|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Did the G8 add up?
WHAT WAS achieved at the G8 summit? The horrific events in London on 7 July took the Gleneagles meeting off the front pages, but many will be looking to see if the big promises made by Blair and co add up to their pledge to make poverty history.
The main spokespeople for the Make Poverty History campaign, such as Oxfam, Bob Geldof, Bono and film director Richard Curtis, encouraged the millions who are appalled by global poverty to appeal to the G8 to abandon its raison d’être and act in the interests of ordinary people rather than the multinationals. After the summit, Geldof rated the G8: "On aid, ten out of ten; on debt eight out of ten".
Yet just a handful of figures provide an initial taste of the inadequacy of the Gang of Eight to meet the goals it set itself. Fifty billion dollars (£28.8bn) was promised in aid, although even Oxfam admits that only $20 billion of that money is new. Eighteen countries were promised debt forgiveness but, as yet, this has not been acted on and, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have not agreed it, it is unclear how it will be funded. The charity War on Want said that the G8 has met less than 10% of the demand on debt cancellation and not even a fifth of what was called for on aid. On trade, it says that the G8 has hardened its stance, "forcing more countries to open up their markets and threatening millions with the misery of poverty". Kumi Naidoo, of Global Call to Action Against Poverty, said if all the pledges were implemented by 2010, 37,000 people would die each day as a result of poverty rather than the current 50,000.
Blair also promised action on climate change. However, the urgency to act has been downgraded with Bush successfully arguing that climate change be seen as a ‘challenge’ rather than a ‘threat’.
Every meeting of the institutions of world capitalism, since the massive protests of Seattle in 1999, has been met with demonstrations in opposition to the policies of neo-liberalism, privatisation and war. This year, Blair and co cynically posed as concerned philanthropists and appealed to those who wished to end the nightmare of poverty to come to Edinburgh to implore the G8 to increase aid and debt forgiveness. However, most people concurred with the Socialist Party’s characterisation of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as warmongers, privatisers and careerists rather than caring, sharing humanitarians. G8 leaders obviously recognised the threadbare nature of their saintly disguise and, to deter future protests, the full force of the state was at the ready – thousands of riot police prepared to use their full arsenal, including new powers of arrest and detention. On the journey to Auchterarder near the summit venue, the police had blanked out all the road signs.
So what was actually achieved on the key demands? Blair insisted that Gleneagles had achieved "very substantial progress indeed", though he admitted that the deal fell short of what was hoped for: "We do not, simply by this communiqué, make poverty history. But we do show it can be done and we do signify the political will to do it". The devil is, however, in the detail. Steve Scifferes of the BBC comments that we still await the decision on how increased aid can be made more effective. In the run-up to the meeting there was much discussion on the corruption of many African leaders, softening resistance to Blair and co’s preferred method of handing cash over to ‘responsible’ private business.
In fact, since the summit there has been a reiteration of the importance of the role of the ‘free market’ by G8 members. The strings or ‘conditionalities’ of aid and debt relief, which force governments of the poorest and most indebted countries to open up their economies to privatisation and trade, have been reinforced. George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian (5 July) about the role of the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) and Business Action for Africa (BAA). Between them they represent the ‘Africa interests’ of Halliburton, Exxon Mobil, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Microsoft, Shell, British American Tobacco, De Beers, etc. One of their aims is to inaugurate the Investment Climate Facility whereby $550 million from the UK foreign aid budget, World Bank and G8 nations is "driven and controlled by the private sector", to help create a "healthy investment climate" that will offer companies "attractive financial returns" in Africa.
Nigeria’s debt ‘pardon’ has been held up as a historic achievement. Behind the grand announcements, however, is the harsh reality of the continued use of debt as a political tool. Segun Sango of the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria) calls it a "second slavery", whereby the Nigerian working class is forced to mortgage its oil reserves to pay ‘debts’ which have already been repaid.
What the Paris Club of international creditors did was no more than agree ‘in principle’ to write off $18 billion of the $31 billion ‘owed’ it by Nigeria. This is on the basis that Nigeria fulfils certain conditionalities. Nigeria has struggled to pay back $1 billion a year since receiving its loan, despite estimated oil sales of over $300 billion since 1960. These repayments have been made on the basis of cuts to spending on health and education, for example. One of the terms of the debt ‘forgiveness’ is that Nigeria immediately pays $6 billion of what the Paris Club terms "arrears of unpaid principal and interest" on the $31 billion loan. The second condition is that Nigeria "must secure approval from the IMF board for its economic reforms and submit itself to continued economic monitoring". (Financial Times, 1 July) Thirdly, Nigeria must agree to buy back the remaining $8.25 billion it ‘owes’ at a "discounted market rate". Of course, all Nigerians would prefer to have the nightmare of the debt burden eliminated, but how will these demands be met? The working class has already paid dearly with hikes in fuel prices, placing the country’s own resources out of the reach of most people, as well as very severe cuts in vital services. With this ‘agreement’, poverty and debt will continue to be features of life.
To a certain extent, Geldof, Curtis, Oxfam and co were successful in building illusions in the G8, but the reality of the G8’s inability and unwillingness to fundamentally change the world is at odds with the aspirations of millions to live on a planet that is no longer plagued by inequality and poverty. They will not be able to maintain their positions as self-imposed leaders. A letter in the London Metro asks: "Where is the cool white wristband brigade now?"
In Latin America, where Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher began the neo-liberal experiment, there is no patience with the empty promises of leaders professing to have the interests of the working class and poor at heart while carrying out brutal social cuts and privatisation at the behest of the IMF and World Bank. In Ecuador, and particularly Bolivia, where the masses have suffered the economic rape and pillaging of the country’s natural resources of gas and oil, we can get a taste of what future movements to make poverty history will comprise. Not white marches to appeal to the vanities of the capitalist leaders but mass demonstrations and general strikes raising demands for nationalisation. The discussion there has moved on from how we put pressure on these puppets of big business to how we remove them and with what we replace them.
This is the music of the future for Britain. In the very positive response to our red and socialist participation in the demonstrations and events in Scotland – Edinburgh, Gleneagles, Faslane and Dungavel – it is clear that, for many, patience with empty promises is wearing thin and alternatives are being sought. As Karl Marx wrote, it is conditions that determine consciousness. It will become more and more clear to a growing number that capitalism is incapable of meeting even the basic needs of more than a minority of the planet’s inhabitants. To prevent the destruction of the environment and the eternal exploitation of the majority for the profit of a few, we must seek to replace that system with a planned and democratic system which can meet the needs of all.