Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Austerity Capitalism – Not for the Rich

Are we all in it together?

In these austere times, David Cameron tells us “we are all in it together”. Well the working class have always led austere lives; but not the rich, not the friends of Mr Cameron in the City and those attending smart Downing Street dinners –the 250k club of rich Tory donors. They do not live in austerity capitalism with its exploitation, rising homelessness, degrading assessments for people on disability and sick benefits, sink estates, poverty, charity food parcel centres and ubiquitous high levels of unemployment.

Instead the capitalist class owns the means of living. The employers own the raw resources of the world, the factories, and the transport, machinery and communication systems to the exclusion of the rest of society. And as a consequence of privately owning the means of production and distribution they live lives of comfort and privilege.

The employers do not even create the social wealth they enjoy in the first place. Workers create the social wealth. The working class are the wealth creators not the capitalist class as politicians misleadingly keep telling us. Workers are forced onto the labour market to sell as a commodity their ability to work. Employers pay the working class less in wages and salaries than the social wealth workers actually produce. The capitalist class then live off this unearned income in the form of rent, interest and profit.

And this unearned income keeps on rising. Britain’s wealthiest people saw their personnel wealth rise to record levels in 2012, according to the annual SUNDAY TIMES RICH LIST, at a time when most workers’ earnings were cut, remained frozen or rose less than the rate of inflation. The combined wealth of Britain’s 1,000 richest people grew by almost 5 percent to more than 414 billion pounds ($670 billion), the highest recorded by the 24-year-old survey. Some 77 members of the 2012 rich list were billionaires, two more than the previous record in 2008.

The privileged lives of the rich contrasts sharply with the economic discomfort, the unpredictability and the daily grind of the working class. For the rich it is anything money can buy; expensive houses, yachts, cars; a veritable life of luxury. For the working class it is second best or nothing at all.

Security and the Rich

Of course being rich and privileged comes with its problems like the question of security. A security protection industry for the rich has mushroomed over the last fifty years in order for the wealthy to hold on to their social wealth and is worth millions a year; gated communities, security systems, surveillance cameras, bullet proof cars, bank vaults, secure basement accommodation to house private art collections, body guards and in the case of Abramovich’s yacht an anti-air to air missile system.

And then there is the burden of taxation that has to be begrudgingly paid for by the rich to support the capitalist State in the protection of their wealth and privilege both from external and internal threats. And the lives of the rich are often vacuous and empty spiralling into boredom, drug addiction and suicide. As one wit put it, the rich live lives of hell by having to live with other rich people. And then there is the fear of bankruptcy which will drop the former capitalist into the working class.

There is, of course, no life of privilege and luxury for the working class under capitalism. According to David Cameron workers still have eight further years of austerity to endure aimed at wiping out a record budget deficit as British capitalism struggles to recover from one of the worst economic depressions since the Second World War.

When those eight austere years are up the working class will be told of more economic pain to come. “Pain today, jam tomorrow” the politicians tell us. But tomorrow never comes. In the meantime the rich get richer from the continued exploitation of the working class whether the wages and salaries of workers are rising or falling.

The Failure of Economic Policies

And what can be said of Cameron’s own economic policy? It has been an utter failure. Not only has the budget deficit risen to pay for expenditure like unemployment benefits and loss of revenue from taxation but the economic depression continues; “Plan A” has become “Plan A1” and now it is “Plan A3” as a “double-dip recession” looks like becoming a “treble dip recession”.

Dave’s friends are the rich. They do not have to work. They live a leisured lifestyle like buying the new Lamborghini Aventador for £250k. Others work for them. And it is to the workers that Etonian Dave directs his sermons with monotonous regularity. The other day it was the need for workers to give “a decent day’s work for a decent day’s pay” (INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY 23rd July 2012). A truly conservative slogan if there ever was one. Just what is a “decent wage”? And just what is a “decent day’s work”? It was Marx who suggested to the working class to ignore this meaningless phrase and instead consciously and politically organise for the “abolition of the wages system”.

Some of the unearned wealth (surplus value Marx called it) goes to support the various capitalist political parties, including the Labour Party who “are comfortable with the filthy rich” (Lord Mandelson who now “earns” £2m as a consultant to the wealthy). Ed Milliband might cheer the workers at the Durham Miners’ Gala which he visited this summer but he dines with the rich at exclusive venues; sends emissaries to the City for their support and offers manifestos for the running of British capitalism.

The Labour Party is just a party of capitalism serving the interests of the ruling class. A Party of Labour they are not. When in power they behave just as ruthlessly towards the working class as the Tories. Like Cameron, Ed Milliband denies any alternative to the labour market, to the buying and selling of labour power and to the exploitation of the working class. Interviewed on BBC’s NEWSNIGHT, Mr Miliband said “I am in favour of capitalism – just for the record” (28th September 2011). Miliband is in favour of “productive” capitalism not what he calls “predatory” capitalism. But for capitalism to be productive and make profits it has to be predatory by exploiting the labour power of the working class. As for his “solution” to end the present economic slump all Milliband can only offer is a “Plan B” which is no plan at all since Keynesianism has already been tried and failed as a policy by previous Labour Governments.

While the Labour Party genuflects to the rich the Conservative Party is in an iron-grip embrace with the wealthy. 248 of the top 1,000 capitalists featured on this year’s Rich List have financially supported the Conservative Party since 2001, with donations totaling £83.6m. The Swedish Hans Rausing food packaging dynasty were the highest placed donors on the List in 12th place, with gifts to the Tories totaling £886,000. They were followed by Sir Anthony Bamford and Family, who donated £4.7m to the Tories and who were 20th on the Rich List; the Fleming family, who donated £1.3 million and came in at number 42; and Lord Ashcroft, whose donations to the party totaled £6.1m and who was 62nd on the List. In fifth place was Peter Cruddas, who donated £1.1m to the Conservatives.

Abolition of the Wages System

Here are some other highly placed capitalists in the SUNDAY TIMES RICH LIST who will not be finding it hard to make ends meet in austerity Britain. The three top places in the list were dominated by foreign-born capitalists with a base in Britain who made billions from resource-based industries such as minerals, steel and oil. Lakshmi Mittal is still Britain’s richest capitalist despite losing almost a quarter of his wealth over the past year following a fall in the share value of his company Arcelor Mittal, the world’s largest steelmaker. The Indian-born capitalist saw his personal worth fall by 4.8 billion pounds to 12.7 billion pounds, but still enough to keep him narrowly on top of the list.

Uzbek-born billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who owns around 30 percent of London football club Arsenal, was again in second place and close behind Mittal with a fortune of 12.3 billion pounds. Roman Abramovich, who owns rival London club Chelsea, held onto third place with a personal value of 9.5 billion pounds, down from 10.3 billion pounds last year. The richest British-born billionaire was the Duke of Westminster, who fell from fourth to seventh place even though his largely property-based fortune rose 5 percent to 7.35 billion pounds. Britain’s richest woman was Kirsty Bertarelli, who shares a 7.4 billion pounds fortune with her Swiss-Italian husband Ernesto.

Such is the wealth owned by the rich they might as well live on a different planet. Austerity just does not blight their lives. It is the working class, not the rich, who live in austerity Britain, as they have always done, whether the government happens to be Labour, Tory, Liberal or one formed of a Coalition of the three.

Karl Marx noted in his work, CAPITAL, “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is…at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation at the opposite pole.” An apposite description of the bleak and hard times experienced by the majority of society in Cameron’s “austerity Britain” to be found in the second decade of the 21st century.

Does the austerity have to continue? Capitalism’s supporters in the media tell the working class that there is no alternative to austerity Britain, no alternative to the obscene wealth of the capitalist class produced by the exploitation of the working class. “There is no alternative” is an empty and dogmatic phrase. There is an alternative to capitalism and to its austerity, unemployment and poverty but it is an alternative the media and the capitalist class who pay them do not want workers to hear. And the alternative is Socialism. Common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution is the alternative to austerity, the reform politics of the Labour Party and the parasites listed yearly on the SUNDAY TIMES RICH LIST.

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