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International Socialism, January 1976


Sue Clegg

Rich Against Poor


From International Socialism, No.85, January 1976, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Rich Against Poor: The Reality of Aid
C.R. Hensman
Pelican 1975

The Debt Trap: The IMF and The Third World
Cheryl Payer
Pelican 1974

Both these books deal with the poverty and underdevelopment of the third world, and both show the way in which the West has created these conditions and continues to do so through the device of aid. Both books suffer from a common weakness in that they share a romantic ‘third-worldism’ talk much about the ‘poor’ and only incidentally about exploitation and class.

The Debt Trap is however by far the most useful of the two. Rich Against Poor is written in a turgid moralistic style, with long chunks of unbroken prose, which make it almost useless as a reference book, and much of the information is out of date. An example of the profound level of analysis is as follows.

‘Frugality has always been part of economic wisdom: those who live by their own labours know that to toil for wasteful consumption jeopardizes both the future and present satisfactions other than those of eating, drinking and dressing grandly; moreover, anyone who believes that the earth (or rather, the rest of nature) will tolerate prodigal living will discover how mistaken he is; for he is making like extremely difficult for his children.’

After 287 pages of such wisdom the feeble call to revolution that Hensman issues at the end remains pious and unconvincing.

The Debt Trap is better than this. It is usefully broken down into chapters on the Philippines, Indonesia, Indochina, Yugoslavia, Brazil, India, Chile, Ghana and North Korea; which makes it easy to read and extremely useful as a reference. Each chapter in fact documents the grisly process of International Monetary Fund interference and the suffering and economic disorder that followed on the acceptance of their advice. Yet despite this morality tends to supersede analysis – the conclusion on Chile is an apt example

‘when a bourgeois government squanders scarce foreign exchange it is criminal; when a government supposedly committed to socialism does the same it is tragic, for it will doom the entire enterprise.’

This lack of analysis is evident in the prescriptions for action contained in both books. Payer, after a eulogy to North Korea recommends import-export control, control of currency etc, a mix between ‘socialism in one country’ and Bennism. Hensman after a similar bout of ecstasy on China concludes in a similar vein about self help and even talks a bit about revolution. Neither however are convincing.

After having painted such gloomy pictures of the activities of the ruling class in exploiting the resources of the Third World it would seem unrealistic to say the least to conclude that the Third World can opt out. Neither of them see the necessity for change at the heart of the capitalist system and as a result neither of them take Western working class activity seriously – rather they vacillate, suspicious that the working class is also implicated in overseas domination.

This sort of confusion is evident throughout and is typified by the use of the term poor – poor is contrasted to rich not exploited to exploiter, oppressor to oppressed. The result is jumbled. But while The Debt Trap contains enough useful information to make it worthwhile reading Rich Against Poor does not.

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