Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

What to do about the Rich?

According to The INDEPENDENT (20th January 2014), the 85 richest people on the planet have accumulated as much wealth between them as half the world’s population, some 3.5 billion people. The richest 85 people have a collective worth of $1.7 trn (£11tn). Top of the list is Carlos Slim Helu, the Mexican telecommunication’s mogul followed by Bill Gates. These 85 individuals live in just 13 countries of the world, mostly residing in the US and Australia.

The charity, Oxfam, want politicians to do something about the growing disparities in income and wealth between the rich and poor. In a report issued by Oxfam to coincide with this year’s economic forum at Davos, it said:

…this massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems (loc cit).

Winni Byanyima, Oxfam’s executive director, who attended the conference at Davos said:

We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tacking inequality. Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over the crumbs from the top table (loc cit)

The charities’ “solution” is threefold; “progressive taxation”, “the rich ought not to use their wealth to control politicians” and employers should pay workers “a living wage”, all of which is no solution at all. Such is the constant naivety of charities when confronted by the enormous and pressing social problems caused by capitalism.

And there are some very worried economists too. Jennifer Blanke, the Davos forum’s chief economist said:

Disgruntlement can lead to the dissolution of the fabric of society, especially if young people feel they don’t have a future. This is something that affects everybody (loc cit)

In other words, if the politicians do not do something now about the widening wealth inequality between the super-rich and the rest of society, there could be a threat to capitalism itself. Not a novel warning, though. Blanke’s message to the rich and their politicians is similar to a remark once made by Quinton Hogg, father of Douglas “Duck Castle” Hogg, who, in 1943, alarmed the ruling class with his warning: “If you do not give people social reform they will give you social revolution” (quoted from, BEVERIDGE RE-oRGANISES pOVERTY, Socialist Party of Great Britain).

The problem with charities trying to redress the very real problem of hunger and starvation is that they cannot think outside the capitalist box. Without an understanding of capitalism and what makes the profit system tick, how can you possibly answer the question why poverty persists from one generation to the next? Nor can you ask fundamental questions facing billions of people throughout the world. Why, for example, is there concentrated wealth in the hands of the few? Why is there poverty when the potential exists within the means of production to create abundance? And why do politicians do little or nothing to tackle the problem of poverty even though it might mean “the dissolution of the fabric of society”?

These questions cannot be answered without simultaneously proposing the abolition of the capitalist cause. And charities do not exist politically to question capitalism and to remedy its effects through social revolution. Instead they supply endless sticking plasters and gauze but cannot stop the bleeding.

The reality is that we live in a capitalist society where the means and production of social wealth are owned by a small minority to the exclusion of everybody else. We live in a class divided society where the working class majority produce the social wealth while a small minority, including the richest 85, live off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit.

The rich do not want to pay tax and governments are largely powerless to stop their accountants legally using schemes to avoid paying tax, progressive or otherwise, or for corporations and businesses to play one country off against another in order to secure favourable tax breaks or by paying no tax at all. However, taxation has never been a working class issue, just one of many property conflicts within the capitalist class. And just what is a “living wage”? It is as meaningful as a “fair wage” or a “just wage”; more theology than economics.

All wages, high or low, are a mark of wage slavery and class exploitation. The wages system is a form of rationing where what workers receive in their wages and salaries does not enable them to lead decent and worthwhile lives. That is why Socialists have always pointed out to workers that struggling for higher wages takes place on an uneven playing field which they do not own. Instead of having to endlessly struggle for higher wages workers should seriously consider the Socialist proposition “the abolition of the wages system”. In short; the concentration of wealth, the poverty and the mounting discontent exist precisely because we live in capitalism. Capitalism is not about increasing equality and meeting people’s needs. Capitalism is a class struggle over the intensity and extent of exploitation where workers produce more social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries and capitalists are constantly trying to extract more social wealth from them. And capitalism’s overriding anti-social objective is to make profit, accumulate capital and expand value forever.

And governments and politicians are complicit in capitalism’s objective of profit making rather than meeting human need. Governments exist as the “executive of the bourgeoisie” not “the executive of the whole of society”, while politicians exist to serve the general and particular interests of the capitalist class; those who own the means of production and distribution.

That is what the annual beano at Davos exists for; as a talking shop to serve the interest of the employers not the working class. “The Joy of Capitalism” is the banner that flies over the expensive boutiques, the ski-slopes, the smart restaurants and the plush hotels and conference suites at Devos. The organisers might indulge the whining of the charities lobbying there, but Davos is all about business, economic growth and making profit to keep the capitalist class in the style they are accustomed to.

And, yes, Socialists would like to see “a dissolution of the fabric of society” only if, by this expression, it means the ordered, democratic and world-wide replacement of capitalism by Socialism; the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution of all society through the conscious and political action by a Socialist majority.

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