A not too well known Member of Parliament recently came to the public's attention. Step forward, Richard Drax Conservative MP and landowner: less commonly known as Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernie-Erle-Drax.
Drax lives in his family ancestral seat, Charborough House in rural Dorset. Drax is the largest landowner in Dorset. He owns about 2% of the county.
Apparently, he inherited wealth direct from slavery. His ancestor John Erle-Drax who had an estate in Barbados, was recorded in a data base created by University College London, as having received £4,293 12s 6d in compensation in 1836 for 189 slaves when slavery was abolished (BBC NEWS 17 Feb 2013).
Capitalism and Slavery
Drax’s appearance in the news coincided with the Penguin publishing house deciding to republish Eric William’s book, CAPITALISM AND SLAVERY, first published in 1944. The book, derived from a doctoral thesis, is an investigation of the relationship between the Atlantic slave trade and the emergence of European industrial capitalism from the sixteenth through to the nineteenth centuries.
Williams, one time Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, argued that the slave trade was at the heart of Britain's economic development as a major European power. His landmark 1944 study revealed the connections between capitalism and racism. He described his historical research as an:
“economic study of the role of Negro slavery and the slave trade in providing the capital which financed the industrial revolution in England and of mature industrial capitalism in destroying the slave system” (Preface p xi).
Although Marx is not explicitly mentioned in the book or appears in the bibliography, it is clear that Williams’s drew upon Marx’s CAPITAL particularly part 8 of the book entitled ‘So-called primitive accumulation of capital’ to show that the Industrial revolution was not a benign event but one partly financed by capital from slavery and its derivatives: sugar, tobacco and cotton.
Marx believed that the emergence of capitalism was not a peaceful or benign process. Capitalism began by forcibly taking land away from the peasants—or taking people away from their land. The Enclosure Acts, for example, deprived peasants of their original source of livelihood and forced them into the cities to survive by providing cheap labour for businesses owned by the mill owners, and other industrialists.
In the nineteenth century, as Marx observed, this process fed the emerging factory system in Europe creating huge profits on the one hand and wretched poverty on the other. Williams noted that, European colonisation of the Americas quickly led to a drastic reduction in the number of indigenous peoples (mostly due to the spread of smallpox, estimated to have killed 90% of the native population), which created an economic incentive to develop the global slave market in order to supply the colonists with cheap labour for their plantations and businesses.
In this way, as Marx noted:
“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production...capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt” CAPITAL VOL. 1 ‘Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist’ ch XXX1p703-712).
Williams traced the rise and fall of the Atlantic slave trade through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to show how it laid the foundations of the Industrial Revolution, and how racism arose as a means of rationalising an economic decision to enslave millions of people. Most significantly, he showed how slavery was only abolished when it ceased to become financially viable, exploding the myth of emancipation as a mark of Britain's ethical progress and enlightenment. The slave abolitionist, Lord Wilberforce may have enjoyed personal moral and religious satisfaction in the abolition of slavery but it still did not stop him supporting the Combination Acts against trade unionists, class exploitation and wage slavery.
Drax, like other Tory historians want school children to be taught that the British Empire led the way for the ending of slavery; that the Empire was a moral force for good. Williams showed that this was not the case. There can be no moral plaudits for the abolition of slavery. It was just that slavery was no longer economically necessary or viable. What were not abolished were wage slavery and the poor who eked out an existence in the aftermath of the Industrial revolution.
‘Socialist Red Meat’
What has this to do with Mr Drax? Well, he recently came to the attention of the media when he questioned The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak’s ‘socialist red meat’ taxes, as he called them. He claimed Sunak’s financial crumb of £400 handout to offset rises in energy and the cost of living was equivalent of 'throwing red meat at socialists'. Somehow, Drax erroneously thought the measure was something to do with the Labour Party.
The Labour Party has never been, is not and never will be a socialist party. It only exists to administer capitalism, maybe not in the way Richard Drax likes, but it is nevertheless a capitalist political party and supporter of the profit system and class exploitation.
Drax asserted that Conservatism is not about the redistribution of wealth. He is of the view that the poor should be blamed for being poor. Instead, Drax believes conservatism is about justifying capitalism, retaining wealth, using capital to invest to make more capital. It is not about giving money away to help the poor Oh to be a rich land owner!
As other Tories have remarked about the poor; they do not know how to cook and budget; they have too many children, and they revel in their ignorance and stupidity. The Conservative MP Lee Anderson recently argued in the Commons that food banks were largely unnecessary because the main cause of food poverty is a lack of cooking and budgetary skills. Lee Anderson was once a Labour councillor!
(GUARDIAN 11 May 2022).
The poor have always been a problem for the rich. There is the myth of the ‘deserving poor’ and the ‘undeserving poor’. History is replete with ideas for dealing with the poor. In METHODS PROPOSED FOR REGULATING THE POOR (1725), Sir William Fownes suggested “badging” the poor so that they could be easily identified, and the authorities could regulate their movement. The fascists in 1930s Germany “badged” the gays, gypsies and Jews and they were forced to wear visible coloured stars, so it is doubtful if this will become government policy anytime soon.
Fownes also proposed that the ‘deserving poor’ should be housed in little huts along the roadside who could then repair the roads for the rich to be carried along the King’s highway from one country house ball to another. Then there was the 1834 poor law Amendment act which created the Union workhouse where children of the poor were taken away to become workers in the mills.
The 19th century was full of advice for dealing with the poor. The historian Kate Lister wrote in the “I”:
“Some of the less useful Victorian advice included things like “economy coffins”, which allowed a corpse to be dropped through a trapdoor into the grave so that the coffin could be reused; or, earning a bit extra by putting your children to work in the mills or down the mines when they weren’t at school, a practice known as “half timing” (5 May 2022).
And then there are the comments of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne at the 2012 Tory conference, Osborne decried the “idlers and shirkers” who slept as the “Strivers” on their way to their place of exploitation, passed their houses “with closed blinds” and the inhabitants – the shirkers - “sleeping off a life on benefits”.
How the audience laughed and cried. A clever tactic to divide the working class; to divide the working class between those in employment and those on the dole. Nothing was said about the real “idlers” in society; the capitalist class who parasitically live off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit.
Socialism has nothing to do about redistribution of wealth. You cannot have socialism while retaining the private ownership of the means of production and distribution by all of society. Socialism is about the abolition of the profit system not its retention. Socialism is about the common ownership of the means of production by all of society not morality. It is about production directly to meet human need not the Robin Hood mentality of the Labour Party and its leadership.
As a landowner, where does Richard Drax’s wealth come from? His wealth, as does all the wealth of his class, comes from the class exploitation of the working class. Under capitalism the working class is paid the value of their labour power and the employer gets the use value of this labour power or ability to work. By labour power Marx meant:
“the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercised whenever he produces a use value of any description” (CAPITAL VOL 1, Chapter 6, p.167).
It is this generation of ‘surplus value’ in the production process which provides a surplus which is the basis of capitalist profits. It is this surplus value derived from production which is then split between industrialists, bankers and land owners like Drax in the form of the unearned income of rent, interest and profit.
Social wealth is created by wage slaves. The poor are poor because of capitalism. The poor are singled out for attack by defenders of capitalism because their existence demonstrates a failure of capitalism to meet the needs of all society. It is a demonstration that profit is more important than people. And it shows that while the private property ownership of the means of production and distribution is retained then so does poverty.
Get rid of the profit system and its apologists like Richard Drax and you end poverty. This, however, first requires a majority of socialists throughout the world taking democratic and political action to replace the profit system with socialism.
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.