Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Socialist Party of Great Britain - Capitalism In Crisis - Subprime Capitalism.


The case for socialism is quite clear: since the workers produce all of society’s wealth, they should also own and control this wealth and use it for the benefit of all.

The typical capitalist apologist responds by saying something like: “That sounds good, but……..” and there follows a multitude of reasons against the case for Socialism; lazy men, freeloaders, selfish bigots along with false references to Russia, the Labour Party and numerous other easily disposed of objections.

It is this clarity of Socialism which somehow seems “too good to be true” for the first time audience. In fact clarity is one thing that capitalism does not foster. Clarity about Socialism is the one thing that the capitalist apologists positively discourage.

In researching into capitalism, it is interesting how much jargon is encountered. From the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s point of view, the sooner the workers have a clear view of capitalism, the sooner will they organize to establish Socialism. It is precisely because the majority of the workers have little or no understanding of what capitalism is or how it works that they put up with the profit system and all its associated problems.

Most workers have only a very foggy view of the mysticism with which capitalism drapes itself. They regard the present social system as eternal: forever with us in the past and future, the natural way of things. The dog eat dog attitude produced by the unending conflicts of capitalism, is regarded as the be all and end of human development. Any idea which challenges this supremacy of capitalist ideology is regarded as utopian and doomed to failure.

The sheer quantity of capitalist propaganda produced and disseminated every day in the form of papers, TV, radio, education, internet and so on far outweighs the amount of Socialist propaganda that the Socialist Party of Great Britain has ever been able to carry out. It’s hardly surprising that the voice of Socialism is rarely heard amongst the cacophony of confusion that the capitalist media produces.

There are of course counteracting forces at work. The very class struggle which workers are pitched into from birth forces its problems into workers’ lives and causes them to question how things can be made better. Even within capitalism, we see well meaning attempts to improve the lot of those less fortunate. The fact that these attempts are invariably unsuccessful is a matter of history. None of the major reform movements over the last 200 years or so has ever set out to get rid of wage slavery and capital; they have merely set their sights on improving the running of capitalism. Any side effects such as education, public health and social “security”, have been forced onto the capitalists, for the greater capitalist good. The capitalist class needs workers with some degree of education, health and inventiveness for their system.

Capitalism is itself a “subprime” system, where the majority; the working class having no ownership in the means of production, are exploited by the owning capitalist class, who employ the workers to produce profits for them. The worker has to sell his labour power to an employer for a wage or salary. At work the labour power is used by the employer to realize value in whatever form the particular industry is, whether agriculture, car manufacturing or banking etc. The value created by the worker is left at work when the worker goes home, and it belongs to the employer.

Value is in fact dead labour. In return the worker receives a wage, the price of his labour power, which is invariably less than the value of his labour left behind at work, which now belongs to the employer. It is this “surplus value” which is the source of the capitalists’ profits and over which they constantly dispute about taxation, rent, interest and profit. Occasionally the ownership of this surplus value, which gives rise to capital, is disputed to such an extent that wars are fought over it. War is the solution of last resort, because it is, in itself expensive to wage, not because of any care about human life.

One of the main ways in which capitalism is subprime is that the system is based upon the means of production and distribution being held by and in the interests of a minority class - the capitalists. The means of production includes land, factories, offices, transport systems, the media, and all of the other techniques by which the workers create wealth. In the case of land, it is a fact that the workers have to pay to inhabit the world they were born into. They either have to pay rent or mortgage themselves to a piece of land, for many years. The workers houses are rabbit hutches as compared to those of their masters.

Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian born steel billionaire, is reckoned to have paid a world record £57 million for a house in London. The average price of a house in Britain is currently around £224,000, so what Mittal spent on his house would buy some 254 average British houses. “Mittal's house in Kensington, London is decorated with marble taken from the same quarry that supplied the Taj Mahal. The extravagant show of wealth has been deemed the "Taj Mittal" (Wikipedia). We can be sure that Mr. Mittal’s London house is not the only one he owns. In fact it is believed that the Kensington house will be occupied by his son. We can be certain that none of the furnishings in Mr. Mittal’s house are of “subprime” quality.

In the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO in 1848, Marx and Engels had described the State as the “executive committee of the bourgeoisie”. The rich and powerful do indeed have influence over the various State machines throughout the world. The fuss in 2008 about Lord Mandelson and George Osborne having “discussions” aboard Oleg Deripaska’s yacht moored off Corfu is an indication of the way in which the rich’s influence can be felt. We can almost be certain that they were not aboard the yacht to discuss the weather, or navigational techniques. In a similar fashion, Mr. Mittal is reported as having influenced the British Labour government. Mittal sought Blair’s aid in a bid to purchase Romania’s State steel industry. Blair hinted to the Romanian government that to sell the steel company to Mittal might help them become members of the European Union. In exchange for Blair’s support the Labour Party received £125,000 from Mittal just before the 2001 General election in Britain (

Lest socialists should be accused of being mean hearted and jealous of all this wealth and influence, it should be pointed out that it has been estimated that Mr. Mittal has lost something like $28 billion in the last year or so, and is down to a personal fortune of only $19.3 billion. Similarly Mr. Deripaska has lost some $24 billion, down to a mere $3.5 billion fortune. Mr Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea Football Club, is also reputed to have lost some about half his former wealth and has a paltry $8.5 billion. He will no doubt take some heart from the fact that the sponsors of rivals Manchester United FC, AIG, had to be rescued by the US government in 2008:

The US Federal Reserve has announced an $85bn (£48bn) rescue package for AIG, the country's biggest insurance company, to save it from bankruptcy. AIG will get an $85bn loan, in return for an 80% public stake in the firm. (17th September 2008)

Premiership football club, West Ham United also had a troubled owner. Björgólfur Gudmundsson, who was declared bankrupt in July 2009, was formerly estimated to have been worth some $1.1 billion. The former West Ham FC owner can thank “the collapse of Landsbanki, the Icelandic bank of which Gudmundsson was chairman and a major shareholder, raised fears that he would need to sell the club. While shares of the bank are suspended after it was nationalised yesterday, Gudmundsson’s stake in it is notionally worthless.” (TIMES ONLINE Oct 8 2008)

Not to be outdone, Mr. Mittal last year bought a 20% share of Queen’s Park Rangers FC. A case of rags to riches to the mind’s of some people, perhaps? As an aside it could be pointed out that Mr. Mittal bought his house from a Mr. Bernie Ecclestone, of Formula One fame. The same Mr. Ecclestone who is also part owner of Q.P.R., and whose wife recently sued for divorce as well as acquiring a large chunk of his estimated £2.4 billion fortune.

There was nothing subprime about that divorce:

The main trouble for the Formula One tycoon now is that he placed around 1.9 billion British pounds in Slavica's name in off-shore trust funds for tax purposes almost ten years ago. Considering their marriage lasted for more than 24 years and most of his fortune was made while they were together, Slavica might get what is presumed to be the largest sum for a divorce settlement in recorded history.”

Subprime Banking

Marx showed how capital was created by the labour of the working class and appropriated by the capitalists. Capital is that part of surplus value which is re-invested to further the exploitation process. With individual capitalists, they are very wary of investing their capital unless they foresee a profit. Where, however, their capital is in someone else’s hands, as in the case of banks, they have little or no individual control over their capital.

Marx also showed that capitalism is a social system, not just a system of production. Developed capitalism requires infrastructure such as roads, railways, water, sewage disposal and the like. It also needs its financial institutions such as banks, insurance companies, and its various markets where capital, and also fictitious capital can be exchanged. Capital has a real basis in assets of one sort or another.

Fictitious capital has no such basis. The subprime mortgage crisis in the USA shows this all to well. Despite all the sophisticated technology around today, it appears that at least some of the bankers do not understand what banks do. The universities still teach that banks can and do create credit, in their economics classes. As Hardy, a late member of this party wrote in 1971:

Marx on occasion wrote of the “creation of credit and capital” by the banks but not meaning anything more than the act of lending or investing. Elsewhere he described banks as merely institutions for bringing together and relending sums deposited by depositors. He ridiculed the “illusions concerning the miraculous power of the credit and banking system”, which he said, were held by those who failed to understand the nature of capitalist production and the credit system (CAPITAL, VOL. III p. 713).”

And from the same article:

Major Douglas, like John Gray, would have rejected outright the views of Mill, Marx and Hawtrey on credit. He claimed that bank loans are the issue of money just like the issue of notes by the Bank of England and that, by making loans, “a bank acquires securities for nothing”, and that “it is absolutely correct to say that . . . new money has been created by a stroke of the banker’s pen.” (THE MONOPOLY OF CREDIT, 1931 pp. 15 and 17). In the words of one of his supporters, banks can create “untold wealth at the cost of a few drops of ink and the fraction of a clerk’s wages”.

The theory gained credence:

Hartley Withers, sometime editor of the Economist popularised creationist theory in his The Manufacture of Money and used the phrase “every bank loan makes a deposit”, later expanded to “every bank loan or purchase of securities creates a deposit”; and its converse that every withdrawal of a loan or sale of a security destroys a deposit. McKenna repeated this and provided Major Douglas with weighty support. The theory was given official endorsement in the Report of the MacMillan Committee 1931, (Committee on Finance and Industry) and found its way into the textbooks.”

The theory still has official credence in M4, one of the British government’s definitions of “money”:

M4 is a definition of the money supply denoting Broad Money, a wide definition of the volume of sterling in the economy, encompassing notes and coin as well as money held in bank accounts. The measure is equivalent to the US M3

The fact that bankers and governments don’t know what “money” is, provided fertile ground for the subprime fiasco.

Goldman Sachs

A few words should be said about one particular bank which epitomizes the capitalist ideal. An article in the SUNDAY TIMES (8th November 2009) interviewed some of Goldman Sachs leading figures including its Chairman and COE, Lloyd Flankbein, who sees himself as a banker who is “doing God’s work”! How silly of us socialists to have forgotten capitalism’s divine right to exist!!!!

The following is taken from the article:

Goldman played its part in the meltdown that almost destroyed the global financial system. It, like most other banks, lent too much money, made its first quarterly loss for more than a decade last year and ended up taking bail-out cash from Washington.

The bank didn’t have as many bad loans as other banks and has weathered the storm better, although it still had losses.

Flankbein says:

"We’re very important…We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. It’s a virtuous cycle." To drive home his point, he makes a remarkably bold claim. "We have a social purpose."

By impersonalising the process, Flankbein has managed to exclude the labour of human beings from the creation of new wealth. In his view it’s “companies” that create wealth. The fact that banks create nothing is neatly sidestepped. Banks are merely the agents between those seeking capital and those lending it. The so-called “social purpose” of Goldman Sachs is nothing but the realisation of the profit motive.

As the article puts it:

Social purpose? Those who have lost their jobs or seen their pay slashed thanks to bankers who flogged dodgy mortgages and dreamt up investments so complex not even they understood them, would gladly tell him where to stick his social purpose.”

But Mr Blankfein is someone who has realised the capitalist dream and climbed up the greasy pole from the working class.

Even though he proudly pays himself more in a year than most of us could ever dream of — $68m in 2007 alone, a record for any Wall Street CEO, to add to the more than $500m of Goldman stock he owns — he insists he’s still "a blue-collar guy".

Well he certainly is a “blue collar guy”, he doesn’t even appear on Forbes Rich List!

However, it’s not easy to be one his blue collar workmates. Here is one of his employees:

Insecurity is hard-wired into the system. You feel it even before you are hired. Most applicants are interviewed at least 20 times before they are made an offer and some more than 30 times.”

And she adds

"It’s a 24/7 culture…When you’re needed, you’re here. And if you’re needed and you’re not answering your phone, you won’t be needed very long…No one really knows how much holiday you get because nobody ever takes it all."

The dedication of making money must know no bounds!

One former Goldman banker describes the culture as:

"…completely money-obsessed. I was like a donkey driven forward by the biggest, juiciest carrot I could imagine. Money is the way you define your success. There’s always room — need — for more. If you are not getting a bigger house or a bigger boat, you’re falling behind…It is the most profitable bank in the City”.

The article went on to say:

Profits per employee averaged £181,000 a year between 2000 and 2008. Average pay this year is expected to be £458,000”.

The divine right to take a cut from the exploitation of the working class is backed by one of the advisors to the London branch of Goldman Sachs, one Lord (Brian) Griffiths former adviser to Margaret Thatcher:

As a committed Christian and a trustee of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Fund, Griffiths is a useful PR tool. It was he, for instance, who spoke out last month to defend big bonuses. ‘If we said we’re not going to have as big bonuses or the same bonuses as last year, I think you’d find that lots of City firms could easily hive off their operations to Switzerland or the Far East,’ he told an audience at St Paul’s Cathedral. “

So the Christian God apparently currently favours London over Switzerland or somewhere else as a centre for financial transactions. How nice for us!!! The heavy hand of government intervention might anger God such that He sends the business elsewhere! As we all know, the capitalists are the most unpatriotic class when it comes to realising profits.

The Subprime Mortgage Crisis

From an article in Wikipedia comes the following definition of the subprime mortgage crisis:

The subprime mortgage crisis started in 2007 is an ongoing financial crisis characterized by contracted liquidity in global credit markets and banking systems triggered by the failure of mortgage companies, investment firms and government sponsored enterprises which had invested in subprime mortgages. The crisis, which has roots in the closing years of the 20th century but has become more apparent throughout 2007 and 2008, has passed through various stages exposing pervasive weaknesses in the global financial system and regulatory framework.

The article continues:

The crisis began with the bursting of the United States housing bubble and high default rates on "subprime" and adjustable rate mortgages (ARM), beginning in approximately 2005–2006. For a number of years prior to that, declining lending standards, an increase in loan incentives such as easy initial terms, and a long-term trend of rising housing prices had encouraged borrowers to assume difficult mortgages in the belief they would be able to quickly refinance at more favorable terms. However, once interest rates began to rise and housing prices started to drop moderately in 2006–2007 in many parts of the U.S., refinancing became more difficult. Defaults and foreclosure activity increased dramatically as easy initial terms expired, home prices failed to go up as anticipated, and ARM interest rates reset higher. Foreclosures accelerated in the United States in late 2006 and triggered a global financial crisis through 2007 and 2008. During 2007, nearly 1.3 million U.S. housing properties were subject to foreclosure activity, up 79% from 2006.”

Subprime” of course is jargon for poor credit risk loans. The lower end of the US working class was sold these mortgages on the assumption that housing prices always go upwards. A wrong assumption. The sellers of these mortgages were themselves mortgage brokers who having got their commission, had no further interest in the deal. The seller of the house got his money from the sale. The financing bank then bundled these mortgages as a financial package, and sold them on as a bond: A “Structured Investment Vehicle” or SIV.

The BBC had this to say on the subprime business:

In recent years, banks have moved to a new model where they sell on the mortgages to the bond markets. This has made it much easier to fund additional borrowing,
But it has also led to abuses as banks no longer have the incentive to check carefully the mortgages they issue

The BBC went on to say:

In the past five years, the private sector has dramatically expanded its role in the mortgage bond market, which had previously been dominated by government-sponsored agencies like Freddie Mac.

They specialised in new types of mortgages, such as sub-prime lending to borrowers with poor credit histories and weak documentation of income, who were shunned by the "prime" lenders like Freddie Mac.”

“They also included "jumbo" mortgages for properties over Freddie Mac's $417,000 (£202,000) mortgage limit.

The business proved extremely profitable for the banks, which earned a fee for each mortgage they sold on. They urged mortgage brokers to sell more and more of these mortgages.

Now the mortgage bond market is worth $6 trillion, and is the largest single part of the whole $27 trillion US bond market, bigger even than Treasury bonds.

And concluded:

But these mortgages had a much higher rate of repossession than conventional mortgages because they were adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs). The payments were fixed for two years, and then became both higher and dependent on the level of Fed interest rates, which also rose substantially. Consequently, a wave of repossessions is sweeping America as many of these mortgages reset to higher rates in the next two years. And it is likely that as many as two million families will be evicted from their homes as their cases make their way through the courts. The Bush administration is pushing the industry to renegotiate rather than repossess where possible, but mortgage companies are being overwhelmed by a tidal wave of cases”. (BBC NEWS 21st November 2007).

So two million US workers will, or will have, lost their homes. Since that article was written both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, both big mortgage companies, have had to be bailed out by the US government. Even Mr. Mittal hasn’t got two million houses, although he may well have an interest in a large number of houses through his position as a capitalist.

The situation in Britain is not as bad, but worsening:

The number of properties repossessed by lenders in the second quarter of this year was up 71% on the same period last year, figures showed today. Rising household bills and increasing mortgage costs resulted in 11,054 new possessions cases in the three months between April and June this year, compared with just 6,476 in the same quarter of 2007. The figures, from the Financial Services Authority, also showed an increase in the number of homeowners who had fallen behind on mortgage repayments (28th October 2008)

Shelter, the British housing charity, clearly feels that things are not looking rosy:

More than two million people find their rent or mortgage a constant struggle or are falling behind with payments. Nearly 1.7 million households are currently waiting for social housing. Some homeless households - many with dependent children - wait for years in temporary accommodation. Families renting privately on low incomes have to put up with poor living conditions and little security.”

And here is the housing crisis in numbers:

* Nearly 1.7 million households are currently on local authority housing waiting lists
* more than one million children in England live in bad housing in 2006/07, 554,000 households in England were overcrowded
* In 2007 repossessions rose to 27,100 from 22,400 the previous year, and it is predicted that 45,000 homes will be repossessed in 2008
* 8.1 million homes in England fail to meet the Government's standards
* in 2007, almost 100,000 households were found to be homeless by local authorities - almost twice as many as in 1997

In a sensible society with some 100,000 households “homeless”, the obvious answer would be to find or build homes for them, but what do we find in capitalism? In 2007, it was estimated that there were some 673,000 empty homes in England. Surely the housing problem could be solved “at the stroke of a pen”? But no. The private ownership of land comes into conflict with the needs of living people. If empty properties cannot be sold or let, or the cost of repairs is prohibitive, then the owners will leave them empty. Because of the nature of the legislation in Britain over the last 100 years or so, private rented housing has not been adopted by the major players of British capitalism.

Private landlords, like the Duke of Westminster, Britain’s biggest private landlord, tend to have inherited their wealth, including dwellings. In fact the Duke left the Conservative Party in protest at that party’s reform of leasehold law, whilst it was in power.

No “new money” capitalist would consider investing a large proportion of his capital in private rented housing, precisely because it is a quagmire of legislative red tape largely weighted in favour of the tenant.

But then the landlords have always been unpopular. From the industrial capitalist’s point of view, the landlord sits there and does nothing, just takes a cut of his hard “earned” profit, in the same way as the banker does. The private worker tenant of a house tends to take the same point of view about the landlord.

When will landlords ever be popular? When there are no landlords, when private property in the means of production and distribution including land are in the hands of society as a whole. That is when the landlords, industrialists, bankers and the rest of the capitalist class have been abolished along with the working class.. When we have socialism.

In the USA: “The most recent official count, in January 2007, found 671,888 people living on U.S. streets or in shelters, down 12% from January 2005.”
(USA TODAY 22 Oct 2008).

And from the same article:

More families with children are becoming homeless as they face mounting economic pressures, including mortgage foreclosures, according to a USA TODAY survey of a dozen of the largest cities in the nation.

Local authorities say the number of families seeking help has risen in Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle and Washington.

"Everywhere I go, I hear there is an increase" in the need for housing aid, especially for families, says Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates federal programs. He says the main causes are job losses and foreclosures

So living in the most powerful and richest country in the world does not guarantee the worker the “good life”. One correspondent, who will not be named, replied to the above article had his own solution to the housing problem:

I've always thought that a great way to end the homeless problem was to put to death all the convicts on death row, and all the convicts sitting with life sentences for murder, child molestation, rape....they should be on death row also. Once all these folks are gone, there should be plenty of jails that would be emptied. These could be refurbished to house the homeless, and even give them a sense of community by employing them to take care of the grounds and such.”

His response is typical of the kind of hatred of other workers engendered by the capitalist ethos and media. In fact the world’s workers are guaranteed a subprime life as long as they put up with capitalism and have no ownership or control over the means of production.


The periodic crises which are part and parcel of the capitalist system arise from its anarchic nature. The current depression seems to have caught many capitalism watchers by surprise. It shouldn’t have. Did they really believe Brown when he talked of “prudence” and “no more boom and bust”?

The politicians are like so many theologians, constantly bickering and disagreeing with each other; constantly praising the great God of Mammon (and themselves) when capitalism is going well; constantly blaming various different devils (but not themselves) when depression strikes. Unlike the cosmic ruler, who does and says nothing, the great capitalist God of Mammon works in an understandable way in His great quest of constantly seeking the expansion of surplus value at the expense of the workers, goes through a cycle: expansion, boom, crisis, slowdown and depression.

Come the depression when surplus value cannot be squeezed from them, workers are put on short time or laid off. This is the current situation, with hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the world being made unemployed. In Britain the BBC said:

UK unemployment is continuing to rise - climbing by 27,000 to 1.71 million in the three months to September, the highest level in seven years.

The jobless rate rose to 5.6%, up from 5.5% in the previous quarter, the Office for National Statistics said.

The number of people out of work and claiming Jobseekers Allowance rose by 1,200 in October to 961,300… Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed that that 141,000 people were made redundant in quarter, up by 3,000 from the previous three months
. “ (updated 15th November 2008)

The National Statistics Office for November 2009 said:

“The unemployment rate rose by 0.1 percentage point to 7.8 per cent for July to September 2009. The number of unemployed people increased by 30,000 over the quarter to reach 2.46 million”.

To paraphrase Stalin: one person unemployed is a tragedy, Millions unemployed is a statistic. The unemployed worker lives a subprime life.

In the USA unemployment is also rising. Here a couple of statistics from November 2008:

Nonfarm payroll employment fell by 240,000 in October. Job losses over the last 3 months totalled 651,000. In October, the unemployment rate rose from 6.1 to 6.5 percent, and the number of unemployed persons increased to 10.1 million.” (US department of Labor)

The unemployment rate rose from 9.8 to 10.2 percent in October,” And “In October, the number of unemployed persons increased by 558,000 to 15.7 million.”

Despite nearly a year of President Obama, approximately 45 million Americans still can’t afford health insurance.

Even when capitalism is booming and surplus value is being created at full pelt and fought over, there is always the threat of unemployment, and there is always a number of actual unemployed. Marx called it the industrial reserve army. Capitalism’s active army involves many workers who carry out tasks that are needed solely by capitalism’s circulatory system, such as banking, insurance, trading, plus the army of workers used to police capitalism’s laws and disputes: lawyers, police, armed forces, tax collectors, bureaucrats and the like. Only under capitalism is there such a collection of workers, (some highly skilled), carrying out tasks that are peculiar to this class society. A subprime use of human abilities.

Instead of human talents being used to build a better world for the benefit of all, including the ex-capitalists, we see specialised human labour twisted into serving the needs of capital. How much wasted talent and how many wasted lives have existed under capitalism is a figure we will never know, but can only guess at.

The solution to subprime capitalism advocated by the Socialist Party of Great Britain is socialism. Socialism; a system of society in which the entire population will commonly own and democratically control the means of producing and distributing wealth. A society where the means of production are used solely for the benefit of society, not for the benefit of a privileged class of parasites. A classless society where people will be social equals. A society where all work will be useful and where the workers will gain satisfaction from their work. Long gone will be the anxieties and stresses of capitalist employment or unemployment. A society without private property in the means of production, and therefore without money and markets. A society where there would be no wages, no profits, no surplus value. All human labour will be the property of society to use as it sees fit. A society where the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: |