Karl Marx, born nearly two centuries ago, had in 1867 (in the first volume of Capital) laid bare the "intimate connection between the pangs of hunger of the most industrious layers of the working class, and the extravagant consumption, coarse or refined, of the rich, for which capitalist accumulation is the basis".
In May 2008, nearly a century and a half later, as we hear Emperor George Bush hold forth on global hunger, we are reminded that capitalism and global wealth remains just as intimately wedded to hunger.
Bush, in the time-honoured traditions of the backyard bully, has long harboured the habit of dictating to nations who their friends and enemies should be. Now, he has taken to telling nations how much they should eat and of wagging a disapproving finger at poor nations whose middle class has made some improvements in its diet.
Bush's sentiments reek of callous contempt for the world's poor. They lay bare the fact that the only perspective Bush and US imperialism is capable of is that of the US corporations. According to a May 3 India Times article, in Bush's words, the growing purchasing power of the middle class in the developing world is "good" because "y'know, it's hard to sell products into countries that aren't prosperous".
But, lamented Bush, "you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food".
In other words, India's growing appetite was pushing food prices up and causing the rest of the world to go hungry. Unfortunately, the world's people haven't mastered the art of being markets, not mouths — of tightening the belt over their bellies while loosening their purse strings.
Bush is the head of the nation whose successive governments used its military to ruthlessly batter a long list of Latin American and African countries into being pliant suppliers of cash crops for the US corporations — and devastating these nation's food security in the process.
Major General Smedley Butler described in early 20th Century how, as a US marine, he had been "a high class muscle-man for Big Business … a gangster for capitalism" who had helped to make Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, various Central American republics, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic "safe" for plunder by US fruit, oil, and sugar corporations and banks.
Washington's latest exploit has been to "make Iraq safe" for US oil corporations, in the process devastating its economy, infrastructure and health and education structures. Now, Bush has the gall to offer in charity what his nation has plundered by military muscle and economic arm-twisting.
Like a rapacious wolf dressed up as a kindly and nurturing mother, he describes the US as an "unbelievably compassionate and generous nation" and offers to help the poor countries out by "buying food directly from farmers as opposed to giving people food". So, the deepest desire of the US corporations — to have the farmers of developing countries as captive and direct producers for them alone — is projected as generosity!
The US today, along with a small and exclusive club of "developed" countries, guzzles a disproportionate share of the world's scarce resources including fuel, paper and food. It is also responsible for a disproportionately high share of global pollution.
Although constituting only 5% of the global population, the US emits more carbon dioxide, consumes more paper and other forest products, and produces more municipal waste than any other country. Yet Bush refused to curb carbon emissions in the US, saying "the American way of life is not negotiable", and peddling the absurd theory that cows were more responsible for such emissions than cars — so countries like China and India ought therefore to bear a greater burden of curbing emissions!
Annual per capita food grains consumption in the US is over five times that of India and three times that of China, according to figures released by the US Department of Agriculture (DOA) for 2007. On average, a US citizen consumes 1046kg of grain, around 20 times more meat and fish, and 60 times more paper, gasoline and diesel than the average Indian.
In India, since the entry of "globalisation", the average per capita consumption of food grain has actually gone down from 177kg per person to 155kg per person — the same as the hunger levels during famine in times of the British Raj.
And in India, food grains absorption is rising fast for the (mainly urban) middle class, which boosts the national average. A large section of the rural poor are actually reduced to as low as 136kg per capita per year — which is the same as that of starvation-hit sub-Saharan Africa.
Bush grudges the 350 million-strong Indian middle class its improved diet — he is silent about more than 350 million rural Indians who are below the average food energy intake of sub-Saharan African countries!
Studies have shown a long-term tendency towards declining per capita calorie consumption, especially in rural India — Indians are growing hungrier every year. Deaths by hunger are an all-too common phenomenon that India's rulers are united in denying.
And these millions owe their hunger directly to the rural job losses, income decline, land grab, slashed government expenditure on rural development and increased grain exports — all of which are policies aggressively promoted by US-backed international financial institutions and faithfully forced on Indian people by its government.
Hungry bellies inside the beast
Of course, the actual food consumption of poor US citizens is less than the national average. Hunger and homelessness are a growing phenomenon in the world's richest country.
According to the US DOA, in 2006 more than 35 million people lived in food-insecure households, including 13 million children. Adults living in over 12 million households could not eat balanced meals and in more than 7 million families, someone had smaller portions or skipped meals. In close to 5 million families, children did not get enough to eat at some point during the year.
This hunger at home is all the more horrific when one knows that more than sufficient food grains are grown in the US — but is fed to cars as "biofuel" instead!
Bush's bratty and bullying arrogance is really nothing new — we expect nothing better. The real question is why Manmohan Singh, our prime minister, describes a man with such contempt for India and for world's poor as "India's best friend"? Why insist on continuing with US-dictated policies that favour imperialism and force millions of Indians to live in misery and hunger?
[Kavita Krishnan is an editorial board member of Liberation, central organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). This is reprinted from http://links.org.au.]