Friday, 4 November 2011
According to the Sunday Times “Rich List”, the 1000 wealthiest individuals in Britain increased their wealth by £60billion between May 2010 and April 2011. This is not on the back of economic growth; the economy, as we all know only too well, has been stagnant. Therefore, this money has come directly from other sections of society; a redistribution of wealth from the working and middle classes to the very richest (75% of British people saw their real incomes decline in the same time period). Warren Buffet, the world’s third richest man, put it very clearly: “It’s class warfare. But it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war. And we’re winning.”
Three years ago, the banks were bailed out with public money, to the tune of hundreds of billions of pounds. We are now told that we need to lose the bulk of our hard-won public services in order to pay off the huge debt this bailout incurred. Cameron said “frontline services” would not be affected, but this was a lie, as is now becoming more and more obvious. Bristol Council has already announced plans to close ten of its twelve residential nursing homes, and to abolish homecare services for the elderly completely. Even the NHS, who Cameron told us would be exempt from cuts, has now been told to find £20billion “efficiency savings”.
We are often told that there is “no alternative” to public spending cuts, because we need to “reduce the deficit”. This is nonsense. The total private wealth in Britain amounts to £9000 billion (£9 trillion). Just under half of this – £4trillion – is owned by the richest 10% of the population. A one-off wealth tax of just 20%, to be paid only by the richest 10%, would pay off the entire national debt of the country (£800billion) in one go. A Yougov poll commissioned by the Glasgow Media Group found that 74% of the British population supported this idea. But this alternative does not even get an airing anywhere in the mainstream media. Instead, we are told that public spending cuts are the only solution, despite the fact that they will not only cause misery and unemployment to millions, but will not even begin to pay off the national debt, and will in fact plunge the economy into an even deeper recession.
So why is the establishment (all three mainstream parties and the entire media circus) so committed to this path, and so deaf to the calls to do something to challenge the power of the banks? In a word, because they are all owned by the banks (in the case of the media) or sponsored by them (in the case of the politicians). They rely on them for election campaign donations and for advertising income. They will not bite the hand that feeds them. But they do not feed us; they rob us – and we most definitely should be biting their hand.
The problem is too much capital
So why do the banks want the government to close down all our public services? The big problem for the banks at the moment is that they have more money than they know what to do with. If money cannot be profitably invested, it loses its value. But in a recession, there are very few places to profitably invest. They are nervous of investing in the housing market, because another big crash is looming. There is no point investing in manufacturing (e.g. the car industry etc), because markets are already glutted- there are already too many products that cannot be sold. This is where public spending cuts come in. Cameron says he expects the private sector to step in where the public sector gets cuts back. Put into plain English, this means you will increasingly have to pay private companies to do what you used to get for free from the state (good quality schooling, weekly rubbish collections, a local library, decent healthcare provision, etc). All of this will open up whole new avenues of investment for those billionaires desperately looking for somewhere to invest their money, as once-public services are turned into profit-making concerns.
This is the first part of the strategy. The other big problem now facing the owners of massive wealth is that their use of the third world as a source of dirt cheap labour and raw materials is seriously threatened by the shifting balance of power in the world. For five hundred years, the ruling elites running the Western world have been able to use their overwhelming firepower and technical superiority to force their own terms of trade onto the nations they impoverished in Africa, Asia and Latin America. However, this period of history is now coming to an end with the rise of places like China, India and Brazil as powerful, economically developed countries. They are not only less reliant on the export markets of the West to sell their goods, but are also increasingly demanding higher wages and fairer prices for their raw materials – and giving a lead to the rest of the global South in doing so. This threatens the ability of the world’s richest to continue making money out of global poverty in the way they have been doing for generations.
All this is increasingly pushing the billionaire bankers and the governments to which they dictate policy in the direction of war. Only war can reverse the tide of economic development in the third world, and ultimately only war can destroy enough of the world’s surplus capital (products, housing, factories etc) to pave the way for a successful new round of profitable investment.
We have been here before. Capitalism always has periodic booms and crashes, but there have only been two crashes gigantic enough to bring about the near total collapse of the world economy similar to that we face today. The first was the “Great Depression” of 1870 – 1896, and the second the “Great Depression” of the 1930s. Both had the same causes as today’s crisis – the drying up of profitable avenues for investment – and both were ultimately ‘solved’ by colonialism and world war, the second of which was so successful a solution, that it paved the way for the “golden era” of capitalism – an unprecedented two-decade long boom period of growth based on rebuilding what had been destroyed in the world’s biggest ever mass slaughter.
This is the context in which we have to see Britain, the USA and France’s destruction of Libya. Anyone who thinks the British ruling class was momentarily distracted from dealing with its profitability crisis by a small group of Arabs in distress is living in cloud cuckoo land. 50,000 bombing raids were carried out against Libya, totally destroying huge swathes of advanced infrastructure, not to mention entire cities (in the case of Sirte) and at least 35,000 people. Within days of the conquest of Tripoli, Britain’s Defence Minister Philip Hammond was calling on British companies to “pack their suitcases and head for Libya” in search of the lucrative “reconstruction” contracts that will soon be dished out by NATO’s puppet government. Furthermore, in destroying Libya – a wealthy oil state which was continent’s leading force pushing for African unity and economic independence, and had $30billion set aside for African development and a new African currency – the old imperial states are intending to put the clock back on African development for generations. Most importantly of all, Libya will soon host the first sizable African base for the USA’s new AFRICOM section of the US army, set up in 2007 to invade African countries. This is part of the overall drive to use war in order to resolve this crisis of profitability, a war ultimately aimed at China, but likely to take in Syria, Iran, Algeria, South Africa and Venezuela along the way.
David Cameron is, for once, telling the truth, when he says “Whatever it takes to help our businesses take on the world – we’ll do it.” ‘Whatever it takes’ means not only the destruction of our public services; it also means the destruction of entire countries. We need to recognise that the attacks on public services and living standards here in Britain is part of a much bigger picture – the class warfare being waged by the rich against the poor, and especially against the most organised and independent sections of the third world. The constant warfare waged by the Western world for the last ten years has all been part of this struggle to maintain the class power and privilege of the dominant elites.
Their only solution is poverty and war
There are many in the third world who are resisting this onslaught, and we need to make common cause with them. When the next victim is being lined up for destruction by the media propaganda machine, we need to stand in solidarity with those under attack. We should learn the lessons of the destruction of Libya, a war which was sold to us with lies even more preposterous than those used to justify the destruction of Iraq. Do you remember the stories about 10,000 killed by Gaddafi in Benghazi? According to Amnesty International, the true figure was 110 – including those killed by the rebels – who we now know were armed from the first day of the insurrection. Do you remember the claims that Gaddafi was feeding his soldiers Viagra so they could carry out mass rape? Again, after looking into these allegations for months, Amnesty could not find a single credible case of rape by government troops. Do you remember the claims that Gaddafi had carried out aerial assaults against Tripoli? This too was false – as later verified by Russian satellite pictures. Do you remember the reports about rebel militias rounding up and lynching innocent African migrant workers by the dozen, from the very start of the revolt? Of course you don’t – although true, they were rarely reported. “But surely Gaddafi was a bad man” many people say. Even if this were true – and there are millions of Libyans who would dispute this – it is surely better to live in a functioning, peaceful and prosperous country with a bad leader, than in a dysfunctional wreck of a society like those that have been created in Iraq or Afghanistan.
But there is plenty of hope in the world. Latin America has been at the forefront of a successful, popular and organised rejection of the rape of their continent by the financial institutions of the Western world. Every major economy on the continent – with the sole exception of Colombia – is now governed by popular movements committed to the use of their natural wealth and labour to raise living standards for all, rather than simply as sources of proft for financial vampires. Venezuela’s slum dwellers now have free healthcare and education – and a constitution they actually helped to draft – for the first time ever. These governments have been involved in discussions with other independent-minded third world countries – including China, Iran and Libya before the invasion – about how to defend themselves against the war and poverty long imposed on them. We need to learn from and unite with these movements – and, above all, to reject any attempts by our own government to try to destroy them by force.