Work within capitalism?
The article about Fair Trade (Socialist Standard, February) was certainly very interesting and the author puts forward a strong case, I haven’t got the time to outline counter-arguments to all the points but I can give an overview of what we are calling for. As a development charity we are working to improve people’s lives. You may disagree with the present socio-economic system but there is no current alternative, therefore, we think it is better to try and work within this system rather then just point out the difficulties and decide that nothing can be done. It also doesn’t take in to account that not all benefits for developed nations are so overtly determined by economics. For instance, what about the problems caused by mass-migration due to poverty? Surely rich nations have a vested interest in helping poorer nations to try and stem this flow. Our position is quite clear. We want developed nations to stop putting tariffs on imports from developing nations, stop using protectionism that leads to dumping and allow developing nations to protect their fledgling industries. I disagree with the article, as this would make a difference to the lives of some of the poorest. They would be able to sell their produce domestically and eventually be able to export it. To read about our ideas on Fair Trade please follow this link: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what_we_do/fairtrade/index.htm
I think 2005 was a landmark year in the struggle against poverty. Firstly, there was the agreement to write off debt at the G8, something that the author can’t account for using his/her premises, Gordon Brown also reconfirmed the pledge to raise aid levels to 0.7 percent GDP. Added to this is the fact that due to the Global Call to Action against Poverty Campaign (GCAP) more people all over the world protested to end poverty then has ever been seen before. If we can keep the pressure on in this way we can force our governments to change their actions. Governments aren’t just led by economic determinism, they are also led by public pressure. Therefore, while there is still a lot to be done we think that there have already been successes and that we need to keep up the pressure.
IAN SULLIVAN, Supporter Relations, Oxfam
We have never denied that campaigning charities like Oxfam can, and do, help a limited number of people. Our case is that they will never solve the problem they have chosen to concentrate on. We note that you confirm that Oxfam does have a reformist approach, as you claim that there is no current alternative to “the present socio-economic system” (capitalism) and so pursue a policy of working within that system to try to reform it. We, on the other hand, think in terms of action to replace capitalism by a system in which begging bowls can be assigned to the museum of antiquities because, with common ownership and production for use, people’s basic needs would be able to be met as a matter of course. – Editors.
My thanks for pointing out that www.worldmapper.org is worth a look (March Socialist Standard) .
Readers of the Socialist Standard may think they know a lot of the answers and even more of the problems, but look worldwide and inequalities are somewhat more stark than between the two social classes you refer to. Are you feeling lucky? Then here’s an old thought game. You are having a child and you are concerned that your child might not to live to see the end of its first year of life. You can choose when and where you give birth and your class. You have three options:
Your husband is a very rich factory owner living a hundred years ago in England, you have servants, a huge home and gardens (in say 1906). You are a middle class women in Pakistan living in Islamabad in 2006. You are a working class woman living in Yorkshire in England in 2006. The respective chances of your child dying before their first birthday would be roughly: 1 in 10, 1 in 30 and 1 in 100. You could improve those chances further to 1 in 300 and almost 1 in 1000 by being middle class now in Yorkshire, or being that and moving to Iceland.
What I’m trying to point out is that the importance of class is contingent on both history and geography – and a woman giving birth in the world today cannot choose her history, or geography or class. You claim that “So, if ‘where you are born’ determines how your life will pan out, that has to be seen as a matter of class, not of geography”. I think that if it was quite as easy as that then there would no longer be a problem. It is a matter of class and geography and history (and sex, race and more) as to how you are treated, what your chances are and how your life will pan out or whether you will live through your first year to have a life at all. None of these are circumstances of your own making. In Britain – increasingly, geography is helping make class – but that is another story altogether.
DANNY DORLING, SHEFFIELD
Reply: We have no quarrel with the idea that a person’s date and place of birth affects their chances in life. And we assume you wouldn’t deny that class enters into the picture too. Our article dealt not with infant mortality but with the kind of job people are likely to have. There is no middle class (they’re part of the working class). And it’s the class people are born into (working class or capitalist) that determines whether they will need to worry about working for a living. We appeal to workers on the basis of their class interests, not the question of being from Yorkshire or Iceland. Not everyone can move to Iceland, but we can get rid of class divisions. — Editors.