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International Socialism, February 1977


Howard Miles & Sybil Cock

How The Other Half Dies


From International Socialism (1st series), No.95, February 1977, p.28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


How The Other Half Dies
Susan George
Penguin £1.00

WELL over 500 million people in the world live in conditions of absolute poverty. A fifth of all children are affected by malnutrition, often leading to permanent brain damage. The problem is not one of over population. The earth could sustain a far higher population than already exists, but only if land were cultivated in order to produce food that is needed rather than what is profitable.

Susan George’s excellent book explodes a number of very prevalent myths about world hunger and does so in a highly readable way. The myths she attacks are:

  1. that world hunger is caused by food shortage,
  2. that more food and economic aid can be one half of the solution, and
  3. that population reduction should be the other half of the solution.

The central point is that world hunger is not due to the impossibility of producing more food, but due to the Governments and multinational companies that control food production and distribution. Western governments have largely succeeded in foisting their economic system on underdeveloped countries (UDCs). The multinational food and agribusinesses like Nestles, Unilever, etc. working through various UN and government agencies, have proved vary adaptable at sniffing out fast bucks.

Food aid, though it may temporarily help a small proportion of starving people, in the long run only serves to increase dependence on the MNCs and their products. Such aid is used as a very juicy carrot to dangle in front of the noses of UDC governments, but string are always attached. A good example is the so-called Green Revolution, which aimed to increase food production by using high-yield varieties of various grains. Unfortunately, because these varieties have little resistance to many plant diseases they have to be adopted as part of a technological package which includes pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and the machines which spread them. And guess who supplies all these? Right first time – the multinational agribusinesses. In effect what happens is that production of crops for human consumption is reduced in favour of cash crops exported to the rich West in an effort to pay for the vast amounts of ‘extras’ needed to produce these crops. One of the results of this has been that tenant farmers are being forced out by landlords to join the armies of landless labourers or the unemployed. The UDCs become poorer and weaker and so more susceptible to Western (predominantly American) domination, and more people become too poor to afford to feed themselves.

In unguarded moments US officials have admitted that food aid is primarily politically motivated. DennyEllerman (who represents the National Security Council in interdepartmental US government meetings on food aid) is quoted as saying To give food aid to countries just because people are starving is a pretty weak reason.’

Obviously it’s easy for the carrot of food and economic aid to turn into a stick. To quote from the book:

Perhaps the best proof of all that food aid is only incidentally humanitarian and related to real hunger comes from the sequels of the Indochina War. Millions of tons of Food for Peace were poured into Cambodia, Laos and especially Vietnam: the US created refugees through bombing and then set up food programmes for them; it introduced any number of ‘self-help measures’ and made exceptions for repayment terms – yet as soon as these countries became independent, the US cut off all aid and is even reported to have diverted in mid-ocean sorely needed food and fertilizer shipments.

Food has now very definitely joined capitalism’s armoury: according to American Secretary of Agriculture Butz,,

Food is a weapon. It is now one of the principal tools in our negotiating kit.

In many developed countries farmers are paid not to produce certain foods vecause of ‘overproduction’ (witness EEC food mountains), while every day 10,-000 people die of starvation or hunger-related diseases in the UDCs. MNCs make huger profits by sucking the resources from UDCs, aided by the active collusion of the ruling elites in those countries. In the past ten years alone the average American has added 350 lb. of grain to his annual diet – about the equivalent of the yearly consumption of a poor Indian. As Susan George says:

If you are eating too much meat and animal fat, this is a matter between you and your doctor. If millions of consumers are eating such a proportion of the world’s cereal grains in this form (i.e. converted to animal meat and fat – H.M.), it is a matter between them, their governments and those, economic agents their governments primarily serve.

So much more is included in this book that it is not possible to even mention most of it. One of its main values is that it could be an eye-opener for large numbers of people hooked either on the ‘West is best’ syndrome or the liberal/reformist solution to world hunger of food aid as an end in itself. It serves to clarify an area which it is very important for socialists to understand. My only criticisms of the book are that the author persists in calling the Eastern bloc and China ‘socialist’ and that she is altogether a bit soft on China and N. Korea. Surely it’s possible to applaud the advances made by some of these countries towards eradication starvation while at the same time remaining critical of the essentially nationalistic perspectives and the power structure within which this has been accomplished?

Perhaps the final quotation should be left to that great democrat and saviour of the ‘free’ world, one-time US President Herbert Hoover, who said about the US food aid ‘given’ to W. Europe after the 2nd World War,

While our major interest was relief of famine, all on our staff were concerned about the forces moving in the world and their impact on our country – especially with the spread of Communism.

You don’t have to dig very far into the muck to find the links between the UN, the CIA, the MNCs with their promotion of agribusiness technological packages, and world hunger. The grubby deals wrapped up in euphemisms, the hypocritical claims to be concerned about starvation and malnourishment, the lies about MNCs providing more employment in UDCs, the unloading of responsibility onto ‘stubborn’ and ‘uncooperative’ people who refuse to reduce their birth rates (and so have to be compulsorily sterilised, don’t they?): all this arises from the utilisation of agricultural productive capacity in order to create profits rather than healthy people.

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