Marxism has become unfashionable these days. None of the mainstream UK political parties dare to speak its name. The once left leaning Labour Party has moved further and further towards the so-called ‘centre’ and now many complain that there is virtually nothing to distinguish between the three main parties in Britain.
But a recent damning report released by Oxfam this year hits at the very essence of the capitalist system in true Marxist fashion.
The report states that the world’s top 100 billionaires added $240 billion to their wealth in 2012- enough to end world poverty FOUR times over. Its main conclusions are:-
- The world must urgently set goals to tackle extreme inequality and extreme wealth
- Extreme wealth and inequality are reaching levels never before seen and are getting worse.
- Extreme wealth and inequality is economically inefficient
- Extreme Wealth and Inequality is Politically Corrosive
- Extreme Wealth and Inequality is Socially Divisive
- Extreme Wealth and Inequality is Environmentally Destructive
- Extreme Wealth and Inequality is unethical
- Extreme wealth and inequality is NOT inevitable
This last conclusion is the most telling for capitalism. What Oxfam are essentially saying is that the current system is the cause of poverty and misery for countless millions, its getting worse rather than better and there IS an alternative way of arranging things. In a nutshell, that’s basically what Karl Marx was getting at.
The big problem, of course, is that to change things relies on the few with the wealth and power to find it in their hearts to give all that up so the rest of us are also guaranteed lives worth living. Somehow, the realist in me thinks that ain’t going to happen – at least not without a big fight.
The most tired and trotted out justification narrative peddled by capitalists the world over has always been the ‘trickle down’ effect. Put another way it means that there will always be crumbs falling from the fat master’s table for the servants and slaves to eat. Of course, they never mention who did the hard work to put the food on the table in the first place in case it leaks out that billionaire capitalists don’t actually produce anything. They own, and they reap the benefits of the labour of others.
When interviewed about the report by the Guardian back in February, Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s chief executive, said, “In the UK inequality is rapidly returning to levels not seen since the time of Charles Dickens” and, “we can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for a few will inevitably benefit the many “. In other words, the ‘trickle down’ effect is an ideological lie.
One of the report’s more interesting and illuminating findings was who made the most profit in 2012.
The biggest single gainer among the top 100 was Amancio Ortega of Spain, the 76-year-old founder of the Inditex SA retailer, operator of the Zara clothing chain, whose fortune rose from $35.3 billion to $57.5 billion. In fact retail proprietors were among the billionaires showing the biggest gains for the year, up 20 percent. Other retailers include IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, 86, the world’s fifth-richest man, at $42.9 billion; Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com; and the four direct heirs of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart.
According to Patrick Martin at Global Research;-
“This increase was all the more remarkable since consumer spending has essentially stagnated since the 2008 Wall Street crash. The retail bosses are increasing their fortunes not so much because sales are rising, as because their smaller competitors are being ruined by the crisis, giving the biggest companies monopoly profits.”
One of Marx’s central claims was that capitalism would inevitably lead to monopolies as the sharks swallowed up the smaller fish. Its beginning to look like he had a point.
Oxfam’s report also draws attention to the way this capitalist status quo corrupts our so-called democratic politics because inevitably money equals power. This means that more unequal societies represent a threat to meaningful democracy. This power can be exercised legally, with hundreds of millions spent each year in many countries on lobbying politicians, or illegitimately with money used to corrupt the political process and purchase democratic decision making. Joseph Stiglitz and others have pointed out the way in which financial liberalisation led to huge power for the financial industry, which in turn has led to further liberalisation.
In the UK the Conservative party receives over half its donations from the financial services industry. Capture of our politics by elites is leading to policies that benefit the richest few and not the poor majority, even in democracies. The current situation with the NHS is a prime example of this.
Patrick Martin (Global Research) sums up this dire state of affairs far better than I can when he says:-
“When in the human body a small group of cells begins to multiply and grow without limit, at the expense of other cells and the organism as a whole, medical science has a specific term for the phenomenon: it is called a cancer. In the social organism of 21st century capitalism, the super-rich play that fundamentally pernicious and destructive role. In the sphere of health care, the prescribed response is to destroy the cancer through a variety of treatments, in order to save the human being. In capitalist society, however, the growth of the super-rich is hailed as the source of all progress, the social cancer is dubbed the “job creator” and the entire political system bows down before it.”
Marx was around a long time before chemotherapy came on the scene. That’s no excuse for not using it now.
The Oxfam report is available here