SWP tails charities

Around the left

One of the most unfortunate characteristics of the left in Britain today is its utter timidity. Devoid of all confidence in its own ability to make a difference, it lazily tries to paint ‘left’ almost all or any protest movement or demonstration. Even the most backward-looking cry of despair is invested with great revolutionary profundity. Socialism, under this schema, is either a banal extension of liberal hand-wringing or a lifeless moral abstraction.

We see this in the attitude of the Socialist Workers Party towards the recent G8 summit at Birmingham, where the main issue was debt relief to the ‘third world’. Socialist Worker (May 21) approvingly - and uncritically - reports on The Guardian- Christian Aid-sponsored hand-holding plea to this much-hyped gathering of top world leaders. From the glowing descriptions, it becomes clear that that the SWP believes that revolutionary or socialist consciousness is somehow immanent in these demonstrations. Who needs a programme? Spontaneous ‘good will’, a ‘love of humanity’ and loads of pity for ‘third world victims’ are all that matters. Alienated and disconnected philanthropic urges become ‘internationalism’, and revolution an extreme form of charity-mongering, with ‘cancel the debt’ as a central slogan. 

Communists are nor heartless automatons immune to the fact that thousands of people starve to death each day in - to use the jargon - the ‘HIPC’ (heavily indebted poorer countries). Our heads are not in the clouds. We do not hanker for utopia at the expense of real human suffering. But as Kathrin Maurer pointed out in the Weekly Worker (May 21), “If gut feeling is not linked to a real analysis, the response to this injustice is the abstract demand to ‘cancel the debts’. Ignoring the fact that this is the programme of a section of capital and that the main beneficiaries of such debt relief would be the ruling cliques who leech off the backs of the impoverished masses - not the masses themselves.” In other words, many exploiters would also make the plea for ... the cancellation of ‘third world’ debt.

Socialist Worker displays a ‘sentimental anti-imperialism’. Underneath the headline, “50,000 demand, ‘cancel the debt’”, there is a photograph of protesters with Christian Aid T-shirts and banners’. The caption reads: “‘This shows that ordinary people care,’ said protesters who circled Birmingham city centre last Saturday.” The article provides a mealy-mouthed ‘left’ echo to Christian Aid.

It goes on to describe the gathering as “a moving and powerful demonstration of the outrage millions of people feel at a system which starves tens of millions of children in order to widen the profit margins of the world’s biggest banks. But the leaders of the world’s largest economies at the G8 summit turned their backs on the calls for justice” - which in SWP/Christian Aid-speak translates into the blanket call, ‘cancel the debt’.

Ironically the state capitalist SWP - which quite correctly believes that socialism is international or it is nothing - seems to believe that African countries like Niger or Rwanda would be taking a step towards that goal if they went it alone and opted out of the global economy. The anonymous author tells us: “This ‘HIPC scheme’ forces poor countries to slash whatever welfare measures they have, open their economies to the free market and make themselves further prey for big business. It sucks money from ordinary people in the poorest countries to pay the debts run up by the corrupt elites at the top” (my emphasis). Such an analysis fails to account for the fact that these ‘HIPC countries’ are dirt poor precisely because they are on the absolute margins of the global economy. Our busy and hard-pressed entrepreneurs look at such places and say to themselves, ‘no thank you - no profits there’. World capital leaves most of the ‘third world’ to rot.

This is fundamentally a political question, but the SWP is quite content to leave it on an abstract moral-sentimental plane. It quotes from Ann Pettifor, director of the Jubilee 2000 campaign on Blair’s failure to get a better deal: “This is a huge disappointment for those who formed the human chain in Birmingham and the hundreds of millions around the world who suffer under the burden of unpayable debts.” And from Andrew Simms of Christian Aid: “Each year the G8 promises to give meaningful debt relief to the poorest countries and each year they remain trapped in a world of aid dependence and disaster after disaster.”

We can also see the sort of social forces the SWP is orientated towards:

“The human chain was organised by the Jubilee 2000 campaign. The initiative started with Christian charities like Christian Aid and Cafod. Campaigning organisations like the World Development Movement and Third World First added their names. The International Confederation of Trade Unions and Britain’s largest union, Unison, joined them. The call for the Birmingham demonstration captured a mood. The Guardian backed the campaign. Large numbers of Christian groups took part but the response went way beyond that.”

The conclusion is dismal. The SWP even endeavours to give a shot in the arm to its ‘class vote’ thesis:

“The demonstrations showed that the mood for change which swept the country a year ago is still there. It is shot through with increasing discontent with the government and a deep questioning about why the world is in such a mess and getting worse. That is producing the kind of explosive cocktail which transformed last Saturday’s protest into a major political event” (my emphasis).

In reality, the SWP is abjectly bowing to spontaneity. For all of its declarations that the masses swung to the left last May, it can offer only liberal protest as proof

Don Preston