From International Socialism (1st series), No.59, June 1973, p.25.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Aid and Liberation: A Socialist Study of Aid Politics
Written by the last Labour Minister of Overseas Development, this book is the latest contribution to the stream of out-of-office rhetoric promising a socialist tomorrow. Judith Hart’s aim is to construct a ‘socialist’ criterion for aid, and provides another illustration, now that the capitalist cupboard is getting barer, of the drift by Labour politicians and intellectuals away from the ‘universality’ concept of welfare towards the Tory notion of ‘selectivity’. Thus there is no mention of the quantity of aid likely to be given should the Labour Party return to office. Instead it should be concentrated upon the most needy. Aid should not be based upon ‘growth-and-performance’, but should promote equality between nations as well as between classes within nations.
As an answer to world poverty, Hart’s piecemeal pragmatism becomes utopian. The gap between the rich and poor nations has been growing constantly. Foreign earnings essential for internal economic development become harder to obtain as production in the less developed countries becomes a smaller proportion of world trade and as the international terms of trade move steadily in favour of the advanced world. And the drain on resources is not helped by investment from the metropolitan countries, which also ensures economic subservience. Further, the possibilities of competing in manufactured goods with the economically advanced countries become more remote as the sums required to invest in optimum plant become ever more gigantic.
Aid does little to compensate, and becomes little more than an insult.
Nor does Hart come to grips with the fact that over the last decade, aid as a proportion of gross national product has been declining for most metropolitan countries. She attributes this to the decline of the Cold War. Partly true. But it also stems from the declining importance in aggregate terms of the less developed countries in world trade, and the growing capitalist instability on a world scale, which leads to a cut in non-profit making drains on foreign exchange earnings.
When the last Labour government was in office, each balance of payments crisis brought a further reduction of aid expenditure in real terms. As Hart concedes: ‘During my own seven years in government, balance of payments costs were at least as important in any reckoning of policy options as were public expenditure and real resource costs.’ (p.244) Thus aid, even if another Labour government is returned, is likely to shrink even further as Britain’s economic position becomes even more precarious.
Incredibly Hart says that Lenin’s analysis of imperialism ‘would not now be seriously challenged’. (p.229) Would that were so! But after this genuflection she chooses to ignore his analysis completely, and adopts the Kautskyan and Hobsonian assumption that imperialism is merely a ‘policy’ on the part of capitalist governments. So she argues rather unrealistically that as the Cold War has declined, imperialism has declined, and thus aid can be detached from capitalist requirements and used for disinterested purposes. Even the World Bank she says, is coming round to her position. But then she has second thoughts: ‘international agencies are always likely, at best, to represent a progressive compromise with capitalist orthodoxy as long as most of their money comes from capitalist countries.’ (p.258)
A similar observation could be applied to any future Labour government’s policies, which will inevitably operate within the framework of a capitalist state and economy. Indeed until there is workers’ control of production and a workers’ state in this country and other major capitalist countries, and the world market is eliminated no ‘aid’ will be sufficient in quality or quantity to solve the problems of Third World development. Judith Hart calls for a ‘hard political understanding of the enemy we fight’. (p.280) Seekers of such an understanding need not look for it in this book.
Last updated on 25.12.2007