David Cameron is a very wealthy man. He wants more and more wealth. One way for the former prime ministers to get rich, is to become a PR lobbyist for a large corporate entity. As a part-time lobbyist for Greensill Capital, Cameron thought he could use his influence on Government ministers to push the company's interests. Not so. The former prime minister is now facing questions over his failed attempt to secure money from the Treasury to Greensill, which employed him before it went bankrupt.
Who or what is Greensill? Financier Lex Greensill worked as an unpaid advisor to David Cameron when he was prime minister. His job was to advice and construct policies which would see businesses paid by their creditors more quickly. Mr Greensill's specialism was 'supply chain finance' - a service for businesses that needed immediate capital while their bills are waiting to be paid. At one point the company was valued at $7bn (£5bn), with a fleet of four luxury jets.
According to the BBC (31 March 2021), Mr Cameron told friends that he was set to earn as much as £60m from shareholdings in Greensill, where he had worked since 2018. Not bad for a humble part-time employee whose political career had imploded when he lost the Brexit referendum. Easy money?
Unfortunately, it all went wrong. In a bleak financial market, one of Greensill's insurance companies, Tokio Marine, which was insuring $4.6 billion of its working capital, announced to Greensill that it was withdrawing cover that protected some of Greenhill's investors. Then Credit Suisse froze $10 billion in funds that were invested in Greensill's financial products (WALL STREET JOURNAL 22 March 2021). Greenhill could not secure loan protection for companies.
There was collateral damage. Liberty Steel, Britain's third-largest steel producer, employing 3,000 workers, was receiving financial support from Greensill. When Greensill Capital filed for insolvency protection on March 8, 2021, Liberty Steel lost its protective umbrella and now faces bankruptcy and unemployment for thousands of workers. And Mr Cameron will not get his easy money. No £60m. No more flying in private jets. It is back to the caravan in his Oxfordshire garden to contemplate on the vagaries of capitalism.
Cameron's Etonian friend, fellow Bullingdon Club bully and congenital liar (see Peter Orborne, THE ASSAULT ON TRUTH, 2021) and now Prime Minister, Boris Johnson must have looked upon Cameron's potential bonanza of $60m with excitement.
He was paid a mere chicken feed salary of £275,000 a year for articles in the DAILY TELEGRAPH, and now cannot live on a Prime Minister's salary of £158k plus free accommodation. Boris must have looked at what ex-Prime Ministers now earn.
Look at Tony Blair from earning a PM's salary to a multi-millionaire (net worth $60 according to CELEBRITY NET WORTH) who also holds an extensive property portfolio including houses at smart London addresses. The joy of capitalism?In this vein, when Johnson met Tory Backbench MPs he claimed Britain's successful vaccine programme was "because of capitalism, because of greed" (PRIVATE EYE 15 April 2021). For Johnson "greed is good" and he is a very greedy man. He looks at effortless, easy money and wants a cut of the action. Johnson was obviously referring to the film WALL STREET (1987) in which Hollywood's Gordon Gekko (portrayed by actor Michael Douglas) exclaimed "greed is good". Unfortunately for Johnson he did not realise that Gekko was based on the former Wall Street trader, Ivan Boesky. By 1986 Boesky had amassed a fortune of more than US$200 million by betting on corporate takeovers and the $136 million in proceeds from the sale of The Beverley Hills Hotel.
Boesky told business school students in the mid-1980s:
"Greed is all right...you can be greedy and still feel good about yourself".
Months later he was arrested for insider trading. Boesky went to jail, was fined a record $1000m and banned from the stock market for life.
The Rich are Different from us.
The reality of capitalism and class exploitation is not presented to the working class in the media. Trite and inconsequential articles are written purporting to be a description of capitalism and where the capitalist class get their profits from. A typical but equally superficial article found its way into the GUARDIAN (07 October 2020) and was repeated without comment in left wing magazines and web sites.
A report by Swiss bank UBS found that billionaires increased their wealth by more than a quarter (27.5%) at the height of the pandemic crisis from April to July 2020, just as millions of people around the world lost their jobs or were struggling to get by on government schemes.
The world's billionaires "did extremely well" during the coronavirus pandemic, growing their already-huge fortunes to a record high of $10.2tn (£7.8tn)
The report found that billionaires had mostly benefited from betting on the recovery of global stock markets during March and April when they were at their lowest point during the global lockdowns. UBS said billionaires' wealth had hit "a new high, surpassing the previous peak of $8.9tn reached at the end of 2017." The number of billionaires has also hit a new high of 2,189, up from 2,158 in 2017.
Extreme Wealth Concentration
Luke Hilyard, executive director of the High Pay Centre, a think tank that focuses on excessive pay, was also interviewed in the GUARDIAN article. He said:
"...the extreme wealth concentration is an ugly phenomenon from a moral perspective, but it's also economically and socially destructive".
He went on to say:
"Billionaire wealth equates to a fortune almost impossible to spend over multiple lifetimes of absolute luxury... anyone accumulating riches on this scale could easily afford to raise the pay of the employees who generate their wealth, or contribute a great deal more in taxes to support vital public services, while remaining very well rewarded for whatever successes they've achieved". (GUARDIAN 7/10/20)
What is "excessive" pay? It is as meaningless as "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work". And what has morality got to do with capitalism?
The case for socialism does not rest on morality but in the fact that capitalism has outlived its usefulness. Capitalism now holds back the establishment of a society based on abundance and production taking place solely and directly to meet human need.
Capitalists are not in the business of raising wages and paying taxation. They want to make workers labour as hard as possible and for as long as possible to squeeze out the last drop of profit from them. And they pay a fortune to accountants to hide their tax, to create "off-shore accounts" and to lose their wealth somewhere where the Inland Revenue cannot find it.
The only "vital public service" is themselves. It is their system and it is the working class who make their profits.
Where Does Profit Come From?
The wealth of the Billionaires in the GUARDIAN article raises the important question of where Profit comes from. The answer is political not moral. Class exploitation is where the capitalists' profit comes from.
Profit does not derive from the stock exchange. Profit does not come from leverage in financial transactions. Profit does not come from buying cheap and selling dear. And profit does not come from fraud and cheating.
Circulation cannot explain the origin of profits but simply its distribution: if profits derived for one capitalist from exchange, this would net out in aggregate and the nature of profits would still be unexplained. Cheating and gambling are zero sum games; some capitalists gain and others lose out. Again, profits remain unexplained.
To understand where profit comes from, we need to turn to the writings of Marx.
Marx showed that profit does not come from the circulation of commodities but from production. It comes from the difference between necessary labour time and surplus labour time; the difference between the value represented by the wage and the additional value workers create during surplus labour time. Marx called this difference "surplus value".
Surplus value is an important Marxian economic concept which workers need to understand. Surplus value explains to workers how they are exploited. An accessible account is given in the pamphlet, VALUE, PRICE AND PROFITt.
Owning the means of production - the land, natural resources like oil and gas, transport and communication systems, factories, machinery and distribution points - the capitalist class are in a position of economic power. Propertyless, workers are forced to sell their ability to work as a commodity for a wage or salary.
The value of the commodity workers sell to the employer, like that of any commodity, is set by the socially necessary labour time which goes into its production. The value of the wage represents the bundle of necessary commodities the worker and their family need to live on and to reproduce themselves as an exploited class.
If workers are employed for eight hours and take four hours to reproduce the value of their wages, they still have to work a further four hours free for the capitalist class. This "free period" is when surplus value is produced. This additional value Marx called "surplus value". Surplus value is the source of profit.
In VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT Marx gives an example of a spinner working an eight hour day:
"by paying the daily or weekly value of the spinnersâ€™ labouring power the capitalist has acquired the right of using that labouring power the whole day or week. He will, therefore, make him work daily, say twelve hours. Over and above the six hours requires to replace his wages, or the value of his labouring power, he will therefore have to work a further six other hours, which I shall call hours of surplus labour, which surplus labour will realise itself in a surplus value and a surplus produce"
(Part VIII, p. 41 International Publishers 1976).
Surplus value is the key for the exploitation of the working class. You will not read about this concept in articles on billionaires. No scientific inquiry will be made to show where their profit came from.
In the GUARDIAN article we are told that the super-rich were able to benefit from
the crisis because they had "the stomach" to buy more company shares when equity markets around the world were crashing. Global stock markets have since rebounded making up much of the losses.
The shares in some technology companies - which are often owned by billionaires - have risen very sharply.
How much of this wealth is fictitious capital we do not know. Fictitious capital contrasts with what Marx calls "real capital". Real capital is invested in physical means of production and buying the labour power of workers. Capitalists have "money capital" to be used for investment.
Fictitious capital is interest-bearing capital: stocks and bonds that are bought and sold. They have a circulation of their own on the market even though they do not represent real capital to which they could be converted.
The market value of fictitious capital assets (such as stocks and securities) varies according to the expected return or yield of those assets in the future, which Marx felt was only indirectly related to the growth of real production.
In essence, fictitious capital represents "accumulated claims, legal titles, to future production" CAPITAL: Volume 3, Pelican edition, p. 599) and more specifically claims to the income generated by that production.
Fictitious capital comes and goes. It is in the name.
In Chapter 9 of the third volume of CAPITAL, Marx demonstrated that total profits equals total surplus value, that the total price equals total value and the aggregate "price" rate of profit equals the aggregate "value" rate of profit. Not only did these aggregates confirm Marx's law of value but also his theory that all profit has its origin in the exploitation of the working class.
It is no good bemoaning the existence of billionaires under capitalism. They are only doing what is expected of them. Capitalists are only behaving as "rational misers". Capitalists are doing their job by accumulating capital. Capitalists cannot waste all their capital on luxuries although they do lead luxurious life styles. Capitalists have to invest and reinvest capital to remain capitalists.
Here is Marx again:
"To accumulate, is to conquer the world of social wealth, to increase the mass of human beings exploited by him, and thus to extend both the direct and the indirect sway of the capitalist" (CAPITAL Vol. 1 CH. XXIV, p. 592)
"...the development of capitalist production makes it constantly necessary to keep increasing the amount of capital laid out in a given industrial undertaking, and competition makes the immanent laws of capitalist production to be felt by each individual capitalist, as external coercive laws, It compels him to keep constantly extending his capital, in order to preserve it, but extend it he cannot, except by means of progressive accumulation" (CAPITAL volume 1, C. XXIV, p. 592)
"Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!...Accumulate for accumulation's sake, production for production's sake..." (CAPITAL volume 1, Ch. 24, p. 595).
If you do not like capitalism and the power and privilege of the capitalist class, and believe it is not in your class interest to support the profit system and class exploitation, then there is only one alternative open to you. You have to become an active socialist working with other socialists to build up a socialist majority. Only then can we, the working class, be in a position to take democratic and political action to replace capitalism with socialism.
Socialists have no interest in the rivalry of capitalist nations. Nations are in constant competitive struggle with other nations over markets, trade routes, oil and gas reserves, sources of key raw materials, and spheres of strategic interest. Under capitalism, all nation states prepare for war and war is a natural outcome of nationalist and commercial rivalry.
Socialists are drawn into analysing national conflict because governments rely on the working class for support and engagement. The working class are drenched in nationalist propaganda to support wars for 'democracy' and even to join up as members of the armed forces.
Workers have no class interest in these conflicts. Conflicts which materialise with boring frequency. A little while ago the conflict between China and the US and its allies was all the rage. Now it is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Here workers are being told by governments and a servile media to take sides. What workers are not told is the fact that the working class in Russia and Ukraine have identical class interests. They have no interest in war. And they have every interest in capitalism being replaced by socialism.
Workers do not own the means of production and distribution. It is not their gas fields and oil deposits or gas pipelines that are being disputed - they never had any to start with. And whichever side wins a war, the workers are never the winners.
Socialists do not take sides in capitalism's wars. What we do say to workers is that they have no interest in supporting war or killing other workers in the interest of the capitalist class. Class solidarity and becoming socialists is what we say to the working class. Establishing socialism - a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society: that is the only sensible and possible way forward away from never-ending conflicts and wars.
War and Propaganda
Recently CNN news broadcast a report from the Ukraine. It was a very impressive front-line (plus political) report. Yet it was also clever propaganda. CNN's reporter just happened to visit the trenches, reminiscent of the First World War, as part of the Ukrainian President's visit to cheer up his troops, and boost morale. By chance?
It would be interesting to see the correspondence between the governments of Ukraine, the US and CNN news editors to enable CNN journalists with their camera crew to embed themselves in the Presidential entourage.
Kiev and Washington both had a shared political purpose, an agenda. While Ukraine would like to join NATO and so be fully protected by the US and allies with their 'nuclear umbrella', till now it's been left outside the door. Ukraine wants to be considered a sovereign country but there are problems.
Putin maybe correct in describing Ukraine not as a country but merely a territory - Russian media claim that Ukraine's borders have never been clearly defined and registered with the UN. With this ambiguous status, he claims that his invasion is not an invasion. (A legalistic quibble - of course, he once trained as a lawyer.) That would give him 'legal' cover for full-scale annexation, as he's already done in Crimea where elections have been held and passports issued under Russian control, and plans have been made to turn this Black Sea peninsula with its warm climate into a major casino resort.
His real wish is to re-establish Russian rule over the full extent of the post-1945 Soviet empire, as achieved by the late but not lamented Uncle Joe - Stalin, with the compliance of those famous lovers of democracy, Churchill and Roosevelt, all three being signatories to the Yalta Agreement. He already has in Belarus a compliant client state, still trying to operate as a one-party state - as a dictatorship.
Putin saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century regarding Russian interests and prestige.
Rather than "communism" Putin wants an economic capitalist bloc encompassing all former Soviet countries. All very Orwellian - the world cast into three blocs - Russia, China and Europe/US. At least this political and economic rivalry is not referred to as "communism versus capitalism". It is a capitalist conflict just as it was in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Washington under Trump was just what Putin wanted - at best, its priority was to keep out of wars. At worst - its policy was dictated from Moscow. This has all changed with the Presidency of Joe Biden with its more hawkish world view towards Russia which would help explain why CNN - and other Western media channels - found themselves carrying these reports on the build-up of Russian forces from a not very active 'front-line'.
This 'war' has been at a stalemate, stuck in the mud of those trenches, for several years, and nothing much has changed in that time. Why then would senior news executives at CNN have decided suddenly that this is an item of major news?
After all, there were many other live stories they could have covered in detail - e.g. the effects of the long-running war in Yemen, the aftermath of Israel's election and Netanyahu's trial on corruption charges, the effects of Covid in Brazil and other 'Third World' countries, climate change, the power of pseudo-science and religion, and the politics of denialism, and so on.
So why Ukraine? Why now?
Possibly CNN is letting itself be used, not for the first time, as an unofficial channel to signal a change in Washington's policy. President Biden recently imposed further sanctions on Russia for cyber-attacks and interference in US politics, like the 2016 election (GUARDIAN 16 April 2021). These will cause a response, and tensions between Russia and the US will escalate. Already, in April, Russian naval forces and ships are reported to be active in the Black Sea, with over 100,000 troops doing 'exercises' on the East Ukraine border. No doubt the US is responding with naval 'assets' such as aircraft carriers.
What of Ukraine?
Ukraine: its history and language are quite complicated. A simplified version sees it as a country in two halves: Western Ukraine including Kiev is influenced by Europe and is mainly speaking Ukrainian but Eastern Ukraine, including the Donbas with its vast oilfields, plus coalmining and heavy industry, has especially in recent decades become mainly Russian speaking. This is partly due to natural migration - partly due to migration as an outcome of Putin's settlement policy in the area.
There are also minorities such as the Don Cossacks, who are now encouraged by Putin to reassert their ancient culture and form military units - as in the Tsarist regime.
Also, the Crimean Tartars - deported en masse by Stalin but allowed to return decades later by Khrushchev â€“ but now again being discriminated against by Putin, e.g. by not being allowed Russian citizenship and passports, etc.
The Soviet Union tried to wipe out the Ukrainian language, and in the late 20th C Ukrainian dissidents used the language issue as a basis for their nationalism. Many thousands of Ukrainians had sided with Hitler when he invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, and what was once a celebration of the great victory of fascism in Kiev is now a Sunday outing both in praise of Ukrainian nationalism and a reminder of the Holodomor - the Starvation-Death, the genocidal Great Famine Stalin inflicted on the population in 1932-1933.
Language and Nationalism
This part of the history - the language and culture issue - is common to other former colonies, e.g. Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Also East Pakistan when West Pakistan imposed Urdu and banned Bengali as an official language provoking the students' revolt and a war, leading to the founding of Bangladesh. The Tsarist term for Ukraine was 'Little Russia'. And many writers originally from the Ukraine wrote in Russian - e.g. the playwright-novelists Gogol and Bulgakov, both usually only thought of as Russians.
What of the supposed common language between Russia and parts of Ukraine? If you arrive by plane in Kiev, the road signs pointing to the city say "mesto", in Moscow "gorod" - in Russian the word mesto means a place. A Russian would struggle to read any document or piece of literature in Ukrainian, and many Ukrainian speakers might struggle with Russian.
But the two languages are very closely related: along with Belarusian, they form the group known as East Slavonic- cf. West Slavonic (Polish, Czech, Slovak...) and South Slavonic (Bulgarian, Serbo-Croat, Slovenian...). These groupings are not just geographical - they are based on real philological differences.
Economic Interests and War
Whatever may be the case with this 'frozen conflict' and armed forces massing, relations between Russia and Ukraine remain a case largely of business as usual. In fact, the Ukrainian government, despite on-going conflict with Russia, was reported in 2014 to be seeking approval to join the regional economic union between itself, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and a group of other ex-Soviet countries. The Eurasian Economic Union has an integrated single market of 180 million people and a gross domestic product of over international $5 trillion. The EEU has been set up to challenge the EU and with Russia, at its centre, is seen by Putin as the means to reconstruct the borders of the old Soviet Union, with its integrated economy.
Of course, it is right to believe Putin has designs on Ukraine's natural gas pipelines. Russia already supplies gas to Europe. Gas from Russia accounts for about a third of the region's imports, about half of which flows through Ukrainian pipes.
Politically, Russia is determined to keep Ukraine out of NATO and the EU. Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev referred to Ukraine as a sphere of "privileged interests" (NEW YORK TIMES, 31 August 2008). Ukraine's reliance on Russian gas gave Putin the chance to cut this off, in midwinter, some years back, as a crude form of bullying - claiming money was owed him by Kiev.
His puppet Yanukovych was extremely corrupt and got thrown out of power- but lives on in Russia, in hopes of returning. He left behind a vast estate - and a private zoo!
With the problems associated with coal mining and climate change, it is uncertain now if Russia would be very interested in the coal mines of Donbas but in the past this would have been a significant factor in deciding Russian policy.
Another important Ukrainian asset is corn: this region used to be Russia's breadbasket but with its vast wealth from Siberia's oil and gas exports, Russia is now able to afford to import and, with modernised supermarkets, should not now face famines.
It seems the West is reluctant to allow Ukraine to join NATO because of the fact of Russia's nuclear weaponry. The NATO treaty includes an important principle - an attack on any member state will be seen and defended against as an attack on all. That is both a strength and a weakness. If Ukraine was invaded by Putin, this could - and possibly would - be the trigger for all-out WW III.
Both sides know this so any war over Ukraine has to be fought only with 'conventional' weapons - hence those trenches, the images on CNN of Russia tanks being taken by train to the border and a 'war' best known as a "frozen conflict" - a stalemate with no victories, no defeats, quite a lot of casualties but no end in sight.
For the working class, to use a flag to identify your nationality is dangerous. This supposed nationality is used to enlist you into armies, into obeying orders, into waging war against others just like yourself, the only difference being the superficial one of the colour of the uniforms and flags.
They tell you to fight for your country and defend the 'fatherland/motherland', and equip you with expensive weaponry. But state taxes are not paid to pay for the defence of your flat, your modest semi, or even your garden or allotment. So much for the claim that a war is fought to defend your country - there's precious little property owned by workers and their families, as under capitalism the vast majority of land and wealth is owned by a tiny majority of plutocrats and kleptocrats. As a social class, workers of the world need to remember Marx's slogan: "UNITE! - you have nothing to lose but your chains!"
No Country - No Flags
The Tory government wants to drench Britain with nationalist imagery. The union Jack is now to be flown all the time on government buildings.
Robert Jenrick, The Housing, Communities and Local Government, said that the changes would be a "proud reminder of our history and the ties that bind us" (INDEPENDENT 2521).
There is nothing in the Union Jack to be proud of. It is a symbol of war, genocide, death and destruction. A socialist wouldnâ€™t use it to clean the toilet floor. And to prove our point that the capitalist class has its own distinct class interests supported by a servile political class we only have to consider Robert Jenrick when he was Housing Secretary. In January 2020 he unexpectedly overturned civil service advice and granted fast-track planning permission for a £1 billion development in Tower Hamlets, east London.
The move saved the developer, the onetime DAILY EXPRESS owner and pornographer Richard Desmond, £45 million in local taxes in Tower Hamlets one of the poorest boroughs in London. Nothing bound Mr Jenrick and Mr Desmond to the working class. They had no shared history with the poor of Tower Hamlets.
Workers have no country. They do not own and control the means of production and distribution. They do not own the land, the minerals, the trade routes, the transport and communication systems the factories and the distribution networks.
The working class and the capitalist class are only bound together by chains of servility and class exploitation. Capitalists exploit: workers are exploited. This is what binds capitalists to workers.
Furthermore, there is no common history. There is only a history of class struggle. Workers have nothing in common with those who force them onto the labour market and pay them less in wages than the commodities they produce.
Class and class relations existed before the nation state. Throughout history one ruling class or another has attempted to impose its ideas and beliefs onto a subject class. A key idea and belief is that workers should stand behind their ruling class in its periodic quarrels with capitalists elsewhere in the world. As a consequence, capitalism's history is punctuated by war and conflict as workers fight each other for the interests of their respective ruling class.
Nationality is a fiction, a convenient fiction, a lie. Under capitalism there is no collective society with a shared history. To follow the nationalist lie with its flags and symbols is to abrogate the class struggle. The country belongs to the capitalist class not the working class. Capitalists pay taxes to fund the armed services to protect their private ownership of the means of production and distribution.
History for the working class has only one destination. It is this: freedom from nations, nationalism and nationalist symbols like flags and crude, corrupt and facile politicians like Robert Jenrick.
In socialism there will be no Union Jack except those displayed in museums highlighting the iniquity and brutality of Empire with the rogue's gallery of those, like Cecil Rhodes and Winston Churchill, who profited from the genocide and colonisation of other countries.
When socialism is established there will be no union jacks flying from buildings. In fact, world socialism will see no nationalist flags or 'government buildings'. An administration of things rather than government over people, establishes itself within a social system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Instead, socialism will be a world without nations and nationalist symbols. It will be a global system without borders. We will be free to travel the globe without passports, border guards and barbed wire. We will be living in an open and global society, producing useful things directly for each other's use.
We will be celebrating a classless society of free men and women bound together by a common purpose:
"...an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all"
Pandemics And Wages
In capitalism, workers have to sell their ability to work or their 'labour power' to capitalists. Under capitalism labour power is a commodity and just like any other commodity it has a use value to the capitalist and an exchange value in the form of the wage for the worker.
Labour power is a perishable commodity. If it is not sold on a daily, weekly or monthly basis is just disappears. And it is perishable because, if the worker cannot sell their labour power they will perish.
Why are workers forced to enter the labour market and find employment? Simple. Workers do not own and control the means of production and distribution. Workers do not own the land, minerals, the oil and the gas, factories, transport and communication systems, and distribution points. Propertyless, workers are forced to sell their labour power to survive as a subject class.
Workers are also at the mercy of trade cycles. They might be employed one day and due to an economic crisis and trade depression, lose their job the next. Workers find themselves unprofitable to employ.
Throughout capitalism's history there have been many periods of very high unemployment caused by trade depressions.
Workers now face the consequences of the global pandemic crisis. Throughout the world, governments have introduced stringent measures to counter the global Covid-19 pandemic. Workers face a threat to their employment, necessary to pay for rent, mortgages, food, transport and so on.
The British government, for example, introduced two lockdowns and other measures where businesses were forced to close and social movement curtailed. Only essential businesses were to remain open. The government was faced with a virus which threatened disruption of capitalist production through illness and mass deaths in the population and pressures on an inadequately resourced National Health Service which had been subject to cuts for over a decade. The Government also had made no contingencies plans for the likelihood of a viral pandemic.
The drastic repercussions of the lock-down was that millions of workers were put on 'furlough' at 80 per cent of their wages. On 8 May some 8.9 million workers were furloughed but were retained in employment. Mass unemployment with little or no income for workers would have led to civil disorder, rioting and looting. The lockdowns prevented several sectors of the economy from functioning properly, particularly retail, hospitality, holidays, culture and sport. Hundreds of secondary employments, associated with these five sectors of the economy, were also affected.
Some workers, nevertheless, still lost their jobs and were forced to live off what passes for social security which is not a lot. Having to live off reduced wages during the pandemic exposed the inadequacy of capitalism, its severe limitations and the exposure of the working class to significant poverty. Some workers found that they could no longer afford to feed their children.
A shock of unemployment, usually an economic crisis, comes out of the blue. It is a great leveller. It creates unemployment, hardship and unpredictability. The government anticipates that there will be 2.5 m people unemployed in 2021 when the true effect of the pandemic crisis is known. The lives of these workers will be miserable, hard and desperate.
Look at the consequence of the pandemic for members of the working class and their families. Millions of workers already receive mean and basic subsidies to their wages in the form of universal credit, housing or child benefits. Millions of low paid workers live in the gig economy, in precarious jobs and categorised as self employed. They also live in poor housing with few facilities like gardens. Mental health is a severe problem for these workers. Some workers- architects, engineers and so-called 'professionals' - have found themselves facing large pay cuts yet still face financial obligations.
Workers earning high salaries have found themselves competing for jobs at a fraction of their original salary. Airline pilots have been particularly hard hit by unemployment. One pilot was interviewed by the BBC News who had been earning £80k a year but, following being made unemployed, was now earning a few hundred pounds a month flying a commercial drone. Many workers who had been contributing surplus products to food banks now found themselves using the self-same facilities themselves. Other had to rely on charity and the support of friends and family. Under ordinary conditions being a worker on a wage or salary is hard. Under the global pandemic the wages system has shown how universally hard and unremitting capitalism really is for the working class.
Covid-19 has created economic upheaval. When employed workers who are in work they are ruthlessly exploited and when unemployed they are on their own until they find employment again. Unemployment is worrying, unpleasant and humiliating. Mental health issues have increased along with social problems like violence, drug abuse and loneliness.
At the turn of 2020 no one, outside some rarefied scientific circles, expected a global pandemic. It spread fast and the implications for those forced to live on a wage or salary devastating. Although there have been other pandemics in capitalism, this is the first global pandemic causing economic and health problems on a world-wide scale. While capitalism exists it will not be the last.
The profit from deforestation and wild animal markets is too great to be affected by reforms. The rapacious drive for profits by capitalist companies in fossil fuel exploration, timber logging, mining and urban expansion without regard for nature, created the conditions for the emergence of a succession of pathogens deadly to the human body to which it lacked immunity. Under capitalism these destructive trends will continue.
The problem facing workers is not the pandemic as such but needing employment and the capitalist social system in which employment takes place. Workers are at a major disadvantage by being dependent on wages and having to seek employment. This does not have to be the case.
World socialism and the framework of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society would meet the threat of any global pandemic in a more rational, planned and comprehensive way than any programme advanced by capitalism and its politicians, Labour or Tory. Socialism would not be guided by the interests of employers' needs and their exploitative social system.
In socialism there would not be a threadbare and underfunded health service. There would be capacity to meet the health requirements necessary to treat pandemics.
There would be global co-operation for finding vaccines without the interference of national boundaries and profit of pharmaceuticals getting in the way.
Planning for pandemics would exist as a matter of course as would the specialism required to formulate and dispense vaccines. Workers would not be in fear of losing jobs and forced to use food banks because socialist production and distribution would be taking place, purely and solely for human use. Production for direct social use would prevail throughout the world. The market cannot do this, neither can fragmented governments whose first priority has to be the interests of capitalism and the capitalist class.
Marx at 200: Understanding Capitalism and Where It Is Going
What is a capitalist economy? There are various competing conceptions of what constitutes a capitalist economy. The most common conception sees commodity production and exchange for profit as a benign and harmonious process, leading to greater and greater growth. More so, if the market is left alone by governments and is regulated as little as possible. Capitalism is said to last forever as is no viable alternative.
A Marxian understanding of the economy could not be more different from capitalist economics taught in university departments. Marx does not offer a text book on economics for governments to run the economy better than competing theories. A politician thinking that opening the pages of CAPITAL will give them an insight, better to run capitalism, will be disappointed.
Marx's critique of political economy, its practitioners, and economic categories like the commodity, capital and money, is unique in having very little in common with economics as it is taught in universities. Fundamentally, for Marx, capitalism was not a harmonious social system but brittle, insecure, contradictory, irrational and prone to abnormal movements leading to 'so many possibilities of crises' (CAPITAL, Volume II p. 499).
Capitalism, for Marx, is anarchic and unplanned. The profit system can never be run in the interest of all society let alone generate economic policies to iron out its contradictions. Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' representing a 'spontaneous market order' in economic text books, is waved through the air by a market anarchist standing adrift of a world of market destruction, bankruptcy and unemployment.
Unlike economists who look at capitalism as a 'natural' institution with no history and historical movement, for Marx the profit system is a mode of production; a class system like Feudalism and chattel slavery which preceded it. Capitalism is located within human history with a beginning and an end in class struggle.
In his study of capitalism, Marx applied an interrelated theory of history, a political concept of class struggle and theory of value to his study of capitalism. Capitalism had an origin in the class struggle between Feudal monarchs and an emerging capitalist class. Capitalism took time to establish as a world economic system.
Capitalism's emergence from Feudalism took place through the imposition of enclosures to common land, the eviction of peasants off the land into new emerging cities which were concentrations of the new industrial commodity production. Slavery, imperialism, use of child labour, pillage and war. This violence was necessary in order to accumulate capital. Primitive capital working with new forms of technology particularly the steam engine, and political representation through revolution, allowed the capitalist class to exercise itself as a class in its own right. Capitalism stood on its own two feet once productive capital dominated the economy and had access to the pool of labour power which could be secured in labour markets to be bought and exploited.
Capitalism is a world economy but it is split into competing nation states each with a coercive state and machinery of government, including the police and armed forces. Conflict and war are the natural outcome of capitalist trade; the protection of trade routes, establishing points of strategic importance and ensuring the supply of oil, gas and minerals. Marx emphasised the importance within the economy of class, class relations, opposing class interests and class conflict. Class was defined in an objective way with respect to the ownership or non-ownership of the means of production and distribution.
Marx's Theory of Value and Surplus Value
The Classical School, like Marx, used a theory of value. However, unlike classical economists such as David Ricardo (ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION, 1817), Marx applied the labour theory of value to labour itself. And this holds true whether the worker sells their labour power to an individual capitalist, the state or the papacy.
Labour was exploited because the worker is paid the value of his labour power and the employer gets the use value of this labour power. Employers use this labour power with machinery and materials to produce commodities for sale on the market. Marx showed the origin and nature of profits resulted from production, not circulation. Circulation could not explain the origin of profits, but simply its distribution.
In a capitalist economy, a minority capitalist class owned the means of production to the exclusion of the working class majority. Workers were forced onto the labour market and rationed by the wages system. Workers did not control what was produced or for whom. Workers were denied direct access to what they and their families needed to live worthwhile lives and to flourish as human beings. Central to the capitalist economy was class exploitation and the class struggle over the intensity and extent of exploitation.
Most of Volume I of CAPITAL looks at the extraction of surplus value from the working class. The origin, nature and distribution of surplus value play an important role in Marx's analysis of capitalism.
Capitalists and workers meet on apparent equal terms on the labour market in which the workers sell their labour power or ability to work as a commodity.
The capitalists pay the workers according to the value of their labour power. The value of labour power is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in the commodity, labour power, which is the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in the commodities the working class and their families must consume to reproduce themselves as an exploited class.
The capitalists pay according to the exchange value but obtain the use value of the labour power.
Marx showed in great detail, that the commodity labour power creates value - a surplus value - in excess of its own value.
From developing "surplus value", Marx captures theoretically the capitalist economy as a whole in his three volume of CAPITAL. In book one, Marx looks at Commodity Production. In book 2, he studies the Process of Circulation of Capital and in book 3 he lays out the process of capitalist production as a whole.
Three conclusions follow:
* Total profit equals total surplus value
* Total price equals total value
* The aggregate "price" rate of profit equals the aggregate "value" rate of profit. Capitalism, like all proceeding social systems, is based on class and class relations. Capitalism is a system of class exploitation.
The Ultimate Aim in Writing Capital
What was Marx's ultimate aim in writing CAPITAL? Marx said that the ultimate aim of CAPITAL was - "to reveal the economic law of motion of modern society (Preface, p. 92).
Marx revealed the economic laws of motion but where was this motion going? Is it a social system going on and on forever into the future from one crisis to the next, from one war to the next? This is a very pessimistic reading. We do not want to live our lives in the southeast corner of the Hundred Acre Wood, in an area labelled "Eeyore's Gloomy Place: Rather Boggy and Sad".
A more optimistic reading of CAPITAL, with a glass half-full, would understand that Capitalism's economic laws of motion were based upon the exploitation of the working class. Capitalism is based on the extraction of surplus value and its reinvestment. Remove the working class from the production and circulation of commodities and there is no longer "economic laws of motion". Without the exploitation of the working class capitalism cannot exist. Post-capitalism there is a society of workers free from capital. Workers free to organise society to meet human need not in the making of profit and capital accumulation. There is an alternative to capitalism. There is a socialist alternative.
The writing of CAPITAL was not an academic exercise. It was a revolutionary and political attempt to explain the workings of the capitalist economy to the working class as a whole, not just to students in university seminars. Marx wanted to examine and explain the forces within capitalism which would lead to socialism. Here is a positive and optimistic passage:
"Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated."
(Chapter 32 HISTORICAL TENDENCY OF CAPITALSI ACCUMULATION p.929 ).
Marx also wanted workers to be aware of the barriers which prevent capitalism from being understood. The first barrier to understanding capitalism was set out in the first volume of CAPITAL under the heading "The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret" (Chapter 1 pp 163-177) which Marx developed over the three volumes of CAPITAL as he moved from the commodity to capital to interest bearing capital. The second barrier was explained, in the third volume of CAPITAL, under the heading, "The Trinity Formula" in which Marx showed that the economic trinity of capital, labour and land completed "the mystification of the capitalist mode of production".
"In capital - profit, or still better capital - interest, land - rent, labour - wages, in this economic trinity represented as the connection between the component parts of value and wealth in general and its sources, we have the complete mystification of the capitalist mode of production, the conversion of social relations into things, the direct coalescence of the material production relations with their historical and social determination.
It is an enchanted, perverted, topsy-turvy world, in which Monsieur le Capital and Madame la Terre do their ghost-walking as social characters and at the same time directly as mere thing." (p. 969).
The theoretical tools found in CAPITAL enable workers to understand capitalism and to overcome 'fetish' and 'mystification'. CAPITAL shows the illusions of the economy and what economic categories like the commodity, money and capital, really are - social relations appearing as things.
As Marx put it: a commodity
"...is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things" (p. 165).
Fetishism for Marx
"...attaches itself to the products of labour, as soon as they are produced as commodities"
As commodities, different forms of human labour become exchangeable for each other as values. Commodity fetishism is specific to capitalism. Marx writes:
"The whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour as long as they take the form of commodities, vanishes, therefore, so soon as we come to other forms of production".
And one of Marx's illustrations was a socialist society. In a 'community of free individuals' who carry on their work with the means of production in common, 'and expending their many different forms of labour-power in full awareness as one single social labour force' (p.171) commodity fetishism no longer exists. Social labour becomes transparent; the expenditure of work is no longer a commodity.
As a consequence, capitalism's economic laws are not immutable, omnipresent and eternal. Economic categories like the commodity, money, and capital are social relationships which can be abolished and replaced with socialist relationships - free, voluntary and social labour producing goods and services directly to meet human need. The economic categories of capitalism can be abolished. And the political force, capable of abolishing capitalism, Marx showed, was located deep within the capitalist economy; the worldâ€™s working class.
This lecture was given on 14th October 2014 at the Lord John Russell, Marchmont Street.
Capitalism's Environmental Crisis (5 of 5)
Article 5: Does Population Matter?
What about overpopulation and its effect on the environment? Some environmentalists claim that there are too many people on this planet, and that governments should do something about it. They believe that only by radically reducing the world's population can environmental problems be resolved with less pressure on food production and habitation. The argument seems eminently sensible, almost common sense.
Socialists reject the 'overpopulation' argument and argue that 'overpopulation' is not the primary cause of climate change. Population is not the problem. What is the problem is the capitalist social system we live under with its drive for profit and capital accumulation. Capitalism causes pollution, hunger, starvation, ill-health and an inhospitable social and natural environment. Its never-ceasing quest for economic growth has been a major driver of runaway population growth in the last few centuries.
There are two prongs to our criticism of the 'overpopulation' argument. First, the argument allows governments to impose demographic controls, construct barbed wire and concrete walls along frontiers with border guards and refugee camps, and to enact anti-immigration policies in an attempt to bring population levels down. Second, by singling out population growth as the primary cause of the climate crisis advocates of population control completely ignore capitalism, thereby avoiding any blame being attached to the profit system. Capitalism gets off scot-free.
Malthus and the overpopulation argument
Throughout its history the overpopulation argument has been used to present the working class and targeted particular scapegoated groups within the working class as the source of inherently social problems: letting capitalism off the hook. The argument always goes like this: there are too many of us and the planet can't cope with the numbers. Whether it's the poor, the Jews, working class women, peasants in the India sub-continent, or migrants, all have been used strategically as scapegoats to be blamed for the irrational limitations imposed on use of resources and production within a capitalist economy.
Hunger and even starvation and famine are by-products of the capitalist system where food is produced as a commodity to be sold on the market with a view to profit. The starving people of the world do not constitute a market as they cannot pay for the food they need. So they are left to starve. The problem is not the starving millions but capitalism, a system of production for profit with rationing by the purse. One of the most prominent writers on over-population was Thomas Malthus, a late 18th century cleric of the Church of England. In this period, there was a growth in towns and cities, and working people were being forced off the land with scores of enclosure acts and the loss of commons, the "poor man's overcoat".
In 1798 Malthus published the first of a series of essays entitled ESSAY ON THE PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION AS IT AFFECTS THE FUTURE IMPROVEMENT OF SOCIETY, arguing that population growth would always outgrow the available food supply. Malthus stated that whilst population increased at a geometrical rate (1, 2, 4, 8, 16...), doubling every 25 years, food production increases at an arithmetical rate (1, 2, 3, 4, 5...).
Malthus believed this disparity between food production and population growth was the root cause of "checks to (human) growth" such as war, famine and disease. Malthus argued that there should be no relief for the hungry, but instead the poor should be forcibly removed from the land into the cities. In the 1803 edition he singled out illegitimate children for special censure. He wrote:
"With regard to illegitimate children...they should on no account whatever be allowed to have any claim to parish allowance...the infant is, comparatively speaking of no value to society, as others will immediately supply its place."
(Second Essay, Vol. 2 p 14, quoted in J. B. Foster Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Nature, p. 99)
The strong strand of prejudice within Malthus' work, however, often goes unacknowledged by neo-Malthusians. He saw poverty as deserved and blamed the poor for their "lack of moral restraint" thus making them the primary focus of population policy, which was, in his day, the Poor Law Act of 1830 with the invention of the workhouses, the stigmatising of the pauperism - casting a long shadow, even now!
However, there was a flaw in Malthus's simplistic argument. Its assumption that nothing can be done to improve soil fertility and crop productivity omits any possibility of science or even common sense. Plus, there is a strong argument that poverty and hunger are associated with higher numbers of children. Where there is less inequality, family sizes tend to be smaller.
The inherent conservatism and class prejudice hidden behind a veneer of scientific objectivity has made Malthus a popular source of intellectual legitimacy for various conservative and authoritarian positions. For here is Boris Johnson writing in the SPECTATOR in 1995 attacking single mothers citing their "desire to procreate independently of men", claiming they chose to have babies in order to "have a little creature to love in their monotonous and depressing lives" (INDEPENDENT 30th November 2019). It is not known how many little Johnson's there are and neither, it appears, does the father.
In the late 19th century eugenicists began utilising and expanding on Malthus's critique of the rapid population growth of the poor. Eugenicists argued that this lack of restraint was genetically inherited and posed a threat to the future of the nation.
A prominent eugenicist, and hero of Boris Johnson, was Winston Churchill who unsuccessfully tried to pass sterilisation laws to stop the mentally deficient from breeding.
Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, was welcomed as vice-president at the first International Eugenics Congress in 1912. Fabians were also enthusiastic eugenicists as were the economist J. M. Keynes and the father of the "welfare state", Lord Beveridge. Once again systemic problems of a capitalist economy were projected upon the very people most negatively affected by them. Another notable and influential eugenicist was Julian Huxley (see SUPERIOR: THE RETURN OF RACE SCIENCE, A. Saini 2019).
Malthus overlooked that it was not just a question of the number of people and the food supply but that the productivity of machines should also be taken into account. He totally overlooked the possibility of increasing food output by improving land fertility. Even in his time farmers had found the use of crushed-up bones did improve soil fertility, e.g. skeletons from battlefields were imported for farmers. The dead of Waterloo were still used as commodities. Their teeth were used for dentures and their bones, rich in calcium, sent to Hull then on to bone-grinders in Doncaster for soil fertiliser. As the OBSERVER noted at the time:
"...the good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread" (History extra.com)
Beginning with the agricultural revolution, technical development increased social productivity so more food was provided for the increasing population and this still remains the case. Is there's already enough food grown on farms to feed 10 billion people? Yes, potentially enough food for 2.5 billion humans more than currently exists. The problem is capitalism with its price and money mechanism associated with commodity production and exchange for profit. This will not be a problem for a socialist society where there will be no artificial boundaries and private ownership of the means of production and distribution.
So is there an overpopulation problem? What are the facts? The UN projects that world population figures will increase from today's 7.8 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050. The UK has been singled out as facing a severe demographic problem. Government projections are that the UK population is set to rise from 66.4 million in 2018 to 70 million by mid 2031 (GUARDIAN 21 October 2019).
The demographic modelling of population movement rests on a number of unquestioned political assumptions - like the acceptance of the nation state, the market, private property ownership including land, class relations, and capitalism in general. In other words, it respects the status quo. Nevertheless, there is likely to be an increase in the size of the population. Is this a problem?
Whatever the assumption of the future size of the population; government agencies, international organizations, and environmental think tanks conclude the planet has too many human beings and cannot accommodate anymore. They argue that, if unchecked, any such densely populated area such as the UK, would become unsustainable in terms of food production, housing and energy needs.
This has led to a reactionary politics of migration, where immigrants are blamed for the increase in the size of the population and the social problems migrants supposedly cause. Those opposing migration put forward three arguments. First, immigration puts pressure on national resources such as water, energy, food and the countryside. Second, new migrants tend to have more children than the national population thereby accelerating the problem of overpopulation. Third, migration to Europe turns previously low-impact consumers to high-impact consumers increasing their ecological and carbon footprints.
Socialists have decisively attacked these arguments on all three points. On the first, we have demonstrated that poverty has more to do with the expropriation of the producers from the means of production than with any natural scarcity. Drought, flooding and civil war generated by the environmental and social failure of capitalism are three principal features for the cause of migration. We have demonstrated that what constitutes over-population depends as much on the social relations and techniques of production as on natural factors.
On the second point, we demonstrate that reproduction, like the rest of human nature, is not predetermined, and humans can and do regulate their reproduction in accordance with social and natural conditions when other social factors (including the subjugation of women) do not prevent them from doing so.
Finally, we have demonstrated that a very different conclusion follows from Malthus's argument than the one he made. Socialists argue that only a socialist/communist society could establish the democratic conditions in which humanity can consciously regulate its numbers through social production taking place solely to meet human need.
Does Population Matter?
Neo-Malthusianism became very popular again in the 1960s with the publication of Paul Ehrlich's 1968 book THE POPULATION BOMB with his proposals for taxes on baby nappies and children, covert sterilization of the public through drinking water, and even spiking foreign food aid with anti-fertility drugs.
It also led to the Indian government introducing sterilization laws against the urban and rural poor. This policy of ruling class overindulgence and enforced contraception for countries like India was satirically sent-up in Tom Shape's 1974 novel, PORTERHOUSE BLUE.
Ehrlich was a scientist at Stamford University in the United States. His book became a talking-point with apocalyptic predictions about overpopulation. He predicted that overpopulation would end the world. However, we can make enough food for the entire world to eat well. The problem is capitalism, which stands in the way of people having enough to eat now.
Malthus and Ehrlich have their 21st century followers using the global warming crisis to push their agenda for a smaller world population. A leading environmentalist, Jonathan Porritt, president of Population Matters, formerly The Optimum Population Trust, argues in the same vein as Thomas Malthus who was one of the first to link population growth to poverty.
Porritt said, "Our population has become so large that the Earth cannot cope" and "England is the most overcrowded large nation in the EU" (see https://population matters.org).
Porritt has stated that population growth is a serious threat to the global environment and that family planning, including both birth control and abortion, is a part of the answer to global warming (DAILY EXPRESS. 2 February 2009). Porritt has also praised China for its 'one child family' policy (The GUARDIAN 30 June 2017). He urged that two children per family was the limit and it is no coincidence that the Tory Government framed its new benefits policy around two child families.
Blaming the poor for having too many children goes right back to The Reverend Thomas Malthus. Malthus, like those who have accepted his argument, failed to explain why it is that in every country a privileged minority has managed to escape the curse of poverty. Why is food, housing and health not a problem for the rich? Simply, because the capitalist class own the means of production and distribution to the exclusion of everybody else.
David Attenborough is also a patron of Population Matters. He described humans as a 'plague on Earth', and went on record in calling for the governments of the world to stop sending food aid to starving nations in order to reduce the population of the world (DAILY TELEGRAPH 18 September 2013). He never places environmental problems within the context of capitalism. He never censures the profit motive and the obsession with capital accumulation.
Another patron of Population Matters is James Lovelock. Lovelock recently called for the ending of freedom to have children. He wanted the formation of an overriding global power made up of "a few people of authority" to oversee the radical stemming of the planet's human population in order to combat climate change (Guardian 29 May 2010). You will not find Lovelock criticising capitalism or the capitalist class.
More recently, the late Stephen Hawking saw the increase in the world's population as the source of the problems we are facing today (INDEPENDENT 28 June 2016). On capitalism he did not say a word.
The language used by neo-Malthusians is much more guarded than it was a decade ago. Phrases such as "plague" and "sterilisation" are no longer used. They now suggest family sizes of no more than two children, preferably one and maybe none. They still hold the belief that population control is one of the most important steps to take to lessen the impact of the human species on the environment.
Nothing is ever said about capitalism, competition, growth and profit. It is capitalism that causes the social and economic problems we face. The neo-Malthusians do not accept this. They blame the human species; the poor for having too many children and for human beings acting like locusts for degrading the planet. Neo-misanthropes would be a better phrase to describe them and their overpopulation theory which blames human beings not capitalism.
Porritt's suggestion is also for governments to pursue zero net immigration (DAILY TELEGRAPH 6th June 2008). This has fed through into mainstream politics. David Cameron, when he was Prime Minister, also agreed that rapid population increase will put pressure on the UK's natural resources. And again, his solution was to lower net immigration. He said in a speech on population:
"My focus today is on population, and here we should note that only around thirty per cent of the projected increase in our population by 2031 is due to higher birth rates and longer life-spans...the evidence shows that roughly seventy per cent - more than two thirds - of the increase in our population each year is attributable to net migration. Of that increase, forty seven per cent comes directly from people to moving to Britain, and the rest from higher birth rates amongst immigrant populations."
Theresa May followed Cameron, first as Home secretary then as Prime Minister, with the pursuit of her tough immigration policies which came to a head with the Windrush scandal. Anti-immigration sentiment was also at the heart of much working class support for Brexit where many workers erroneously believed immigration was a threat to jobs, health care, wages housing and social infrastructure.
To be able to refute these arguments means looking at the question from a socialist position of overpopulation in relation to capitalism and a class divided society in which the means of production and distribution are owned by a minority capitalist class to the exclusion of the working class majority. Environmentalists cannot do this. They cannot think outside the capitalist box.
And in any case the world fertility rate is falling not increasing. A recent report in the Lancet found global fertility rate falls meant nearly half of countries were now facing a "baby bust" - meaning there are insufficient children to maintain their population size (BBC NEWS 9 November 2018).
The fallacy of Neo-Malthusianism
The central fallacy committed by those who adopt Malthus to the 21st century is their failure to recognise capitalism as a social system of class exploitation and the cause of social, economic and environmental problems. Instead of focussing on capitalism, environmentalists focus their attention on population growth and the poor.
Poverty, however, is produced not bred, and blaming vulnerable social groups within the working class like immigrants or the poor, helps both to make such groups legitimate targets of attack and to protect capitalism from criticism.
We should be criticising capitalism, not children and families, not the poor and the disadvantaged. In a world where children are killed over oil and exploited at the hands of multi-national corporations it isn't surprising that children, along with other groups within the working class, are blamed by their very existence for capitalism's problems.
Capitalism is the problem and the solution is its abolition and replacement with socialism - the solution. The 'overpopulation' argument ignores the contradictions inherent in capitalism that there is deliberate scarcity and where production is for the market and profit, not in meeting people's needs.
The question which should be addressed is how human society can be arranged to allow sufficient food to be produced and distributed among the worldâ€™s population. Socialists hold that the only social system which will ensure this, is one in which wealth is produced solely to meet human needs on the basis of the common ownership of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Instead of acknowledging the unprecedented global disasters associated with commodity production and exchange for profit, the 'overpopulation' argument asks not for a new form of social organisation but instead takes the shameful and hopeless route of suggesting workers have fewer children and to contain migrants and even refugees in concentration camps in Libya, Niger and the Sudan (K. Malik, When Refugees in Libya are being starved, Europe's plan is working, OBSERVER, 1 December 2019).
Poverty is not the natural and inevitable condition of the human species. We can abolish poverty. Increases in population are no barrier to the establishment of socialism. Socialist society will use the Earth's resources rationally to ensure every man, woman and child are suitably fed, clothed and sheltered. Capitalism has shown it cannot do this - it does not exist for this purpose.
(See: An essay on 'Marx and Malthus' was published in Socialist Studies 111 and Socialist Studies 112 which can be read on the Socialist Studies Web Site.
Racism & The Windrush Scandal
As Socialists, the SPGB has been uniquely consistent in its clear opposition to all forms of racism. Throughout the turbulent 20th century, this party alone has maintained its hostility to all ideologies used to divide the working class. Our appeal is to the working class "as a whole - without distinction of race or sex". Only when the workers come to recognise that their interests as a class are diametrically opposed to those of the international capitalist class will they be able to organise themselves effectively to overthrow this global class system resting on their exploitation.
There are very practical reasons for all socialists to be opposed to racism. Like religion and nationalism, it is divisive. It can be used to justify wars and pogroms, can lead to official discrimination, apartheid, and even genocide, as under the Nazis or 'ethnic cleansing' as in Yugoslavia.
The wrongs and injustices of past generations continue to plague the modern world, and racist ideologies and prejudices persist.
Immigration and racism in Britain had a long history. Post-war British governments from the late 1940s had a problem - a labour shortage. That was a period when an unqualified worker could just walk into a job, with no experience, references or CV, while a qualified skilled worker could practically name their terms. If nothing suitable was on offer, British workers were also being encouraged to emigrate to Australia, Canada or South Africa. The new NHS was desperately short of nurses. London Transport could not recruit English workers to work for low wages on unpopular night-time shifts. Many factories and coal mines found it was hard to recruit from the local workforce.
So civil servants were sent to the West Indies to recruit workers to come to the "mother country". They selected from the brightest and the best, who duly arrived on chartered ships like the Empire Windrush, some with letters of invitation from Winston Churchill, and the Health Minister, Enoch Powell, and expecting to be warmly welcomed. Instead, they were treated with hostility and contempt, discriminated against in jobs, in housing and even in pubs, cafes and restaurants.
By the mid-1950s, white racism was on the rise. In summer 1957, the Notting Hill race riots made headlines when gangs of white racists went into North Paddington to violently attack West Indians who rented cheap rooms in that rundown slum area. (It has since been demolished and the shell of the burnt-out Grenfell Tower stands in a Kensington council estate built in that area.) There were race riots in Nottingham and other places too. The next year, the fascist Union Movement's leader, Oswald Mosley, stood for election in the Notting Hill area, unsuccessfully.
In 1962, the Tory government brought in the first Immigration Act - an attempt to limit the number of immigrants from the 'new Commonwealth'.
That distinction between the white 'old Commonwealth' and the non-white 'new Commonwealth' immigrants was obviously racist. There were no restrictions on the numbers of Australians or Canadians choosing to come to Britain, but evidently the government, like the racists, saw black and brown immigrants, with their calypso music and curry eating, as a threat to "the entire British way of life".
In the 1960s there was a racial division of labour: a factory shop floor supervisor - white; a sweeper-up - black; a London bus-driver - white; a lower-paid conductor - black. Always the elite, higher-paid jobs were reserved for the whites, the worst and lowest paid jobs for the 'coloureds': a system which for a long time the British trade unions and the Labour Party supported.
The divisive politics of racism became even more overt. In the 1964 Smethwick by-election, the Tory candidate won a safe Labour seat by openly "playing the race card". In 1968 Enoch Powell made his infamous "rivers of blood" speech in nearby Birmingham, hyping up the rhetoric of paranoid racism. Though Powell was sacked from his front bench job, he clearly had support among many workers, with a march of about 1000 dockworkers and a strike by 500 Billingsgate porters expressing support for his views. Trade unions and the Labour Party feared to confront this attitude and avoided the issue of racism. But some on the Left took up the anti-racism cause, especially in groups like the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Anti-Nazi League, which mainly focussed on apartheid South Africa or confronting the 'fascist' National Front.
In the early 1970s new laws came in, newly defining the status of immigrants, but not apparently requiring them to register or apply for UK citizenship. Those that needed a passport continued to use passports they had arrived on - Jamaican, Pakistani, Indian, Nigerian etc. though some did apply and get themselves British passports. A Race Relations Act was brought in to try to stop the blatant discrimination, common among estate agents and landlords, employers, etc. The outraged racists with full backing from the gutter press sneered at the notion of being "politically correct" and jeered at the "PC-brigade" and the "race relations industry", much as today's Brexiteers sneer at the 'Remoaners'.
Over the decades a series of extreme racist and rightwing, even neo-Nazi, parties and groups came into being, including the National Front demanding "the compulsory repatriation of all non racially compatible immigrants and their dependents and descendants".
Members of that party often denied that they personally were racist or prejudiced but they were also among the first to question and deny the Nazi genocidal Holocaust. Coincidentally there were numerous cases of arson and murder, usually attacking Pakistani shopkeepers and their families.
Perish the thought that any nice British government would be racist or pass racist laws! But how else can one explain the never-ending series of Immigration Acts passed by a series of governments? From 1962, that first step on the road was followed by 14 or more other Acts, 3-4 in each decade, culminating in May's 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts. These draconian laws now force landlords to bar supposed 'illegals' from renting, stop people having bank accounts or driving licenses, and also makes the NHS charge patients. As employers can be fined heavily for having these people on the payroll, the victims soon become jobless and are also barred from any state benefits. Teenagers are unable to take their exams. Students cannot continue at university. Pensioners cannot get lifesaving NHS treatment. Families cannot unite, even for weddings and funerals. And legal aid is not available to help victims challenge the arbitrary Home Office rulings.
In this nightmare of a Kafka twilight existence - sans job, sans home, sans passport, sans health care, sans law - the victim can expect the Border Agency 'enforcers' to arrive with police support, under the policy of "detain and deport". He or she may be held for weeks at the infamous, secretive Yarl's Wood Detention Centre, then taken to Heathrow and even "deported in error".
The Legacy of Slavery and Empire
A Labour MP, David Lammy argued that, to understand this institutional racism, you had to recognize how the British Empire had been founded on slavery: how for centuries generations of Africans were seized, transported and sold into slavery for the plantations of the West Indies and North and South America, and how this slavery system had enriched the British economy - cheap cotton gave the kick-start to the Industrial Revolution. True but he did not explain that this persistent problem is exacerbated by the divisive nature of capitalism.
As generations of white British soldiers, policemen and administrators continued to keep the 'natives' in their place, the legacy of this evil empire taught generations of children that to be born white was to be superior, while to be 'coloured' was the mark of an uncivilised, inferior being. It was this tradition which found its voice in Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" rhetoric, in Mosley's Fascist Union Movement, the National Front, and the Brexiteers, UKIP, the English Defence League etc.
Playing on this divisive issue was common ground for all the parties. For decades Tory governments refused to oppose South African apartheid. Labour's Gordon Brown spoke of "British jobs for British workers", blatantly exploiting this racist culture. The Labour Party never dared to challenge and oppose the rhetoric of THE SUN and the Rothermere press: they still fear foul-mouthed attacks from the influential racist and xenophobic propaganda of the infamous, powerful, mass media.
Socialists and Racism
Long ago, the SPGB published several important pamphlets on this question. In 1942 the wartime issue of QUESTIONS OF THE DAY had a chapter Socialism and Racial Theories. In 1947 a new pamphlet THE RACIAL PROBLEM covered the question of defining 'race', mistaken and misleading race theories (past and present), with chapters on anti-Semitism and Zionism, on race-prejudice in the US, Africa and the West Indies, and on the dangers of race-prejudice. A later pamphlet: 'The Problem of Racism' (1966) added more with a chapter on The Colour Question in Britain.
Socialists like scientists argue there is no such thing as a pure 'race'. It is well known that modern humans are descended from all sorts as, from prehistoric times, humankind has travelled and migrated extensively, and no modern scientist could explain any racial divisions just by skin colour or other physical features. Even Jews who all claim descent from Abraham have a variety of physical types. Nor can 'race' be established by language or culture, for much the same reasons. "All forms of race prejudice are based on ignorance, without the slightest scientific justification".
(Preface - The Problem of Racism, SPGB, 1966).
These pamphlets also explained how it is that capitalism fosters race-prejudice
"Capitalism is a competitive system which sets people against each other in the struggle for a living..... There is no telling what capitalism is doing to people both physically and mentally. Under capitalism people are always insecure and their hopes continually frustrated. In these conditions demagogues find little difficulty in attracting following by blaming the insecurities and frustrations of capitalism on some conspicuous minority."
(The Problem of Racism 1966, p48)
In the Preface to the 1947 pamphlet, the Party argued:
The Socialist Party of Great Britain recognises only one fundamental social division in the modern world - the division that exists between the capitalist class on the one hand, and the working-class on the other. All other divisions, whether they be based on religion, nationality, language or 'race' are incidental to this main division.... The interests of all members of the working-class, whatever the 'race' to which they belong, are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the members of the capitalist class irrespective of the race to which the members of the latter class belong.
The class division cuts directly across all others.
We say, further, that it is essential to remember that the race problem is but one of many social problems that spring directly from the contradictions of capitalist society itself...
Only as the workers of the world understand their position under capitalism; only to the extent that they absorb socialist knowledge, will they cease to be a prey to the hatreds and prejudices arising from fantastic notions of 'race' .
In the final chapter of that pamphlet, the Socialist case is put clearly and emphatically:
The root cause of modern race-prejudice is the capitalist system of Society, a system of competition and struggle... For the working-class ... it is a society of poverty and insecurity... a lifetime of constant heartbreaking effort to earn a living... From the cradle to the grave they are subjected to a mass of propaganda which deadens their minds, works on their prejudices, and endeavours by every means possible to turn their thoughts away from the real cause of their troubles. They are the tools of political leaders and demagogues who make them promises they do not keep. Disappointed, they exchange one set of political leaders for another... They become disillusioned, bitter, and cynical, fair game for dictators and 'strong men', who promise to lead them to a 'promised land... All the time they are experiencing unemployment, poverty, insecurity, competition for jobs, struggles to 'rise up the ladder'... For the working-class, Capitalism is a society of mental, social, and economic frustration: as such it breeds race-prejudice as a swamp breeds pestilence.
Today, in the age of Brexit and Trump, with a modern breed of dictators - e.g. China's Xi, Turkey's Erdogan, Russia's Putin, Kim the Third in North Korea, Duterte in the Philippines, etc , we see the dangerous and murderous politics of xenophobia and racism take centre stage, aided and abetted by the mass media and opportunistic politicians. These are the new set of monsters from the swamp.
Only socialists argue that it is due to the competitive struggles of capitalism that otherwise sane and sensible men and women are mistakenly led to see in immigrants and other minorities the cause of the many economic problems and social evils inflicted on them by the global capitalist system.
So long as this crazy system persists, so long as the working class worldwide fails to understand its position and organise itself to end this system of exploitation; so long will we still have the politics of division, including the many injustices of racial scapegoating.
200 years after Marx's birth, we echo his slogan: "Workers of the world, unite!" And as in 1904, the SPGB holds as a matter of principle that this unity must be "without distinction of race or sex".
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.