Capitalism Cannot Be Made Fair

The sudden rise in prices, combined with decades of attacks on wages, have not only produced a surge in strikes, they have also produced new activist-reformist campaigns. The "Don’t Pay" campaign, launched last June, is one. It calls for capitalism to lower energy prices via state action and its activist methods – demonstrations and a non-payment 'strike' – are familiar to anyone who has encountered the capitalist left in the last 20 years.

However, capitalism’s cost of living crisis is just an aspect of the system’s general crisis of profitability. For the capitalist class the solution to its profitability crisis is reducing the share of the social product going to the working class and increasing that going to capital. "Don’t Pay" aims only to make this a fair division via a 'fair' price cap. They tell us “It’s not about never paying bills again.” This is just a reformist demand for 'fair' exploitation, the repetition of the trade-unionists’ slogan "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.” Ultimately this amounts to support for capitalism.

The reformist Holy Trinity – activism, trade unionism and parliamentarianism – has been joined by the "Enough is Enough" campaign. Its 5 demands are "a real pay rise," cheaper and nationalised energy, using state welfare programs to limit food poverty and homelessness, and – of course – taxing the rich. They talk of "rights", "national disgrace", "government duty", “patriotic gestures” and complain about the "super-rich" and "big businesses." Like "Don’t Pay", this is again an attempt to make capitalism fair. If only the rich were taxed, state spending redistributed and different politicians (Labour) were in control, the system could be made fair. But this system, based on exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class, can never be made fair, and the entire ruling class and their political parties, including Labour, are committed to this.

The "Don’t Pay" campaign has frequently likened itself to the successful 1989-93 poll tax non-payment movement. But this movement targeted an unpopular “politically imposed tax” which was intended to shift the payment for local government onto the shoulders of the working class. It was a tax aimed directly at the working class. Non-payment included workers mobilising locally to stop the bailiffs seizing property of those refusing to pay. The cost-of-living crisis is a consequence of the laws of the market. "Don’t Pay" demands taxation of energy companies and state use of tax revenues to keep energy prices down. However, energy companies can avoid taxes by declaring their profits wherever tax is low and instead of taxing them the state is granting them subsidies. When they go bankrupt, as in the case of 29 energy companies including Bulb, the state sells them on and passes their debts to the taxpayer. Any price capping by the state, will be paid for by further taxing the working class, together with cutting spending on welfare, state benefits and the social wage.

Millions of people fail to pay their energy bills every year because they can’t afford to pay. Before the autumn of 2022 there were £2.1 billion unpaid bills. However, the energy companies have long-established legal and illegal tactics to deal with non-payment. "Don’t Pay" themselves admit that those with prepayment meters cannot withhold payment (their power would just shut off) and the first port-of-call for the energy companies faced with nonpayment is to install a prepayment meter. The campaign could only have worked if combined with real community opposition to the installation of prepayment meters and struggles by workers in the energy sectors to provide free gas and electricity to vulnerable households. That this is a possibility was shown by workers in France, who recently provided free energy to low income households, schools, sports centres and universities in pursuit of their fight against the increase in pension age. But this is not something which can be conjured out of thin air by a small group of well-meaning activists. It requires a serious step up in the class struggle.

"Don’t Pay" has failed to gain its "1 million pledges" to not pay which it aimed for by 1 October 2022. It received less than a fifth of its goal by that date. Whether the strike even went ahead on the new date, 1 December (still without 1 million pledges), is unclear – most of all to its participants.

The only real immediate answer the working class has to capital's cost-of-living crisis is to take the struggle into our own hands. Self-organisation from below, rather than dependence on union officials and activists to fight our battles for us. The fight must be taken to capital’s other flank, the terrible wages the capitalist class offers, and the general assault they are waging to drive them yet lower. The strike wave throughout autumn and winter is already the largest in 30 years. But by promoting reformist activism the "Don't Pay" and "Enough is Enough" campaigns undermine any linkage between the struggle for better wages and conditions, which in the long term will always be taken back by the capitalist class, and the need to end the wages system and class society which means the overthrow of capitalism. They further undermine the urgent work for workers to develop their political organs and to go on the offensive to create a communist society.

The working class offensive is the only real solution. A united class fightback, with mass strikes controlled by workers themselves through coordinated strike committees is the only way a halt to the attacks we are facing can be achieved.

Only a new system of production, where production is organised for human need and classes and wage labour are abolished once and for all, will finally end this struggle against capitalist exploitation. The working class alone, having overthrown the capitalist class and leading society through their workers' councils, can build this. Forget the reformist dead end of making capitalism better; we have a world to win!

The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 62) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

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.