World view: * Venezuela:Rooting out corruption?* Population: Feeding the Six Billionth
Venezuela: Rooting out corruption?
In 1989, following mass rioting, after government austerity measures which cut working-class incomes, 300 people were killed by the security forces in Venezuela. Most of the bodies “disappeared”; but in October 1996, because of a putrid smell in a building in a cemetery, on a hillside just outside the capital, Caracas, dozens of unidentified corpses were discovered. They had been dumped there secretly by the state, and left to rot.
It was not, however, just the bodies of the workers that were left to rot. Much of Venezuela was in a state of decay. Moreover, as we pointed out last year (Socialist Standard, October 1998), the economy had been teetering on the edge of total instability throughout the 1990s. Not surprisingly, Venezuela was badly affected by the economic crisis spreading throughout much of the world. The government, whose currency had been under intense pressure for some time, launched an immediate round of public spending cuts. What has happened since then?
Seven years ago, Hugo Chavez led a failed military coup against the government, “in the name of Venezuela’s poor”; but was democratically elected president last February. He is a belligerent populist, who claimed that he would root out corruption, of which there is a lot, in Venezuela.
Following his inauguration, Chavez soon showed his hand. He began to prepare for the elections in August. He flouted the electoral laws by promoting his own candidates, and by appointing army officers to senior government posts. And he claimed that he had strong support among the poor majority. And he has been proved right. His left-wing coalition, which included his wife, his brother and about 20 of his former military colleagues, won 122 seats of the 131-seat assembly, in an 80 percent turnout.
He says that the new assembly will renew institutions which have been dominated by the two old parties for 40 years; and he wants the assembly to dissolve congress and the supreme court. Following his victory, Chavez claimed that:
The victory of the patriots has been pulverising. We are building a true democracy in a way that those who destroyed the country from here didn’t know how to (Guardian, 27 July).
Official statistics admit that sixty-five percent of Venezuelans live in poverty, despite the fact that the country possesses the largest oil reserves in the Western Hemisphere. During the last three decades, the per capita wealth of Venezuela has dropped twenty-five percent. In October last year, we asked: what of the working class? And we said that, for them, it can only get worse. We were right.
Despite the stabilisation of the currency, there has been a sharp economic downturn of the economy, resulting in the loss of about 600,000 jobs since Hugo Chavez took office as President in February. Moreover, we can safely predict that the majority of the people of Venezuela, the employed and unemployed working class, will continue to exist in poverty and deprivation, in the dilapidated apartments of Caracas, the run-down shacks of the surrounding ranchos or the one-storey slums of Maracy in Aragua state.
All Chavez’s proposed reforms, and all the present support of the workers, will not make one iota of difference. Only a change from capitalism to socialism will achieve that.
PETER E NEWELL
In the year 1800, there were one billion humans alive. Seventy years ago, the world had two billion human inhabitants. Thirty years ago, that figure had doubled to four billion. On October 12 of this year, at 1.24 am New York Time, the UN Secretary General will announce to the world that the six billionth human has been born.
By all accounts, the six billionth baby will be born into a life of poverty and misery. While the population trend in the industrialised world is stability or declining numbers—with Europe’s population, for instance, expected to drop by 25 percent in the next 50 years—97 out of every 100 children born live in the developing world.
At present, the increase in the world’s population stands at some 78 million per year. By the year 2050, Earth is expected to have 8.9 billion human inhabitants, with the UN forecasting that the global population will level off at about 11 billion round about 2120.
Come this October, we can no doubt expect a glut of newspaper articles highlighting Kofi Annan’s statement, many in the Malthusian tradition, arguing that population cannot grow beyond the means of subsistence and that we can expect increased rivalry for scarce resources, civil unrest and a breakdown in law and order. We can expect to be reminded that we cannot grow the food for increased future generations and that the world’s fresh water supplies are dwindling.
Firstly, under capitalism rivalry for resources, scarce or in abundance, has always been the norm. Secondly, it is important to point out that what scarcity there is—whether it be food or water—is artificially brought about.
It is no state secret that food is not primarily produced to eat. It is produced for the market and with a view to make profits. The 1.3 billion humans in the underdeveloped world who go without food on any given day do not constitute a market because they cannot purchase what they need. Hence, we find governments ordering land to be taken out of production because the surplus cannot be sold at a profit. We find governments the world over ordering the destruction of mountains of food to keep prices high. We are informed of the dwindling supplies of fresh water, but the technology has existed for quite some time to enable us to convert sea water into fresh water for irrigation and domestic use.
The paradox that there is hunger and thirst in the midst of plenty was hinted at as far back as 50 years ago when the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation was formed. Its first Director General, Lord Boyd-Orr, observed in the Times of 22nd July 1949 how:
There was no difficulty about producing enough food for the present population of the world, or even twice that number, but the problem was, could politics and economics arrange that the food that was produced was dispersed and consumed in the countries that needed it?
The problem becomes not one of feeding the world’s growing population, but of organising production and distribution on a rational basis. While we can expect the Malthusian prophets of doom to remind us that every new child means an extra mouth to feed, they will neglect to add that it also means an extra pair of hands, an extra brain, capable of contributing to the common good .
Socialists ask whether the present social system will allow these hands and this brain to be used wisely, to produce the extra wealth needed for a growing population. So long as the market system prevails the answer is no. Capitalism is not only a system of artificial scarcity, it is also a system of organised waste. Countless millions of workers are to be found in the armed forces, many more in the security and law and order business, with many times that number employed in the field of commerce and finance.
And its not as though there is a problem with there being enough workers to produce what we need. It has been estimated that within 25 years, just 2 percent of the world’s population will be able to produce everything needed—and this takes into account the insane and artificial constraints imposed by the profit system.
Present and projected increases in the global population only pose a problem under the conditions imposed by capitalist society—the laws of profit first and can’t pay, can’t have. Socialist society will see an end to the “planned and subsidised under-production” that President Kennedy observed almost 40 years ago. It will see an end to scarcity and a removing of the artificial barriers that presently curb production. Socialist society will ensure that the resources of the Earth are used in a manner that ensures every man, woman and child is adequately fed, clothed and sheltered—something capitalism has never been capable of overseeing.