After Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of North America I wrote a commentary on the disaster and the feeble attempts to fix things and concluded that ‘The irresponsibility of the capitalist system dwarfs Nero’s fiddling while Rome burned. The problem in New Orleans reveals the malaise affecting the entire country, one that cannot be solved with more civil engineering works nor dams, earthworks, concrete barriers or anything of the sort. It is a profound social problem that requires ending the economic system that has degenerated into a massive death machine, and unfit to manage its own industrial apparatus’.
Seeming little has changed since then except for the worse. Similar to Katrina, the devastation, destruction and death caused by the hurricane that swept into the East Coast far inland attests to the ongoing dysfunction of capitalism, for it is the effects of global warming, long scientifically identified as the cause of dramatic changes in the weather patterns, coupled with uncontrolled technological changes and urbanization gone berserk.
Capitalism is the fault. It’s most fundamental configuration orientation of production for profit, with at best, marginal considerations for the human population it dominates, has imparted its primary path of development. That path is urban sprawl, inadequate infrastructure to accompany such urbanization, the so called ‘automobile culture’ to enable ever more sprawl, with individual dwellings facilitating the endless expansion of home appliances. The whole confronts us with an overwhelming plethora of cars, gadgets, and gismos which fits the sorcerer and his apprentice story to a tee. It constitutes an unending quest for the expansion of commodity markets.
The results are the capitalist cities and urbanization and the vulnerability of cities, of which New York is the quintessential example. This megalopolis is the template for disaster as a result of mindless capitalist city-building.
In these situations a critical element like the subway system is a disaster waiting to happen. The entire complex requires pumping water out of tunnels, storm or no storm 24/7. Ground water seepage requires this. Maintenance of the system is a growing and perpetual burden on the resources of the city and state. The extensive electrical grids, with numerous grade level and below grade transformer vaults are vulnerable. Power plants are characteristically coastal facilities and thus vulnerable. Residential communities of lightly constructed dwellings occupying close proximity to beaches, promoted for their recreational ambience by real-estate/builders interests. Roadways, with their underpasses, tunnels and viaducts, together with corroded bridges are equally vulnerable.
One could go on and on listing vulnerabilities that are posed by capitalist cities. But it must be emphasized that these are capitalist cities, formations created primarily to promote the production of commodities. They are the products of an irrational social apparatus that has gone mad and largely out of control responsive only to the profit motive.
This was recognized very early in the development of scientific socialist thought. Friedrich Engels in his work entitled The Housing Question, 1872, recognized the fundamental conflict when he noted: ‘The housing question can be solved only when society has been sufficiently transformed for a start to be made towards abolishing the contrast between town and country, which has been brought to its extreme point by present-day capitalist society. Far from being able to abolish this antithesis, capitalist society on the contrary is compelled to intensify it day by day.’
In writing of fundamental change, Engels goes on to note ‘In the beginning, however, each social revolution will have to take things as it finds them and do its best to get rid of the most crying evils with the means at its disposal.’ He was writing of the erroneous housing theories that were being bandied about by contemporary reformers. But Engels remarks offer us guidance in the present predicament.
Under socialism, the Socialist Industrial Union government will confront the current problems of capitalist cities and will have to deal with them as best it can. And to that extent it will be far more effective because the motive of production for use will displace production for profit, and with it will fall away the conditions that encumber the productive apparatus of society in such a way that all of the resources of production will be brought to bear upon the residual problems capitalism created, focused largely on the cities.
That natural disasters will occur under socialism is obvious. But prevention of potential calamities will receive top priority, for the welfare of the society will be paramount. What the decisions of the SIU government will be we can only speculate for that is not our job. But rational thinking now, can only imagine that a good deal of gradual dismantling and rebuilding in far more rational terms, of housing, transportation, power resources, and ecological consideration will govern. Only the physical limitations of science and the productive forces of society will be the constraints for the wellbeing of society as a whole will be the single dominant motivation for the construction and development of habitation and communities.
Bernard. Bortnick, Texas, USA
Reply. You make some good points. But we don’t agree that socialist society will be run by industrial unions or, as you put it, that there will be an ‘SIU government’. Quite apart from the word ‘government’ which we don’t like because it suggests rule over people, we talk simply of a democratically elected socialist administration, leaving it up to the members of socialist society to decide what the basic units will be. – Editors.
Beamers and bouncers
Regarding the article on sport in the November Socialist Standard, the beamer is a delivery outlawed in cricket today. The umpire may order the bowler out of the attack immediately. The bouncer though I predict will prevail in socialist society, I just hope I am fit enough and young enough to bowl one when such a state exists. Whilst we cannot control the weather, cricket clubs down to the smallest hamlet would enjoy proper facilities to cover the wicket and sight screens. Batters playing on better surfaces and having more leisure time to train would have more opportunity to practice playing the bouncer, either by taking evasive action or hooking or pulling it. Whilst socialist society is unlikely to throw up any characters like Jardine it may well spawn a budding Larwood or Voce or Lilley or Thompson, and a Viv Richards to counter them. Who knows, without market forces clubs may well revert to playing in all white.
Jon Brown (by email)