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Derek McMillan

Make Poverty History

11 posts in this topic

It hasn't happened and I cannot claim to be very surprised.

In the nineteenth century there was appalling poverty and people reacted to it. they didn't react by holding a chamber concert and trying to persuade Gladstone and Disraeli to wear "make poverty history" wristbands.

They said "you are rich because we are poor. We are poor because you are rich. We need to turn the world upside down."

This is not exactly volume three of Das Capital but it is the beginning of a theory which could make poverty history for real.

http://socialistparty.org.uk

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Quite. I keep hearing the punch line from the Aesop's fable: who's going to bell the cat?

The problem is that it's much easier to wear a bracelet than to start trying to change society …

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I was just thinking about this recently. About the only thing that we can take from this campaign is that there are a lot of people willing to change the current structure of global society, yet they are too invested in capitalism to to be able to see the true root of the problem.

The thinking of many 'liberals' is that the problems are as a result of right wing incompetence and inconsistency. Nothing is further from the truth, and that is why the right can accomplish so much more than the current left (in the U.S. at least). I use the term left very loosely in the case of the U.S.

People believe in the power of citizen lobbying (of current representatives at least) that they feel that if they simply turn out in their droves they can effect Government policy. Just as all politics is local, so too is activism and education.

John

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With regard to world poverty, nationalism might be a better target than capitalism.

The abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in the 19th Century is a useful example. Governments, politicians, activists, ordinary people, slave traders and sailors, and, crucially, the slaves themselves all played a part in its destruction.

The abolition story also illustrates the biggest obstacle to changing the world for the better: the last refuge of the British supporters of the slave trade in the early 19th Century was that if Britain abandoned the slave trade the French would take it over.

However, change did come about, despite the obstacles. In Britain William Pitt the Younger, impressed by the damning evidence collected by the Abolitionists, came to believe that the slave trade should be abolished irrespective of possible strategic and economic consequences. And it was the Unreformed Houses of Parliament that voted for abolition in 1807. (So if there was such a thing as ‘The Right’ in early 19th Century politics its change of mind was one of the keys.) The change of mind came, at that time, from Christian conviction, and may be illustrated by an extract from possibly the last letter that John Wesley ever wrote, in 1791, to William Wilberforce:

‘Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance that a man who has a black skin, being wrong or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a “law” in our colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this?’

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The poor cannot rely on *somebody else* to abolish poverty. Only the working class are going to do anything about it because as George Orwell succinctly put it "they cannot be permanently bought off."

The role of the church in slavery is not all sweetness and light is it? Many Bishops supported slavery and condemned the abolitionists.

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You are being kind, Derek. The Church of England had an appalling record on the slave trade. Bishops not only often supported it, but one or two had their own logos branded on Africans arriving at their own West Indies plantations. Their ambiguity on the subject was part of the problem - to say the least. The Established Church was very much a branch of the state in the 18th Century and shared the corruption and cynicism of its (usually) Whig rulers. The staggering thing is that the vast majority of people in Britain in the 18th Century didn't see anything wrong with slavery or the slave trade - mainly of course because they didn't actually see it.

However, Wilberforce and others in the Clapham Circle managed to bring it to people's attention with such devices as the famous poster showing a slave ship's 'cargo' arrangements, and changed the mind-set of an entire nation. They did this by adopting the ethical insights of Methodism, while carefully disguising where their ideas were coming from - because Methodists were regarded as enthusiasts and generally not respectable. Wilberforce was at the heart of the British Establishment, and comes over, as has been suggested elsewhere in this Forum, as a typical tory. That was precisely why his campaign was so important, and why it made a big difference.

The slave trade was abolished by people acting out of moral outrage, and seemingly at the time against their own economic interest. Although the British working class played a part in ending the slave trade, for example the British sailors who provided evidence of the appalling conditions, the campaign was led by rich people who very consciously used their riches for the benefit of others. For anyone with the slightest left wing sympathies this is, I know, annoying.

With regard to 21st Century world poverty, however, it seems to me too important a matter to insist that the working class has to solve it. Though having heard President Chavez interviewed by John Pilger the other night during his documentary on Venuzela I admit that for an instant I did think it a possibility.

Edited by Norman Pratt

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I always thought of Spartacus as the first socialist. Not because he has a rounded-out socialist program suitable for the 21st Century but because he established the idea that only the oppressed can do anything about their own oppression.

If the poor of Venezuela or elsewhere don't take action to liberate themselves nobody has a vested interest in liberating them.

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Spartacus was a hero, in the classic sense, and he is, I agree, forever associated with the idea that only the oppressed can do anything about their own oppression. However, he didn’t get rid of slavery in the Roman Empire.

My point is that slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries was similar in its complexity to the problem of absolute poverty today. Abolition was accomplished by a grand coalition of people, including many who cannot be described as proletariat, working class, oppressed, or poor. And it was eventually accomplished. Wilberforce himself had, in a sense, a 'vested interest' in destroying slavery (and not just the slave trade) because it was intolerable to him morally each day it existed. And there are people today who have a similar interest in ending world poverty – some of them might even have shown their feelings recently by wearing wristbands.

However, since this is a political thread, and you are attempting to consign poverty to History, it’s time I allowed you to get on and flesh out your theory.

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The point about the working class is not that they are oppressed but that they can do something about it. They are far more powerful than they might think.

The general strike of 1926 was a classic example. The workers were effectively in power but their leaders called the strike off because they feared the consequences. And in 1968 in France the same situation. De Gaulle recognised this. When the American ambassador came to present his credentials to the president, De Gaulle suggested he take them to the leaders of the general strike which was talking place. On the other hand Duclos took the view "one has to know how to end a strike."

Lenin described the British working class as "lions led by donkeys."

And usually led up the garden path at that <_<

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On Radio 4 this morning Gordon Brown was trying to defend what has been going on in the United States. It seems he thinks it is all part of what happens when you have a "free-market". He refused to condemn these shady dealings. He also refused to criticise the fact that FTSE 100 chief executives increased their average pay of £2,875,000 a year. This is on average 97 times their employees' and a 37% increase on last year. Once again it was justified by the workings of the free-market. However, he was quick to criticise the prison officers for going on strike. The dispute was triggered after an independent pay review body recommended a 2.5 per cent pay rise for prison officers, but the Brown government insisted on staggering the increase, making it worth 1.9 per cent in the current financial year. That is what happens when you have a so-called workers' political party being funded by multimillionaires.

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Perhaps we need a new workers' party.

http:www.cnwp.org.uk

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