Profit System Fuels World Food Crisis

Globally, more than 935 million people go hungry every day. The dramatic rise in food prices adds millions monthly to the starving mass. It precipitated the ‘Arab Awakening’ from Tunisia to Egypt. It sparked food riots in Bangladesh, and now confronts Afghanistan with a 50 per cent shortfall in funding for food operations.

Food prices soared 36 per cent over the past year, according to the World Bank.

Why? Severe weather and crop diseases certainly took their toll.

But other causes are man-made (even if you think climate change is not). Market speculation and the diverting of farm land to biofuels are two of the causes, and they are no freaks of nature. They are the products of capitalist greed.

Corn, cassava, canola and sugar are increasingly used to make ethanol to power cars and trucks.

“Global maize prices rose about 73 per cent in the six months after June 2010,” said the World Bank’s Agriculture and Rural Development Team. Forty per cent of the U.S. corn crop now goes into ethanol.

Using food to make fuel is profitable for business, but as a substitute for oil, it’s like flipping humanity from the frying pan into the fire — with no reduction of the impact of carbon-burning on nature.

Since world population is predicted to top 9 billion by 2050, the urgency of increasing food production cannot be overstated. At the same time, the hypocrisy of the capitalist rulers should never be underestimated. In 2008, leaders of the G20 countries pledged $22 billion over three years to help poor countries increase food production. According to the World Bank fund set up to administer this money, only $400 million has so far been received.

How long will the starving wait? How long can capitalism get away with murder?

Build on Historic Gains for NDP

Voters in Canada made history on May 2 when they catapulted the labour-based New Democratic Party into Official Opposition status. Relegated to distant third place is the former main party of business rule, the Liberal Party. Its leader, Michael Ignatieff, lost his own Toronto seat and resigned as party leader. And despite a mere 1.8 per cent increase in its share of the vote, the autocratic right wing Stephen Harper Conservatives gained a majority of seats.

The election produced a fundamental re-alignment of forces that dashed any thoughts of parliamentary coalition. Voters tossed aside class collaborationist ‘strategic voting’ schemes. The new left-right polarization makes the NDP a government in waiting, with the onus on the party to show that it represents real change for working people.

Perennially in fourth place, New Democrats soar into the new Parliament in second spot with 102 seats, backed by 31 per cent of the votes cast. The Conservatives captured 167 seats and 39.5 per cent of the votes. (In the 308 seat House of Commons, 155 is a majority.)

The Liberals suffered a crushing defeat, winning only 34 seats (down from 77 MP s in 2008, and 103 in 2006) and 18.9 per cent of the votes. The bourgeois nationalist Bloc Quebecois nearly disappeared. It held onto 4 seats (a steep nose dive from 49). Its leader Gilles Duceppe, lost in his riding too and promptly resigned. The capitalist Green Party won its first and only seat, for Leader Elizabeth May in British Columbia, despite attracting over 4 per cent of the ballots across the country. Such distortions argue forcefully for replacement of the archaic, Westminster-style, first-past-the-post system, by a system of direct proportional representation.

This result, flawed as it is, still expresses a seismic shift. Stunning gains achieved by the labour-based NDP, nearly doubling its share of the vote, more than tripling its seat total to an historic high, gives the federal NDP Official Opposition status for the first time in history. It comes fifty years after the birth of the party, which is the product of the partnership of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and the Canadian Labour Congress.

In terms of class politics, the NDP electoral breakthrough places an obstacle in the path of the capitalist austerity drive. The ‘orange wave’ raises working class expectations for better times in a situation marked by growing economic polarization amidst crumbling physical and social infrastructures. But the realization of those expectations depends on class struggles outside Parliament, with which the NDP can and should be totally identified and involved.

Conservative pundits hail the Tory pick up of 24 seats, aided by a small up-tick in the polls, in contrast to the collapse of the Liberals and the BQ, as a major advance that landed a majority government on their third try in five years. On this basis, Harper’s party (an amalgam of the former hard-right wing Reform Party and the reactionary remnants of the destroyed Progressive Conservative Party) claims a strong mandate for more jails, jets and austerity. The claim, however, is entirely overblown. It can be smashed if challenged on the streets and in the work place. The most right wing government in Canadian history can be shown to be a paper tiger by a strong wave of class struggle, if only the labour leadership will offer a lead.

So, why the sudden shift? After a sleepy start, the campaign ignited around the TV party leaders’ debates in English and in French. Popular revulsion over the status quo, combined with broad discontent over Tory bullying and Liberal re-cycled promises, passed the breaking point. Cynical attempts to target ‘ethnic’ voters, demonize the opposition, and obscure critical issues produced uneven effects. Months of vicious political attack ads by the two main capitalist parties frayed loyalties in both camps, while annoying many non-partisans. ‘Vote mobs’ organized by social media savvy youths set out to stimulate participation. They rallied thousands of youths to the idea of political change, injecting an element of excitement into the process. Turnout for the election was 61.4 per cent, up from the historic low of 58.8 per cent in 2008.

But the biggest change factor, arguably, was popular disgust with frozen wages, shrinking pensions, shrivelling social benefits, and the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of full-time jobs. While the rich got richer from tax cuts and obscene CEO bonuses, and by pillaging the treasures of nature, the rest of us did a slow burn, watching as our living standards sank.

At the same time, the NDP should be credited for positive moves. Leader Jack Layton, unlike his predecessors, campaigned openly to form a government, not just to win ‘a few more seats’. He fought to reverse gigantic Tory and Liberal give-ways to big business. He promised that greater revenues from the rich would pay for better health care, pension improvements and post-secondary education access. The NDP tax plank (despite its limitations) resonated so well with the population that the Liberals nearly copied it.

But Layton’s most adept move was to tap the leftist sentiments of the Quebec electorate. French-speaking Quebecois, particularly workers, have a collective consciousness shaped by national oppression and a keen aversion to the strictures of the Canadian state. For once, the English-Canada-based NDP took this into account.

After years of dithering and policy reversals, Layton asserted that he would repeal the undemocratic Clarity Act, recognize a declaration of Quebec independence after a sovereignty referendum win, and support asymmetrical federalism. That means Quebec would be treated as a nation, and not just as another province in Confederation. It includes a guarantee that Quebec will have no less than a quarter of the seats in Parliament after re-distribution.

The NDP Leader committed to ensure that French would be the working language in federally-regulated industries in Quebec, such as railways and banks. Layton pledged to fight for rules that would require future judges appointed to the Supreme Court to be fluent in French. He promised to support efforts to plug the loop hole that allows English private school students in Quebec to skirt Language Law 101 and, after a couple of years, transfer to an English-language publicly funded school.

While it is wrong to read massive NDP gains in Quebec as signaling the end of the sovereignty movement, they do reflect a disconnection by pro-independence Quebecois from the strategy and economic policies of the capitalist Parti Quebecois and the Bloc. The shift may presage big gains by the leftist, pro-sovereignty Quebec Solidaire at the next provincial vote.

In the meantime, a majority of the NDP Parliamentary Caucus, 59 of 102 MP s, consist of francophone Quebecois. One is 19 years old, another is a former communist candidate, and the majority are strong Quebec nationalists completely unfamiliar to the federal party apparatus. Jack Layton may, or may not succeed in taming this corral of young tigers.

As is often the case, in the commercial media personalities trump political content. Media fixation on the alleged assets and foibles of politicians usually benefits the bourgeois parties. This time it backfired. Many comedians make a good living ridiculing Stephen Harper as a heartless, humourless martinet, and by portraying Michael Ignatieff as a vampire-like opportunist on temporary leave from a teaching gig at Harvard U. Jack Layton, a prostate cancer survivor who walked through the election campaign with the aid of a cane due to recent hip surgery, emerged as a sincere, honest, likeable guy who “won’t give up until the job is done.” Nonetheless, this superficial media approach to politics can bite, as well as feed proponents of social progress.

Equally dangerous is the tendency to exaggerate the evils of the Conservatives to try to justify a ‘strategic’ vote for the Liberals, or to promote the formation of a bourgeois coalition government. While these ploys failed to take root, the NDP brass is its own worst enemy in this regard.

When Jack Layton told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge that the main difference between the NDP and the Liberal Party is that the Liberals didn’t keep their promises and the NDP is more trustworthy, he was wrong. The difference is actually quite profound. The corporate elite simply do not back the NDP. It’s no accident. For them the issue is class, embodied in the NDP connection to the labour movement in English Canada.

Layton’s comment was a sad admission of the illusions harboured by the current leadership of the party. Moreover, it underscores the task we face as workers, poor people, students, seniors and youth. That task is to replace the Liberal-look-alike policies of the NDP with socialist policies to meet the needs of the vast majority.

From the start, the NDP Leader issued excuses to forestall the implementation of NDP policies. Investment in rapid transit, social housing and urban infrastructure would be contingent on anticipated revenue from a new cap-and-trade carbon tax (a bad environmental policy in any case). The proposed doubling of Canada Pension Plan benefits, and the much-touted promise to train new doctors would be dependent on the ‘cooperation of the provinces’.

Instead, Layton should insist on taxing the rich, cutting the military, and transforming eco-harmful private monopolies into publicly-owned, green industries run democratically under workers’ and community control. The place to start is with Big Oil, auto, mining and the banks. Use their billions to meet the needs of millions.

Clearly, the right has made gains by moving to the right. The left, to make gains, must move to the left. Not just in words, but in deeds.

That means challenging the pro-capitalist direction of the labour and NDP leadership. It means opposing any talk of NDP merger with the Liberal Party, or any coalition for government with a capitalist party. In a bourgeois coalition the NDP would have to carry the can for war abroad and austerity at home. A merger with the Liberals would further dilute the NDP programme. Instead we need an NDP government committed to socialist policies. That’s what many of the thousands of new members who are likely to stream into the newly buoyant labour party will seek.

Historic gains for the NDP make it time now to step up the fight for a Workers’ Agenda and a Workers’ Government. On the crest of rising hopes and expectations, the socialist left can organize to gain a bigger-than-ever hearing for a class struggle programme inside the unions and the NDP. Don’t make excuses. Make waves. Join the NDP Socialist Caucus and fight for socialist policies at the NDP federal convention in Vancouver, June 17-19.

The article above was written by Barry Weisleder.


The Socialist Caucus (SC) was founded in 1998 at Toronto, Ontario by NDP activists who were concerned about the right-wing drift of the party leadership.

The Caucus soon had supporters across the Canadian state, especially Ontario and British Columbia.  We advocate socialist policies based on economic democracy and workers’ empowerment, such as social ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, the eradication of homelessness and poverty, women’s rights and gender equality, environmental sustainability, and global peace and cooperation.

The SC published its Manifesto for a Socialist Canada in 1999 and produces its magazine, Turn Left, for every federal and Ontario provincial convention.

The SC believes that in order to attain power, the NDP must connect with working class people, wage earners and equity-seeking groups like never before.  This means championing socialist policies that can capture the dreams and aspirations of millions of people in Canada and around the world.

The SC holds an annual convention every year which includes panel discussions, debates and preparations for the NDP federal convention.

Not only do we want to move the party back to its working class and socialist roots, we want to democratize the party and make it an instrument of its rank and file membership.

Millions of people in Canada and around the world are moved by the vision of a new society in which democracy, equality and cooperation – the essential values of socialism – will one day be the prevailing principles of organization.  It is in the growth of their numbers and in the success of their struggles that lies the best hope for humankind.

The NDP Socialist Caucus warmly invites NDP members throughout Canada and Quebec to become involved in this most important endeavor.

Sign up to Socialist Caucus mailing list.

Mark Your Calendar!

<!–[if !mso]> st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

Toronto’s 25th Annual Toronto Socialist May Day Celebration
Their Crisis, Our Solutions

-Jorge Soberon Consul General of Cuba in Toronto
-Nancy Pridham Vice-President, Region 5, Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union
-John Clarke organizer for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
-Khaled Mouammar President of the Canadian Arab Federation.
-B.C. Holmes representing the Toronto Haiti Action Committee
-Barry Weisleder Federal Secretary, Socialist Action, and substitute teachers’ organizer
-M.C.: Elizabeth Byce, federal Treasurer, NDP Socialist Caucus, and retired member of the Toronto Local, Canadian Union of Postal Workers
Celebrate with entertainers: Jon Brooks, 2010 Winner Kerrville (Texas) New Folk Contest, 2009 Canadian Folk Music Award Nominee ‘Best Songwriter’, 2009 Winner NPR’s Mountain Stage NewSong Contest (Canada); Marianne Girard, roots/alternative country singer-song writer, 2009 Canadian Folk Music Award Nominee ‘Best vocalist’, with acclaimed new CD “Pirate Days”; Robert Priest, poet, playwright, songwriter and singer; Simms & Maya, singing originals, international folk songs, and performing some theatre; Glen Hornblast, folk singer on the social justice scene.
Enjoy delicious food from the menu and drinks from the bar. For details, call the Free Times Café at 416-967-1078.
At the event there will also be a literature and CDs display, a raffle (with prizes to include Cuban rum, wonderful books, posters and more) and many surprises.
Sunday, May 1, 2011 7 p.m.
Free Times Cafe, 320 College St., (2 blocks west of Spadina) Toronto, Ontario
Admission: $10 waged, $5 non-waged or PWYC
E-mail: Phone: (416) 535-8779
sponsored by Socialist Action (Fourth Internationalists in the Canadian state)
Event endorsed by: Toronto Local – Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Toronto Haiti Action Committee, NDP Socialist Caucus, National Council of Latin American and Caribbean Women in Canada – Latin@s , Youth for Socialist Action, Toronto Forum on Cuba, Free the Cuban Five Cultural Committee, and the Workers’ Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition.

Socialism 2011: Their Crisis, Our Solutions
an International Educational Conference May 19, 20, 21, 22, 2011
at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, U of Toronto, 252 Bloor Street West
co-sponsored by: Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste – Canadian state, Socialist Action – USA, and the Socialist Unity League (Liga Unidad Socialista) – Mexico

Thursday, May 19
5:30 p.m. registration opens
7 p.m. End the Occupations! Permanent War or Permanent Revolution
Christine Gauvreau, leading member of SA-USA, United National Anti-war Committee, and Connecticut United for Peace; and Khaled Mouammar, President of the Canadian Arab Federation.

Friday, May 20
5:30 p.m. registration, literature sale
7 p.m. Civil Liberties Under Attack – Fight Back!
Barbara Jackman, renowned Canadian lawyer who led the successful fights to lift the border entry ban on George Galloway, and to free tortured Muslim Canadians; Jeff Mackler, National Secretary, SA-USA, coordinator of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal campaign, of the Free Lynne Stewart campaign, and a leading opponent of the FBI raids against anti-war activists; plus Jaime Gonzalez, Organization Secretary of the LUS-Mexico.

Saturday, May 21
10 a.m. After Cancun, the Fight for Climate Justice
Terisa Turner, participant in the Cochabamba (Bolivia) Conference, and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at U of Guelph; Jaime Gonzalez Organization Secretary of the LUS-Mexico; and Dan Piper, a member of SA-USA National Committee.

12 noon Lunch break

1 p.m. What’s Wrong with our Workers’ Movement?
Barry Weisleder, Federal Secretary, SA/LAS Canada, and organizer of Toronto Substitute Teachers’ Action Caucus; Bruce Allen, V.P. of CAW Local 199 and V.P. of Niagara District Labour Council; Ajamu Nangwaya, member of CUPE 3907 and former V.P. of CUPE Ontario.

4 p.m. Origins of Sexism and the fight for Women’s Liberation Today
Christine Gauvreau, leading member of SA-USA, based in Connecticutt; and Cheri MacDonald, veteran socialist-feminist and campaigner for Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics.

6 p.m. Supper break

7 p.m. Marx was Right: Capitalism doesn’t work. Deepen the Global Resistance!
Jeff Mackler, National Secretary SA – USA, based in San Francisco; with supplementary remarks by Tom Baker, SA/LAS Canada.

Sunday, May 22

11 a.m. Aboriginal and Quebecois aspirations – National liberation in the Canadian state
Roger Obonsawin, President of the Aboriginal Peoples Council of Toronto, a veteran campaigner for aboriginal treaty rights; and Dr. Robbie Mahood, Montreal, SA-LAS, and past election candidate for Quebec Solidaire.

1 p.m. Lunch break, with film “Toronto G20 Exposed”

2 p.m. Closed session for SA members and invited guests. SA/LAS Convention.

4 p.m. Founding Convention of Youth for Socialist Action.

Tickets: $20 in advance for weekend; $30 at door for wkend; $5 per session (or PWYC) For more information: 416 – 535-8779

No coalition with Liberals. Fight for socialist policies! Vote NDP on May 2!

<!–[if !mso]> st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–> by Barry Weisleder

The defeat in the House of Commons of the most hated federal government in a long time triggered the fourth election campaign in seven years. Voters across the Canadian state go to the polls on May 2 to choose their pill for the continuing economic maladies. With unemployment at nearly 8 per cent officially (double that figure if one includes discouraged workers and the chronically underemployed), with each person on average $100,000 in debt, with homeless shelters and food banks strained to the breaking point, voters have much to ponder.

The Stephen Harper-led minority government Conservatives, mired in election financing and deceit scandals, booted from office for being found in contempt of Parliament for refusing to disclose the cost of their corporate tax cuts, and their plans for new prisons and stealth combat jets, are asking for a majority. Harper began his campaign in full attack mode, hyping the threat of “a coalition of free-spending opposition parties”. He portrayed his agenda of social cutbacks, war spending, and gifts to the rich and powerful as “staying the course”
— this in the midst of a dismal economic ‘recovery’.

The Liberals under Michael Ignatieff donned populist vestments. While skewering Harper’s (twice) undemocratic suspension of Parliament, Ignatieff championed support for more child care spaces, and for more aid to students burdened with rising tuitions. He claims to be for stronger public pensions and health care. His hope is that the electorate will forget, or at least forgive the Liberal sponsorship scandal, the severe social cuts of Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin in the 1990s, and Liberal decisions to send the Canadian military and police to
Afghanistan and Haiti.

Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc Quebecois advanced its demands for more federal transfer payments to
Quebec, downplayed the Bloc’s commitment to bourgeois sovereignty, and put a ‘progressive’ veneer on its pro-system perspective.

The Green Party’s
Elizabeth May concentrated on trying to win a first seat for the party. Her policies would force working people pay for the mess created by capitalism, with a regressive carbon tax, and measures that favour ‘greening’ of the private sector. Notwithstanding her platform, exclusion of May from the TV leaders’ debate, which is posed again, would be outrageous.

Jack Layton and the labour-based New Democratic Party thus had a golden opportunity to offer a refreshing and radical alternative. But
Layton started off with the totally uninspiring slogan “take the strain off your family budget, make everyday essentials less expensive”.

It is commendable that Layton wants to help seniors, extend the ecoEnergy Retrofit programme for homeowners, remove the federal sales tax on home heating bills, and put an 8 per cent cap on the interest that can be charged by credit card firms. But this is comparatively light work. The timidity of these proposals reveals something else — that the labour party brass is unwilling to reverse the huge tax concessions to big business of the past twenty years; that it lacks the courage to challenge the agenda of capitalist austerity. The NDP campaign shies away even from proposing to dismantle the country’s war budget and end Ottawa‘s participation in US/NATO aggression. Sadly, this is reflected in Layton‘s decision to back the western intervention into Libya (see article below).

Given the failed state of globalized capitalism, the need for an alternative is evident. Instead of ‘strained family budgets’, the NDP should decry the one-sided class war being waged from the top down. It should stress the need to fight back with bold socialist measures, instead of paltry reforms. Workers who vote NDP in their millions have the power to shake up their party, toss away its Liberal-look-alike policies, and make the NDP fight for society’s vast majority, the working class and the poor. Direct involvement in the NDP campaign now is critically important to that end.

Participation in a coalition government would be a dead end for labour and the left. Nonetheless, coalition is perfectly legal in
Canada and common around the world. Harper’s attempt to demonize the notion of coalition government is a crude attempt at self-preservation by exploiting political ignorance and anti-Quebec chauvinism (although the BQ has never actually been proposed as a coalition partner by any party). The fuss he’s made over a possible Liberal-NDP coalition is doubly hypocritical because Harper proposed an alliance of Conservatives, New Democrats and the Bloc as an alternative to the faltering Paul Martin Liberal minority government in 2004.

Socialists oppose coalition for a radically different reason. Coalition with the Liberals, or with any capitalist party, would seriously undermine the tenuous organizational independence of the NDP as a party of the labour movement and working people. As a partner in a Liberal government, the NDP would have to carry the can for austerity and corporate bail-outs at home, and for imperial wars of occupation abroad.

The central issue today is neither the morality nor the behaviour of the Tories (repugnant as they are). It is the continuing capitalist crisis and the assault on working people. The answer is to make Capital pay for the crisis it created. If the goal is a just and sustainable society, it only makes sense to institute a steep tax on wealth, to reverse the corporate bail-outs, and to democratize the economy.

Instead of trying in vain to tame an irrational system, it is time to break the logic of the capitalist business cycle, to get off the tread mill of endemic waste and oppression. It is time to put an end to profit from war and environmental destruction. It is time to dump the whole G20 agenda overboard. 

To that end, Socialist Action advocates a number of concrete measures, policies in the interest of working people and the vast majority of NDP voters, which the NDP should be pushed to advance: 

Put people, and the preservation of nature, before profits. Nationalize the banks, mining companies, Big Oil and Big Auto. Create jobs through public investment, public ownership, democratic planning and workers’ control. Convert industry, transportation, and homes to green energy efficiency. Rapidly phase-out nuclear power and tar sands development. Repair our disintegrating roads, bridges, railways and port facilities. Make Employment Insurance more generous and accessible. Raise the minimum wage to $17/hour. Shorten the work week to 30 hours without loss of pay or benefits. Double the benefits in the Canada Pension Plan and Guaranteed Income Supplement. Abolish student debt. Make all education free. Fund health care and the arts. No corporate bail-out. Open the company books. Steeply tax corporations, speculators, and the rich. Abolish the HST. Uphold aboriginal land claims and local self-governance. Abolish the Senate and institute direct Proportional Representation in Parliament. Stop the deportations, full rights for migrant workers. Impose boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid. End the occupation of
Afghanistan and Haiti. Hands off Libya. Reduce the Canadian military to a disaster-relief and rescue force. Get Canada out of NATO now!

Capitalists complain about low productivity. It’s a lie, and a diversion. It is also a delusion to think that economic expansion will fix everything, that there is a market solution to the recurring crises of capitalism. There is no market solution. The capitalist market created the problem. Only a social revolution can solve it. Only by taking control of the major means of production, only by instituting broadly participatory, democratic planning, only by effecting a rapid green conversion to meet human needs, fully in tune with nature, does humanity have a hope of survival. 

That means challenging the pro-capitalist direction of the labour and NDP leadership. It means fighting for an NDP government committed to socialist policies. It means opposing an NDP coalition with the Liberal Party or with any capitalist party. It means fighting for a Workers’ Agenda and a Workers’ Government, and organizing to win that programme inside the unions and the NDP. It means fighting for freedom for oppressed nations, for eco-socialism, feminism and LGBT liberation.

None of that is possible without a leadership committed to doing it. Indispensable is the building of a revolutionary party to campaign for fundamental change, everywhere and everyday. Central to that is the forging of a new leadership of the working class and oppressed nations that can win. It cannot be done without you.

So, please don’t wait for the next economic crash, or for the next environmental catastrophe. Isn’t the situation dire enough? Rebellion is in the air, from
Egypt to Wisconsin, from Venezuela to Palestine. Join Socialist Action. Together we can make the world a place fit for humanity.

Ligue pour L'Action Socialiste