Socialist Worker

Does development cause inequality?

Economic growth has brought huge benefits—but capitalism distorts them, explains Simon Basketter

Issue No. 2217

The floods in Pakistan have exposed the vulnerability and poverty that millions of people still live in.

Capitalism is a dynamic system that has revolutionised the way we produce things and created immense wealth.

But it has also trapped billions in dire poverty.

So half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day and millions go hungry—despite the fact that there is more than enough food produced to feed everyone.

The spread of capitalism around the globe has turned China into a global, growing power.

Yet behind this “success story” millions of workers and peasants live in misery.

Some people argue that we need more economic growth, or development, to lift people up from poverty.

Others say that we should oppose economic development—either because it is inevitably tied to environmental destruction or inextricably linked to the interests of Western capitalism.

For socialists it isn’t development itself that is the problem, but the nature of that development.

Capitalist development brought progress by increasing material production.

It provides the potential to meet all human needs and for everyone to live decent and fulfilling lives.

Simply put, that is worthwhile progress.

But the class divide that is integral to capitalism stops this potential from being realised.

And capitalist development, driven by competition, comes at an enormous cost in terms of human suffering.

So amid huge increases in productivity there has been an immense growth of the forces of destruction threatening humanity and the planet.

It is usual to divide the world into “developed” and “underdeveloped” countries.

The impression is given that the “underdeveloped” countries have been moving in the same direction as the “developed” countries for hundreds of years, but at a slower speed.

In reality, one reason why Western countries developed was that they robbed wealth from the rest and pushed them backwards.

The development of European capitalism depended on conquest, genocide and slavery.

Capitalism is inherently expansionist. It has integrated the whole world into a single economic system.

As the revolutionaries Karl Marx and Frederick Engels put it, “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the surface of the whole globe.”

Ordinary people paid the price—with extreme repression, brutal labour discipline, and shattering social dislocation.

The slave trade, for example, was complemented by pure looting—as when the British conquered India.

Marx repeatedly and explicitly condemned the “inherent barbarism” of capitalist development.

He wrote, “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.”

This process of impoverishing and exploiting the world’s people and resources has continued up until today.

Some socialists have seen capitalism as a necessary stage on the route to a socialist world.

But socialism will not be the final outcome of economic progress. Instead it will involve a historical break from a system progressing towards catastrophe.

It will take a movement of ordinary people to bring about a socialist society, not some inevitable force of history.

As Marx commented, “The Indians will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British people, until in Great Britain itself the now-ruling classes shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the Hindus themselves have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether.”

In a world ravaged by capitalism and imperialism, this still holds true today.

For real productive and equitable development to take place we must overthrow the ruling class.

Only then, as Marx wrote, “will human progress cease to resemble that hideous, pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain.”


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Tue 31 Aug 2010, 16:50 BST
Issue No. 2217
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