Sunday, August 21, 2016

Workers and parasites (1980)

From the April 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Colonel and Mrs. Baglie, aged 83 and 66, live in a four-bedroomed, detached house in spacious grounds near Bournemouth. His father had been managing director of a shipping firm and her family were ‘Scottish landed gentry’. They had stocks and shares worth £60,000 and savings worth at least another £30,000. They also owned land and houses in Scotland from which rents were drawn and an unearned income of £3,500 (now equivalent to over £10,000) as well as his army pension. He said, ‘No healthy person need be poor . . . I think the Welfare State has done an awful lot of harm by leading the population to expect the government to do everything for them. It has undermined the feeling of responsibility that a man owes to his family.’’ (Poverty In The United Kingdom by Peter Townsend, Penguin.) 
“A couple in their sixties were evicted from their Leicestershire council house and forced to live rough. Hinkley and Bosworth Borough Council has refused to rehouse them . . . After a working life of 40 years, the man had not worked since May because of a bad back. After their eviction (due to rent arrears and deterioration of property) he lived in a dog kennel for three nights whilst his wife lived in a bus shelter.” (Reported in The Guardian, 8.12.78.) 
“The pursuit of equality is a mirage. What is more desirable and more practicable than the pursuit of equality is the pursuit of equality of opportunity. And opportunity means nothing unless it includes the right to be unequal.” (Margaret Thatcher, 16.9.75.)
Lucky old workers; we’ve got the right to be unequal. As Thatcher and her capitalist friends keep telling us, those who have most to contribute to society are entitled to a bigger share of the social wealth. What would be the point of giving fat incomes to scroungers like nurses, cleaners, doctors, dustmen, typists, farm labourers, social workers and shop assistants? Such inferior beings would only go and waste their money on unnecessary commodities like decent food and adequate shelter. The ones whom Thatcher believes should be more equal than the rest of us are such useful social contributors as high-ranking army officers, managing directors, senile aristocrats and rock stars. After all, where would society be today if Rod Steward hadn’t been paid vast sums of money to give us all the benefit of his permanent sore throat—or if there were no well-paid generals who could devise various ways of blowing us up?

Who are they kidding when they tell us that the capitalist system allows people to consume wealth in accordance with their talents? If the British aristocracy only consumed in accordance with their talents there would be a wave of malnutrition throughout the Stately Homes of England. Under capitalism wealth ownership is not the result of talent or hard work; 32 per cent of land in Britain is owned (or held in trust) by titled families. The largest private landowner in Britain is a man who has so much talent to offer that he has never done a job in his entire life; he is the Duke of Buccleuch who owns 268,000 acres of land, which is approximately equivalent to the landholdings of the National Coal Board. The new Duke of Westminster, who is 27 years old and has reached the staggering intellectual heights of obtaining two ‘O’ levels, owns land worth two billion pounds—that’s two million millions for those readers who employ accountants to add up their wages.

The ownership of immense wealth by a small minority is largely the result of inheritance. So if social privilege is a reward for merit, the only merit which is being referred to is the wisdom of a baby to be born from the womb of a parasite rather than a worker. According to this theory, Princess Anne's son, who will never need to go out and sell his royal labour power, is being rewarded for his initiative, enterprise and intelligence. The fact that he is as yet illiterate and fond of making gargling noises is quite beside the point.

Social parasites
Social parasitism is not confined to the aristocracy. A parasite is an organism which lives by feeding from other live organisms. Such is the position of the entire capitalist class. They can only accumulate capital so long as the majority of people will produce wealth and receive a price for their labour power which is less than the value of their product. The exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class is the social equivalent of biological parasitism. But doesn’t it say in the Daily Express that the capitalists get their money and power by hard work? Yes, they get it by our hard work. We make the profits; they take the profits.

What about the so-called self-made-man-the capitalist who has not become wealthy except by employing and exploiting the labour of others. Freddie Laker does not fly his aeroplanes; Jack Cohen did not load the shelves at Tesco; Henry Ford did not build motor cars; Lord Rothermere never contributed a single article to his newspaper. Occasional members of the working class do manage to make their way in to the exploiting class, but they can only ever do so by riding on the backs of their fellow workers. It would be wrong to attack the capitalists for exploiting workers, as under the present system one can only exploit or be exploited. But it is senseless of workers to do the football pools or work like donkeys in the hope that they will one day join the ranks of their own exploiters. Most people are born and die in a class which subjects them to the dictates of the labour market.

Why poverty?
When our leaders tell us that the rich are being rewarded for their abilities they are also telling us something else: that the poor are deprived because of their talentlessness, stupidity and indolence. According to a survey carried out by the Rowntree Trust in 1967- 8, 9 per cent of the population of Britain (nearly 5 million people) are living below the official standard of poverty. Peter Townsend’s informative book on Poverty in the United Kingdom suggests that if a more appropriate “relative deprivation” standard is adopted, and if account is taken of the increased poverty generated by capitalism’s latest crisis, 26 per cent of the population (14 million people) could be said to be living in poverty. That is not to mention the many millions of people in the world for whom poverty means little or no food to eat, inadequate clothing and shelter, and the absence of any security. To attribute the reasons for such poverty to the inferiority of the impoverished is an insult to the working class.

Capitalism causes poverty because it limits workers’ access to wealth. Wages and salaries determine how much members of the working class can eat, where we can live, and every other aspect of our social existence. Under the wages system all workers are impoverished in the sense that we are denied ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution.

The only way to end poverty is to abolish classes and this can only happen when what is now the property of private capitalists or the state is transferred to the common ownership and democratic control of the whole community.

In socialist society there will be no more capitalists. What will become of them? Perhaps a few will put a gun to their own heads at the prospect of a world without cringing employees and debutantes’ balls. Others will conform to the new social order and may even realise the benefit of doing so. If capitalists do not like being dispossessed of their ownership of the means of life it will be too bad, for once the workers have decided in a majority to establish a new social system, the political sensitivities of redundant Queens, disgruntled Dukes and wet-eyed millionaires will not count for much.
Steve Coleman

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