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Amid a world of horrors…
The fight for a new society

February 14, 2003 | Page 8

WE LIVE in a world that puts profits and power before people's lives. In this article based on his book Why You Should Be a Socialist, ALAN MAASS looks at why--and explains the alternative that socialists put forward.

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IT WAS February 1991, and U.S. and allied warplanes were pulverizing Iraq in the most intense bombing campaign in the history of war until that point. That was the moment that George Bush Sr. chose to explain his vision for the world's future--that the U.S. would preside over a "new world order" of peace and prosperity.

A decade later, those words seem like a cruel joke. According to the United Nations' Human Development Report, income per person in half the countries of the world was lower at the end of the 1990s than at the beginning.

Among the three-quarters of the world's population that lives in developing countries, more than half lack access to safe sewers, one-third don't have clean water, one-quarter lack adequate housing and one-fifth have no modern health services of any kind.

Whole areas of the globe seem to have been left to die by the capitalist system. In the desperately poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the average household consumes 20 percent less than it did two decades ago. One out of every five children dies before their fifth birthday, and half the population lives below the poverty line.

A couple of decades ago, it might have seemed like the poverty on this scale was confined to remote regions untouched by the modern economy. That isn't the case today. It's not unusual, even in central Africa, to find modern factories built by Western corporations side by side with miserable shantytowns--because the jobs don't pay a living wage.

The U.S.-based multinational Nike has more than a dozen factories in the Southeast Asian country of Indonesia, pumping out millions of pairs of shoes a month. The workers who produce shoes for the immensely profitable Nike are among the 1.3 billion people in the world who survive on less than $1 a day.

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PAPA BUSH'S promise of a new era of peace hasn't exactly worked out either. In the decade since February 1991, not one day has passed in which the U.S. government has not had military forces committed around the world in one conflict or another.

Iraq alone has kept the Pentagon killing machine busy. According to the United Nations (UN), more than 1 million Iraqis have died in the 1991 Gulf War and the 12 years since. But only a minority were victims of bombs and guns. By far the majority died lingering and terrible deaths as a result of UN sanctions backed up by the U.S.

And this is before the new Bush administration launches a new war--with more cruise missile strikes and bombing runs in the first 48 hours of the assault as were used in the entire Gulf War of 1991, according to leaks of the Pentagon's war plans.

There is no other way to describe this U.S. war except as genocide. And what is the justification? The Iraqi people are being put through hell because the U.S. government wants to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

This is the same dictator who came to power after a CIA-backed coup in 1963. U.S. officials had no problems with Saddam when they handed over lists of Iraqi socialists to be hunted down and massacred by his Ba'athist Party regime. The U.S. backed Iraq when it went to war against Iran in 1980, and it looked the other way when the regime used chemical weapons against the Kurdish minority in Iraq.

U.S. policy changed only after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990--threatening the flow of Middle East oil. "We need the oil," Bush Sr. said as U.S. warships steamed toward the Persian Gulf. "It's nice to talk about standing up for freedom. But Kuwait and Saudi Arabia aren't exactly democracies."

Wars are a constant feature in the history of capitalism. They are the product of the ruthless competition for profit at the heart of the free-market system--the result of economic competition between bosses growing into political and military competition.

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INEQUALITY ISN'T new. There have been rich and poor for thousands of years. What's different about the world today--as compared to, for example, the world our ancestors lived in 200 years ago--is that the resources exist to end poverty immediately.

Take the example of food production. According to the UN, more than 6 million children under the age of five die each year of malnutrition and its related diseases. The number 6 million has a terrible significance in the modern world--that is the number of Jews murdered by Germany's Nazis in the Holocaust during the Second World War. A Holocaust of the world's children takes place every year--because of hunger.

What could be the cause of such a horror? Has there been some worldwide war of devastation or an international natural disaster that makes it impossible to produce enough food to go around? In fact, the opposite is true. There's enough food in storage today to feed all the people in the world.

And this is food that already exists. According to one study, if the useable land of the world were cultivated effectively, the earth could feed more than 40 billion people--far more than are ever likely to inhabit the planet.

The sick reality is that, instead of being organized to feed the hungry, the system of capitalism is organized around not feeding everyone. The owners and executives who control food production have an interest in keeping up prices--and therefore profits. That means limiting the amount of food for sale--because when there's too much food for sale, prices and profits fall.

So the food bosses have convinced governments around the advanced world to store "surplus" food. In a world in which 6 million children starve to death, one-fifth of all food produced in the U.S. is stockpiled, bulldozed or burned. As the German poet Bertolt Brecht wrote: "Famines do not simply occur--they are organized by the grain trade."

In the same way, you can say that poverty and inequality don't simply occur. They are organized by a tiny class of rulers at the top of society that benefits from the whole setup--that increases its wealth and power at the expense of the rest of us.

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SOCIALISM IS based on a very simple idea--that we should use the vast resources of society to meet people's needs. It seems so obvious--that if people are hungry, they should be fed; that if people are homeless, we should build homes for them; that if people are sick, all the advances in medical technology should be available to them. But capitalism produces the opposite.

A socialist society would take the vast wealth of the rich and use it to meet the basic needs of all society. We'll take all the money wasted on weapons and other useless products that are only important to the rich, and use it to end poverty and homelessness and all other forms of scarcity.

A socialist society would also take away the ruling class's economic control over the world. The means of production--the factories and offices and mines and so on--would be owned by all of society. Rather than important economic decisions being left to the chaos of the free market and the blind competition of capitalists scrambling to make a profit, under socialism, the majority would plan what to do democratically.

That's a world in which people would become fully alive and able to pursue their hopes and dreams--in a way they never will under capitalism.

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