I may well be among the few people here who’ve only recently come across Robin DiAngelo’s immensely popular book, White Fragility: Why White People Have Such a Hard Time Talking About Racism, but I’ll share a few of my reactions. In my opinion, this book starkly epitomizes the dangerous consequences when discussions of white identity are divorced from class analysis. After George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police, Di Angelo’s “antiracism” training manual ascended to the top of Amazon’s best seller list. The author is a white, liberal, female sociologist who specializes in wokesplaining about whiteness to other whites. She coined the term “white fragility” in 2011 to mean the immense strain — in her words, they suffer a “a meltdown” — produced when whites are called out on their racist attitudes and behavior.
In what has become a highly lucrative cottage industry, DiAngelo facilitates diversity training workshops and in addition to elite university administrations and government agencies, her clients include corporations like Nike, Goldman Sachs, Coca-Cola, CVS, Levi Strauss & Co, W.L. Gore (makers of Goretex) Google, Under Armour, Netflix and American Express. She was even a guest on The Tonight Show, where host Jimmy Fallon was reverential and gushing in his praise. DiAngelo has reportedly made over $2 million off her book and 60-90 minute talks reap up to $30,000, a two-hour workshop $35,000 and half day events, $40,00. Tickets to her public presentations range up to $160 and you can engage in telephone correspondence with DiAngelo for $320 per hour. In 2020, her three homes were reportedly valued at $1.6 million.
Just 10 days after Floyd’ death, Nancy Pelosi introduced DiAngelo’s Zoom address to 184 Democratic members of Congress in what was designated a “Democratic Caucus family discussion on race.” For Democratic Party leaders and corporate PR departments, consultants of DiAngelo’s ilk are a wet dream of how to address racism because, as Bhasker Sundara rightly asserts, “The more that blame can be shifted to individual ‘Karens,’ the less onus is on powerful corporations, and the politicians who defend them to make real change in our system of racialized capitalism.”
I’m reminded of Rhyd Wildemuth’s observation that “White people who identify more with their whiteness over their material conditions, protect the capitalists (most of whom have the same color of skin as them). Identifying instead with their material conditions and their history of displacement would show them they have more in common with poor black people than they ever will with the rich.”1 Of course, the ‘white race” isn’t real; it doesn’t actually exist. We know that prior to the Enlightenment, people saw themselves as members of a clan, tribe, religion or geographic region. Europeans didn’t think of themselves as “white people” until it emerged from the confluence of settler colonialism and the artificial contraction of “whiteness.” In The Price of Admission, in 1985, James Baldwin wrote: “White people are not white: Part of the price of the ticket is deluding themselves into believing they are.” And Dr. Gerald Horne adroitly depicts this transformation as follows:
All of sudden when crossing the Atlantic, in a narrow manner that would make Madison Blush, all are rebranded as ‘white’ which subsumes many of the tensions, ethnic and class among them, in a new monetized and militarized ‘identity politics’ of whiteness based on expropriation of the indigenous and enslavement of the Africans. 2
This is not to suggest that the social construct of whiteness, its sociology, does not continue to have a real impact on real lives. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find a better, consciously conceived and malicious identity than the white race. It’s the sleight of hand deceit that conceals the underlying brutality of our capitalist economic order.
In perusing DiAngelo’s book, which lacks an index, one searches in vain for the word “capitalism.” However, in an interview with Daniel Berger, published in the New York Times (July 15, 2020), DiAngelo abruptly volunteered that “Capitalism is dependent on inequality, on an underclass.” So why isn’t that included in her diversity training workshops? Because, she replied, “Capitalism is so bound up with racism. I avoid criticizing capitalism —I don’t need to give people a reason to dismiss me.” When asked for any reasons to be optimistic, DiAngelo mentioned NASCAR’S banning of Confederate flags and the renaming of military bases.
DiAngelo asserts that “racism is the foundation of our society” and because we all grow up in America’s deeply racist culture, all white people — no exceptions — are collectively racist, including younger people. Commenting specifically on the latter, she writes: “I’m often asked if I think the younger generation is less racist. No, I don’t.” (P. 50). What to do? According to her, after acknowledging one’s racism, the quintessential question for white people to ask themselves is: “How have I been shaped by society?” This explanation is deeply suspect because, as Michael Parenti has often reminded us, cultural explanations are all too often closer to tautologies than actual explanations. That is, the culture itself is what needs to be explained. Who created it and what were their motives? Those questions and their system destabilizing answers are off the table for DiAngelo.
In a widely circulated critique of DiAngelo’s training manual, University of Tennessee history professor, David Barber, succinctly zeroed in on the consequences of avoiding class analysis. I sense it’s a message we should emphasize in conversations with other white folks and it merits this lengthy quotation:
White supremacy is not only white over black, it is also the small number of rich whites over the much larger number of rich whites over the much larger number of poor and working class whites. In return for a guarantee that the latter group of whites will suffer the many calamities of life afforded working people less intensely and less frequently than do people of color, the poor and the working class will not challenge the rule of the rich. [T]he contradiction of white supremacy for the poor and the working class is not that white supremacy advances us but that it ties us to our own oppression… It’s the bribe to keep the poor and working class passive in the face of their own oppression. 3
In response to my query on this topic, Michael Yates, an economist, labor educator, writer and editor at Monthly Review, put it this way:
White workers simply don’t want to fall as low as they think nonwhite workers are, not just economically but socially and politically.
That is, as bad as things are or might become, whites are not at very bottom of the pecking order where Black people are. Their fear is that their white status will be undermined by any African-American gains. Pitiful as it it, this may be as concise, revelatory and serviceable a definition we can put forward for white skin privilege.
Finally, by positing the ineluctability of white racism — the flat out futility of thinking that white attitudes can change — DiAngelo’s book uncannily dovetails with Afropessimism, an analysis most closely identified with Prof. Frank Wilderson and one that also further fragments and abandons the crucial necessity of solidarity and multi-racial struggle. I may by mistaken but by my reading, the latter neglects and negates Black agency in the present and future and also fosters the belief that white people are incapable of renouncing racism which, in turn, contributes to pervasive feelings of hopelessness. Needless to say, both schools of thought lend welcome camouflage to corporate elites and their willing enablers, in part, because racial capitalism depends on manufacturing this white ignorance.
Rhyd Wildemuth, Fascism and the Deadlock of Race, Gods & Radicals Press, September 5, 2020.
Capitalism is often interpreted as a religion. However, if religion is understood in terms of Religare, as something that binds, then capitalism is anything but a religion because it lacks any force to assemble, to create community…And what is essential to religion is contemplative rest, but this is the antithesis of Capital. Capital never rests. It is in its nature that it must always work and continue moving. To the extent that they lose the capacity for contemplative rest, humans conform to Capital. The distinction between the sacred and profane is also an essential characteristic of religion. The sacred unites those things and values that give validity to a community. The formation of community is its essential trait. Capitalism, by contrast, erases the distinction between the sacred and the profane by totalizing the profane. It makes everything comparable to everything else and thus equal to everything else. Capitalism brings forth a hell of the same.
— Byung-Chul Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, October 26, 2020
Western tradition both underscores and denigrates matter—a duality more than evident in the history of subjugated persons: those un-consenting women, children, slaves, and aboriginal peoples who have been used as mere property and all others who have been merely used by others, rather than beheld as thinking, desiring agents. In or greed for power and novelty, is there anything that might escape the inevitable obsolescence of use? Once our labor, our health, our traditions and knowledge, our emotions, our very thoughts become commodities, they are stripped of life and growth…The environmental catastrophe we think of as the ruin of nature is in fact the ruin of human nature, the end of our sustainable life on Earth.
— Susan Stewart, The Ruins Lesson: Meaning and Material in Western Culture, January 7, 2020
In the English lexicon of the day, it is verboten to mention that some inspiration, sense of wonder, or a pause to reflect on a passage from the texts of ancient myth and/or religion is a positive. You run the risk at a Washington, DC, cocktail party of being ostracized if you praise Pope Francis for washing people’s feet or visiting Iraq, discussing the myths of the Saints, or even the tales of more ancient deities of Rome, Athens, Babylon, and pharaonic Egypt. Who cannot but like the Greek story of Orpheus and Eurydice?
Instead, its “Hey! See the latest American Idol? How about that language in the federal budget that I got in there for my client? Why do you care about these f*&^%$# children’s tales and that Pope guy? What’s that good for?”
Vicars of Capitalism
The gimpy Pope, with one kidney, visited the Iraqi cities of Ur, Baghdad, Mosul, and Najaf, among others. Even Hezbollah lauded the Pope’s calls for unity and peace in Iraq, a country essentially destroyed by the number one capitalist country on the planet, the United States. His faith and mission to unify people carried him to a demolished and barely functional Iraq. If that cannot be considered inspirational, that means that capitalism has successfully commodified the Pope turning him and his likeness into a key chain or a pen. Which one of the following vicars of 21st Century capitalism would undertake such a Pope-like endeavor: Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Bill Gates (Microsoft, retired), Elon Musk (Tesla, Space X), Richard Branson (Virgin Atlantic). Security issues, you say. Well, what enterprising remnant of the Islamic State would not have liked to take a shot at the Pope?
Exploitation of the Many by the Many: It is Your Job!
Sure, the ancient myths, religious beliefs—to include Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hindi, Buddhism—can be positioned as quaint fairy tales with silly rituals, and not worthy of the brain power expended in reading them. But who can’t but be inspired by the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Egyptian Tale of Sinhue and The Four Vedas (Ka by Roberto Calasso is a brilliant text on the Vedas). Texts like these tell the stories of early humanity and are rich in color, allegory, and, of course, myth. They go beyond the major religions of the book as explorations that might as well be on the moon for their time.
It is not possible to read these texts straight through like a sprinter running the 100 meters. Many pauses are required to think through what has just been read. It is akin to a long contemplative walk where frequent stops are made to look around, to ponder, to be amazed. It hits you when you realize the ancients, the authors-editors-translators of the texts are all part of an interconnected world in which humans seek meaning.
Capitalism has little time for sub-surface thought, for depth. It is all about how fast one can consume, as Han indicates in his book. One is trained in the capitalist system and subsequently pushed into the ruthless routine of consumption and competition with all human beings encountered through life’s assembly line.
Capitalism is the practice of exploitation of the self and others. The focus on Wall Street, Bezos/Musk or capitalism and its past history is ill placed. No, the worst and most damaging part of the cult of capitalism is that it quietly plants a seed of destructive exploitation in each and every person’s head that says, “It’s okay to exploit everyone, everywhere at all times. I will sell my soul. Everyone does it. I’ll get mine.” There is always money to be made on any concept, emotion, historical wrong, death, etc. Family, friends, coworkers, teachers, children, professors are easy targets for exploitation. Watch television, surf the web, check your hand-held, go to the movies, read the newspapers (online), play with Tik Tok. The gears of capitalism will grind on and will never stop until someone, or something, presses the stop button (even the Pandemic could not stop capitalism).
Above all capitalism is manically authoritarian and indoctrinating. It slowly crushes any ideas, beliefs not conducive to turning people into information speed freaks who do not realize they possess only administrative freedom. Capitalism molds everyone and everything into malleable forms with minor variations which appeal to the majority of society, consisting of the unfree consumer, who has been pummeled with marketing slogans and television commercials, and advertising pop-ups/click bait on the computer.
Capitalism also seeks to stifle freedom of speech unless it is digital speech maintained in bits and bytes and approved for entertainment value. Capitalism has turned people into fireflies in the dark night: A brief flash of chemical light and the creature is gone. A person’s ability to think disappears as quickly as the fireflies’ light and, perhaps, so does its existence.
I currently feel for the Social Justice vanguard. Capitalism will crush that movement too. For the moment, the issue is hot and trendy. In fact, capitalism applauds the erasure of Western Civilization’s history. Guilt sells. There is always a tidy profit to be made using destroying the past to create a future with a new or no identity or history, and no vocabulary.
There is Nothing Below the Surface
One cannot engage in an in-depth conversation about these issues unless you fork over $100,000 to a college or university to discuss them. But wait! Ancient texts? Religion? Literature? These are studies that are probably in the Liberal Arts/Humanities departments which are being strangled of funds. But that is all part of the capitalist plan. As Henry Giroux points out:
Education within the last three decades has diminished rapidly in its capacities to educate young people to be reflective, critical, and socially engaged agents. Despite all attempts to degrade the value and purpose of education, the notion of education as the primary register of the larger culture persists. Yet, under a neoliberal regime, the utopian possibilities formerly associated with public and higher education as a public good capable of promoting social equality and supporting democracy have become too dangerous for the apostles of neoliberalism. Critical thought and the imaginings of a better world present a direct threat to a neoliberal paradigm in which the future must always replicate the present in an endless circle in which capital and the identities that legitimate it merge with each other into what might be called a dead zone.
Combine the push of the Critical Theorists with capitalism’s doctrines and you have got a quicker, more “legitimate” way to purge Liberal Arts/Humanities or White history. Critical Theorists have played right into capitalism’s hands. “Just another means to erase the past,” the capitalists will say. “Just another way to unmoor a large swath of the populations. There’s money to be made in Guilt. You know, we will sell it like we did diet cola or sugar free gum. Wipe your guilt away with brand X.” The capitalist process involved is sad. No one can see it, or acknowledge it.
Capitalism has the patience of Job and ensures that nothing is really complete, according to Han. One is always pushing to an incomplete future from a foggy present and unknown past.
We are losing the capacity for closure and this means that life is becoming purely an additive process. For something to die life must find its own closure. If life is deprived of any possibility of closure it will end in non-time. Because it rushes from sensation to the next, even perception is now incapable of closure…Where everything is connected, no closure is possible. The loss of forms of completions that accompanies overproduction and overconsumption lead to systemic collapse. The neoliberal imperative of optimization and performance does not allow for any completion. Everything is provisional and incomplete; nothing is final and conclusive…The We that is capable of joint action is also a form of closure. Today, it disintegrates into egos who voluntarily exploit themselves as entrepreneurs of their own selves…Flexibility is enforced by the ruthless destruction of bonds.
Capitalism is not a definable thing. I was walking outside here in Northern Virginia and heard the humming, electric buzz of a million Cicadas. It was not possible to see all the critters parked in the trees. But they were there, yelling/buzzing in their own way. I thought then of a dense fog in which nothing can really be seen. Only the noise, a cacophony of strange creatures can be heard.
And then I thought that capitalism is really some sort of creature, present since humanity started to value things, people, animals, clothes, voices, trade. It is ancient. It is not a system imposed by some alien force. Capitalism is the Sirens from Greek mythology
Maybe it is a return to symbols, rituals and ancient tales that can help us escape the fog of life that capitalism produces. If we can’t find meaning from ancients that searched for it when the world was largely unknown to them, and applaud their effort, then where else might we find it. In the stars, solar systems long dead from the past. Or how about self-help books or the next war coming up to provide meaning.
Photo credit: UNICEF Teachers and students were able to return to school in Lao Cai, Viet Nam, in May 2020
A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that worries about the COVID pandemic in the United States are at their lowest level since it began. Only half of Americans are either “very worried” (15%) or “somewhat worried” (35%) about the virus, while the other half are “not very worried” (30%) or “not worried at all” (20%).
But the news from around the world makes it clear that this pandemic is far from over, and a story from Vietnam highlights the nature of the danger.
Vietnam is a COVID success story, with one of the lowest rates of infection and death in the world. Vietnam’s excellent community-based public health system prevented the virus from spreading beyond isolated cases and localized outbreaks, without a nationwide lockdown. With a population of 98 million people, Vietnam has had only 8,883 cases and 53 deaths.
However, more than half of Vietnam’s cases and deaths have come in the last two months, and three-quarters of the new cases have been infected with a new “hybrid” variant that combines the two mutations detected separately in the Alpha (U.K.) and Delta (India) variants.
Vietnam is a canary in the pandemic coal-mine. The way this new variant has spread so quickly in a country that has defeated every previous form of the virus suggests that this one is much more infectious.
This variant must surely also be spreading in other countries, where it will be harder to detect among thousands of daily cases, and will therefore be widespread by the time public health officials and governments respond to it. There may also be other highly infectious new variants spreading undetected among the millions of cases in Latin America and other parts of the world.
A new study in The Lancet medical journal has found that the Alpha (U.K.), Beta (South Africa) and Delta (India) variants are all more resistant to existing vaccines than the original COVID virus, and the Delta variant is still spreading in countries with aggressive vaccination programs, including the U.K.
The Delta variant accounts for a two-month high in new cases in the U.K. and a new wave of infections in Portugal, just as developed countries ease restrictions before the summer vacation season, almost certainly opening the door to the next wave. The U.K., which has a slightly higher vaccination rate than the United States, had planned a further relaxation of restrictions on June 21st, but that is now in question.
China, Vietnam, New Zealand and other countries defeated the pandemic in its early stages by prioritizing public health over business interests. The United States and Western Europe instead tried to strike a balance between public health and their neoliberal economic systems, breeding a monster that has now killed millions of people. The World Health Organization believes that six to eight million people have died, about twice as many as have been counted in official figures.
Now the WHO is recommending that wealthier countries who have good supplies of vaccines postpone vaccinating healthy young people, and instead prioritize sending vaccines to poorer countries where the virus is running wild.
President Biden has announced that the United States is releasing 25 million doses from its stockpiles, most of which will be distributed through the WHO’s Covax program, with another 55 million to follow by the end of June. But this is a tiny fraction of what is needed.
Biden has also agreed to waive patent rights on vaccines under the WTO’s TRIPS rules (the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), but that has so far been held up at the WTO by Canada and right-wing governments in the U.K., Germany, Brazil, Australia, Japan and Colombia. People have taken to the streets in many countries to insist that a WTO TRIPS Council meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 8-9, must agree to waive patent monopolies.
Since all the countries blocking the TRIPS waiver are U.S. allies, this will be a critical test of the Biden administration’s promised international leadership and diplomacy, which has so far taken a back seat to dangerous saber-rattling against China and Russia, foot-dragging on the JCPOA with Iran and war-crime-fueling weapons-peddling to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Ending international vaccine apartheid is not just a matter of altruism, or even justice. It is a question of whether we will end this pandemic before vaccine-resistant, super-spreading and deadlier variants fuel even more toxic new waves. The only way humanity can win this struggle is to act collectively in our common interest.
Public Citizen has researched what it would take to vaccinate the world, and concluded that it would cost only $25 billion – 3% of the annual U.S. budget for weapons and war – to set up manufacturing plants and distribution hubs across the world and vaccinate all of humanity within a year. Forty-two Progressives in Congress have signed a letter to President Biden to urge him to fund such a plan.
If the world can agree to make and distribute a People’s Vaccine, it could be the silver lining in this dark cloud, because this ability to act globally and collectively in the public interest is precisely what we need to solve so many of the most serious problems facing humanity.
For example, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) is warning that we are in the midst of a triple crisis of climate change, mass extinction and pollution. Our neoliberal political and economic system has not just failed to solve these problems. It actively works to undermine efforts to do so, granting people, corporations and countries who profit from destroying the natural world the freedom to do so without constraint.
That is the very meaning of laissez-faire, to let the wealthy and powerful do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences for the rest of us, or even for life on Earth. As the economist John Maynard Keynes reputedly said in the 1930s, “Laissez-faire capitalism is the absurd idea that the worst people, for the worst reasons, will do what is best for us all.”
Neoliberalism is the reimposition of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism, with all its injustices, inequality and oppression, on the people of the 21st century, prioritizing markets, profits and wealth over the common welfare of humanity and the natural world our lives depend on.
Berkeley and Princeton political theorist Sheldon Wolin called the U.S. political system, which facilitates this neoliberal economic order, “inverted totalitarianism.” Like classical totalitarianism, it concentrates ever more wealth and power in the hands of a small ruling class, but instead of abolishing parliaments, elections and the superficial trappings of representative government as classical totalitarianism did, it simply co-opts them as tools of plutocracy, which has proved to be a more marketable and sustainable strategy.
But now that neoliberalism has wreaked its chaos for a generation, popular movements are rising up across the world to demand systemic change and to build new systems of politics and economics that can actually solve the huge problems that neoliberalism has produced.
In response to the 2019 uprising in Chile, its rulers were forced to agree to an election for a constitutional assembly, to draft a constitution to replace the one written during the Pinochet dictatorship, one of the vanguards of neoliberalism. That election has now taken place, and the ruling party of President Pinera and other traditional parties won less than a third of the seats. So the constitution will instead be written by a super-majority of citizens committed to radical reform and social, economic and political justice.
In Iraq, which was also swept by a popular uprising in 2019, a new government seated in 2020 has launched an investigation to recover $150 billion in Iraqi oil revenues stolen and smuggled out of the country by the corrupt officials of previous governments.
U.S.-backed former exiles flew into Iraq on the heels of the U.S. invasion in 2003 “with empty pockets to fill,” as a Baghdad taxi driver told a Western reporter at the time. While U.S. forces and U.S.-trained Iraqi death squads destroyed their country, they hunkered down in the Green Zone in Baghdad and controlled and looted Iraq’s oil revenues for the next seventeen years. Now maybe Iraq can recover the stolen money its people so desperately need, and start using its oil wealth to rebuild that shattered country.
In Bolivia, also in 2019, a U.S.-backed coup overthrew its popular indigenous president, Evo Morales. But the people of Bolivia rose up in a general strike to demand a new election, Morales’ MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) Party was restored to power, and Luis Arce, Morales’ former Economy Minister, is now Bolivia’s President.
Around the world, we are witnessing what can happen when people rise up and act collectively for the common good. That is how we will solve the serious problems we face, from the COVID pandemic to the climate crisis to the terminal danger of nuclear war. Humanity’s survival into the twenty-second century and all our hopes for a bright future depend on building new political and economic systems that will simply and genuinely “do what is best for all of us.”
Sold under the pretence of a quest for optimising well-being and ‘happiness’, capitalism thrives on the exploitation of peoples and the environment. What really matters is the strive to maintain viable profit margins. The prevailing economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption and needs a certain level of annual GDP growth for large firms to make sufficient profit.
But at some point, markets become saturated, demand rates fall and overproduction and overaccumulation of capital becomes a problem. In response, we have seen credit markets expand and personal debt increase to maintain consumer demand as workers’ wages have been squeezed, financial and real estate speculation rise (new investment markets), stock buy backs and massive bail outs and subsidies (public money to maintain the viability of private capital) and an expansion of militarism (a major driving force for many sectors of the economy).
We have also witnessed systems of production abroad being displaced for global corporations to then capture and expand markets in foreign countries.
The old normal
Much of what is outlined above is inherent to capitalism. But the 1980s was a crucial period that helped set the framework for where we find ourselves today.
Remember when the cult of the individual was centre stage? It formed part of the Reagan-Thatcher rhetoric of the ‘new normal’ of 1980s neoliberalism.
In the UK, the running down of welfare provision was justified by government-media rhetoric about ‘individual responsibility’, reducing the role of the state and the need to ‘stand on your own two feet’. The selling off of public assets to profiteering corporations was sold to the masses on the basis of market efficiency and ‘freedom of choice’.
The state provision of welfare, education, health services and the role of the public sector was relentlessly undermined by neoliberal dogma and the creed that the market (global corporations) constituted the best method for supplying human needs.
Thatcher’s stated mission was to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit by rolling back the ‘nanny state’. She wasted little time in crushing the power of the trade unions and privatising key state assets.
Despite her rhetoric, she did not actually reduce the role of the state. She used its machinery differently, on behalf of business. Neither did she unleash the ‘spirit of entrepreneurialism’. Economic growth rates under her were similar as in the 1970s, but a concentration of ownership occurred and levels of inequality rocketed.
Margaret Thatcher was well trained in perception management, manipulating certain strands of latent populist sentiment and prejudice. Her free market, anti-big-government platitudes were passed off to a section of the public that was all too eager to embrace them as a proxy for remedying all that was wrong with Britain. For many, what were once regarded as the extreme social and economic policies of the right became entrenched as the common sense of the age.
Thatcher’s policies destroyed a fifth of Britain’s industrial base in just two years alone. The service sector, finance and banking were heralded as the new drivers of the economy, as much of Britain’s manufacturing sector was out-sourced to cheap labour economies.
Under Thatcher, employees’ share of national income was slashed from 65% to 53%. Long gone are many of the relatively well-paid manufacturing jobs that helped build and sustain the economy. In their place, the country has witnessed the imposition of a low taxation regime and low-paid and insecure ‘service sector’ jobs (no-contract work, macjobs, call centre jobs – many of which soon went abroad) as well as a real estate bubble, credit card debt and student debt, which helped to keep the economy afloat.
However, ultimately, what Thatcher did was – despite her rhetoric of helping small-scale businesses and wrapping herself in the national flag – facilitate the globalisation process by opening the British economy to international capital flows and allowing free rein for global finance and transnational corporations.
Referring to the beginning of this article, it is clear whose happiness and well-being counts most and whose does not matter at all as detailed by David Rothkopf in his 2008 book Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making. Members of the superclass belong to the megacorporation-interlocked, policy-building elites of the world and come from the highest echelons of finance, industry, the military, government and other shadow elites. These are the people whose interests Margaret Thatcher was serving.
These people set the agendas at the Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg, G-7, G-20, NATO, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization.
And let us not forget the various key think tanks and policy making arenas like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institute and Chatham House as well as the World Economic Forum (WEF), where sections of the global elite forge policies and strategies and pass them to their political handmaidens.
Driven by the vision of its influential executive chairman Klaus Schwab, the WEF is a major driving force for the dystopian ‘great reset’, a tectonic shift that intends to change how we live, work and interact with each other.
The new normal
The great reset envisages a transformation of capitalism, resulting in permanent restrictions on fundamental liberties and mass surveillance as livelihoods and entire sectors are sacrificed to boost the monopoly and hegemony of pharmaceutical corporations, high-tech/big data giants, Amazon, Google, major global chains, the digital payments sector, biotech concerns, etc.
Under the cover of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, the great reset is being rolled out under the guise of a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ in which smaller enterprises are to be driven to bankruptcy or bought up by monopolies. Economies are being ‘restructured’ and many jobs and roles will be carried out by AI-driven technology.
The WEF says the public will ‘rent’ everything they require: stripping the right of ownership under the guise of a ‘green economy’ underpinned by the rhetoric of ‘sustainable consumption’ and ‘climate emergency’.
At the same time new (‘green product’) markets are being created and, on the back of COVID, fresh opportunities for profit extraction are opening up abroad. For instance, World Bank Group President David Malpass has stated that poorer countries will be ‘helped’ to get back on their feet after the various lockdowns that have been implemented in response to the Covid-19 crisis. This ‘help’ will be on condition that neoliberal reforms and the undermining of public services are implemented and become further embedded.
Many people waste no time in referring to this as some kind of ‘Marxist’ or ‘communist’ takeover of the planet because a tiny elite will be dictating policies. This has nothing to do with Marxism. An authoritarian capitalist elite – supported by their political technocrats – aims to secure even greater control of the global economy. It will no longer be a (loosely labelled) ‘capitalism’ based on ‘free’ markets and competition (not that those concepts ever really withstood proper scrutiny). Economies will be monopolised by global players, not least e-commerce platforms run by the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Facebook and Google and their multi-billionaire owners.
The so-called ‘green economy’ will fit in with the notion of ‘sustainable consumption’ and ‘climate emergency’. A bunch of billionaires and their platforms will control every aspect of the value chain. Of course, they themselves will not reduce their own consumption or get rid of their personal jets, expensive vehicles, numerous exclusive homes or ditch their resource gobbling lifestyles. Reduced consumption is meant only for the masses.
They will not only control and own data about consumption but also control and own data on production, logistics, who needs what, when they need it, who should produce it, who should move it and when it should be moved. Independent enterprises will disappear or become incorporated into the platforms acting as subservient cogs. Elected representatives will be mere technocratic overseers of these platforms and the artificial intelligence tools that plan and determine all of the above.
The lockdowns and restrictions we have seen since March 2020 have helped boost the bottom line of global chains and the e-commerce giants and have cemented their dominance. Many small and medium-size independent enterprises have been pushed towards bankruptcy. At the same time, fundamental rights have been eradicated under COVID19 government measures.
Politicians in countries throughout the world have been using the rhetoric of the WEF’s great reset, talking of the need to ‘build back better’ for the ‘new normal’. They are all on point. Hardly a coincidence. Essential to this ‘new normal’ is the compulsion to remove individual liberties and personal freedoms given that, in the ‘green new normal’, unfettered consumption will no longer be an option for the bulk of the population.
It has long been the case that a significant part of the working class has been deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ – three decades ago, such people were sacrificed on the altar of neo-liberalism. They lost their jobs due to automation and offshoring. They have had to rely on meagre state welfare and run-down public services.
But what we are now seeing is the possibility of hundreds of millions around the world being robbed of their livelihoods. Forget about the benign sounding ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and its promised techno-utopia. What we are witnessing right now seems to be a major restructuring of capitalist economies.
With AI and advanced automation of production, distribution and service provision (3D printing/manufacturing, drone technology, driverless vehicles, lab grown food, farmerless farms, robotics, etc), a mass labour force – and therefore mass education, mass welfare, mass healthcare provision and entire systems that were in place to reproduce labour for capitalist economic activity – will no longer be required. As economic activity is restructured, labour’s relationship to capital is being transformed.
In a reorganised system that no longer needs to sell the virtues of excessive individualism (consumerism), the levels of political and civil rights and freedoms we have been used to will not be tolerated.
Neoliberalism might have reached its logical conclusion (for now). Making trade unions toothless, beating down wages to create unimaginable levels of inequality and (via the dismantling of Bretton Woods) affording private capital so much freedom to secure profit and political clout under the guise of ‘globalisation’ would inevitably lead to one outcome.
A concentration of wealth, power, ownership and control at the top with large sections of the population on state-controlled universal basic income and everyone subjected to the discipline of an emerging biosecurity surveillance state designed to curtail liberties ranging from freedom of movement and assembly to political protest and free speech.
Perception management is, of course, vital for pushing through all of this. Rhetoric about ‘liberty’ and ‘individual responsibility’ worked a treat in the 1980s to help bring about a massive heist of wealth. This time, it is a public health scare and ‘collective responsibility’ as part of a strategy to help move towards near-monopolistic control over economies by a handful of global players.
And the perception of freedom is also being managed. Once vaccinated many will begin to feel free. Freer than under lockdown. But not really free at all.
In contrast to Media Lens modestly marking a mere two decades in July, the Guardian has been deluging itself with praise on reaching two centuries this year. Not that we would expect otherwise. As editor Katherine Viner proclaimed in a long, celebratory essay:
‘The Guardian is not the only newspaper to declare that it has a higher purpose than transmitting the day’s events in order to make a profit. But it might be unique in having held on to that sense of purpose for two centuries.’
From her editor’s throne, Viner portrayed the paper as a kind of collective enterprise rooted in a socially-aware commune:
‘journalists must be part of the social fabric of the world they report on. The Guardian is a community of journalists and readers, all of us equal citizens of that community.’
It is difficult to square such pious words with the reality that Guardian moderators prowl the online comments on the Guardian website, ready to instantly delete critical remarks posted by the public. As one Guardian reader noted recently on Twitter:
‘My comment comparing the detention of the journalist in Belarus with what is being done to Craig Murray and Julian Assange in the UK has been deleted by the mods at The Guardian within seconds.’
For Viner, awkward readers like this are simply ostracised and no longer deemed part of the ‘Guardian’s community’. They are not allowed to besmirch her shining vision that the Guardian is:
‘a newspaper built on facts and guided by its values, a newspaper with a moral as well as a material existence.’
Throughout her essay, the rhetoric flooded out:
‘Our mission is based on a moral conviction: that people long to understand the world they are in, and to create a better one. To use our clarity and imagination to build hope.’
Yet more purple prose gushed forth:
‘we have roots, we have principles, we have philosophy, we have values.’
It takes a certain blinkered mindset, honed through faithful service to the Guardian bubble and ideological navel-gazing, to believe this guff. In almost 6,000 words, there was no hint of critical self-reflection by Viner. There was certainly no mention of Julian Assange, the courageous WikiLeaks co-founder and publisher of copious evidence of US war crimes whom the Guardian exploited, discarded and smeared.
Guardian Smearing Of Chomsky And Assange
Assange and WikiLeaks did, however, make it into a 64-page supplement, ‘We were there: The 200 moments that made the Guardian’, included with the print version of the newspaper on Saturday, 8 May. The piece was written by Ian Katz, a former Guardian deputy editor who left to become editor of BBC Newsnight in 2013, and is now Director of Programmes at Channel 4. This is pretty much the full set of prized media destinations in the career of a successful liberal journalist. The fact that his career was not derailed by an infamous media episode in 2005, during his Guardian years, speaks volumes.
Katz was then the Guardian editor responsible for the G2 section of the paper which published a notorious interview by Emma Brockes smearing Noam Chomsky. Addressing the Balkan Wars in the former Yugoslavia and, in particular, the Srebrenica massacre, Brockes had written of Chomsky’s view as: ‘witheringly teenage; like, Srebrenica was so not a massacre.’ As we discussed at the time, this was a deceitful distortion of the truth: Chomsky has never denied that a massacre took place in Srebrenica. In an open letter, Chomsky himself described the Guardian piece as ‘a scurrilous piece of journalism’. The paper was flooded with readers’ complaints, the readers’ editor investigated the case, an apology of sorts was issued, and the interview subsequently taken down. No Guardian editor or journalist has made reference to this disgraceful and deeply embarrassing episode in any of their valedictory retrospective accounts.
In Katz’s piece on WikiLeaks (only available in print, and not online), he repeated an outrageous quote attributed to Julian Assange by David Leigh, the former Guardian investigations editor. In 2010, Guardian staff and Assange were working together in a Guardian ‘bunker’ on hundreds of thousands of US military records and US embassy cables. Katz gave the official Guardian version of events:
‘Our biggest disagreement blew up over the question of whether confidential sources identified in the documents deserved protection. All the traditional journalists involved in the project took it as read that we would redact the names of any informants who could be put at risk by our publishing the documents. Assange saw it differently. “They’re informants,’ he told Leigh. “So if they get killed they’ve got it coming to them.”’
This account, to put it politely, is disputed. In fact, Assange has stated that the quote is ‘completely fabricated’. John Goetz, a journalist from Der Spiegel, was present at the dinner in a London restaurant where Leigh claimed Assange made the remark. Goetz has affirmed that Assange made no such remark. Moreover, Mark Davis, a multi-award winning Australian journalist who was present in the ‘bunker’ with Assange throughout the preparation of the Afghan War Logs, has exposed the shameful role of the Guardian in its dealings with Assange, accusing them of ‘slanders’ and ‘lies’ (further details and quotes are here).
As the progressive website Consortium Newsreported:
‘Most shocking in these revelations is Mark Davis’s account of how the Guardian journalists neglected and appeared to care little about redacting the documents. They had a “graveyard humour” about people being harmed and no one, he stated emphatically, expressed concern about civilian casualties except Julian Assange…Assange had subsequently requested that the release of the Afghan War Logs be delayed for the purpose of redaction, but the Guardian not only insisted on the agreed date, they abandoned him to redact 10,000 documents alone.’
Katz included none of this in his account. And Viner’s silence on Assange is telling. As is her seeming refusal ever to discuss, far less apologise for, the fake front-page ‘news’ story the paper published in November 2018 claiming that Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, supposedly held secret talks with Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. It was another fabricated story about the WikiLeaks publisher. And all part of a smear-based propaganda campaign that led to him being forcibly removed from the Embassy and locked away in the high-security Belmarsh prison, at risk of being extradited to the US to face life imprisonment. Recall that Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, has declared unequivocally that Assange is a victim of torture. Melzer has demanded, along with many other lawyers, human rights organisations and members of the public, that Assange be freed.
Guardian Distortion ‘Beggars Belief’
Likewise, an essay in the New York Review by Alan Rusbridger, Viner’s predecessor in the editor’s chair, was long on Guardian mythology and short on critical self-analysis. Towards the end, a few tokenistic references were made to chapters that had pulled their punches in a new book about the Guardian’s history, ‘Capitalism’s Conscience’, edited by media academic Des Freedman and put under the microscope in a recent media alert. In fact, as we suspected would happen, Rusbridger leaned on the book to boost the paper’s supposed bona fides:
‘Capitalism’s Conscience does acknowledge remarkably positive and progressive aspects of The Guardian’s more recent history, including in-depth coverage of the developing world, a better-than-some track record on diversity, a commitment to investigative reporting, and a balanced approach to Brexit.’
But Rusbridger avoided any observations by the book’s more hard-hitting contributors. For example, Alan MacLeod had noted of the paper’s coverage of Latin America:
‘far from embracing the “Pink Tide” [the grassroots progressive movements across Latin America], the Guardian has, for the most part, chosen to side with Western governments and reject it, often displaying a shocking lack of understanding of the continent. Indeed, the distortion with which it presents Latin America is so startling it often beggars belief.’
MacLeod added that the Guardian’s ‘tone and outlook [are] often so conservative that it is indistinguishable from the Daily Telegraph in its reporting of the continent.’
He directly implicated the current editor:
‘Katharine Viner describes the newspaper’s mission as “holding the powerful to account” and “upholding liberal values”. Yet when it comes to Latin America, it has attacked progressive movements attempting to further those values, while often failing to hold the region’s right-wing rulers to the same standard. It has been necessary to do this, lest British readers are inspired, like Corbyn was, to try the same thing at home.’
Moreover, in their chapter on ‘The Guardian and Surveillance’, Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis note what happened after the paper revealed secret US government documents leaked by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Security services and the Ministry of Defence were so concerned by the revelations that, on 20 July 2013, GCHQ officials entered the Guardian’s offices at King’s Cross in London. At the request of the government and security services, Guardian deputy editor Paul Johnson and two colleagues spent three hours destroying the laptops containing the Snowden documents.
Afterwards, the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee, known as the D-Notice Committee, increasingly placed pressure on the Guardian to refrain from publishing information that would ‘jeopardise both national security and possibly UK personnel’. A combined charm and threat offensive to make the Guardian play ball ultimately paid off when Paul Johnson accepted an invitation to sit on the D-Notice Committee. He attended his first meeting in May 2014 and remained on the committee until October 2018. As Kennard and Curtis observed:
‘The Guardian’s deputy editor went directly from the corporation’s basement with an angle-grinder to sitting on the D-Notice Committee alongside the security service officials who had tried to stop his paper publishing the Snowden material.’
The authors give some credit to Rusbridger who ‘withstood intense pressure not to publish some of Snowden’s revelations’, but note that things changed when Viner was appointed editor in March 2015. Critical coverage of UK intelligence services thereafter dropped dramatically. Moreover, soft-pedalling ‘exclusives’ appeared with senior intelligence and counter-terrorism chiefs highlighting the supposed ‘threat’ of foreign states, notably Russia.
Kennard and Curtis wrote:
‘While some articles critical of the security services still appear in the paper, its “scoops” have increasingly focused on issues more acceptable to them. In the years since the Snowden affair, the Guardian does not appear to have published any articles based on intelligence or security services sources that were not so to speak “officially sanctioned”.’
In a recent piece with the apt title, ‘Like billionaire-controlled media, The Guardian misinforms its readers on the UK’s role in world’, Curtis pointed out that:
‘while it sometimes exposes how the British establishment works, it acts largely in support of it – and that in recent years it has largely shredded the capacity it once had to do more independent, investigative reporting.
‘The paper’s political positioning, on the right wing of Labour and mainstream of the US Democratic Party, always suggested it would act to stave off more fundamental change when the time came. With Corbyn, this was clearly borne out.’
Behind The Façade Of Guardian ‘Liberalism’
Long-time readers of Media Lens will be well aware that we have written several books and hundreds of media alerts exposing the Guardian’s propaganda role in shoring up the status quo. But nothing of this mountain of evidence, nor the examples cited earlier in this alert, disturbed the haughty, self-satisfied triumphalism of Viner and Rusbridger.
Also notably lacking from the Guardian’snumerous retrospectives, including a fashion piece on ‘200 years of newsroom style: what journalists wear to work’, was the consistent Guardian protection of establishment power for two centuries. This uncomfortable truth was superbly exposed in an historical overview, titled ‘50,000 editions of the imperialist, warmongering, hate-filled Guardian newspaper’, first published by author Murray McDonald in 2007 when the paper celebrated its 50,000th issue.
A crucial component of the haloed Guardian mythology, featuring prominently in both Rusbridger’s and Viner’s accounts, is its founding in Manchester in 1821 by John Taylor as a supposed radical paper championing the victims of the Peterloo Massacre. In 1819, eighteen people died when cavalry charged into a crowd of around 60,000 people who had gathered in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.
‘What the Guardian forgot to say was that Taylor launched his paper to undermine the working class leaders of the reform movement; or that Taylor refused to use either word “Peterloo” or “Massacre”, thinking them too inflammatory.’
The paper has never been a reliable supporter of popular opposition to establishment power. In fact, worse than that, the Guardian:
‘has been deeply hostile to the working class, especially when they have taken matters into their own hands.’
As just one early example:
‘When Women Suffragettes fought for the vote, Guardian editor C.P. Scott denounced them as fanatics, just as the Manchester Guardian opposed giving the working classes the vote before.’
Historically, the Guardian actually derided movements against British imperialism and colonialism:
‘Over the years, much of the newspaper’s venom has been reserved for opposition movements. The Guardian had a particular contempt for anti-imperialist movement[s], pouring scorn on Third World nationalists like [Patrice] Lumumba [of Congo] and [Gamal] Nasser [of Egypt], advocating military intervention across the globe.’
‘And when Abraham Lincoln fought a Civil War against slavery, the Manchester Guardian rallied to defend the southern Slave-Owners.’
In more modern times, the Guardian – apart from mild criticism here and there towards the end of Tony Blair’s time in Downing Street – has been a stalwart cheerleader for the former Prime Minister. This bizarre nostalgic longing for the New Labour era continues to this day, even though Blair’s hands are steeped in the blood of over one million dead people in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Arguments for ‘humanitarian intervention’ were honed by the Guardian in its reporting of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, as McDonald noted, ‘demonising the enemy, talking up the humanitarian crisis, and pushing for military action’.
Viner and Rusbridger airbrush all of this from their glowing ideological narratives of the paper. But reading closely between the lines is instructive and hints at the grim truth. Consider Rusbridger’s curiously-worded claim that ‘the paper can disappoint the left and anger the right.’ He gave this example:
‘The most recent disappointment for those on the left was the paper’s failure—as they saw it—to wholeheartedly embrace Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.’
This is truly outrageous spin. In fact, the Guardian played a key role in the propaganda blitz that scuppered Corbyn’s chances of becoming Prime Minister and making any move towards a more equal society that the Guardian supposedly champions.
Keyvan Minoukadeh of the website fivefilters.org diligently monitored the relentless Guardian attacks on Corbyn over the two-year period from 2015-2017. He observed that there was a slight let-up towards the end of this period, perhaps because Guardian editors were worried that they had alienated too many readers. But then:
‘After a short pause, the paper continued and intensified its attacks, this time spreading spurious and damaging claims of anti-semitism.’
In short, the paper failed to ‘wholeheartedly embrace Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership’ in much the same way that a kestrel fails to wholeheartedly embrace a mouse when swooping down for its prey.
‘The Guardian represents a whole batch of journalists…who, broadly speaking, like the status quo…are very critical of the left…They just are the Establishment. It is a society that suits them well.’
As we saw above, Viner’s florid account of her beloved paper overflowed with worthy words about principles, values, roots, morals, and a ‘mission based on a moral conviction’ to ‘create a better’ society and ‘to build hope’. These claims are cruel deceptions because the reality is far different. In truth, the Guardian has long played a liberal gatekeeper role, corralling and deflecting the threat of real public opposition to elite power.
A newspaper predicated on ‘liberal values’ has a crucial role to play in the propaganda system. As Noam Chomsky has long observed, such a paper delimits the ‘acceptable’ limits of news reporting and commentary: ‘Thus far, and no further’. To be truly effective, the ‘mainstream’ media must appear to be relatively free and open. For this reason, added Chomsky:
‘liberal bias is extremely important in a sophisticated system of propaganda.’
The Guardian epitomises this vital function.
Jonathan Cook, a former Guardian reporter who is now an independent, reader-supported journalist, put it this way:
‘The role of corporate media is to serve as a figurative sheep-dog, herding journalists each day into an ideological pen – the publication they write for. There are minor differences of opinion and emphasis between conservative publications and liberal ones, but they all ultimately serve the same corporate, business-friendly, colonial, war-mongering agenda.’
Just consider one salient fact. Absent from the Guardian – and the entire ‘mainstream’ media – is any sustained, substantive reporting about the economic system that is driving climate breakdown and mass extinction of species. A recent video titled, ‘Why Capitalism Can’t Handle Climate Change’, from Second Thought, an educational YouTube channel presenting analysis of current events from a Leftist perspective, encapsulates the most pressing crisis today:
‘If we want to ensure a liveable future for the human race, we must move past capitalism. Capitalism is incapable of solving the problems it creates. It is entirely beholden to the profit motive, and no amount of flowery language, greenwashing or reform will ever change that.
Sweep aside the paper’s lofty rhetoric, and it is clear that the Guardian has long been a component of power that is currently driving humanity towards extinction.
Currently, New York State limits the number of charter schools allowed in the state to 460. In 1998, when the state passed its charter school law, the numerical limit was 100. The law has been amended three times since 1998 to not only increase the number of charter schools allowed in the state but to also further lower the standards of accountability and transparency required of privately-operated charter schools.
Putting aside the issues of inflated charter school waiting lists, widespread corruption, discriminatory enrollment practices, high teacher turnover rates, and the fact that 50 charter schools have closed in New York State over the past 20 years, this dramatic neoliberal expansion in the number of charter schools allowed in the state has produced serious problems for public schools and charter schools themselves. The biggest problem has been charter schools depriving public schools of billions of dollars in public funds, resources, and facilities while delivering unimpressive results on several levels. It is also worth noting that with black and Hispanic students making up more than 90 percent of the students enrolled in New York City’s charter schools, these schools are some of the most segregated in the country. Such a setup not only undermines public education but also harms the economy, society, and the national interest.
While nearly 400 charter schools have been authorized to date, about 325 were open in 2020-2021. New York City alone is home to about 265 charter schools. The City reached its charter school limit in March 2019. About 92 open/unused charter school slots remain available outside New York City. There are other statistics pertaining to charter schools in New York State that account for why these numbers don’t always round up evenly (e.g., the number of “conversion” charter schools established in the state over the years), but these are reliable numbers to go by. The main issue is the statewide cap on charter schools and how this is currently affecting New York City in particular.
Not surprisingly, major owners of capital are once again deploying a pitch fork mentality to bully legislators, leaders, and state and city officials to override the public interest and increase the cap on charter schools allowed in New York City. For neoliberals and privatizers there are few pay-the-rich schemes more profitable than deregulated charter schools run by unelected individuals. Owning and operating more segregated charter schools is critical for owners of capital desperately trying to counteract the law of the falling rate of profit. The neoliberal restructuring of state laws is critical to maximizing profit as fast as possible, regardless of how damaging this is to the natural and social environment. Neoliberals and privatizers want laws changed in order to advance their narrow private interests at the expense of the common good—and all of this ruinous activity is carried out under the veneer of high ideals (e.g., “empowering parents” and offering “choices”).
While preventing a rise in the number of charter schools allowed in New York State is a good thing, it would be immensely better if no public funds, resources, and buildings found their way into the hands of charter school owners and operators. These public resources are produced by working people and belong to the public, not narrow private interests. Capitalist firms like Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) and Education Management Organizations (EMOs) should not have access to public funds and resources that belong to the public. Ending the flow of public funds, resources, and facilities to the private interests that operate non-profit and for-profit charter schools would greatly benefit public schools, society, the economy, and the national interest.
The public should remain vigilant about the non-stop effort by pro-privatization fanatics to push for an increase in the number of charter schools allowed in the state and city. No one should be fooled by their grandstanding and twisted logic. Now is the time to declare a moratorium on all new charter schools and to ensure that public funds, resources, and facilities remain in public hands only.
What do nations care about the cost of war, if by spending a few hundred millions in steel and gunpowder they can gain a thousand millions in diamonds and cocoa? ― W.E.B. DuBois
He died. In an assisted (sic) care (oxymoron) home (nope) facility/prison (yes). Homeless for a few years; he was a photographer; and his life went to shit in four years. He overspent on photo equipment, a studio, gave away shoots, and alas, he ended up living in his car, putting the entire inventory in an expensive storage unit, and then he tried surviving.
I met him when I was a social worker helping him as a short-term veteran (Army, 12 months, no combat) in a housing program, 24/7, where my job was to get him on his feet, get his VA benefits together, get him back on some financial track, and getting him inspired to live.
He was curious, could run in mixed company, and he was fragile. That is the way of families — estranged, bizarre old men (father) moving on with second and third wives, and just giving shit about offspring.
I worked for the Starvation Army, one bloody year, and you can read about that hell hole of a fake (maybe not) religious wacko institution (poverty pimps): Here, Here and Here, over at Dissident Voice.
The preachers and lecturers deal with men of straw, as they are men of straw themselves. Why, a free-spoken man, of sound lungs, cannot draw a long breath without causing your rotten institutions to come toppling down by the vacuum he makes. Your church is a baby-house made of blocks, and so of the state.
…The church, the state, the school, the magazine, think they are liberal and free! It is the freedom of a prison-yard.
He lost one leg to diabetes, and it was typical – small black dot on his foot, and then, living the rough life, cold weather chills in a vehicle, long walks in the cold when the car broke down. Bad diet, and stress.
They chopped it (the leg) off at the knee. He was having eye/vision issues. He was a smart guy, even did a trivia night for his fellow homeless vets and their families. His memory, though, was flagging. He never wanted to learn how to deal with a prosthetic leg. He was getting more and more confused, obsessed with CNBC-type shit, and anti-trump disease to the max.
He had to be reminded of everything, daily, and we worked on getting him housing vouchers, and, alas, he was finally getting Social Security, and then, the VA took care of some of his stuff.
He went to a couple of my fiction readings in Portland, and he was always there for my movie nights to watch some documentary that pushed to push against the military mindset, and he was there to listen to me rail and rail.
He found out his estranged father left some money to him when he died. It was a windfall, and my vet could not handle all the information and financial asides. It took two years to get that money, and he gave one leech a $10,000 loan for some scheme for a new dog food patent (right!), and alas, that leech never paid him back. The vet’s dead, and this deadbeat who pried money from him has no reason to pay back.
Before death, and after the Starvation Army, my vet got into an apartment (with my help), and they screwed him over. The one ground floor apartment with a large step and stoop, impossible for him to navigate his wheelchair, that wasn’t in the bargain. He already signed the lease and wanted out of the Starvation Army. He and I worked on getting the apartment to build a stone or cement pathway from the back slider, to the parking lot, so he could get his Uber or handicap buses trips.
It was another eye opener – largest (now #3) property management company in the USA for apartments, out of Texas, and not one of them responded to my emails or calls. Terrible, since that has never happened to me ever in my life. I have always gotten responses, even harsh ones back. From cops, senators, CEOs, IRS, more. These people are human leeches.
Pinnacle comes in at number three in the rankings for the largest property managers in the country, with 172,000 units under management. The company manages a diverse array of assets, including mixed-use properties, commercial properties, affordable developments, senior properties, and student housing. It also specializes in the turnaround of distressed assets and assisting in the management of HOAs and condo associations. Pinnacle is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and is currently headed by President and CEO Rick L. Graf.
So think about that. He had to pay for this walkway, and it was an improvement for that unit, to say the least, so why should he have to pay? He had volunteers with a construction company and from the Rotary Club, and that Pinnacle nixed it. They had to have their vetted company. We are talking about $500 for the job using volunteers and a bonded contractor, versus the $2500 through Pinnacle’s outfit.
That apartment life did not last long. He was having major choking issues, and cognitive ones. He wasn’t eating right. No phone calls taken, or texts.
We are talking about a man, 68, no family. He had no one but a friend he met at the Rotary Club and acquaintances. And me, his former social worker. Who happened to move on the Coast, so I was 3 hours from him one way, via car.
He had to leave the apartment, to a care center (sic). That apartment would not give him a break, since he had to break the lease because of medical reasons. No big deal he was a veteran.
These are parasites.
Then, he ends up in one of the larger senior living places, and that was a living hell for him as he slipped more and more, had no decent meals, and never had a case manager for months. Then, lockdown, March 2020.
Brookdale Senior Living owns and operates over 700 senior living communities and retirement communities in the United States. Brookdale was established in 1978 and is based in Brentwood, Tennessee. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Fortress Investments became the majority owner of Brookdale, holding approximately 51% of its share. Currently, Glenview Capital Management (a hedge fund) holds the largest number of shares. Brookdale has approximately 70,000 staff members and 100,000 residents. As of 2018, it was the largest operator of senior housing in the United States. In 2021, a New York Times investigation revealed that Brookdale submitted wrong and manipulated data to the government, thus inflating ratings of the quality of care in Brookdale facilities. Shortly thereafter, the state of California filed a lawsuit against Brookdale, alleging that the company manipulated the federal government’s nursing-home ratings system.
He was paying out of his social security and this money he got from his father: $4100 a month plus another $2000 for “special services.” There were no “Special services.” This happens every minute in the USA. Imagine, a society with how many aging people? How many with chronic illness? Who the fuck has $6100 a month to pay for these scabies outfits?
Again, we can either prepare for the ultimate disaster that disaster capitalism gives us, or, put our heads back in that sand:
In 10 years, more than half of middle-income Americans age 75 or older will not be able to afford to pay for yearly assisted living rent or medical expenses, according to a study published Wednesday in Health Affairs.
The researchers used demographic and income data to project estimates of a portion of the senior population, those who will be 75 or older in 2029, with a focus on those in the middle-income range — currently $25,001 to $74,298 per year for those ages 75 to 84.
And it doesn’t look good for that group because of the rising costs of housing and health care. The researchers estimated that the number of middle-income elders in the U.S. will nearly double, growing from 7.9 million to 14.4 million by 2029. They will make up the biggest share of seniors, at 43%. — Source
This three paragraphs cited above are from a two-year-old article. You think the plandemichas assisted with this? Socialism is about planning for and building out facilities and holistic ways to help the aging, the poor, the sick. Capitalism is about planning for and setting out a million ways to fleece and fleece people. Maybe blood and plasma and bone marrow transplants are the only way to get through. Or, just donating body and soul to Big Pharma for their Mengele stuff. A 10 by 10 room, with a roommate, and mac’n’cheese six days a week, fasting on Thursdays.
This is how America runs, as a continuing criminal enterprise, an elaborate multi-layered system of bilking and outright theft, casino capitalism on steroids, and zero concern by the majority of the people with investments, banks (owners) and the elected officials to make safety nets. Who the hell can afford $6100 a month for a studio apartment? Crappy food? Surly workers (underpaid, over worked)? This is prison on a whole other level.
He had to go to the VA, via ambulance, and with taxis, a few times with this female friend.
She got him to get a will prepared, and to get some things in order, but he was failing, vacant, not there, and alas, he died August 2020 age 70, and that should never have happened. If I had a community, 100 acres, gardens, small (tiny) homes, pets, chickens, and community conversations, he would NOT have died. Life expectancy dropped because he ended up in an apartment, isolated, alone, scared, and with deeper cognitive issues. A supportive community getting him off his duff, getting him involved, would have saved him. Could save millions of Americans. Hundreds of millions of global citizens.
So who owns the land, the farms, the concepts of living and aging in place, intergenerational, cooperatives, decent air and water? Dog-eat-dog. And who thinks that a coronavirus lives and breathes in the summer? Oh, that flu season, now 365 days a year, some rain or shine.
You know, I didn’t get a chance to talk to this vet too much about his concerns around lockdown, the SARS-CoV2, and, well, like many things once a person ages, sometimes talking real stuff about real things is too much for a mind that is going south.
Not all pandemics are caused by the obvious suspects. Though the media have us whipped up into a frenzy over a select cast of superstar pathogens, the villain in the next global drama may be lurking in the unlikeliest of places; perhaps it hasn’t even been discovered yet.
“I think the chances that the next pandemic will be caused by a novel virus are quite good,” says Kevin Olival, a disease ecologist from the EcoHealth Alliance, a US-based organisation that studies the links between human and environmental health. “If you look at Sars, which was the first pandemic of the 21st Century, that was a previously unknown virus before it jumped into people and spread round the world. So there’s a precedent there – there are many, many viruses out there in the families that we’re concerned with.”
Out of millions of viruses on the planet, very few have ever caused a major outbreak Olival is not alone. Earlier this year, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates warned that the next pandemic could be something we’ve never seen before. He suggested that we prepare for its emergence as we would for a war.
Meanwhile, the WHO is so firmly convinced that they have updated their list of pathogens most likely to cause a massive, deadly outbreak to include “Disease X” – a mystery microorganism which hasn’t yet entered our radar. By Zaria Gorvett, 13th November 2018
The irony of ironies, I was talking about things like this way before that BBC (bad bad organization) put out these pabulum pieces as quoted about NOV. 2018, a year before the official Wuhan and Italian flu hit (sic).
The death of the vet, of course, create a nightmare for his friend, designated as the executor of his “estate.”
Comcast screwed the estate by keeping service going (charging $90 a month) even though he was dead. He had a storage unit that was charging $215 a month. That Brookdale ended up hitting the estate with more bills in the thousands. The apartment complex, Pinnacle, was looking for several thousand for fees and penalties. The bills came in, and the collection agencies rose to the occasion.
And this vet’s friend (sic) who had borrowed the money paid nothing back.
It is May, 2021, and those proceeds to his small estate have not yet been disbursed. Pandemic lockdown has hurt the process. Two of the beneficiaries are a free clinic that attended to this vet’s needs during his hours of need. And a food pantry out of a church who also helped him with food and electricity money.
He probably had $340,000 total, most of it in a Morgan Stanley account. Mind you, this is all from his dead old man, and the vet had not expected that. There are tax filing fees, moving expenses for his stuff to a furniture nonprofit, fees for the storage unit. Some prescription bills and other outstanding bills that should have just vanished. The creditors came out of the woodwork, and because I was not a family member, brother, say, of nephew, all those bills got paid. If I had been that family member, I would/could have wrangled many of the bills into either zeroed out bills, or some with a dime on the dollar. It takes letter writing, advocating, and pounding down these leeches.
As of May 18, 2021, the five beneficiaries – two nonprofits in need – have not seen a cent. Because the executor has had to do so much, and the fact the vet had no family, my vet’s estate is getting whittled down by that great American tick – middle men, fees, penalties, taxes, this and that amount extracted as part of the ugly middle and middle man/woman mentality of the USA.
Some people came up to the plate and did pro bono work, but because I was close to this whole thing, and talked with the executor a lot, I see how the total amount that could have been distributed five ways — $70,000 each – might now be even close to $60,000 each. What the beneficiaries don’t know won’t hurt them, right? All those leeches sucking the dead, well, they just don’t know it. It was money they were not expecting, so what’s the big deal.
That’s not the point. This is a minute-to-minute situation in USA. Millions of people and their families get screwed in the tens of billions each year by the ticks and leeches. I have had to deal with PayDay loan companies, repo men, collection agencies, courts, companies, telecoms and hospitals and others who have their hands out for more and more cuts of many of my clients who were making $730 a month in Social Security, and some way less. I contacted hospitals and businesses and others to get fees and bills reduced or zeroed out.
Young or old, many of the homeless people I worked with could NEVER work in a competitive work environment. Their health and minds are shot to shit. Much of that (PTSD and complex PTSD) was caused by the Armed Forces, and by the systems of punishment that hit these guys and gals after departing that shit hole.
Not everything in their lives is someone else’s fault and responsibility. They made bad choices. Booze and drugs, you betcha, took them down. Bad food, bad thinking smoking, and more, deteriorated them at a young age. Trying to pay rent, evictions, etc., all that adds up to the weathering.
Living in a truck or car or tent or in a garage, that also weathers these people. In the end, pre-Covid and now during it, these people are throwaways. The Stock Market is busting at the seams. Zoom school, and Zoom work for the middle class, the new normal abnormal. The rest of the workforce or citizen? Screwed blued and tattooed.
The irony is that my vet friend “made” more money in that investment account dead than when he was alive. And we know the great history of Morgan Stanley.
I’m writing this because I am delaying something bigger, and poetry, tied to the absolute hell hole that is American Zionism a la Israeli Zionism. War crimes that are ten thousand George Floyd’s “I Can’t Breathe” murder.
And I can’t wrap my head around this in a rural community. No marching here, no groups, and hell, in France and Germany and England, it is illegal to peacefully march for Palestine.
I’m thinking about Canada and USA, supporting murderous arms and murderous policies of that racist “country.” I am thinking about my vet’s account at Morgan Stanley:
The broker got him stocks in Walmart, Northrop Grumman, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Blackstone, BlackRock. This guy was a friend, and asked about investing, and I had a guy in mind, but my buddy went with a friend of the Rotary who said this broker with Morgan Stanley would take care of him. My buddy wanted social responsible investing, and that, alas, is yet another bullshit marketing tool of the masters of the casino capitalist Walled Street.
Northrop Grumman’s medium-caliber cannons boast unrivaled reliability and effectiveness. When paired with our exceptional training, services, certified accessories and warranties, the result is exceptional value and performance over the entire gun system lifecycle. The company has produced solid propulsion systems for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense interceptor, as well as for the Trident II D-5 and Minuteman III strategic missiles. Northrop Grumman has 100 percent propulsion success on strategic production motors. For nearly half a century, Northrop Grumman and its heritage companies have been designing and developing bomb fuses that have stayed on pace with the technological advancements of the time.
How many parts in a missile or Bushmaster automatic cannon? Parts equal jobs. Parts designed equal academic jobs. Think of all those people in all those companies, in factories and warehouses, and manufacturing plants, and marketing plants, paint plants, PR plants, all of them down to the web master and the photographer making money on dead Palestinian children. It comes down to that.
I have relatives whose kids (grown adults) are blonde beauties in the sense of USA beauty, and they are tall, and lean, and they are pulling down $120,000 a year as 28 year old’s, working for one of those California based military death companies.
Here are California Dreaming Death Machine (139) openings for just one hiring site —
In 2019, here are the top states, but remember, those figures are not the true amount of money made on death since so much more tied to offensive weapons and space should be factored in. Sort of the multiplier effect of all the businesses service and hard industries making bank because of those contractors and their employees and their subcontractors and their employees living and eating the California dream, or whichever state listed is the dream. Forget about the billions in Hollywood and their enormous entanglement of people making money off those Tom Clancy, et al crap movies. Death, death, death, even in the form of liberal actors spewing off on this or that thing, but in the end, they love the DoD.
California: $66.2 billion
Virginia: $60.3 billion
Texas: $54.8 billion
Florida: $29.8 billion
Maryland: $26.1 billion
Connecticut: $19.7 billion
Pennsylvania: $18.1 billion
Washington: $17.8 billion
Alabama: $16.0 billion
Massachusetts: $15.8 billion
So, I am having a difficult time focusing, with this Industrial Complex tied to killing Palestinians, and so many other people’s of the world, through the training, outfitting, arming, and educating of the despots of the world. This is a telling interview. Malak Mattar, Dan Cohen and Miko Peled join MintCast to discuss the ongoing Israeli violence in the Gaza Strip. See interview here.
I am still processing all of this, trying to listen to Zoom continuing education credited things like trauma and social service workers in a time of lockdown and Covid-19. Things like that, which are bullshit, really. Just amazing bullshit now on Zoom, most of it. But I am just cruising through these people who believe they are thinking and saying something new.
BAR’s poet in residence Raymond Nat Turner is an accomplished performing artist. You can find much more of his work at https://www.youtube.com/user/zigilow
BAR’s poet in residence Raymond Nat Turner is an accomplished performing artist. You can find much more of his work at YouTube.
The acrobats are back…(gimme a bleepin’ break!)
The acrobats are back—riding bareback and backwards on Donkeys! They’re back juggling hocus-pocus focus groups; Back, spinning Wall Street straw into fools’ gold for the war- mongering mouth of a punch drunk politician. Back hallucinating on FDR Fairytales. Back somersaulting over scarlet streets, strikes and factory seizures; back vaulting over violence/militant eviction resistance
The acrobats are back—Lilliputian left-Munchkin Marxists—juggling Classless analysis; doing back-flips erasing millions; Tumbling above herds of handcuffed communists, socialists, anarchists, trade unionists who waged pitched battles with Pinkerton-police-national guard-gun thugs. The acrobats are back turning cartwheels; Flipping history on its head— Landing squarely in the laps of generals and statesmen…
The acrobats are back—flipping LBJ minus 34 dead and smoke-filled skies over Watts/43 dead in Detroit/27 dead, 1400 arrests in Newark; LBJ minus millions marching NO to Jim Crow, war/women’s oppression; Minus martyrs—whose M’s include Mickey, Medgar, Malcolm, Martin… The acrobats are back, dancing in donkey dung down the Yellow Brick Road for the Emerald City Intersectional Empire—strangely resembling the Pentagon…
The acrobats are back—daredevils who dangled dangerously for 8 yrs. from the Drone Ranger’s dick. They’re back—Capitalist Hill cartwheels and flips—sticking stealth socialist landings as Comrade Schmo plays them like The Great Oz—ominously warning: “Pay no attention to Wall Street-War-Profiteer- Big Pharma/Fossil Fuel-Credit Card Companies behind my thin blue curtain of Promises!” Then he quietly pulls his pistol and mumbles, ”What’s in your wallet?”
And the reality is that Wall Street and those Mutual Funds and Exchange Tradeable Funds (ETF’s), all are tied to bombing, booze, tobacco, big pharma, the entire shooting match. Just can’t go to sleep at night, or can’t look myself in the mirror, when thinking about all that time and energy and research and writing, and educating, and the reality is we are what we are — war criminals. Or, read, “Try as You May to Deny, but Evil is in Our DNA“!
Israeli Forces spokesman Zilberman announced the start of the bombing of Gaza, specifying that “80 fighters are taking part in the operation, including the advanced F-35s” (The Times of Israel, May 11, 2021). It is officially the baptism of fire for the US Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation fighter, whose production Italy also participates in as a second-level partner.
Israel has already received twenty-seven F-35s from the US, and last February decided to buy no longer fifty F-35s but seventy-five. To this end the government has decreed a further allocation of 9 billion dollars: 7 were granted by a US to Israel free military “aid” of 28 billion, 2 were granted as a loan by the US Citibank.
While Israeli F-35 pilots were being trained by the U.S. Air Force in Arizona and Israel, the US Army Engineers built in Israel special hardened hangars for the F-35s, suitable for both fighters’ maximum protection on the ground, and their rapid take-off on attack. At the same time, the Israeli military industries (Israel Aerospace and Elbit Systems) in close coordination with Lockheed Martin enhance the fighter renamed “Adir” (Powerful): above all its ability to penetrate enemy defenses and its range of action which was nearly doubled.
These capabilities are certainly not necessary to attack Gaza. Why then are the most advanced fifth-generation fighters used against Palestinians? Because it serves to test F-35s fighters and their pilots in real war action using Gaza homes as targets on a firing range. It does not matter if in the target houses there are entire families.
The F-35s, added to the hundreds of fighter-bombers already supplied by the US to Israel. are designed for nuclear attack particularly with the new B61-12 bomb. The United States will shortly deploy these nuclear bombs in Italy and other European countries, and will also provide them to Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East with an arsenal estimated at 100-400 nuclear weapons. If Israel doubles the range of F-35 fighters and is about to receive eight Boeing Pegasus tankers from the US for refueling the F-35s in flight, it is because it is preparing to launch an attack, even nuclear, against Iran.
The coronavirus pandemic, the deepening economic crash, dangerously divisive political responses, and exploding social tensions have thrown an already declining American capitalist system into a tailspin. The consequences of these mounting and intertwined crises will shape our future. In this unique collection of over 50 essays, “The Sickness is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself,” Richard D. Wolff argues clearly that “returning to normal” no longer responds adequately to the accumulated problems of US capitalism. What is necessary, instead, is transition toward a new economic system that works for all of us.
“A blueprint for how we got here, and a plan for how we will rescue ourselves” – Chris Hedges
“A magnificent source of hope and insight.” – Yanis Varoufakis
“In this compelling set of essays, and with his signature clarity, intensity, accessibility and deference to historical and present perspective, Wolff has issued not just a stark warning, but concrete reasoning, as to why this time really should be different.” – Nomi Prins
“One of the most powerful and incisive voices in America. As an economist he transcends that “dismal science”, he is a tribune of Main St, a voice of the people.” – George Galloway
“Wolff clearly explains the ways that capitalism exacerbates unemployment, inequality, racism, and patriarchy; and threatens the health and safety of workers and communities – i.e., most of us.” – Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, Ph.D.
“If you care about deeper measures of social health as Americans suffer the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, you will find here a wealth of insight, statistics, and other ammunition that we all need in the fight for a more just society.” – Adam Hochschild
“The current failed system has a noose around all of our necks. Richard Wolff offers an economic vision that gets our society off the gallows.” – Jimmy Dore
Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world. — Henry Kissinger, interview with the Observer, 1983, on his book, Years of Upheaval
The crisis of 2020 has created the greatest wealth gap in history. The middle class, capitalism and democracy are all under threat. What went wrong and what can be done?
In a matter of decades, the United States has gone from a largely benign form of capitalism to a neo-feudal form that has created an ever-widening gap in wealth and power. In his 2013 bestseller Capital in the 21st Century, French economist Thomas Piketty declared that “the level of inequality in the US is probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past anywhere in the world.” In a 2014 podcast about the book, Bill Moyers commented:
Here’s one of its extraordinary insights: We are now really all headed into a future dominated by inherited wealth, as capital is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, giving the very rich ever greater power over politics, government and society. Patrimonial capitalism is the name for it, and it has potentially terrifying consequences for democracy.
Paul Krugman maintained in the same podcast that the United States is becoming an oligarchy, a society of inherited wealth, “the very system our founders revolted against.” While things have only gotten worse since then thanks to the economic crisis of 2020, it’s worth retracing the history that brought us to this volatile moment.
Not the Vision of Our Founders
The sort of capitalism on which the United States was originally built has been called mom-and-pop capitalism. Families owned their own farms and small shops and competed with each other on a more or less level playing field. It was a form of capitalism that broke free of the feudalistic model and reflected the groundbreaking values set forth in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights: that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including the rights to free speech, a free press, to worship and assemble; and the right not to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process.
It was good in theory, but there were glaring, inhumane exceptions to this idealized template, including the confiscation of the lands of indigenous populations and the slavery that then prevailed. The slaves were emancipated by the US Civil War; but while they were freed in their persons, they were not economically free. They remained entrapped in economic serfdom. Although Black and Indigenous communities have been disproportionately oppressed, poor people were all trapped in “indentured servitude” of sorts — the obligation to serve in order to pay off debts; e.g., the debts of Irish workers to pay for passage to the United States, and the debts of “sharecroppers” (two-thirds of whom were white), who had to borrow from landlords at interest for land and equipment. Today’s U.S. prison system has also been called a form of slavery, in which free or cheap labor is extracted from poor people of color.
To the creditors, economic captivity actually had certain advantages over “chattel” slavery (ownership of humans as a property right). According to an infamous document called The Hazard Circular, circulated by British banking interests among their American banking counterparts during the American Civil War:
Slavery is likely to be abolished by the war power and chattel slavery destroyed. This, I and my European friends are glad of, for slavery is but the owning of labor and carries with it the care of the laborers, while the European plan, led by England, is that capital shall control labor by controlling wages.
Slaves had to be housed, fed and cared for. “Free” men housed and fed themselves. Free men could be kept enslaved by debt by paying them wages that were insufficient to meet their costs of living.
From ‘Industrial Capitalism’ to ‘Finance Capitalism‘
The economy crashed in the Great Depression, when Franklin D. Roosevelt’s government revived it and rebuilt the country through a public financial institution called the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. After World War II, the US middle class thrived. Small businesses competed on a relatively level playing field similar to the mom-and-pop capitalism of the early pioneers. Meanwhile, larger corporations engaged in “industrial capitalism,” in which the goal was to produce real goods and services.
But the middle class, considered the backbone of the economy, has been progressively eroded since the 1970s. The one-two punch of the Great Recession and what the IMF has called the “Great Lockdown” has again reduced much of the population to indentured servitude; while industrial capitalism has largely been displaced by “finance capitalism,” in which money makes money for those who have it, “in their sleep.” As economist Michael Hudson explains, unearned income, not productivity, is the goal. Corporations take out cheap 1% loans, not to invest in machinery and production, but to buy their own stock earning 8% or 9%; or to buy out smaller corporations, eliminating competition and creating monopolies. Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis explains that “capital” has been decoupled from productivity: businesses can make money without making profits on their products. As Kevin Cahill described the plight of people today in a book titled Who Owns the World?:
These latter day pharaohs, the planet owners, the richest 5% – allow the rest of us to pay day after day for the right to live on their planet. And as we make them richer, they buy yet more of the planet for themselves, and use their wealth and power to fight amongst themselves over what each possesses – though of course it’s actually us who have to fight and die in their wars.
The 2020 Knockout Punch
The final blow to the middle class came in 2020. Nick Hudson, co-founder of a data analytics firm called PANDA (Pandemics, Data and Analysis), argued in an interview following his keynote address at a March 2021 investment conference:
Lockdowns are the most regressive strategy that has ever been invented. The wealthy have become much wealthier. Trillions of dollars of wealth have been transferred to wealthy people. … Not a single country did a cost/benefit analysis before imposing these measures.
Policymakers followed the recommendations of the World Health Organization, based on predictive modeling by the Imperial College London that subsequently proved to be wildly inaccurate. Later studies have now been done, at least some of which have concluded that lockdowns have no significant effects on case numbers and that the costs of lockdowns substantially outweigh the benefits, in terms not just of economic costs but of lives.
The number of “centi-billionaires”– individuals with a net worth of $100 billion or more – also grew. In the US they included:
Jeff Bezos, soon-to-be former CEO of Amazon, whose net worth increased from $113 billion in March 2020 to $182 billion in March 2021, up by $70 billion for the year;
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, whose net worth increased from $25 billion in March 2020 to $164 billion in March 2021, up by $139 billion for the year; and
Bill Gates, formerly CEO of Microsoft and currently considered the “global vaccine czar,” whose net worth increased to $124 billion in March 2021, up by $26 billion for the year.
Two others are almost centi-billionaires:
The net worth of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, grew from $55 billion in March 2020 to $95 billion in March 2021, up by $40 billion for the year; and
The net worth of Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway grew from $68 billion in March 2020 to $95 billion in March 2021, up by $27.6 billion for the year.
These five individuals collectively added $300 billion to their net worth just in 2020. For perspective, that’s enough to create 300,000 millionaires, or to give $100,000 to 3 million people.
The need to shield the multibillionaire class from taxes and to change their predatory corporate image has given rise to another form of capitalism, called philanthrocapitalism. Wealth is transferred to foundations or limited liability corporations that are designated as having charitable purposes but remain under the ownership and control of the donors, who can invest the funds in ways that serve their corporate interests. As noted inThe Reporter Magazine of the Rochester Institute of Technology:
Essentially, what we are witnessing is the transfer of responsibility for public goods and services from democratic institutions to the wealthy, to be administered by an executive class. In the CEO society, the exercise of social responsibilities is no longer debated in terms of whether corporations should or shouldn’t be responsible for more than their own business interests. Instead, it is about how philanthropy can be used to reinforce a politico-economic system that enables such a small number of people to accumulate obscene amounts of wealth.
And Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturer SpaceX has effectively privatized the sky. Astronomers and stargazers complain that the thousands of satellites it has already launched, with many more in the works, are blocking their ability to see the stars.
[…] With tens of thousands of new satellites approved for launch, and no laws about orbit crowding, right-of-way or space cleanup, the stage is set for the disastrous possibility of Kessler Syndrome, a runaway cascade of debris that could destroy most satellites in orbit and prevent launches for decades…. Large corporations like SpaceX and Amazon will only respond to legislation — which is slow, especially for international legislation — and consumer pressure […] Our species has been stargazing for thousands of years, do we really want to lose access now for the profit of a few large corporations?
Public advocacy groups, such as the Cellular Phone Task Force, have also objected due to health concerns over increased electromagnetic radiation. But the people have little say over public policy these days. So concluded a study summarized in a January 2021 article in Foreign Affairs. Princeton professor and study co-author Martin Gilens wrote:
[O]rdinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. … Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences … of economic elites and of organized interests.
Varoufakis calls our current economic scheme “postcapitalism” and “techno-feudalism.” As in the medieval feudal model, assets are owned by the few. He notes that the stock market and the businesses in it are essentially owned by three companies – the giant exchange-traded funds BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street. Under the highly controversial “Great Reset” envisioned by the World Economic Forum, “you will own nothing and be happy.” By implication, everything will be owned by the techno-feudal lords.
Getting Back on Track
The capitalist model has clearly gone off the rails. How to get it back on track? One obvious option is to tax the uber-rich. As Chuck Collins, author of The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Pay Millions to Hide Trillions (2021), writes in a March 2021 article:
A wealth tax would reverse more than a half-century of tax cuts for the wealthiest households. Billionaires have seen their taxes decline roughly 79 percent as a percentage of their wealth since 1980. The “effective rate” on the billionaire class—the actual percentage paid—was 23 percent in 2018, lower than for most middle-income taxpayers.
He notes that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and co-authors recently introduced legislation to levy a 2 percent annual tax on wealth starting at $50 million, rising to 3 percent on fortunes of more than $1 billion:
The tax, which would apply to fewer than 100,000 U.S. residents, would raise an estimated $3 trillion over the next decade. It would be paid entirely by multi-millionaires and billionaires who have reaped the lion’s share of wealth gains over the last four decades, including during the pandemic.
Varoufakis contends, however, that taxing wealth won’t be enough. The corporate model itself needs an overhaul. To create a “humanist” capitalism, he says, democracy needs to be brought to the marketplace.
Politically, one adult gets one vote. But in corporate elections, votes are weighted according to financial investment: the largest investors hold the largest number of voting shares. Varoufakis argues that the proper principle for reconfiguring the ownership of corporations for a market-based society would be one employee, one share (not tradeable), one vote. On that basis, he says, we can imagine as an alternative to our post-capitalist model a market-based democratic society without capitalism.
There is one Achilles heel in the globalists’ strategy, an option that remains open to governments. This option is a tax on the rental income – the “unearned income” – of land, natural resources and monopoly takings.
Reforming the banking system is another critical tool. Banks operated as a public utility could allocate credit for productive purposes serving the public interest. Other possibilities include enforcement of anti-monopoly legislation and patent law reform.Perhaps, however, the flaw is in the competitive capitalist model itself. The winners will inevitably capture and exploit the losers, creating an ever-growing gap in wealth and power. Studies of natural systems have shown that cooperative models are more efficient than competitive schemes. That does not mean the sort of “cooperation” coerced through iron-fisted totalitarian control at the top. We need a set of rules that actually levels the playing field, rewards productivity, and maximizes benefit to society as a whole, while preserving the individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
In recent years, the ripping off of customers, deceit and even outright fraud practiced by Australian finance sector businesses has gained much attention. Four years ago it was revealed how CommInsure, the insurance arm of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), had refused to make promised life insurance payments to heart attack survivors. They “justified” this by using a definition of a heart attack that was so dodgy that even some people who had such a severe heart attack that they had to be resuscitated were denied their entitled pay outs! Such devious practices have been undertaken by finance sector enterprises big and small – from the big four banks and insurance giants to brokers and loan enablers and to retail businesses that hand out loans. As a result the banks, insurance companies and the brokers and others connected to them are widely hated by the masses. With good reason! Yet finance sector institutions have a decisive influence on society. For it is they who determine how credit is distributed and credit is absolutely critical to the running of modern economies. Especially at this desperate time when this country and much of the world face both a public health emergency and economic collapse, it is vital that credit is allocated in ways that can best respond to the COVID-19 virus threat and into areas that can best ensure that the jobs and wages of millions of working class people are guaranteed. Yet would you trust the lying, greed-driven bosses of the banks and insurance companies to do this? You would be totally nuts if you did! We need to put all the banks and insurance companies under state control! In other words, we need to nationalise the finance sector.
In late 2017, there was so much anger built up against the banks, insurance giants and brokers that former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, realising the need to “restore the credibility” of the finance sector, finally acceded to widespread demands for a royal commission into the banking and insurance industry. That Royal Commission revealed more details of what many of us already knew. Banks were giving secret commissions to brokers to entice them to get home buyers to take out home loans with their particular banks. Banks hid these payments in order to trick their customers into believing that their customers’ “own” brokers were “independent.” But, actually, the payments that these brokers received from particular banks gave them an incentive to get people to take out mortgages with these same particular banks even if that was not the best option for the broker’s customer. And the brokers did this in spades! Moreover, since the commission received by the broker got larger the bigger the loan taken out by their customers, the brokers, with a nod and a wink from the banks paying them, often pushed their customers into buying a more expensive house than they could actually afford. That is part of why household debt is so frighteningly high in Australia.
One of the aspects of the finance sector industry that was exposed is the practice of charging clients fees for no service. Banks and insurance companies and their financial planning and superannuation subsidiaries were found to be charging people “advice” and “service” fees for their investments and superannuation accounts but then providing no advice at all. Put simply, the banks and insurance companies were downright stealing from hundreds of thousands of their customers. AMP, NAB, CBA, ANZ and Westpac were found to be the worst offenders. The amount that these companies stole from their customers through fees for no service was officially estimated to be well over a billion dollars. The real figure could be even higher. Moreover, some of these institutions had even knowingly continued to charge their customers fees for no service … after they had died! The fees would then be paid out of the estate of the deceased customers – in other words, be paid largely by the close relatives of the deceased customers, most often their spouses and children. The Commonwealth Bank even knowingly charged one of their dead clients fees for “financial planning advice” for more than a decade after they died! Meanwhile, insurance giant AMP continued to charge some of their dead customers life insurance premiums.
A Slap on the Wrists for the Swindling Banks and Insurance Companies
The banking royal commission and the media coverage surrounding it tended to focus on atrocities committed against small business owners, farmers and other middle class customers – especially upper-middle class ones – or against better paid workers able to acquire substantial savings. Indeed, under the capitalist system the big capitalists – at the apex of which stand the bank owners – rip off the small-scale capitalist exploiters and all of them, while leaching the most from wage workers, skim off also from the middle class, even from the upper middle class. Yet, the people most hurt by the thieving greed of the banks and insurance companies are average income workers and especially lower-paid, casual and unemployed workers. They are the people most hurt by the banks charging large set fees as these fees often make up such a big proportion of their modest savings. It is poorly paid workers, retrenched workers and long term unemployed workers who are also the most burdened by the extortionate interest rates charged by banks in credit card accounts. It is the low income of these people which pushed them to get into debt in the first place, while the cruel interest rate they must pay off with their debts plus their meagre incomes ensures that many have little possibility of ever paying off these debts. And often desperate for credit, casual and unemployed workers, low income single mothers and people with disabilities are the most vulnerable to being ripped off by loan brokers and short term credit providers handing out loans with exorbitant interest rates.
The banking royal commission did hear about how insurance companies were using aggressive telemarketing and deceptive policies to rip off Aboriginal customers, many struggling on low incomes. It was told of how insurance companies operating in remote Aboriginal communities took advantage of language barriers and Aboriginal people’s tendency to be friendly and polite to sign up on the phone Aboriginal people to life and funeral insurance that they neither truly consented to nor even needed. One of the enterprises exposed for pushing unnecessary funeral insurance on Aboriginal people is the “Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund” (ABCF). With its name including “Aboriginal Community” and its use of a rainbow serpent image, ABCF gave the impression that it was an Aboriginal community-run organisation. But it was not! It was a private, profit-driven company that was neither owned nor managed by Aboriginal people. However, ABCF used the trust gained by the appearance of being a community-run organisation to push Aboriginal people into forking out large amounts for funeral insurance that they did not need. Thus ABCF often signed up healthy young Aboriginal woman in their twenties and early thirties for funeral insurance. They even pushed thousands of Aboriginal parents into getting funeral insurance for their babies in schemes that would cost up to $100,000 over a lifetime! ABCF owners then quietly excluded families of Aboriginal people who died from suicide from receiving payouts, thus ensuring that they would not to have to pay claims of a very large proportion of the insured children that actually did die young.
The banking royal commission did also hear snippets about the massive exploitation of low-income people by businesses handing out consumer leases and so-called payday loans – where people are lent money until their next pay check at massive interest rates. Aboriginal financial counsellor, Lynda Edwards, also told of how car dealers took advantage of the necessity for cars in remote areas to sell Aboriginal people dud cars with ultra-high interest loans. A report published a year ago by Flinders University detailed how one Aboriginal customer was made to pay $52,000 for an $18,000 car at an interest rate of 35% despite the fact that the over-priced used car stopped working long before the loan was repaid! Indeed, the royal commission was told of how some Aboriginal people had been charged even higher interest rates for car loans, rates of 48%!
Yet the nature of the Royal Commission was such that it did not compel those involved in such scams and high-interest loan pushing to defend their actions. As senior counsel assisting the commission, Rowena Orr QC, explained: “We will not be considering consumer leases, payday loans or in-store credit arrangements in these hearings because they do not fall within the terms of reference of the commission.” Put simply, the Royal Commission was not meant to truly protect the interests of low-income people from the predatory behaviour of banks, insurance firms and retail business owners. To the extent that the banking royal commission was not entirely about “restoring the credibility of the finance sector” or simply about allowing the furious masses to vent steam in a way that does not actually harm the interests of the finance industry bigwigs, the investigation was aimed at curbing the excesses of the bank owners in the interests of other sections of the capitalist class – including retail sector bigwigs, “small and medium size” enterprise bosses and big farm owners – as well as the more privileged sections of the middle class that the upper class rely on for social and political support. After all, the state in capitalist countries is an executive committee for managing the affairs of the capitalist labour-exploiting class as a whole. At times they have to slightly clip the wings of even their most powerful section – the finance sector bigwigs – in order to ensure the interests of the rich ruling class as a whole. But even here the Royal Commission’s impact was minimal. Sure, there were some stunning revelations of the depth of the banks and insurers’ greed and deceit. Several finance sector CEOs and directors also had to resign from their positions in the wake of the revelations and, mind you, then take away multi-million dollar severance pay and shareholdings, thank you very much. Yet Royal Commission head, Kenneth Hayne, did not recommend one single charge against any specific finance sector boss despite the fact that the hearings of the commission plainly showed that banks and insurance companies had stolen and swindled well over a billion dollars from hundreds of thousands of their customers. Instead, the commissioner handed over 24 recommendations to the regulators over instances of misconduct and charged them with the responsibility of considering any action. However, he refused to even name the people and institutions involved. And over a year since the final report of the commission was handed down, not a single finance sector boss has been charged let alone been put behind bars. Meanwhile, even after having promised to implement nearly all of Commissioner Hayne’s recommendations, the government has yet to even introduce legislation to turn several of the recommendations into law.
The more important point is that Commissioner Hayne’s report only recommended cosmetic changes to the finance sector. Cold calling of financial products over the phone was recommended to be banned and mortgage brokers would be required to act in the best interests of their customers (as if that is going to actually happen!). However, the economic power, profitability and overall impunity of the finance sector corporations will be largely untouched. In fact, the bank owners were so delighted with the outcome of the Royal Commission that the first stock market trading after the commissioner handed down his final report saw the share prices of the big four banks skyrocket by almost A$20 billion – their biggest one day rise ever!
The limp recommendations of the Royal Commission are, indeed, what the right-wing Australian government always intended to be the outcome. Indeed, the Liberal government was so intent on enhancing the reputation of the bank bosses that shortly before the Royal Commission was announced, they and the bank heads arranged for the bank bosses to send a letter to the government themselves calling for the Royal Commission! This enabled the government to put the bank bigwigs in good light by saying that the banks themselves wanted the inquiry. Indeed, the relationship between bank owners and the government is so cosy that the letter from the heads of the big four banks to the government calling for the Royal Commission was first sent in draft form to the then treasurer, Scott Morrison, to be vetted by him before being made an official letter the next day! Let’s not forget that the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who, kicking and screaming, called the Royal Commission was himself the owner of an investment banking firm and later a managing director for the Australian arm of U.S. banking giant, Goldman Sachs.
In order to appease their working class base and appeal to widespread middle class public opinion, the ALP Opposition has been more critical of the banks than the Coalition government. But let us remember that when they were in government previously from 2007 to 2013, when some of the most blatant fraud by the finance sector companies was being committed, the ALP also did nothing to stop it. Today in the wake of the Royal Commission, the ALP only called for implementing its weak recommendations. Nothing more. The ALP are certainly not calling for putting the banks under state control or even under greater regulation. After all it was the former Hawke-Keating ALP government that carried out the biggest deregulation of the finance sector in Australian history. They removed the cap on the interest rates that banks could charge for home loans and abolished other controls on bank interest rates. In short, the Hawke-Keating Labor government freed up bank owners to do whatever it takes to maximise profits regardless of the consequences to society. Most harmfully, they also privatised the formerly state-owned Commonwealth Bank.
While the ALP is a party with a working class base, its futile program of trying to improve the lot of workers while accepting the capitalist order means that it necessarily needs to collaborate with – and ultimately kowtow to – that apex of capitalist power, finance capital. Thus, the ALP’s ties to the bank bosses are not far behind those of the conservatives. The investment banking firm that Malcolm Turnbull established, referred to above, was actually set up in a partnership with none other than former NSW ALP premier, Neville Wran, and Nicholas Whitlam – the son of former prime minister and ALP icon, Gough Whitlam. The bank was actually called Whitlam Turnbull & Co Ltd. Today, the CEO of the Australian Banking Association, who has done so much to deceive the population by being the chief apologist for the bank bosses is former Queensland ALP premier, Anna Bligh. Meanwhile, during the last financial year that disclosures of political donations have been revealed, 2018-19, the ALP received more than $2.5 million from Westpac alone! They were also given $50,000 from the main body representing general insurance firms, the Insurance Council of Australia, as well as plenty of other big donations from individual insurance companies and other banks. And that does not include the large amount of political donations that are disguised or hidden.
Of course, the banks and insurance companies also made big donations to the Liberal Party too. The Insurance Council of Australia gave them $27,500 and Anna Bligh’s Australian Banking Association the same amount. For its part, CBA donated $55,000. Westpac Bank donated a hefty $82,500 to the Liberals but that pales against their $2.5 million donations to the ALP during 2018-19. Likely, the Westpac bigwigs knew that they already had the Liberals fully in their bag!
The Myth that the Big Corporations are Owned by “Everyday Australians” through Our Superannuation
The problem isn’t simply that the banks and other finance businesses sometimes engage in open theft from their customers and other deceptive conduct. It’s the normal working of these enterprises that is the main problem. Banks make their money by extracting fees from account holders and primarily by charging a higher interest rate on the loans that they give out than the rate that they pay depositors. And they leach a lot of money that way! In the 2018-19 financial year, the “big four” Australian banks and the three biggest Australian-owned insurance companies, IAG, Suncorp and QBE, together extracted nearly $29 billion from us and that’s not including the huge amounts also grabbed by smaller banks and insurers as well as by mortgage brokers, consumer lease providers and payday cash operators. And that was considered a bad year for them! All this money extracted by the finance sector businesses is like an extra tax on the masses. But it is a tax where the proceeds don’t go into the public budget but into the hands of the wealthy finance sector business owners. If we note that there are currently about 9.8 million households and then do a quick calculation we find that the biggest four Australian-owned banks and largest three Australian-owned insurers are leaching $3,000 in profit, on average, from each household every year. To put that in perspective, that is more than one in five dollars of what an unemployed single person receives in the Newstart Allowance (if one excludes the temporary increase to the Newstart Allowance granted during the Covid-19 pandemic)!
Most working class and middle class people are only too aware that “The Banks” are ripping us off. But who do we exactly mean when we talk about “The Banks” that leach from us. Most of us think of the CEOs and the directors that award themselves huge salary packages. And with good reason! Last year, Westpac’s CEO took home over $5 million, ANZ CEO Shayne Elliot even more and IAG CEO Peter Harmer topped the lot receiving a five and a half million dollars package. And that was all in a year when the bank bosses, aware that they were under the spotlight, wanted to pretend that that they were feeling contrition for their devious deeds by awarding themselves lower payments than usual!
Yet as obscene are the payments are to the bank executives, that is still only a small percentage of bank profits. Where else are banks gigantic earnings going? Certainly not to their rank and file employees! So let’s take a look at Australia’s biggest bank, CBA. Last financial year CBA had a total operating income of $24 billion. Some of it they spent on equipment, wages, occupancy and operating costs. Most of their income then, after paying tax, ends up as profit for their owners. Nearly $8.5 billion to be precise. Of that nearly a billion went to beef up the assets of the bank to help its owners make greater profits in the future and $7.6 billion was given as dividends to the banks shareholders, i.e. to the banks owners. That’s who is taking most of the wealth extracted from the masses by the banks. By contrast, the more than 48,000 employees of the CBA received $5.5 billion in salaries and superannuation, which is a lot less than the shareholders received for doing absolutely no work at all. The amount received by the bank employees is also less than a quarter of the bank’s overall operating income. And of these more than 48,000 employees, the majority of them, the rank and file employees – say at least 40,000 of the workers – would each receive small slices of the salary cake while the managers and executives each take gluttonously big slices. After all, the bank’s top executives and other directors (there are just 20 of them), alone were paid $40 million last year; and that is counted as a “staff” cost. By contrast the average salary package, including superannuation, of CBA’s other employees is $114,000 – which is 40 times less than what the CEO took home. Moreover, when you exclude the managers and others in the top 20% of highest paid staff who would bring up that average income number, one would find that the annual wage of the vast majority of CBA workers wouldn’t be much more than – and in many cases less than – $75,000 and certainly well below $100,000. Moreover, to the bank bigwigs, these bank workers are expendable. As soon as the bank bosses decide that they can make a still higher profit with fewer workers, they will throw into the dole queues the employees whose hard work has allowed bank executives and big shareholders to acquire such immense wealth. Over the last several years, the bigwigs of the big four banks have together retrenched tens of thousands of workers. In late 2017, then NAB CEO, Andrew Thorburn, infamously announced the axing of 6,600 jobs at the very same time that he gloatingly announced that the bank had made a whopping annual profit of $6.6 billion.
So, who then are the shareholders who are reaping the rewards of the banks’ ripping off of the masses’ money? The finance corporations’ bosses and their bigwigs try to sell us the line that their companies are owned mostly by superannuation funds and through the dividends distributed to these funds their profits end up going to “ordinary, everyday Australians.” Nothing could be further from the truth! But before exploring this point in more detail, it is important to here make a point about superannuation more broadly. Superannuation, as a means of distributing income to the aged, in contrast to pensions, is not fair. It is not fair not only in practice but in the very concept of it.
Under the superannuation system a proportion of people’s income (9.5% of their gross wage currently) when they are working goes into their personal accounts which gets managed by superannuation companies and is then accessible when they retire. So a worker on the minimum wage in a full-time job gets $3,467 of superannuation put into their account each year. By contrast, the Westpac CEO last year received $44,320 in superannuation payments, nearly 13 times more than a worker on the minimum wage gets. Many bosses get even more. Last year, the CEO of Australian-owned mining giant, BHP, received a staggering $425,000 in superannuation payments – that’s more than 120 times greater than what a worker on the minimum wage gets! By contrast if you are a worker unfortunate enough to be either unemployed or one of the increasing number of cash in hand workers or a domestic worker or a casual worker who gets only a few hours in a month of work you get no super whatsoever. Yet it is precisely these people who need higher payments when they are aged because they would have much less savings and assets than people who had been receiving higher superannuation contributions. Moreover, the superannuation system reinforces the discrimination in employment affecting women, Aboriginal people and migrants from African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries. For in addition to the gender pay gap that women endure, the racist discrimination that causes Aboriginal people to have a much higher rate of unemployment than the broader population and the greater propensity of migrants to only be given lower paid jobs, women and migrants are much more likely to be in non-super receiving cash in hand and domestic work jobs than their male and Australian-born counterparts.
There is one rationale for superannuation – that wealth produced today needs to be set aside for when we have an ageing population in the future – that does have validity. But this should be addressed by making the bosses pay into a single, common pension fund out of which aged pensions can be paid equally to all of the elderly. Instead of the system of low pensions supplemented by people’s individual superannuation accounts, there should be much higher pensions for all and no individual superannuation. At least when a group of people are at an age when none of them are working, they should finally get paid equally! The current system, instead, carries through all the terrible inequality when people are of working age through to when people are retired.
So given how unequal people’s superannuation balances are, even if it were true that the banks and other big corporations are owned mainly by superannuation funds this would be grossly unfair. However, the truth is even more inequitable. For it is the very rich who own most of the stocks of the banks and other big companies. Superannuation funds own just a minority. How small a minority? Let us calculate that here using publicly available data. Given how much mythology there is about superannuation funds owning corporations, we will show each stage of the calculation. According to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, i.e. the industry body of the superannuation companies themselves, at the end of December 2019 these funds had a total of 1.9 trillion dollars in assets of which 22.0% was invested in Australian equities (https://www.superannuation.asn.au/resources/superannuation-statistics , accessed 3 April 2020). That comes to a figure of $418 billion for the total holdings in the Australian share market by the superannuation funds. Now the total market capitalisation of the Australian share market at the same time, the end of December, was $2339.71 billion (see https://www.gurufocus.com/global-market-valuation.php?country=AUS and scroll to 20 December 2019 in the graph “Australian Total Market Cap”). That gives the proportion of the shares in the Australian stock market owned by domestic superannuation funds at just 17.9%. That is a lot less than one in five shares.
To see the significance of this truth that local superannuation funds own just a minority of major Australian corporations, let us consider the following scenario. Imagine in the year 2022, after having to prune their profits slightly in 2019 following the exposure of some of their fraudulent practices and the lower profits that they could expect in the coming two years in the wake of the COVID-19 induced recession, the banks seek to raise their profits back to the extreme levels of a few years ago. Through hitting their customers with still higher fees and by charging a high interest rate on the loans they lend out relative to that which they give to depositors the banks raise their profits by, say, an extra $10 billion. Now the bank bosses and their many apologists in parliament would then spin the line that these higher profits are a good thing as they end up in the pockets of “ordinary everyday Australians” through the dividends being accumulated by superannuation funds investing in the banks. However, if all these additional profits end up being distributed as dividends to shareholders and assuming that the percentage of bank shares owned by Australian super funds is about the same as the overall proportion of Australian stocks owned by these funds, just $1.79 billion of these extra share dividends would go to these funds. Even less would make their way into actual superannuation accounts. For the superannuation companies would take a healthy portion of the dividends as commissions and fees – and as we know even as advice fees when they give no advice! And guess what, many of these superannuation companies are themselves directly owned by banks or insurance companies. So part of the bank profits supposedly going into superannuation funds end up going back to the bank and, thus, into the pockets of its big non-superannuation shareholders. The amount actually going to the superannuation accounts of the public may be closer to $1.4 billion. Yet, to get to this scenario of higher bank profits, we have paid out $10 billion in extra fees and higher interest payments. So, excluding the big shareholders of the banks, the public end up much worse off overall, worse off by about $10 billion less the approximately $1.4 billion that we reclaim in higher returns on our super; i.e. we together end up about overall $8.6 billion worse off. And it is working class people who would suffer the pain disproportionately. For a low-paid worker, while paying the higher fees and higher interest rates paid by others, gets very little back in the way of higher returns on their superannuation and many workers none at all.
While we are dealing with this subject, the same analogy would apply to the issue of wages and profits. If the bosses managed to drive down our wages throughout the economy so that they collectively make a $10 billion higher profit than they otherwise would, the apology that business leaders give, that this ends up back in workers’ pockets through increases to their superannuation, is completely false. Wage and salary earners would collectively end up about $8.6 billion worse off. And again the pain would be borne most by lower paid, cash-in-hand and unemployed workers. So, the next time a co-worker, who has been influenced by ruling class propaganda, tries to tell you that higher profits for banks and other corporations is good for us, please, please, please educate them about the reality!
Who are “the Banks”?
So now that it is clear that we are not the indirect owners of the banks through our superannuation funds, who then are the actual owners of these hated corporations? The second lie that apologists for the banks promote, other than the one about superannuation funds, is that the banks are simply owned by “ordinary, everyday Australians” – so called “mum and dad shareholders.” This is actually an even bigger lie than the first one! Why? Firstly, most working class people don’t have the significant savings that would enable them to invest in the stock market. Low paid workers, unemployed workers and casual workers struggle to replace worn out clothes, deal with high electricity costs, pay the rent and often keep up with credit card debts too, let alone save significants amounts of money. Meanwhile, more decently paid workers often spend most of their working life paying off their home mortgage. Far from the majority of the working class being able to invest in shares, the reality is that household debt in Australia is at record levels. A small layer of better paid, more skilled and often older workers do sometimes invest in shares or alternatively in wealth management schemes that in turn invest in shares. However, most of the people holding shares are members of the capitalist, business-owning upper class and the more comfortable layers of the middle class – especially high-paid, upper-middle class professionals. So the “mum and dad shareholders” who supposedly hold most of the banks should more precisely be referred to as the “affluent mum and dad shareholders.” However, even this tells only a small part of the story. For average middle class shareholders – and even the upper middle class ones – while they are large in number only hold a very small portion of bank ownership. To see this, let us have a look at the latest annual report, the one for 2019, for Australia’s largest bank, CBA. According to the bank’s own report, those owning less than a 1,000 shares, who make up nearly three quarters of shareholders, own just one in ten of all shares. Now, given that the share price of the bank at the time that those figures were quoted for (15 July 2019) was $81.06, any one shareholder who was not in this category, i.e. was a shareholder who had more than 1,000 shares in the bank, had more than $81,060 invested there. These big investors who each invested more than $81,060 in the bank own 90% of the bank. Few workers and average middle class people could afford to put that kind of money in the shares of one company. Moreover, even amongst the upper middle class and wealthy capitalists who own most of the bank shares, it is the latter who own the lion’s share. Thus, the people and institutions who own more than 5,000 shares – that is who have the spare cash to invest more than $405,000 in the shares of just one company – own over two-thirds of the CBA. Moreover, the top 20 shareholders alone own nearly half the bank!
So who then are these very rich individuals owning most of Australia’s banks? That is censored information! The wealthy own much of their stakes in the finance sector through other banks acting as nominees for them. In other words, these rich investors get other banks to hold shares on their behalf in a way that hides their own identities. Without exception, in Australia’s big four banks at least the top six shareholders in each bank are these bank nominee holders. In the case of ANZ, all the top eight shareholders, who own 57% of the bank, are these nominee holders. That about typifies the nature of “democracy” within capitalist countries. The ruling class talk a lot about “transparency” but really it is only things that don’t matter too much that are transparent whereas the really important stuff is hidden from the masses. So here we have the most powerful economic institutions in the country, the ones who decide how credit is distributed and whose combined assets of $3.4 trillion (for the big four banks alone) are almost twice the country’s entire annual GDP … and we don’t even really know who owns them!
We do, however, know a few things about the major owners of the Australian banks and insurance companies. One thing that we do know is that they are rich Australians rather than people from overseas. CBA, for instance, is nearly four-fifths Australian-owned. You can bet that among the major owners of the banks and insurance companies, hidden through bank nominee holders, are many of Australia’s richest 200 people – capitalists whose combined wealth last year was found to be a staggering $342 billion! So if you managed to break through the secrecy wall of nominee holdings you would surely find that among the major shareholders of the banks would be people of the ilk of Andrew Forrest, Gina Rinehart, James Packer, Anthony Pratt, Clive Palmer and Kerry Stokes.
Where there is greater transparency is in the holdings of the executives and directors of these finance sector corporations. And they do have big shareholdings. ANZ CEO, Shayne Elliot, held nearly $5 million of shares in that bank. IAG boss, Peter Harmer, owned an even larger stake in his corporation, owning $7.6 million of shares. However, compared to the murky holdings held in secret by nominee companies, even these huge numbers are pretty small. One big bank shareholder who is not hidden behind a nominee company is the couple, Barry and Joy Lambert, who at the time of the CBA’s last annual report owned a whopping $220 million dollar stake. Joy and Barry Lambert are indeed, by the way, a “mum” and a “dad” – and these are precisely the type of “Australian mums and dads shareholders” that own the lion’s share of this country’s banks and other major corporations!
The Big Banks, Big Insurers and the Owners of Smaller Finance Companies
What about the institutions holding major stakes in the big finance corporations – that is, other than the companies acting as nominees for others? One such institutional investor, which is among the top twenty shareholders of each of Australia’s big four banks as well as of the big insurers, Suncorp and QBE, is Netwealth Investments. If we look at the last annual reports of these big finance corporations, we find that at that time, Netwealth held a total stake of $814 million in them. Now Netwealth Investments are a wealth management firm, so they are largely investing the money of other capitalists and upper middle class individuals in the big finance corporations. But Netwealth also takes a big chunk out of the money invested through these shareholdings as commissions and management fees. And who owns Netwealth? More than half of it is owned by the joint managing directors of the firm, Michael Heine and his son Matt. The last published Australian rich list has the family holding a combined wealth of more than $1.5 billion. As we can see, a big part of this wealth comes from grabbing a share of the profits that the banking and insurance corporations leach out of all of us.
So there you have it, the big banks and insurance companies act as a big collective feeding trough for capitalist pigs. Different capitalist exploiters come to put their snouts into the mega-earnings extracted by the big banks and insurers. And when they do so, they get a huge feed. The last CBA annual report, for example, boasted that shareholders gained a total return on their investments of 21% in just one year. That means, for instance, that the Lambert family’s stake in the bank would have given them a $46 million return in just one year … and that from doing no work whatsoever! By contrast a full-time cleaner doing hard and especially crucial and dangerous work at this time of pandemic will get 1,200 times less than this and only if her boss actually pays her the minimum wage.
The Heine family who own Netwealth are one of many owners of smaller finance sector businesses that have made a fortune by engaging in a similar kind of parasitism as the big banks do. At least fifteen of the people on Australia’s list of the richest 200 people extracted much of their money by running such enterprises. You very often see these people being interviewed on ABC current affairs programs related to the economy, which is worth noting for anyone who thinks that the ABC is substantially fairer and more independent of capitalist influence than the tycoon-owned media outlets. Among the finance sector bigwigs are Hamish Douglass, the biggest shareholder of wealth management firm, Magellan Financial; Jeff Chapman, owner of Bennelong Funds Management; Graham Tuckwell, owner of investment management firm, ETF Securities; David Paradice, owner of Paradice Investment Management and Kerr Neilson, the billionaire who owns the main stake in Platinum Asset Management. Supporters of public housing may recognise the latter name. Neilson was one of the ultra-rich people who notoriously bought up former public housing and publicly-owned buildings in Sydney’s inner-city Millers Point after the right-wing NSW government drove out low-income working class tenants and sold off the housing to wealthy individuals and speculators. In 2018, Neilson bought up three historic dwellings in Millers Point, known collectively as the George Talbots Townhouses, for $5 million.
Another filthy rich owner of a finance sector corporation is the boss of buy-now-pay-later company, Flexigroup, Andrew Abercrombie. Abercrombie is also a Liberal Party powerbroker and major donor and is notorious for having stridently supported right-wing extremist, media commentator Andrew Bolt, when Aboriginal people took legal action against Bolt over vile racist slurs. Recently, Abercrombie was in the news after a high-society party that he hosted at his extravagant chalet in the US Aspen ski resort became the source of COVID-19 infection clusters after several of the super-rich guests refused to self-isolate and after returning to Australia spread the disease acquired at the party to Melbourne, Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula and Sydney.
Many of the finance sector bosses in Australia’s rich list run businesses that not only make profits from operations here but also leach profits from people overseas. That is to be expected from major components of a ruling class that is not only capitalist but imperialist. However, as well as making profits from their own operations, these owners of smaller finance sector companies stand alongside mining magnates, media moguls and industrial capitalists in grabbing hefty slices of the loot extracted by the operations of the big banks and big insurers. This is both through their own major shareholdings in the banks – like those of the Lambert family who made their initial wealth through Barry Lambert’s previously owned financial planning company, Count Financial – and through gaining a big slice of the dividends from bank shares received by the funds that they manage. In this sense, the big banking and insurance companies operate like a legal, crime syndicate. Different, loosely connected capitalists come together through these corporations to jointly loot the masses.
Nationalize the Banks! Nationalize the Entire Health System!
The banks extract money from the masses in four different ways. The first two ways are obvious: through charging interest and fees and through exploiting the mental labour of their own workers. Thirdly, by lending to those buying investment properties, banks, from the interest that they receive, gain a share of the rent extracted by greedy landlords from tenants. There is also an important additional way that banks extract their revenue. For banks, insurance companies and investment managers put some of the money under their control into the shares and bonds of other businesses. In the case of banks they also make loans to these other firms. These other business bosses, whether they be those of manufacturing firms, retailers, developers, telecommunication and IT firms, transportation companies, mining corporations or agribusiness operations in turn make a profit through exploiting their own workers. Part of the wealth extracted from these workers is then returned to the banks as interest on loans and on any bonds held by the banks and also returned to finance sector firms more broadly as dividends on the stocks that they hold in these other companies. In this way, the owners of the finance sector companies gain a share of the profits exploited from workers throughout the economy.
This role of the finance sector – and the banks in particular – in the whole economy points to perhaps the biggest problem with the capitalist-owned finance sector. It is not simply that they leach from the people, it is also the way that they allocate credit and financial resources. And like everything else they do, they allocate credit almost solely on the basis of what can bring them the highest returns. That is partly why there is so much speculation in the housing sector and so little affordable housing available, both to buy or to rent. Banks know that they can gain much higher and more secure returns by giving loans to wealthy people buying multiple holiday homes and speculative high-end investment properties than to lend for the construction of cheaper housing for working class people to buy or to rent. Similarly, banks would rather allocate loans and investments to climate change-inducing coal mines and fossil fuel power stations that have little long term future than to focus their credit allocation into renewable power projects even if the former bring only slighter higher and more secure returns to the bank. Meanwhile, the profit-driven mode of the banks mean that medical research in Australia can struggle to get funding unless the chances of an immediate profit-making breakthrough are immediate. Yet medical science cannot but advance except through the trialling of many different ideas, only a tiny proportion of which will end up being used. Similarly in Australia, important technological development and scientific research – especially in basic sciences where the monetary benefits are not immediate – struggle to get bank loans or investment. By contrast, casino operators and advertising firms – who produce no net benefit to society but instead only help one lot of business owners to get richer at the expense of their rivals (and then vice versa!) – don’t seem to have any trouble raising credit.
If the misdirection of credit causes terrible problems in “normal” times, it can be literally fatal at a time of public health emergency and economic implosion like we are experiencing right now. Although, as we go to press, the rate of new infections in Australia appears to be slowing, people continue to die from COVID-19 and, what is more, the threat of much greater virus spread will emerge once social distancing measures are eased. That is why immediately, we need financial resources directed to urgent medical research to help find vaccines and better treatments for COVID-19. We need this research not only for the few projects seemingly most likely to bring financial profits in the future but for a wide range of research. That includes work into developing any non-vaccine treatment methods for the virus. Such research into treatment methods can be hugely life-saving but its results are also likely non-patentable and would bring the researchers – and thus their bank creditors – no real financial rewards. Even more urgently we need loans directed to particular manufacturers that are able to very quickly turn their factories into making personal protective equipment, infra-red thermometers, virus testing kits and ventilators. We also need credit being allocated into areas that will help reduce the level of job losses and at the same time direct jobs into areas that would aid the virus response – for instance by making home delivery of groceries and food more widespread. Yet the only way any of this has even a chance of happening is if control of the organisations that have the power over lending – that is, the banks – are taken out of the hands of their profit-driven owners and brought under state control. This gives the potential to plan the allocation of financial resources to both respond to the virus threat and avert economic collapse. For such planning to be effective, the banks really need to be run together as a single national entity. Modern computing technology and big data make that quite simple whether or not the banks actually operate under one logo. In summary what we need is the nationalisation of the banks and their conversion into a single state-run bank. We need that right now and we need that all the time!
Putting the banks under state control is not the only thing that the working class masses need right now. To respond to the COVID-19 threat we need health resources mobilised in a planned way. The government has announced that it would requisition the resources of private hospitals to deal with the crisis. But this measure is partial and predicated on a massive bailout of private hospital owners. In contrast to the Morrison government’s half-baked hospital plan we need the immediate nationalisation of the entire health system – including not only private hospitals but smaller health facilities like pathology labs. This must remain even after this epidemic is over. Having a big part of the Medicare budget going into the bank accounts of greedy private health operators – for example, Medicare pays 75% of the schedule fee of private patients – as opposed to the actual treatment of patients not only drains the public budget but means that less resources are available for the long overdue tasks of increasing the number of available public hospital beds and public health nurses and reducing the waiting times at public hospitals. Furthermore, for the level of one’s access to health care to depend on the “logic of the market” – in other words how much money one has to fork out for health care – goes against the needs of the working class and all principles of decency. The irrationality of having health facilities being run by for profit operators has been proved during this COVID-19 crisis by the fact that private health care operators like Healthe Care in March stood down, or laid off, hundreds of nurses at a time when the virus was spreading rampantly and nurses were needed more than ever.
The section of Australia’s population most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 is the well over hundred thousand homeless people. This includes not only those forced to sleep the streets but those “couch surfing” in the homes of friends and relatives. With so many people thrown out of work or stood down on reduced or no pay, homelessness is set to skyrocket. The government’s tentative six-month moratorium on evictions does not provide adequate security to tenants. There are so many loopholes that landlords are already evicting tenants. Moreover, current measures do not stop landlords and estate agents from pressuring tenants to pay rent even when they have little income. Therefore, there must be a six month halt to all rent payments for residential tenants from now. We also need an immediate halt to the sell-off of public housing and for homeless people to be housed in public housing dwellings slated for sale. This will help but will not in itself be enough to house all homeless people. Therefore, we also need a massive increase in public housing. Another crucial reason why we need more public housing is so that low-income women can move away from any abusive relationships and know that they will still have a roof over their heads if they do so. This is an even more urgent matter now than ever as COVID-19 restrictions are leaving women copping domestic abuse in situations where they are more socially isolated and, thus, more vulnerable to violent attack. But new public housing cannot be built fast enough right now in the midst of a pandemic. Therefore, the state must requisition the unoccupied holiday homes and investment properties of people owning more than three homes and convert them immediately into public housing.
We must also demand that the millions of casual workers in this country be immediately granted permanency with all the rights of permanent workers – including being granted guaranteed minimum work hours and sick leave. This is necessary to both protect the rights of casual workers and to ensure that such workers have no compulsion to risk their own well-being and that of others by going to work when ill. Similarly, we must ensure that all workers be granted special paid pandemic leave for self-isolation, quarantining and treatment if they may have COVID-19, or to care for ill family members. The government’s new scheme only allows for unpaid leave which for many low-paid workers will not only cause hardship but may push them to try sticking it out at work when they could be a risk to themselves and others.
At this time of economic crisis, temporary migrant workers and wage-working international students are the hardest hit section of the working class. Many have lost jobs or are casual workers who have suffered big cuts to the number of shifts that they get and, like most casual workers, the government’s much touted scheme to pay bosses of businesses that have lost significant revenue to retain workers will not help them at all. Moreover, unlike all other workers they will not get any Centrelink payments and international students are not even covered by Medicare. This is outrageous! These migrant workers face destitution and many now not only have no money to return to their home countries but cannot even do so due to travel restrictions. That is why it is absolutely urgent that we demand that all workers resident here get the same rights as people who are citizens. Full citizenship rights for everyone who is here! Moreover, in counter-position to the government’s JobKeeper scheme that will still allow hundreds of thousands of workers to lose their jobs while giving a windfall to many bosses, we must fight for jobs for all through preventing companies that have been making a profit over the years from cutting their workforce and by forcing still profitable companies to increase hiring at the expense of their profits.
Such an agenda can only be won through working class-led struggle. Although, at this moment, it may even be from the point of view of the overall interests of the capitalist class partly rational to put the banks under state control in order to avert an economic collapse, the exploiting class will resist any demands for such measures, not least because such a nationalisation would immediately pose the question that if the capitalist owners cannot be trusted to run the banks themselves then why shouldn’t the banks and the rest of the economy be taken completely out of their hands and put into public ownership. As a crucial part of any working-class fightback the workers movement must champion the cause of all other sections of the oppressed. In particular the working class must support Aboriginal people’s struggle against racist state killings of black people in custody, a movement that has been injected with renewed energy in the wake of the mass anti-racist resistance struggles in the U.S.
Mass struggle at this time of pandemic is, of course, difficult. However, let’s not forget that the working class movement has had to struggle in the past – and often in the present too in not only openly capitalist dictatorships but to some degree in the so-called “democracies” as well – in difficult conditions where protests, strikes and leftist political activity have faced repression or even been outright outlawed. This time of virus-related restrictions is, of course, very different in that we ourselves uphold – and actually actively promote – genuine social-distancing measures. However, like in times of intense of police-state repression, it is still a matter of finding ways to overcome major obstacles. We certainly don’t need to come up with all the ways that we can have an impact here. Politically active working class people will themselves come up with suitable methods – the masses are very innovative and that has been proven over decades and decades of struggle.
State-Controlled Banks and COVID-19 Response: A Case Study
If anyone wants to see why we need to put the banks under state control they should look at how the finance sector works in the world’s most populous country – and Australia’s biggest trading partner – the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). In China all the major banks are nationalised. And that was part of why the PRC was so effectively able to respond to the COVID-19 threat. Although China was the place where the virus – whose exact origin remains unknown – first spread in a really big known way, the PRC was able to respond so effectively and quickly that today in China, and even in the city of Wuhan, the former centre of the outbreak, people are again socialising, starting to resume eating out at cafes and restaurants, travelling long distances on public transport, slowly returning to tourist sites, working at factories and other works sites and gradually returning to full school operations. More importantly, the PRC’s response has been so successful that per million residents, far less people have died from the virus in China than have died in wealthier countries that have had much, much more time to prepare for the virus spread. Thus, the number of deaths per resident as of July 18 is already 45% higher in Australia than in China, 133 times higher in the U.S. than in China and in Switzerland, the country famous for its free-wheeling, scantily regulated capitalist banks, the number of deaths per resident is already 71 times higher than in China.
It is important to see why the PRC has been able to respond so effectively to the virus threat. In particular let us see how having a nationalised banking sector made a difference. Crucially, as soon as it become apparent just how contagious and deadly the then newly discovered virus was, China’s banks started supplementing PRC government outlays to firms to boost production of – or in many cases to entirely switch over the output of their operations to produce – items crucial to the epidemic response. Such products included surgical masks, goggles and full protective suits for medical workers, face masks for the public, COVID-19 testing kits, ambulances, disinfectant and ventilators. Within two weeks, PRC banks had already lent out tens of billions of dollars in very low interest rate loans to support the production of these items. By March 13, the amount that the PRC’s state-controlled banks had lent out to contain the impact of the virus had grown to $330 billion!
The production of pandemic relief goods – especially PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for medical workers – is absolutely vital in the fight against this pandemic. Unfortunately, in the very early days of the outbreak in Wuhan, before it was realised just how contagious the virus was – and even what it was – and how crucial was the need for protective gear, many medical staff in Wuhan became infected with the virus and also spread it to other colleagues, and several of the infected staff later died. In late January, with a large number of ill people pouring into Wuhan hospitals the hospital system in Wuhan was obviously overwhelmed and there was a shortage of protective gear, medicine and equipment. However, before long, with PRC manufacturers, armed with cheap credit doled out at lightning speed by her nationalised banks, rapidly switching over to producing protective gear, all nurses, hospital cleaners and doctors in China were wearing full space-suit-style head-to-toe protective gear. As a result, not a single one of the more than 42,600 health workers who travelled from other parts of China to Hubei Province to aid the virus response became infected, let alone died from the disease. By contrast, the capitalist countries with their private, profit-driven banks have not been able to equip their health workers with PPE effectively. Capitalist banks resist any loans that do not guarantee them a sizable and secure return. Moreover, they would also take considerable time approving any loans made for epidemic response as they ponder and calculate what they can get out of lending large amounts to any particular project for manufacturing epidemic prevention materials. In Australia, any switching over of production to aid the pandemic response by manufacturers is happening way too little and way too late. Therefore, even though authorities in countries like the U.S., Australia and Italy have had the big advantage of knowing for several weeks, if not months, just how infectious the virus was before it spread widely in their own countries, they have not even been able to ensure adequate protective equipment for their health workers. In the U.S., many nurses have had to resort to wearing home-made “protective gear,” like garbage bags, as poor substitutes for personal protective equipment. In Italy, as of April 17, at least 159 medical workers had died from COVID-19. Apart from the personal tragedies here, the effects of health workers becoming infected is devastating for the overall pandemic response. It means that large numbers of medical staff are not able to contribute to the response effort as they languish in quarantine, while other doctors and nurses, before they are identified as having COVID-19, end up passing on the virus to other medical staff and to patients who have come in for non-COVID-19 illnesses. In Australia, the failure to be able to outfit all health workers with the head-to-toe PPE that China’s nurses, doctors and janitors are equipped with has meant that as of July 18 over 400 nurses, doctors and health workers in Victoria alone have been infected. The failure to provide adequate PPE for health and aged care workers is also a key reason for the deadly virus spreads in North-West Tasmanian hospitals and in the Christian-run nursing home in Sydney’s Outer West that took the lives of 30 people between them.
Build toward the Future Confiscation of Banks, Industry, Mines, Communications Infrastructure and Agricultural Land and their Transfer into Public Ownership
It is not only in responding to the direct virus threat that the PRC’s nationalised banks have come into their own. To avert mass layoffs and economic shocks during this pandemic, China’s banks have sacrificed profits by rolling over and extending loans to hard-hit firms and self-employed people and by lending large amounts of money at low interest rates to assist enterprises to re-start production with the curbing of the epidemic spread. In a similar way, the PRC’s nationalised banking sector played a crucial role in allowing China to sail through the late noughties Global Recession as they lent huge amounts of money to finance high-speed rail lines, water conservation projects, environmental projects and the massive construction of low-rent public housing.
Yet it is not just during a crisis that the advantages of the PRC’s state-controlled finance sector is apparent. These Chinese banks have been directed to ensure that their lending practices are in lockstep with the PRC’s “Homes Are For Living In, Not for Speculation” policy. Thus, they have provided much credit to support public housing construction. Moreover, very different to Australia’s profit-obsessed banks, China’s banks charge any family seeking a bank loan for buying a second home a much higher interest rate than they charge those buying their first home, while they don’t lend at all to anyone trying to buy a third home. More broadly, China’s state-controlled banks are directed to lend to projects that may not be very profitable for the banks but which are important for the society and for the people’s economic development. Thus, these banks have specially lent to research and development projects in areas that are important for that country’s future economic progress like nanotechnology, advanced materials, artificial intelligence, advanced electronic hardware, aircraft research etc. Meanwhile, given that the PRC state has identified environmental protection as one of its three principal tasks, alongside poverty alleviation and curbing financial risks, the banks have directed a significant part of their lending to projects aimed at curbing water and air pollution. In particular, by supporting renewable energy projects with credit, they have helped China to become the world leader in renewable energy, with more than three times the installed solar power capacity of any other country and more than twice the wind generation capacity of the next biggest wind power producer. However, the most crucial practice of the PRC’s nationalised banking sector is its support for the country’s poverty alleviation drive. Over the last several years, as part of the PRC’s drive to lift every resident out of extreme poverty by the end of 2020, China’s state banks have lent literally hundreds of billions of dollars to poverty alleviation projects in poorer parts of the country. Many of these projects involve renovation of shantytowns and upgrading of infrastructure in impoverished and remote parts of the country as well as supporting community-based aged care facilities provided for lower income residents. Crucially, the PRC’s state-controlled banks have also provided credit for the development of job-creating industries in poorer, rural parts of the country including food processing operations, agricultural co-operatives, rural tourism and renewable energy projects. Partly as a result of such support for her poverty alleviation drive from her nationalised finance sector, China remains on track to achieve her poverty alleviation target by the end of this year despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is important to be aware that the PRC’s banks are not just state-controlled, they are overwhelmingly also state-owned. Thus, each and every one of China’s big four commercial banks are state-owned. Indeed, even if we include all the medium-sized banks in China, we find that majority state-owned banks so dominate the PRC’s finance sector that there is really only one significant sized bank – China’s tenth largest bank – that can be considered to be truly privately-owned; and even in that one case state-owned companies have recently become its largest shareholders owning around a quarter of the bank. Moreover, in addition to her commercial banks, the PRC has three massive, 100% state-owned policy banks whose lending is completed devoted to projects that are deemed in society’s overall interest. Two of these policy banks in particular, the China Development Bank and the Agricultural Development Bank of China, whose combined assets would make them China’s second largest bank, have been at the forefront of lending to support China’s poverty alleviation drive and more recently for the pandemic response effort.
There is a notable difference between banks being merely state-controlled and being actually state-owned. For one, even if banks are state-controlled, if they remain privately-owned their wealthy owners will act as a constant pressure on the state pushing for the banks to be run largely according to the profit motive as opposed to according to social needs. Secondly, if banks remain only state-controlled their massive profits would still be flowing into the hands of their largely ultra-rich owners rather than into the public budget. Remember, last year, in a “bad” year for them, Australia’s big four banks alone leached $26 billion in profits. To be sure, if they became state-controlled their profits would drop somewhat as their lending and investment becomes partially re-directed away from areas that simply bring the highest return. Nevertheless, even if their profits were halved as a result of being placed under state control, that’s still $13 billion that could go into the public budget if these corporations were only brought into state ownership. How much badly needed public housing could we get with that?! Well, actually, we can calculate that. According to the government’s own figures (see Table 18A.43 in the appendix of Excel spreadsheets under Part G, Section 18 of the Report on Government Services 2020 in the Australian Government Productivity Commission website https://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/report-on-government-services/2020/housing-and-homelessness/housing), the average annual cost of a public house unit, including the capital cost, is $39,714 per dwelling. So if we had even half the current profits extracted by the biggest banks in Australia go into the public coffers we could support an extra 327,340 public housing dwellings which would easily more than double the existing stock of public housing. That could really solve the problem of homelessness and make good strides towards addressing the extreme shortage of low-rent housing in Australia.
That is why what is finally needed is to confiscate all the banks, insurance corporations, superannuation companies, wealth management firms and securities businesses from their ultra-wealthy owners and bring them all into state-ownership. This should be accomplished without giving any compensation to the big shareholders. However, to avoid unnecessarily antagonising the middle class, the stock holdings of the numerous small shareholders who together own a tiny fraction of these corporations can be bought out. Since the superannuation firms will be confiscated too, workers won’t need to worry about losing their super when the banks get taken. They will still get their retirement funds from the now publicly owned providers and with less eaten in fees by billionaire finance sector bosses to boot. However, the retirement payment system will progressively be switched from one based on individual superannuation accounts to one based on a higher and equal pension for all.
Our agitational demand to put the banks under state control, that is to nationalise the banks, that we made in the headline of this article, is not in itself a call to confiscate the banks and put them into public ownership. Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin made a similar call some six weeks prior to the working class seizure of power in the October 1917 Russian Revolution. As Lenin explained:
It is absurd to control and regulate deliveries of grain, or the production and distribution of goods generally, without controlling and regulating bank operations….
The ownership of the capital wielded by and concentrated in the banks is certified by printed and written certificates called shares, bonds, bills, receipts, etc. Not a single one of these certificates would be invalidated or altered if the banks were nationalised, i.e. if all banks were amalgamated into a single state bank…. whoever owned fifteen million rubles would continue after the nationalisation of the banks to have fifteen million rubles in the form of shares, bonds, bills, commercial certificates and so on.
— V.I. Lenin, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It, September 1917
Lenin’s Bolsheviks made the demand for the nationalisation of the banks in this period as an urgent measure to control economic life at a time when Russia’s masses were being struck down by mass unemployment, disorganised industry and terrible shortages of food and other staple items. However, the revolutionaries also understood that by showing the masses the need to take the control of the banks out of the hands of the capitalists they were thus leading working class people to the conclusion that they ultimately need to also take the ownership of the banks from the capitalists. Indeed, in the period after the October Revolution, the new workers government of Soviet Russia confiscated the banks along with the railways, industries and agricultural land and transferred them into public ownership.
Putting the banks under state control or even confiscating the finance sector, while a vital measure, does not solve all problems – not even the most urgent ones. So while we need state banks to lend to certain manufacturers to aid them to switch their operations to produce vitally needed pandemic relief goods, if the manufacturing bosses still can’t find a way to make a big profit out of those operations, even with low-interest loans, they are very unlikely to change over their factories; and if they do many would do it too slowly or only in a token way to gain positive publicity. So we need to have a perspective of confiscating not only the finance sector but also taking the key industries, the mines that produce the raw materials, transport and distribution means, power, communications and other infrastructure as well as construction out of the hands of the profit-driven capitalists and placing them into the collective hands of the people. In China it is not just their banks that are under state-ownership but all their key sectors. As a result when there was a need for firms to switch over their production to make pandemic relief goods, the relevant state-owned enterprises not only got access to cheap credit to assist them but were basically ordered to make the conversion. That is why you have all sorts of Chinese industries, seemingly unrelated to making protective and medical gear, contributing to China’s pandemic relief effort. For example, state-owned Shanghai Three Gun group, China’s biggest producer of underwear, is now producing more than one million masks per day.
What a society where public ownership plays the backbone role can do was seen most clearly in the way that the PRC built two large brand new hospitals from the ground up in less than two weeks when the number of people getting seriously ill from COVID-19 started surging in late January. The challenge in building these hospitals in Wuhan so quickly was especially steep given that these specialist infectious disease hospitals, unlike other hospitals, needed to have negative pressure wards to ensure that the air leaving wards with the infected patients is ejected safely rather than seeping out to potentially infect hospital workers and others. The first of these hospitals put into service, the 1,000 bed Huoshenshan (“Fire God Mountain”) Hospital was built in just 10 days. The second, the 1,600 bed Leishenshan (“Thunder God Mountain”) Hospital was put into service just days later. And it was thousands of workers organised through the PRC firms under public ownership that played the key role in pulling off these amazing feats. Financing for the project was provided both from the central government and by the 100% state-owned policy bank, the China Development Bank. The design of the hospital was performed by the CITIC General Institute of Architectural Design and Research, a subsidiary of the giant PRC public-owned conglomerate, CITIC. The actual construction of the hospitals was undertaken by the Third Engineering Bureau of state-owned China State Construction Engineering, the largest construction company in the world. Meanwhile, China State Grid organised 260 workers in around the clock shifts to ensure that the power connection was ready in time. Communications within the hospital and a stable 5G internet connection was achieved within 36 hours through a collaborative effort of China’s state-owned communication giants China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom and China Tower. Meanwhile, CT scanning equipment and X-rays were provided by Shanghai United Imaging, a high-tech firm jointly held by a range of PRC state-owned firms.
Right now the mass of working class people in Australia does not yet appreciate the need for the confiscation of the banks and industry from the capitalists and their transfer into public ownership. The very most politically advanced workers and leftist activists do understand that this is what is needed. However, ruling class propaganda has been able to tentatively convince the majority of working class people that private ownership of the economy should be “respected.” Nevertheless, right now there is widespread distrust of the banking system at the very same moment that many working class people are very worried about the pandemic, about whether they will have a job and about their ability to pay rent and buy essentials. That is why we today emphasise the call for the nationalisation of the banks as a slogan around which to mobilise united front struggle that will, on the one hand, demand this immediate measure necessary for both the COVID-19 response effort and to protect the masses from unemployment and poverty and that will, on the other hand, in the course of their struggle to win this demand, point working class people towards the ultimate need for the confiscation of the banks and all key sectors and their transferal into public ownership.
We Need a Workers State
If powerful working class struggle were able to force the capitalist government to nationalise the banks, the question then becomes posed: who would be administering this now state-run finance system? Sure, a finance system under state control would face more mass pressure to run its operations according to people’s interests than privately owned banks do. However, would you trust the anti-working class Morrison government or the desperate-to-not-scare-the-capitalists-Albanese led ALP to ensure that a state bank would actually serve the masses rather than the big end of town?
The problem is not simply the government but the bureaucracy. No matter the political stripe of who sits in ministers’ chairs and who wins elections, the fact is that the same layer of high-ranking state officials who have been allowing the finance sector corporations to fleece the public will still be the ones “regulating” them. The “regulator” of the finance sector, ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission) has been so deferential to the finance industry bosses that even the limp Royal Commission criticised it for its “softly, softly approach” to illegal activity by the banks. However, ASIC is not going to fundamentally change. If you see who leads it, even now after getting a slap on the wrist from the Royal Commission, you will know why. ASIC’s leadership remains people with strong ties to the finance sector bosses and other corporate bigwigs. Thus ASIC chair, James Shipton, spent ten years as the managing director of various divisions of the Asia-Pacific office of American banking giant, Goldman Sachs. Of the six other commissioners who lead ASIC, one previously had senior roles in NAB and ANZ (and does anyone expect him to now go hard on them?!!), two had been top bosses of other finance services companies and one had been most recently CEO of the Myer Family Company.
Yet, it is not only their leaders’ previous links to the corporate bosses that tie state institutions like ASIC to the capitalist class. For one, the wealth that these ASIC heads would have acquired when they were high fliers in the banking and broader corporate world – and the ensuing investing of part of this wealth that they have no doubt made into shares and/or share-investing wealth management schemes – would make them very much identify their interests with those of the big end of town and not with working class people. Moreover, since wealthy business owners control the economy and, thus, largely determine who gets hired and at what pay, they can, without even saying a word, entice senior bureaucrats at state institutions with the prospect of future lucrative jobs at their companies should they “respect” their interests; and, in effect, threaten these state officials with being locked out of future employment prospects should these bureaucrats dare step on their toes. One only has to look at who are the directors leading the big finance sector companies and other corporations and one will see how this works. Let’s take ANZ bank as a case study. ANZ’s David Gonski, prior to being appointed chairman in 2014, had been a top official of a number of Australian state bodies. He had been head of the Future Fund which directs government investments into long-term projects. From 2010 to 2011 he also headed a government commission to look into education funding which produced the well-known Gonski Report. In the year prior to becoming ANZ chairman, Gonski had also been appointed to ASIC’s External Advisory Panel and actually continued there until last year. Consider this: say Gonski had, if he hypothetically wanted to, tried to direct Future Fund investments in a way that actually benefited working class people rather than the corporate owners, had in his Gonski Report called to slash public funding for private schools rather than agree to perpetuate it and while on ASIC’s External Advisory Panel pushed for a severe crackdown on the banks, does anyone think that ANZ’s big shareholders would have then appointed him their chairman? And wouldn’t being aware of how his future career prospects in the corporate world are affected by how he acts while heading state institutions colour his conduct when being a high-ranking Australian state bureaucrat? Actually, Gonski is not the only ANZ boss who had been on ASIC’s External Advisory Panel. One of ANZ’s top executives had previously been Vice-Chair of this ASIC body and the current chairman of Suncorp is still on that panel, all of which highlights further the links between ASIC and the finance sector bosses that they supposedly “regulate.” Meanwhile, an ANZ director had previously held the top bureaucrat position, Secretary, in both the Australian Department of Finance and the Australian Department of Health. This director, Jane Halton, is currently also one of the ten council members that lead the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the state defence think tank notorious for being the most fanatical force promoting Australia’s military build up and its war-mongering hostility to socialistic China. This also highlights the fact that some capitalists hold key positions in the state machinery even while they are still directors of corporations. Thus, one of the NAB’s directors, is also a director of Infrastructure Victoria. Moreover, the chairman of the NDIS, Helen Nugent, is also a director of insurance corporation IAG. So if disabled and ill workers are wondering why they often face intrusive interrogations from the NDIS and sometimes even cop bullying threats to cut them off the Disability Support Pension just know this, the boss of the NDIS is a director of one of the leaching insurance giants who holds over $220,000 worth of shares in that corporation (according to their last annual report) and is paid by them almost a quarter of a million dollars a year for basically attending a meeting every 16 days (on average) and reading some reports. Prior to being appointed NDIS supremo in 2017, Nugent had been up until 2014 a director of Macquarie Group for 15 years. And controversially, the NDIS has awarded Macquarie a contract to build disability housing for them while Nugent actually conducts her leadership of the NDIS in an office rented from Macquarie!
The intertwining between the capitalist bosses and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy extends into state institutions crucial to shaping the ideological direction of society. Thus, much of the leadership of the universities is held by corporate bigwigs. The chancellor of UTS is, for example, none other than the chairman of CBA. Meanwhile the deputy chairman of the broadcaster SBS, George Savvides, is a director of IAG, while another member of the nine-member board that sets SBS’s direction, Peeyush Gupta, is a director of NAB. This is worth knowing in case anyone is tempted to believe that SBS is any more “independent” of the capitalists than the Murdoch media or the commercial TV and radio stations.
Through their economic power and wealth, the capitalists not only ensure that the upper ranks of the state bureaucracy are tied to them by thousands of threads – if they are not actually personally holding these positions themselves – they also subordinate to their interests all the other coercive bodies of the state. This includes the legal system. ASIC have not only been extremely timid when facing the banks because of their ties to the bank bosses. That is, of course, very true. However, part of the reason for ASIC’s prostration is that they are downright intimidated at the prospects of taking on the banks in the courts. Since the courts are biased towards the corporate bigwigs and since the bank bosses have enormous financial resources to hire the best, most expensive barristers and to fund expensive court proceedings and appeals, ASIC fears losing expensive court battles with the banks.
That is why alongside agitating for putting the finance system under state control, we need to fight for people’s supervision of the banks. We cannot trust state institutions tied to the capitalists to regulate even a state-controlled finance system. Therefore, we must demand – and indeed assert – inspection of all commercial bank transactions and big accounts by committees consisting of unionised bank employees’ representatives alongside of representatives of other unions and mass organisations. Such committees can call in financial experts as consultants to help make sense of information but the great advantage of having class-conscious finance sector employees involved in these inspections is that they themselves understand all the terminology of the finance world. These working peoples’ committees can then collate the information and highlight the key results – as well as egregious cases of fraud and manipulation by the very rich – to the public in a form easily understood by the masses. In that way the people can know to which businesses and which sectors credit is being lent and what is the proportion of housing loans going into homes for the debtors to actually live in as opposed to for the sake of housing speculation. Moreover, we will be able to finally discover who the exact owners of the finance sector corporations are. We will also be able to expose which wealthy capitalists have been hiding their true income to avoid tax and by how much. Similarly, the extent to which corporate bosses have been ripping off the public budget when acting as contractors for state projects as well as bribery of state officials by the capitalists can be exposed.
Thus, a state-controlled finance sector where working people’s committees make transparent to the masses the operations of a united state bank will enable the masses to exert enough pressure to have some control over this key pivot of a modern economy. Yet this will only be some control. For as long as the state as a whole – including its key coercive organs of the courts, the police, the prison, army, the regulators and the broader bureaucracy – remains the existing capitalist state that has been created and built up to serve the interests of the wealthy business owners then any attempt to exert workers’ control over the economy will face sabotage and obfuscation through bureaucratic means. As Leon Trotsky, leader of the Fourth International, which at the time (albeit with some mis-steps) continued the fight for the revolutionary internationalist program that guided Lenin’s Bolsheviks, emphasised in The Transitional Program, the program that the Fourth International adopted in 1938 at a time of acute capitalist crisis in the lead up to World War II:
“… the state-ization of the banks will produce these favourable results [large scale industry and transport directed by a public bank to serve the vital interests of the workers and all other toilers] only if the state power itself passes completely from the hands of the exploiters into the hands of the toilers.”
This is the goal that we must advance towards: the sweeping away of the capitalist state and the construction of a new state to serve the interests of the working class and all the other oppressed. The building of such a workers state is needed not only to ensure that any state bank truly operates for the masses but as the pre-condition necessary to enable the confiscation of all the backbone sectors of the economy and their transferral into socialist, that is public, ownership. For while the capitalist class, in a crisis, may, to save their system as a whole, nationalise some sectors and in other cases may acquiesce to some nationalisations as a concession to powerful working class struggle, they will never accept the wholesale dispossession of their ownership of the economy unless they are actually deposed from political power.
China’s Bank’s are Genuinely under Public Ownership because the PRC is a Workers State
It took the revolutionary overthrow from power of the capitalists, the agricultural landlords and the henchmen of Western imperialism in 1949 to enable China’s banks, industry, mines and agricultural land to be transferred into collective ownership by the people. The 1949 Revolution was a heroic struggle in which tens of millions of agricultural labourers, poor tenant farmers and workers directly participated. However, although this great revolution brought the toiling classes to power, because the revolutionary forces were heavily based on hard-to-unite tenant farmers (unlike the 1917 October Revolution that was based on united workers organised through elected workers-led councils) who, while suffering common exploitation by greedy landlords, nevertheless produced for themselves and competed in the markets to sell their produce, the new society had to be held together and administered from above. The ruling middle class bureaucracy, while they still had to administer the society in the interests of the victorious toilers, did so in an imperfect way and in a manner that ensured their own privileges. In the late 1970s, the bureaucratic PRC government, faced with the need to boost production and in the face of intense pressure from the surrounding capitalist world, turned to pro-market reforms. In the following years, a sizeable private sector has developed in China, far in excess of the partial concessions to a private sector that can sometimes be needed in the transition phase between capitalism and socialism. This has brought with it some of the vices of capitalist society such as inequality. Nevertheless, the socialistic public sector still thoroughly dominates the key means of production in China.
Moreover, the fact that the PRC is a socialistic state and the mostly smaller private businesses rely on state-owned giants for raw materials, transportation and energy means that even China’s private sector is sometimes constrained to partially serve broader social goals. If we compare China with capitalist countries, we find that the relationship between private bosses and the state are the very opposite of each other. In Australia, Indonesia, India, Italy or the U.S., the capitalist state and its officials suck up to the rich capitalists who are the real power. In contrast in Red China, the private business owners that do exist suck up to the workers state and are desperate to show their deference to the socialistic order. As a result, during this COVID-19 pandemic even some privately-owned businesses contributed to the relief effort. Indeed, even greedy capitalist billionaire, Jack Ma, with rumours swirling that he was forced to retire last year to try and head off being cracked down upon – as has deservedly happened to so many other high-flying capitalist exploiters in China before him – tried to win favour with authorities by making significant donations to the pandemic response.
However, the existence of a too large private sector remains a problem in China. Although the PRC was able to mobilise its state-dominated economy to very quickly and effectively build hospitals and produce urgently needed items for the pandemic response, the fact is China would have been able to respond even faster had the proportion of the economy under state ownership been even higher. And that would have saved still more lives. Moreover, the existence of a sizeable capitalist class with wealth and influence presents a mortal threat to China’s socialistic system. These capitalists are not happy that they are largely cut out of the most profitable sectors of the Chinese economy like the banks, the oil and gas companies and the other strategic sectors. They resent being pressured to sometimes sacrifice their profits for the social good. These frustrated capitalists are, thus, constantly seeking to expand their tenuous “right” to “freely” exploit labour unrestricted by any constraints. Moreover, many of these capitalists quietly harbour more ambitious aims. They are waiting for the moment, during some sort of social or economic crisis, when they can make a bid for power. They know that they will have the full backing of the capitalist powers around the world in this endeavour.
Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the already intense hostility towards China of the U.S., Australian, British, Japanese, German and other imperialist rulers rise to still higher levels. These imperialist ruling classes have engaged in a hysterical campaign of lies to blame socialistic China for the pandemic spread. The capitalist rulers fear that their own working class masses will compare China’s effective and successful response to the virus threat with their own flawed and ineffective response and will thus draw the conclusion that the socialist system is superior and needs to be fought for in their own countries. This is, in fact, the greatest fear of the capitalist rulers. But for the very same reason that the capitalists hate the fact that the world’s most populous country is under socialistic rule – and is actually proving that socialism works – the working classes in the capitalist world should defend socialistic rule in China. For the existence of the PRC workers state – despite all its bureaucratic deformations, its concessions to capitalists and its resulting fragility – makes the struggle for working class rule in Australia and the rest of the capitalist world stronger. That is why the workers movement must oppose the Australian regime’s military build up against China and her socialistic North Korean ally, must stand against the U.S. and Australian Navy’s military’s provocations against China in the South China Sea, must oppose Australian support for anticommunist forces within China (from the far-right Falun Dafa outfit to the pro-colonial, rich kid rioters in Hong Kong) and must resist the Australian regime’s attempts to intimidate and silence pro-PRC voices within Australia – including those of pro-PRC Chinese international students. Right now we especially need to refute all the China-bashing lies being spread over the COVID-19 pandemic. We also need to explain to the masses that for all the incompleteness of China’s transition to socialism, the fact that public ownership plays the backbone role in her economy was what made the PRC so effectively able to respond to the virus threat. In doing so we will at the same time motivate the need to fight here for a system of public ownership based on working class rule, i.e. a socialist system.
However, working class people will not be won to seeing the need for socialist revolution simply through hearing explanations of its necessity. The masses learn mainly through participating in – and drawing lessons from the experience of – struggles for their immediate interests. That is why all those who understand the need for a socialist future must fight to build such campaigns. At the same time, we must work hard to ensure that these struggles for immediate gains are waged in such a manner as they teach the working class to distrust all the parties and factions of the capitalist class, convince the masses to trust only their own power, place no reliance on any institutions of the capitalist state and are based on slogans that advance the working class towards the conclusion that they will in the future need to take both the economy and state power into their own collective hands. Today that means building struggles to fight for the nationalisation of the banks and for the winning of jobs for all through forcing companies to hire (and in many cases re-hire) more workers at the expense of their profits.
The Program of Nationalization of the Banks vs the Green Party’s Agenda
If anyone thinks that urgently needed measures like the nationalisation of the banks can be won merely through the parliamentary process, one has only to look at the agenda of the current parliamentary parties to see why not. Of all the parliamentary parties the Australian Greens have been the most critical of the current banking system. So their program deserves to be given some scrutiny. The Greens call for more regulation of the banks. As a policy principle, they say that, “Publicly-owned financial institutions should form a key component of Australia’s banking sector”, without offering any program about how that would arise. But they fail, even now during this time of public health and economic emergency, to call for the nationalisation of the banks. At most their agenda amounts to a return to the system that we had before the Hawke-Keating reforms of the 1980s and 1990s – and in some ways not even that since the Greens do not call for the reimposition of state control over bank interest rates. Yet, while the banks were slightly more constrained in their operations before the Hawke-Keating reforms, they hardly operated even then in the service of the people. They were still largely driven by the imperative to maximise profits.
A major part of The Greens agenda for turning back the clock is to split up financial planning and superannuation operations from the banks. However, the banks themselves are doing this now in the wake of bad publicity. Indeed, in good part they have already completed this. Last year Westpac sold off its financial advice arm BT Financial and CBA sold off its financial planning arm, Count Financial. The Greens hope that making the banks smaller will reduce abuses by them. However, the new broken up or sold off, but still massive, corporations will still be run for profits. Moreover, the new wealth management corporations will likely be significantly owned by the very same very rich people – yes and through those “bank nominee” fronts – as the banks are. The bank owners quite happily pursued this break up option because by separating out its wealth management arms that had a particularly bad reputation, their banking operations can be shielded from the foul publicity arising from the openly fraudulent practices of the financial planning operations.
Much of the remainder of The Greens practical program for the finance sector like calling for “effective regulatory supervision to enforce prudential regulation” is very similar to what the limp Royal Commission recommended. Overall, The Greens platform will not fundamentally change the way the financial system operates. Banks will still be run largely on the profit motive and will still have freedom to decide who they lend to and at what rates. And many working class people couldn’t care less if the banks own wealth management operations or not because they have little money to put into these funds anyway! So even though The Greens say in the abstract that the “banking and finance industry should serve the broader public interest”, their actual program will not get anyway near this. The reason that The Greens’ agenda cannot come even close to advocating what is really needed to begin to make “banking and finance industry serve the broader public interest,” that is the nationalisation of the banks, is that such an agenda can only be won through working class struggle against the capitalist class. But The Greens cannot truly promote such an agenda as their party includes and appeals to all classes – including capitalists. Owning operations in areas like renewable energy, services, online business, hospitality, tourism and the arts, the full-blown capitalist exploiters that support The Greens feel that the Greens push to favour their sectors over fossil-fuel and energy guzzling sectors would dovetail with their own business interests. Sure, these capitalists accept a more far-sighted view of the threat of climate change than coal mining bosses do. But they are still capitalists who exploit workers! To even speak of nationalisation of any sector would scare these “enlightened capitalist” exploiters as it would make them fear that their own operations could face nationalisation next. Meanwhile, playing a very prominent role in The Greens are well-heeled, upper-middle class professionals. This latter chunk of Greens supporters are, to be sure, somewhat “progressive” minded. But, just like the actual capitalists in The Greens, this does not stop them from having considerable sums put into wealth management products – who in turn invest this money in shares (including bank shares) – or into their own direct shareholdings. So, they would not be too thrilled about any measures that could radically slash the profits of banks.
This same dilemma faces The Greens more broadly – an abstract wish for less inequality and a more “people-oriented society” but no program that would deliver this. Take, for instance, the signature policy of The Greens and its new leader Adam Bandt: “A Green New Deal.” They say that the aims of this “Green New Deal” are “tackling social and economic inequality,” reducing underemployment, increasing wages, having more secure jobs, giving young people more hope of buying a house and ensuring action to beat the climate crisis. OK, but The Greens say this would be achieved through “a government-led plan of investment and action.” However, any reduction of inequality requires struggle against the exploiting class by the working class masses. Government investment in social programs and “clean jobs” requires someone to pay for such measures which requires a struggle against the capitalists to make them pay. The Greens do not even mention this crucial element of class struggle without which talk of building “a caring society” is meaningless. They want to make capitalist society fairer without standing up to capitalist power. And how could they when actual capitalists play a significant role in their own party! Without challenging capitalist power, any government spending and policies will inevitably bend to the demands of this powerful class. That is why when The Greens have actually been in office they have administered society in a way barely different to the other pro-capitalist parties. As part of a coalition with the ALP, the Greens had two ministries in the Tasmanian governments from 2010 to 2014 that cut the jobs of hundreds of nurses, closed public hospital beds, reduced funding for ambulance services, slashed funding for public housing maintenance, cut public sector jobs and reduced public sector pay increases below inflation. In his portfolio as minister for Education and Corrections in these governments, then Tasmanian Greens leader, Nick McKim, oversaw a prison system with substandard conditions for prisoners and tried to close 20 public schools before angry mass opposition forced him to back down. Meanwhile, the Australian Greens counterpart in Austria proved the commitment of this brand of politics to the anti-working class status quo by earlier this year joining in a government coalition with the right-wing, anti-union and anti-immigrant Austrian People’s Party.
Therefore, while we support action to fight for certain particular policies that Bandt has also advocated – like dental into Medicare and free education – we oppose overall The Greens and Bandt’s program of refusing any challenge to the power of the capitalists, while greening capitalism, under a “Green New Deal.” Remember how The Greens’ platform, including the Green New Deal, does not even call for the nationalisation of the banks. Unfortunately, however, much of the far-left in Australia have been cheering The Greens program. The Socialist Alliance have been the most enthusiastic. The Solidarity group are not far behind, only adding that “Adam Bandt’s Green New Deal won’t be won through electoral dead end.” The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) meanwhile ran an editorial in the February 17 issue of their paper, The Guardian, that pushed for overall (albeit qualified) support for Bandt’s Green New Deal, even while very correctly acknowledging that The Greens are a bourgeois party. This despite several contributors to their newspaper insightfully and convincingly attacking the Green New Deal agenda last year. Thus, in the 19 September 2019 issue of the CPA’s newspaper, an article titled “Socialism or perish” rightly argued that “we should be openly and loudly challenging the ideas put forward by many young climate activists and NGO groups who argue for a `Green New Deal’ or other policies that amount to the greening of capitalism.” In effect, in response to such points, the February 17 CPA editorial raises the argument that supporting the Green New Deal would be a united front with The Greens. Here they confuse agreements between communists and one or more reformist tendencies within the workers movement – which may include Laborite union leaders, “democratic socialist” groups and mass social democratic parties based on our unions (of which the ALP is a very right-wing version) – to launch particular united-front actions, or a series of actions, when common demands arise (like supporting a strike for higher wages or a protest march against right-wing welfare cuts) with ongoing support, however qualified, for the program of a bourgeois party. In the former case, building workers’ united front actions, when it is advantageous for the overall struggle to do so, will result in increased class struggle of the working class against the capitalists and an opportunity for communists to explain to the masses the need for more deep-going attacks on the power of the capitalists. However, in the latter case, a “people’s front” alliance between leftist workers parties and a bourgeois party (that is, a party like The Greens that does not even see itself as a party for workers’ particular class interests and which includes – and is thus subordinate to – members of the dominant capitalist class), the effect is to retard class struggle by promoting the notion of salvation through a supposed “progressive” wing of the exploiting class. Now it must be said that those nominally Marxist groups that promote The Greens party’s signature platform do in their own right call for class struggle against the capitalists and for policies that do begin to challenge capitalist influence, like calling for the nationalisation of the banks. However, promoting the platform of a bourgeois party like The Greens and seeking an ongoing alliance with such a party undercuts the class struggle aspects of these left groups’ own agenda, because it ties the workers that they influence to a section of the capitalists and, thus, also promotes the illusion that the masses can win concessions without struggle against the exploiting class.
The Struggles of Today that Can Blaze the Path to a Socialist Future
There is another reason why genuine socialists should not be promoting The Greens party, in however a qualified form. For The Greens are just as much as the Liberal-Nationals, the ALP and the far-right One Nation Party part of the Cold War drive against the world’s biggest socialistic country. Indeed, Greens NSW upper house MP, David Shoebridge, has been just as fanatical in inciting hostility to the PRC workers state as the likes of hard-right Coalition politicians like Peter Dutton, Andrew Hastie, Tim Wilson and Eric Abetz. Although Shoebridge seems to be today rejecting the far-right conspiracy theories about the World Health Organisation and China, he has spent the last several years energetically promoting other far-right conspiracy theories against China, including the ridiculous claims that China is executing members of the extreme right-wing (and rabid Trump-supporting) Falun Dafa group to harvest their organs.
The harm done by The Greens’ support for the anti-communist drive against the PRC does not only consist of the anti-Asian racist violence that it is fuelling and the blows against the Chinese workers state that it is landing. For by attacking the world’s largest socialistic state, The Greens, no matter what else they may say, are assisting the Australian ruling class to trick the masses into believing that there is no real alternative to capitalist “democracy” and that a socialistic state dominated by public ownership would be a nightmare. In other words, The Greens’ opposition to Red China makes them an enemy of the fight for socialism in this country.
That The Greens, a party that many young leftists have hopes in, and the Labour Party, the party that retains the support of most workers, have agendas that support the ruling class drive against the world’s biggest socialistic country, that fail to call for putting the banks under state control and which accept the “right” of capitalists to sack workers whenever it is most profitable to do so proves that we need to build a new workers’ party that will truly serve the interests of the exploited and oppressed. Such a party would refuse to restrict its program to what can be tolerated by the capitalists but would, instead, lay out an agenda based on what the working class and all the downtrodden actually need. Instead of feeding into the nauseating talk, that we are hearing so much of lately, that we are “all in the same boat”, the workers party that we need would be based on a clear understanding that the interests of the working class are counterposed to those of their capitalist exploiters. Thus rejecting “national unity” with the capitalists, such a party would instead fight for the closest possible alliance between the working class in Australia and the working classes of the world. In summary, the workers party that we need must be an authentic communist party like the Bolshevik party that led the Russian Revolution. We in Trotskyist Platform work hard to contribute to the building of such a party. We understand that such a party will be built in the course of laying out a perspective based on militant class struggle in the course of joining in actions that fight for the urgent needs of the masses. Today, at this time of public health emergency, massive unemployment and growing immiseration of the masses that means agitating and mobilising to demand: Put the banks and insurance companies under state control! For the complete and permanent nationalisation of the health system! For jobs for all workers through preventing companies that have been making a profit over the years from cutting their workforce and by forcing still profitable companies to increase hiring at the expense of their profits! Permanency for all casual workers! Grant the rights of citizenship to all migrants, refugees and international students! For a six-month halt to all rent payments for residential tenants! Requisition the unoccupied dwellings of people owning more than three homes and convert this immediately into public housing!
India — gripped by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic — has been endlessly witnessing desperate scrambles for hospital beds, the dire need for oxygen and mass cremation. Amid all this, the stock market is booming. In fact, Mumbai Sensex has signaled that bullish trends have been on the rise. Over the year ending April 1, 2021, while benchmark composite indices rose by 19% in the Philippines, 35% in Indonesia and 48% in Thailand, the rise was a staggering 77% in India, which experienced one of the sharpest real economy contractions in economic activity over that period. Moreover, India — unlike other Southeast Asian countries — has witnessed increased speculative investments at the expense of portfolio investments in bonds.
RBI’s Support for the Super-rich
Thriving stock market amid a general slowdown is a direct result of the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) over-friendly attitude. During the years, investors have been assured that if any kind of instability visits upon them, the authorities will immediately arrive to offer moratoriums, state-guaranteed loans and other liquidity-enhancing measures to make up for disappearing cash flows. Their expectations are entirely accurate. On May 5, 2021, RBI announced repayment relief, as well as $6.8 billion in three-year funding at its policy rate of 4% for banks. These liquidity infusion measures gave Indian equities a booster shot, lifting the benchmark indices 0.88% higher on the same day.
RBI’s supportive stance toward the stock market has proven to be extremely beneficial for the ruling class. When the stock market was entering a bear phase in 2020 — with crony capitalists like Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani suffering losses — the central bank instantaneously began its policy of regular credit injections and quantitative easing. Refilled coffers directly aided the concentration and centralization of capital, allowing businesses to begin a new round of speculation with less competition and higher profit margins.
When stock prices were falling in February-March 2020, powerful investors — rather than offloading their stocks — used the state’s money to buy up stocks from smaller owners who were busy panic-selling. Therefore, when stock prices increased after April, they got enormous capital gains. In spite of occasional ups-and-downs, the stock market scaled new heights in 2020, leading to an astronomic increase in wealth appropriation by the speculative super-rich class. The ranks of Indian dollar billionaires swelled from 102 to 140 in 12 months, their combined wealth doubling to $596 billion in 2020, when the oppressed masses of India were bearing the entire burden of the first wave of the pandemic. These 140 billionaires now eat up 22.7% of India’s GDP of $2.62 trillion.
The situation of India’s financial sector is a part of the wider global conditions which have evolved since the 1990s. With low profit rates in the productive sectors of the economy, endemic overproduction and weak demand, investments decreased. Corporations turned to the financial sector and the stock exchange. The vast sums of capital that could not be profitably invested in the real economy produced a growing market for high-risk, high-reward investments. In other words, the expansion of the financial system, of the whole debt and credit apparatus, has been a way of utilizing the economic surplus which is not utilized in productive investment. It is instead poured into speculation, and that creates a wealth effect that has a secondary stimulus to the underlying economy, because as people who benefit from asset price increases get wealthier, they spend more on consumption, and that stimulates the economy. Finance also provides some jobs, although not as much as other sectors of the economy.
While stock values represent future expected streams of earnings arising primarily from production, finance has become increasingly autonomous from production or the real economy, relying on financial bubbles and unsustainable explosions of credit/debt. This means that the speculative process depends for its very continuation on the piling up of greater and greater amounts of debt, and in order to do this, it needs to have constant cash infusions from the real economy to provide additional capital that can be leveraged. But as the underlying system remains stagnant, the bubble eventually bursts — typically after a speculative mania in which the rapid rise in quantity of debt leads to a marked decline in its quality.
At this point of time — when the liquidity has dried up — the monetary authorities intervene to keep the whole house of cards from collapsing. This serves to reduce the risk to speculators, thereby keeping the value of stocks and other financial assets rising on a long-term basis, along with the overall wealth/income ratio. In these circumstances, asset accumulation by speculative means has replaced actual accumulation or productive investment as a route to the increase of wealth, generating a condition which Costas Lapavistas calls “profits without production.” The recent actions of India’s central bank are structurally situated in this new global regime of profiteering which is geared toward irrational profit-making for the few.