Who’s Making Poverty?

‘Making Poverty History’ and the ‘Live 8’  campaign of ‘80’s ‘Live Aid’ promoter, Sir Bob Geldof has captured the media headlines. It always was the biggest blockbuster around. Billions spent while billions die. Who needs a Terminator when you’ve got Brad Pitt campaigning for Africa? The new vanguard of the poor is no longer the working class or even the petite bourgeois intellectuals, but pop culture celebrities. For liberals like Jeffrey Sachs more aid is in the interests of the rich as well as the poor. For left media gurus like Naomi Klein mass pressure from below can ‘force’ the G8 to deliver justice. But what if poverty is the only policy for capitalism?

So Bush and Blair have persuaded the G8 to ‘forgive’ 18 African states’ $40 billion in debts (equivalent to 20 days Pentagon spending). What happened to the poorhouse? Isn’t Africa one giant poorhouse suffering the equivalent of 10 Asian Tsunamis every year? Africa is supposed to be an object lesson, like Iraq. This is where you end up if you fail the civilization test, morally and economically bankrupt. Why abandon this cautionary tale?

The fact is the West isn’t giving up on debt. When the new World Bank head, Paul Wolfowitz is a key player you can be sure of that.

The imperialists are recognizing that their global interest does not depend on actually eliminating the human race, but exploiting it. Dead people do not produce much surplus labour. Born-again liberal Jeffrey Sachs puts the case well. Western aid needs to be increased to sustainable levels. If the US spends $20 billion (instead of $3 billion) a year to keep Africans alive this would still be 10% of Bush’s tax cuts to the rich.

It’s like the poor law, you create a bread line for people who work. If they don’t work they fall below the bread line. While it’s easy to blame the neo-colonies of Africa for their own fate, it doesn’t make profits. Africa needs a workhouse. So along come the celebrities to provide more and better charity for the New African Century.

Brendan O’Neil makes this point about MPH.  
. . .The first thing to note is that Make Poverty History, even by its own admission, will not make poverty history. Indeed, that is not, strictly speaking, its aim. Its goal is to eradicate extreme poverty by putting pressure on nation states to ensure that the Millennium Development Goals - which every member of the United Nations officially endorsed in 2000 - are met.

The first Millennium Development Goal on poverty is to cut by half the proportion of people living on less than one dollar a day by 2015 - which, if achieved, would still leave hundreds of millions of people living below the one-dollar threshold. The World Bank has set up a website dedicated to explaining and winning support for these Millennium Development Goals, and even that site admits that achieving goal number 1 would not make poverty history. '[W]hile poverty would not be eradicated, [it] would bring us much closer to the day when we can say that all the world's people have at least the bare minimum to eat and clothe themselves', the site says. …Even if Make Poverty History is successful in pressurising governments to stick to their Millennium Development promises, half of the world's poor will still live on less than a dollar a day and half will still 'suffer from hunger'. In short, poverty will not be history - far from it. The other Millennium Developpment Goals - relating to making primary education available to more children and reversing the spread of HIV-AIDS and the incidence of malaria - are also notable for their lack of ambition.

. . .Live 8 is little more than the pop wing of G8, and Make Poverty History is little more than a management committee making sure that America, Britain, France and the rest push through their Millennium Development Goals. There is little radical or even independent about Make Poverty History and Geldof's coinciding global pop jamboree. They might consider themselves punkish and edgy, but these pop and rock acts are merely shouting at the world powers to do what they had already planned to do - slowly and incrementally eradicate only the worst instances of poverty and starvation in the world today. Bob, Bono and the rest simply provide the soundtrack to officialdom's slothful anti-poverty campaign.

Naomi Klein goes one step better. Aid is not enough. It doesn’t touch the roots of poverty. She says Africa is a rich continent made poor by rapacious western corporations. True enough. So what about ‘using’ Africa’s own mineral wealth to save it? ‘Using’? Does that mean the West has to change its policies from pillage to patronage? Yes, and the united social movements can do it. Klein talks about the moving examples of the Ogoni people fighting Shell oil in Nigeria [when Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others were executed], Evo Morales fighting the oil companies in Bolivia, and the General Union of Oil workers of Basra fighting the privatization of oil in Iraq. All these movements need is unity. A symbolic statement of this can be the G8 demonstration at Edinburgh on July 2’.
Bob Geldof and the Make Poverty History crew have called for a million people to go to Edinburgh and form a giant white band around the city centre on July 2 – a reference to the ubiquitous Make Poverty History bracelets. But it seems a shame for a million people to travel all that way to be a giant bauble, a collective accessory to power. How about if, when all those people join hands, they declare themselves not a bracelet but a noose – a noose around the lethal economic policies [neo-liberalism] that have already taken so many lives, or lack of medicine and clean water, for lack of justice. A noose like that one that killed Ken.
Unfortunately for Klein, the Nigerian people, the Bolivian masses, and the Iraqi oil workers, poverty is NOT the result of the wrong, bad news neo-liberal polices of the West. Poverty is the ONLY policy for capitalism. As Marx proved, Capital’s wealth is the masses immiseration. It cannot be fixed by simply ‘forcing’ (how?) the ‘multinationals’ to change policies. Their profits dictate that Africa, Latin America and Asia continue to be plundered and pillaged. Poverty is the result of systematic expropriation of the labour of peoples and classes for profit. 500 years of colonization will not be conjured away by the World Social Forum or civil society making symbolic nooses to ‘force’ imperialism to negotiate better terms of exploitation.

The illusion that poverty can be negotiated out of existence is the illusion that capitalism can be reformed. These are the illusions that hold back the independent, armed organizations of the workers and poor peasants in Nigeria, Bolivia and Iraq. Not until the masses free themselves from these illusions can they act to solve the problem of poverty – and take back the wealth that was created by generations of labour and to socialize and plan the world economy in the interests of people and not profits.

From Class Struggle 61 May-June 2005

No comments: