Recent events, again reveal that for the capitalist elite, business considerations, come before all else. Profit and revenue streams are exposed as the twin real-world Gods worshipped by the capitalist class. It is the single-minded pursuit of profit which can and often does, render the capitalist class indifferent to any remnants of morality or humanity that remain within their ‘official’ world views and adopted religions. This observation is nothing new. In Capital volume 1, Marx included the following quote in his chapter on the genesis of Industrial capital;
“…With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 percent, will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 percent certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent, positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, or a risk it will not run…” (Quoted in Capital volume 1 Page 760.)
It is a matter of historical record, that business as usual during the formative stages of the domination of capital, involved chasing resources for profit whatever this involved and wherever they could be found – even if this was at sea or on foreign soil. But I suggest that in substance it hasn’t really changed since those earlier times. I have frequently heard from capitalist apologists that modern capitalism is no longer the raw predatory system it was during its early development or it’s later colonialist and imperialist forms. Killing people who get in the way, armed invasions, conquest and slavery in pursuit of profit are alleged to be things of the past. Except, when we stop to think about it – ‘everybody knows’ – they are not. Slavery has just morphed into modern forms – so much so that detection and prosecution of it now has a place in law enforcement in many countries. Armed invasions have not really ended, they have merely been scientifically modernised, and new pretences invented to justify them. Similarly, the killing of opponents by political elites is still practised with impunity. Only a few decades ago in 1983, for example, an Amnesty International Report on ‘Political Killings by Governments’ noted that;
“Day after day Amnesty International receives reports of deliberate killings by the army and the police, by other regular security forces, by special units created to function outside normal supervision…by government assassins…… Or tortured before they are killed…….Sometimes, the killings are ordered at the highest level of government….Governments try to cover up the fact that they have committed political killings. They deny that the killings have taken place…” (Amnesty 1983 page 5, emphasis added, RR)
Does any of that ring a bell in 2018? With the development of drones and smart bombs, the situation has got even worse in the years since 1983. Agents of governments getting up close and personal to ‘bump someone off’ has been largely superseded; by considerable global distance, the use of a satellite linked computer screen and a button to press; but not completely. The cases of Kelly, Litvinenko, Skripal and now Khashoggi – to mention only the most recent ones – have indicated that ‘specialists’ in that most inhumane line of business as usual are still being paid out of citizen’s tax payments. Presumably they are salaried and/or rewarded whether they bungle the operation or not.
Whatever we think of these and other state orchestrated violent actions, under the capitalist mode of production, most of us have no say in what is done by the state in our name. That also goes for the deployment and delivery of weapons of mass murder/destruction as when a countries combatants and non-combatants are frequently bombed into oblivion. Whether the atrocities are large or small, we are paying for the ordinance and delivery systems to eradicate members of our species at the whim and fancy of a select few in the highest positions of political, bureaucratic and military power. We can protest and demonstrate, but to no avail.
How states get away with individual murders.
To get away with murder it helps to have friends in high places. Control of a nation-state is even better. However, you still need friends in those high places. That way the crime scene can be cleansed of evidence, and specialist teams of detectives will be held back and not allowed to follow the evidence or given permission to become fully operational. It helps also to have an embassy which is off limits to independent scrutiny and where such activities can be planned and ‘executed’. Otherwise, once a murder is suspected, yellow tape goes up, police cordons are deployed, forensic experts move in, suspects are rounded up, DNA samples are taken from walls, ceilings, carpets, vehicles, people, clothing and processed methodically. The states elite can avoid or circumvent such inconvenient details and processes and just deny anything happened. Or if that’s not possible, deny any connection with the obvious chain of events.
Mysterious (or mythical) rogue elements can also be blamed or invented, for any undeniable atrocity, or failing that, the obvious perpetrators can be temporarily arrested and then released for lack of evidence – easy, since the evidence is no longer there. Later, sometimes much later, perpetrators can be rewarded as they were undoubtedly promised prior to their calculated inhumanity. In an extreme case with potential negative repercussions a fall guy or two can be sacrificed to the expediency of engineering a ‘satisfactory’ (sic) closure to the whole business. That way everyone can be effectively encouraged to move on. This pattern is as old as the existence of organised and armed elites and despite modern universal human rights rhetoric and due process legal requirements, it is still repeated – as everybody knows. What is perhaps relatively new is a return by the modern elites to the arrogant brazeness of the ancient elites when confronted with their malfeasance.
Such brazeness is demonstrated in the case of the assassination of the Saudi critic Khashoggi. Even without access to the Turkish tape recordings, everybody knows roughly what happened, who was involved and who in a highly authoritarian elite system must have authorised the brutal assassination, but that doesn’t matter. The elite strategy is to just keep denying it. And it seems as if official denial will work yet again. Of course it only works because economic considerations and its companion in crime political considerations, come before everything else. Real estate investments, oil company supply chains, weapons sales, financial deals and the profit streams that flow into the bank accounts of the elites, all must be protected by silence or turning a blind eye. Individual human rights remain as just abstractions on paper, more in the form of window dressing to cover up what is really going on inside the system, than descriptions of what will actually happen. In reality all this plausible (and implausible) denial is just business as usual. And it’s the same with mass murder.
Getting away with murder on a massive scale.
It cannot have escaped the notice of anyone other than those not in contact with any form of information, that large-scale murder is being perpetrated in many parts of the world, particularly in the middle east and Africa and that the weapons and support vehicles supplied to carry out these large scale murders are manufactured in highly developed capitalist countries. In other words supplying the means of killing on a large scale is business as usual for a number of branches of capitalist production. Without large scale killing, weapons manufacturers would have to shut up shop or manufacture other things and ancillary suppliers would have to down size their manufacturing capacity. There is therefore, among some sections of capitalist industry, a perverse material incentive to be content with global instability and hostility if not a motive to actively promote it, via their political and military connections.
Since war has long been good for business, a period of mass murder as currently practiced in Syria and Yemen, by bombing, shelling, missile delivery, for example, must be openly or secretly welcomed by those who manufacture these body shredding and building shattering materials and the means to deliver them against their unfortunate victims. What profitable months and years these last decades must have been for these manufacturers of tools of calculated inhumanity and genocide and their shareholders. War profiteering, of course, is as old as war, but of course it doesn’t stop at guns and bombs. Destructive hostilities must also be seen as a boon by other sections of the capitalist economic and political elite also; for after destruction comes reconstruction.
Architects, engineers, construction companies, building supplies, etc., are usually eager to step into the newly created apocalyptic landscape and profit from such war-delivered opportunities. As far as I am aware, the profits made by the Anglo-Saxon military industrial complex during the first and second Gulf Wars, have never been publicly assessed, but there were glimpses of the billions made and disappearing during the post-invasion reconstruction free for all in Iraq once Saddam had been toppled. My guess is the combined profits of destruction, supply and reconstruction, if known, would be astronomical and that much of the money will have been ploughed into the life – styles of the rich along with the campaign funds of political parties dedicated to keep the insanity of economic competition and war moving along.
This is without mentioning the thousands upon thousands of dead, men, women and children and the devastated lives of millions of human beings – which in fact, along with profiteering, is also rarely mentioned in the popular media. Indeed, it would be hard in imagination to devise such a perverse incentive as the economic reality developed under capitalism. The complimentary and ‘logically’ (yes logically in terms of capital) reinforcing activity cycle of calculated profitable competition, followed by profitable destruction of a competitor or reluctant client, followed by calculated profitable reconstruction, is a form of collective insanity for the human species in economic terms, let alone in species terms. No other species routinely works out the means to destroy large numbers of its own kind and then implements these means on a systematic and regular basis. Two capitalist inspired World Wars in the 20th century, with tens of millions dead and scarcely a year without some military activity or slow genocide since, are examples of this schizophrenic insanity promoted by the elite and their capitalist mode of production. The incessant continuity of this creative destruction and self – destruction also denies in reality the recent hypocritical rhetoric of remembrance.
The probable wishes of the millions who died fighting the 1914-18 war, a war to end all wars that they signed up for has been largely ignored as well as forgotten by those elite, wreath laying, hypocrites who have not only benefited economically from the deaths they celebrate, but benefit politically from appearing to care about this ultimate sacrifice of a generation. All this celebratory saluting and posturing they invariably carry out before (or even after) signing the orders to bomb this or that city or town in some far away place or mobilise yet more armed troops to meddle in yet another proxy war. Yet such was the experience of the horrors of total war and the inhumanity war created in the 19th and 20th centuries, that bourgeois ideology was obliged to at least insert some theoretical distance between itself and the most extreme forms of aggressive economic expansion.
The production of a Human rights rhetoric.
Ideas for ‘a perpetual peace’ and ‘Courts of Arbitration’, had been launched in the late 18th century (Kant) and early 19th, but American elites (James, Taft, Carnegie et al) led the way in the 19th and 20th with formation of a number of organisations such as the ‘Association for International Conciliation’. The main motivation of many of the US elites, whose donations and prestige headed the ‘peace movement’ at that time, was not wanting to interrupt business as usual. The reason being that at that time America had won enough territory and resources by war from the Native Indians and Mexico, it had no urgent need for further expansion. Not so in Europe. The industries of many small developing capitalist countries were already outgrowing their resource base and market access and many of their business and political leaders were eager for more of both. The dominant elite just needed an excuse. Hence, the Crimean War (or, Britain and France preventing a land grab by Russia – thousands dead!) and then the first full-on block buster performance – the First World War (Britain and France countering a land grab by Germany and achieving their own land grab in the middle east – millions dead!) followed by the second atomic performance in World War Two (countering German and Japanese land grabs – many millions dead).
Very little peace, conciliation, arbitration or humanity between nations were displayed during those years. Nevertheless, the prosecution of the Nazi elite form of aggressive expansion at Nuremburg in 1945-46, required some sophisticated intellectual rebuff to their actual war conduct as it did with regard to Japan. This was done by western legal representatives mining the thin layers of humanist thinking laid down between the many centuries of sectarian intellectual sediment deposited by competitive religious elites. Intellectual fossils of humanism were found and retrieved amid the detritus of religious, racist and eugenic nonsense which had by then spread it’s suffocating and distorting cloud upon human thinking across the globe. However, in these so-called human rights provisions of the reinvigorated League of Nations/United Nations, etc., armed hostilities were not to be ended! How could they be under an expansive, industrialised competitive form of economic production such as capitalism? Everybody knew war was economics and politics by other means.
However, in future civilian targets were to be excluded from any armed outcomes of this capitalist competitive struggle for markets and resources. At least that was the theory underlying the much vaunted political rhetoric. Yet how often has that provision been fulfilled in practice? Was it fulfilled in the Korean War? In the Vietnam War? And what about the armed invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Libya, Syria and now Yemen? To understand this bicamerial mentality (or split personality) of the modern pro-capitalist elite we need to recognise that the capitalist mode of production is now a global economic system with an insatiable appetite for resources and markets. Elites living within the countries with the most advanced productive techniques will use every method to ensure their producers get the most resources and markets possible. In a sense, they have to do this because the capitalist method of production is the foundation upon which their entire lives depend. Unless they undergo a sudden epiphany and wake up to the fact that their system and their role in it is the problem for humanity and not the solution, they will blindly carry on.
So the fact that there exist eloquent discourses and solemn documents containing ideas of human rights and the need for due processes does not mean they will always be acted upon. Indeed, if such ideas get in the way of business as usual, in all probability they will not be. That is the message openly delivered by Donald Trump to the press when asked about possible censure over the assassination and dismemberment of the mildly dissident Khashoggi as well as the bombing and starvation of the people of Yemen. You see accommodation to the needs of the regime which implemented these callous and brutal acts is good for business. They invest a lot in America and UK and buy a lot of American and British products, particularly weapons. Left unsaid in many such interviews was the fact that a lot of profitable investments in Saudi are made by American and European elite individuals and businesses which may be threatened by any form of censure of the perpetrators of these crimes. Hence the almost universal lack of robust condemnation or meaningful action.
Business as usual for many of the elite means eagerly cutting deals with dictators, strong men and perpetrators of genocide as long as the profit or salary is large and safe enough. The unique thing about Donald Trump is that he is brazen enough to admit it openly. You see, its a no-brainer for a capitalist with no moral aversion to crimes against others. Dictators and strong men can offer near monopolies, prime locations and guarantees to favoured people and so cultivating a friendly working relationship with such regimes (Saudi, Russia, North Korea etc.) is often a temptation too strong for some – including Mr Trump and his family. However, he (and they) are not alone, as you might think from the barrage of criticism he is getting from a section of his class and the media. Many others in America, UK and around the globe adopt the same business strategy but unlike the current US President they like to pretend to be appalled at such horrors. This allows them to appear different in substance to such openly brazen representatives of their class. But behind any crocodile tears their substance is just the same as Donald’s. It is the location and capture of profitable returns on capital and negotiating sources of revenue stream. Most of the political and business elite, after uttering or muttering disapproving platitudes are happy to keep their focus on the personal upside and maintain a discrete silence with regard to the ‘dark side’ of business as usual with authoritarian regimes.
For this reason, looking the other way, turning a blind eye along with initiating competitive wars of one kind or another, (economic, financial, military or civil) are an inevitable consequence of the elites own survival as a class. And since most of the elite will not be in the direct firing line, the decision to unleash military engagements and engage in regional armed conflicts will be taken far more easily than would otherwise be the case. This itself is bad enough, one might think, but human focussed destructive war is not the only war ‘business as usual’ capitalism is engaged in. The very same underlying assumptions of the competitive need for profit and ever increasing productivity in production techniques and methodologies requires, the most cost – effective forms of energy supply, resource extraction, transport systems, distribution networks and waste disposal methods. Whilst cost-effective does not necessarily mean the cheapest and easiest (although it often does) it does imply it will certainly not be the most expensive and safe methods which will be chosen.
Getting away with killing other species.
The past cycles of ‘business as usual’ governed by capital has led to the present situation of extensive air, sea and land pollution, climate change, species reduction and even species extinction. The incessant search for raw materials with which to manufacture commodities, the need to sell them on a massive scale in order to realise the surplus-value embodied within them has led to large scale overproduction. Overproduction of commodities, overproduction of manufacturing waste products, overproduction of energy sources (carbon and nuclear) and the overproduction of used and abandoned products is now – business as usual for capitalism. The phenomena of relative over-production still exist (ie. producing more than can be sold at a profit), but in terms of, climate change, fresh water use, air and sea quality we are approaching absolute industrial overproduction. And in spite of that obvious fact most of the elite think we need even more production and productivity!
Yet these aspects of business as usual amounts to the equivalent of a war against the natural world as it evolved over millions of years to sustain all forms of life. Since the natural world of climate, weather patterns, air, water and soil quality, are the foundations upon which nature and humanity has evolved and upon which we still depend, this industrialised war against all these natural resources is also an indirect war against – ourselves! It is another example of the near insanity of a species which is now – courtesy of capitalist mode of production – producing tools and processes aimed at it’s own partial or absolute (ie. nuclear) destruction. This is not only directly through competitive wars involving genocidal levels of attrition but also indirectly through the incessant destruction of the very basis for our own natural existence.
Global capitalism is akin to a huge factory churning shiny new and enticing gadgets and objects out of the front door whilst at the same time oozing out dangerous liquid and powdered chemical filth from the rear door and belching out noxious poisonous fumes from its chimneys. But because as consumers most of us have become so enamoured and fixated with the gadgets and gizmo’s pouring out the shop front that we choose to ignore or tolerate the fatal contamination of our environment via an endless discharge out of its less than enticing and frequently putrid backside. (genuine Eco-Warriors are excepted from this criticism.) For this reason the existence of a 24 hour, 7 days per week, global production, consumption and disposal system will continue for now – and all the consequences briefly outlined here (and elsewhere) are likely to increase. For like drug addicts, the capitalist elite are on the one hand in receipt of a huge profit-stream, fiscal ‘high’ from the investments and sales of the gizmos/gadgets and on the other, in a state of denial about the long term effects of their addiction to profit on the health of the entire planet.
We need not be fooled by the capitalists and pro – capitalist politicians into thinking that working people need capitalism to provide jobs otherwise we would all be homeless and starving. This is a frequent ill-thought out threat presented by politicians and pundits who thereby only demonstrate their own ignorance and bias. For a start many people are homeless and starving whilst living under the capitalist mode of production and the numbers are rapidly increasing not reducing. Second, not all occupations which earn a living are based upon the return of profit from capital. Elsewhere on this blog I pointed out that all the states employees (local and national) in all countries are working for non – profit organisational forms and that includes the well paid political class and many of the simple minded pundits noted above. Third, not all forms of production need to be polluting and most skills are transferable. The skills it takes to design and manufacture a complex weapon can be transferred to making medical equipment or something else not lethal. Planning for destruction can be transferred to planning for construction or reconstruction. Most human skills are transferable and where not, new skills can be learned given sufficient incentive.
With time and commitment available to produce much needed commodities, (ie without the need to make a profit) waste can be minimised, and methods devised to minimise or eliminate excessive energy use. There are alternatives to producing for profit and already two – thirds of workers in advanced countries are employed in non-profit public services and often on better terms and conditions than those in the private sector. So we needn’t be fooled by the pro – capitalist lament that we need to work faster and work for less or they will take their profit-making, precarious, polluting jobs elsewhere, for there are alternatives. And I don’t mean the state-capitalist alternatives of Fascism, Bolshevism or Maoism. It just requires the will, determination and numbers to make some radical and revolutionary changes. And yes another world is possible because half of it (the public and cooperative sectors) has already come into being. They just need extending to all, democratising and redirecting into saving the planet and it’s inhabitants rather than destroying them.
The bulk of Humanity may not yet want to recognise, fully understand or positively confront any of aspects of the six – fold crisis of the capitalist mode of production, but that doesn’t mean they will be shielded from its effects. The looming crisis in one or other of the six areas (financial; social; political; economic; environmental; or legal) will visit them sooner or later, if it has not done so already. Sadly, modes of production are not changed by people until these crisis symptoms have negatively impacted the lives of more than just the usual exploited and oppressed groups of society. The latter have learned to put up with the many negative aspects of the system they have been born into. On the other hand, those who currently benefit from the system, marginally or otherwise, are yet to wake up to the full import of their pro-capitalist actions and ideas. The crisis in one form or another may have to shake them quite violently to finally rouse them out of their virtual dream world of present and future technological fixes and face stark reality. Meanwhile keeping alternative ideas alive and in the public domain is the best that us old revolutionary-humanists and exhausted activists can do.
Roy Ratcliffe (November 2018)
For those interested in the ‘Business as usual’ phenomena in the realm of British politics, I recommend; ‘Parliament Ltd.’ (A journey into the dark heart of British politics) by Martin Williams. Although he arrives at reformist conclusions the evidence he uncovers is compelling.