The article below is written by RCN member, Iain Robertson. Iain is a mountaineer and rock climber. This article represents a continuation of the work the RCN has been posting, not only on what communism could look like in the future, but on how many elements of such cooperative practice already exist today. However, under capitalist domination such beneficial social activity is constantly being undermined.

Sea and Mountain Rescue Services
Sea and Mountain Rescue Services

This article takes a look behind one of the many privatisations going on and argues that, even in the UK, capitalism is not total or absolute and does not go uncontested.

It could be off the Cornish coast, the flooded valleys of Cumbria, 3000 feet up on the Tower Ridge of Ben Nevis, or any other part of Britain and its coastline where life is at risk from accident, heart attack or natural disaster and a military SAR (Search And Rescue) helicopter is required. Today, a cooperative, integrated set of social relationships, designed to serve a social need and profiting no one, will come into play to save life.

The network involves the police (publicly funded), as first point of contact coast guard (publicly funded), R.N.L.I. (a volunteer lifeboat service), the Cave Rescue teams and the Mountain Rescue teams around Britain (volunteer services) the Ambulance service (publicly funded) and finally, where required, the military SAR helicopters (publicly funded) stationed at 8 locations around the coasts of Scotland, England and Wales.

There is a very high level of expertise, trust and mutual confidence between these services based on up to 70 years of working together for no other aim than to save life.

In a fully functioning communist society there would not be any need for public finding as such, since the allocation of expertise and resources would become a social affair, dictated neither by the market nor the state. But in other respects the rescue services are already a microcosm of communistic social organisation – to each according to their need, from each according to their ability.

This also provides an example of how some features of the capitalist state – e.g. military forces and the police – could be given other functions which are socially necessary. Their prime role, involvement in rescue and similar operations, would actually be concerned with self-defence, literally, and not in some Orwellian, doublespeak sense.

An important condition of the mutual trust and cooperation between the services is their shared view that no part of the front line rescue operation is for profit. (At present, the servicing of some helicopters has been hived off to private contractors). Every person involved in a rescue operation, whether volunteer or paid ‘professional’, is aware that everyone else involved is also putting their own life at risk. Their commitment is to each other as much as to those being rescued. Again, in contrast with the doublespeak of our ruling classes, there is a real consciousness of actually ‘being in it together’.


Also, the volunteer services have repeatedly stated they do not want rescuees to be charged for being rescued and that they are against the privatisation of any of the rescue system. They are very clear that when the profit motive becomes part of the mix issues of ‘being in it together’ breaks down. The sense of ‘being in it together’ also extends to those being rescued, especially for the volunteer services. Members of these services are acutely aware that they themselves could one day (and, indeed, have been in some cases) in need of rescuing themselves for the good reason that they are engaged in those very activities for their own pleasure and recreation.

Yet our ruling classes are hell bent on privatisation. Where we see social need, they see an opportunity for profit. Where we see the benefit of cooperative activity, they see the ‘winner takes all’ of competition. Where we see the organisation of social relations for the benefit of humanity they see the distortion of those relationships to feed the greed of the few.

The government is set on privatising the SAR helicopter service currently provided by the military. Their excuse is that the present fleet of Sea King helicopters is due to be replaced by 2016.

It is quite wrong to characterise this move as an example of ‘evil Tory’ policy. The last Labour government tried, but abandoned the attempt, to privatise SAR. Privatisation is part of a ruling class agenda and Labour is just as perfidious an agent on their behalf as Tories, Lib-Dems or SNP in Scotland, as far as we are concerned.

This privatisation also highlights, in a clear way, the parasitic nature of capitalism. Here we have an integrated network of agencies, all of them not for profit, all existing solely to meet a recognised social need. The rescue agencies do not permit a direct transfer of wealth to a few but once this social activity is transformed into a commodity then, hey presto, a few, who add nothing to what was there before, siphon off wealth.


Newspapers[1]Privatising search-and-rescue service and closing bases ‘will cost lives’ focus on the potential loss of efficacy and possible loss of life that could result from privatising SAR. While this will very likely be the case, the transformation of social relations is the real, long term danger of privatisation, that is, the transformation of some communistic type social relations (though members of the armed services and even of the volunteer mountain and cave rescue teams, for example, would probably not recognise their relationships with each other as such) into capitalist relations.

This privatisation also highlights the reality that, despite living in a primarily capitalist economy, our society contains examples of communistic style sets of human relationships and forms of social organisation. To those who say communism is not possible, we say its actually here in many localised ways. To those who say ‘Human nature won’t allow it’ we say human nature has to be forced, via coercion, threats and military actions to abandon communistic ways of co-existing. Humanity did not embrace capitalism, it was imposed, and right now it is being imposed on the publicly funded (both through voluntary contributions and taxes), multi-faceted rescue services. If you want to act, there is an e-petition

( to be signed and shared with friends.

Iain Robertson, RCN

Also see Is Communism Possible at:- Communism And Human Nature


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