help sustainable development

Russell Grinker grinker at
Fri Jun 9 09:45:51 MDT 2000

Lou wrote:
>First of all, when the World Bank gives lip-service to the term sustainable
>development, it is not because they read some book somewhere and were
>persuaded that the old development model was obsolete. Rather it is because
>peasant and indigenous peoples have been protesting loudly and persistently
>about how such a model has been at their expense. Take the Narmada dam, for

Seeing as you decided to raise this topic, perhaps it deserves another look.
As far as I understand it, the elected Indian government made a decision to
go ahead with the Narmada Valley project, with the support of all of the
state governments involved.

A western NGO, the EDF, played a thoroughly divisive role in splitting the
campaign for resettlement and was instrumental in lobbying the World Bank to
sabotage the dam project. Which do you support: the right of the Indian
government to decide what technology it has at its disposal, or the American
NGO's deployment of the West's monopoly over credit to sabotage that
decision? Should the Indian government be prevented from doing something
about the power cuts and electricity shortages that regularly black out its
major cities because some American radical greens believe that it would be
ecologically damaging and therefore fund particular local interests to
oppose the project?

>And who would have benefited from this dam? The agrarian
>bourgeoisie--that's who.

I'm sure I recall reading something by Jairus Banajee which pointed out that
it was in fact local landowners who were behind the mobilisation of the
anti-Narmada movement rather than the masses.
>As socialists we view sustainable development first of all in class terms.
>As long as production is based on private profit, there can not be
>sustainable development.

Maybe you do.  The fact is however that "sustainable development" in
practice is now the ideology of every imperialist development agency. As the
quote which originally started off this discussion pointed out, it is used
as justification for the non/slow development of large chunks of the world
on the pretext that technological progress would be ecologically harmful,
inappropriate, or whatever - the western under-development of Africa (to
paraphrase Walter Rodney) and other areas is now justified as OK because
that is what is "sustainable".

If you had any regular contact with development practitioners on the ground
you would know that things have moved on from the days of what the left used
to term neo-liberalism.  Imperialist intervention has for some time now
taken a far more ecologically sensitive, nuanced, humanitarian form.
Today's positive neocolonialists have coopted all the jargon and it's use is
in no way superficial in the way you seem to imagine.  Check out the
"indicators" in any project planning matrix for western funded projects (in
many countries such projects represent a big chunk of the budget these days)
and you'll find ecological impact, gender issues and sustainability at the
top of the list. Western agencies work on this stuff together with a
plethora of NGOs who are funded by them and lend them local credibility.

Erosion of sovereignty is not just happening in the overt form we can see
today in Sierra Leone.  As was pointed out in the post which started this
off, it also utilises the "empowerment" of "civil society" through aid
projects to mobilise political opposition and undermine state authority.


More information about the Marxism mailing list