Britain’s Poorest Towns: Inequality and Division are the Realities of Capitalism

Readers of the CWO press are well aware that we have focussed much effort in providing direct evidence from the contemporary situation in order to prove the continuing validity of the Marxist critique. For us Marxism is not a completed religious text, but a means to understand reality as it unfolds, it is a means to understand the trends which shape the future, and the task of building on Marx’s heritage is vital if we are to have a role in ushering in a future beyond capitalism’s lingering funeral rites. One of Marx’s major contentions was that society cannot but help, under the capitalist mode of production, becoming increasingly polarised, increasingly divided between the two major contending classes of the modern epoch, bourgeois and proletariat, whose glaring antagonism and diametrically opposed interests can only become more apparent.

Recently we have illustrated this scenario on an international level (1). The analysis of capitalism’s grotesque allocation of wealth which sees an insignificant minority many times better off than what is, in the main, an impoverished humanity, has been a central theme of the communist critique of this mode of production and its inability to create anything like social harmony. Looking at the domestic situation, the British economy - which in recent years had supposedly outperformed most of its competitors and shrugged off its long-term decline - this article simply adds more weight to the Marxist perspective:

The accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e. on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital. (2)

Britain’s poorest towns and cities have fallen further behind under Labour, despite a £30 billion barrage of regeneration initiatives, according to a study (3). The “wealth gap” between struggling cities such as Glasgow, Sheffield, Blackburn, and Southampton and the rest of the country has doubled since 1997.

The research by a right-leaning think tank, Policy Exchange, examined the fortunes of 18 towns and cities which have received significant funding for urban renewal over the past decade.

The team found that their ability to generate wealth - measured as Gross Value Added - had gone from 7% below the national average to 14% below. By comparison, a sample group of successful towns had increased its lead over the average from 29% to 46%.

Personal incomes had also declined by 1% in relative terms in the areas targeted for aid, and residents were 40% more likely to be out of work than elsewhere - the same disparity as a decade ago.

The researchers, led by Dr Tim Leunig of the London School of Economics, warned that, as a result of the widening gulf, more people were seeking to escape “in search of the better opportunities that they rightly realise exist elsewhere”.

The researchers may be a little kinder than us “cynical” communists who know that the capitalists’ spending is either a direct means to generate profit or a necessary expense to maintain the structure which allows such profit to be generated. They say the Labour Government had been “well intentioned”, but the introduction of an array of initiatives including the New Deal for Communities and special grants to firms had not improved the situation. “Successful towns are becoming more successful, poorer towns are becoming less successful,” the report concludes. “The status quo has been reinforced, not removed in the last 10 years.”

Policy Exchange chief economist, Dr Oliver Hartwich, said the study showed that funding for problem towns and cities was not helping them catch up. “If anything, they are slipping farther behind while successful towns are stretching their lead,” he said.

While we should not give up on urban policy, much of the £30 billion spent in the last decade appears to have had no effect. Britain needs to consider policies that will make it easier for people to work in places that have high productivity and therefore offer high wages. Urban policy should provide towns and cities with incentives to grow, prevent ghost towns from appearing, and give towns and cities much more freedom to decide how to use regeneration money.

Although this demonstration of contemporary inequality may not provide proof that the capitalist system is in imminent danger of collapse, it certainly shows that the reformist approaches of trying to create social harmony within the boundaries of capitalist economic structures are doomed to fail, no matter that the reforms be measured in billions of pounds. Recently we have seen further evidence of the demise of much heralded initiatives designed to mitigate the naked disparities that the wage-labour and capital relationship inevitably throws up. Billions spent on improving primary education have left no measurable impact, what the researchers say about wealth inequality could also be applied to education in general:

The status quo has been reinforced, not removed in the last 10 years.

The health of the nation is in decline, with life expectancy threatening to go down for the first time in 200 years, and then there is the inability to end child poverty; these are both major indications that the old reformist project is truly obsolete, a reformism without reforms, spinning its ideological tales but incapable of delivering social progress. The class system remains.

However, the laughter of the bourgeois ideologues who gleefully interpreted the demise of Stalinism as the triumph of capitalism may well be replaced by a more measured nervousness as they cannot but fail to notice that capitalism is unable to satisfy the expectations of the masses. That a few can become extraordinarily wealthy beyond the wildest fantasies of the many is not enough to ensure social stability. The tendency to create huge numbers of dispossessed, alienated, pauperised proletarians concentrated in bleak urban environments has not disappeared. The communist spectre will continue to haunt the ruling class. Despite the official optimism and ideological sleeping pills, the fragility of the system remains a constant, the fertile soil for the next generation of revolutionaries armed with the triumphs, failures and lessons of history: a process which will not stop, despite all the best efforts of the bourgeoisie, their “regeneration” and reforms, their “equal opportunities” and national unity rhetoric, the truth of capitalism is class division and class struggle. It is this truth that validates the revolutionary perspective.


(1) See “Global Capitalism in Crisis: The More it Grows the More Unequal it Gets”, in Revolutionary Perspectives 42.

(2) Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p604, Lawrence and Wishart edition.

(3) Right-leaning think tank Policy Exchange, reported on

Revolutionary Perspectives

Journal of the Communist Workers’ Organisation -- Why not subscribe to get the articles whilst they are still current and help the struggle for a society free from exploitation, war and misery? Joint subscriptions to Revolutionary Perspectives (3 issues) and Aurora (our agitational bulletin - 4 issues) are £15 in the UK, €24 in Europe and $30 in the rest of the World.