Issue 258 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
Ahmad Ben Bella, was a key leader of the FLN, which led the insurrection against French rule in Algeria in the 1950s. He became Algeria's first prime minister in 1962, and a year later was elected the country's first president. He was ousted in a coup and spent almost 20 years in prison and under house arrest. Ben Bella has remained a powerful symbol of the struggle for liberation. He spoke to Anne Alexander
How would you define globalisation? Do you think that the key conflict is between rich and poor countries?
We can't treat the issue of globalisation as a matter for academic debate. There is a clear link between what we call globalisation and what is going on in Afghanistan. It is also clear that globalisation is not a new phenomenon. In fact the opposite is true. It is a new name for a system we know well, the capitalist system. Globalisation offers no answer to the contradictions we face within the economic system, and it is no way to solve the contradictions between the rich countries of the North and the impoverished South. The process of globalisation is not just about this conflict between the North and South, although the South represents at least 85 percent of the world's population, and in some estimates it may account for as much as 90 or 95 percent. Poverty and oppression are found in every society, in Europe as well as in Africa and Asia.
Politicians and World Bank economists often join forces to argue that what we need to see is more development in order to lift people out of poverty. Do you think this is true?
Development does not benefit the majority of the world's population. In fact, it benefits only a tiny minority. According to certain estimates as little as 15 or 16 percent of humanity could really be said to have benefited from the development process. Meanwhile it is the multinational corporations who are the real winners. Only 400 companies account for half of the world's profits, and 85 percent of these companies have an income greater than that of China, which has a population of 1.2 billion.
With this kind of wealth available it is not difficult to envisage solutions to the problem of poverty, yet despite this people still live in absolute misery. Poverty and oppression create immense anger. If someone is starving to death what is he supposed to do? In this world, there are different cultures which provide different ways that people can try to understand what is going on in the world. For instance, there are about 1 billion Muslims, who now feel that they are involved in some kind of culture clash with the west. In fact, Islam as a religion is very clear about the issue of poverty. The Prophet Muhammad regarded poverty as a form of unbelief.
Are you saying then, that poverty can push people towards violence? Do you think it can also push people towards resistance? Would you agree with the idea that the entire economic system is based on violence, carried out by means of Third World debt, structural adjustment programmes and so on?
The greatest violence is the violence of the economic system itself. I believe that depriving someone of food is a violent act--particularly since it is clear that there is enough to feed everybody. We know from the statistics that there is food rotting in warehouses in Europe. There is even enough to go round in the South, yet there are still people dying of hunger in Africa and Asia.
In this system, even science is used to perpetuate violence. Science should be used for life Instead it is used for profit. Learning and research are being exploited by the military-industrial complex, which profits from scientific advances, and from the whole process of globalisation. This is the opposite of what should be happening. Science should benefit society as a whole, instead of being used to create more poverty and oppression.
On the question of resistance, don't forget the French government considered me a terrorist because of my role in the liberation movement. In Algeria half a million people were killed in the course of that battle. They claim that the war in Afghanistan is a war of religion. George Bush wants us to believe that whoever is not with him is with Bin Laden. The truth is that this system played a fundamental role in creating Bin Laden. Afghanistan is a product of the same system.
What has been your role in the anti-globalisation movement so far?
A group of us set up the counter-conferences in Davos as an alternative to this gathering of political leaders, kings and billionaires, which meets every year in Switzerland. Hundreds of thousands of people in the west have begun to take up the same issues. In Seattle, Prague, Nice, Davos and Genoa people came out on the streets to call for a new system, one which will benefit all of humanity. This is a movement which forced organisations like the WTO to hold their meetings outside of Europe and the US. To our great shame, they came to the Arab world to hold their meeting in Qatar. As I said in the conference, it is now up to us in the Middle East to make sure that we also expel them from our region.
What would you say to people involved with the anti-capitalist movement, and the anti-war movement in Britain?
If you can keep Tony Blair at home for a while, that would be a relief for the rest of us.