Sometimes I’m surprised that I’ve managed to exist on this planet for forty years. Things may not always have been easy, but compared with a lot of others I haven’t suffered any great drama or personal tragedy during that time. It might be said that the worst part of my daily round is having to go out every weekday to earn the money that keeps us somewhere between being poor and rich. A fairly average life really.
I don’t take much notice of what the media says. Although I have to obtain hard news of what’s going on in the world from somewhere, I know that the media is owned and controlled by the small minority who own most of the wealth, and so I only ever believe half of what I hear or see. It’s my opinion that forty year’s slog under capitalism tends to make you a bit hard and a bit cynical. I’m not an unfeeling human being, but I’ve been reading about disasters and catastrophes for so long that it tends not to have any effect any more.
One day in April, I was browsing through the Guardian when I came across the photograph. I was surprised by my response to it. The intense emotions it aroused are with me still. A toddler, a girl of twenty-three months, stares out at me from the newspaper. She’s holding a half-eaten apple. A doll lies beside her. She is a very pretty girl. Her body is covered in shrapnel. Her right foot is missing. Her name is Adele. and she is Lebanese. She was wounded when her grandparents’ house was hit by an artillery shell. Her eyes are old beyond her years.
Those of us who reside in this sceptred isle, this blessed plot, this England, are not on the whole an unsympathetic, uncaring load of citizens. But we have our own problems. After we’ve been at work all day it doesn’t leave much time to do things we like and want to do. Weekends pass so quickly. What wouldn’t we give to be rich and employ some other poor sod to create our wealth for us! 430,000 people, the top one per cent, own 18 per cent of the UK’s private wealth. The top 10 per cent own over half. 840,000 individuals, the top two per cent, own 80 per cent of company shares and 73 per cent of all land. I guess I was born to the wrong parents.
Belonging to the bottom 90 per cent means that your priorities tend to be different to those of the ruling class, that small minority who own the means of production and distribution. The building society owns the house: you’d have to have at least 30 million quid to even make no. 200 of Britain’s richest two hundred, and my wages, like most people’s, don’t even stretch beyond the end of the week. So what option have you got? As a member of the vast majority whose only means of living is to sell the only thing they possess, their labour power, their ability to work, I suppose you’ll have to stick with the day job.
There are plenty of apologists for capitalism around to tell me how fortunate I am to be living in a free and democratic enterprise culture. I could be a black in South Africa oppressed by apartheid. I could be a famine victim in Sudan. I could be an exploited worker in South Korea. I could be trying to survive in Argentina with its forty thousand per cent inflation rate. I could be a dispossessed Aborigine in Australia. I could be subject to political repression in Eastern Europe. I could be subject to state torture and murder in Latin America. I could be a bomb attack victim of the IRA in Northern Ireland. I could be a dead student in China. I could be living in a cardboard box on the streets of London. I could be a little girl with her right foot blown off.
The world has been called a “global village”. The prevailing system of society throughout the world is capitalism, albeit in different stages of development. In 1683 Montanari wrote in Della Moneta:
Intercourse between nations spans the whole globe to such an extent that one may almost say all the world is but a single city in which a permanent fair comprising all commodities is sold.
Capital knows no boundaries. Its concern is not with the quality of life for the vast majority who own only their ability to sell their labour power in order to live. Its concern is the ruthless pursuit of profit irrespective of the damage done to the planet and to people’s lives.
Why in the world do we continue to put up with it? Why do we, who use our physical and mental abilities to run capitalism for the benefit of the capitalists, put our faith in leaders who promise us the earth, but only after it has been devastated by capitalism? Why, when capitalism is based upon the economic exploitation of a majority by a minority, do we take pride in “paying our way”, “living within our means”, “never owing anyone a cent”? Why, when the only thing between us and socialism, a system of society based upon production for need, not profit—a wageless, moneyless, classless, stateless, leaderless society—is a lack of understanding and desire for socialism on the part of the majority of the working class, do we deny ourselves real freedom? Freedom from hunger, poverty, want and oppression.
Why do we allow a minority to kid us, to con us, to brainwash us into believing that capitalism is the best of all possible worlds, when the evidence of our daily lives tells us otherwise? How many more Adeles have to ask us, why in the world did this happen to me? When are we going to supply not the answer, but the solution?