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Cooking the Books 1: Baron Rothschild rides again

According to the Times (13 May), the Rothschild dynasty is to invest again in Black Sea oil from which they were ejected after the Bolshevik coup in 1917. In the 19th century the Rothschilds were often regarded as the archetypal capitalists. To be honest, this wasn’t entirely free from anti-semitism. Even Paul Lafargue, who was married to one of Marx’s daughters, was not immune from this.

But if, as the pre-WWI German Social Democrat August Bebel remarked, “anti-semitism is the socialism of the fool”, then a leading contender for the prize of biggest fool must go to the anarchist and comic opera revolutionist Bakunin who wrote in one of his polemics against Marx:

“I am sure that, on the one hand, the Rothschilds appreciate the merits of Marx, and that on the other hand, Marx feels an instinctive inclination and a great respect for the Rothschilds. This may seem strange. What could there be in common between communism and high finance? Ho ho! The communism of Marx seeks a strong state centralization, and where this exists, there the parasitic Jewish nation-which speculates upon the labour of people-will always find the means for its existence” (Polemique contre les Juifs, 1872, quoted http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakunin).

On the other hand, F. A. Sorge, who was one of Marx’s correspondents in America, recounted the following anecdote concerning a member of the dynasty:

“One day in 1848, as the story goes, Baron Rothschild took a walk on the Common of Frankfort-on-the-Main. Two labourers met him and accosted him thus: ‘Baron, you are a rich man; we want to divide with you.’ Baron Rothschild, not the least puzzled, took out his purse good-humouredly and answered: ‘Certainly! We can do that business on the spot. The account is easily made. I own 40 millions of florins; there are 40 millions of Germans. Consequently each German has to receive one florin; here is your share;’ and giving one florin to each of the labourers, who looked at their money quite confused, he walked off smiling” (www.marxists.org/archive/sorge/1876/socialism-worker.htm).

The point Sorge was making is still valid. Bill Gates could behave in the same way today. One estimate of his personal wealth is $100 billion. The world’s population is about 6.5 billion. So, if similarly accosted, the amount he would give would be $15. Even if only the US population was concerned they’d get only $333 each.

Contrary to a widespread belief, socialism is not about equal sharing or redistributing wealth more evenly. It’s about the common ownership of the means of wealth production. Which is a different proposition altogether. These means are already a single integrated network operated collectively by the whole working class, but they are owned separately, whether by rich individuals, capitalist corporations or states. It’s not a question of dividing them or their monetary value up amongst the population but of making them the common property of all.

On this basis they can be used to turn out what people require to satisfy their needs and to which everyone can have access to satisfy those needs in accordance with the principle “from each their ability, to each their needs”. Because people’s needs are different so will be what they take and use. But everyone will have an equal right to satisfy their different needs. That’s what socialism means, not sharing out the wealth of Bill Gates, the Rothschilds or other wealthy individuals.