Socialist Worker

'Sweep away the IMF'

By George Monbiot, environmental campaigner, Guardian columnist and speaker at the S24 conference about globalisation and resistance

Issue No. 1711

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank were conceived as instruments for holding down the Third World and maintaining American economic hegemony. Look at what the US delegation did during the 1944 Bretton Woods conference which gave rise to both these institutions.

They effectively ensured the global economic system would be organised in such a way that their continued economic dominance was secured forever. What the IMF has done since is precisely what the Americans wanted it to do, which is to enforce a neoliberal world order-one which values the resources of developing countries very low and values the resources and expertise of developed countries at a much greater rate.

This ensures that developing countries can't receive a fair rate for their goods and labour, and also imposes unfair terms of trade and so called austerity measures whose purpose is to open up developing countries' economies to Western corporations.

If we look at the Structural Adjustment Programmes brokered by the IMF and World Bank in, say, sub-Saharan Africa you see a consistent pattern. In order to pay off their debt-a debt which should not exist at all- sub-Saharan African countries have been forced to cut public services massively, with the result that there is far less money available for health and education

In Zambia, for example, as a result of the Structural Adjustment Programme they had to close down many of the hospital beds that were previously open. Patients are also having to provide the money for their own treatment when they didn't have to provide that money before.


Many simply cannot afford that, with the result that thousands of people are now dying from utterly preventable and treatable diseases. My argument is that the cost of joining the IMF is far higher than the cost of keeping out.

But it is very tough, even for enlightened leaders, to sell that message to their own people when the country is being subject to massive economic sanctions if it does not sign up to IMF Structural Adjustment Programmes. The IMF's new language, about poverty reduction strategies, is the same old programme with different wrapping.

The IMF's core strategy has not changed-to keep control of other countries' economies to ensure that, just as in colonial days, industrialised countries can determine what happens in developing countries. I think it is critical that protests like that planned in Prague in September take place and highlight the IMF's deficiencies, and call for a wholly new global economic architecture.

That global architecture should have as its purpose the introduction of fair terms of trade based on much fairer exchange rates and a redistribution from creditors to debtors.

I also think that, as the Labour Party conference is taking place at the same time as the Prague meeting, it is important that we do something here. We must remind our politicians that they are representing us in their global negotiations rather than only representing themselves.

We need to make this into a major political issue in Britain so they don't forget that there are more interests at stake than just a few well-heeled bankers. In my view the IMF and World Bank are unreformable.

There is no purpose in saying they've got to do their jobs better. It is the very nature of the job that is wrong. We have to set our sights high if we are going to make a meaningful protest, and not just call for a bit of minor reformism but call for them to be swept away and a new system imposed.

Of course at the moment we don't have the power to do that. But all protest movements start small. If you look at the beginning of the civil rights movement in the US, it was small and involved the least powerful people of all.

Eventually it won some, if not all, of its aims. It is key to bear in mind that all these things start small, but if we can build them up we can make ourselves just as powerful as the countervailing forces.

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Sat 26 Aug 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1711
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