The true banner of capitalism: 'sterilise the weak, abuse the poor, exploit the dependent'

Throughout Scandinavia, in France, the USA, Switzerland and in many other leading Capitalist nations, a vicious policy of 'eugenesia' has been promoted over the last 50 years. Its stated aim – nurturing the strong and cleansing the weak ('racial improvement') – is to ensure the health necessary to capitalistically exploitable labour whilst ridding society of its 'useless', 'burdensome' population. Deliberate inhumanity. With the development of 'genetic engineering' and with science held under lock and key by profiteering industry, the abuses perpetrated by capitalism on women, the poor and the sick can only become more insidious.

Racial 'purification' and 'cleansing' has always been a tool of the most reactionary and vicious regimes, but as the revelations in August 1997 of the forced sterilisation of at least 73,000 thousand women throughout Scandinavia (60,000 in Sweden, 11,000 in Denmark, over 1,000 in Finland and over 1,000 in Norway) from 1935 to 1976 show, such ideas are endemic in modern 'democratic', bourgeois societies.

Almost simultaneously, similar barbarities are reported to have been practised on more than 60,000 people in the United States from the 1940s up until the early 1970s. The American historian P Reilly states that about another 60,000 Americans were forcibly sterilised in the 1930s alone, and that 34 States had laws that could impose the practice. ‘Delinquents, cripples and the mentally ill’ – both men and women – were forcibly sterilised.

Laws drawn up around the world in the 1930s, show common contempt for working people by all imperialist states. The idea of an ideal biological type that Hitler drew together for German imperialism is an obvious example, but it was neither new nor did it die with him. In Canada, families of 700 out of 3,000 victims of forced sterilisation between 1928 and 1972 are taking action in the courts in Alberta and British Columbia. In the Swiss Canton of Vaud it was 1986 before the 1928 law permitting the sterilisation of the mentally 'retarded' was abolished. Swiss specialists are sure that such acts continue illegally. In Austria Green Party spokespersons say that such acts still take place behind closed doors. In France, this September, a report showed that 15,000 women in psychiatric institutions had been sterilised without their permission and that a de facto policy of eugenics 'could be' [sic!] developing. Forcible sterilisation is still legal in France.

These crimes take place because the ruling class, the owners of the wealth of nations, must intimidate those without property if they are to keep control. They hold the poor and oppressed in contempt and fear. By constantly asserting the 'inferiority' of certain sections of workers the rich class aim to split solidarity within the working class – especially the weak and unemployed – between those with 'desirable' and 'undesirable' physical and mental conditions. It also consequently provides them with sections of the population they can abuse and experiment on.

Where private property is well established this is done particularly by attacking the unemployed (and especially women), the uneducated, and sick workers – those, in short, who are not immediately suited to work for the owners of property. Where private property is still expelling earlier (eg aboriginal) users of the land, or preventing reoccupation, the idea of 'inferiority' again 'justifies' violence against the poor in order to seize that land.

In short, 'eugenesia' is a product of 'modern' capitalist class rule. This system of the rich enriching themselves, has no direct concern for those out of work, or indeed for the conditions of life of the workers outside working hours. Capitalism never has enough money for itself, it will certainly not give it away without a fight – which also explains why the Social Democratic dream of a democratic capitalism is both an illusion and a deceit.

Social democracy and eugenesia

The present European public outcry arose from the Swedish revelations. In Sweden, one example will suffice to show the arbitrary and repulsive nature of 'eugenesia' as a policy of dividing the workers. Maria Nordin, now 72, was classified as ‘intellectually inferior’ (not owning glasses she couldn't see the blackboard at school) and was sent to a school for 'deficient' pupils, where a Dr Ingvarsson told her that she 'was not very clever and cannot have children'. She signed a sterilisation order to escape from the institution. Her claim for compensation was rejected in 1996. Now, after this year’s newspaper headlines, the Minister of Social Affairs Margot Wallstrom says that ex-gratia payments – state charity – will be paid to victims: ie the state refuses to accept legal and moral responsibility of its own laws. She now passes off these horrors as a result of 'the spirit of those times', but we can see that they are also clearly in the spirit of the present.

Since Sweden has been the apple of the social democrats’ eye for many a year this exposure of eugenesia there has prompted a sweeping attack on any 'Left' politician or thinker by some establishment hacks. In a melodramatic, deliberately confusing and Eurocentric article in The Guardian (30 August 1997) by a Jonathan Freedland, it is suggested that 'the early history of British Socialism (from the 1880s to the 1930s) contained the seeds of the atrocities that were to come' (ie Nazism, Pol Pot and Swedish 'eugenesia'). In the process Freedland shamefully smears Darwin and Marx as the beginning of 'the trouble', and even Keynes' father is treated as a socialist (!) so to use his views on social selection to bolster the argument. It is true that many self-declared social democrats and 'liberals', clear allies of British Imperialism, flirted with eugenics whilst the mass of workers demanded proper wages and health care. Freedland actually states: 'Many of the left, were members of the upper middle-class or lower aristocracy...' and so it is easy for us to identify the real class basis of the reactionary ideas held by the Webbs and others. But Freedland does what the rich always try to do, constantly promote and introduce as socialist a few highly publicised ideas held by self-declared 'friends of the people' that are completely against the interest of the working class. In this way genuinely democratic working class ideas can be completely overlooked, a false perspective imposed and the reactionary abuses of private property let off the hook.

Social democratic politics are counter-revolutionary. Their ideas are reactionary. Social democracy arose on the back of the 'welfare state'. This was created by the ruling classes as a means of absorbing the militant demands of the masses of workers especially after the second world war. It has essentially been aimed at improving the quality and reliability of labour hired by business as world markets expanded. But where workers are too old, beyond cheap repair or quiescent, capitalism at best abandons them, and worse, often uses them as a means of social experiment. In this context 'eugenesia' is applied both to split and intimidate different sections of the working class and of course to reduce the costs of the 'welfare state' compromise. This murderous ideology - 'eugenesia'- clearly flows from protecting a system based on the accumulation of society's wealth in a few private hands.

Black and poor

In the USA the Kennedy Commission of 1972 documented 24,000 cases of forced sterilisation in the previous period, yet despite publicity of this sort, in 1973 the two children (aged 14 and 12) of a black couple – Mr and Mrs Reif – were forcibly sterilised while attending a hospital in Alabama (where neither social democracy, nor Keynes, Darwin nor Marx find much favour, Mr Freedland!). The Southern Poverty Law Centre discovered the existence of hundreds of such cases in the 1940s and 1950s – the victims were all black and poor. The health 'authorities' justified these as a means of eradicating poverty. For the rich of course, poverty is always the fault of the poor, who will insist on breeding!

The US Sexual Sterilisation Act (officially in operation until 1973) saw eugenesia applied to a wide group of 'undesirables' – ‘alcoholics, the mad, sexual delinquents, degenerates and cripples’, and was extended to the weak and elderly. Until the 50's, eugenesia was defended by a wide group of 'scientists' and 'doctors' – there being an America Society of Eugenesia (later rebaptised the Society for the Study of Social Biology). Today Florida and California have laws that permit chemical castration.

Oppressed peoples

An obsession with 'superiority', superiority of achievement and so of intellect and morality, of capacity to beat other classes, is what marks the leading ideas of bourgeois political leaders, especially in all the imperialist states. The idea of 'national blood' arose with the capitalist nation state. It was the 'sons of the blood' that carved out capitalist empires, and the threat of 'rivers of (national) blood' is the clarion call of the bourgeois xenophobe.

Seizure of raw materials is vital for capitalism. If aboriginal land users are branded 'intellectually' or 'culturally inferior' peoples, then it may be easier to seize the land from them. All the rich do is, oh so very kindly, 're-educate, re-educate, re-educate' them. For some 50 years, up to the 1960s, over 100,000 Australian aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their parents – legally kidnapped – and placed in white foster homes. Many suffered physical and sexual abuse from their new 'superior' culture. 'Assimilating' the children would kill off the 'backward' culture that had lasted 40,000 years. In May an inquiry (the Wilson Report) ordered by the previous Government describes the policy as 'genocide'. Crocodile tears – this September more licences for Oil exploration in Aboriginal lands were issued (as well as in other ecologically unique areas). Naturally the Australian government (like the Swedish) is still refusing liability for compensation and doesn't want to apologise.

Experimental material

Yet in the end the actual 'proof' of the permanent superiority of those in authority is simply asserted by the inhuman abuse of the ruled. Apart from animals as such, why not use 'inferior groups' for experiments? Earlier this year the deliberate denial of penicillin in experiments over 40 years, the fostering of syphilis in groups of black people in Tuskegee (Alabama again), was revealed. Patients were deceived into thinking they were being treated, whilst in fact they were simply the object of a perverse study. The US president apologised (of course).

But in August the US Defense Department admitted that 20,000 air force and navy staff (imperial cannon fodder) were subject to radium experiments between the 1940s and the 1960s (no need to watch The X-Files). In the 1950s, Inuits were treated with radioactive iodine. Blacks with 'low intelligence quotients' suffering from cancers and attending the Medical Faculty of the University of Cincinnati Ohio, had radiation applied all over their bodies. Food at a Massachusetts school for 'backward' ('difficult') children was laced with radioactive elements, as was food supplied to conscientious objectors (like laboratory rats) of the Mennonite Faith in exchange for escaping military service. So far $6.5m dollars has been paid out to people impregnated with radiated materials, mostly to maintain military morale.

If this sort of abuse becomes difficult inside the imperialist states, then of course it will still be carried on by the same owners against oppressed peoples elsewhere. Precisely the same sort of medical experiment deceitfully imposed on Afro-Americans earlier is now being undertaken in Africa itself. A mixture of placebo and actual drugs preventing the transmission of the AIDS virus are being handed out in 15 different trial (9 are US financed) on 12,000 women in 11 'developing countries'. These are Burkino Faso, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The funding states are the US, France, Belgium, Denmark and South Africa. This would not be possible in the Imperial heartlands themselves. More than 1,000 babies are likely to inherit AIDS rather than receive protection against it.

In Britain, 'Gulf War syndrome' is clearly believed by the victims and their advisors to be the result of the use of soldiers in de facto experiments, either with serum, chemicals or the use of depleted uranium in weapons. All this arises from the fact that the ruling classes in their fight to keep control of the world's wealth will unhesitatingly 'waste' and remove working people for any purpose that suits them and that they think they can get away with.

Alvaro Michaels

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 140 December 1997/January 1998