Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

The Capitalist Class and Politics

The Class Struggle is a Political Struggle

Marx showed that there was a constant struggle between the capitalist class and the working class over the intensity and extent of class exploitation. Workers were forced into forming trade unions to struggle for higher pay and working conditions. This Marx set out in a useful pamphlet, VALUE,PRICE AND PROFIT. In the pamphlet, Marx warned workers that there were limitations on how effective workers can organise under capitalism.

This is because the class struggle, according to Marx, is a “political struggle” and it is a two-way process. The class struggle is political because it is really about the ownership or non-ownership of the means of production. It is about the political power of the capitalist class to exploit workers in the productive process and the political power preventing workers taking and producing what they want. And this is reflected in the capitalist state and the machinery of government, including the armed forces.

The institution of the state protects the private ownership of the means of production and distribution from external and internal threats. And this is paid for, as a political insurance policy, by the capitalist class from their taxation.

To protect private property and further the interest of the capitalist class, the state will enact anti-trade union legislation, pass laws to make it easier to dismiss workers, use troops to break strikes, spy on trade unions, and so on. And they will also announce that the class struggle is the figment of the socialist’s imagination. They wish.

The capitalist class not only have their private ownership of the means of production and distribution protected by the machinery of government (including the police, law-courts, jails and the armed forces) but they also control the state education system, the mass media and other capitalist institutions. Capitalists also have governments, politicians, academics, historians, economists and ideologists and others acting in their interest. This is a powerful force against the working class.

The Capitalist Class and the Mass Media

The capitalist class want their ideas defended and pursued by academics, politicians, political parties and governments. In pursuit of their political interest, capitalists own media and communication outlets to spread their particular ideas and beliefs. It is extremely expensive but, unlike the working class, they have the means to carry out this type of propaganda. Most of the mainstream newspaper outlets are owned by a small group of capitalists - Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay brothers, Lord Rothermere, and Alexander Lebedev of the independent and EVENING STANDARD to name but a few.

Senior capitalist politicians have found it useful to foster close ties with the mass media – for example, George Osborne’s editorship at the EVENING STANDARD, Boris Johnson at the DAILY TELEGRAPH and Labour politicians in the INDEPENDENT and GUARDIAN.

A report by the Media Reform Coalition, called “Who Owns the UK Media?” noticed that just three companies – SUN and TIMES owner News UK, DAILY MAIL publisher DMGT, and DAILY MIRROR owner Trinity Mirror – control 71% of the national newspaper market. Murdoch also owns and controls Fox and Sky News (GUARDIAN 21 October 2015). This gives a very small group of the capitalist class a near-monopoly of producing and disseminating political ideas useful to their class interests.

And to spread their ideas and beliefs about capitalism, the capitalists also fund think tanks, mainly free market organisations staffed by market fundamentalists who believe the market is the solution to all our problems. Markets are not solutions to the problems facing workers. They are part of the problem. Markets lock out people’s needs and aspirations because markets only sell to buying customers. Sellers are only interested in buying customers not people with needs.

The labour market, in particularly, is the site of class exploitation. Workers are imprisoned within a wages system as wages and salaries merely produce and reproduce workers as class of wage slaves. As workers sell their labour power – their mental and physical abilities – as a commodity, its value, as with all commodities, is calculated with reference to the amount of socially necessary labour time needed for its production. For the unskilled workers, less training is needed and so their pay is typically low. By contrast, highly skilled professionals and workers whose skills are much in demand, can demand and get much higher rates of pay, and overall enjoy far better terms and conditions, including pensions.

In Britain, such high-paid white collar and professionals are encouraged to see themselves as a separate class – the ‘middle class’. Yet even they can find themselves suddenly declared redundant, and soon be forced to go in search of a new job, just like millions of others, the unskilled workers they misleading think they a socially superior to. Unemployment is a great leveller and pricks the pomposity of those who do not believe they are members of the working class.

While their privileged standard of living is far better, their economic position is basically not different to that of the rest of the working class. All - both high-paid and low-paid - must sell their labour-power in order to live. In the never-ending conflict between Capital and Labour, the overwhelming majority of people are in the working class, and only a tiny minority derive their incomes from the proceeds of capitalist exploitation, from rent, interest and profits.

The Capitalist class and Think Tanks

According to the pressure group Transparify, who try to find out who finances the major think tanks, seven free market think tanks “take money from behind closed doors…over £22 million of dark money” “Dark money” or money with no transparency comes from multi-billionaires like the Koch Brothers of the US, whose pet free-market institutes, like the Cato Institute, deny climate change because reforms would affect the commercial interests of the oil, coal and other industries.

In Britain, UK based think-tanks are able to collectively employ hundreds of people in their quest to shape public debates and influence government policies. The employment of ‘consultants@, academics and others dedicated to defending capitalism, buys a lot of influential propaganda.
https://onthinktanks.org/initiatives/transparify/transparify-2016-report/

In Britain the Institute of Economic Affairs, another Free Market think-tank was funded by the tobacco industry. In the 1970s and 1980s, the IEA was being paid by BAT substantial amounts of money. The money was routed to the IEA via the Charities Aid Foundation. Academics were used to attack the findings of scientists which linked smoking to cancer.

In 2002, for instance, it was revealed that the writer and philosopher Roger Scruton, who wrote a pamphlet published in 2000 by the IEA attacking the World Health Organisation for its campaign against tobacco, was on the payroll of Japan Tobacco International.
http://www.tobaccotactics.org/index.php/IEA:_History_of_Close_Ties_with_the_Tobacco_Industry

And, according to The New Internationalist, the UK-based Adam Smith Institute:

..., involves a research trust which is allied to a commercial consulting company (Adam Smith International LTD). The Institute’s commercial links are increasingly evinced in the tone and tenor of its research which the trust produces and which seems anything but dispassionate and objective. For example, this year the Institute went on a media offensive disparaging the claims of research conducted by Oxfam showing how the ‘world's eight richest people have the same wealth as the poorer half of the globe’s population.’
https://newint.org/blog/2017/02/10/who-funds-the-think-tanks

The journalist George Monbiot put it this way;

I charge that the groups which call themselves free market think tanks are nothing of the kind. They are public relations agencies, secretly lobbying for the corporations and multi-millionaires who finance them”.
http://www.monbiot.com/2011/09/12/think-of-a-tank/

Quite, but don’t those think tanks aligned with the reformist Labour Party have similar axes to grind with reference to defending capitalism and class exploitation – Just think of the Fabians!

The Fabian society was the first politically influential think tank publishing pamphlets to influence politicians and governments. The Fabians rejected the need for socialist revolution- they still do. Instead they argued that ‘socialism’ was to evolve over many years without anyone ever noticing and then, hey presto, we were going to be in a socialist society. We are still waiting! The Fabians founded in 1884 by Sydney and Beatrice Webb, G. B. Shaw and others, did more harm to the socialist case against capitalism than modern-day think-tanks currently encircling the House of Commons.

The Capitalist Class and Political Parties

What of the financial contribution by capitalists to political parties?

In the US, for example, just 30 billionaires made a contribution of $184.4 million to political parties — with 58 percent going to the Republican Party. This sizable contribution was in pursuit of their class interest against the working class
(>https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2017/03/richest-billionaires-are-top-political-spender).

The UK’s 2016 referendum to stay in or out of the EU was of no interest to the working class. But it was to the capitalist class. Just five capitalists contributed £15m out of a total £24.1m to the Leave campaigns in the five months before the Brexit referendum (INDEPENDENT, January 24 2017). And there were equally very powerful capitalists financially underpinning the Remain campaign.

In its report Take Back Control: How big money undermines trust in politics, the campaign group Transparency International found that of the donations to both sides during the referendum, about 52 per cent – came from just 10 individuals or companies (INDEPENDEMT 7 October 2016).

Then there are the government and parliamentary political lobbyists working for businesses. Again the rich are able to use their vast wealth to buy patronage, influence policy and pursue their interests to the exclusion of everyone else.

In an article, The Truth about Lobbying, by the journalist Tamasin Cave, put it this way:

Lobbyists operate in the shadows – deliberately. As one lobbyist notes: "The influence of lobbyists increases when it goes largely unnoticed by the public." But if the reasons why companies lobby are often obscured, it is always a tactical investment. Whether facing down a threat to profits from a corporate tax hike, or pushing for market opportunities – such as government privatisations – lobbying has become another way of making money (GUARDIAN 12 March 2014).

That socialists can get our case across to workers at all is pretty remarkable given the resources at the disposal of the capitalist class to buy economists, politicians and journalists. Sometimes though, it is like shouting against a sea storm blowing in from the Atlantic.

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