Poverty, consumerism and anti-imperialism


Several responses are standard to criticism of ideologically bankrupt and morally schizophrenic initiatives like the UK’s Make Poverty History campaign. One is to rail at the impudence of calling into question the campaign organizers sincerity and good intentions. Another is to pout, “well, what alternative do YOU offer…?” Or, more disingeuously, critics will be accused of sneering at the genuine heartfelt desire among the millions of people who contribute hard-earned money to projects and programmes meant to alleviate world poverty’s all-too-numerous symptoms.

At the global elite’s Davos summit in the last few days, leading representatives of corporate capitalism have made superficially impressive commitments to fund health and other programmes in less developed countries. A phrase that comes to mind is one used in Latin America in work with women in abusive relationships – no mas confites en el infierno, no more chocolates in hell. When people ask why so many tens of millions of people lack decent health care and education, one answer is clear. For over two decades the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the governments that control those institutions have consistently told weak national governments in less developed countries to reduce public social spending.

Blind faith-based economic policies of privatization of state resources, reduction in public spending and deregulation in general have created a laissez-faire hell for the huge impoverished global majority. Occasionally, as Bill Gates did last week with his declared initiative against TB, corporate multi-millionaires offer to use some of their wealth to alleviate some of the suffering. But had their corporations been subject to equitable taxation and regulation and the resulting revenues been applied to social spending on health and education, much untold suffering might have been avoided in the first place.

One might also note that individual corporate initiatives backed by warmongers like George Bush, Tony Blair or Gordon Brown can be regarded legitimately as public relations stunts that do nothing to change the fundamental causes of poverty. Iraq has been plunged into inconceivable suffering and deprivation as a result of a criminally aggressive war. The same people who are responsible for that unconscionable crime suggest they are concerned about global poverty. No amount of sophisticated public relations and commonplace mainstream media collusion can cover up that grotesque contradiction and the moral fraud it ultimately represents.

In any case, the United Nations, in its efforts to create consensus around the Right to Development, has already worked out a legitimate framework for a sustainable and feasible response to global problems of poverty and social justice. That initiative has consistently been thwarted by the United States and many of its allies. Rich countries resist moves to create an international structure obliging them to promote equitable development based on a legally binding framework for the redistribution of wealth. They detest the rights-based philosophy of such structures and their linkage between the principle of self-determination and the obligation to cooperate for global development.

It is reasonable to reckon such a structure might finally lead towards an end to global poverty. The chances of corporate capitalist policies achieving that objective are nil. Self-evidently, since equitable redistribution of wealth is anathema to the proponents of those policies. Corporate capitalism is based on the principle of laissez-faire with all that implies. The evidence of its utter failure as a framework for rational and equitable human development is abundantly available around the world.

So when a huge public relations based campaign like Make Poverty History comes along and one sees that it is organized by people wholly committed to collaborating with the structures of aggressive international corporate capitalism and with leading individuals who promote that system, scepticism is a prerequisite. Like the large aid and development NGOs and the humanitarian relief organizations who support it, the Make Poverty History campaign channels genuine longing on the part of ordinary people for a better world into activities that seek to legtimize a fundamentally illegitimate status quo.

Make Poverty History is a massive humanitarian effort. But its campaigners resist facing contradictions thrown up by efforts in their consumer capitalist societies to address economic injustice caused by the imperialist policies of their countries’ governments. Essentially, they seek to provide the world’s poor majority with neo-colonial confites en el infierno, sweeties in hell, unsustainable palliatives that leave the status quo unchanged.

An obvious example of this is that such campaigns resolutely avoid the matter of solidarity with legitimate resistance movements in occupìed countries like Iraq, Palestine or Haiti. But the fundamental demand in those countries is the very equity and justice for impoverished and oppressed peoples that Make Poverty History campaigners say is their goal. Those campaigners want the more awkward and embarrassing politics to go away while they engage in a technical focus on trade, aid and debt and rake in the funding. But where did those problems come from if not as a result of unjust imperialist domination and oppression?

To effect real change, the widespread goodwill apparent among so many people at grass roots in the world’s rich countries would be better channelled into direct practical solidarity. Donating small change to an intermediary class of functionaries in development and aid NGOs changes nothing. Countries in Central America for example have received billions of dollars of governmental and non-governmental aid over the last twenty years. Apart from Costa Rica, they all still rank dozens of places below Cuba in the UN Human Development Index while Cuba has suffered forty five years of criminal economic blockade.

The experience of a country like Nicaragua through its revolution and afterwards, demonstrates that surprisingly large numbers of people at grass roots are prepared to act in really practical solidarity. Through the 1980s right up to the present, thousands of people have changed their own lives, made contact at grass roots and cut out the parasitic development managerial class represented by functionaries in the aid and development NGOs. That move makes it possible to nurture direct relationships with people in less developed countries who are trying to build a better world for themselves and the rest of us 

If anything is going to change the current racist imperialist status quo it is a combination of international grass roots solidarity and global normative structures obliging equitable redistribution of the world’s resources. For the moment, as the history of the UN Right to Development shows, powerful laissez-faire capitalist gangsters are in a position to obstruct agreement on such policies. Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank, Pascal Lamy at the World Trade Organization and Rodrigo Rato at the International Monetary Fund are the current figureheads for that ideologically driven class. But in some countries those ideologues are being passed by and rendered irrelevant.

In Latin America, for example, the next few years will see a decisive competition between global corporate capitalism and continuing efforts towards economic justice by the peoples and governments of Cuba, Venezuela and perhaps Bolivia and other countries, inspired by socialism. In that competition grass roots solidarity between peoples, public policies committed to equitable redistribution of resources and regulation of corporate big business will be central motifs. In comparison with the systematic determination of those peoples and governments to address their problems of poverty and social justice, rich country consumerist humanitarian initiatives that ignore imperialist aggression, like the UK Make Poverty History campaign, look self-serving and blinkered.

toni solo is an activist based in Central America -  contact via www.tonisolo.net

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