Crisis? What crisis?
There is no crisis. That deserves to be said twice. There is no crisis. What happened in Japan was a crisis. Haiti was a crisis. What we have is a failure of mathematics – the mathematics of greed.
We as a society have never been so productive, and we have never had such wealth available to us, as we have today. Our ability to produce has grown faster even than is needed to provide for longer and happier lives.
Think what has supposedly caused this crisis. Too much was produced. In particular, too many houses were produced for poor Americans. We had not yet produced enough for our whole community, but we were doing well – all too well.
What happened? Building workers were stopped from building. People living in good houses were thrown out of them, and the houses left to become derelict. Across the world, workers who were producing wealth for their communities were stopped from doing so, by being thrown out of work; and then we were all forced to live on less.
Why would something so crazy happen? Because production is not for use, it is for a profit. No work is allowed to take place, no houses can be lived in, no food and drink can be consumed, before first one person makes a profit out of another person’s work. The basic matter of producing wealth and consuming it is interrupted until first those who claim to own what we all have made in the past, can profit from what we all make now. We are bought and sold: but whereas once we were bought and sold for a lifetime, now it is by the hour.
As workers we all, if we are lucky, have enough to live on, to tide us over when we are ill or unemployed, and to provide some care for when we can no longer work. That is all. Some are more comfortable; some live on far less, or are crushed by debt. And this brings us to the point: indebtedness. What we produce as a community is taken from us and held by a few. Since we do not own the means to support ourselves, we have to work for these people, in effect paying off the loan of the very things that we and our forebears made. We are like indentured workers, who contract a large debt and are left paying it off for years, decades, except in our case it is our entire lives.
As for students – students are getting indentured servitude for real. Many will retire before ever paying off their debts incurred before even starting work. Slave-owners across the ages would applaud such ani ngenious scheme.
The answer to this is twofold. Firstly, as trade unionists, we must resist any attempt to make their problem, our problem. We are able to produce quite handily for ourselves; if the equations of capitalism – the trade in our lives – no longer make sense, then that is a matter for the economists. Our demand here remains a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work – that means at the very minimum the maintenance of pensions as they stand and yearly increases in wages at a minimum in line with RPI – along with compensation for the years of restraint that we have had. At all levels, the workplace, the national negotiating bodies, even government, we should turn round and say that we are producing very well, thank you very much, there is no real crisis, and they should put their house in order at their own expense, not ours.
Secondly, we should take this as an object lesson. There is no fairness here, only the war of a small group of people against the entire community to control all of its wealth and keep us poor unless we do as we are told and hand over the large part of what we produce to them for their own entertainment and to keep us further indebted in the future. It is not a government that needs to be overthrown; it is a new and refined system of slavery, where we are bought and sold by the hour because of the fact that we do not own the things we produce.
All of this will happen again, and again, and again: debt is to us what shackles are to the slave. Capitalism must be abolished, in order for us to do the simplest of things which is to produce and consume in our communities, free from fear and free from exploitation. The equations that hold us in thrall must be overthrown in our minds, and then we must overthrow those who keep us in those mental chains. That doesn’t just mean a new capitalist government, no matter how well-intentioned: it’s not ‘a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’. It’s the abolition of the wages system, not in the future, but now; we already produce more than the capitalists can handle, and we can do far more for ourselves. They need us. We don’t need them.
What is Capitalism?
Some people associate capitalism just with the sort of financial wheeling and dealing that goes on in places like Wall Street and the City of London. Others – supporters as well as critics – see it as private enterprise and a so-called free market as markets free from state interference and regulation. In fact, this is probably the most widespread definition of capitalism.
The trouble with this definition is that it means that capitalism has never existed or has only existed as a policy or policy objective (ironically, to be implemented by the state). But markets have never existed without state intervention. Capitalism finally triumphed only through state intervention and is maintained by this. Capitalism and the state go together, they are not opposites.
Capitalism is more than financial dealings, a government policy or private enterprise or legal private ownership or private enterprise. It’s a way of producing and distributing wealth which has two key, defining features.
First, that the actual production of wealth is carried out by people hired to do this for a wage or a salary. Capitalism is production by wage-labour. (Which already presupposes a division of society into those who own and control the means of production and the rest of us who don’t.) Another name for capitalism is that it’s the wages system.
Second, capitalism is not just a system of production for sale on a market. It is a system of sale on a market with a view to profit. It’s the profit system.
Capitalism is the wages-and-profits system.
It’s the pursuit of profits by separate competing enterprises that drives the capitalist economy, but this is not just to provide the owning class with a privileged lifestyle. Not even mainly. The economic forces unleashed by the competitive struggle for profits mean that, if they are to stay in the race for profits, capitalist enterprises must invest most of their profits in new, more up-to-date and modern productive equipment so as to try to keep their costs equal to or below those of their rivals.
So, most profits have to be accumulated as more capital. This is why capitalism was originally called capitalism. It’s a system of capital accumulation out of profits made by exploiting wage-labour, an impersonal economic mechanism that in the end is not controlled by anyone (not even capitalists) and is in fact uncontrollable.