Have you noticed, the apologists of capitalism have suddenly gone quiet? They are like rabbits caught in the headlights. The reformists – those who hailed the successes of a ‘mixed economy’, i.e. capitalism – are now left with egg on their face.
British capitalism, according to the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility, is facing its greatest crisis for 300 years.
In the past, these apologists attacked Marx as ‘out of date’ and ‘utopian’. In particular, they attacked him for what they called his ‘theory of increasing misery’. Instead, pointing to the growing living standards in the postwar period, they said everyone was becoming more middle class.
This is clearly laughable, especially now. Far from being ‘out of date’, the situation on the ground today is confirming the ideas of Marx.
Poverty and polarisation
Marx explained long ago that there was an inherent tendency within capitalism, which would lead to the class divide becoming ever greater.
He explained that, given the accumulation of capital, more and more power would be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The working class, meanwhile, would face growing toil.
“Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation,” wrote Marx in Capital, “grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation…”
This is an accurate description of the conditions faced by millions at the present time. On the other hand, the rich have never been richer.
Profits and the pandemic
“Pandemic makes world’s billionaires – and their advisers – richer” was the headline of a recent article in the Financial Times, a paper read by few workers.
“The global economy is expected to contract 4.4 per cent this year — the sharpest contraction in modern history — throwing millions into poverty, according to the IMF,” the FT continues, “But the world’s billionaires have grown wealthier compared with 2019, according to data compiled by UBS.”
The Financial Times article goes on:
“The net worth of Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos rose by $73bn between mid-March and mid-September, powered by his holdings in the company, according to a report by the Institute for Policy Studies, a US think-tank. Over the same period Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive at Facebook and Elon Musk, chief executive at Tesla and SpaceX, each enjoyed a net worth increase of more than $45bn each.
“In China, the world’s fastest growing nursery for the super-rich, 257 people became billionaires this year. The country’s established tycoons were no less fortunate. Jack Ma, founder of commerce platform Alibaba, increased his net worth by 45 per cent over the past 10 months. He is now worth $58.8bn, according to the Hurun Report, the benchmark monitor for the fortunes of China’s oligopoly. In the 22 years the report has been compiled, there has never been a year in which the wealth of those on it has grown so much.” (Financial Times, 23/10/20)
Crisis and revolution
It is now clear that the rise in living standards that the masses saw after the war was an aberration. This was a temporary phenomena, where – under pressure from the working class – the capitalists were forced to grant concessions.
But this whole process has gone dramatically into reverse, especially in the last decade. The working class has been under almost constant attack for the last 40 years.
In the past decade, for example, British workers saw a greater fall in real wages than in any period since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Currently, millions are being pushed into destitution, not least many children.
The present crisis is precisely a confirmation of Marx’s analysis of capitalism. The system can no longer develop the productive forces. “The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production,” as Marx explained.
This in turn produces revolutionary crises, propelling the working class into action.
The capitalist system is doomed. As Marx emphasised, however, it will not fall automatically. It will need to be overthrown. That is the real lesson we need to learn.