Tag: Karl Marx

Why capitalism is safer in Corbyn’s hands

By Daniel Margrain

“If we don’t get inequality under control then it’s likely to lead to war. Inequality and the rise of a super rich elite is undermining the foundations of capitalism. The trappings of capitalism could be swept away by the pitchfork of revolution unless capitalism is fundamentally re-imagined.”

The above is not a quote by Jeremy Corbyn, Nicolas Maduro or Bernie Sanders, but by American venture capitalist, Nick Hanauer. During a 2015 interview with BBC journalist Stephen Sakur, Hanauer said, “If capitalism doesn’t change fundamentally, it will destroy itself.”

“In my state”, he said, “since 1990, close to 100% of growth has been accrued to just 1% of the top earners. People are beginning to get angry and increasingly less patient with a system that rewards nearly all of the benefits of growth to a tiny minority at the top.”

This ‘gushing upwards’ of capital towards the top of the socioeconomic pyramid is not indicative of regulated free-markets, but an extreme form of crony capitalism in which the publicly owned assets of the state are systematically stripped and the spoils distributed to an elite economic and political class.

The potential bailing-out of Carillion, farm, housing and rail subsidies, public sector retrenchment, quantitative easing and share giveaways, are some of the ways in which corporate welfare continues to greatly enrich the wealthiest in society. Figures reported in the Guardian indicate that the richest 1% in Britain have as much wealth as the poorest 57% combined.

No morality

Hanaeur is clear that his argument isn’t intended to be a moral one but a pragmatic solution to a growing crisis: “I’m not saying that we capitalists should pay workers more because we feel sorry for them. But the more they get paid, the better it will be for venture capitalists like me”, he said.

Hanaeur added:

“The more money ordinary folks make, the greater the opportunity people like me have to innovate, create enterprises and sell them stuff. The better they do, the better I do.”

When Theresa May recently described capitalism as the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, what she failed to grasp, but what Hanaeur understands, is that economic growth is the culmination of collective human labour. In other words, it’s the latter that gives rise to what Hanaeur terms a “thriving middle class”, not the other way round.

Similarly, in her critique of the austerity myth, author of The Production of Money, Ann Pettifor, argues cogently that “taxes are a consequence of investment and spending. They are not its cause.” The cornerstone of Tory economic policy is not to invest to stimulate the economy in order to boost growth and generate tax revenues, but on the contrary, to attack the welfare state and public sector which has the reverse affect.

What Theresa May and other apologists for the existing system really mean, is not that capitalism is the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, but rather that neoliberalism is the best economic model through which the elite class are able to financially enrich themselves by manipulating the institutions of society.

It is not only leading politician’s on the political right of the spectrum who apparently have difficulty in untangling socio-environmentally protected notions of free trade from the cronyism associated with its neoliberal capitalist variant, but mainstream political commentators also. On Twitter (January 17), for example, radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer, spectacularly mischaracterized Jeremy Corbyn’s correct evaluation at PMQ of the Carillion crisis.

He means “capitalism”. It isn’t perfect, that’s for sure, but it’s a millions times better than the alternative Corbyn is proposing.

Julia Hartley-Brewer added,

Presumably, Hartley-Brewer is of the opinion that consumer-based capitalist economies can be driven with only the extreme wealth of the few and that any attempts to buck the market by ensuring that employers pay their staff a minimum wage of say £10 an hour will bring the said economies to their knees?

Reining-in

Hanaeur, whose primary motivation is to make money, recognises the absurdity of this kind of ‘booster of globalization’ argument. In the BBC interview outlined above, the venture capitalist argues that rather than being set free by deregulation, capitalism needs to be controlled through a system of planned and coordinated regulation:

“Capitalists have the idea that their things will be bought by everybody else as a result of higher wages paid by other capitalists”, he said.

Hanaeur added:

“But this logic of paying higher wages to staff to help improve business activity more generally, is resisted since capitalists will insist on paying their own workers next to nothing thereby not absorbing the costs themselves.”

Hanaeur’s argument can essentially be summarized thus: There is a need for capitalism to be reined in, in order to save the system from the rapacious actions of competing capitalists who are driven, as Marx put it, by their need to “accumulate for accumulations sake”.

In principle, Hanaeur’s view is no different from the minority of capitalists in 19th century Britain who argued in favour of the introduction of the Factory Acts of the 1830s and 1840s which set down a maximum length for the working day.

Hanauer’s pragmatism is closer to Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for society than it is to Theresa May’s and underscores the undeniable truth that the ability to accumulate for accumulations sake doesn’t necessarily lead to higher profits.

Contradiction

One of the contradictions inherent to capitalism is that the system as a whole needs to spend money to make profits, yet every individual capitalist wants to spend as little as possible. The lengths to which giant companies like Amazon, Google and Starbucks will go in order to avoid paying tax shows how this dilemma is played out.

The failed neoliberal austerity experiment is what economist Paul Krugman describes  bluntly as “a con that does nothing but harm the wealth [of nations]. It has been discredited everywhere else: only in Britain do we cling to the myth”, he said.

Contrary to mainstream media mythology, Corbynism and the notion of a reformed capitalism are, counter-intuitively, congruous concepts. It’s not only aspects like health and social care that are safer the further they are, ideologically, from neoliberalism, but from the perspective of capitalism’s longevity, so is the economy.

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Gods & Monsters

By Daniel Margrain

 

Image result for pics of frankenstein and god

During the pre-enlightenment before science, the earth was widely perceived as a stable force at the centre of the universe overseen by the purveyors of God who envisaged humanity as being fixed and set in stone. The appetite for tasting the forbidden fruit that intellectual curiosity implies, was widely regarded as being concomitant to bringing forth evil into the world.

Thus theologians rationalized the tendency to disobey God as a primordial human urge that had to be controlled by a deity through which wrongdoers were required to seek salvation in order to absolve themselves of their intellectual impulses. As theology eventually began to accede to scientific inquiry, this salvation correspondingly began to take root in a system of ideas embodied in the philosophical writings of Aristotle.

Dovetailed

The positions in society that individuals were perceived to have naturally occupied, all dovetailed together, according to Aristotle, to form a pattern of the universe which gave everything its purpose. Aristotlian philosophy centred on order, was to be one of the guiding principles of the enlightenment which legitimized the continued existence of uneven relations of power.

So although the enlightenment was a great leap forward from the idea that the power of Kings was historically fixed predicated on a grand purpose and design ordained by God, modernity nevertheless remained tied to the concept of progress as being that of the development of the human mind and of human nature as unchanging.

The classical economists who arose out of the enlightenment were thus able to treat the existence of private property as fixed and ‘natural’. Similar claims are made by evolutionary psychologists who reinforce the ideology that human behaviour or psychological characteristics are a biological adaptation shaped by natural selection hard-wired into the human brain.

The notion that human behaviour is genetically determined and that biology holds the key to solving social problems and the related claim that biology demonstrates the limits of social reform, has a long history going back to Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, in 1865.

Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology reinforce the ideological notion that the mass of ordinary people are conditioned to know their place within an ‘unchanging’ society even though the great changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution prove that power had transferred from feudal landlords to corporate grandees.

Commodification

By the mid 19th century, the supplanting of the aristocracy of land with money led to the transference of the great estates to commodities. Karl Marx was the first to analyse in detail the nature of the emerging capitalism in which the worker devotes his life to producing objects which he does not own or control. The labour of the worker, according to Marx, thus becomes something separate and external to him.

In the year of Marx’s birth in 1818, a young English author called Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published, in London, the first edition of the Gothic and Romantic science fiction novel, Frankenstein – the tale of a monster which turns against its creator. It’s the externalizing and uncontrollable forces Shelley describes in her masterpiece that draws parallels with the daily lot of workers.

It was precisely the lack of any control workers had in the production process during the industrial revolution that led to the Luddites smashing up the machines that churned out the fruits of their alienated labour. For Marx, alienation is a material and social process that is intrinsic to society and nature in flux.

In dialectical terms, change in nature is marked by a state of continuous motion driven by the struggle of conflicting and antagonistic forces. Since humans are an integral part of nature, they can not be excluded from the socioeconomic forces that shape it. At some point quantitative change results in fundamental qualitative change.

An acorn, in becoming an oak, for example, will have ceased to be an acorn. Yet implicit within the acorn is the potential to become an oak. Similarly, the socioeconomic system of capitalism, in potentially becoming something else, will eventually at some point – as was the case with feudalism before it – cease to be.

Transformation

The dramatic rise in popularity of the socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, could be said to be symptomatic of the beginning of this kind of transformation. At some point diametrically opposing and irreconcilable forces – in this case between capital and labour – have to break. To suggest otherwise, is to imply that capitalism which emerged around 200 years ago, will – evoking Fukuyama’s End of History thesis – continue for the rest of eternity.

Just as Dr Frankenstein couldn’t control the monster he created and the machines couldn’t contain the impulses of workers in the factories wrought by the impacts of industrial capitalism, so it is the case that the establishment won’t be able to control the anti-capitalist forces which Corbyn has unleashed.

The history of colonial and imperialist oppression has been marked by the ability of the oppressors to suppress opposition to their rule using monsters as part of their strategy of divide and conquer. However, what the oppressors rarely appear to factor in to their strategies, is the potential for both the monsters and ordinary people alike, to break free from their chains.

The brainwashing techniques of the corporate media, in conjunction with the Machiavellian politicians who sing to the tune of their paymasters intent on controlling the latter, cannot be sustained indefinitely. In terms of the former, not only are monsters able to break free from the oppressors who create and nurture them, but paradoxically, they also create the conditions in which a greater number of other uncontrollable monsters emerge.

This, for example, was the case in Afghanistan during the 1980s following Carter’s 1979 covert programme in support of tribal groups known as the mujahedin. The kinds of monsters which successive US governments have helped nurture, have managed to either strain at their leash (as in the case of the Zionists in Israel), or they have broken free from their masters grip (as is the case of ISIS in Syria).

Biting the hand

In both cases the monster has bitten the financial hand of Washington that feeds it. This has resulted in unintended, and often unpredictable, geopolitical consequences. However, there are other monsters which their creators manage to exert a tight control over.

An example, is the extent to which Washington has managed to maintain leverage over terrorist fighters in central and south America who continue to emerge from what was formerly known as the School of the Americas located at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia.

The school was almost certainly responsible for training the regime that overthrew the Honduran government headed by Manuel Zelaya in June, 2009, as well as fomenting the March, 2016 coup that culminated in the assassination of the leading grass-roots Honduran environmental activist, Berta Caceres.

More recently, SOA-trained fighters, at the behest of Washington, are likely to be similarly implicated in the current attempts to destabilize Venezuela. In addition, ISIS and their various terrorist offshoots in Syria are trained and funded, either overtly or covertly, by Britain and numerous foreign mercenary forces form part of the imperialists geopolitical and regime change strategy in the country.

Saudi Arabia, who is one of the key players in Syria, has also been bombarding Yemen since at least September, 2015 using weaponry sold to them by the UK-US governments’. Faustian pacts with the devil have, largely by way of ‘blow back’, contributed significantly to the exponential spread of terrorism worldwide.

Defining terrorism

Given that the FBI defines terrorism as “violent acts …intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government, or affect the conduct of a government”, it’s difficult to rationalize how the violation of international law in this way, is not illustrative of anything other than the kinds of terrorism the Western powers accuse their official enemies of committing.

The truth is the biggest, most powerful monsters, are the establishment elite who occupy the corridors of Washington, Westminster, Whitehall and Fleet Street. If God does exist, maybe he will be at the gates of Heaven to pass judgement on the corrupt ruling class who will do anything in order to maintain their privileges in the service of naked self-interest, money and power.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has given ordinary people belief that there is a feasible alternative to endless war, poverty, austerity, climate chaos and “gushing-up” neoliberal economics. Corbyn has provided us with a chink of light in what has been a very long and bleak tunnel of hopelessness and despair.

We are getting increasingly closer to establishing the number to the combination lock that will free us from an insane corporate capitalist logic of the kind that motivates the monsters of imperial power. Jeremy Corbyn’s long-standing principled opposition to capitalist excess and the unambiguous way he linked terrorism directly to the British state, would suggest that the number to the combination is to be found in the jacket pocket of his ill-fitted suit.

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The Scorpion & the Frog

By Daniel Margrain

Image result for scorpion and the frog, pics

In the famous anti-capitalist fable, a scorpion, eager to get to the other side of a stream and unable to swim, pleads with a frog to allow him to ride on his back, across the stream.“Certainly not,” said the frog. “You would kill me.”

“Preposterous!,” replied the scorpion. “If I stung you, it would kill the both of us.”

Thus assured, the frog invited the scorpion to climb aboard, and halfway across, sure enough, the scorpion delivered the fatal sting.

“Now why did you do that,” said the frog, “you’ve killed us both.”

“I am a scorpion,” he replied, “this is what I do.”

A century ago, the Russian Nicolai Bukharin argued that the growth of international corporations and their close association with national states hollows-out parliaments. The power of private lobbying money draws power upwards into the executive and non-elected parts of the state dominated by corporations.

The growing concentration and internationalization of capital causes economic rivalries among firms to spill over national borders and to become geopolitical contests in which the combatants call on the support of their respective states. As professor Alex Callinicos put it:

“The… system embraces geopolitics as well as economics, and…the competitive processes….involve not merely the economic struggle for markets, but military and diplomatic rivalries among states.”

In refining Bukharin’s classical theory, Callinicos argues that capitalist imperialism is constituted by the intersection of economic and geopolitical competition which, if left unchallenged, will lead to the death of democracy and, ultimately, the capitalist system itself.

What corporations do is strive to maximize the returns on the investments of their shareholders. As Milton Friedman put it, “The social responsibility of business is to increase profits.” Unfortunately, if corporations are unconstrained by law or regulation, they can, by simply “doing what they do”, suck the life out of the economy that sustains them. Like cancer cells, lethal parasites, and the scorpion, unconstrained corporations can destroy their “hosts,” without which they cannot survive, much less flourish.

Society and the environment to the corporations and complicit actions of governments, is what the frog is to the scorpion. The CEOs of the giant corporations, together with governments, compete against each other, globally, for the limited resources of the planet. While the actions of the corporations are beneficial to their CEOs and shareholders, they have detrimental impacts for humanity and society as a whole.

Karl Marx

In his analysis of the capitalist system over a century-and-a half ago, Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto articulated the processes that were to lead to the growth of the corporations: “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere” he said. Marx describes, powerfully, the workings, impulses and aggressive dynamism of an economic system in which the units of production increase in size and where their ownership becomes increasingly concentrated.

It takes an effort on the reader’s part to remember that the passage quoted above was written before the search for oil absorbed the Middle East transforming it into a contemporary battlefield, or that globalization began stamping its mark on a thousand different cultures. The accuracy of Marx’s analysis exemplified in the exponential growth of the corporation in the century following his death, is a testament to his magnificent intellectual vigor and groundbreaking dialectical insight.

Where Marx’s analysis has yet to be realized is in terms of his expectation that the working class would become increasingly radical and ultimately revolutionary. What was impossible for him to predict was the emergence of broadcast media and, by extension, the capacity by which it has been able to disorientate the masses by redirecting revolutionary impulses into identity politics, passivity and leisure pursuits.

Also Marx’s analysis has not been borne out in terms of the extent to which workers have been coerced into an acceptance of capitalism by their economic dependence on employment and the repression of revolutionary movements that sought to overthrow the capitalist system. These workers have also been incorporated through their organizations into the political structures of capitalist societies, and are seduced by the flood of inexpensive imported goods often created by sweated labour, that capitalist production has provided.

As bad as the suffering is for many who endure poverty within the countries of the advanced capitalist states today, it is not sufficient enough in scale – as was the case in the 1930s, for example – to threaten the capitalist economic system. But although its true to say Marx’s expectation that oppressed and exploited workers would overthrow capitalism has not been borne out by events, this does not invalidate his analysis. Marx wasn’t deterministic. He viewed the working class from a position of what he perceived they were potentially capable of becoming in the right socioeconomic circumstances.

Contradictions of capitalism

In The Communist Manifesto, Marx describes capitalism at its beginnings as a revolutionary system, because it creates, for the first time in human history, the potential for liberation from want. Through the development of industrial production, it became possible for every human being to be fed, clothed and housed. But as Marx recognized, even in his time, capitalism would never achieve this society of plenty for all, because of the way production is organized, with the means of production controlled by a tiny minority of society – the ruling class – more widely known today as “the one per cent”.

Marx described the ruling class as a “band of warring brothers” in constant competition with each other – giving the system a relentless drive to expand. As Marx wrote in Capital: “Fanatically bent on making value expand itself, he (the capitalist) ruthlessly forces the human race to produce for production’s sake.” Capitalism’s insatiable drive, embodied in the growth of the corporation, has brought us in the 21st century to the edge of climate chaos and environmental destruction. This is the systems Achilles heel.

Marx’s dialectical understanding of how the capitalist system works, therefore, has contemporary relevance both in terms of explaining the growth of the corporation and its competitive drive to extract resources within the context of an environmentally finite planet. Left to it’s own devices, in the absence of any revolutionary struggle, the corporation, like the scorpion, will ultimately end up destroying its host – in the case of the former, humanity and society. In such a scenario, the contradictions of the system couldn’t be more stark.

Prisoner’s Dilemma, altruism & game theory

It should be noted that the frog/scorpion fable that is a metaphor for the propensity of capitalism to destroy the conditions upon which human life depends, does not portray a Prisoner’s DilemmaIn international political theory, the Prisoner’s Dilemma is often used to demonstrate the coherence of strategic realism, which holds that in international relations, all states (regardless of their internal policies or professed ideology), will act in their rational self-interest given international anarchy. A classic example is an arms race like the Cold War and similar conflicts.

During the Cold War the opposing alliances of NATO and the Warsaw Pact both had the choice to arm or disarm. From each side’s point of view, disarming whilst their opponent continued to arm would have led to military inferiority and possible annihilation. Conversely, arming whilst their opponent disarmed would have led to superiority. If both sides chose to arm, neither could afford to attack the other, but at the high cost of developing and maintaining a nuclear arsenal. If both sides chose to disarm, war would be avoided and there would be no costs.

In the frog/scorpion fable, the former had absolutely nothing to gain by carrying the scorpion to safety. From the perspective of the cynical outsider, the frog’s altruism is foolish because he would have lived had he not assisted the scorpion. Similarly, society, the environment and, indeed, the planet have nothing to gain by being accommodating to the corporation. To some, altruistic acts are consistent with the adage, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

But of course this cynical perspective is predicated on their being no mutual trust between two parties. Because the frog believed the scorpion when he said it was irrational to kill him, any intention to find a way to deflect earlier than the scorpion, hadn’t formed a part of the frogs reasoning. The frog’s actions were based purely on good faith and the acceptance of basic norms of behaviour. A rational approach in which both parties were set to benefit was understood by the frog to be a given. The frog hadn’t accounted for the fact that the scorpion was compelled to act in the way he did.

Similarly, corporate capitalists are compelled to ‘externalize’ environmental costs in order to maximize profits. It is the corporation, like the scorpion, that pulls humanity down. This kind of reasoning applies to other related areas. In the field of international relations, for example, the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine of ‘pre-emptive retaliation’, expresses nothing other than a strategy based on defecting early and decisively, even though such an action is highly irrational.

The rationale appears to be that any attempts at cooperative actions are, at some point, doomed to be beset by the actions that pertain to that of the scorpion. This presupposes that all potential and/or perceived foes act in a highly irrational manner akin to the pathological actions of psychopaths that lead to unnecessary harmful deflections instead of mutual cooperation that is beneficial to the greater good.

Game theory, on the other hand, does not really take scorpions into account. It holds that people will defect because the future has no shadow and it is in their best interest to do so. Game theory fails as a tool when we are dealing with sociopathology or extreme denial.

The human dilemma is that all progress ultimately fails or at least slides back, that anything once proven must be proven again a myriad of times; that there is nothing so well established that a fundamentalist (of any religious or political stripe) cannot be found to deny it, and suffer the consequences, and then deny that he suffered the consequences.

Theresa May’s authoritarianism and her insistence on putting the short-term narrow self-interests of her party above the wider interests of the country, reflect a psychopathy, narcissism and sense of entitlement. She seems compelled to want to bring society down on its knees in order to satisfy both her own and her parties vanity. Her propensity to fiddle while Rome burns, is comparable to the actions of the scorpion. The British public can only hope she is put out of her misery before sinking the country entirely.

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Why the travails of Apple are symptomatic of a much wider problem

By Daniel Margrain

In the wake of the democratic decision of the British people to exit from the EU, it would paradoxically appear to be highly probable that the UK government will give away the kind of sovereignty the ‘Brexiteers’ claim to covet by signing an unadulterated TTIP deal with the United States government. At a point in time in which the UK government appears set to extricate itself from the ‘bureaucratic and unaccountable’ EU, the multinational conglomerate Apple is availing itself of Ireland’s tax system, the most favourable national tax regime in Europe.

However, the European Commission ordered Apple to pay the Irish government £11bn of back-dated tax that it has avoided. The Irish Cabinet agreed to appeal the European Commission diktat. Irish PM, Enda Kenny, ordered his ministers back from their summer holidays after the European Commission accused Ireland of breaching state aid rules.

But Independent minister John Halligan initially said that the Irish government should take the cash owed by Apple in order to fund hospital services in his constituency before eventually agreeing to the decision to appeal the ruling. The European Commission alleges that Apple’s effective tax rate in 2014 was a mere 0.005 per cent which means that someone earning £30,000 a year at an equivalent rate would pay just £1 a year in tax.

Meanwhile, the reaction of the British government to the impasse, was not to support the EU in its noble endeavor, but rather to remain on the sidelines in the hope that the situation would play out to their advantage, thus providing them with a potential opportunity to entice Apple with a ‘sweetheart’ ‘investment’ deal. Meanwhile, as Alex Callinicos  pointed out “Apple is playing the EU and the US off against each other over which gets the taxes it hasn’t been paying.”

It’s precisely the logic that overrides these kinds of shenanigans that explains one of the reasons why wealth inequality continues to rise to stratospheric levels, and why governments are witnessing a backlash against globalization. Over the past 40 years, the productive capacity that capitalism has engendered, allied to the ability of successive governments to transfer assets and capital from the public to the private sphere, has created an enormous concentration of wealth at the very top of society.

Britain is a country where armies of lawyers and accountants sift through mountains of legal paper work in order to justify on a legal basis those at the very top paying as little tax as possible. This has happened as a result of the restructuring of rules and regulations which provide corporations with legal loopholes with which to jump through.

In the case of Apple, profits are funneled into a ‘stateless company’ with a head office which, according to EU Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, “has no employees, premises or real activities.” In other words, Apple’s resident European office for tax purposes doesn’t exist. It has no staff and no location so it doesn’t pay any tax on most of the money it earns outside the United States.

Ireland has been told that it must claw back the £11 bn of back taxes from Apple even though Ireland’s ruling politicians say they don’t want it. This is money which could be spent for the benefit of an electorate who these politicians supposedly represent. Irish finance minister Michael Noonan intimated that individual states, not the EU, are responsible for individual taxation policies. “It’s an approach through the back door to try to influence tax policy through competition law.”, he said.

But what use is a tax policy if it is not intended to benefit human kind? If tax havens like Ireland behave in a way that negatively affects the well being of humans by reducing the resources available to fund services and infrastructure of which the functioning of civil society depends, then such a tax policy is not worth the paper it is written on. Does Ireland look like a country that doesn’t need £11 bn?

Apple’s billions worth of profits generated in Europe and the Middle East are transferred to Ireland where the company pays tax on just 50m euros worth. The rest is sent to their non-existent ‘virtual’ head office. As of 2015, the company’s lightly-taxed foreign cash off-shore mountain of $187bn is the biggest of any U.S multinational.

 

How can Apple defend this state of affairs whilst simultaneously maintaining the moral high ground by claiming that any attempt to prevent such an immoral situation will be bad for the societies in which they operate?

The activities of a virtually non-existent tax-paying company like Apple is already bad for these societies. The reason the masses, as opposed to companies like Apple, are subject to tax at a fixed rate, is because the former, unlike the latter, are not in the financial position to be able to avoid it. Those who are least able to pay taxes are the ones who have it deducted from their wages in full at source.

It’s not the overreaching arm of the EU ‘interfering’ with the tax laws of individual member states that’s the problem, but the fact that multinationals pit one country against another to avoid paying as much tax as possible while availing themselves of everything the rest of us pay for. The ‘race to the bottom’ is one in which corporations are constantly on the look-out to ‘up-sticks’ in the search for ever cheaper tax havens.

The end goal is a scenario in which the corporations pay no tax at all, while the masses pay for civil society because corporations like Apple, Google and Starbucks don’t have to. The upward spiral of money from the many to the few is increasing at a rate of knots due to a form of state-managed capitalism that perpetuates it. Moreover, it is happening to the detriment of the whole of the human race.

Widespread public anger towards this kind of systemic corruption is stymied daily as a result of the distractions associated with TV light entertainment and sports programmes. All this is aided by a largely uncritical corporate-based journalism. The ability of the rich and powerful to lobby governments in support of their own economic narrow interests, often to the detriment of the environment and society at large, exacerbates the problem.

Shortly before becoming the UKs unelected PM, Theresa May, intimated that the Tory government she would go on to lead would instigate greater transparency between government and big business and that she would no longer tolerate the undue influence of corporate power on domestic UK politics and the corruption through the power of lobbying that this implies. However, less than two months later, the Guardian revealed that a £3,150 payment to the government will buy business executives strategic marketplace influence.

The privileging of a tiny minority of the wealthy and corporations in this way, can be regarded as nothing less than the usurping of democracy. The mass of the working poor whose exploited labour creates the wealth from which the rich benefit and who often vote for corporate-funded politicians diametrically opposed to their own interests, is indicative of the propaganda power of a corporate and media-dominated political and economic system.

With a corporate tax rate levied at just 12.5 per cent, Ireland is effectively prostituting itself to Apple who can legally say that legally they are doing nothing legally wrong. The conventional argument goes that if Ireland failed to attract corporations like Apple, then it would be places like Belize, Bahamas or any of the British tax avoidance dependencies who would. But this zero-sum game means that while this situation is great for the CEOs of the corporations and their shareholders, it’s terrible for everybody else.

Because of the unfair competitive advantage the multinationals are able to lever, shops close, factories shut down and local businesses go under. Companies like Apple not only have governments on their side and can buy and manufacture on a vast scale, but they are not subject to the relatively higher rates of tax small businesses are forced to pay.

This situation is compounded by the fact that the typical consumer will tend to look for the cheapest goods and services available which, as a result of economies of scale, the big corporations will be most likely to provide. In such an eventuality, the role that corporations play in society becomes more prevalent at the expense of the small business.

The logical corollary to this is that eventually everything will be sold by a few giant multinational corporations who will come to dominate the marketplace resulting in less choice for the consumer, as well as its monopolization by private capital. This process was predicted by Marx who understood that capitalism was an inherently contradictory system.

In order to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals, capitalists either need to introduce mechanization to speed up the production process, reduce wages or replace their existing workforce with a cheaper one. Here’s where the contradiction comes in: If all capitalists are engaged in this process, their workers will have less and less money so they won’t be able to buy what the capitalists are producing to sell.

The capitalists, therefore, are effectively ‘creating their own gravediggers’ as a consequence of there being less demand in the economy. How has the system managed to have kept going when people don’t have money to buy things? The answer is the emergence and widespread availability of credit. However, the problems of capitalism are now so severe, so systemic, so global, that many people are wondering whether the system is coming to an end.

Is authenticity possible under capitalism?

By Daniel Margrain

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The anti-capitalist slogans ‘The World Is Not A Commodity’ and ‘Our World Is Not For Sale’ which emerged out of the great anti-capitalist demonstrations from Seattle and which many of us take for granted, are tremendously powerful statements about the world. One of Karl Marx’s most profound insights was his understanding of how the workings of the capitalist system is bound up with the process of turning ‘things’ from the ‘productive sphere’ to a ‘consumptive sphere’ realized as commodity value.

For Marx, the notion of turning ‘use values’ into ‘exchange values’ is an inherent feature of capitalism’s drive for the accumulation of capital. Capitalism does not create commodities or markets and, similarly, it does not create money. The problems, as Marx sees them, is not that capitalism brings these things into being, but brings them into being in a particular way that expands and extends the process of capital accumulation through the extraction of surplus value realized as profit.

Over a century and a half ago, Marx grasped the existence of an inherently competitive struggle between rival units of capital to turn increasing spheres of life over to private production and therefore to extend the sphere of commodities which have come to dominate the people that produce them. Formally, capitalists and workers are independent of each other, but in reality inextricably connected.

From the 19th century, production no longer took place in the home but in factories where new systems of discipline operated. For the first time in history, humans came to be defined by how and what they consumed. By turning society and production over to the production of ‘things’ that the direct producers have little or no control over, means that capitalism is an alienating system.

The devaluation of public life increases in direct relation to the increase in the value of the world of things. Real social relationships are governed by an external power which attains control over the individual. In The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx asserts:

“The alienation of the worker means not only that his labour becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently of him and alien to him, and begins to confront him as hostile and alien.”

Although we make and buy ‘things’, the antagonistic nature of the capitalist market means we are detached and alienated from them and each other. The system produces a world of isolated and egoistic individuals, bound together by calculation and crude monetary terms rather than the establishment of community life. The capitalist system of generalized commodity production is so pervasive that it seems an inevitable and natural condition of humanity.

Commodities acquire social characteristics because individuals enter the productive process only as the owners of commodities. As Marx succinctly put it“the impact of society on the individual is carried out through the social form of things.” This adds another dimension to alienated relationships because “the characters who appear on the economic stage are merely personifications of economic relations. It is as the bearers of these economic relations that they come into contact with each other.”

The notion that human will is separated from the social organization that overrides it and where powers are conferred to inanimate objects, is what Marx meant by ‘commodity fetishism’. It is a process in which “the capitalist mode of production takes over the totality of the individual, family, social needs and, in subordinating them to the market, also reshapes them to serve the needs of capital.” In this way culture is packaged within what appears to be an era of all-pervasive globalization where:

“The local and exotic are torn out of place to be repackaged for the world bazaar. So-called world culture may reflect a new valuation of difference and particularity, but is also very much about making a profit from it.”

Commodities also take on a mystical character. As writer, Kitty S Jones has shown, under capitalism the world has become devalued and society debased. Under these conditions, rather than the state providing services directly, it’s role is to act as a purchaser of public services which are then farmed out to the private sector. Working conditions are unilaterally altered as a result, and the path of individual redress begins and often ends with automated answering services of the great bureaucracies.

The frustration has reached such epic proportions that in those services where staff have to confront the public, they either have to be physically protected by screens or notices have to be posted warning the public of the dire consequences of assaulting staff, as now happens on London buses and tubes. All this is compounded by market-inspired jargon that seems to promise the opposite of this frustration.

The dominance of the cash nexus and privatization within public life is such that trains now carry customers not passengers and nurses tend clients not patients. Bewildering consumer choice is offered by the same few large corporations. The near universal mechanisms supposedly designed to provide accountability and increase public trust through regulation, inspection, target-setting and audit are, in reality, making things worse.

Ira Katznelson outlines the all-pervasive and distorting power of capitalism in relation to cities:

“Capitalism creates the city; the city creates a consciousness that reflects its varied reality; yet that unconsciousness deflects attention away from the primal forces of the capitalist mode of production that underlie the production and functioning of cities. This is the great secret of the capitalist order. Not only does the city give the accumulation process the capacity to secure a spatial fix, it also misshapes class struggle by deflecting it into fetishistic dimensions.”

The result of the direct subordination of cultural production to the priorities of profitable accumulation can be witnessed daily on television. In Britain today – the European vanguard of neoliberalism – government ministers refer to the ‘cultural industries’ without any sense of paradox or discomfort, and the Financial Times has a regular supplement called ‘Creative Business’.

This understanding of culture as part of the profitable accumulation process, is very different from the understanding of cultural theorists such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. When, for example, they coined the expression ‘the culture industry’, they intended it as an ironical and critical concept. Nothing seemed to them to be more absurd or contradictory than to reduce the creative process to an industry governed by the same logic of rationalization as any other.

Throughout the public realm, what appears to be the hegemonic subjugation to the market of communities and societies, means that many people are oblivious to alternative narratives which challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of neoliberalism. Postmodernism helps reinforce this consensus view because it seeks to prohibit a discourse of social criticism to the experience of neoliberalism. The high priest of the deconstruction of authenticity, Jean Baudrillard, for example, writes:

“All our problems today as civilized beings originate not in an excess of alienation, but a disappearance of alienation in favour of a maximum transparency between subjects.”

For Baudrillard, critical thought and political struggle have been rendered obsolete in society, not of the spectacle but of simulation where images no longer represent but now constitute reality. Marx’s concepts of alienation and commodity fetishism, however, infer a contrast between an authentic subject and existing social relations that deny it self-realization.

This contrast is implicit in the critique developed during the 1960s by the Situationists of ‘the society of the spectacle’. Situationist Guy Debord writes of “the global social praxis that is split into reality and image” and says that “within a world really on its head, the true is a movement of the false.” The tradition in which the Situationists built on Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism is one, therefore, that’s committed to the idea of pursuing the critique of existing reality as part of the struggle of what Marx called ‘human emancipation’.

The re-emergence of Marx’s concepts of alienation and commodity fetishism in recent years marks the breakdown of the hegemony that postmodernism has exerted over much academic thinking during the last few decades. For Alex Callinicos, postmodernism is predicated on a neoliberal ideological discourse that dovetails in with urban corporate spatial strategies designed to extract value by dissolving the aspiration to authenticity and community through identity politics.

According to Rosalyn Deutsche, corporate planning strategies frequently cast homogeneity and unanimity in the shape of ‘community’ with the goals of consolidating communities and soothing conflicts. The aim is to dissociate democracy from conflict. Conflict is “simultaneously acknowledged and disavowed, a ‘fetishistic’ process whose repercussions generate certitudes about the meaning of public space.” Thus the struggle for authenticity through recognition of identity and differentiation, and the effort to disembody ownership from representation in urban spaces, is the struggle for community and democracy itself.

The community in this sense appear as negative images embroiled within a discursive economy that both masks and legitimizes socioeconomic domination by obliterating difference, inequality and oppression. The merging of ownership and representation as a tool of statement production only serves to extend these operations of power and to further undermine the possibility of resistance.

In this way, corporate structures are able to appropriate representative claims for authenticity and embody them within a framework of ownership that privilege an integrated concept of space distanced from a discourse of threat and conflict. Thus urban spaces can appear to be abstract and neutral allowing urban planners to divorce the urban fabric from class content. So, for instance, the dominant response to the English inner city riots of the 1980s was for better ‘design solutions’ to control social problems rather than on focusing attempts to challenge entrenched socioeconomic relations that gave rise to them.

An inclusive Marxist vision of democracy is one in which, the ‘subject’ as opposed to the ‘commodity’ becomes the universal category. Marx, therefore, is able to transcend the capitalist totality by providing a theoretical basis by which authenticity can be realized without the need to turn to market-based objectified concepts.

In my next article I will examine how misplaced notions of authenticity have influenced the way many of us perceive the Cuban experience

Gods & monsters

By Daniel Margrain

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During the dark pre-enlightenment days before science, the earth was widely perceived as a stable force at the centre of the universe overseen by a God who envisaged humanity as having a fixed set of roles within it. To step outside this framework of ‘stability and order’ was to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy that shaped society. By challenging the existence of God (and hence the nature of society) through science, Galileo and others paid the ultimate price with their lives.

For man to disobey God by tasting the fruit of the forbidden tree was deemed to have brought evil into the world. Thus theology and the clergy explained the existence of wrongdoing as a primordial human condition that had to be controlled by a deity for whom the wrongdoers were required to seek salvation. This salvation took root in a system of ideas that underpinned the philosophical writings of Aristotle who conceived a world in which everything had a purpose.

The purpose of individual beings, and the places they naturally occupy, all dovetailed together, according to Aristotle, to form the pattern of the universe in order to give everything its place in the world. Religion and Aristotlian philosophy are therefore mutually reinforcing concepts that helped maintain uneven relations of power, centred on order.

Although the enlightenment and the emergence of science was a great leap forward from the idea that the power of Kings was historically fixed predicated on a grand purpose and design ordained by God, it nevertheless remained tied to the concept of progress as being that of the development of the human mind and of human nature as unchanging. So just as the church regarded stability and order as a primordial human condition, the classical economists that arose out of the enlightenment treated private property also as a fixed primordial human condition.

The religious and political establishment continue to blind the masses with this propaganda today. Hierarchical structures are as rigid in class stratified modern Britain (where social mobility is actually in reverse) as they have ever been. The masses of ordinary people have been conditioned to know their place within an ‘unchanging’ society even though the great changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution prove that power had transferred from feudal landlords to corporate grandees.

The supplanting of the aristocracy of land with money in this way led to the reduction of the great estates to commodities in which almost everyone and everything became “objectified”. The worker devotes his life to producing objects which he does not own or control. The labour of the worker, according to Karl Marx, thus becomes a separate, external being:

“Man’s labour exists outside him, independently of him and alien to him, and begins to confront him as an autonomous power, the life which he has bestowed on the object confronts him as hostile and alien.”

In the year of Marx’s birth in 1818, a young English author called Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published, in London, the first edition of the Gothic and Romantic science fiction novel, Frankenstein – the tale of a monster which turns against its creator. It’s the externalizing and uncontrollable force that provides the catalyst for change that Shelley describes in her masterpiece which draws parallels with the daily lot of workers. It’s these workers who continually produce what they cannot keep until eventually, as was the case with the Luddites, they rebel against the machines that churn out the fruits of their alienated labour by smashing them to pieces.

In dialectical terms, change in nature is reality. But as Marx understood, the dialectic also applies to the social world in which alienation is considered to be a material and social process. Since humans are an integral part of nature, they can not be excluded from the forces that govern it. The forces that determine changes in nature also, therefore, apply to the social world. At some point quantitative change results in fundamental qualitative change. An acorn, in becoming an oak, for example, will have ceased to be an acorn. Yet implicit within the acorn is the potential to become an oak. The economic system of capitalism, in potentially becoming something else, will similarly, cease to be.

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn is indicative of the kind of transformation from quantitative to qualitative change outlined. This explains why the establishment are doing their utmost to prevent it. Just as Dr Frankenstein couldn’t control the monster he created and the machines couldn’t ultimately control the impulses of workers in the factories wrought by the impacts of industrial capitalism, so it is the case that the establishment won’t be able to control the forces which Corbynism has unleashed.

What has typified the history of colonial and imperialist oppression thus far, has been the ability of the oppressors to suppress opposition to their rule using monsters as part of their strategy of divide and conquer based on the concept of “my enemies enemy is my friend”. However, what the oppressors rarely appear to factor in to their strategies, is the potential for both the monsters and ordinary people alike, to break free from their chains. The brainwashing techniques of the corporate media, as well as the Machiavellian politicians who sing to the tune of their paymasters, is not sustainable. Corbyn is leading a movement that potentially will be at the forefront of tearing the entire edifice down.

Not only are monsters able to break free from the oppressors who create and nurture them, but paradoxically they also create the conditions in which a greater number of other monsters emerge. This was, for example, the case in Afghanistan during the 1980s following president Carter’s 1979 authorization of a $500 million covert action programme in support of tribal groups known as the mujahedin.

The kinds of monsters which successive US governments help nurture have managed to either strain at the leash (as in the case of Israel), or completely break free from their masters grip (as was the case with the mujahedin in Afghanistan). In terms of the former, as a result of the law of unintended consequence, the US-dependent monster often bites the financial hand that feeds it. This is rooted in uncontrollable and unpredictable geopolitical forces.

However, there are other monsters which their creators manage to exert a tight control of. An example, is the extent to which the the US government have managed to maintain leverage over the terrorist fighters that continue to emerge from what was formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA). Since 1946, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers and policemen as well as torturers, mass murderers, dictators and state terrorists who, according to SOA Watch, have “ripped the continent apart.” Two-thirds of the El Salvador army who committed some of the worst atrocities in its civil war had been trained at the SOA.

Moreover, the school has been complicit in numerous other dirty wars – particularly throughout the 1980s – fought on behalf of the US as well as training various other dictators from all over central and south America. More recently, the school was almost certainly responsible for training the killers who were a component part of the brutal regime that overthrew the Honduran government headed by Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009. Media Lens pointed out in early March this year, that those responsible for the coup d’etat – which was supported by successive U.S administrations – assassinated the leading grass-roots Honduran environmental activist, Berta Caceres.

These kinds of Faustian pacts with the devil have, largely by way of ‘blow back’, contributed significantly to the exponential spread of terrorism worldwide, as well as the destabilization of entire countries and even regions. This is evidenced by the emergence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq following the 2003 illegal US-led invasion, the chaos that is unfolding in Honduras and the spread of ISIS in Libya and beyond. The latter were spawned in the Wests favoured regional client, Saudi Arabia – the authoritarian religious extremist state that has been bombarding Yemen for the last 19 months using, as journalist Iona Craig has documented, weaponry sold to them by the UK-US governments’.

Given that the FBI defines terrorism as “violent acts …intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government, or affect the conduct of a government”, it’s difficult to rationalize how violations of international law in this way, under the guise of illegal war, is not illustrative of anything other than the kinds of terrorism the Western powers accuse their official enemies of committing.

Famously, Peter Ustinov eloquently articulated the conflation of war with terrorism. “War”, he said, “is the terrorism of the rich and powerful, and terrorism is the war of the poor and powerless.” In other words, the wars initiated by the powerful represent the substantial terror. Under such circumstances, the greater monsters are closer to home than many of us would perhaps care to admit. If God does exist, maybe he will be at the gates of Heaven to pass judgement on our rulers.

In the meantime, ordinary people are trying to establish the number to the combination lock to the chain that binds them to the Gods and monsters created by imperial power. Jeremy Corbyn has the number to the combination in the jacket pocket of his unkempt suit.