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A TV Program: The Sanity of Socialism

A TV Program: The Sanity of Socialism

  • World Socialist Party US
    World Socialist Party US
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ARCHIVE: This is the script of a television program produced by members of our party and aired in Boston in 1975, reproduced from the journal of the WSPUS at that time — The Western Socialist.

We have published a number of radio scripts in these pages, as you know if you read The Western Socialist with any degree of fidelity. Now, we are pleased to put into print a script of a recent TV program that was aired live and in color on September 30 [1975] on Boston Channel 44 at 9 p.m. The show was of a half-hour duration with a panel of three speakers – Karla Ellenbogen, Mike Phillips and Len Fenton, all of Boston local, who, incidentally, all enjoyed the experience.

What is of some special significance is that the idea for the script was international. The Socialist Standard of June 1975 (our sister publication in Great Britain), devoted its entire issue to the theme ‘Pollution — Population — Resources’ and we borrowed copiously from this material. Of course, we had to de-Anglicize it a bit. This journal, plus the pamphlet recently pub­lished by our comrades of the Socialist Party of Canada, entitled A World of Abundance, served as excellent source material. The short paragraphs of the script allow for ad lib improvisation as suits the individual speaker.

So sit back, relax, and through the mind’s eye, watch the wide screen as the studio announces: ‘Tonight “Catch 44” belongs to the World Social­ist Party!’

The camera shows three members sitting along a raised table, a close-up draws a bead on M. Phillips, who begins.

As long as men have mined coal, they have suffered from pneumo­coniosis or black lung disease. The coal dust they inhale accumulates over time, forming lesions in the lungs comprising the dust itself and the tissues it has killed. The disease inhibits breathing and the transfer of oxygen to the blood, eventually making heavy work impossible. It causes coughing, short-windedness and, in advanced cases, death.

This may sound like ancient history. Actually, it is from the front page of a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal.

Another instance of industrial hazards that beset working people is the class action suit filed against the Johns-Manville Company, the leading processor of asbestos, on behalf of a group of former employees who claim that they have been exposed to potentially deadly asbestos. The suit alleges that ‘the company failed to safeguard its employees and failed to alert them to the possibility that asbestos is deleterious, dangerous, poi­sonous and highly harmful to a person’s body.’

We contend that producing commodities like coal and asbestos under conditions that may lead to ultimate death of the workers producing these commodities is insanity. On a more widespread scale we are also concerned about the general contamination of our planet’s ecology. There must be a better way. We want to talk about the sanity of socialism.

We shall approach our subject from three directions. Our first speaker will deal with pollution and the environment. The next speaker will deal with the topic of resources and answer the question: ‘Is there enough to go around?’ And finally we will discuss the fear of overpopulation.

So here is Len Fenton to tell us about the ‘sanity of socialism.’

The picture veers to the right and zooms in on the next speaker.

Thank you, Mike.

We are aware of the fact that the majority of the people oppose so­cialism, but we are equally aware that the majority is not acquainted, for the most part, with what the socialist case is all about. And one of the obstacles has always been the alleged urgency of things that seem to be of greater priority. There is always a crisis. These crises, such as war, un­employment, oppression of particular groups or other social grievances are always held to be more important. It is difficult for socialists not to feel irritated at times because the urgency is exactly the clue to the lack of comprehension of what the problem is about.

The latest crisis is the environment. In the last few years a movement has come on the scene to save the environment. The environment has become the great discovery of the past decade. It is being treated as if it were a territorial discovery and has been made into a new area of activity with departments set up in most com­munities and states to supervise ecological activities. The word ‘ecology’ has become a household term. Business enterprises have been formed to make a profit in this new arena. There is a Federal Environment Protec­tion Agency. And all have gotten on the bandwagon. The end of the world is at hand unless we do something about the environment!

The socialist feels that long before fighting pollution became a popular cause and the word ‘ecology’ a fashionable term, capitalism was indicted on this specific charge, along with many others. We maintained that as long as we had the relationships of a market economy, that is, the pro­duction of commodities to be sold for a profit — the environment be damned, profits come first.

Factories along the banks of rivers pouring their poisonous effluents into the water year in and year out — this was normalcy. Factories with their smokestacks belching noxious, toxic fumes into the atmosphere — this was business as usual. These are still typical symptoms of what is called prosperity — people are working, getting wages, everything is ‘normal.’

But what do the environmentalists advocate? They deal with all the visible effects but continue to be blithely unaware of root causes. Sure, they can slap a fine on a factory that pollutes — they can chastise a public utility that blackens the sky. But what motivates business is not the same concern that our ecologist friends have.

The conflict of interests comes up constantly. When the Sierra Club, a group of environmentalists, was confronted with the fact that its funds were invested in companies that are among the prime polluters, its re­sponse was that they had to be practical.

Of course, on the other hand, the prime concern of business is to keep the costs of production as low as possible. Profits have to be of paramount priority.

We are convinced, based on the facts available to anyone, that in our enlightened, technological age, almost all our problems can be solved. A planet fit for human beings to inhabit has become the question of ultimate survival.

Our case boils down to this simple premise: Let us eliminate the rela­tionships of commodity production — let us produce goods to serve the needs of humanity instead of producing in order to make profits — let us organize our world on a democratically planned base instead of working for the benefit of the stockholders — let us harness the natural wealth of the universe and match it with the trained technology of the workers who live on this planet.

All of the solutions of these problems would then fall into place. Thus, we are now able to eliminate waste. The waste of war. The waste of dupli­cation on the part of many competing companies. The waste of countless unnecessary industries such as banking, insurance, and advertising.

We contend that potentially the problem of production has already been solved. We can produce enough food and in infinite abundance. We can build as many homes as may be needed. We can fabricate endless miles of clothig and in infinite variety. And ALL WITHOUT POLLUTION.

To deal with the question of resources, may I introduce Karla Ellenbogen.

The camera now backs away to view the entire group and then closes in to center on Karla Ellenborgen.

Thank you, Len —

And now we come to the question: ‘Is there enough?’ We are told that the mineral resources are running out. Consumption is running ahead of production. On this score, socialists are not interested in a system of production and distribution that ignores the basic purpose of satisfying social and human needs in favor of profits.

Any science, in any field of production which does not take into ac­count its social background and human purpose, is no science but merely technology.

The benefits of science and technology have yet to reach the multi­tudes. They have arrived only for a few people who own and control their operations.

Much scientific information available in many books on a variety of subjects concerning the natural and mineral resources of the world con­cludes that there is no shortage. No shortage of oil, coal or agricultural land; no shortage of any form of natural wealth, including energy.

Capitalism, which is based on a market economy, has been known to create shortages in order to boost prices. In order to attempt to affect prices, capitalism will curtail production, oft times squandering natural resources.

Many resources are considered in short (sometimes dangerously low) supply due only to the fact that they cannot be brought to the market profitably.

As a specific example: There is a question of the availability of man­ganese, a mineral that has become important in many manufacturing pro­cesses. A recent article discloses that manganese is available in nodule form throughout areas of the Pacific Ocean. But at present it is too costly to bring to the market.

Every assessment of wealth is judged in this way. It would not be judged in this way in a socialist society.

The resource that commands the most attention at the present time is energy. Right now fossil fuel, mostly in the form of petroleum, is the dominant source of energy. Mainly because in the recent past few genera­tions it has been relatively available on the basis of supply as well as cost.

And under the ground lies a huge reservoir of coal and shale, largely untapped due to the uneconomic mining and processing involved. However, petroleum is getting more and more expensive due to real or imaginary shortages or political jockeying by the oil producing countries versus the major multinational oil companies. And everyone and his brother and cousin is searching for alternative sources of the stuff that will run his automobile or heat his furnace at home.

This can be a fun game: An example of another source of clean, non-­polluting energy is geothermal. In the permeable rocks beneath the earth’s surface, water is heated by molten magma creating steam. You have often seen pictures of the geyser ‘Old Faithful’ spouting a jet of steam with age-old regularity. This steam can be harnessed. It can be brought to the earth’s surface through bore holes and used to drive generators producing electricity. Once the steam has cooled and condensed it can be returned via other bore holes back to the permeable layer where it is again heated, returning to steam — and so the process continues in constant recycling.

Perfectly practical? Too good to be true? What’s the hitch? It sounds too much like sanity.

Let’s look at solar energy. And we shall be hearing a lot more on this subject, if the recent story in the NY Times is a harbinger of things to come:

The Energy Research and Development Agency, a federal bureau, states that solar energy can replace the equivalent of more than 4 billion barrels of oil a day and that could represent one-quarter of this nation’s energy use.

This will come to pass in the year 2020, the article states. Scientists tell us that the sun radiates over the Sahara Desert, if converted with only 5% efficiency, would be able to supply 40 times the electric power now consumed on the globe.

And we haven’t mentioned energy from harnessing the tides and the winds, energy from chemical conversion, or energy from nuclear processes. And — don’t laugh! – there is a scheme to manufacture natural gas using manure.

No, we do not have to worry about shortages. We have to learn not to think in terms of money.

Our next speaker is going to tackle the fear of overpopulation. So back to Mike.

The camera shifts again.

‘The Politics of Food’ is the title of a column written in The New York Times, August 27, 1975 by their foreign affairs correspondent C. L, Sulzberger. I quote:

Russia, China and the United States are all involved in the politics of food. The Soviet grain crop has fallen far short of requirements with the result that Moscow is buying heavily overseas. China for the first time is self-sufficient in its food output; although it exports costly rice and im­ports cheaper grain has little margin on which to count. As a result it is purchasing more grain abroad. Even more significant, it is cutting expenditures in defense in order to increase investments in agriculture.

On the same page is a huge advertisement of Monsanto Chemical Co. with the frightening legend boldly proclaiming: ‘There is not enough food to go around.’ Of course, they are trying to sell fertilizer.

There is a theory that comes up over and over again. It states that population, if not checked, would always increase faster than the available food supply. And further, this Malthusian theory argues that the way na­ture checks this imbalance is through war, poverty and pestilence.

Some people fall for this and conclude that famine is, in a way, a good thing. It keeps the growth of population in check.

Actually, the theory is false. It assumes a premise that does not hold true. The fact is that today, not in the future, man has reached a potential super-abundance of all of the requirements to sustain life. Famine in 1975 is inexcusable.

Technologically, modern agriculture in the United States alone could produce enough food to feed the entire world.

An article in The Wall Street Journal of September 2, 1975 discusses a record rice crop in the U. S. The problem arising as a result of this record crop is not how to get it to the people who need it but rather its effect on the price-cost margin, which might be uncomfortably thin for the farmers. What a sad commentary on the failure of the capitalist system to meet human needs notwithstanding the wonderful technological achievements of this century.

Until very recently the U. S. Government was subsidizing farmers not to produce, and many people can remember when prices got so low farmers were dumping potatoes and burning oranges.

At the present time there is a bumper crop of wheat and the farm capitalists are eager to sell wherever they can. Soviet Russia is in need of wheat, but the current hue and cry is that selling to Russia will keep prices of wheat products high in the U. S. This is the dilemma of the market. There is never a question of productivity.

The application of science to soil — even soil-less agriculture — gives the lie to the Malthusian premise about food supply.

And just around the corner stands the prospect of desalinization of sea water on a greater than experimental basis. We literally will be able to irrigate the deserts of the earth and produce food anywhere.

The Island of Aruba, just off the coast of Venezuela, is a Dutch pos­session and as dry as a desert. But it also has oil refineries. And the Dutch Shell Oil Company has built a plant that uses the abundance of ocean water, getting rid of the salt it contains — and presto! They have con­verted an arid island into a tourist paradise complete with tropical gar­dens. This same type of application of science and inventiveness may be observed in Israel where scientists have been successful in making a dif­ficult terrain into fruitful farm areas.

Dr. Commoner of Washington University in St. Louis, writing in the August-September 1975 issue of Ramparts, concludes that overpopulation does not breed poverty but rather poverty breeds overpopulation. He states that ‘starvation is usually not caused by the insufficient production of food in the world but by social factors that prevent the required distribution of food.’

We may say of the food problem, as we have said of the energy problem: We are not facing some final exhaustion of the world’s sources of food. The economist who sees capitalism as the best of all possible worlds says that we are simply short of capital. Any worldwide solution to the food problem will require massive recapitalization. We socialists say the solution is obvious: Produce only to satisfy human needs and wants.

The camera view widens to include the whole group.

The issue is clear. Improvisation within the limits of the capitalist mode of production cannot solve the problem of over-population. Only the sanity of socialism can offer the answer to this fearful problem.

Now may I return to Karla for some concluding remarks.

The camera closes on Karla.

What will happen to the environment when working men and women decide to establish socialism? We cannot give a detailed account, but cer­tain things are clear. Instead of society being hell-bent on profit, the prime motivation is providing the population with food, clothing and shelter (with a big plus) at a level that makes sense in every sense:

Energy — that which is the most efficient and environmentally satisfy­ing at the same time.

Transportation — no competing brands of vehicles; only the best will do. Probably more public transportation, but with a view to comfort and convenience.

Manufacturing — any process that despoils nature and endangers man obviously will be discontinued. The inventiveness of our age will overcome any short-range difficulties.

It may sound strange, but really what we are advocating is sanity. We call it socialism.

The camera once more shows the group with our address running at the bottom of the screen.

Len: This is our program. Thank you for watching and if you would like more information on what you have heard or if you wish to know more of our activities, please write to (speaker holds up a copy of The Western Socialist) 295 Hunt­ington Avenue for a sample copy of our journal.

Superimpose Catch 44 logo on scene to final fade.

Voice: ‘You have been viewing Catch 44 – a Public Service Project that tonight belonged to the World Socialist Party.’