63. Mass movement against world poverty



While capitalism was experiencing an underlying crisis in the economic sphere, it was also facing an immediate and increasing challenge from the new generation of workers and youth against the rise of poverty worldwide. This was reflected in the massive demonstrations in July 2005 coinciding with the meeting of the G8 – the leaders of the most important capitalist powers – in Edinburgh, Scotland. The slogan of the Socialist for the demonstration read: “Down with the G8 – Make poverty history – Fight for a socialist future!”1

To this end we sought to explain how ending the plight of the masses in the neo-colonial world in particular was organically linked to the idea of socialism. More than 20,000 people were dying each day in the neo-colonial world because of ‘extreme poverty’. In sub-Saharan Africa – the immediate object of the mass campaign to ‘Make Poverty History’ – were 4.8 million children who died before the age of five every year, according to the United Nations. That’s nine deaths every minute! Africa, Asia and Latin America were scarred by unspeakable poverty, which meant a brutish, half-human existence for billions. For instance in India, supposedly still ‘shining’, in the state of Andhra Pradesh 4,000 farmers, crushed by debt and despair, committed suicide between 1998 and 2005. The majority of the Indian population are compelled to defecate in the open. This is a reflection of the poverty which persists in the neo-colonial world.

It was outrage at these conditions that propelled the youth in particular to take to the streets in the G8 protests in Edinburgh in their hundreds of thousands, which was matched by massive demonstrations elsewhere. In our intervention in this kind of demonstration we seek to echo the anger with fighting slogans. At the same time it is necessary to draw out general conclusions from this and to explain the alternative. In the Edinburgh protests we began with the plight of the masses in the neo-colonial world: “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.” We went on to explain that gross inequality was reason enough to oppose the system but the owners of this wealth were also incapable of taking society forward. It had become obsolete and therefore should be removed: “This is a failed system… corporate profits soar, 89 countries are worse off than in the early 1990s.” This arose from the unequal terms of trade between the rich capitalist and imperialist West – the US, Japan and the EU  – and the neo-colonial world itself.

The way to change the situation was neither by wringing hands nor by seeking to butter up capitalist dignitaries which, unfortunately, was the method adopted by some of the official organisers of the G8 protests like celebrities Bob Geldof and Bono. They had a tendency to greet uncritically small, exceedingly small promises for increased debt relief to 18 countries in Africa. The same governments that promised this aid, such as Blair’s in Britain, also presided over a system which was stripping English-speaking sub-Saharan Africa of its doctors and nurses. An estimated 60% of doctors trained in Ghana in the 1980s had left the country. There were more Ghanaian doctors in New York than in Ghana itself! The same analogies could be drawn with any of the advanced industrial countries.

Jeffrey Sachs, former neo-liberal guru and now a repentant  “friend of the poor”, said that debt relief proposals are new “weapons of mass salvation”. We declared that they were nothing of the kind. All the debt relief and aid taken together was like taking a thimble to empty an ocean. One example of this was the agreement to lift the debts of 18 countries, which did not take account of the monumental amounts that were still owed to private banks. Moreover, the poorest third of developing countries had seen their share of world trade fall by a quarter. At the same time, it was estimated that the cost of money-laundering amounted to $2.5 trillion, approaching 10% of the world’s GDP! We declared: “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 was the reality of ‘modern’ capitalism, which Tony Blair and George Bush were offering in Edinburgh as a ‘model’ for the world. They may ‘regret’ some features of their system which produces poverty but ultimately they defend it lock, stock and barrel, by force if necessary. Hence the Iraq invasion whose real purpose was not to root out terrorism but to grab the country’s vast oil reserves. Capitalism by its very nature is an unplanned system, based as it is on private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange by a few oligarchs. It is the reason why any mention of ‘planning’ society or even partially in one industry is denounced almost as the work of the devil! Yet there is a high degree of planning internally in the great transnational corporations. 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 produced goods are thrown onto the market. There anarchy reigns and chaos is king. With a ‘surplus’ of unsold goods, ‘equilibrium’ is ultimately established once more 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 has been demonstrated again and again under the present phase of venal and aggressive imperialism. This was indicated by the US’s attempt in the period following its seeming military triumph in Iraq to completely dominate the world militarily – ‘full spectrum domination’ – full control, by the use of military power, of the world and its resources. We posed the question: “Imagine what would be possible if the wasteful expenditure of capitalism was utilised for useful production for the benefit of all.”

The rejoinder of the bosses to this is usually: “You cannot allow unskilled (meaning ignorant) workers to manage complex industries; that is the role of specialists.” Firstly, those close to production, the producers, usually have a better idea of how to improve efficiency and the running of industry than the so-called experts. Vodafone conducted a poll, reported by the Daily Mirror in June 2005, in which 70% of workers felt that “their brainwaves were unrewarded” and 24% “never even bothered to tell anyone about their ideas”. One of the reasons for this was 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 and then emptying them out of the factories? Also, the idea that workers are ‘too selfish’ and uneducated to run and control industry is false.

An example of this selfishness was the alleged refusal of French workers to work an extra ‘Solidarity Day’ during the heat wave of 2003 when some of the elderly in France died in the torrid conditions. 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 right-wing Raffarin government to demand ‘sacrifices’ while attacking pensions, thereby the old, and also trying to eliminate the 35-hour week. On the basis of a democratic, socialist planned economy with ownership in the hands of the majority instead of a handful of parasites the working class would respond to a genuine call for ‘all’ to make sacrifices.2

These were the ideas that we took onto the streets of Edinburgh and in the meetings which we organised around the G8 protests. A colossal 250,000 demonstrators filled the Scottish capital, the biggest demonstration Edinburgh had ever seen. The CWI contingent – with comrades from England and Wales, Scotland, Belgium, France, Sweden, Germany and elsewhere staying in a camp near Edinburgh – made a magnificent intervention in this demonstration. Paula Mitchell, London Regional Secretary, recorded: “Impossible not to be moved by the… CWI rally on Saturday after the main demo. I heard the comment, ‘That was fantastic’ again and again. A great sea of red filled the hall. About 160 had packed in, and easily half that number again [was] listening outside, nearly all wearing the brilliant red CWI/ISR T-shirts.”3 Leading speakers– Philip Stott and Sinead Daly from Scotland, comrades Titi from Nigeria and Joe Higgins, Socialist Party td from Ireland, and myself for the CWI’s International Secretariat – addressed this memorable meeting.

It was just one example of the growing influence of the CWI, particularly in attracting some of the best layers of the youth moving into struggle at this stage. Needless to say, the G8 leaders – eight men – after meeting in a hotel protected by 10,000 police who made 358 arrests, never in any way proposed policies or programmes to alter the burgeoning poverty of the Third World, which in 2017 still gets worse by the day and year! The mood generated by this magnificent demonstration of youth and the working class for unity in the task of eradicating poverty and for change was a necessary reminder of the potential for radical socialist ideas.