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Shirley Lawrence

UNRRA: Club over Heads of Hungry People

(May 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 21, 21 May 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THERE is formidable evidence, which keeps mounting, in the examples of Italy, Belgium, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, Albania and other countries, that the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) is strictly an instrument for carrying out big power policies – mainly those oi Great Britain and the United States.

UNRRA has failed to function as a supply organization in the liberated areas of Europe, despite its promises of food, clothing, medicines, reintegration of displaced persons, industrial and agricultural rehabilitation and welfare services – this in the face of the most intense and urgent human need.

The war has dragged on for more than five years and conditions among Europe’s starving masses grow continually worse, for the effect of the Allied invasion has been to reduce rather than improve the standard of living. About forty million people have been displaced from their homes; hospitals and public services are completely broken down; there are no drugs; transport facilities are reserved for military use only.

It would be interesting, in the light of its failure, to go back to some of the original aims and purposes of the UNRRA.

First of all, it is highly ironic that the UNRRA was set up at its founding, conference in November, 1943; as an “international agency, established by forty-four United and Associated Nations to help organize the resources of the United Nations so that all liberated nations may have the same opportunity to relieve the suffering of their people and start rebuilding their peace.”

“Supplies and services are to be dispensed on the basis of the relative needs of the population in the area, and without discrimination because of race, creed or political belief; these resources should at no time be used as a political weapon.”

Its record belies its principles.

Some Examples of UNRRA Policy

1. Although the UNRRA was set up as an international agency, the real powers behind it are the combined boards (Combined Food Board, Raw Materials Board, Combined Production and Resources Board and Combined Shipping Administration Board), exclusively Anglo-American institutions, which have the last word concerning the allocation of any commodity which the UNRRA might wish to include in its list for relief.

The power of the British-American combination was understandable, their policies equally so. During the war they have established a virtual monopoly of supplies and shipping. They are richest in foreign exchange and have frozen the funds of many other countries. Together they have power that will be nearly irresistible in the peace negotiations. They propose to keep that power intact until the showdown, the period in which the. major post-war political and economic decisions are made.

As it developed in practice, therefore, the pooling and allocating of world resources meant denying the people of the small nations that little relief they asked for. Small wonder that, in these circumstances, most European countries were reluctant to apply to UNRRA for help. It did not take them long to find out that if anything was to be gained it was best achieved by bringing to bear upon the combined boards what little political pressure they could exercise.

France and Belgium remembered that their colonies could be brought into the unpleasant game of power politics as a valuable asset. The Norwegians found it necessary to remind their British allies that Norwegian seamen, at the risk of their lives, brought food, fuel and other comfort to Britain while their own countrymen at home were deprived of the barest necessities of life.

Military Enter the Picture

2. When the military authorities were charged by former President Roosevelt with the main responsibility for relief, they merely took away from UNRRA the main part of its job.

3. The UNRRA has been steadily increasing its generously paid staff. By now its personnel in Washington, London, Cairo and other capitals of the world includes several thousands of employees, most of whom are busily engaged in kicking their heels.

At the same time, millions of Europeans are going without the necessities of life. They are starving and dying. An American member of the council of the UNRRA stated that “every tenth man or woman you pass on the streets of Rome would soon be a corpse, and the same is true for Greece, parts of France, Belgium and Holland.

Thousands of people in the liberated areas have become convinced that once again, as after World War I, food is being used as a means to political ends. During his visit to Italy last year, Prime Minister Churchill, was pressed for an increase in the Italian bread ration. That was at the time when the Italian votes in America had to be taken into consideration. Soon after the American election, the rations were again reduced.

4. UNRRA will receive contributions of foreign exchange from member countries, but it can spend these funds only with the prior approval of the donor country.

5. UNRRA may aid in relocating displaced persons, but must first negotiate for the consent of the country where they are and the country to which they want to go.

6. There has remained a consistent blind spot on the question of relief for India, because of British pressure, from the time of the terrible famine in India when reports were coming in daily of the death of many thousands of people from starvation and plague. Newspapermen were reporting instances of black market hoarding by Indian princes in collaboration with the British administration.

Food as Political Weapon

7. The distribution of food in Greece was stopped because of the EAM’s armed resistance to former Premier George Papandreou’s regime and in order to bring pressure on the revolutionaries.

8. The trend of American foreign policy represents a similar attempt to win control of parts of Europe by hypocritical expression of sympathy for national independence and by relief handouts. In Italy, where the U.S. has been most brutal in its attempts to stifle any expression of the masses for national independence, and in Belgium, where American troops were used against striking workers, American foreign intervention is as direct as is the British.

9. The role of Russia, in refusing to let UNRRA enter Yugoslavia or Poland, except on its own terms, should be understood. If food is to be a club over the starving people of Poland, Stalin wants the club to be in his hands, which explains why UNRRA was forbidden to enter Poland until the Allied powers came to terms with Stalin on Poland, giving in to his plans to reduce it to a Russian colony.

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