More than 20,000 people die each day in the neo-colonial world because of “extreme poverty”. In Africa – the immediate object of the mass campaign to “make poverty history” – 4.8 million in sub-Saharan Africa currently die before the age of five every year according to the United Nations (UN). That’s nine deaths every minute.
By Peter Taaffe, General Secretary, Socialist Party England and Wales
Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where the number of child deaths is rising and on current trends there will be 5.1 million infant deaths by 2015. This region currently accounts for 43 million of the 115 million children out of school, just over a third of the total.
And not just Africa but Asia and Latin America are scarred by unspeakable poverty, which means a brutish, half-human existence for billions. In India, for instance, supposedly a “shining”, capitalist example to the peoples of the neo-colonial world, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, 4,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1998.
This is because of the rapid introduction of pro-market policies, aiming to drive 20 million people off the land and into industry, through the withdrawal of subsidies to farmers. Those left behind were forced to borrow from money-lenders at rates as high as 36%, which compelled some of them to sell themselves into bonded (slave) labour for life to pay off their debts.
The masses of Latin America, from the indigenous peoples of Bolivia to the impoverished masses of the shanty towns of Brazil, are little better off than their counterparts in Asia or Africa and are in open revolt at these conditions.
It is the outrage of the millions in Britain and worldwide at these conditions which has driven hundreds of thousands to the G8 protests this weekend. They will find no answers from the leaders of the G8 countries, hard-nosed capitalist politicians, who rest on a system into which poverty is woven.
Nor, unfortunately, do those pop stars who, commendably, called for a mass demonstration, have an answer. To provide a real solution, it is first necessary to correctly diagnose the disease and then adopt the most effective measures to cure it.
The poverty of Africa is not an act of god but the product of a system, capitalism, which is based upon production for profit for the benefit of a few at the expense of the social needs of billions on this planet. Just over 500 rich individuals, overwhelmingly men, the owners of the large transnational companies, have as much income as three billion people, half the world’s population.
This gross inequality is reason enough to oppose the system but when the owners of this wealth are also incapable of taking society and the world forward, it becomes obsolete and therefore should be removed. This is a failed system when we see that, while corporate profits soar, 89 countries are worse off than in the early 1990s.
It is not difficult to explain Africa’s present state, which is like a man desperately trying to walk up a down escalator without success. This arises from the unequal terms of trade between the rich capitalist and imperialist West – the US, Japan and the EU – and the neo-colonial world. We have been bombarded in recent weeks with countless examples of what this means for Africa.
HOW TO change this fundamental inequitable situation? Neither by a wringing of hands nor by seeking to butter up capitalist statesmen, which is, unfortunately, the method adopted by Bob Geldof and Bono. They do not pose the very simple question: how can Brown, Blair, Bush and the rest of them who defend neo-liberal capitalism in Britain, the US and elsewhere, adopt a different approach to two-thirds of humankind in the neo-colonial world?
To greet uncritically small, exceedingly small, recent promises of increased debt relief for 18 countries in Africa is, perhaps unwittingly, to act as a screen for these ruthless capitalist politicians.
The same governments which promise this aid, such as Blair’s, also preside over a system which is stripping English-speaking sub-Saharan Africa of its doctors and nurses. An estimated 60% of doctors trained in Ghana in the 1980s have left. There are now more Ghanaian doctors in New York then in Ghana itself. Ghana now has nine doctors for every 100,000 people and is overwhelmed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Overseas staff makes up a substantial part of the medical workforce of Britain – 31% of practising doctors and 13% of nurses were born outside the UK – and the recent increase in the NHS workforce comes mostly from outside the country.
Jeffrey Sachs, former neo-liberal guru and now repentant “friend of the poor”, recently said that debt relief proposals, like those of the EU, are “weapons of mass salvation”. They are nothing of the kind. All the debt relief and aid together is like taking a thimble to empty an ocean.
For instance, the agreement to lift the debts of the 18 countries does not take account of the monumental amounts still owed to private banks. Moreover, the unequal trade relationships remain unaffected. The International Labour Organisation in 2004 pointed out that between 1985 and 2002, the poorest third of developing countries saw their share of world trade fall by a quarter (3.6% to 2.7%), their share of world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) more than halve from 4.5% to 2% and their share of global Foreign Direct Investment collapse by over two-thirds from 3.3% to 1.1%.
The amount of money “laundered” through the capitalist world’s financial system “reached stratospheric levels, trillions rather than billions [of dollars]”. [The Observer.] The International Monetary Fund has said that this figure has now approached the $2 trillion mark.
Taken together with the cost of fighting this money laundering, the total amount swallowed up by this crooked enterprise reaches $2.5 trillion, approaching 10% of the world’s GDP! There is no way we can begin to eradicate this gangsterism without nationalising the banks and finance houses and establishing a state monopoly of trade.
THIS IS “modern” capitalism, which Tony Blair and George Bush offer to the world as a model. They may “regret” some features of this system, which produces poverty but they defend it lock, stock and barrel, by force if necessary. The Iraq invasion, for instance, was for Iraq’s oil resources but an important part of this was the mass privatisation of Iraq’s state assets, including, of course, the lucrative oil production facilities.
The same programme has been pursued in Eastern Europe, where the establishment of “democracy” has gone hand in hand with the robbery of state assets through privatisation. In Serbia, for instance, a mass sell-off of state concerns is under way, which will enormously aggravate the almost 20% unemployment in this country.
These policies are not pursued for purely “ideological” reasons but are an intrinsic aspect of capitalism. This is a system based upon the production of profit, which is the unpaid labour of the working class. Working people only receive a proportion of the value of what they produce in the form of wages, while the rest is cornered by “rent, interest and profit”.
The capitalist system can keep going while the surplus is invested back into production but a time arises when the working class can no longer buy back the goods they produce. The result of this is the appearance of either a glut of goods, or “excess capacity”, industry that lays idle and cannot be used.
This is not because there is not a need for the goods that industry can produce but because it does not pay the capitalist to do so. This produces the “absurdity” that there is actually a world surplus of food and yet 800 million people go to bed hungry each night.
But it is not “absurd” from the viewpoint of the capitalists, who are not motivated by humanitarian concerns, but purely for profit. During the 1980s Ethiopian famine for instance, food was still exported by the landlords while millions starved, because they could make a profit.
The same naked cash calculation is the ultimate motive for Bush, reflecting the interests of the American capitalists, for not signing up to Kyoto. Larry Elliott, writing in The Guardian, has commented that this is like a man lying in a bath with the hot tap running. This generates so much steam that he doesn’t know what to do and therefore is in danger of being seriously scalded.
If this was just Bush and the elite that he represents, few tears would be shed. But it is the whole of the world and future generations who will suffer for this criminal neglect of the warnings, which are now scientifically proved, about global warming.
Even if just China and India continue to grow at their present rate, they could be amongst the major polluters on the planet. China’s foremost environmentalist has starkly warned that if China wishes to achieve US living standards – implying a further massive development of industry – it would require the resources of four worlds!
And yet, why should the Chinese, or the Indian masses for that matter, one third of humankind between them, accept their present pitiful existence?
However, on the basis of capitalism, a stark choice appears to be before the world, particularly the “poor world”: accept the current inequalities, the domination of capitalism and imperialism over Asia, Africa and Latin America, or face the environmental destruction of the planet.
But this is a false choice. Presently, agriculture equals backwardness and low living standards. “Industry” represents advanced society and higher living standards. But that is on the basis of capitalism.
A DEMOCRATIC socialist planned economy could allow sustainable growth and a division of labour on a national, regional and continental, as well as on a world scale. This would not necessarily mean that each country would tread in the footsteps of the industrialised world, of laboriously building up industry and replicating everything that the “First World” has established.
It would mean the establishment of a fair division of labour between industry, agriculture, services, etc, on a world scale, to the mutual benefit of all the peoples of the world, which is only possible if the 500 companies which dominate world production are taken over.
This would mean, of course, the planning of the resources of the world. “Impossible,” state the defenders of capitalism. What you will have is a command and bureaucratic economy, like the discredited system which collapsed with the Berlin Wall in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. On the contrary, the present and future generations will not accept such a regime nor is that our model.
Some argue why cannot the present system be planned? Capitalism is an inherently unplanned society where the “hidden hand” of the market rules. The capitalists produce their goods and throw them blindly onto the market in the expectation that most of them will be bought. But in the event of a crisis or recession this doesn’t happen and not all of the goods are bought.
Socialism would be entirely different. Karl Marx, the great co-founder with Friedrich Engels of scientific socialism, compared the first stages of a socialist society with what exists under the capitalists in a single factory or today in a large company.
There is a degree of planning, including in the great transnational corporations today. If there is a surplus of one component or a scarcity, then it is an administrative decision within a factory or a company to move resources so there is “equilibrium”. In this way, a certain harmony in production is established, which ends once the goods are thrown onto the market.
There, anarchy and chaos reign. If there is a “surplus” and goods cannot be sold “equilibrium” is ultimately established by the closure of some industries, the eviction of workers from the factories, and in time, “in theory” at least, their absorption back into “growth industries”.
Capitalism is also an inefficient and wasteful system. This is particularly the case under the present phase of venal and aggressive imperialism, signified by the US’s attempt to militarily dominate – “full spectrum dominance” – and control the world and its resources.
Imagine what would be possible if the wasteful expenditure of capitalism was utilised for useful production for the benefit of all. $400 billion a year is spent by the US alone for “defence”, and over $1 trillion globally. Look at the colossal waste on advertising.
At the same time, the talents and resources of working people would be fully and democratically harnessed, through the involvement in management at every level of a democratic socialist plan of production.
AT THE moment, the creative talents of ordinary working people are not tapped: “More than half of all workers do not feel encouraged to be creative or put forward ideas to managers”. [Vodafone poll, reported in the Daily Mirror, 6 June 2005.] 70% of workers in this poll felt that “their brainwaves were unrewarded” and 24% “never even bothered to tell anyone about their ideas”.
One of the reasons for this is that suggestions to increase efficiency and thereby boost productivity, under capitalism can result in workers being sacked. Why, therefore, should working people cut their own throats by helping the bosses to boost profitability by emptying them out of the factories?
Also, the idea that workers are “too selfish” and uneducated to run and control industry is fallacious. An example of this selfishness is, allegedly, the refusal of the French workers to work an extra “solidarity day” to help the elderly in France, some of whom had died in the heat wave of 2003.
The French workers refused to do this, not because they were “selfish” or didn’t sympathise with the elderly, but because it was a cynical ploy by the Raffarin government, which asked for “sacrifice” but was also attacking both pensions, and thereby the old, and also the 35-hour week.
On the basis of a democratic planned economy, with ownership in the hands of the majority instead of a handful of capitalist parasites, the working class would respond. In Russia, after they had taken power in 1917, the Russian workers voluntarily gave up whole days, “subbotniks” (Red Saturdays). The same was shown in the early part of the Cuban Revolution, where the masses gave up their free time to harvest sugar cane at critical stages in the revolution following 1959.
However, a world socialist confederation, operating on the basis of democratic control, would open up undreamed-of possibilities, benefiting all areas of the world from the impoverished to the more advanced. All boats would rise on a world socialist wave!
On the basis of democratic socialism the working class, particularly the new generation, would respond similarly to a call for sacrifice and solidarity, particularly to aid the poor and downtrodden.