Get Rid of Capitalism Not Just the Tories

Post-Election Blues?

The Tory election victory has brought anger and despair in equal portion to many. There is no doubt that for all the hypocritical talk about being “the party of working people” a new round of attacks on workers is on the cards. From making it almost impossible to legally strike, to the selling off of social housing, the agenda is clear.

Osborne wants a further £12bn of welfare cuts which will even more undermine the lives of those already suffering the most. (The newspapers are already speculating on where the axe will fall: tax credit, housing benefit, disability, incapacity, pension credit, income support? The bets are on).

And yet would things have been any different if Labour had won? Labour accepted the capitalist argument that we have to “balance the books”. So they promised us “austerity-lite”. In other words the same cuts but just spread out over time. This is a policy now supported by top capitalist bodies like the OECD and the IMF. The Financial Times “the voice of business”, has also come out against what they see as the dangers of “cutting too fast”. They fear that pushing us too hard could cause “social unrest”!

The most important fact, unrecognised by Labour or the TUC, or indeed the majority of the “Left”, is that there is no recovery and there is no capitalist solution to the crisis.

This Crisis is not Going Away

Even the most optimistic reports of capitalism’s supposed recovery from the 2007/8 financial crash sound hollow. The so-called credit crunch signalled the bursting of a speculative financial bubble. But this was no accident or simply a failure to control ‘greedy financiers’. The fact that financial speculation is now so key reveals that capitalism has reached a deeper stage in the crisis of declining profit rates which has dogged the world economy for decades. In 1970 only 10% of financial flows went into speculation, the rest into investing in the real economy. Today 99% of these flows are pure speculation and nothing to do with the real economy. In this climate some niche firms (Apple etc) make massive profits (which they then cannot reinvest profitably in their business). At the same the banking system won’t lend to small businesses because the rate of profit is too low. They prefer to speculate on … anything you care to name. Currencies, commodities, obscure financial instruments etc are where they look. And what does it tell is about their faith in the future that they are buying up government bonds or putting money in banks at negative rates of return? It means they think things are going to get worse further down the line.

Basically we live in a time of over-accumulation of capital. To escape the current stagnation capital needs to be devalued on a global scale. That would mean a massive world war and they are not [yet] ready for it. The only alternative now for the capitalist class is to devalue the one bit of capital they can attack – variable capital or working class living standards. Hence they go not just for austerity but all the dodgy employment practices which are now becoming the norm.

Worsening Our Working Conditions

From the word go industrial capitalism was all about increasing labour productivity – how much is produced per hour – in order to increase profits. It was the driving force of mechanisation and mass production which gave birth to the modern working class, the “grave diggers of capitalism” [Marx] and which, after two world slumps and wars has once again led to the simmering world crisis we have today. One of the problems created by getting fewer workers to produce more with advanced technology in the present phase of capitalism is that a growing number of people are unemployed. Last year the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported that in 2013 the number of jobless in the world had risen by nearly 5 million to a record 201.8 million people. The largest part of the group are the 74.5 million people aged 15–24. Moreover, as we know, many people are obliged to take whatever job they can get. As this article is being written a Gallup poll has just come out which finds that,

“Of the 7 billion people in the world, there are 5 billion adults aged 15 and older. Of these 5 billion, 3 billion tell Gallup they desire a full-time job”

With an eye to publicity, the Gallup chairman provocatively concludes that since “Only 1.3 billion actually have a good job, (this) means that the real unemployment rate in the world is over 50%.”

Which brings us to the situation here where Chancellor George Osborne is now boasting that, since 73.5% of people of working age in the UK now have a job, this is “the highest employment rate in our history”. What he doesn’t say is that most people are being ‘rewarded’ with low-paid, insecure, part-time, under-employment on short hour contracts of less than 19 hours per week (so employers don’t have to pay national insurance) where pay is usually even worse than zero hour contracts. According to a TUC report in April, there are 820,000 UK employees underemployed on between 0 and 19 hours a week. This is on top of 700,000 workers on zero-hours contracts.

Nearly a third (29 per cent) of underemployed short-hour workers are employed in supermarkets, shops, warehouses and garages – nearly 250,000 people. Education (16 per cent), accommodation and food services (14 per cent) and health and social care (12 per cent) also account for large shares.

The average hourly wage for a short-hours worker on fewer than 20 hours a week is £8.40 an hour, compared to £13.20 an hour for all employees.

This, coupled with a rapid rise in nominal self-employment (1 in 11 working age people are now running or setting up a business but less than 40% generate enough turnover to even have to pay VAT) accounts for the UK’s highest employment rate in history. It is hardly something to boast about. In fact what Osborne is really crowing over is that he thinks the working class has been subdued by a mixture of dire need and formidable benefit cuts and sanctions aimed at forcing people to accept jobs with below survival level wage rates. How do they survive? Well, sometimes they don’t; sometimes they join the growing ranks of the homeless (something else not to boast about). Most low paid workers still rely on some sort of benefits. Apart from 9 million pensioner households in the UK, 20 million families receive benefit. The majority of them are working for a wage so low they wouldn’t be able to survive without being subsidised by the state. A modern version of the early nineteenth century Speenhamland system where local parishes protected farmers by topping up agricultural workers’ wages.

What Next?

With nothing more to offer than a predominantly low wage, low skilled economy coupled with further dismantling of the welfare state there are certainly going to be uncertain times ahead for the capitalist class. Workers everywhere are beginning to reject the ‘all in it together’ myth and are beginning to fight on their own account.

In the UK there are other powerful myths which could stymie a real working class response. The first – even now – is “Kick the Tories Out!”. If the Tories are out, then Labour is in. Can anyone seriously believe that a revamped Labour Party would act on behalf of workers’ interests? The whole history of the Labour Party from Ramsey Macdonald on is about saving capitalism. And yet we still have many on the Left selling what’s left of ‘grassroots Labour’ the possibility that this can be reversed if only the “right” leader is elected. This is more utopian than calling on people to man the barricades tomorrow. Many now know this but then put their trust in the TUC. It is defining the anti-austerity battle as one for an ‘alternative’ of public ownership and more government investment. In other words, “the spirit of 1945”: the old pipe dream of a government to manage capitalism and make things ‘fairer’. But in 1945 we were at the start of a post-war boom. Capitalism could afford to buy off the workers with welfare then. Today capitalism is in deep economic shit and has to attack us. The alternative is not a fairer capitalism but an end to the system itself.

Many groups to the Left of Labour understand this but still think that cosying up to the old labour movement of unions and Labour Party is the only way to build their membership. They inject their anti-austerity campaigns with some radical-sounding phrases like “prepare the uprising”, “down with the 1%” etc, but in the last resort they hang onto the coat-tails of the TUC and Labour with their A to B marches which pose no threat to the system.

The task of real revolutionaries today is to counter these kinds of illusions amongst workers as their struggle for a better life revives. The only way we can do that is to spell out the message that resistance to austerity now has to be accompanied by a longer term perspective to get rid of the system in itself. This will not come quickly but will come faster if more people who claim to be socialist go beyond “activism” and start putting the anti-capitalist argument into the mix on a daily basis. For in the last resort it will not be minorities which overthrow capitalism but the working class as a whole, through its own self-organisation. There is no other way. This also has to be a conscious fight. This starts with a communist (and not a state capitalist) programme. The practical and material basis exists today for the creation of a truly global community of freely associated producers. The alternative is further descent into capitalist barbarism, the horrors of which are already being experienced by millions, if not billions of people, throughout the world.

From Aurora 35, June 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.