Labour development secretary Clare Short delivered a stinging attack just before Christmas on the people who had protested in Seattle and Prague. She suggested they were 'self indulgent' and 'intolerable', comfortable Westerners who have enjoyed the benefits of capitalism but are now trying to deny them to the Third World.
But it is not just in the streets of Western cities that people are battling the IMF/ World Bank policies which Short applauds. As Short was delivering her attack, hundreds of delegates were gathering for a conference in Dakar, Senegal.
Senegal is not in the heartlands of Western affluence. It is in West Africa and spends 7 percent of all it produces on debt repayments, compared to 2.6 percent on health and 3.7 percent on education. The Dakar conference, called 'Africa: From Resistance to Alternatives', brought together activists from across the continent.
The delegates' tone was unremittingly hostile to the IMF, World Bank and the priorities of capitalist globalisation. As one of the preparatory documents for the conference said, 'If we were to believe what is shown on TV news, protest movements against neo-liberal globalisation and the debt occur mainly, if not only, in industrialised countries. On closer scrutiny, however, we realise that powerful movements have emerged in countries of the South.
'For sub-Saharan Africa, ten years of structural adjustment and following IMF and World Bank policies have yielded no profit whatsoever. Indeed, quite the opposite. Household revenues have become lower, local production for the home market has decreased, food dependency has increased, and the price of commodities that Africa exports has plummeted.'
The conference did not confine itself to words. At one point delegates joined 5,000 Senegalese people for an anti-austerity march to the IMF/World Bank offices, but the recently formed government of Abdoulaye Wade did not allow that.
What about Short's claim that conditions are improving for people in the less developed world because of increased international trade? Her whole evidence is based on the gradual improvement in average living standards in parts of Asia. The key component of this is the experience of China, which has indeed gone through rapid economic growth. But this is hardly an advert for the free market and free trade. China remains one of the most centrally directed and centrally controlled societies in the world.
In addition, the price of the economic growth has been extreme repression, brutal labour discipline, murderous neglect of health and safety, and shattering social dislocation. This is the best that Short can offer. In other parts of the world globalisation has brought a sharp worsening in conditions for hundreds of millions of people. The income ratio between the richest fifth of the world's population and the poorest was 30 to one in 1960, 60 to one in 1990 and 74 to one in 1997. Free market polices have brought disaster, not salvation.
Over 1.3 billion people now try to live on less than $1 a day. Not only does death stalk the Third World-free market polices have also brought chaos and falling life expectancy to large parts of Eastern Europe. As the 1997 United Nations Human Development Report showed, 'Over the last 15 years more than 100 countries in the Third World or the former Eastern Bloc have experienced a bigger and more lasting collapse in growth and drop in the standard of living than industrialised countries went through during the deep crisis of the 1930s.'
The director of the United Nations Development Programme said, 'It is quite clear that around 1.6 billion people are worse off than they were at the beginning of the 1980s.' The obscene enthusiasm for the free market is utterly misplaced. Equally false is the hype around debt cancellation.
The grand promises and frequent announcements of new 'initiatives' hide the truth that debt repayments continue to shackle many economies across the globe. This debt provides a useful lever to enable banks, financial agencies and the great powers to dictate the economic policies of governments which rule over hundreds of millions of poor people.
In November last year the Jubilee 2000 Africa Initiative produced a damning document entitled 'Eye of the Needle'. It shows that 'foreign indebtedness now poses a fatal impediment to Africa's development, and the future prospects for many countries are daunting.'
For sub-Saharan Africa, for example, repayments and interest on debt have risen from £7.26 billion a year in 1990 to £10.13 billion in 1999. Every day £28 million flowed from the poorest countries in the world to the bankers and international financial agencies. Such terrible figures are the reason why, according to the United Nations agencies, 11 million children under the age of five die every year worldwide from preventable diseases.
This reality is producing revolt. It is certainly happening in the West but also very clearly in the Third World itself.