In spite of all the media hype we are being bombarded with, the Gleneagles summit meeting will not go down in history as the day world poverty ended. World musicians and celebrities came together over the weekend in concerts organised on all the continents to raise awareness about world poverty and to put pressure on politicians to tackle the twin crimes of debt and poverty.
No doubt, the musicians and the millions who listened to them will be expecting something from the G8 Summit. But soon after the celebrations were over, George W Bush appeared on television to reassure us that nothing concrete will be done for the poor. As he said, America’s interests come first. By that he means the interests of corporate America, of the multinationals, not of ordinary working class Americans!
The concerts will have caused some embarrassment to the political leaders meeting in Gleneagles, for how can anyone justify the situation where for every dollar of aid granted to developing countries, more than $13 is being returned in debt repayment?
Live8 organiser Bob Geldof argues that twenty years ago the Live Aid concert was about raising money to feed the starving, but now what is needed is political action. That is undoubtedly true, but we can have no confidence in any of the political leaders to whom they are appealing for help.
Geldof, Bono and co aim to abolish what they have called ‘stupid poverty’ – children dying of starvation. However, the way to a very warm place indeed is paved with just such good intentions.
Whilst the newspapers report historic deals to write off Africa’s debt, as always the small print tells a different story. Gordon Brown’s headline grabbing project only concerns the debt held by the World Bank and the African Development Bank, and only covers repayments between now and 2015. This is hardly debt cancellation. Furthermore the plan applies to only 2 percent of the external debt of developing countries. These proposals boil down to an extremely small debt relief given the name “cancellation” for propaganda purposes.
The political leaders of the world’s most powerful nations are thus attempting to cloak themselves in an aura of sanctity. Bush, Blair and co can have no such moral authority following the slaughter of their imperialist adventure in Iraq. In any case, the partial relief on offer comes with a very hefty price tag. Lender countries demand continued privatisation of the public services and natural resources of indebted countries. Instead of giving with one hand only to take back with the other, they are proposing to take slightly less with one hand and a whole lot more with the other. This is not debt relief but an extortion racket.
To qualify for debt relief, developing countries must “tackle corruption, boost private-sector development” and eliminate “impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign”. This means creating a good environment for the multinationals to do business in.
This is achieved by applying what are called “conditionalities”. Conditionalities are the policies governments must follow before they receive aid, loans and debt relief. They claim to be designed to prevent aid being swallowed up by corrupt governments. But corruption is endemic under capitalism, and not just in Africa. Have we already forgotten Enron and the numerous other cases of major corporate corruption? However, it is not just corruption that cripples poor nations, but the capitalist system that breeds it, and the conditionalities imposed by imperialism.
“Corrupt” in the Orwellian Newspeak of imperialism is often a label applied to regimes that won’t do what they're told. US imperialism, for example, lambastes the Venezuelan government for using profits from state oil to provide health and education for the population. In the twisted logic of imperialism this is Robin Hood style “corruption”, taking money from the pockets of the capitalists and using it in the interests of the poor.
Real corruption, on the other hand, is tolerated and even encouraged. Twenty-five countries have so far ratified the UN convention against corruption, but none is a member of the G8. The idea that the conditions being imposed will help to prevent corruption is laughable. For example, to qualify for World Bank funding, Uganda was forced to privatise most of its state-owned companies before it had any means of regulating their sale. A sell-off that should have raised $500m for the Ugandan exchequer instead raised $2m. The rest was pocketed by government officials. Unchastened, the World Bank insists that – to qualify for the debt-relief programme the G8 has now extended – the Ugandan government sell off its water supplies, agricultural services and commercial bank.
When the finance ministers say “good governance” and “eliminating impediments to private investment”, what they mean is privatisation and the liberalisation of trade and capital flows. In other words new investment opportunities for multinationals to exploit the peoples and resources of these countries in the interests of profit.
Whilst the war on terror is a fig leaf for an assault on our civil liberties, the war on poverty is in fact a war on the poor masses. While the lords of life enjoy untold luxury, 1.2 billion people are living on 1 dollar a day, and 3 billion on 2 dollars a day, according to the World Bank.
Yet according to the UN eradicating poverty across the globe could be achieved at a cost of just £52 billion. This is a puny sum. Last year, globally £750 billion was spent on weapons. That money should be put to better use, but in order to do that we have to take control of it. There are a total of 476 billionaires in the world with a total wealth of $1.4 trillion. Can they be convinced to hand over their riches through the moral strength of our argument?
The point is not simply to redistribute the money in society, not simply to divide up more fairly the contents of the purse, but to gain control over the purse strings.
“Stupid” poverty can be abolished. In fact, very quickly, the standard of living of the entire planet could be raised dramatically, once providing for the needs of society were to replace the profit motive of a tiny elite. If the world economy were only freed from the shackles of private profit, and allowed to expand at ten percent a year, then in ten years the wealth of the world would be more than doubled.
Even the humble aim of eradicating “stupid poverty” is not possible as long as we remain within the suffocating confines of a “stupid” system. This is not a matter of the rich North and the poor South. There is poverty in the north and more than a few billionaires in the south. This is not a matter of geography, or demography. It is a class question. The division of society into classes – a tiny minority who own the means of producing wealth and the vast majority who must labour and struggle to survive – and the division of the world into competing nation states perpetuates poverty, war, misery, hunger, and disease. There is only one answer. To take political and economic power out of their hands. To reorganise society, to plan the use of our resources scientifically and democratically in the interests of the entire planet. That is the task and the programme of socialist revolution.