Voice from the Back

When socialists describe capitalism as a class divided society some of capitalism’s supporters dispute this claim, but here is one dyed-in-the wool supporter of capitalism who seems to be agreeing with us. “Britain is dividing into ‘two nations’,” Iain Duncan Smith warns today, as he identifies a growing underclass for whom life is comparable to the Third World and who can expect to die in their fifties. … Speaking just days after publishing his Welfare Reform Bill with radical measures to drive people into work, he said: ‘In Britain today there are pockets that are peculiarly Third Worldish in terms of life expectancy, general expectations, disconnection for a group that is growing in number’” (Times, 19 February). Needless to say Smith’s determination to ‘drive people into work’ applies to the working class not the useless parasitical capitalists.

There is a widespread illusion that we live in more equitable times than previous generations, but recent statistics from the World Bank give the lie to that notion. “A sharp rise in food prices since June has pushed 44 million people in developing countries into extreme poverty – having to live on less than $1.25 a day – according to a report by the World Bank” (New York Times, 15 February).

A visit to an Indian city such as Calcutta would convince the visitor that it is a country of extreme poverty and qualifies as what the press call a “third world country”. You can see homeless families seeking out an existence living on the streets but that is only part of the story. “In a wedding estimated to have cost Kanwar Singh Tanwar, the groom’s father and a member of Parliament, £15 million, about 30,000 guests ate 100 different dishes and the couple’s main gift was a seven seater helicopter” (Times, 4 March). For a tiny minority of Indians a life of undreamt affluence is the norm in this “third world” country.

We are told ever day by the mass media that we are living in hard times and that we must be prepared to tighten our belts. Longer working lives, lower pensions and the threat of growing unemployment are the prospects for the working class. This period of “economic reality” does not affect the owning class of course. “Carlos Slim gets even richer as he beats Bill Gates to the top of the 2011 Forbes billionaires list. Carlos Slim, the world’s wealthiest man, saw his fortune jump $20.5bn last year as he beat a record 1,209 rival billionaires, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and British resident Lakshmi Mittal, to the top of the Forbes global rich list” (Daily Telegraph, 10 March). In case you imagine that this only applies to Mexican, American or Indian billionaires Forbes informs us that the Duke of Westminster managed to increase his stack to $13 billion last year.

American politicians are fond of boasting about the “land of the free” and contrasting the freedoms of people in the USA with that of other countries, but recent developments in the state senate in Ohio seem more dictatorial than democratic. “Ohio joined Wisconsin on Wednesday in advancing a plan to restrict public sector unions, posing a new threat to U.S. labor union power in one of the most politically and economically important states. The Republican-controlled Ohio state senate approved a proposal to curb the collective bargaining rights of public employees and forbid government workers from going on strike” (Reuters, 2 March).

Away back in the 19th Century Karl Marx once stated “Religion is the opium of the people”, but how do you respond to this 21st Century news item? “The sale of marijuana has been banned by authorities in Nepal during a popular Hindu festival at which holy men traditionally smoke the drug. About 500,000 people and thousands of holy men travelled to the Pashupatinath temple in Katmandu for the festival, which marks the end of winter. … Police stopped people from dealing but did not prevent the holy men from smoking the drug” (Times, 4 March). Perhaps the Christian holy men should take a leaf out of the Hindu’s book, it might help their falling church attendance figures. “Truck on Jesus man”, may become part of the new holy orders as a way to fill those empty collection plates.

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