Editorial: The end of poverty

Over the past two decades the war on global poverty has been co‑opted, writes Nick Dearden

February 25, 2015 · 3 min read

The end of poverty is something the left has always fought for. Whether local, national or global, progressives have battled notions that poverty is the fault of the poor, or that human nature makes it inevitable. For us, poverty’s continued existence in a world of extraordinary wealth is proof of the moral bankruptcy of capitalism.

But over the past two decades, the war on global poverty has been subverted and co-opted. In an age when obscene wealth became once again something to boast about, those big campaign groups and politicians concerned about poverty moved with the times. To keep ‘poverty’ relevant to Thatcher’s children, they gutted it of political content. Through the new concept of ‘extreme poverty’, it became possible both to believe in me-first individualism and free market economics, and to care about the very poor.

International development, which had once spoken of liberation to countries suppressed by empire, often missed the point, even 50 years ago. Too often, it was something technical experts did to or for poor people. But grounded in the national liberation politics of the ‘third world’, with heavy emphasis on those nations’ newly gained sovereignty, its amateur idealism at least looked in the right direction.

‘Development’ ripped from that emancipatory context and shaped instead by an economics of unregulated markets became an opportunity for the political right to rapidly extend capitalist relations into those parts of the world other forms of empire couldn’t reach. No wonder that, before the last election, the Conservative Party said ‘Capitalism and development was Britain’s gift to the world.’ Our ‘Mythbuster’ pulls apart the fantasy of neoliberal development.

This issue of Red Pepper has been produced with my organisation, which has just changed its name from World Development Movement to Global Justice Now. We’ve taken this step so we can say more clearly what we mean: you can’t separate poverty from power or politics.

Neither can you separate struggles in the global South from those in the North. As Red Pepper goes to press, we don’t know the result of the Greek election. But, as Lisa Mittendrein reports, the rapid rise of left-wing party Syriza is as important for the fight for a more just world as what is happening in Latin America.

There’s positive news from Africa too. While Bob Geldof would like to convince us that the continent is made up of passive people who don’t know when it’s Christmas, real Africans are fighting Monsanto in Ghana and tyranny in Burkina Faso – a country where ‘development’ has been on the opposite side to ‘democracy’ for 25 years.

We don’t just need clearer language; we need to revisit our worldview, and engage with the politics of real struggles for democracy going on worldwide. As we start to lay out as a manifesto, if we want to re-energise a real movement for global justice, we need to confront development, and replace it with our own vision for a world based on equality, solidarity and democratic control.

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