Editors Note: In his analysis of why the system of capitalism-imperialism is fundamentally in opposition to the interests of humanity, why it cannot be reformed and must be overthrown through revolution, Bob Avakian has cited one very sharp example: There is no “right to eat” under capitalism.
This insight is borne out every day in the statistics of world hunger and “food insecurity”—i.e., where people do not have enough to eat and millions of children grow up stunted from poor nutrition—a constant of life in countries of the Third World, and in sections of the imperialist countries themselves as well.
Yet however bad the situation “normally,” the world now, since the last six months, faces an even more critical food emergency!
In December, there were 1.2 billion facing “food insecurity.” Today there are 1.6 billion.
Think about this for a second: 10 million more people facing imminent starvation—the population of an entire big city in today’s world.
The global system of food production and distribution has been thrown into upheaval in recent months causing massive increases in food prices. There are the intensifying crises and impacts of COVID-19 and of climate change—devastating heat waves in India and flooding in China are just two examples of how global warming is increasingly threatening the global food supply. And now the grossly destructive war between Russia and Ukraine, egged on by the U.S. and other Western powers. All this has caused massive dislocation and disruption to the production and distribution of basic goods in the global economy, including grain supplies. Russia and Ukraine are major wheat producers and suppliers to the countries of the Third World. The U.S., in its war-mongering with Russia, has the imperialist gall to coerce African countries dependent on these grain supplies to not buy “stolen” grain from Russia—so better the people starve to serve U.S. imperialist goals in its conflict with Russia!
All of these factors are interwoven with and fueled by the capitalist-imperialist system which dominates the planet and the lives of the billions who live on it. Go here, here, and here for more on why, and how, and what is to be done. This is a system organized around the accumulation of profit and the anarchic competition between competing blocs of capital, including bourgeois nation-states—NOT on the basis of meeting the common needs of humanity. As a consequence, this is not a problem of too little food being produced—this is a problem of food being too “expensive” for hundreds and hundreds of millions of people to obtain it.
In this context of the horrifying increase in world hunger, we are excerpting below a revcom.us article from 2016 which speaks to what it means and why there is no “right to eat” under this system:
Bob Avakian has pointed out:
One example that I’ve cited before... is the question of the “right to eat.” Or why, in reality, under this system, there is not a “right to eat.” Now, people can proclaim the “right to eat,” but there is no such right with the workings of this system. You cannot actually implement that as a right, given the dynamics of capitalism and the way in which, as we’ve seen illustrated very dramatically of late, it creates unemployment. It creates and maintains massive impoverishment. (To a certain extent, even while there is significant poverty in the imperialist countries, that is to some degree offset and masked by the extent of parasitism there; imperialism “feeds off” the extreme exploitation of people in the Third World in particular, and some of the “spoils” from this “filter down” in significant ways to the middle strata especially. But, if you look at the world as a whole, capitalism creates and maintains tremendous impoverishment.)
Many, many people cannot find enough to eat and cannot eat in a way that enables them to be healthy—and in general they cannot maintain conditions that enable them to be healthy. So even right down to something as basic as “the right to eat”—people don’t have that right under capitalism. If you were to declare it as a right, and people were to act on this and simply started going to where the food is sold as commodities and declaring “we have a more fundamental right than your right to distribute things as commodities and to accumulate capital—we have a right to eat”—and if they started taking the food, well then we know what would happen, and what has happened whenever people do this: “looters, shoot them down in the street.”
Enough food is actually produced in the world to feed everyone. But some 21,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, with children dying most often. In 2013, there were 161 million children under five years old whose growth had been stunted because of malnutrition. In the past two years, 795 million people, or one out of every nine people who live on this planet, suffered from chronic undernourishment.
… What if lots of people just went out one night to the supermarket and took what they needed so their kids could get one healthy meal? What if they didn’t do it for just one night, but for a whole month? What would happen to those stores? And what would happen if this were done not just in one city, but all over the world? [Ed: While this article walks through one simple thought-experiment example here, think about what would happen if this were to happen on a world scale, including whole peoples crossing borders to meet such needs.]
Well, to finish this thought experiment we have to look at how food ends up in the stores to begin with. As Bob Avakian has discussed, in order for something to get produced under capitalism, even for social needs like food, clothing, and shelter there has to be a “preliminary transformation into capital.” So let’s look at what this means. There has to be an investment of money in a way that turns that investment into capital. So for example, if a particular capitalist wants to make bread to sell, he’s got to take money, (perhaps with a loan from a bank) and invest this in the raw materials that go into the bread, like flour, sugar, oil, etc. He’s got to invest in the factory building, the ovens, the packaging materials, the trucks for transportation. And most importantly, if he doesn’t do this all himself, he has to hire workers—he has to invest in the purchase, the control, and the use of labor power (of people whose work adds value to all this). The capitalist is not primarily motivated by feeding the hungry, but by the objective need to make a profit and accumulate more capital. He has to stay afloat, while at the same time competing with many other capitalists also making bread and trying to accumulate more profit by gaining a bigger share of the market. These are the driving dynamics of this system, to which the capitalists themselves are subject.
So what happens if instead of the bread getting sold, hungry people “exercise” a “right to eat” and just take it? The capitalist won’t make a profit and possibly won’t even recoup the initial investment he put in to make the bread. And if this keeps happening, he won’t be able to pay back loans to the bank, he won’t have funds for further investment to produce more bread, he won’t be able to pay his rent or his workers. He will go out of business. And if hungry people go into stores and take bread and other food without paying for it, not just one day and not just in one city or country, then supermarkets will go out of business, producers of food will go out of business, and a very basic part of the capitalist economy (the production of food) will start falling apart, drastically affecting the whole capitalist system.
There is already enough food being produced to provide everyone on the planet with a healthy diet. The only reason people are going hungry and dying of starvation is because of this capitalist mode of production.
In contrast, a socialist society has a radically different economy, free of the constraints of having to produce everything through the preliminary transformation into capital. With this, it aims primarily to meet the social needs of all the people, in line with and as part of getting rid of all relations of exploitation and emancipating all of humanity. This does not mean that there would not be a need to figure out how to do this in a way that did not plunder the planet and to substantially remake how agriculture is done in order to feed everyone. Nor does it mean that care would not have to be taken to figure out adjustments in other parts of the economy, so that people could really HAVE this right—so that the necessities of life would be available to all. But it could be done—and all this has not just been outlined but gone into in some depth in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.
Bob Avakian: What If the World Doesn't Have To Be This Way?
So think again of those 21,000 people who will die today of hunger or hunger-related causes. Think again of how most of these are children. Think again of 161 million children whose growth will be stunted from malnutrition—picture just one of them as she goes to bed hungry tonight. Then think about how the only thing making that happen is this system and how this could be eradicated through communist revolution.
What are you gonna do?