Editorial from the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
We are being bombarded by pleas to part with pennies and pounds. Millions are dying. Over 125,000 Bangladeshis have been killed and a staggering ten million are now homeless. The suffering defies imagination. We are asked to donate money. In Africa the famine has become greater than it was in the disastrous mid-80's. 27 million might starve to death, half of them children. So, could we send some money? The Kurds, refugees from the ruthless Iraqi dictatorship, are freezing and starving. Jeffrey Archer organises a pop concert and we are asked to give money.
Money is not the solution. Starving people cannot eat money. Money is a feature of the property system that causes poverty.
In Africa they are starving because money exists. Crops must be produced to be sold for cash. The African farmers are part of the world capitalist system which tosses them crumbs with one hand and sends in the debt collectors to recover the loans from banks with the other.The civil war in Ethiopia, which makes worse the effects of the famine, is about which group of capitalists will control which territory.
“BANGLADESH'S REAL TRAGEDY IS POVERTY”. This headline appeared in the Guardian newspaper on 3 May. Those who died in the floods did so because they had to live on the most dangerous land.The Guardian quotes Dr Allister McGregor of Bath University: “These people are the very poorest, and they take the biggest risk. It is like living next to a precipice. If there is a flood, they are the ones who pay the highest price.They are constrained by their own poverty”.
Poverty is not a natural phenomenon. It is the result of a society where a small minority own and control the resources of the Earth and the vast majority must pay to have access to what is not ours. For millions who cannot pay anything at all the consequence is abject destitution and mass deaths. They are killed by the profit system.
Earlier this year the capitalist powers went to war over the control of oil. Many millions of pounds were raised. They orchestrated one of the most logistically sophisticated movements of armed men and women in military history. The task of killing Iraqis was completed in a highly scientific fashion. But when it comes to dealing with famine and disaster such skills are conspicuously absent. The charities call for greater “political will” to help the suffering. What they do not understand is that more important than the decisions of politicians are the calculations of economists, and the fact is that feeding the starving is not profitable.
The humanitarian concern of many workers shows that we are not the heartless beings that the “human nature” myth portrays us as. In fact, most of us hate to see our fellow humans suffer. Vast amounts of money are collected by charities. This may convey the illusion that something is being done. In reality, it is a drop in an ocean of unstoppable despair. Capitalism without pitiful poverty is not on the agenda.
In a world based on production for use all of the efficiency currently dedicated to industrial profit and war can be mobilised to help those who are the victims of disasters. Of course, in a socialist world the economic necessity to live in the most dangerous areas will not exist. The national frontiers, which are part of the cause of the plight of the Kurds, will not exist. Kurds, just like any cultural group that wishes to do so, will be free to live together. But most importantly, in a society where production is for use there will be a constant check kept on how much the world is able to produce, who needs what is available and how most efficiently to distribute it. The idea of food shortages will be inconceivable.
There is a simple choice: keep capitalism and starvation will remain on the human agenda for years to come, whatever the relief efforts; or go for socialism and not a single person need ever starve again. As you watch the TV pictures of those who scream from the pain of hunger it must become obvious which is the most practical and humane way forward.