In the last few years, there seems to have been one natural disaster after another, and the human consequences of these gigantic dramas have been growing bigger and bigger each time.
After each hurricane, earthquake, drought or famine, we have heard all kinds of laments from the ruling class and its governments, and all kinds of promises about help for the victims. The real attitude of the bourgeoisie can be judged by the fact that each catastrophe has been exploited to further the imperialist interests of this or that national capitalism.
‘Non Governmental Organisations’ in the service of imperialism
In December last year, the Tsunami ravaged southern Asia. It left more than 500,000 dead in Indonesia, Sumatra, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. The bourgeois media everywhere shed crocodile tears and talked about a massive mobilisation of aid. But the real concerns of the capitalist states were elsewhere. In a region of powerful tensions between different nations, in particular between India and Pakistan, all the great powers tried to use their respective ‘Non-Governmental Organisations’ to get the best position for themselves. Seeing the total ineffectiveness of humanitarian aid, even the journalists were forced to admit, “the climate of competition in which the NGOs and the UN agencies are operating requires explanation. Four recent studies arrived independently at the same conclusions: the financial manna of international humanitarian aid led to a rather undignified rush for the resources of the donors, often to the detriment of the populations affected by the catastrophes and emergencies, and of the integrity of the NGOs. The latter were often guided more by the priorities of the donors, who give out funds in a manner aimed at favouring their national interests” (Le Monde Diplomatique, 17 October, our emphasis). Even worse, “the absence of coordination and the multiplication of initiatives by the NGOs have led to rivalries and duplication or inappropriate forms of aid” (Liberation 20 October). The reality could hardly be more cynically expressed. This inter-imperialist competition, which the NGOs have spearheaded, has resulted in a waste or a sterilisation of a good part of the already miserly aid doled out by governments, or given by ordinary people out of real sympathy for so much human suffering.
Whole regions abandoned to their fate
Capitalism’s real interest in human life, the real motives behind its humanitarian mask, can be seen all the more clearly when catastrophes hit geographical zones which have no great strategic interest. Just a few months before the Tsunami struck south east Asia, terrible earthquakes devastated Haiti and Dominica. There were thousands of deaths and there was virtually no aid, precious little publicity and no huge media campaign of ‘solidarity’ with the suffering population. The same can be said about the Amazon, which for the last four years has been experiencing the most terrible drought in its history: the population there has simply been abandoned to its fate. Or again, in September when hurricane Stan directly hit Guatemala, as well as El Salvador, Nicaragua and south east Mexico, and left thousands dead and tens of thousands injured or made homeless. To give another example of what we mean; on October 9th the TV devoted just a few seconds to a mudslide that wiped out a Guatemalan village, leaving 1400 dead. Men, women and children, the whole village, perished under a tidal wave of mud.
In response to the tragedy, Washington promised to send six helicopters to help with evacuations. Most of the NGOs, and the main imperialist powers of the world, expressed a total lack of interest in this tragedy, leaving this part of the world to fall into indifference, misery, and epidemics.
Humanitarian ideology in the service of anti-American chauvinism
When hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the south east coast of the USA, the attitude of the various bourgeoisies was very different. Indifference was replaced by massive media coverage. On TV, in the papers, every moment of the day was filled with images of a poverty-stricken population, trapped, without food and shelter, surrounded by US soldiers armed to the teeth. None of this was innocent. There was a concerted effort by the USA’s main rivals to show the inhumanity, the indifference and the incompetence of the USA and its inability to protect its own population in contrast to the massive mobilisation by this same USA to bomb the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The French and German bourgeoisies were at the forefront of this anti-American campaign, rubbing salt into the wound by offering help to the US. The response from Bush was immediate and animated. “In an interview on ABC, Bush said at first ‘we appreciate help, but we are going to deal with this ourselves’. Then the US president made his position even clearer: ‘we haven’t asked anyone to help us’”. Condoleeza Rice had to repair a few bridges after that.
The cynical use made of this catastrophe by the USA’s main imperialist rivals bore some fruit because the world was made well aware of the USA’s inability to deal with the distress of its own population.
After the natural catastrophe in Kashmir, a race between imperialist powers
In October, a new earthquake hit the region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The death toll has already gone well above 70,000. As with the Tsunami, the NGOs have rushed in to offer their aid; and behind them, the great powers have been advertising their desire to help. With what result?
“I don’t think many people can survive in this cold…In the last few days we have seen cases of diarrhoea, fever, respiratory infections” (Doctor Bilal, cited by Courrier Internationale 16 October).
As winter approaches in the mountains of Kashmir, the stench of death is everywhere and survivors are still looking for shelter, food and medicine.
Several weeks after this huge disaster, the aid given to this region has been minimal. This is a region of considerable geo-strategic importance, a cardinal point between Europe, Asia and Russia. For years it has been a theatre of conflict between India and Pakistan. There is a striking contrast between the military resources deployed in this region and the extreme misery of its population. With the exception of a few symbolic acts, these military resources cannot be adapted for use in dealing with the emergency. “The nearest source of supply of helicopters is India, but relations between the two countries is tense as both dispute control over Kashmir”. The Pakistani president Parvez Musharraf said that “he would accept Indian helicopters, on condition that they arrive without equipment” (Liberation 22 October). But even more clear and more inhuman was his statement that “there are military defence plans, there are military deployments up there, as there are on the Indian side. We don’t want any of their soldiers to go there, not at all”. If Musharraf was responding in this manner, it is because he knows very well that India’s humanitarian gestures hide its military intentions. But the imperialist rivalry between India and Pakistan also directly involves all the great powers: USA, China, Germany, Britain…no great power is uninterested in this part of the world. Proof of this is the following: “NATO decided to send 500-1000 men to the north of Pakistan, but will not be able to respond to the UN’s appeal for the creation of a vast air bridge to break the isolation of the hundreds of thousands of victims threatened by hunger and cold” (Liberation 22 October). If international bodies like NATO and the UN are incapable of coordinating the smallest relief effort, it’s quite simply because their role has nothing to do with humanitarianism. They are nothing but arenas for conflict between the imperialist powers.
Only the communist revolution can save humanity from destruction
The damage caused by so-called natural catastrophes in the 90s was three times greater than during the previous decade and 15 times greater than during the 1950s. If more and more geographical zones and populations are being destroyed by the consequences of these catastrophes, it must be clear to the proletariat that this problem is only of interest to the bourgeoisie if it can exploit it for the defence of its national and imperialist interests. In the zones which are not abandoned to their fate because of their geo-strategic importance; ‘humanitarian intervention’ is used to aggravate the situation, resulting in further disorder and mayhem.
Capitalism’s descent into imperialist chaos is an integral part of the terrible barbarism that results from these disasters. The working class is the only class capable of overthrowing capitalism and bringing an end to this suicidal logic by creating a society that is no longer founded on exploitation and profit. Tino