Skip to Content

“A lame duck”

As the date for the World Summit on Sustainable Development drew nearer, the UN advised participants not to be seen to be extravagant during the Summit since about 13 million people were facing starvation in the immediate environment of the venue. Kofi Annan's plea was unnecessary, not just because those millions would still starve (they have always starved) but also because the conferees would not see their normal lifestyles as extravagant and so would not heed the advice. On the other hand, it was important because it reveals the hypocrisy of Annan, the UN and their masters in the big business community. So even before delegates started arriving the whole world was told, in the warning Annan gave, that the summit was just another forum to disseminate lies and lip service.

Like any other phenomenon, the money-based system is not static. It has to continue to change its rules and methods of operation. The world summit in Johannesburg was one such example of the ongoing trend in the development of capitalism. On the face of it, however, it was a conference designed to bridge the widening chasm between the North and the South, a conference aimed at seeking solutions to environmental pollution. But in reality the Summit was nothing other than a business breakfast meeting; a market place where the owners of the means of living and their cronies met and discussed how to enhance their business in the form of loans and investments. It was organized by the world class business executives through their main agent – the UN – with the sole aim of increasing the scope and area of trade and commerce. The capitalists would then enhance their objective of concentrating capital.

Victor Menotti of International Forum on Globalisation wrote the following in his book Exporting Enron Environmentalism: The Bush Vision for Johannesburg:

“The Bush vision for Johannesburg shows more strategic foresight than almost anything the unilateralist, free trader has proposed in any international arena to date. What has been revealed on the road to Johannesburg is a grand plan to permanently incapacitate the United Nations as an institution to meaningfully address the twin crises of global poverty and ecological decline.”

It is not surprising therefore, that at the end of the party on 4 September the Heinrich Boll Foundation summed up the summit thus:

“The Johannesburg World Summit has ended. Governments deliberated on their declarations and the Johannesburg Action Plan; developing countries fought for market access and increased foreign aid; the United States blocked meaningful targets and timetables; and NGOs feared that not even the achievements of the Rio Summit ten years ago would be reaffirmed” (http://www.worldsummit2002.org/start.htm).

The Summit also provided a deep insight into the role and therefore the position of the corporate media in the class war. Paid to do the dirty public relations work, most of the journalists instead of exposing the hypocrisy of the powers-that-be merely trumpet what they've been fed to publicise. Of course the mention of certain obvious instances and events were unavoidable like the booing and heckling of the US delegation and the presence of anti-capitalist demonstrators. But even here only scant journalism was applied. Months before the meeting, groups with vested interest created channels through which the media would be guided as to what aspects of the deliberations should be highlighted. Websites were opened by these groups and lots of biased but very subtle information could be accessed by the media and NGOs. Through out the summit a group called Sustainable Development Issues Network (SDIN) held 'daily NGOs strategy discussions' in Johannesburg. Their co-ordinators worked very hard adding content, news and event links to the SDIN issue pages. In fact they encouraged and urged journalists to “use the links as a resource” (http: //www.sdissues.net/SDIN/).

But perhaps the aspect of the conference that interests us socialists most was the presence there of the ubiquitous anti-capitalists. This Summit, organised to enhance the capitalist caste's dominion over the rest of mankind, only succeeded in drawing attention to the rising hatred of the masses against the stinking hypocrisy in the status quo. Many thousands of protesters, including victims of the Union Carbide disaster in India in 1984, converged in Johannesburg from all over the world. They made a loud noise throughout the summit. They even embarrassed the world policeman that the US has turned itself into by rudely interrupting Colin Powell's speech. However, these anti-capitalists run the risk of being seen as agents provocateurs since their actions lack direction thus rendering their objectives truncated and meaningless. It is not enough to hate or speak against the inhuman capitalist system. It is much more important to articulate an alternative to it, an antidote to the malaise. And this is where the anti-capitalists are handicapped. They make all that noise only to appeal like the Shakespearean Shylock to the insatiable capitalists to have mercy on the masses. This is no solution.

If the anti-capitalists had pondered over the outcome of the Rio Summit a decade ago from a scientific and genuinely people-centred considerations, they would have gone further than begging our unwilling capitalist group to have pity. Ten years after the Agenda 21 was adopted, the situation of the environment has only travelled from bad to worse. Sustainable development remains an empty slogan eluding everyone. The masses continue to experience an alarming rate of marginalisation. The anti-capitalists have failed to ask themselves why the US and other powers have openly refused to accept the Kyoto Protocol on environmental pollution. If they had asked themselves, they would have realized that where money and profits are concerned people and environment are secondary, nay expendable.

Another fact that people generally failed to understand is that tackling individual issues such as environment; health; education; terrorism; wars; hunger; etc will lead no one anywhere. There is one fundamental cause that runs through all problems that face mankind – the ownership of the main resources of the world. Here we are talking about the tools with which wealth is produced: factories, land, transport and communications, etc. When only a few people control these, as is the case now, they use every vile means to maintain their stranglehold over them even if it means destroying the environment and by extension the masses. They can never listen to appeals; they only know their profits. A profit-oriented system can never be made to work otherwise; it is impossible to reform it to benefit the masses. The best bet for mankind, therefore, is to do away with such relations of minority ownership and replace it with a common ownership which will lead to a democratic way of managing these resources in the interests of mankind as a whole.