It may not yet be absolutely clear to most people that the present mode of production based upon capitalism is structurally falling apart. Even as it re–opens, its socio-economic foundations are continuing to crack and disintegrate. The current situation facing most working people – isolation and reduced income – is being blamed entirely upon a virus. However, Covid-19, is a symptom of capitalist crisis, not a cause. The causes are economic not biological and lie deeper within the system, so symptoms of disintegration will continue.
Capitalism can no longer provide meaningful and secure livelihoods and environments for the vast majority of the people who live within the countries dominated by it. By a combination of computerised automation and outsourced production the number or workers needed by capitalist industry, commerce and finance has been drastically reduced along with their incomes. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated that trend and the super-rich one percent (and the fairly rich ten percent), continue to render human beings economically redundant.
They protect their investments by shedding workers and dis-investing from businesses which have ceased to be profitable. They seek alternative ‘opportunities’ which will provide better returns during the rest of 2020 and on into 2021. Dis-investments will result in increased levels of unemployment, poverty, hardship and homelessness for working-class populations. Even middle-classes businesses are experiencing a precarious existence as fewer working class customers purchase goods or services from their shops, cafes, hotels and entertainment venues.
More and more people, white-collar and blue, will be faced with the problem of how to guarantee access to food, clothing, heating and housing. Already food banks and charities are stretched to breaking point, and rough street sleeping has reached unprecedented numbers. As things worsen, charities will not be able cope with the demand placed upon them. Furthermore, from within this growing pool of human poverty, discontent and desperation will emerge the various forms of individual coping activity classed by the elite as deviance and petty ‘crime’, which the system likes to punish.
Crime and Punishment.
Even though only a relatively small proportion of any population actually turn to ‘crime’ all the poor and impoverished come under suspicion by the elite and their law enforcement agencies. Rather than blame the system of capitalism, for this situation of desperate poverty for millions alongside untold wealth for hundreds, the systems elites invariably blame the victims. The latter are therefore treated as individually deficient and deviant. Indeed, the most impoverished sections of capitalist societies are frequently classed as the most problematic and therefore, get the most brutal policing.
Historically, in capitalist Europe and the West, ‘sturdy beggars’, ‘Irish’, ‘Scot’s’, ‘Indians’, ‘Gypsies’, ‘Africans’ and ‘Chinese’, at various times have been the most impoverished and desperate and therefore in receipt of the most prejudiced and brutal treatments by law enforcement. In other places, where capitalism has conquered in colonial form, those classed as ‘aboriginal’, ‘half – caste’, ‘untouchable’ or ‘enslaved’, have been similarly treated. The human victims of extreme elite prejudice have differed from place to place and over periods of time.
This recurrent phenomena of extreme prejudice is a product of the system and is not specific to an individual, gender or ethnicity. A survey of post-colonial reality demonstrates that when those previously at the bottom of the capitalist pyramid, rise to the top, they will exhibit the same ruthless disregard for those relegated to the bottom of the system. Class-based socio-economic systems in general, and capitalist ones in particular, always create ‘haves and have nots’, and the latter are always viewed as individual or collective threats to the existing elites – because they actually are.
For however they try to rationalise it, existing or new elites know they are getting far more wealth than they deserve, and the impoverished of all ethnicities know they are getting less than they need. In this regard, elites are often far more aware of the potential for individual discontent to take on a collective dimension. Rebellions, uprisings and even revolutions are never far from their minds. Hence, they reason the ‘have not’s’ need to be controlled, bribed or ruthlessly stamped upon. Their police agents – secret or not – are trained to absorb this ‘culture’ of blaming the victims and defending the system – at any cost.
Reform and Revolution.
The category of deviant will be extended to those working people (of whatever gender, sexuality or ethnicity) who recognise that it is the ‘system’ which is the problem and unite to collectively improve the situation for themselves and others. Those oppressed will invariably pursue change by campaigning to reform bits of the existing socio-economic system. Few will suggest radically transforming the whole system by revolution. Existential struggles created by modes of production that no longer fulfill the needs of millions, have – in practice – never started from a choice of revolution.
All such struggles for radical change begin as limited requests for reforms directed at the ruling elites by the victims of the system. So in 2020 and 2021, demonstrations, rallies, petitions, etc., for jobs, benefits, housing, schools, health provision, clean environments, dignified end of life-care and less prejudiced policing, are likely to develop. It will be a refusal by elites to institute serious and lasting reforms, that will begin to transform the coming struggles, from a form of collective pleading to be ‘saved’ from the effects of economic crisis to a movement wanting to replace the system.
It is only when circumstances become desperate enough, that victims move from requests or demands to actually seizing control of the mode of production to transform it. The theoretical proposition of a large quantity being transformed into a new quality, will eventually, assert itself in practice. Pushed too far, populations can turn from passive, submissive and sheep-like responses, to bold and assertive re-births of their essential humanity. However, to achieve individual rights of meaningful existence, working people globally will need to unite to free all humanity from the virus-like economic activity of capital.
Roy Ratcliffe (June 2020)