by JM Thorn

This article is reproduced from the Socialist Democracy website

I have no embarrassment at all. No shame.

Bono, 2006

The quotation above was Irish rock star’s Bono attempt at self deprecating humour. However, being devoid of the humility required to make it work as a joke, it stands more as a statement of obvious fact; a self penned epitaph if ever there was one. Its accuracy was confirmed yet again with the announcement late last month that Bono was being awarded an honorary knighthood by the British Government. This important news was relayed to the world in a statement from Tony Blair posted on the Downing Street and U2 websites. Greeting readers with Hi folks and describing himself as a huge fan of the singer, he went on to express his delight that the award, which recognised an outstanding contribution to music and remarkable humanitarian work, had been accepted. A spokesman for Bono said he was very flattered to receive the award, particularly if it helped him with his campaigning work.

Most of the mainstream media either welcomed Bono’s knighthood or wrote it off as yet another gimmick. However, in many ways it does signify the changing relationship between Britain and the southern Irish state. In the past, such awards were rare. With a stronger nationalist sentiment amongst the population, which could be heightened by events such as Bloody Sunday and the hunger strikes, acceptance would have been frowned upon and the recipients written off as west Brits. However, the ending of the Republican struggle and the development of the peace process in the North, along with influx of foreign capital into the South over the last fifteen years has changed that. The southern bourgeoisie, increasingly dependent of imperialism for the maintenance of their economy and the political settlement that secures partition, now feel free to dump their watered down nationalist ideology and grab their gongs. After all isn’t this all part of the process of reconciliation?

Bono is merely the amplified personification of this class. He is one of the wealthiest men in the state, and his group U2 are a corporate entity. They have benefited greatly from the neo-liberal polices pursed by successive Irish governments. As artists they pay virtually no tax.

However, even this minuscule amount is too much. Last year the band moved part of their multipound operation to Amsterdam to avoid paying tax on royalty earnings. Around the same time Bono’s California-based venture capital firm, Elevation Partners, invested £157m in Forbes, the US business magazine described as the bible of capitalism. Roger McNamee, an Elevation partner, said Bono was drawn to Forbes because it has a point of view. He said the singer drove this part of the discussion and likes the fact that there has been a consistent philosophy throughout its history. This philosophy is an unabashed celebration of wealth and capitalist consumption.

Self-styled image

While this might seem at odds with Bono’s self-styled image as an anti poverty campaigner in reality they are wholly compatible. In the guises of both corporate predator and campaigner, he is preaching the gospel of capitalism. This can be seen in the campaigns that he has associated himself with. The campaigning vehicle he created for himself, Project Red, advocates a combination of consumerism and charity as a means of tackling the AIDS epidemic in Africa. This has seen Bono and his celebrity friends promoting the products of mobile phone and credit card companies on the basis that a tiny percentage of the profits go to AIDS charities.

The ethos of Project Red was expounded most extensively when Sir, Dr, Mr Anthony, Tony O’Reilly allowed Bono to edit an edition of the London Independent. The Red Indy as it was styled consisted of photographs and profiles of self promoting celebrities, sycophantic interviews with politicians, and extensive corporate adverts.

Inevitably Bono found space to tip his hat to the White House with Condoleezza Rice naming her top ten musical works. Declaring herself a big fan of Bono, she named anything (couldn’t even remember one of their songs) by U2 as number seven on her list. The best summary of Project Red came in the interview with BBC radio DJ Zane Lowe in which he declared that: The only thing people who are trying to make a difference can do is work alongside corporations. Another glaring thing about the Red Indy was the absence, apart from the Nigerian finance minister, of any African voices. There was also no mention of the arms trade or the exploitation of the continent’s natural resources. It was surely no co-incidence that some the corporate sponsors of the Red Indy, Motorola for example, were implicated in this gangsterism.

Privatisation of aid

The ethos of Project Red is very similar that underpinning Band Aid and more recently Live8, both vehicles of that other Irish knight Bob Geldof, in which Bono has been heavily involved. Band Aid was Geldof’s response to the famine in Ethiopia in the mid eighties. People will remember the pop concerts in London and Philadelphia, the charity records, appeals for donations, and the lobbying of politicians. While all this appeared very worthy, apart from boosting the careers of the people involved (it gave U2 their break in the US), it actually achieved very little. Indeed, it could be argued that Band Aid exacerbated the famine as most of the money raised went to the Ethiopian government, enabling it to prolong the war that was its main cause. At that time Geldof liked to portray himself as challenging the British and US government over their polices towards Africa, cultivated the image of the angry impassioned man banging the table and demanding action. In reality Band Aid fitted well with the polices that were being pursued by Thatcher and Regan, of reducing the social responsibility of the state, and putting the responsibility for the ills of society onto the individual. In this schema, famine in Africa could be solved through charitable giving; the privatisation of aid as one of Thatcher’s assistants described it. Governments (particularly the US) who were helping to fuel the crisis in Africa through political and military intervention were absolved of any responsibility.

Live8 was a figleaf for imperialisms responsibility for displacement and poverty in Africa
Live8 was a figleaf for imperialism's responsibility for displacement and poverty in Africa

Minimal concessions

More recently, Bono and Geldof have been campaigning against extreme poverty in Africa. The centrepiece of this was Live8, a lobby of the G8 group of the world’s wealthiest nations to reduce the debt owned by Africa states. This involved another pop concert in London, and a demonstration at Gleneagles in Scotland where the G8 leaders were meeting. In the event, Live8 produced very little in concrete terms to reduce poverty in Africa.

The G8 offered only minimal concessions on debt, and even these were conditional on African governments introducing further neo-liberal reforms such as privatisation of public services and concessions for foreign investors.

While anti-poverty campaigners were disappointed with the G8 proposals, Geldof and Bono enthusiastically endorsed them.

This once again exposed their phoney radicalism, posing as challengers to the status quo while in fact they are among its strongest defenders. Live8 provided a fig leaf for the continued imperialist domination of the continent of Africa, by accepting the political and financial structures that have plunged millions of Africans into extreme poverty. It proposed a programme for alleviation of poverty that would actually deeper poverty and inequality. For example, Bono and Geldof go on about on increasing trade, but they ignore the fact that record trade surpluses and extreme poverty for African states exist side by side. There was also an element of racism in Live8. This was not just in the almost all-white line-up at the pop concert, but in the portrayal of Africans as victims who are dependent upon the benevolence of western states and wealthy individuals. The idea that people who are oppressed can free themselves through their own struggles is dismissed. When a movement does arise in Africa to challenge imperialism the Bonos and Geldofs of this world will be among the first to denounce it.

In some ways the likes of Bono and Geldof are more dangerous that politicians. Few have any illusions in Bush and Blair, but people are willing to give a hearing to pop stars who appear to have humanitarian impulses. Unfortunately, this delusion has been aided by sections of the left who threw their weight behind the demands of Live8. Socialists should be exposing the fact that Bono, Bush, Geldof and Bair share a common agenda. Blair himself made this clear in the personal letter that accompanied Bono’s knighthood:

I want personally to thank you for the invaluable role you played in the run up to the Gleneagles G8 Summit. Without your personal contribution, we could not have achieved the results we did


Bono and friend
Bono and friend

Bono bashing is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, your attacks can’t fail to hit the target. Despite his rock star status he is an enemy of the working class and the oppressed, and should be exposed as such. If you have any doubts then the selection of his quotes in the box should quickly dispel them.

Condemned from his own mouth

Bono on Blair leading Britain into the war in Iraq. – …anyone can make a mistake….,

Bono on Bush. – Well, I think [President Bush has] done an incredible job

Bono on racist and anti-gay US Senator, Jesse Helms. – I found him to be a beautiful man

Bono on Blair and Brown – the Lennon and McCartney of poverty reduction.

Bono introducing a song about Bloody Sunday – this song is not a rebel song. This song is Sunday Bloody Sunday.

Bono on the struggle for an Irish Republic – Fuck the ‘revolution’!

Bono advising Bush on how to conduct the war in Iraq – I think America has no experience with terrorism or even with war. In Europe, we know a little bit more about these things. We must not make a martyr out of Saddam Hussein. He’s good at propaganda. Let’s not make it easier for him.

Bono on the ‘War Against Terror’ – The war against terrorism is bound up with the war against poverty.


  • For Africa to crawl out of poverty, good governance must first all be realized. Otherwise all the efforts being done by different organisations will not achieve anything in the presence of dictators and corrupt leaders. On a positive note, it is important to point out that some countries (Botswana, Mozambique) are doing well in the area of good governance.