Business as usual
By Hannah Wood and Matt Cooper
Early September saw a disgusting spectacle. Sixty thousand delegates descended on the rich centre of Johannesburg.
They said they had come to "save the earth". In fact government leaders and business leaders crammed the market restaurants. Only the marginalised NGOs had any kind of claim to represent us, the workers and poor of the world.
This was the ruling classes of the world getting together to talk about its problems and demonstrating its inability to solve them
The Johannesburg summit was the follow up to a 1992 conference held in Rio. And it was even more anaemic. At least Rio established a framework on climate change, agreements on biodiversity, and set some targets for governments.
So what was decided at Johannesburg? They agreed to tackle world poverty - but largely by "freeing up" markets, the neo-liberal solution. But even this was merely a statement of "good intentions" and principles meant to inform the Doha Round of world trade talks.
Much of the anti-globalisation movement would oppose such a strategy, and it is true it is not the socialist solution. However, we do not back the French farmers who bulldoze McDonalds to protect their own privileged position, their own subsidies and, ultimately, their own private property. Three hundred and fifty billion dollars a year goes to subsidising agriculture in the economically developed OECD states. The US and the EU states are, in fact, a protected market where exports from Third World states do not compete freely. At the same time, Third World agriculture is damaged by the dumping of excess agricultural produce in their markets. Ultimately, the socialist solution is to use these huge resources to rationally organise production democratically and on a world scale. Right now we demand our governments give no-strings development aid to the Third World.
We should not oppose, for example, the opening up of EU markets to Mozambique sugar. The effects of such a move would be uneven. It would lead to increased industrial farming, peasants being driven off the land and the creation of a new layer of rural and urban poor. There is no guarantee that profits from the agribusiness would go into the local circuits of capital - multinational companies such as Monsanto are likely to get as much profit as possible to line American pockets. Even if agribusiness was locally owned it is by no means certain that this would lead to increased investment. More likely it will lead to increased purchasing of Western luxury goods for an elite. And opening up markets makes no change to property relations - people in Africa are not starving because there is no food but because they have no money to buy it. However, such a move would lead to a stronger rural proletariat and in time a stronger urban working class and this is the agency that can oppose and overthrow capitalism. Socialists do not oppose capitalist development, but we do oppose the bad effects of the development.
The Summit also made an agreement on water sanitation. Targets were set to halve the number of people without access to clean water and sanitation by 2015. This is undeniably important, but the cost of doing it is so little it's really only a token. Rio set a target of developed countries spending 0.75% of their GDP on the Third World, but since then that proportion has dropped from 0.35% to a paltry 0.22%. If just a small amount of the aid which has been cut by OECD countries since Rio was reinstated all people of the world could have clean water and very quickly.
The Summit tackled global warming. Pretty much everyone, apart from oil companies and the US government, accepts that global warming is a reality. Yet over the last 10 years we have seen a derailment of any attempt to deal with the issue. Having gutted the Kyoto Treaty, the US government has now failed to ratify it - they are not even prepared to accept the necessity to curb the rate of increase in the release of greenhouse gases. Rather than agree targets and methods of cutting greenhouse gases, the summit made a vague intent, in effect, to "think about it".
No-one knows what the effects of global warming will be, the question is can capitalism do anything about this and other environmental challenges. One might say that the answer should be yes - it is clearly not in the long term interests of the ruling class to destroy the planet.
In reality the answer is no. Specific sections of very powerful capital (oil companies and car companies) have a very strong interest in doing nothing, and these sections of capital are based in particular states - the USA and Japan.
Governments there do the bidding of the capital on which they are based, not some hypothetical "capital in general". In order for environmental regulations to work they have to be global, but there is no global government. So particular national governments (most notably, but not solely, the US) will block agreements because of links to oil companies, motor industry, mining or whatever...
Capitalism has no mechanism for regulating the destruction of the environment. And so, as the so-called Earth Summit showed only too clearly, starvation, poverty and the destruction of the environment are an intrinsic part of capitalism.