excerpts from the book
No-Nonsense guide to
Class. Caste & Hierarchies
by Jeremy Seabrook
New Internationalist / Verso,
According to the United Nations Human Development Report', the
world's richest 20 per cent receive 86 per cent of the world's
gross product; the middle 60 per cent 13 per cent, while the poorest
20 per cent receive one per cent. The ratio between the incomes
of the top and bottom fifth of humanity is 74 to 1. In 1960 it
was 30 to 1.
Three billion people live on less than $2 a day and far more than
that on less than $5 a day.
... the founding of the lndustrial Workers of the World l (IWW)
in 1905. This was in opposition to the American Federation of
Labor (AFL) headed by Samuel Gompers, whose emphasis was on organizing
skilled rather than unskilled labor. The IWW was to be the 'One
Big Union', a movement of all workers in all industries, which
would work towards universal liberation from wage slavery. They
became known as the 'Wobblies'. Although it split into two bitter
factions it reached the height of its power between 1912 and 1917.
Its principal strength lay in lumber workers of the Pacific North-West,
migratory workers from the wheatfields of the central states,
textile workers in the North East, longshoremen and mineworkers.
Among often violent strikes were those of the miners in Goldfield,
Nevada (1906-7), textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1912)
and silk workers in Paterson, NJ (1913). They opposed the entry
of the US into the First World War, as a result of which many
leaders and rank and file members were imprisoned. The 'Red Scare'
of communism in 1920 undermined the effectiveness of the Wobblies,
when "criminal syndicalism' was outlawed in many states.
The Soviet State was established in the name of the working class.
The subsequent distortions of its society, the violence, the lies
and sacrifice of millions of human beings, ostensibly for the
sake of socialism, are well known. The first leader, Lenin, created
the basis for a new elite class, when he declared that the proletariat
could not attain full consciousness without the aid of bourgeois
intellectuals. In the Soviet Union, this task was entrusted to
the Communist Party, which came to speak as though it, and not
the people, was the proletariat. The terror of Lenin's successor
Stalin, the slaughter of the Second World War and the incapacity
of socialism to match the inventiveness of capitalism all led
to the downfall of the Soviet Union. This created the faltering
of belief and the crisis of faith in socialism. It is in the context
of socialism's alleged 'unworkability', its contrariness to 'human
nature' and its ideological simplicity, that capitalism has renewed
itself globally with such dynamic vigor and energy.
The fate of the Soviet Union and the cruelty
that forced human beings to live according to the dictates of
ideology have been presented by the defenders of capitalism as
evidence that Marx's analysis of class was false, that no politics
can be grounded on his ideological premises. They have gone further.
Taking their cue from the failure of communism they now maintain
that capitalism expresses something profound and enduring about
human relationships, that it is scarcely a system at all, but
rather an I emanation of the natural world itself.
While inequality - the distribution of wealth between rich and
poor - in the l990s bore a close resemblance to that of the 1890s,
people's subjective experience has been of rising disposable income,
transformation of living and working conditions unparalleled since
the working class was born in the raw settlements of early industrialism.
At the root of present-day social stratification,
the effects of the trauma of industrialization still remain: when
the majority of the people, evicted from agrarian and rural society,
became urban. Men, women and children were pressed into labor
in mines, mills and factories often in degrading conditions, for
prolonged periods of time, for wages barely at subsistence level.
Such violence is not quickly overcome. Great wrongs never are
- as the legacies of slavery, the Irish famine, the holocaust
and the partition of India continue to show to the world.
Subsequent economic growth has not eliminated
the scars of gross injustice imposed as Britain emerged as the
industrial power-house of the world; scars visible in the variable
life-expectancy between those born in affluent communities in
the south of England and old inner-city populations of Glasgow
or Liverpool, and in isolated pit villages. The same is seen in
the US, where poor people in Washington DC or Appalachian mining
communities produce statistics on child mortality more akin to
those in the Third World than L: their peers in California or
Connected with this are the effects of a new global division of
labor. The Western democracies are beneficiaries of a globalization
which nevertheless exacerbates worldwide inequality. It also realigns
the position of the people within one country in new forms of
stratification. But since globalization represents the continuing
dominance of the already rich countries, it has apparently advantaged
a majority of the people in the US, Australia, Japan and other
'advanced' industrial countries. The radical reconfiguration of
class in these countries means that a majority now identify with
a global middle class, while
It is now widely acknowledged that liberation from debilitating
work is both feasible and desirable. It is obvious that there
is no longer any need for profoundly oppressive and exploitative
labor in the world. But it would be a disaster for the capitalist
system to recognize this, since it is founded on the inevitability
of a labor without end. So the myth has to be maintained that
work, work and more work is required; the way this is done is
to tether people to the idea that only by excessive labor will
they be able to buy all the glittering goods held out before them.
Philosopher Andre Gorz wrote that 'what
is happening is that industrial society is doing its best to hide
the fact that the amount of socially necessary labor is declining
rapidly and that everyone could benefit from this. Such a systemic
catastrophe has to be avoided; and one way in which this has occurred
has been the rise of what we may call a consumeriat, almost a
mirror-image of Marx's proletariat, which makes people submit
to any intensification of labor for the money that will procure
the goods and services essential for a full life.
One of the - perhaps unexpected - outcomes of the death of socialism
and the power of globalization is that virtually everyone in the
West is now united around the inclusive project of 'wealth-creation'.
If we want to understand why growing global
inequality meets with only slender popular resistance, this may
give a clue. It seems that divisions between rich and poor have
been submerged in a common quest for more wealth. In other words,
the majority has accepted that the only hope of a better life
lies not in a fairer distribution of the wealth of the world but
in the creation of much more money, which may be applied to improve
their position. A universal commitment to economic growth and
expansion will waft the whole population upwards into capitalism's
realm of freedom. It is now the objective of international financial
institutions, the World Trade Organization, governments of the
G-8 and the transnationals to impose this 'settlement' upon the
whole world. Unfortunately for them, the peoples of India, Bangladesh,
Brazil or Mexico, receiving little benefit from this universal
dedication to wealth-creation, do not always see the wisdom of
this ideological structure. Indeed, the experience of people in
the so-called 'developing' world is reminiscent of that endured
by the workers of Britain of the early l9th century.
Of course, there are differences. People
live in other climates and cultures, inheritors of other religions
and ethnicities. There are varying degrees to which non-economic
resources are shared, in order to humanize some of the brutalities
of urbanization; an urbanization which may or may not be accompanied
by industrialization. In Jakarta, Dhaka and Mexico City, for instance,
manufacturing industry is widespread, much as it was in the early
years of the growth of Manchester; while in Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay),
there are extensive service sectors where many people make a livelihood
in the shadow of commercial, governmental or bureaucratic activity,
as in early l9th-century London.
In spite of all this, the inhabitants
of the slums of Sao Paulo, Manila or Dhaka suffer want and insecurity
familiar to the workers of Britain in the early industrial period.
People are always poor in the same way. Hunger, insufficiency
and sickness know nothing of cultural difference, but torment
the body and spirit of Hindu, animist, Nigerian or Burmese without
And with the spread of the global market
system to virtually every country on earth, the strategies for
survival on which people rely show extraordinary convergence.
The workers in the spinning mills and weaving sheds of Jakarta
and the industrial cities of China are subject to the same evils
that shaped the sensibility of the working class in Britain -
wages below subsistence, long hours of labor, absence of social
benefits, effective denial of the right to combine, brutal overseers.
The children working in Victorian observer Henry Mayhew's London
of the 1850s - the mudlarks scavenging among the coal-barges in
the Thames, the maids incarcerated in attics - have their counterparts
in the street children earning a few opportunistic rupees in the
markets of Mumbai, the children deprived of all possessions except
tattered clothes who live on the river-terminal of Dhaka, the
maids imprisoned behind the ornamental grilles of villas in the
suburbs of Rio de Janeiro.
Everything in the world has changed and
yet eerily, everything remains the same. Social and economic relationships
remain constant. Only the actors are different; this is what gives
the pensioners of small privilege in the West such a sense of
our own improvement.
How easy it is to reconcile ourselves
to the sufferings of others! How readily we accommodate the exported
misery, the distant wrongs and evils which have been removed from
our immediate experience! How eager we are to take credit for
our good fortune, and how unwilling to reflect on the basis on
which it has been built, how secure it may be and whether or not
it can last! The growth of the ideology of individualism in the
West gives to the people advantaged by globalization the impression
that they are indeed responsible for their own advancement; that
the improvements in their lives are a reflection of their own
hard work and merit.
As seen earlier, the great majority of
people in the cities of the Third World are recent country-dwellers.
They bring vestiges of an archaic peasant existence, memories
of subsistence and an exchange-economy not based on the values
of a global market. Most are employed in the informal sector,
as was the case with San Francisco or Liverpool, rather than in
great concentrations of industrial labor. Most are not in sweatshops
subcontracted to the transnationals, but are in small workshops,
employed by local companies for the home market. Most provide
some service for the rich, or they exist on the leavings of the
classes above them.
But this does not mean that their relation
to the global rich is different from that in which we stood towards
our social superiors in the recent past. Quite the contrary. Globalization
has accelerated the creation of a global working class. It is
not by any means homogeneous, but fragmented, involving a high
proportion of women, many children, covering a vast range of activities,
sub-contracted, sub-subcontracted, whose only unity lies in the
fact that they have been called into existence by the integrating
power of global capital and privilege.
The diverse peoples of the earth are increasingly
pressed into the service of global wealth-creation. And the most
conspicuous beneficiaries of this are precisely the former working
class of the West.
The neo-liberal moment of the Thatcher-Reagan years ... represented
the entrenchment of Western dominance of the world, its power
to cancel alternatives and to institutionalize existing patterns
of power, wealth and control. According to the theory, it is only
by the creation of wealth, untrammeled by government or any other
interference that the poor can ever hope to be lifted out of misery.
Many comforting myths are available to
gain the support of the people in the West for this view of the
world. Of course the seven million child workers of Bangladesh
suffer; naturally, the people living on rubbish-heaps, in crumbling
tenements, in bamboo houses on stilts driven into polluted waters,
in hovels of plywood, polythene and other industrial detritus,
present a pitiful and regrettable sight. But after all isn't this
what our societies went through during the first period of industrialism?
Our recognition of the similarities and echoes of our own forebears'
experience serve, not to revolt or horrify us, but to make us
see in this merely a stage of development, a necessary phase in
the process of growing rich, which will eventually raise those
people to the levels of living and consumption enjoyed by a majority
in the West.
Yet the improvements won by Western people
were achieved only by the fiercest struggle and sacrifice; and
their gains were, to a considerable degree, at the expense of
those whose familiar suffering we have come generally believe
is no concern of ours. Moreover, the struggles of the labor movement
have been obscured by globalization: a working class divided across
national boundaries, is set in competition for even the most degrading
and ill-paid labor. Every time we in the rich world turn on our
TV sets, we see images of the poor, noses at the windowpane of
our screens. And we are invited to draw our own conclusions which,
more often than not are the conclusions of wealth and privilege.
The need for continuing struggle against social injustice has
not gone away. It is simply that the actors are different, unrecognizable
from those who were earlier at the center of these efforts. The
Western working class has indeed benefited from the growing inequality
of the world. If we know how to react to the global poor, this
is because we were for so long on the receiving end of the humiliations
and injuries of class. The excuses multiply. They are lazy. They
are different. They are black. They speak a foreign language.
They worship other gods.
This wider context both explains and illuminates
the social landscapes within countries. It doesn't matter how
much richer the rich become, as long as our own income rises in
distant (although unequal) response to it. In The Washington Post'
journalist Mark Shields stated that in 1960, the average pay,
after taxes, for chief executives in the largest US corporations
was 12 times greater than the average factory wage. By 1974, the
chief executive's wages and other emoluments had increased to
about 35 times that of the company's average worker. By the mid-199Os,
the differential was 135 times as much. Between 1980 and 1995,
the pay of Chief Executive Officers had increased by 499 per cent;
company profits had averaged 145 per cent; factory wages 70 per
cent. Inflation had been 85 per cent.
According to a World Bank report in 1997,
the share of global income going to the richest 20 per cent was
70.2 per cent. By 1970 it was 73.9 per cent; by 1980, 76.3 per
cent and by 1989, 82.7 per cent. The share of the poorest 20 per
cent had dwindled from 2.3 per cent in 1960 to 1.4 per cent by
People judge their economic well-being from the point of view
of their own previous experience: if they see improvement in their
own lives, they are not antagonized by the greater advantages
accruing to those richer than they.
Clive Jenkins, trade union leader, 1960s
'The most beautiful word in the English language is more."
... we now read holiday brochures to discover what is really going
on in the world. This is, after all, our playground, and we don't
want the fun spoiled by too many stories of flood, famine, earthquake
and disaster to which, it seems, our favorite spots on the globe
are all too prone. Even less do we want to know about the corruption
of this country, the economic downturn, the overthrow of this
military ruler or that president, an ethnic cleansing here, an
outbreak of cholera somewhere else. This is not of interest, and
if we say so, it isn't news, since, news, like everything else,
is market-driven; and we are the market and we are the drivers.
It is possible to appreciate the growing
accessibility of the world while turning away from what actually
goes on in it - at least in the godforsaken hinterland, the outback,
the bush, the jungle, the slums, the shanties, the remote areas.
We don't mind leaving the beaten track for something unspoiled,
a rare species in undisturbed woodland, but we don't want poverty,
filth and disease rammed down our throat, thank you very much.
The people now being integrated into the new global order are
doing so in our name, since this is enforced by international
financial institutions, governments and transnational companies.
And the way this is happening is - or rather, until recently,
was - quite well known to us. The people in the dangerous factories
and mills, children laboring as domestics or on construction sites,
miners and weavers, day-laborers and porters, vendors of fruit
and vegetables on the sidewalks, sellers of cigarettes, electronic
games and plastic toys, scavengers among the garbage and child
beggars on the railway terminals, are all doing their work in
the same way and in the same conditions that we did until the
day before yesterday, If we do not wish to acknowledge them, this
is because we have been there and we have done that. Or rather,
it has all been done to us.
We are now complicit in doing it to them.
Here lies the secret of Western disengagement from a world in
which our lives are more directly and profoundly implicated than
ever before. We recognize ourselves as we were. It is a strange
irony that in almost every town and city in Britain there have
been published books of old photographs, often under the title
The Way We Were, recalling the images of our own - now distant
- past, and reminiscent of similar (largely untaken) pictures
of our counterparts today in the cities of the South.
But reluctance to acknowledge our kinship
with them is because we also recognize our new role in the changed
division of labor. For if people are always poor in the same way,
if poverty and want take the same toll of humanity, privilege
also expresses itself in the same way everywhere. If we now know
how to issue orders, to tell others what to do; if we use the
imperious tones of those with power - however limited that small
power may be - this is because we were profoundly penetrated by
them, at the time when we were on the receiving end of the same
orders, the same cold requests, the same cruel civility, when
we waited upon the rich, filed through their factory doors, bowed
and scraped before them, minded their bossy children, begged them
for work and entreated their charity.
We know by instinct our new roles in the
drama of globalization. We know exactly how to perform. We are
word-perfect - like perpetual understudies, who get a chance to
show what they can do when the star is drunk or has broken an
Of course we do not wish to acknowledge
our present-day kinship with the petty tyrants, the memsahibs,
the givers of orders and issuers of threats to those beneath them,
because we were beneath them for so long. Why should we not exult
in our new-found freedom, however limited? We know now there are
others lower than we are in the global order, and we shall make
them feel the sting of their subordination.
If there was one law for the rich and
another for the poor, we have now passed under the jurisdiction
of the former.
There is nothing personal in all this. It is all a question of
circumstances; and though we struggled to improve our own position,
we had no part in the degradation of today's poor. U* will be
nice to the waiter in the hotel in Gambia, and we will take something
to the poor family in Isaan whose daughter we met in the bar.
We joke with the children selling flowers on the street, and take
photographs of the artful beggars and pretty wheedlers in the
bazaar, so reminiscent of the urchins in Dickens.
But now it is our turn, the new arrivals
in the position of the eternal and growing global middle-class;
with the glorious and triumphal difference - unknown to our fearful,
uptight predecessors - that those beneath us do not present the
slightest threat or challenge. They are not organized. They are
powerless. They are there to wait on us. They exist for our comfort
and amusement. Happy dispensation of Providence that has seen
fit to grant us our just desserts after centuries of thankless
labor, and has placed a whole world at our beck and call.
Capitalism has for 200 years held out a promise, not only of an
end to poverty, but also of riches beyond compare. Yet poverty
is far from ended, even though riches beyond compare have indeed
been created. Out of this very abundance, strange new poverties
have been conjured. A profound subjective sense of insufficiency
has arisen; and not only among the poor and marginalized. Everyone
feels poor, confronted by the limitlessness of what the global
system offers. A common complaint of the well-to-do from North
America to Australasia is 'we can't afford it'; although their
lives are already distinguished by luxuries unknown in earlier
times to even rulers and princes. When the meaning of: 'enough'
is lost, even the richest no longer know the meaning of satisfaction.
The idea of an underclass first appeared in a book by US writer
Ken Auletta in 1982. These are people who do not participate in
the mainstream activities of the society that shelters them. It
is not precisely synonymous with poverty, but is associated with
a chaotic social life; with criminality, dropping out of education
and work, a breakdown in stable relationships. The presence of
an 'underclass' in societies that deny the existence of class
is an anomaly few care to address.
... the underclass has its antecedents in the history of industrial
life. They are the re-incarnation of a distinction well known
to Victorian England, between the 'respectable' and the 'rough',
the 'deserving' and the 'undeserving' poor; to which problem the
Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 had addressed itself with all the
punitive fury of those who have against those who have nothing.
Social researchers, observers and reformers of the 19th century
from Henry Mayhew to Charles Booth chronicled the fate of the
beggars, orphans, prostitutes, scavengers, confidence tricksters
and unfortunates of the city streets. These were also the people
dismissed by Marx as 'Lumpenproletariat', which meant the habitually
criminal, the stupid and the unbelonging of the working class.
Indeed, the distinction between the deserving
and undeserving was never completely lost in Europe. The resentment
of the prosperous against post-war welfarism focused on those
who got everything although they contributed nothing. Single mothers,
the work-shy, migrants, alcoholics and the mentally ill have all,
at one time or another, been objects of popular anger; to which
categories of 'asylum-seekers', 'drug addicts', 'perverts' and
'pedophiles' have been added.
When the 'underclass' first appeared (not under that name) in
the early years of prosperity in the 1950s and 60s, they were
seen as a remnant, left behind by general improvements. It was
assumed that prosperity would soon enclose everyone in an inclusive
embrace. To those who showed reluctance to be benefited in this
way, social workers were assigned to do 'casework' intended to
reconcile such people with those whose lives had been conspicuously
bettered. When it became clear that there were structural reasons
for the persistence of such misfits, this was sometimes ascribed
to the survival of 'medieval families', a minority whose values
and mores preceded industrial society and who would continue to
present - minor but intractable - problems for the foreseeable
To be a member of the underclass is the
contemporary equivalent of belonging to the 'lower orders' as
they were described in pre-industrial society. The difference
is that this version of the lower orders constitutes a minority,
whereas at an earlier period they were in the majority. As such,
they show little resistance to being labeled as a caste apart.
Since the vote is the only social weapon they have (apart from
crime) this is unlikely to be effective against privilege.
The underclass has a useful function in
a society where most conceive of themselves as middle class. They
serve as a warning to keep the rest of us in line. Here is a strange
paradox. The people whose incontinent and often brutalized lives
are so disordered, living in ghettoes or housing developments
smelling of violence, piss and despair, are actually agents of
social control. They impose a salutary discipline on the majority,
a powerful encouragement to keep us to beaten pathways, lest our
fate come to resemble theirs. They teach the wisdom of conformism
and orthodoxy, the folly of dissent and the consequences of trying
to live in any other manner.
Their absence of purchasing power is worse
than nudity; for without it they are flayed alive each day, like
souls in the poet Dante's hell. The rich can now rejoice over
the decay of class conflict. Enjoyment of their wealth is no longer
contested by people animated by 'the politics of envy'. We are
all now content to pin our hopes onto existing patterns of wealth-creation,
disinclined to ponder the new forms of impoverishment and insufficiency
engendered by the creation of unlimited wealth.
There is a distinction between the underclass and the poor. For
with the integration of the global economy, new kinds of poverty,
and new classes of people who feel that they are poor have come
Globalization now reaches into every aspect
of the lives of the people. Discussions about poor people, however,
have made little concession to this, and have remained focused
on national poverty. But the character and consciousness of the
poor have also been reshaped by the processes which determine
the sensibility of the rich. This makes it difficult to devise
local (that is, national) remedies for evils that have their origins
beyond national boundaries. Within the richest countries of the
G-8, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. Compensatory
state benefits cannot keep pace with the distribution of rewards
in the global market.
Poverty itself is constantly refined and
redefined in response to global plenty. If a TV is now a basic
necessity in the rich world, this is because TV has become the
major medium of instruction and entertainment, the principal informant
of the people about their own lives. It transmits a constant imagery
of all the things we don't have and at the same time presents
pictures of the poorest people in the world, the victims of floods
or earthquake, displaced by civil strife or ethnic cleansing,
evicted from farms or fields, or destroyed by fires raging through
squatter communities. The real function of TV is ideological:
its double lesson teaches us how lucky we are, but it also displays
how much more we might enjoy.
In this context, to add up the cost of
basic necessities and measure shortfall in income as poverty no
longer suffices. Nor is it adequate to state simply that 'poverty
has become relative', as though that alone could account for the
violence of poverty in the richest societies the world has ever
The usual response now is to emphasize
the creation of wealth, since it is assumed that this will eventually
(when?) lift the poor out of their condition, despite the lack
of evidence that this alleviates inequality. Governments now consider
tax-breaks for the rich a greater generator of well-being for
the poor than any effort to divert for their benefit some of the
proceeds of the making of fortunes.
It is now considered improper even to
discuss redistribution. The official reason for this is a very
ancient one, namely that it interferes with the dynamic of wealth-creation.
But there is a more compelling reason
for the silence over distributive justice. The rich are no longer
constrained to pay taxes that might be deployed for the relief
of poverty. Those who in the 19th century resisted extending the
franchise to poor people were terrified that these would vote
to dispossess the wealthy peaceably, through the ballot-box. This
possibility has now been canceled. The opportunities open to the
rich to avoid tax, by means of off-shore havens, secret accounts
and chains of electronic concealment, ensure that even if a majority
voted to limit their wealth, they could avoid the consequences.
Gone shopping In Britain in 1999, the largest item of household
expenditure was, for the first time in history, devoted to leisure
activities; overtaking the proportion spent on any other goods
or services, including food, health l and housing. Shopping is
now the largest leisure pursuit. Non-participants in these central
social activities are seriously disadvantaged.
That they are evictees of a global market,
and not of national life, is the reason why many of the young
linger around malls and gallerias, the great enclosures of merchandise
where all the significant cultural exchanges occur. This is true
of the rich countries, North America, Europe, Aotearoa/New Zealand
and Australia, and equally of Thailand, Brazil, Indonesia and
The poor have been reshaped in the image of the rich. They have
been subject to the same relentless advertising, the same exhortations
to get, to have and to spend. Their appetites have also been kindled,
their desire for the things of the world aroused; they have been
exposed to the breakdown of self-restraint, the need for market-driven
belonging. But from the poor, the money required to participate
I has been withheld.
... the extension of modest privilege to a significant number
- is the surest guarantor that they will support whatever needs
to be done to preserve their position in the middle class and
whatever is necessary to keep the poor in their place.
Individualism makes people fight one another for dignity.
India, too, is one of the principal places in the world where
bonded labor persists; a form of slavery, often inherited by children
for debts contracted with moneylenders at extortionate interest
by their parents or grandparents. Indeed, not only does traditional
slavery continue in the modern world, but new forms of enslavement
are occurring; with the result that there are at present more
slaves in the world than there were at the time of its formal
From the late 15th century, millions of
Africans were transported to the Americas to work on plantations
producing sugar, tobacco, cotton and cocoa for European markets.
Much of the wealth of Europe was built on slavery, as the elegant
cities of Liverpool and Bristol testified. The slave trade was
formally abolished in Britain in 1807. The Anti-Slavery Society
was founded in 1823, and the Slavery Abolition
Act was passed in 1833. The American Anti-Slavery
Society was founded in 1833 and abolition decreed from 1863, with
the resistance in the South that led to the Civil War. Of course,
in reality slavery persisted much longer. Like many other ancient
abuses, it has taken on new forms in the modern world.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights, The word 'slavery' today covers a variety of
human rights violations. In addition to traditional slavery and
the slave trade, these abuses include the sale of children, child
prostitution, exploitation of child labor, sexual mutilation of
female children, use of children in armed conflicts, debt bondage,
the traffic in persons and the sale of human organs, prostitution.
Slavery-like practices may be clandestine. There is enough evidence,
however, to show that these are widespread and on a vast scale.
Just one figure tells a grim story: 100 million children are exploited
for their labor, according to a recent estimate by the International
Citing the UN development Program's 1999 Human Development Report,
it repeats that one-fifth of the people in the world have 86 per
cent per cent of world GDP; 82 per cent of world export markets;
and 68 per cent of foreign direct investment. The poorest fifth
had one per cent in each case. The world's richest 200 people
more than doubled their wealth to one trillion dollars between
1994 and 1998. The assets of the top three billionaires came to
more than the combined GDP of all least developed countries and
their 600 million people. By 1998, the top ten companies in pesticides
controlled 85 per cent of a $31 billion global market; and the
top 10 in telecommunications, 86 per cent of a $262 billion market.
At the end of the 1990s, over 125 million
children of primary school age were denied education by being
out of school. About 150 million more will drop out before becoming
literate. Girls make up two-thirds of those out of school, and
account for most of those dropping out.
In the division of labor in the world,
it is still women who bear the greatest burden. They make up 51
per cent of the agricultural labor force, and characteristically
work 12 hours a day, compared with the 8 or 10 hours worked by
men. In some regions women spend up to 5 hours a day collecting
fuelwood and water, and 4 hours preparing food. In Africa, 90
per cent of the work of collecting water and wood for the household
and for food is done by women. In the ; least developed countries
23 per cent of households are headed by women.
What the international community is committed to is an ideology,
and one moreover that has defeated the principal agent of transforming
change. The beneficiaries, controllers and administrators of the
global economy are dedicated to the propagation of the ideology
of growth and expansion in perpetuity; and this is the sine qua
non of a globalization which is promoted as though it were a force
of nature, suggesting that there is neither escape from nor an
alternative to the structure which has been built upon its basic
premises. For the world to be in thrall to a single ideology is
doubtless a powerful solvent of conflict, if only you can get
the whole world voluntarily to assent to it. But this is the ideology
of the powerful. And their fortunes have been spectacularly advanced
in the past decade, following the death of the only threat to
that ideology - embodied in the Soviet Union.
Now the gain to the world by the existence
of this monstrosity was slender in the extreme. In fact it was
not from the ideology of communism that any notable benefit accrued
to humanity in general; but the loss of that alternative has been
an impoverishment indeed - not only for the extinction of diversity
in economic matters, but also because nothing is left to inhibit
the system left in place after the disappearance of the Soviet
system. The extinction of communism removed the last constraint
on the exuberant self-promotion and development of global capitalism.
Today this goes under the alias of globalization, to which all
alternatives have been noisily annulled by the only voices now
heard in the world - the voices of wealth and privilege. It is
on their terms, according to their say-so, in accordance with
their wishes that all the pious utterances on poverty abatement,
justice and democracy are now licensed.
The world is caught in a terrible trap,
of which the deceptive monosyllable of the first person plural
is both symbol and expression. A whole structure of coercion and
violence is built into its fateful simplicity. For the inclusive
plural we means no such thing; it is the voice of power, and it
dictates the terms that any improvements in the world must not
disturb the serene enjoyment of the advantages which we - and
our dependents and supporters - pursue. If what you desire is
incompatible with that necessity, it will be suppressed.
It is no good arguing that there is enough
food in the world for no one to go hungry. Useless to say that
nothing could be simpler than to divert a fraction of the money
spent on armaments to the relief of poverty. Pointless to get
passionate about the ease with which all the available drugs could
be made available to all the HIV-affected in the world without
material damage to the profits of drug companies. If these things
cannot be accomplished within the existing mechanisms, they will
not be accomplished at all.
Class War watch