Break the rule of profit!

Submitted by martin on 3 December, 2003 - 10:52

In the mid 14th century, about 30 or 40 million people died in Europe in the Black Death. That was when most people lived constantly on the edge of hunger; low technology and productivity made it impossible to escape that; and no-one understood how to prevent or cure such diseases.
In the 21st century, 28 million people have died so far from AIDS, about 20 million of them in Africa. Over 40 million are living with AIDS, 29 million of them in Africa. Most of those will die of it.
This is in a world which produces much more food than it needs (and could easily produce more). Technology and productivity improve every year.
Where the resources of modern medical science have been applied to the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in relatively prosperous, relatively equal societies, they have limited the ravages. Australia and New Zealand have only 15,000 current cases of HIV/AIDS, and most of those have good chances with anti-retroviral drugs.
Elsewhere, and most of all in Africa, we could as well be in the 14th century.
Of the 30 million people in Africa with HIV/AIDS, only tens of thousands get anti-retroviral drugs.
Most do not even get the basics they need to survive a little longer: a good diet, with plenty of protein and micronutrients.
The reason is simple: profit. Supplying AIDS drugs to Africa would cost about US $10 billion a year. Setting up access to food, clean drinking water, education and health care for everyone in the world would require taxing the 225 biggest personal fortunes in the world at a rate of just four per cent.
The sums are miniscule compared to the trillions churned through foreign exchange markets and stock exchanges every day.
But there is little profit from spending to save those lives. And it would harm the profits of the giant drug and food multinationals. So millions of people suffer and die early, horrible deaths. Whole societies in sub-Saharan Africa implode and rot.
The rule of profit, the system that makes all economic activity revolve around a "return on capital" from the exploitation of labour into the pockets of shareholders and bosses, makes the world of the 21st century as brutal and inhumane, to the poorest within it, as that of the 14th century.
About 30 million people each year die from lack of adequate food. The figure is very approximate, because most die not from out-and-out starvation but from diseases brought about or worsened by malnutrition.
842 million people worldwide are undernourished. Does capitalist globalisation spread the wealth, and bit by bit draw the poorest into its economic up-current? No. The number undernourished has increased by 18 million since the mid-1990s.
There are 44 million undernourished even in the richer advanced-capitalist and ex-Stalinist states. That number is increasing, too.
As with AIDS, the worst is in Africa. Capitalist production does open up possibilities for workers to organise and even grab some bits off its plate. But simultaneously, and as part of the same process, it creates, beyond the core working class, a "reserve army" of those employed from time to time, usually on worse conditions; and beyond that again a mass of paupers rejected even from the "reserve army".
"The greater the social wealth, the functioning the capital, the extent and energy of its growth, and therefore also the absolute mass of the proletariat [working class] and the productiveness of its labour, the greater is the industrial reserve army... [And] the more extensive the lazarus-layers of the working class, and the industrial reserve-army, the greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation. Like all other laws it is modified in its working by many circumstances..."
These sentences of Karl Marx are as timely today as when written over 130 years ago. Writing about how the interests of accumulated capital dominated over those of living labour, Marx used the French expression: "Le mort saisit le vif", The dead seizes the living. It is grotesquely true today. The "dead", inhuman principle of profit is crushing life out of the people of the world's poorest countries.
In the global pauper-ghettoes of modern global capitalism, hunger combines with AIDS in a vicious circle. AIDS kills people in their productive years, reducing productivity. Sixty to 70% of farms in southern Africa have lost labour because of AIDS. Children are left without parents and teachers, and even if they survive to adulthood cannot till the land efficiently. What little global capital investment there might otherwise have been in Africa flees the continent.
Hunger, in its turn, worsens both the effect of AIDS and its spread, by increasing prostitution for example.
The fight for socialism, for common ownership and democratic workers' control of the world's productive wealth, is no sectarian digression, no distant issue to be shelved while we sink ourselves into personal preoccupations or whatever local campaign "fits the mood". It is a matter of life or death.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.