The most reactionary of the political economists in the early 19th century was the Reverend Thomas Malthus, who argued that there were too many 'unproductive' poor people in the world, so regular plagues and disease were necessary and inevitable to make economies more productive.
Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders. If by these and similar means the annual mortality were increased ... we might probably every one of us marry at the age of puberty, and yet few be absolutely starved.
(AN ESSAY ON THE PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION, Book 4, Chap. 5)
Malthus has his modern day followers. Free market economists, like those at the Adam Smith Institute and Institute of Economic Affairs, are not very happy at the way Trump and Johnson are 'throwing money at the problem'. They do not like the shutdown of the economy nor the harm it has caused the capitalist class. Free market economists are briefing journalists to write articles in the media to pressurise the government to end the lock-down. Their arguments draw upon the Parson Malthus.
So it comes as no surprise that we read the following headline in the SUN, owned by the billionaire Rupert Murdoch, written by its political editor Trevor Kavanagh: Hysteria forced the UK into lockdown and will kill more than coronavirus. (31.3.2020).
These defenders of capitalism want governments to do nothing. A truly laissez-faire approach to the pandemic. Another journalist, Max Hastings, also said on BBC Radio 4's World at One (5 March 2020) that nothing should be done by the government to disrupt capitalism and the virus should be allowed to run its course killing the elderly and the ill but protecting the young. He looked at the elderly as 'dead-weight' on the NHS - an expendable part of the population.
His tactic was to split the working class along generation lines rather than for the working class to critically look at capitalism and the economic and social problems capitalism causes, particularly to the poor, the sick and the elderly.
Lord King, former Governor of Bank of England, said that the elderly should be sacrificed for the benefit of the young. He based his argument on the young being harmed by the crisis of 2008-9 and the elderly not doing too badly (LBC 3/4/20). Nothing was said by King about why capitalism goes into crisis. Nothing was said about the anarchy of commodity production and exchange to make profit. And nothing was said about the fact that it is the laws acting on capitalism which cause periodic economic depressions and higher levels of unemployment.
And then there is the eugenicist and SPECTATOR writer, Toby Young. He is a vulgar shock-jock and poor man's Peter Hitchins. He used an economic calculus as a justification to cull the elderly (Has the Government Overreacted to the Coronavirus Crisis? THE CRITIC, 31/3/20). He believes that devoting so many medical resources to those in their late 70s does not represent value to the taxpayer of which the burden falls on the capitalist class. How this economic argument goes down with his fellow Tories, where the average age of the Party is 72 (Tory Bow Group, 5/10/17), we have not yet been told.
Two studies are wheeled out by a defender of capitalism to support how badly the young did during the last economic crises and trade depression.
A 2016 study by researchers at Imperial College London found that the last global financial crisis caused 500,000 cancer deaths worldwide between 2008 and 2010. They found a correlation between each percentage increase in unemployment, and an upturn in cancer deaths.
Another study in 2014 by University of Oxford researchers found over 10,000 suicides tied to the Great Recession in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Even if these studies are correct, they demonstrate the utter uselessness of capitalism to meet the needs of the great majority of the working class. The studies give weight to the urgent need of the working class to establish socialism - the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society - not using the statistics to write-off a section of the working class. The trade cycle is not natural. Workers do not have to be unemployed, they do not have to face decades of austerity, and there is a socialist alternative. Capitalism kills, and not just elderly workers.
The Conservative journalist Jeremy Warner also noted that the Covid-19 pandemic 'primarily kills the elderly'.
He reasoned the 1918 Spanish flu had a 'lasting impact on supply' because it killed off 'primary bread-winners', which he said is unlikely to happen with coronavirus. He went on to conclude:
Not to put too fine a point on it, from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, the COVID-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents.
(DAILY TELEGRAPH 3/3/20) One shocked reader of the DAILY TELEGRAPH, owned by the billionaire Barclay Brothers now holed up in their £60m mock Gothic castle with private health care facilities on the Channel Island of, Brecqhou wrote:
This breaks my heart. My 85 year old mum reads this paper every day and has spent the last 11 and a half months learning how to live well without my dad and her husband of 62 years. Then she reads this - just imagine. We are so uncaring of our elderly.
'We' are not uncaring of the elderly unlike capitalism. If you want a caring and co-operative society then establish socialism.
Responding to criticism Warner said:
Obviously, for those affected it is a human tragedy whatever the age, but this is a piece about economics, not the sum of human misery.
Capitalist economics: an ideology of misery. We do not need capitalism and we do not need its economists. In this respect, we recall the Mikado and the Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko and his 'Little List'
As some days may happen
That a victim must be found
I've got a little list
I've got a little list
Of society offenders
Who might well be underground
And never would be missed
They never would be missed
And on that list would be the damned capitalist and his economist. They would never be missed.
May Day 2020: The Working Class and Socialism
May 1st is known as International Workers' Day and is a celebration of the working class. The date was chosen to commemorate the Haymarket demonstration and subsequent violence which occurred in Chicago on 4 May 1886 (see E. Marx Aveling and E. Aveling, THE CHICAGO ANARCHISTS, 1887).
The Second International was founded in 1889, under the banner of workers' internationalism.
A key resolution of the first congress, proposed by the American labour federation, was that in memory of the Chicago martyrs. Workers in every country would strike and demonstrate for the eight-hour day every May 1, which would become known as international workers' day, a day of international working class solidarity.
The first May Day demonstration in Britain was held on Sunday 4 May 1890 in Hyde Park. A speech was given, from among others, by Eleanor Marx, who ended her speech with Shelley's poem THE MASK OF ANARCHY (1819)
Rise like Lions after slumber,
In unvanquishable number,
To shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many - they are few
(Speech on the First of May, Eleanor Marx, Vol. 2, Yvonne Kapp, Pantheon 1976)
Engels commented with enthusiasm with the May Day demonstration, which was formed of 100,000 workers. He wrote:
"..on May 4, 1890, the English working class joined the great international army. And that is an epoch-making fact. The English proletariat has its roots in the most advanced industrial development and, moreover, possesses the greatest freedom of political movement. Its long slumber - a result, on the one hand, of the failure of the Chartist movement of 1836-50 and, on the other, of the colossal industrial upswing of 1848-80 - is finally broken. (ARBEITER ZEITUNG, May 23, 1890)
Engels clearly saw the rise of the May Day demonstration as the rebirth of the international labour movement. Engels was wrong. Seven years later, tens of thousands of workers lined London streets in 1897 to cheer Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and many more did the same, following her death in 1901. Streets were also lined with workers waving marching troops off to South Africa and the Boer War.
In the same year as the establishment of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in the Sixth Conference of the Second International, called on: all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the first of May for the legal establishment of the 8 hour day, for class demands of the proletariat and for universal peace.
10 years later, in 1914, workers were cheering the troops as they marched to war to fight and kill other workers in other countries, supposedly united by the Second International. Many of the leaders of the Second International went on to support the First World War. The war was opposed by the Socialist Party of Great Britain on grounds of class and class interest.
In 2020 there are no May Day demonstrations. Most workers are self-isolating against a global pandemic. Millions are on furlough or have lost their jobs. 8 hours employment is a luxury. Many workers would grab more than that time to make up for lost wages. Nurses are working 12 hour shifts. Amazon and Supermarket workers are working compulsory overtime and 8 hour shifts to tackle huge demand (BBC 17 March 2020 and BUSINESS INSIDER, 16/4/20).
When the lock-up ends, capitalism might be in a deep economic depression with millions of worker unemployed. Already about 1.5 million people have signed up to apply for universal credit payments. Almost one in four adults have already suffered financially, according to the Office of National Statistics (GUARDIAN 24/4/20). There will not be demands for eight hour days but for as much employment as possible.
Why be employed at all? Why do you have to go to work for an employer? Why do we have to worry about the capitalist’s system of class exploitation? Surely we should realise that we create the social wealth. We create the profits which go to the capitalist class in the form of the unearned income of rent, interest and profit. We, as a class, create more social wealth than we receive in wages and salaries.
Surely production should take place to just directly meet social need. We have the skill to organise society in a way that is not determined by the profit motive. On this May Day we should use the time to think of a world radically different to the one we are forced to live in now. We have time to look at the socialist alternative to capitalism. We have the time to think and the time to act.
And we have the time to question. And one of the first questions to be asked is who we are?
The Working Class
Among the cries and chants and slogans of May Day, only one has meaning: Workers of all countries unite! So, who are these workers?
The pandemic has identified many of these workers; teachers, shop assistants, refuse collectors, doctors, nurses, midwives, transport workers, care assistants and the, emergency services. They have one thing in common. They all have to earn a wage. They are like the millions of us locked away in flats and in houses. We are all workers, all wage slaves, all of us who are forced onto the labour market to sell our ability to work to an employer.
We are the majority; we are the working class. We form a majority in this country, in Europe and in the world. But socialists do not want to remain a class of wage slaves. We want to be free of class, class relations and class struggle.
We are a class because the means of production and distribution are privately owned by another class who do not take part in May Day demonstrations. They do not have to demonstrate because they do not work, they do not have to seek employment and they do not have to worry about the unpredictability of unemployment. They are the capitalist class; the Richard Branson's of the world with their private islands and billions of pounds stashed away in investments portfolios.
Without having class consciousness and knowing that our interests are not the same as Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere, the Barclay Brothers and those who make up the capitalist class, we will be forever condemned to reproduce ourselves as an exploited class.
We struggle against our employers over the rate and intensity of exploitation on a daily basis whether we are aware of it or not. But class consciousness, if it means anything, is political. It is the realisation that the only way to end class society with all its economic and social problems is to establish socialism.
Our demand, the demand of the working class should be to establish the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. That is the only demand of the working class. Demand the establishment of socialism. And that demand needs political action; it needs active socialists taking political action in socialist political parties with socialism and only socialism as its aim.
Class consciousness was never more needed than now. Class-consciousness is the breaking-down of all barriers to understanding capitalism, why capitalism cannot be run in the interest of all society and the necessity for the socialist alternative to the profit system.
It is the breaking down of barriers which see the working class attacking fellow working class immigrants, blaming the unemployed, in supporting capitalism's wars and conflicts, in cheering political leaders, and in seeing nothing beyond the wage packet. Class ignorance just continues class slavery.
And workers must not have anything to do with reforms or the politicians who offer them as cures for this or that social problem. Has poverty been abolished? The current pandemic has thrown a light on the poverty that exists in the United Kingdom; the "care" homes and those that live and work in them, the parents stranded with children in high rise flats with no garden; the workers in the unpredictable low-paid gig economy on zero hour contracts; the mentally and physically ill and the health service cut to the bone. Working class action, in fact, has to be revolutionary. That is the real message of May Day, for workers all over the world.
And class conscious workers have no need for leaders. We have no need for political leaders, - the likes of Boris Johnson or Kier Starmer - to tell us what to think or how to behave. Nor do we need the professional revolutionaries from the capitalist Left. Capitalist politicians only reflect and pursue the class interests of the capitalist class. They do not represent our interests.
Capitalism causes the problems our class faces on a day to day basis, so that the remedy – the only remedy – is to abolish capitalism. To abolish capitalism requires the working class to democratically take hold of the powers of government – for one purpose only: to end the rule of one class over another.
And what of 'universal peace'; that is, a world without war and conflict? Universal peace is impossible under capitalism. Since the first May Day demonstration in 1890, millions have been killed in capitalism's wars. A world artificially divided into competing nation states is a world of violence, death and destruction. Even during the global pandemic there still have been conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere. Socialism would have no national boundaries, no borders and no border guards. There would be one world and one human race. Workers in Britain have common cause with the workers of every other country. We are all members of an international working class, faced with the same problems, holding the same interests. There is only one way of realizing those interests: the establishment of socialism.
Locked away in enforced isolation, workers should take this opportunity of looking at the case for socialism and the establishment of a world without employment, without class and without war.
The Precariousness of the Working Class
It is ironic that in the richest country in the world, teeming with billionaires and undreamt of wealth, many workers cannot afford a doctor. Millions of workers in the United States cannot afford healthcare coverage; they are on low pay and high job insecurity with few if any protection from the vagaries of capitalism.
The appearance of the pandemic coronavirus has only made matters worse for workers in the US. It is disproportionately killing the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable. In April the dead, of over 2000 in one day, surpassed the deaths in any other country. Tens of thousands have died. The world’s highest death toll, with more than 21,300 fatalities recorded (INDEPENDENT 13/4/20).
The 'lock-down' and subsequent unemployment have badly hit millions of workers. One worker, interviewed in the GUARDIAN newspaper, said:
I can apply for food stamps and unemployment, but it won't pay the rent. I'm really afraid of what happens when I get sick. I will just have to stay at home. I can't afford to pay for a doctor. (GUARDIAN 10/4/20).
There are two classes in the United States, as there is elsewhere in the world. First there is the capitalist class, served by President Donald Trump and other politicians, both Republican and Democrat. This class lives off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit. Capitalism is their system. The capitalists own the land, the oil, the factories, the communication and transport system and the distribution points.
And then there is the working class majority who have no direct access to what they need to live on, and who are prevented from producing what they need and for whom by the restrictions imposed by the private ownership of production and distribution. The profit system rules, and as a result tens of thousands of workers are dying unnecessarily of a pandemic which would be treated so differently in socialism. The rich can afford health protection. For many workers who drop through the tattered net of social security they just fall into mass graves hastily dug by state contractors.
What the pandemic also illustrates is the disproportionate number of black Americans who die of Covid-19. They are more likely to live in extreme poverty, overcrowding, lack of health care and discrimination. In Louisiana 70 per cent of the deaths were among black Americans, although they only make up 30 per cent of the state's population. (GUARDIAN 10/4/20).
The Need for Trade Unions
The importance of trade unions in the class struggle has become more apparent to workers. It has always been apparent to socialists. We have always acknowledged the usefulness of trade unions to protect, as best they can, their members from the extent and intensity of class exploitation.
On a day-to-day basis, trade unions have to protect their members from bullying managers, from unhealthy and dangerous working conditions and from attacks upon their terms and conditions of employment. They also have to struggle to protect pay levels and to get a few extra crumbs from employers in higher pay, when economic conditions permit.
As for Trump: he may be selfish, unable to empathise and is grossly incompetent but we should avoid the easy 'blame game' and the worthless argument of the 'lesser of two evils'. 9
Trump blames everybody and everybody blames Trump. Trump may be a clown and a buffoon, but blaming him alone let's capitalism off the hook. It is capitalism the attention of workers should be drawn.
No doubt Trump's family will have their snouts in the trough of the $2 trillion bail-out. This though represents their taxes and their plundered surplus value. Far more important for workers is class unity and workers globally acting as a 'class for itself'. Socialism is the only way out of this pandemic crisis and its social and economic consequences.
Workers have fought back. In New York, Instacart employees have formed Gig Workers Collective and are demanding access to hand cleaners and disinfectant wipes in addition to danger money. So far, this has forced Instacart to negotiate with workers, resulting in an offer of a one-time bonus, a month's paid leave to those diagnosed with the virus and the introduction of automatic tipping. Workers were also successful in having hand sanitisers being made available.
Further strike action in New York is taking place against Amazon, owned by the multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos, where workers are struggling for better protective equipment and danger money. More than 100 Amazon workers walked off site on March 30 in the hope that the company will shut down the plant and have it properly cleaned following accusations from Chris Smalls (who organised the strike) that Amazon are not taking the threat of infection by the virus to workers seriously. Smalls was sacked by Amazon following the strike, but workers in other Amazon warehouses are beginning to organize against the conditions they have to work under.
According to the GUARDIAN
: Strikers at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island demanded Amazon temporarily shut down the large facility for cleaning, after reports of multiple employees testing positive for Covid-19. (GUARDIAN 31/3/20).
Nevertheless, trade unions can do nothing about mass redundancies. Trade Unions have severe limitations placed upon what they can and can't do under capitalism. This was explained by Marx in his lecture to the General Council of the First International in 1865 and published in the pamphlet VALUE,PRICE AND PROFIT. Trade Unions can only deal with the effects of capitalism not the cause. He recommended that workers should organise to politically and democratically abolish the wages system. It still remains the socialist conclusion today.
To illustrate how the movement of capitalism is out of the hand of trade unions we only have to look at the Coronavirus pandemic.
As a consequence of the virus, the US, along with most other capitalist countries in the world, had to introduce an economic 'lock-down'. Aeroplanes could not take off, most manufacturing and business had to shut, followed by the isolation of millions of workers. The 'lock-down' has bankrupted tens of thousands of companies and made millions of workers redundant.
Whereas some capitalists and their political supporters wanted to pursue the policy of 'herd immunity', the capitalist state could not afford to take the gamble and harm the goose that lays the golden egg. Unlike most recent pandemics there is no quick fix. There is no cure to the virus. Antidotes are a long way off. Capitalists need workers to exploit and make a profit from. That is how wealth is created under the profit system. Workers produce more social wealth than they get back in wages and salaries.
As a consequence of the 'lock-down' unemployment in the US has risen rapidly with predictions being made by economists that as many as 15% of the work force could end up unemployed. More than 6.6 million American have lost their jobs in the first week of April 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic has bought the US economy to a virtual standstill.
The redundancies started in the restaurant and leisure sectors and have now spread out to include manufacturing, construction and healthcare. Unemployment offices have been unable to cope. (UNEMPLYMENT SOARS IN us AS 15% COULD END UP JOBLESS, GUARDIAN 11/4/20).
Workers find themselves in this precarious position because they do not own and control the means of production. They do not control land, minerals, oil, gas, factories, transportation, communication systems, factories and distribution points. Workers are only employed when it is profitable to do so. And in a 'lock-down' when employers cannot sell their commodities and services for a profit, workers are sacked, fired, and shed like leaves.
What of Socialism?
What of socialism? Why would things be different in a socialist society if faced by a pandemic?
Socialism will be a world-wide social system in which production and distribution would be to directly meet human need. There would be no capitalist government balancing the interest of the capitalist class and their need to make profit with health considerations. Nor would there be the lack of preparedness, care and empathy towards human beings.
Would a socialist society treat front-line doctors and nurses so disinterestedly by supplying them with inadequate protective clothing? Of course not: the equation 'profit of health' so worried over by capitalism’s economists would not exist. In socialism, a pandemic would have been adequately planned for, and sufficient ventilation machines, drugs, hospital clothing, testing equipment would have been stored. If self-isolation existed, people would still carry on having direct access to what they needed to live without the rationing imposed by the wages system. Unemployment would not be a problem. In socialism there would be no employees, no buying and selling of people's ability to work and no job market.
This is how capitalism deals with a crisis:
In Wisconsin and Ohio, farmers are dumping thousands of gallons of fresh milk into lagoons and manure pits. An Idaho farmer has dug huge ditches to bury 1 million pounds of onions. And in South Florida, a region that supplies much of the Eastern half of the United States with produce, tractors are crisscrossing bean and cabbage fields, plowing perfectly ripe vegetables back into the soil. (NEW YORK TIMES 12/4/20).
In socialism, fruit, vegetables and milk would not have to be destroyed to retain price levels. Socialism would not be constrained by commodity production and exchange for profit. Workers would not have to worry about losing their livelihood. Hospitals would not be faced with an unhealthy working class living in poverty and carrying all the negative health problems associated with poverty.
The aged would not be locked away in homes out of sight and out of mind to die in the company of ill-equipped carers risking their lives for strangers. The kindness of strangers.
Compassion will be the hall mark of socialism not health care on the cheap and Gradgrind utilitarianism for the old and frail.
And the co-operation, kindness and sociability of millions would be an expression of socialism rather than an oddity in a system that praises above all else, competition, greed, selfishness and class exploitation.
For human beings to survive a pandemic first requires the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. As one wit ironically put it:
"It is the virus that makes you ill but capitalism that kills you".
A Triumph of the New Tribalism
Over a hundred years ago, the Labour Party was formed to protect the interests of the trade unions, against the Tory Party. After 1945, the Attlee Labour government established the so-called welfare state and a National Health Service, free at the point of use. This was - together with the nationalisation of the railways and other utilities - falsely described as and widely seen as 'socialism' - a lie.
This latest election showed the Labour Party's candidates widely rejected in areas where only Labour candidates had ever been elected, the so-called Labour heartlands. These were constituencies which have now turned their back on Labour and even voted Tory. For these voters, living in regions of real deprivation, the post-industrial regions, where so many felt 'left behind' and unrepresented after the closure of the mines, shipbuilding, steel works, manufacturing - formerly active areas, now an abandoned derelict waste land of unemployment and food banks, preyed on by drug dealers loan sharks. Such regions have a feeling, even a smell, of despair and hopelessness, as nothing there ever changes for the better.
Far away from the world of Westminster politics, suddenly a Pied Piper appears with an inspiring good news story - telling how their misery is all the fault of the EU. His slogan 'take back control' suggests a way forward and so their vote goes for Brexit, both in the 2016 referendum and in the European elections.
So too in the General Election, with the Tories - and their media allies like the BBC, SKY NEWS etc. - declaring this was the 'Brexit election'. The naively simple slogan 'Get Brexit Done!' was easy to put over, however empty of meaning, deceptive and misleading.
Socialists take no pleasure in this result. Yet as socialists we are opposed to the Labour Party. At best this was simply a party of reforms, propping up support for capitalism by softening the impact of exploitation and the class system. At worst, it muddied the waters, confusing the working class by its claim to stand for socialism, with its MPs when convenient declaring themselves to be socialists.
But if you asked their supporters what they mean by Labour's socialism, they would be lost for an answer. Better state pensions and benefits for the unemployed? The NHS? (These were actually supported in the 1940s by the Tories and major employers, as likely to save costs - i.e. in accountancy terms of a 'cost-benefit' analysis it made sense to them and was in their interests.)
Internationalism and world peace? (But the Labour Party was an active supporter of both world wars; was in Churchill's coalition government, enforcing conscription and banning strikes; and Attlee's post-war government actively pursued the development of the atom bomb and the creation of NATO, an armed alliance of 'western powers' in the Cold War, etc.)
To socialists, arguments about nationalisation are not about socialism. Nationalisation may take private profit out of running railways or prison and probation services, but nationalisation - which Labour referred to as 'public ownership - is simply state ownership. The NHS itself is basically a nationalised health service, in part funded from levies on the pay packets of the workers as with National Insurance, a state insurance scheme to provide for pensions and other 'benefits'. Both of these were argued for in the war years on economics grounds: at the end of the 1930s, there was a confusing and inefficient medley of a variety of pension and benefits schemes. The Beveridge Report came up with a simplified and so more 'efficient' scheme, a less costly state-run scheme. The NHS could buy medicines cheaper as a huge monopoly, and so save money. The National Insurance scheme meant that the pensions of tomorrow would be paid for by the contributions of today's workers, so would not be a huge drain on government resources.
Nationalising the railways was seen as restoring an efficient railway system after the 1930s and the war years when the railway companies had failed to invest in new rolling-stock and track maintenance - again, nothing to do with socialism, everything to do with the state intervening to bail out the shareholders who were happy to take their dividends but unwilling to invest long-term.
Such are the policies of so-called Corbynism - harking back to the Bevanite 'socialism' of the 1945 government, that odd and opportunistic mix of state 'efficiency' and workers' welfare.
For the many millions of voters disillusioned with the Labour Party, who have lent or surrendered their votes to other parties, we can say this with confidence. They will be equally disappointed and disillusioned with these other parties as well.
If they believed that to 'Get Brexit Done!' was the single issue in this election which decided their vote, they would be disappointed. Even if this 'Brexit' stuff gets 'done' - in weeks, months or years - it is probable the housing crisis will continue to worsen; the hospitals will still be understaffed, the nurses overworked and underpaid; workers' wages will still be too low, so that many in-work families have to rely on food banks, even in relatively affluent towns; likewise the rip-off 'gig economy' - the lineal successor to the docks' 'lump labour' system, relying on casual labour hired by the day, with maximum insecurity - and minimum workers' organisation for better terms and conditions.
And with increasing use of robotics to replace labour in whole new sectors of the economy - in manufacturing and wholesale distribution, call centres and banks, the legal profession and medicine, in farming, and transport with driverless vehicles now being trialled, there will be increasing pressure to eliminate any trade union organisation, and to cut so-called 'restrictions' on free trade.
The 'Brexit' illusion peddled to the hopeless 'left behind' former Labour heartlands fits neatly with the desires of the employers and dodgy, but influential, hedge fund financiers with their offshore funds, hidden from the UK tax system, and the network of so-called 'think tanks', backed by hidden funders, some linked to those who backed Trump in the US such as the Koch brothers. This 'free market' ideology promotes the interests of the employers, not the workers, and the Tory party - even now re-labelled as 'One Nation' conservatives – have never worked to protect the interests of any but the rich.
What all these parties have in common is a refusal to recognise that the single issue which should be dominant in this and every election is capitalism, a world system of class exploitation, of production for profit, which is the root cause of all our social problems. This election with its bogus 'choices' never focused on the class system as the real cause of workers' problems. As this class system is a worldwide system, voting for a nationalist party is simply a distraction from looking for a real solution, and only reinforces divisiveness.
Voting for reformist parties is to miss the point. In a class society, where there are some that are rich and many who are relatively poor, this inequality is inevitably reflected in a variety of social and economic problems. That some are rich and others are poor is the unavoidable result of this social system. If housing is a problem, it is not a problem for the rich. But many unlucky workers get only a choice between re-furbished council tower blocks like Grenfell, a death trap, or sleeping - and sometimes dying - homeless on the streets. If the NHS is under impossible stress - e.g. with a sick child on the floor of a Leeds hospital (10/12/19 YORKSHIRE EVENING POST), unable to get to a hospital bed for 8-9 hours - that too is not a problem for those who can pay for health treatment in the profitable private sector.
Pensions too are increasingly not the responsibility of the state as more and more groups of workers have first been shunted into company or employers' pensions schemes, only to find these abandoned so that then workers are encouraged - or forced - to take out equity-funded pension schemes, run by investment managers in the City finance firms.
Mass unemployment is disguised by the prevalence of casual labour, so-called 'self-employment' but the hopelessness and despair of many stuck in the 'gig economy' is real and deeply embedded. And the worst regions for long-term unemployment are still likely to be those areas worst hit by the unemployment of the Hungry Thirties and later by the Thatcher years of the 1980s, when mines, steelworks, manufacturing, shipbuilding etc were stripped out, leaving the North, Midlands, South Wales, Cornwall etc, as the derelict hopeless regions of the 'left behind'.
When social problems are especially acute, capitalist politicians turn to the politics of division. Usually it is racism or xenophobia - scapegoat some 'foreign' group, e.g. immigrants, and your problems are solved.
Echoes of Enoch Powell in the Midlands, of Oswald Mosley in the 1950s, of the National Front etc.- this divisiveness was shouted with a megaphone in the 2016 referendum, and this opportunistic divisiveness has resulted since then in a huge increase in racist 'hate crimes', both on-line and on the streets.
As for socialists, we argue that the working class needs to unite, to organise democratically 'without distinction of race or sex', to overthrow this system of class exploitation. And the first step is to recognise their identity as a class, to become class conscious, and abandon the illusions of nationalism and reformism. Our aim is to establish a social system based on the common ownership of the means of production and distribution, with democratic control by and in the interests of the whole community.
This election like so many others has shown the working class in Britain to be sadly still ignorant of how this capitalist system is simply one of greed and exploitation, a system which cannot be made to work in the interests of the workers, the vast majority of the population. It is a system of production for profit, and the source of all profits is the unpaid labour of the workers. To give or lend your vote to any of the parties standing in this election of lies meant you accepted the lie that there is no alternative to capitalism, a class system which can never be made to work in the interests of the majority, and which results in endless unsolvable problems and a never-ending line of politicians with promises.
Socialists argue for a better system, one which offers hope, a hope of a world without poverty and wars. And we urge you to reject the falsehoods of reformism and divisive nationalism and with us, create a new society.
BRANSON BAIL OUT
Virgin Atlantic has 8,500 employees and Richard Branson has 'asked' them to take 8 weeks unpaid leave. He has a personal fortune of £4.1 billion.
If Branson paid them £500/week each for 8 weeks, it would cost him 0.83% of private wealth reducing it to a paltry £4.066 billion.
That's a bit less than 8.5p for every £10 he owns.
However, the real lesson for the working class is to learn how Branson got his hands on the £4.1 billion in the first place.
Hospitals Fit for Heroes: What Happens When the Clapping Stops
Workers should learn not to trust politicians. Avoid leaders is what socialists tell the working class. We suggest workers should think and act in their own class interest. And learn from history. When being described by capitalist politicians and media as 'heroes', workers should always be wary that there is going to be a sting in the tail.
And the recent Coronavirus pandemic is no exception. Capitalist politicians will heap praise on workers or groups of workers if they want something from them. Once they have got what they want, workers will be dropped like hot cakes and forgotten.
Already Boris Johnson has said he is 'surprised' by the few people returning to work. This was echoed by Sir Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Tory Backbench Committee, while the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak believes the country has become addicted to furlough. Given that there is no antidote, no Covid-19 cure or vaccine; politicians want workers to die for profit. If they do not return to work, workers run the risk of being called cowards. Or worse: being barred from any state benefits to help them feed their families and to compensate for loss of pay, with possibly long-term unemployment as the economy sinks into deep economic depression, with many firms going bankrupt.
In wars, governments, Labour and Conservative, want workers to be prepared to die for the interests of the capitalist class. During war they are described as 'heroes'. When workers return from war - those that hadn’t been killed - they were told by politicians that workers and they and their families will get decent housing and a world class health service. In their dreams.
In the current pandemic, the government wants doctors, nurses and others to 'pay the supreme sacrifice' by working under poor and inadequate conditions. Their death in service is evaluated at a paltry £60k which is about a quarter of what the billionaire, Barclay brothers paid for Johnson's articles in the DAILY TELEGRAPH, a fee which he described as 'chicken feed'. These workers are often ill-equipped and not adequately tested to carry out their work safely.
The government's continued failure to supply hospitals and care homes with essential protective equipment - the masks, visors, gloves and gowns needed to protect nurses and carers against this highly infectious virus - makes the regular Downing Street briefings a meaningless charade, a cynical PR exercise.
The war metaphor is used by politicians with tedious repetition. The coronavirus is 'the enemy', we are told. The real enemy, however, is capitalism.
And the government's response to the pandemic is inept, callous and incompetent. They are not 'led by the science' but by political expediency. Public Health England warned the government in 2016 that the UK could not cope with a pandemic. The government kept the Exercise Cygnus report secret. Nothing was done. Millions of vital pieces of personal protective equipment in the UK's pandemic stockpile - including almost 80 per cent of respirators - were out of date when coronavirus hit (SKY NEWS 8/5/20). Thousands of doctors' protective gowns, for example, were purchased from Turkey, then flown thousands of miles by the RAF to the UK, only to be found 'unfit for purpose' (GUARDIAN 7/5/20).
It is quite clear that a capitalist government deals with pandemics in a different way than a future socialist society would. In socialism, what would be taken out of the consideration would be the profit motive, the need to cut costs and the Interest of businesses to trade. In capitalism the profit motive is the primary consideration not meeting human need.
The applause on Thursday evenings from other members of the working class is genuine – it is often directed towards their friends, and their family members who are working in unimaginably horrible conditions - but from the politicians standing outside No 10, in front of media camera, applause rings hollow.
Homes Fit for Heroes?
Before health workers, 'heroes' were the soldiers returning after the end of the First World War; a war which was opposed by socialists on grounds of class and class interest. Workers have no interest in fighting in the employers' wars. Workers have no country. They have nothing to die for.
In 1918, Prime Minister David Lloyd George gave a speech in which he promised 'to make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in'. He promised, 'homes fit for heroes'.
Parliament passed the ambitious Housing Act 1919 which promised government subsidies to help finance the construction of 500,000 council houses within three years. In 1919 the Housing and Town Planning Act was enacted to build at least 600,000 houses. The early council houses looked to the designs of Edwin Lutyens and the Arts and Crafts Movement. But politicians' promises like piecrust are easily broken, and only 200,000 were ever built.
By 1921 the economy was hit by a trade slump and unemployment rose to 10 per cent.
Faced with an economic crisis and trade depression the government set in train austerity measures. Following recommendations for government cuts from a Committee under Sir Eric Geddes set up to examine public expenditure, funding for council housing programmes was cut and the Act of 1919 was rescinded.
Despite an urgent need for housing, building materials were stock-piled and construction workers were laid off. The last council houses to be built were mean, utilitarian and badly constructed. 'homes fit for heroes' was quietly forgotten.
After the second bloodbath, World War Two, there was a massive effort by the government, both Labour and Tory, to build a lot of new council housing, especially to replace city housing destroyed by bombing or for slum clearance. While some of these new estates were of reasonable quality, most were likely to become the slums of the future. In London and other cities, high-rise blocks of flats went up, with poor insulation and lifts often breaking down. These 'sink-estates', which Local Authorities could not maintain adequately, were largely taken over by Housing Associations driven by cost and profit, then refurbished with highly inflammable cosmetic cladding: and the Grenfell fire and others on a smaller scale were the predictable result.
Now, over 100 years after Lloyd George's promise in 1918, there still is a housing crisis.
A Health Service Fit for Heroes?
The National Health Service was set-up to replace the inefficiencies of previous health provision in coping with increasing casualties after the start of the Blitz. The National Health Act of 1946 was designed to create universal health care.
Financial problems have beset the NHS from the start. New hospitals and health centres could not be built because there was no money to build them.
And competing government priorities always take precedence. In 1950 when Britain became involved in the Korean War, under a Labour government, more money was needed for the conflict. In April 1950, Hugh Gaitskell, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced in his Budget that prescription charges would be made on NHS dental treatment and spectacles. War and conflict first, health second.
The NHS has a history of cost-cutting by all governments. In 1976, the minority Labour UK government of James Callaghan was forced to borrow $3.9 billion from the IMF to stabilise the value of pound. The loan was accompanied with conditions to cut public spending, including the NHS.
The Labour Government under Tony Blair saddled the NHS with debt through its Private Finance Initiative. That was simply a dodge to move public sector spending off the balance sheet but the new hospitals built under PFI were then saddled with contracts, meaning a huge financial burden of debt which would take decades to repay.
The Labour government carried on introducing market reforms and privatisation. Doctors and nurses and other NHS staff were treated with contempt. In 1999 'New Labour' marked the start of a transition of the NHS from a public sector provider to include the private sector under the disguise of choice and competition. Market structures, foundation trusts, GP consortia and the introduction of private corporations into commissioning were all products of the Labour attempt to drive down the cost of the National Heath Service to the capitalist class. These so-called reforms were continued by the Cameron and May governments both with and without the support of the Liberal Democrats.
Following the economic crisis of 2008, the Tory government imposed a decade of austerity measures which led to junior doctors striking in 2016 over a proposed new contract which resulted in many doctors subsequently leaving the NHS. It was the first strike by doctors in the NHS for forty years. The Tory government proposed new contracts for junior doctors which would scrap overtime rates for work between 7am and 10pm on every day except Sunday.
The union argued that the contract would include an increase in working hours with a relative pay cut of up to 40%. The Prime Minister did not come out of No 10 to clap the striking doctors. Nor did they get praise and support from the media.
During the period of austerity, nurses also suffered a 14 per cent pay cut in real terms because of a government cap on public sector pay as part the austerity programme following the economic crisis of 2006. The formal pay cap of 1 per cent was introduced in 2015. There was no support for the nurses' strike action in the media.
When the Clapping Stops
What happens when the clapping stops? Attacks in the media against immigrant care workers, nurses and doctors will be resumed. The media will begin a campaign against 'greedy' doctors and nurses for wanting higher pay and better working conditions.
And people will be asking: where are all those hospitals? Where are all those nurses? We were promised 40 new hospitals and 30,000 new nurses. As in 1921 governments will say that for the good of capitalism there will have to be cuts and 'austerity'. There will be no NHS 'Fit for Heroes'.
The Socialist Alternative to Capitalism
When the clapping stops it will be back to a Cinderella sweatshop National Health Service, run on the cheap and at the lowest costs the government can get away with. The subsequent economic depression, forecast to be worse than the depression of the 1930s, will force cuts and closures just as it did in the 1920s and 1970s, and after the last economic crisis of 2007/8. The high death rate in the 'care homes' - the largely privatised sector of the NHS, saddled with the long-term care of the old and infirm - will soon be conveniently forgotten as the state of the economy makes lean and aggressive competition for business on the world market the top government priority.
This does not have to be the case. When the clapping stops and the politicians have disappeared from view to their clubs and country homes, their hedge funds and offshore tax havens, workers should turn their attention towards an alternative to capitalism. They should consider the establishment of socialism in which there is common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society - a social system where health services will be prioritised, not delayed or denied with questions about how these can be paid for.
Without the priorities of profit-making and capital accumulation, without the dead-weight of the capitalist class and its government, society will be able to provide the best possible health care for everyone.
There will be no two-tier system of private and public health. Pandemics will be adequately planned for, there will be sufficient capacity to cope with emergencies, and health workers will be provided with the necessary equipment to carry out their work safely. And there would be free access based on the, common sense, socialist principle: from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs.
Capitalism's Environmental Crisis (Pt 1 of 5)
The Wealthy One Percent
The capitalist class and its politicians have an environmental crisis on their hands, not only about the issue of global warming but also by the threat posed from the changing climate to their private property, trade and commerce and profit. As a consequence of burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, capitalist production is releasing more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The trapped heat warms up the planet causing drought, hurricanes, torrential rain fall, fires, melting ice caps and rising sea levels.
The world's existing climate policies will not be enough to prevent record energy emissions rising beyond 2040, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA said carbon emissions from the global energy industry reached a new record in 2018 despite progress in the use of renewable energy in recent years.
The IEA expects the growth of renewable energy systems to accelerate over the coming decades, but warned it would not be enough to stop the energy sector's emissions before 2040. Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director, said there was a 'deep disparity' between the aim to tackle the climate crisis by curbing carbon emissions and the existing government policies which had allowed a 'relentless upward march' for emissions.
The IEA's latest figures estimate that carbon emissions will rise by 100m tonnes a year for at least another 20 years under existing policy plans. This rate would be two-thirds slower than the emissions rises recorded in previous decades, but would fall very far short of what is needed to achieve the goals of the Paris accord.
We will need to see great political will around the world. We think that governments' current plans could bring us to a catastrophic implication for the climate of this planet. In order to be in line with the Paris targets there is a need for huge efforts in pushing energy efficiency, renewable energy and all other clean energy technologies.
However, there is no political will around the world, only competing national interests. Australia, for example, puts its mining industry before climate change, as do other countries, even though it leads to drought, internal migration from extremely hot areas to cooler ones, loss of water for irrigation and wide-spread fires and weather storms causing destruction to agriculture and private property.
Competing Capitalist Interests
Recently Australia suffered major fires and extreme heat. Vast areas were destroyed including property and wildlife. The Prime Minister said that the interests of the coal industry must come first even though the fires led to loss of property, death and environmental devastation. Rupert Murdoch's media outlets claimed the fires were due to arson. Murdoch's media columnists have described linking the fires to climate change as 'hysterical' and 'silly'. Murdoch has described himself as a climate sceptic. You will not find the SUN and THE TIMES holding Murdoch to account for the dangerous ideas he holds about climate change (BBC NEWS 15/1/20).
Most countries signed up to the Paris Accord of 2014 but many have ignored the protocol. National interest comes first. Geopolitical issues, such as the protection of fossil fuel industry and competition with other countries compound the problem. While countries, not wanting to be behoven to Russia's gas supplies, as in the case of Poland and its coal industry, has worsened the situation by continuing to mine and use fossil fuels.
The same criticism can be applied to Chinese capitalism. China is now in the process of building or reviving coal equivalent to the EU's entire generating capacity. China is also financing around a quarter of all proposed coal plants outside its borders.
In 2015, in an attempt to curb the growth, China's government tried to prevent new-build coal extraction and use. However, it continued to allow provincial governments the freedom to issue permits for new coal plants. That move misfired badly. Local authorities subsequently permitted up to five times more plants than in any comparable period.
China is also busy financing coal development outside the country, funding over a quarter of all the coal plants outside its borders in countries like South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh. (INDEPENDENT: We're in a deep hole': Fossil fuel production on track to exceed safe climate change limits by 120%, 21/11/19).
Latest figures show that the problems of greenhouse gas emissions have increased rather than decreased. Since 1990 there's been an increase of 43% in the warming effect on the climate of long lived greenhouse gases. Known as total radiative forcing, this effect is not showing any indication of stopping (BBC NEWS, November 25th 2019). Corinne Le Quere, a research professor at the University of East Anglia, said: Current climate and energy policies are too weak to reverse trends in global emission.
What about the pressures imposed by capitalism and commodity production and exchange for profit? President Bolsonaro of Brazil claimed in an article that even so-called "progressive" governments in Latin America, have been forced to cut down forests by pressure of the market (Internationalist Perspective. Org, Deforestation).
If we continue with protected areas and indigenous regions, agribusiness ends in Brazil and if agribusiness ends, so does our economy.(MONGABAY 9/9/19)
The author of the report, Jenny Gonzales, went on to say that the state governors who met with Bolsonaro said the problem was the indigenous people:
Most of the state governors agreed with Bolsonaro that indigenous groups hold control over too much Brazilian land that could be mined or turned over to agribusiness, greatly profiting the nation, while also bringing indigenous people into mainstream Brazilian society.
Brazil needs a profitable agribusiness and the state needs the tax revenues and so deforestation continues unabated despite the environmental consequences in losing the Rain Forest. The Rain Forest within the national boundaries of Brazil is considered private not common property. It is not a common resource to be enjoyed by everyone but a resource for farmers, loggers and others to set up businesses and make a profit. Like the peasants in 16th century England, who were forced off the commons by the enclosure acts so history will repeat itself with respect to the indigenous peoples and the rain forest.
Global Warming will not Go Away
Recently a global group of about 11,000 scientists endorsed research that says most of their vital indicators of global warming are going in the wrong direction and add up to a climate emergency. The lead author Dr Thomas Newsome, from the University of Sydney said:
An emergency means that if we do not act or respond to the impacts of climate change by reducing our carbon emissions, reducing our livestock production, reducing our land clearing and fossil fuel consumption, the impacts will likely be more severe than we've experienced to date. That could mean there are areas on Earth that are not inhabitable by people. (BBC NEWS 5 November 2019).
The use of the possessive pronoun 'our' by Dr. Newsome is wrong. The means of production and distribution are not owned by us, by all of society but by a capitalist minority. We live in a class-divided society divided into a capitalist class and a working class 'by whose labour alone wealth is produced'. Production takes place to make profit not for directly meeting human needs. Workers have no interest in the problems of the capitalist class just as the capitalists and their politicians have no interest in ours.
Workers have to pursue our own class interest by solving the economic, social and environmental problems which face us as a class. And this is by first becoming socialists, organising politically, democratically and globally to abolish capitalism and establish world socialism - the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
If workers do not become socialists and socialism is not established then the environmental problems caused by global warming and highlighted by environmental science will continue and have an increasingly detrimental effect on our class and our lives.
Marx: The Origins of Capital (Pt 3)
Enclosures: 'A Crime against the People'
In England the process used to force the peasants off the soil was the enclosure of common land and fields and the creation of a landless class of former peasants forced to look elsewhere for work. Writers, critical of the enclosures, had already made forceful comments before Marx. Thomas More wrote in 1516:
'Each greedy individual preys on his native land like a malignant growth, absorbing field after field, and enclosing thousands of acres with a single fence. Result - hundreds of farmers evicted'. (UTOPIA, BOOK 1, p. 47).
Marx devoted a great deal of research into the question of the enclosures in chapter 27 of CAPITAL: The Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the Land. Unlike More and other critics of enclosures he did not make a moral criticism of the greed of the enclosers. Of advances in agricultural productivity he wrote:
In spite of the smaller number of its cultivators [after the peasantry was eliminated], the soil brought forth as much produce as before, or even more, because the revolution in property relations on the land was accompanied by improved methods of cultivation, greater co-operation, a higher concentration of the means of production and so on, and because the agricultural wage-labourers were made to work at a higher level of intensity, and the field of production on which they worked for themselves shrank more and more. (CAPITAL, VOL. 1, chapter 30, p. 908).
Yet Marx denounced the enclosures as a crime against the people:
We have seen how the forcible seizure of the common lands, accompanied for the most part by the transformation of arable into pasture, began in the fifteenth century and lasted on into the sixteenth[...] The advance that has been made in the eighteenth century is shown in this, that the law itself now became the instrument by which the theft of the people's land was achieved, although the great farmers continued to use their petty private methods in addition. The parliamentary form of the robbery is that of 'Bills for Enclosure of Commons', in other words, decrees by which the landlords grant themselves the people’s land as private property, decrees of expropriation of the people. (p. 885).
Marx first came into contact with problems facing peasants and access to the commons in 1842 when he was editor of the RHEINISCHE ZEITUNG. Marx had to deal with the forest laws about the right to take fallen branches from the forests. The peasants were being denied their ancient - medieval rights, similar to the English peasants' rights to take furze and turf from the commons. In the 1859 preface to his CONTRIBUTION TO THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY (1859) he wrote:
In the year 1842-43, as editor of the RHEINISCHE ZEITUNG, I first found myself in the embarrassing position of having to discuss what is known as material interests. The deliberations of the Rhenish Landtag on forest thefts and the division of landed property; the official polemic started by Herr von Schaper, then Oberprasident of the Rhine Province, against the Rheinische Zeitung about the condition of the Moselle peasantry, and finally the debates on free trade and protective tariffs caused me in the first instance to turn my attention to economic questions. (p.10).
From Land to Factory
The enclosure of the commons was one of the key historical events which undermined the economic viability of the peasant household.
Although enclosures set the conditions for an agricultural revolution, it also meant a massive shift to an industrial, urban and capitalist society in which agricultural workers lost whatever measure of economic independence they once had possessed. Those who entered capitalist society with its employing class became dependent on wages, the wages system and the labour market. They became wage slaves. As Marx observed:
The expropriation and expulsion of the agricultural population, intermittent but renewed again and again, supplied... the town industries with a mass of proletarians. (CAPITAL,VOL. 1. Chapter 30 p. P.908).
Until the 16th century, much of the land in England had remained officially as 'open fields', manorial wastes and "common land". From this time onwards enclosures of 'open fields' and 'common land' became more and more frequent. The enclosed land became the property of wealthy private landlords and farmers.
The peasants, who had previously lived on the common land or had access to the open fields, found themselves evicted by often violent force, leaving them without the means to make a living.
The imposition of Protestantism by Henry VIII, and the Dissolution of the Monasteries also played a key role in the acceleration of enclosures of 'open fields' and 'common land'. Marx wrote:
The process of forcible expropriation of the people received a new and terrible impulse in the sixteenth century from the Reformation, and the consequent colossal spoliation of the church property. The Catholic Church was, at the time of the Reformation, the feudal proprietor of a great part of the soil of England. The dissolution of the monasteries, etc., hurled their inmates into the proletariat. (CAPITAL, chapter 27, volume 1, p 881)
One of the consequences was the creation of 'vagabonds'. Marx wrote:
...these men, suddenly dragged from their accustomed mode of life, could not immediately adapt themselves to the discipline of their new condition. They were turned in massive quantities into beggars, robbers and vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases under the force of circumstances...at the end of the fifteenth and during the whole of the sixteenth centuries; a bloody legislation against vagabondage was enforced throughout Western Europe.....(p. 896).
A series of laws was introduced by Parliament between 1563 and 1601. The 1597 Act, for example, laid down stricter guidelines for vagabonds and beggars in response to the economic crisis of the 1590s. But the so-called 'undeserving poor', were brutally treated.
The 1563 Act reaffirmed the policy of whipping able-bodied beggars. Later Acts stated that vagabonds should be burned through the right ear and, if they persisted, could be imprisoned and even executed. The policies of ear-boring and execution remained in force until 1593.
Keeping people out
And the Enclosures continued to take place in subsequent centuries. According to the historian, Ellen Roseman, there were approximately 4000 Enclosure Acts between 1750 and 1850 which converted common land into the exclusive private property of large landowners. All in all, between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual Enclosure Acts were passed, covering 6.8 million acres. (ON ENCLOSURES ACTS AND COMMONS
During the 19th century when railways were built across the landscape, very often the routes chosen went over common land - clearly cheaper than buying farmland from landowners.
Later the modern motorways were often routed over commons, for example, the M3 runs through Chobham Common. Capitalism had to fight long and hard against what the historian E.P. Thompson called the "moral economy", a code of customs radically at odds with the discipline of the market and the exercise of market forces (CUSTOMSIN COMMON, chapter 4, Penguin Books, 1993). Yet capitalism won out consolidating its economic and political position throughout the nineteenth century.
In his book ORIGIN OF CAPITALISM: A LONGER VIEW, (1999), E. M. Woods remarked that to think about an alternative to capitalism requires an engagement with capitalism’s past, particularly the socially disruptive nature of the enclosures in the 16th century when:
"... larger landowners sought to drive commoners off lands that could be profitably put to use as pasture for increasingly lucrative sheep farming. (p. 108).
Woods went on to say:
Contemporary commentators held enclosure, more than any other single factor, responsible for the growing plague of vagabonds, those dispossessed 'masterless men' who wandered the countryside and threatened social order. The most famous of these commentators, Thomas More, though himself an encloser described the practice as 'sheep devouring men'. (p. 108-109).
And he concluded:
These social critics... may have overestimated the effects of enclosure at the expense of other factors leading to the transformation of English property relations. But it remains the most vivid expression of the relentless process that was changing not only the English countryside but also the world: the birth of capitalism. (p. 109).
Obviously, the use of the commons was of real value to the local people - if there was no value in its use, why bother to fight the gentry who wanted to fence it off? Enclosure, wrote E.P. Thompson, (when all sophistications are allowed for ) was a plain enough case of class robbery, played according to fair rules of property and law laid down by Parliament of property-owners and lawyers.
(THE MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASSS 1963, p. 219).
And resistance to enclosures happened in so many places, down the generations. Clearly the lands the gentry chose to enclose and claim as their private property were valuable assets. There are numerous court reports, complaints by the landed aristocracy about resistance and rebellion, as well as pamphlets and writings from, for example, the Levellers and Diggers of the 17th century.
Resistance and Retribution
In the early 18th century the process accelerated as wealthy landowners enclosed forests for parks and hunting lodges, dammed rivers for fishponds, and allowed their deer to trash local farmers' crops. And when there was resistance with attempts to access former common land, 'poachers' were faced with draconian legislation such as the Black Act (1722).
The Black Act was an Act of Parliament passed during the reign of George I. It was named after the blacking of faces by poachers.
The Act established the death penalty for the unlawful killing or maiming of animals. The statute was passed in 1722 to deal with the growing cases of poaching from private parks and land owned by the King and members of the aristocracy. The origins of the Black Act and in particular the exceptional unpleasantness of the then Prime Minister, Horace Walpole, are recounted in E. P. Thompson's WHIGS AND HUNTERS: THE ORIGIN OF THE BLACK ACT (1975). E.P. Thompson concluded:
If we today have ideal notions of what law might be, we derive them in part from the cultural moment. It is, in part, in term of that age's own aspiration that we judge the Black Act and find it deficient. But at the same time this same century, governed as it was by the forms of law, provides a text-book illustration of the employment of law, as instrument and as ideology, in serving the interests of the ruling class. The oligarchs and the great gentry were content to be subject to the rule of law only because this law was serviceable and afforded to their hegemony the rhetoric of legitimacy. (p. 269).
The following popular broadside was tacked as a handbill in Plaistow in relation to the intended enclosure of Hainault or Waltham Forest:
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common,
But leaves the greater villain loose,
Who steals the common from the goose.
(cited in P. Linebaugh, STOP, THIEF! 2014 p. 153)
A more acerbic comment was made by John Thelwall when he referred to the inclosing system as: that system of enclosure by which the rich monopolise to themselves the estates, rights, and possessions of the poor. (THE TRIBUNE 28, September 1795). While, the poet and agricultural labourer, John Clare commented: vile enclosure came and made a parish slave of me.
And of course, Scotland had its clearances of populations from the highlands over three centuries to create large landed estates.
The highland clearances, though, were rather different - they involved a change in land ownership from joint/collective ownership by the clan to personal ownership by the clan chief, and the new owners then drove their kinsmen off the clan lands, and these lands could then be bought and sold as private property. Marx gave the example of the 'clearings' made by the Duchess of Sutherland. Marx said that:
Between 1814 and 1820...15,000 inhabitants, about 3,000 families, were systematically hunted and rooted out. All the villages were destroyed and burnt, all their field turned into pasturage...She divided the whole of the stolen land of the clan into twenty-nine huge sheep farms, each inhabited by a single family.
(CAPITAL chapter 27, p. 891-892).
From the Common to Communism
It is ironic that in Stanmore, Middlesex, where the Lord of the Manor, Lord Abercorn and his family had devoured most of the common land through the process of enclosure without compensation to the tenants, one of the last pieces of land to be enclosed was in 1853 for the purpose of the 'Gentlemen of Stanmore' to play cricket.
Cattle grazing gave way to bat on ball. Gentlemen who did not have to get their hands dirty for a living and had plenty of time for leisurely pursuits like cricket were truly among the beneficiaries of the Enclosure Acts. In many places, the village green remains the main survivor of extensive and important common lands.
So, in engaging with capitalism's origins what can we say of an alternative to the profit system? We must look not back to the past but forward to the future - a future where private property has been abolished and replaced with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. Or, as Marx put it:
In the former case, it was a matter of the expropriation of the mass of the people by a few usurpers; but in this case, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people. (CAPITAL, VOL.1 The Historical Tendency of Capital Accumulation ch. 32)
In other words, from the commons to communism.
The Destructive Fiction of Race
Germany and the Fiction of 'Nationalism' and 'Race'
The Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) is a far-right German political party known for its xenophobia, anti-Islam beliefs, and obsession with German identity and nationalism. It is also now the country's third-largest party - and the first far-right party to enter the German Bundestag (parliament) in six decades.
The rising xenophobia and Islamophobia in the AfD grew worse over the course of 2015, in direct response to Merkel's open-door refugee policy. By December of that year, almost 900,000 migrants, asylum seekers, and newcomers had come into Germany. The AfD capitalized on growing anxiety that the immigrants - especially Muslim immigrants - would fundamentally change German society.
Though the numbers of refugees dropped dramatically in 2016, simmering resentment on the far right in Germany at times turned violent. According to the FUNKE MEDIA GROUP, some 3,500 far-right attacks on refugees and refugee homes were carried out in 2016, leaving hundreds injured. The AfD did particularly well in the former East Germany where there is high unemployment, low paid jobs and poor housing; an ideal ground for racist politics.
The Alternative for Germany (afD) describes German national identity as under threat both from European integration and from the presence and accommodation of immigrants and refugees within Germany. They want the definition of being German to return to heimet (meaning blood related) - a mystical and fictional racial belonging. The AfD claimed that children from immigrant parents might have German passports but they would never be "real" Germans because they lacked that certain German essence - blood (GUARDIAN 19 September 2019).
Of course, nationalism is a fiction along with race. Workers do not have a country. They do not own and control the means of production and distribution. Workers are a subject and exploited class. They have identical interests with immigrants coming into Germany as they do with workers elsewhere in the world.
It is in this climate that Scientists at the University of Jena in eastern Germany have called for the term "race" to no longer be used, saying there is no biological basis for the classification of humanity into races. The scientists said:
The primarily biological justification for defining groups of humans as races - for example based on the colour of their skin or eyes, or the shape of their skulls - has led to the persecution, enslavement and slaughter of millions of people,...However, there is no biological basis for races, and there has never been one. The concept of race is the result of racism, not its prerequisite.
They went on to say:
The linking of features such as skin colour with characteristics or even supposedly Genetically fixed personality traits and behaviours, as was done in the heyday of anthropological racism, has now been soundly refuted. To use such arguments today as seemingly scientific is both wrong and malicious. There is also no scientifically proven connection between intelligence and geographical origin, but there is a clear connection with social background. Here too, racism in the form of exclusion and discrimination creates supposed races.
However, racism continues to exist among people. In the 20th century, racial research, racial science and racial hygiene or eugenics, as seemingly scientific disciplines, were only some of the excesses of racist thinking and action.
The scientists continued:
Scientific research on genetic variations of human beings shows that instead of definable boundaries, genetic gradients run between human groups.To be explicit, not only is there no single gene that underpins 'racial' differences, but there is not even a single base pair.
The President of Jena University, Walter Rosenthal, admits that while simply removing the word 'race' from shared vocabulary will not prevent racism, 'as academics we can help to ensure that racism is no longer able to invoke us as a justification.'
However, to rid society of racism requires a revolutionary change. Scientific evidence can be ignored or 'race scientists' just continue producing their poisonous ideas and beliefs on the internet or at conferences. Scientific practice is not autonomous and neutral but takes place within a class divided society. Darwinism, for example, still has a battle with creationism and 'intelligent design' in many countries like the US and Turkey and political legislation within schools and universities can override scientific facts about the origins of human.
Ruling class ideas are materially grounded within the social system they are produced and disseminated in. Capitalism causes racism, as it does nationalism, and to remove the effects, you have to remove the cause. And to remove the cause it first requires the working class to unite to take democratic and political action to replace capitalism with socialism.