A Socialist Labor Party Statement—

Shortages—Whose Fault?

Recently, in discussing the “energy crisis” and his role as head of the Federal Energy Office, William E. Simon stated that, if and when the Arab oil embargo ended, his major concern would be “not letting the American people go to sleep again.”

His clear implication was that the basic cause of the “energy crisis” lay with “the American people,” and, accordingly, so did the solution to the problem. He confirmed that when he added:

“They cannot continue to live their wastrel ways. Americans waste 30 to 40 percent of their energy sources and have to go through a permanent change in lifestyle.”

Simon’s charge that “the American people”—the overwhelming majority of whom are workers and their families—live profligate, dissolute lives that result in an excessive and unwarranted drain on the nation’s finite natural resources—specifically, energy resources—is despicable and obscene. It attempts to place the onus for the wanton destruction and ruthless devastation wrought by a ruling class lusting for profit on the chief victims of its ravenous appetite for profit—the workers themselves, who with each passing day are exploited of an increasing share of the wealth they produce.

Simon is not alone in his effort to place the blame on the workers—though the term workers is rarely, if ever, used. Thus, on New Year’s Day, The New York Times, in an editorial entitled “Resolution for a New Era,” unctuously declared: “With 1973, an era died, an era of profligacy unprecedented in human experience when most Americans embarked on an orgy of consumption, following the lean years of the Depression and World War II.”

The editorial went on to state that if the nation and its leadership reacted wisely, there would be a “rebirth” in 1974 “of an old virtue, thrift,” as well as the “development of a new national ethic dedicated, to the conservation of rapidly vanishing resources…which generations of Americans have heedlessly taken for granted.”

The New Year’s Day editorial in this plutocratic capitalist mouthpiece was not a lonesome cry in the wilderness. It was part of a concerted and continuing effort on the part of the Times. Several weeks earlier, its vice president and one of its leading columnists, James Reston, was mournfully discussing “The Disorder in the World,” and the extent to which “selfish interests” were responsible for the terrible things that were happening. And whom did he cite as his first example of such “selfish interests”? He cited “the British miners and train drivers, who have heard of the energy crisis, [and] think this is a good time to get what they want.”

On January 3, another of the Times’ leading correspondents, Anthony Lewis, approvingly commented on Simon’s statement (cited above), though he bemoaned the fact that neither Simon nor any other government spokesman had explained to “the public at large” how to end the “40 percent energy ‘waste’ ” or how to make “ ‘a permanent change in lifestyle.’ ”

On the same day Leonard Silk, one of the Times’ economic “experts” and a member of its editorial board, also got into the act. Although at one point he did say that the “shortages” currently plaguing the world are “chiefly the result of unenlightened self-interest by government, businesses and individuals,” he soon got around to citing such causal examples as the “conflict between the Conservative government and the British coal miners, trainmen and other workers, bitter over their low pay and smoldering with class hatred”; the “public demand and…hard industrial selling” in the United States and truckers blocking highways while demanding more fuel, etc.

Preachments From Profiters

Another who added his voice, via the op-ed page of The New York Times, to the call for an end to the “kind of competitive, conspicuous and wasteful consumption that has ruled our lives” was one Louis B. Lundborg. He suggested that the energy crisis was a “blessing in disguise,” an “early warning” to mend our ways. Lundborg, incidentally, is a retired chairman of the board of the Bank of America, an institution hardly notable for a lack of self-interest. Little wonder that in offering the suggestion that the “U.S. can get along with less and like it,” he saw no reason to debate or discuss “what really caused the crunch, who was responsible, whether indeed the crisis itself is genuine or has been exaggerated to serve political or special-interest purposes, etc….”

No doubt, Lundborg had no desire to be handicapped by causes in offering solutions to the problems he was discussing. Had he discussed the probable or possible causes, he might have found it a bit silly to suggest that “the collective management insight and administrative skill of our great economic machine…[and]…the same organizational genius that conquered the need for production will be able to have the same success in achieving a more stable and rational economy.”

In short, he expects the outmoded, profit-motivated, competitive and class-divided capitalist system that has created the mess to get us out of it. If there are to be any changes—and references to change are often made without delineating them—he expects them to be made within the framework of the existing capitalist system.

Inane & Inadequate

On the rare occasion when specific “corrective” measures are proposed they prove to be, at best, inane. Thus, in another editorial entitled “Toward a New Ethic,” The New York Times (Jan. 6) discussed what it called “an inescapable question,” namely: “How does a society of more than 200 million persons go about changing its lifestyle?” The editorial first discusses the subject in broad generalities, stressing the need for Americans to change “habits” and “preferences,” to “adapt” and “adjust” to the new circumstances, and to “respond” and “make...choices” that will “evolve the attitudes inherent in the formation of a new social ethic.” Then in an effort to give some meaning to this gibberish, the editorial finally offers a specific suggestion as to the kind of thing that has to be done, stating: “There is, for example, the choice to be made every day between walking, bicycling, taking mass transit and carpooling—or driving a large, eight cylinder car.”

Significantly, none of these intended-to-be-profound analyses of the current crisis contained a word about the great disparity between the tremendous quantities of wealth enjoyed by the idle exploiters, the tiny capitalist class that owns the means of life, and the hand-to-mouth existence of tens of millions of workers.

Significant Omissions

Not a word was mentioned about the impoverished millions in the ghettos of the nation.

Not a word was said about the millions of unemployed, or the fact that the number was growing.

Not a word was said about the waste and destruction of raw materials and natural resources by the anarchy of capitalist production—its planless, senseless duplication of effort in a mad, competitive drive by each capitalist to “capture” the market—or the bulk of it—for himself.

Not a word was mentioned about the manner in which every corporation is trying to exploit the existing circumstances to destroy its competition and entrench itself more solidly as one of the few that control the overwhelming proportion of the nation’s resources and wealth.

Nor was there a word said about the incredible waste and destruction, not only of finite resources, but of human life itself, through capitalist wars and continuous preparations for ever more destructive wars.

The issue confronting the workers of America is not the “energy crisis,” nor the shortages that threaten to grow worse. Those are merely the effects of the issue. The real issue is, shall we continue to tinker with those effects or shall we get rid of their cause—the capitalist system and replace it with socialism—a system of social ownership, democratic management and planned production for use.

The Crisis Behind the Crisis

The issue, literally, is survival. The harm and damage already done to all of us and to our environment by capitalism’s existence long past its progressive evolutionary stage is beyond exact calculation. If it is not abolished and replaced with a viable Socialist Cooperative Commonwealth by the politically and industrially organized working class, it will destroy itself. And there is the distinct possibility that it may destroy humanity and the world in the process.

There Is a Way Out

That can happen, but it need not happen. And it won’t happen if all who realize the need for a socialist reconstruction of society join with us to appeal to our proletarian brothers and sisters of every race, of every color, of every creed, to organize their latent political and industrial might as a class to accomplish the revolutionary change to socialism and thus guarantee the future safety and well-being of the human race.

(Reprinted from the Weekly People, January 9, 1974)

Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • www.slp.org • socialists@slp.org

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