Hunger in Canada

Updated: 21 May 2008, 22:57

Originally written: 16 September 2001

A Southam Newspapers report, published on 16 August 2001, informs:

About 2.5 million Canadians, including tens of thousands of middle class families, had problems putting food on the table at least once in 1998-99, Statistics Canada said Wednesday.

This is in the country which has had a string of “the best country in the world to live” honours from the United Nations Development Programme. Also, Canada is a net exporter of food.

Another study, conducted for the federal Human Resources Department, found that 1.6% of families with children under age 12 reported experiencing hunger in a 1996 survey.

It is clear from both studies that for most of those reporting hunger, it was not an everyday event. But the 8% of Canadians reporting “food insecurity” is a condemnation of the social structure under which we live today. As much as many might argue that these people are lazy, or stupid, or whatever, the fact is that there are a lot of hungry children and adults. Evidently there are a lot of people honestly worried about their ability to feed themselves, not because there is not enough food, but because capitalism allocates food, and everything else, on a rather strange basis.

Rather than allocating food to those who hunger, capitalism allocates food to those with money.

In capitalist economics, if nobody wants to purchase your ability to work, then capitalism has no obligation to feed you and your children. Of course, because capitalist economy has persistent booms and slumps, it is necessary to keep some unemployed workers alive for the coming boom. Also, the nasty habit of people to foment armed revolt (which disrupts profits) when they are hungry, usually keeps enough money trickling through the hands of the working class (90% or more of the population) to stave off mass starvation. It does not matter whether the money is in the form of government handouts, or subsidized food, or charity or whatever.

The bottom line for capitalism is to keep the working class producing profit for the capitalist class.

Some will fault the above noted StatsCan study for including the concept of “food insecurity”. There is a popular perspective that unless people are actually starving to death, their life really is not all that bad. This goes hand in hand with blaming the victim — often children — for their poverty and hunger.

It also goes hand in hand with the belief that somehow the poverty of others does not affect those who feel that they are well fed. Reality intrudes though, and whether most people recognize it or not, they react to that reality. It affects them. Even the richest man in the world spends money to protect himself from the poor. Nobody is immune to the reality of poverty that is inherent under capitalism.

The Right wing blames the poor for their poverty, but usually concedes that charity is a good way to deal with such things as starvation. The Left wing takes a different approach. They blame the capitalists for not being nice enough.

The Left therefore tends to promote government handouts to the poor. The Left has, however, given up on the idea of ending poverty (except perhaps in the oh-so-distant future). Instead their schemes are intended to make poverty nicer, to relieve the worst instances of poverty. They know that most people are struggling, at one level or another, so they present us with photographs of big-eyed African children with their bellies bloated, and stories of children chained to spinning wheels. The Left gets lots of mileage, and lots of money, from this approach because few of us are unmoved by these images of absolute poverty.

But socialists look beyond our immediate discomfort at these images. We look at the root cause.

Charity has been around for a very, very long time. It has not put a dent in poverty. The technological advances generated and built by the working class, have generally changed the level of poverty, but still, absolute poverty continues. It is arguable that absolute poverty has in fact increased faster than the population.

Over the past 150 years or so, socialists have been told, by the Left, Right and Centre, that socialists are wrong. The Left has presented and implemented numerous schemes that have not ended poverty, but the Left is still sure they can make poverty better for the poor.

The Right has shown us poverty with negligible state interference and then has the gall to effectively blame state interference for the existence of poverty today (see the essay: End Poverty by Ending Welfare As We Know It, Fred McMahon, in the forthcoming book Memos to the Prime Minister: What Canada Should Be in the 21st Century, John Wiley and Sons Canada Ltd.).

The Centre sways back and forth and does not end hunger either.

Socialists claim that the NDP, Canadian Alliance, Liberals, Greens, Conservatives, Communist Party, and all the rest of the parties of capitalism have not failed. They have been remarkably, and obviously, successful — at maintaining capitalism. No matter how obviously awful capitalism is proved to be. No matter how many times people say “Never Again” — until the next time. No matter how many people starve, go hungry, get sick due to poverty, are maimed or killed in wars, or gang fights, or robberies, or industrial “accidents” which could easily be prevented, capitalism maintains is death-grip on the working class. And the working class succumbs to the pretense of choice offered by the Left, Centre, and Right.

The working class provided the cannon fodder in the capitalist revolutions to replace feudalism (including the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917). The working class provides the cannon fodder when an up-and-coming capitalist class seeks to overthrow an extant capitalist class. And no matter which army wins, the working class loses. It is back to the daily grind of producing profit for the capitalists.

We socialists are scary people. We claim that there is no need for poverty. We claim that hunger and poverty can be ended by replacing capitalism with socialism. We claim that reasoned analysis shows we are right. We claim that capitalism is run for the capitalists, by and large, by the working class. We claim that everything which has ever been built has been built by working people. We claim that there is no need for capitalists or capitalism. We are very, very scary people.

Some people, especially from the Left, blame capitalists. Socialists most emphatically state that no-one should hate capitalists. Rather we state, just as emphatically, that as long as the working class acquiesces to capitalism — working for wages — capitalists are doing exactly what the majority demands they do. The capitalists are exploiting us by living off the avails of our labour. Capitalists pay us less than the value of our labour, and yet, by the logic of capitalism we who labour are not being cheated. Our ability to work is a commodity being bought and sold at market prices. It is the very epitome of fair — under capitalism — and most people support capitalism, even if only by acquiescing to it.

If you cannot find a buyer for your ability to work, then you have almost no value in capitalist society. Your hunger, poverty, illness, even death are next to meaningless from the perspective of capitalism. However, the poorest are not completely meaningless. The poorest provide an impetus to the rest of our class to do whatever is necessary to remain employed. Of course employment does not end poverty, and sometimes it does not even end hunger. But employment does keep profit being produced to keep the rich, rich and sometimes to create a nouveau riche.

It is capitalism at which socialists direct our attacks, because it is capitalism itself — by its very nature — which is the problem. Capitalism is a class divided society, in which the capitalist class owns and enjoys the wealth produced by the majority working class. As long as society has been class divided, and for as long as it remains that way, the majority will suffer. As long as the majority support a society which works for the few, the many will suffer.

Suffering has many levels. Food insecurity is one level of suffering, and fearing those poorer than you is another level of suffering (people would stop wasting money on door locks if they were not suffering from poverty). Worrying, not just wondering, about their future — as a surprising number of younger and younger people today apparently do — is suffering too.

Capitalism allocates based upon how much money you have.

Socialism, when the working class finally decides to establish it, will allocate based upon human need. If you need food, you will take it. In such a society, hunger will not exist.

To end hunger, and the plethora of horrors which socialists show are caused by class divided society, all we need to do is understand reality, and work to eliminate the barriers to cooperative society. It sounds simple. It is not simple mainly because the Left’s ignorance of socialism has made “socialism” and “communism” dirty words. The capitalists, by themselves, could not have hidden the truth for as long as it has been hidden. The Left wing, of capitalism’s supporters, lent its able assistance — possibly unintended — to abusing the words and confusing people.

So, the first step is to stop believing the lies of capitalism and stop following the Left, Centre and Right. The second step is to put some trust in the people who have built the society in which we live — the working class, you and me. The third step is to stop believing that you can do nothing to change society — that is another of capitalism’s lies — and join those of us who know that our class can create a society that will satisfy our human needs, and free us to solve problems which today defy solution because of capitalism’s nature.
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