Tsunami relief – the failure of capitalism

JIM HENSMAN, a long-time Socialist Party member from Coventry, was
visiting family and friends in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit.
Speaking to delegates at the party’s national council meeting last weekend
he described the failure of capitalism to deal with the aftermath.

"AFTER THE tsunami the relief appeal in Britain generated tremendous
donations of over £300 million, mainly from individuals. But also within the
affected countries there was much solidarity which crossed ethnic and
religious boundaries.

This positive mood was exploited by the ruling parties who cynically argued
that ‘we all have to put aside out differences’, ‘we all have to pull
together’, etc. This was the case in Sri Lanka initially.

But within days the crass inefficiency and the failure of the weak
capitalist class, tied in with world capitalism, to carry out even the basic
tasks of relief became apparent.

‘Welcome Mr Tsunami’

There is a humorous story going around villages in Sri Lanka which
highlights this point.

It concerns the pacific tsunami reporting centre in Hawaii, who contacted a
senior government minister in Sri Lanka immediately after the earthquake

They told him there was a tsunami from Indonesia arriving in about two
hours. ‘Can you take the necessary action’, they asked? The government
minister springs to life and two hours later he and a delegation are at
Colombo airport with a placard that reads: ‘Sri Lanka welcomes Mr Tsunami from

What is apparent in Sri Lanka is the government’s absolute failure to carry
out the simple tasks of relief. A few weeks ago, a minister in charge of
relief operations admitted that 70% of the people affected had not received
any relief. This was six weeks after the disaster.


And what relief has occurred shows the complete bureaucratic efficiencies
of the government. Where I was staying with my parents there was a large
fishing community whose houses were washed away. They were rehoused in a
school where they received donations of cooking pots but they had no cooking
facilities and no room to store them, so they had to sell the cooking pots to
buy food.

In another area, eventually, they got food relief but it was loads of tins
of baked beans, a food which doesn’t feature in the diet of Sri Lankans!

In this situation our [United Socialist Party] comrades’ demands for
democratic control of relief supplies and the demand for a national convention
of working people to direct and organise relief operations, is getting more
and more of a hearing…

…But what of the future for workers? A friend of mine is a garment worker
who after ten years’ employment gets the princely sum of £8.50 a week. The
global capitalist economy and the ending of the multifibre agreement will
devastate the garment industry, which employs over 300,000 workers – the
largest employer in Sri Lanka.

The tsunami will be followed by an ‘economic tsunami’. This double disaster
can only be overcome by the sweeping aside of capitalism and imperialism by a
mass movement of workers and poor, mobilised behind the banner of socialism."