Life and Times – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
A group of us recently did some leafleting in my part of the world. We were putting a leaflet through people’s doors entitled ‘A Different Way of Looking at Things’. It suggested that, though the word ‘socialism’ might conjure up ideas the recipients did not share, if they took up the leaflet’s invitation to click on its QR code and look at the Socialist Party’s website, they might find the ideas we were putting across sensible and attractive.
At one house, just as I was about to put a leaflet through the letter box, an elderly man came out and took the leaflet from me. He glanced at it and said: ‘The trouble with you lot is that all you see is what’s bad, you just don’t see the good things. You don’t see how much things have improved since I was a kid. You don’t know how lucky you are’. I told him I understood what he was saying but thought it would still be useful for him to read the leaflet and, if he could, to look at the website. But going on to the next house, what he had said started to give me food for thought, since I couldn’t deny that at a very basic level he was right. Most people’s standard of living is definitely higher than it was, say, in the 1930s, 40s or 50s. Most people have a lot more of the everyday things that make life more comfortable now compared to then.
And there have been a lot of what might be called ‘social’ improvements too. I’d recently read, for example, that the Championship football team, Watford, had players of 10 different nationalities in their team. It’s surely a step forward for people from so many different backgrounds to be cooperating as a team and idolised by the team’s largely British supporters. I’d also just listened to an episode of ‘Desert Island Discs’ with ‘The Repair Shop’ man, Jay Blades, talking movingly about the open, unabated and taken-for-granted racism he suffered as a boy – something dramatically less in evidence now. Again a famous footballer has recently been on trial for allegedly exercising ‘coercive control’ over his partner, a trial that would have been unimaginable in the 40s, 50s or 60s. And, just recently too, ecclesiastical child abuse from the 1960s and 70s has been exposed rather than ignored as it would have been in the past. And there is today, as never in the early lives of many receiving our leaflet, widespread and open coverage of LGBT matters. Who could have imagined all these things?
And yet, and yet … Well, there are also so many things which are not right in the world around us and which could not exist in the world of common ownership and free access that socialists advocate and want to see.
In Britain today, for example, according to a recent Money Advice Trust report, people are skipping meals ‘just to keep the lights on’, and around 20 percent of adults, or 10.8m people, are behind on one or more household bills. A survey by Opinium found that 5.6m people have gone without food in the last months as a result of the cost of living crisis, nearly 8m have ‘sold a personal or household item to help cover bills’, and there has been a massive increase in the number of people forced to use food banks.
In the USA, the most economically advanced country in the world, 3.5m people are homeless, while 18.6 million homes stand vacant, and the number of Americans dying while homeless has risen dramatically (by 77 percent) in recent years from a variety of causes, but many just succumbing to the cold. The situation is even worse in less ‘advanced’ parts of the world. In Nigeria, for example, 82m people live on less than a dollar a day, and in Lebanon electricity, clean water, medicine and fuel are in short supply and the currency has lost 90 percent of its value with inflation in triple digits and more than 80 percent of the country’s population living below the poverty line.
But small beer this compared with the suffering in Yemen, where, according to the UN, 8 years of civil war have killed over 150,000 people, with more than 227,000 others having died as a result of famine and lack of healthcare facilities. Then there’s the drought in Somalia where the BBC News website reported that ‘young children are dying in growing numbers’ and told harrowing stories of suffering in which almost two-thirds of young children and pregnant women were suffering from acute malnutrition with the food situation being aggravated by a complex war between the militant Islamist group, al-Shabab, and the government. A 32-year-old mother of four living in a camp is quoted as saying: ‘No water, no food, a hopeless life. Above all, my children are starving. They are on the verge of death. Unless they get some food, I’m afraid they will die.’
More broadly, as reported by a network of charities from 75 countries in an open letter to coincide with the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York, in the world as a whole ‘1.6 billion people live in inadequate housing (slum conditions) and 100 million are unhoused, a full third of the human population does not have reliable drinking water… and a staggering 345 million people are now experiencing acute hunger, a number that has more than doubled since 2019’. And all this without going into the ongoing and unpredictable effects of climate change, the persistence of deadly diseases such as Covid 19, and the untold terror and suffering caused by wars such as the one in Ukraine.
One of the signatories to the charities’ letter mentioned above, Mohanna Ahmed Ali Eljabaly of the Yemen Family Care Association, wrote: ‘It is abysmal that with all the technology in agriculture and harvesting techniques today we are still talking about famine in the 21st century.’ Though that is absolutely true, the charities’ proposed solution (‘Those with the power and money to change this must come together to better respond to current crises and prevent and prepare for future ones’), is a hopeless one. While the techniques and resources are indeed available to prevent famine and satisfy all reasonable needs, in the profit-driven society (capitalism) that exists throughout the world today, human welfare can never be a priority. In the socialist society of free access based on the principle of ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need’ which we urgently need, any failure of crops, for example, through drought or any such natural calamity will be dealt with by food being made available to those who need it where they need it rather than people being left to die horrific deaths from starvation.
I could not of course say all this to my interlocutor on the doorstep, but I suppose I could hope that he clicked on the leaflet’s QR code and read all about it in the Socialist Standard.