Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

Wheat Is Burned as 500 Million
People Face Starvation

(18 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 11, 18 March 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

According to the food experts, there are 500,000,000 people in Europe and Asia who, between now and next harvest, will face dangerous malnutrition or actual starvation. The food shortage will, as always, hit the poorest the hardest.

There are several reasons for this critical scarcity of food, and varied as are these reasons they are all the fault of the capitalist system, with its imperialist wars and its profit motivation.

For the war-devastated farmlands in Europe and Asia made useless for food production, we have the imperialists of the world to thank. For the bomb-ruined docks and transportation facilities which are holding up what food can be produced and could be distributed, we owe our profound gratitude to the same source. For the dislocation of world trade and industry and imperialist politics which, for instance, compels Argentinians to burn wheat instead of the coal they cannot get (U.S. imperialism is withholding fuel from Argentina), we must doff our hats to the war-waging powers of the world.

For the uncontrolled floods that ruined the crops in parts of China, for the drought that blighted crops in India and North Africa, diminishing further the food supplies of the world, capitalism must also, be blamed. Scientists who placed war on the high technological plane of World War II, culminating in the atom bomb, could devise controls for floods and counter-measures to droughts to save crops from ruin and – people from starvation – if these scientists served a system dedicated to human needs and not to power and profits.

Finally, the operation of private enterprise in this country, where food is most bountiful, has led to withholding from human consumption millions of bushels of wheat and other grains. In July, 1945, there were an estimated 1,404,000,000 bushels of wheat on hand in the United States. Six months later, half of that stock pile simply “disappeared.” It will reappear when higher prices have been forced, or, better still, when the powerful farm lobby has induced Congress to end all price controls. Another 205,000,000 bushels of precious wheat were fed to animals and fowl because there was more money in meat, eggs and poultry.

The 500,000,000 hungry humans in the world are, therefore, the tribute we pay for continuing the capitalist system, the price for allowing the ascendancy of the power of money over the needs of man.

UNRRA Doesn’t Deliver

Back in November, 1943, the United Nations created the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, ostensibly to stem the ravages of disease and hunger among the war-torn peoples of the world. But, as always when it comes to human needs, the governments talk big and do little. UNRRA has functioned insufficiently, furthermore coupling food and medicine with politics. For the first quarter of 1946 UNRRA was to have been provided with 1,200,000 tons of wheat for use abroad, considered necessary for a minimum safety diet of 2,500 calories a day. Only half of that tonnage was delivered, while more than half of the people of Europe are subsisting on 1,500 calories a day and less. Of much needed food, oils and fats, UNRRA has shipped practically nothing to speak of.

The recent gestures emanating from the White House are a mockery of the urgent needs of the hungry. On February 6 the President promised to send 6,000,000 tons of wheat to feed 2,000 calories a day to 50,000,000 people – only one-tenth of the estimated needy. His plan was to divert grain from alcoholic beverages and beer, to increase the extraction rate in making flour, to control inventories against hoarding, to stop feeding grain to animals, and so on. Then for three or four weeks nothing happened, because, after all, Mr. Truman is not hungry.

Next we heard that ex-President Hoover, mixer of food and politics of post-World War I fame, was called in by the President. The former President was going to go Truman one better. He would ship 8,000,000 tons of wheat to feed 67,000,000 people – still a long cry from what is needed. Mr. Hoover’s idea is to put famine relief on a voluntary basis. Let the American people pull in their belts to the extent of twenty- five per cent of their present consumption. They eat too much, anyway, thinks Mr. Hoover. Whereupon Mr. Hoover prepared to go to Europe, leaving the problem exactly where it was, except for the fact that UNRRA representatives from all participating nations are scheduled to meet for a talk-fest this month.

Price of Grains Goes Up

No, begging your pardon, it is not correct to say that the problem remains exactly as before. The government has decided to increase the prices of grains. Reporting the glad news, the New York Times wrote:

“The government announced tonight increases in the prices of six major grains as a step to carrying out the country’s program to help feed hungry people.”

It would be very hard for a starving Italian or Hindu to figure out how making food dearer will make it easier to feed him. Nevertheless wheat is now up three cents a bushel, corn similarly, oats two cents, barley four cents, and so on.

Still another steal is in the making up on Capitol Hill. The question of renewing subsidies to big business is coming before Congress. The administration, including ex-OPA head Bowles, is urging the continued underwriting of big business to the extent of well over two billion dollars. Of this sum more than half has been paid to the big food interests. This gift of the taxpayers’ money to big business was presumably to keep prices down. But by Bowles’ own admission last year, the consumer benefited by only $378,000,000 out of a $1,250,000,000 subsidy paid the food industry, which means that prices did not stay down to anywhere near the extent warranted by the subsidy. The government wants this outrageous graft to continue.

This is the way a capitalist government evades the life-or-death problem of feeding 500,000,000 people, hungry and starving. Feeding profits to the capitalists is hardly the way.

The working people of America should be concerned about the famished of Europe and Asia, especially since the great majority are their class brothers. Between now and next harvest, instead of spring and summer rejuvenation and bloom, millions will die of starvation and disease unless they receive immediate help.

What must be done? Hoards of grain held for higher prices must be seized and released for shipment. The government seized plants to break strikes. Let it seize food to prevent starvation. The Army and Navy must be made to disgorge food from their overstocked warehouses to provide relief abroad. The black market supplies must be unearthed and similarly utilized. No time can be lost. This IS a matter of life or death. Labor has to make these reasonable demands from the government at once.

Also, let the working people save what food they can and send it to their starving brothers. But let them do so on their own – not, as Hoover plans, through the medium of the capitalist government, which has evaded and stalled and increased the profits of the profiteers, while human lives hang in the balance. Let the unions organize a drive to send food to the stricken abroad, on the basis of humanity, international brotherhood and working class solidarity. These things can be done, and must be done at once.

For a permanent solution of the vital issue of food, for its equitable distribution and for its most abundant production, the big farm and food corporations must be nationalized and placed under workers’ control, all according to the plan and guidance of a workers’ government.

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 22 January 2019