According to an Oxfam report released earlier this year, entitled ‘Survival of the Richest’, the top 1% in the UK own more wealth than 70% of the population combined. The richest four Britons alone have a total wealth of over £42 billion – more than the amount held by 20 million people in Britain.
At the same time, official figures from the ONS reveal that income inequality in Britain has continued to widen since the pandemic.
These staggering figures are just one indicator of the exploding inequality under capitalism. While workers and their families have to choose between heating and eating, the monopolies are laughing all the way to the bank. Big Oil firms, for example, more than doubled their profits last year, raking in $219 billion.
All of this has been aided and abetted by the Tories. City of London golden boy Rishi Sunak heads up a government of the rich, for the rich, by the rich. Scandalously, Tory MPs have been collectively taking in almost £10 million from their various side hustles. Meanwhile, the working class faces further austerity and attacks on jobs and wages.
This grotesque display of inequality has rightfully enraged workers. And they are looking for solutions.
Against this backdrop, calls are growing from various quarters for a wealth tax on the billionaire elites. The aforementioned Oxfam report concludes by calling on governments to permanently increase taxes on the super-rich. And under pressure to tackle the energy crisis, even PM Sunak introduced a windfall tax on the mega-profits of the fossil fuel giants last year.
Leading figures in the labour movement have also taken up this call. In advance of its recent annual congress, for example, the TUC’s general secretary, Paul Nowak, raised the idea of greater taxes on “wealth and windfalls”.
Nowak’s comments were seen as an explicit response to Starmer’s Labour, who have distanced themselves from such a demand. This is despite polling by surveying firm Opinium, which finds that 61% of people think that the wealthy should pay more tax – including 53% of 2019 Tory voters.
A wealth tax was previously part of the Labour Party’s programme. But under its Blairite leadership, even the most minimal reforms have been jettisoned. And now higher taxes on the bosses and bankers have been ruled out by ‘Sir’ Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, as they prepare for power by cosying up with the capitalists.
In the face of growing inequality, all that Starmer can suggest is to tighten our belts!
Something clearly needs to be done to make the fat cats – not starving families – pay for capitalism’s crises.
But the demand to ‘tax the rich’ is a blind alley. For starters, clearly neither the Tories nor Starmer’s Labour are going to pursue this path.
And the picture is no different in Scotland. The SNP leaders have attempted to promote their ‘progressive’ credentials, waxing lyrical about how Holyrood is more left-wing than Westminster. Yet party chiefs have been having secret meetings with foreign capital to discuss the prospect of selling off Scotland’s ports. Humza Yousaf’s government, meanwhile, is preparing to roll out cuts and austerity.
This is no accident. It is not an ideological question of the ‘nasty’ Tories looking out for their rich chums; nor of treacherous Labour or SNP leaders betraying voters. At the end of the day, all these establishment politicians and parties are in the business of protecting private property at all costs. They represent and defend class interests – the interests of the billionaire class.
When push comes to shove, therefore, they will all come to the aid of the bosses, just as a loyal dog is trained to instinctively jump to attention at the sound of his master’s voice.
Furthermore, even if such a reform was introduced, under pressure from the working class, the capitalists will always find a way around any obstacles that stand between them and their profits.
In Norway, for example, the country’s billionaires and multimillionaires all moved to Switzerland when the country’s wealth tax on the super-rich rose earlier this year. Closer to home, Liz Truss was quickly ousted from Downing Street with the help of the markets, after her reckless economic antics caused panic amongst investors.
Or the bosses will simply avoid and evade such taxes altogether – often with help from their friends in government.
The Tories are already assisting Jeff Bezos in his dodgy dealings, for example. Amazon has received corporate tax deductions to the point of contributing nothing at all to the exchequer over the past two years, after the infamous multinational threatened to move its operations elsewhere.
Expropriate the billionaires
This highlights the main limitation of calls to ‘tax the rich’. At the end of the day, such reforms and regulations do nothing to challenge the power and grip of the capitalists class.
As long as they own and control the means by which wealth is produced, we will continue to live under a dictatorship of bankers and bosses. And inequality will continue to grow, as fortunes accumulate at one pole, and misery accumulates at the other.
All of society’s problems, at root, are down to the laws and logic of the capitalist system – a system based on private ownership, production for profit, and the anarchy of the market. Redistributing a slice of wealth from the super-rich to the rest does nothing to upend this broken status quo.
To solve questions like homelessness, hunger, poverty, climate chaos, and more, we need economic planning, not superficial tweaks. But you cannot plan what you do not control. And you cannot control what you do not own.
The working class are the creators of all the wealth in society. Why should we not be the ones to own and control it?
Instead of merely demanding higher taxes on the rich, therefore, workers and youth must fight to expropriate the billionaires; to take ownership of the big banks and monopolies; and to plan the economy along socialist lines – for the many, not for the few.
On this basis, we could do away with the parasites who plunder and hoard the wealth that we create, and allocate society’s enormous resources rationally and democratically, in order to provide decent homes, jobs, and services for all.
No more scrambling over crumbs. It’s time to demand the whole bakery, and fight for revolution.