent of standing outside a house full of silverware and  directing passers-by towards the open windows.

Socialists, as indeed many workers, have little sympathy for the fat cats of  Hollywood and the music industry. Most writers, actors and musicians make no  money out of their creativity anyway, so the property laws do nothing for  them. Indeed, by giving workers so little respite from wage-slavery, it  could be argued that capitalism prevents much art and science from ever  being born in the first place, as well as narrowing the full spectrum of  human creativity to a thin channel of bland commercial profitability. Who  can say how many Mozarts, Mendels or Modiglianis the world has killed or  incapacitated through poverty, wars or sheer overwork?

The Swedish defendants are probably too busy organising their appeal to note  an amusing story in the British papers which shows that even the police don’t  take music copyright seriously. The Wiltshire police have just had a £32,000  bill from the Performing Rights Society for the playing of music in  Wiltshire nicks (‘Music bill forces police off beat’, BBC Online, 17 April).  Now the boys in blue are banned from their boogie boxes. Presumably now they’ll  just have to use their whistles.

No-spam socialism

Trivial point maybe, but socialism wouldn’t see much in the way of spam, the  background white noise of online capitalism, since commercial advertising of  products wouldn’t exist, nor any dodgy Nigerian money scams. So most emails  would presumably be legitimate, apart possibly from those tedious ‘Hey, this  is hilarious, send it on!’ posts which in any case only prove that workers  under capitalism will resort to any tactic to waste their bosses’ time at  work. The environmental significance of this irritating feature of  cyber-capitalism has now been highlighted by a new report which for the  first time relates spam to carbon emissions. Every year, says the report, 62  trillion spam messages are sent globally, representing 33 billion kilowatt  hours of energy and 17 million tonnes of CO2 emissions (BBC Online, 16  April). When a spam site was recently closed, the resulting 70 percent drop  in global spam was equivalent to taking 2.2 million cars off the road,  according to the antivirus company McAfee. Next day, of course, another site  was up and running instead. On with the show.

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