Solidarity, not charity

In order to make poverty history, we need to make capitalism history, says Tina Becker

The G7's 'historic deal' is an example of what happens when genuine mass sentiment is hijacked by a ruling elite. It becomes its opposite. But what is the answer to world poverty and exploitation? Communists say that we need solidarity, not charity-mongering. In today's world, 'solutions' offered by the likes of the Make Poverty History campaign - more aid, debt cancellation and 'trade justice' - would actually help keep in place structural inequalities and oppression. This is because they do nothing to address the roots of poverty, which are to be found in the dominant social relations. They offer an illusion of a 'fair' world without a revolutionary overturn of those relations - how it is run and by which class. The Gordon Brown-brokered "historic agreement" on debt cancellation consists mainly of hot air. The G8 summit in Cologne in 1999 promised almost $100 billion in debt relief for the poorest countries. Most of it never materialised and much of the money that did find its way to Africa went straight into pockets of corrupt leaders. In fact, the 18 affected countries will 'save' between them a measly £1.5 billion that they would normally have spent on annual debt repayments. And much of the money promised by G7 leaders comes from simply rejuggling their books. The countries that will now 'benefit' are not necessarily the poorest - it is those that have previously become eligible for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. Under this, only those that agree to 'good governance' can, for example, expect their debts to be halved. 'Good governance' in this context means large-scale privatisation (as with Bolivia's gas supply) and drastic cutbacks in social provision. Obviously, this creates a fertile breeding ground for more corruption, inferior services and even more intense exploitation and poverty - after all, private capital will have to make a profit. Why is Africa poor? It is not hot weather or lack of rain that has produced African poverty. It is the result of ruthless pillage - first at the hands of swarms of slave-traders and then merchant capitalists who, with the help of their governments, bled the whole continent dry. After the end of formal colonial occupation, most African countries were left to rot. The 'Gordon Brown deal' is part of reshaping the world in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It must be viewed in the context of capitalism's secular decline, Bush's 'war on terrorism', the attempt to police the Middle East and stop Iran and North Korea from becoming nuclear threats. Africa is being put on a drip-feed in the interests of capital. The mass response to Make Poverty History is incredibly inspiring: millions of people are profoundly concerned for the plight of their fellow human beings and prepared to do something about it. Clearly, there is genuine mass sentiment - but one that has parasitically been used by the government for its own purposes. What is lacking is a clear working class programme - a programme that actually challenges the system itself rather than attempts to treat its symptoms. Whatever the subjective intentions of those involved, charities preserve and strengthen the exploitative social structures that condemn the majority of the world to grinding poverty. Charity does not work The world view of charity pitches working people in different countries against each other as part of 'the rich' or 'the poor'. The real class divisions in Africa and countries like Britain are buried. Instead, there is the moralising insistence that 'we' here in the west must bury our differences and unite with Gordon Brown or Bob Geldof to combat poverty. In fact, the opposite is true. Only by rediscovering class politics again can we offer hope of genuine liberty - in this country as well as in Africa. The key point to bear in mind is that charity, by definition, is the opposite of solidarity. Solidarity is practical aid and support in the struggle to take our destinies into our own hands. Liberation can never be handed down from above or by 'the west' - it can only come from below. All Gordon Brown and George W Bush want is the rule of law in the recipient countries, to allow for companies to invest without the fear of nationalist military coups or social anarchy. Communists, on the other hand, know that the only way to abolish poverty is by truly empowering those below. 'Trade justice' Under capitalism, inequality begins, of course, with the absence of 'trade justice' between the worker and the employer. Capitalists need to extract more from their workers than what they give in exchange for labour-power - their source of profit. On a bigger scale, this basic mechanism produces extremely uneven distribution of wealth within and between countries. This imbalance was made even more extreme with the development of the imperialist stage of capitalism. Capitalism has to expand constantly - if a company does not do so, sooner or later it will go bust. It is simply impossible to establish a 'level playing field' under capitalism. The G8 debt cancellation is not a selfless 'gift'. It comes at a heavy price. In fact debt cancellation will further increase dependency and help strengthen neo-colonialism. Crucially, because the debt cancellation is driven from above, it will not affect power relations - either in poor countries or on a global level. Corrupt elites will continue to squeeze the working people as much as they can. Privatisation will only give them greater opportunity for embezzlement and self-enrichment. What we should fight for is the repudiation of debts from below - a militant form of 'debt cancellation' that was one of the first acts of the Russian Revolution in 1917. Who gets the aid? We have to challenge the notion that 'aid' is always and everywhere a good thing. The two biggest receivers of aid from the US government are Israel and Egypt, who last year received $3.7 billion and $1.8 billion respectively. The vast bulk of this money was made up of non-repayable grants to enhance these two countries' military capabilities. Would it be a good idea to double or treble that? Should Ariel Sharon really be provided with more money to oppress the Palestinian population? What about Mubarak's well-documented campaign against the workers' and democratic movement in Egypt? Naturally, western aid does not go to militant trade unions, democratic organisations or those rebelling against oppression. Charity stipulates that only the 'deserving' poor can get some crumbs from the imperialist table - not those who want to abolish the social root of the inequality and build a new world from top to bottom. The key is - where does the money go and who controls it when it gets there? Just calling for 'more aid' is in most cases counterproductive. Much of the aid from Britain, for example, is channelled through British companies. Millions of pounds of development aid money are paid to privatisation consultants like KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Adam Smith Institute, who are engaged to 'advise' recipient governments on how best to privatise their water or gas provisions. Aid must be opened up to scrutiny and control from below - here and in the receiver countries. No more aid for military expenditure. No more aid that goes into the pockets of the rich elite. Aid to be paid directly to women's, workers' and peasant organisations - these can democratically decide for themselves how the money should be spent. Fighting for such a programme of democratic control and self-empowerment is the only way we can 'make poverty history l