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Issue #1711      November 18, 2015

Taking Issue – Rob Gowland

Capitalism – a killer of a system

Have you ever been moved to ponder the question of just how many people have lost their lives because of capitalism’s greed (combined with its complete disregard for the well being of the working stiffs who actually create its wealth)? Even if you leave out the innumerable wars that capitalism has indulged in over just the 19th and 20th centuries, there’s still a breath-taking death toll that can be sheeted home directly to capitalism.

It is never the capitalist owner who dies, of course, but the poor bloody worker who invariably pays the ultimate price.

It was capitalism that seized on the scientific and technological advances of the Industrial Revolution as a way to boost agricultural production while cutting the numbers of agricultural workers to the bone. The bulk of the rural labouring class were actually forced off the land to move to the towns and cities as an impoverished urban workforce desperately seeking employment, which they found in the new steam-powered mines and mills of capitalism.

Unions were illegal, and employers ruthlessly exploited the labour of not just working men but also – and especially – women and children. Women had nimble fingers and children were quick, but both could be – and were – harnessed to wagons to haul coal and other minerals through the low-roofed workings of mines. Children were made to risk their lives dashing in and out beneath the steam-driven looms of the cloth industry to gather up the waste stuff so the owner could make extra money from it.

Accidents were frequent, and frequently fatal. Even when they were not fatal, the unfortunate injured worker was usually dismissed as unfit to work, turned out to beg or starve. Despair, hunger exposure and cold killed off thousands every winter.

Workers had no option but to fight back against capitalist exploitation and repression. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, employers used not just the police and when pressed, the army, to keep the workers in line, but often they also resorted to hired thugs, spies and death squads. To keep capitalism flourishing, innumerable union organisers, Communists and other progressives were murdered, and are still murdered in many parts of the world.

Even where they are not actually murdered, workers still die on the job from “accidents” that are usually preventable if employers did not cut corners on safety, constantly press for speed-ups, for increased production and longer hours of work. World-wide, the death toll from accidents in industry, construction, mining, fishing and transport is huge. It is never the capitalist owner who dies, of course, but the poor bloody worker who invariably pays the ultimate price.

The spin doctors that capitalism employs to protect its interests like to promote the ridiculous notion that we all share the same cake, that capitalists and workers have equal opportunities and equal rights. You don’t have to be a graduate of the Harvard Business School to know that isn’t so. Any worker can tell you the truth of the relative position of workers and bosses. Equal it ain’t.

Take health for example. It’s not the capitalist owners of the coal industry who die from dusted lungs. It’s not the capitalist owners of Hardies who died and continue to die from asbestosis. On the other hand, it’s not the Fukushima power station workers who continue to allow radioactive waste to pour into the Pacific: it’s the plant’s capitalist owners who are the culprits here. Just as the destruction of the shrimp industry in the Gulf of Texas, and the livelihood of the shrimp fishermen with it, was the work not of the fishermen but of the capitalists who own BP.

Capitalist greed has left a trail of death and destruction all over the globe and is still seeking to extend its reach to even more regions. Witness the push in North America to drill for oil in the Canadian Arctic. As global warming removes the Antarctic ice sheet, watch for capitalist mining companies to start pushing for the right to mine the Antarctic continent. Antarctica could become the biggest moonscape on the planet, to the enrichment of mining companies and their financiers. The rest of us, along with the penguins, would be left to mourn what had been and would never be again. And of course one of the benefits being held up as a reason for funding a flight to Mars is the anticipated profits from mining the Red Planet, too.

Capitalism is not the only system that humanity has been able to develop, however. Capitalism is a fatally flawed system based on inequality and exploitation and leading inevitably to war, but working people know of a better system, one free of exploitation and war-mongering: Socialism.

In the short history of the world since 1917, the people attempting to build this new form of society inevitably made mistakes (the pollution caused by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, and the desertification of the area around the Aral Sea, for example).

But none of these, serious though they unquestionably were, was caused by a small clique trying to make themselves rich – or richer. The essence of Socialism as a system is that it endeavours to constantly improve the lives of all its people. Who could possibly be opposed to a system like that, you might ask? Well, capitalists would, for starters.

Their privileged lifestyle is dependent on the majority (working people) being exploited by a minority (capitalists) who appropriate the wealth created by the majority. The capitalists have no interest in giving up their privileges and living like ordinary people. They fight tooth and nail to retain their wealth and the power and social benefits – and the superiority over ordinary people – that it brings them.

The army of spin-doctors they employ devote a lot of effort to portraying Socialism as bloody and militarist. In fact, it is capitalism that exemplifies that type of social system. Only capitalism, already based on exploitation and gross inequality, could envisage tying the world’s economies to a concept as barbarous as “constant war”. Most of the world’s people reject the idea of living under such a regime, so capitalism’s propagandists have to lie. Not that they have any difficulty with that. With a perfectly straight face they declare that black is white and white is black; that capitalism is benign and Socialism is cruel and oppressive.

In fact, however, it was the capitalist states that attacked the new socialist state, Soviet Russia, within weeks of its creation. The invasion was accompanied by incredibly barbaric savagery on the part of the supporters of the old regime, so much so that the US troops who had invaded Siberia threatened to attack the White counter-revolutionary forces if they did not cease their stomach-turning cruelty. That caused the Whites to circulate the rumour that the leader of the US troops was a closet Red!

The Red Army did not finally throw the last of the invaders out of the USSR until 1922, leaving a country in ruins for the new society to inherit. But the Soviets had learnt an important lesson. As well as making strenuous efforts to resurrect their wrecked mines, factories and infrastructure, they also built up their army, navy and airforce in readiness for the next attack by capitalism. Naturally, this was portrayed by capitalism’s already growing army of propaganda specialists as a “threat” to peace-loving capitalist democracies.

Later in the 1920s, well after defeat of the Intervention, the West still funded and supplied arms to bandits in southern and eastern Russia to kill representatives of the Soviet government and to carry out other acts such as raiding convoys of cotton produced on Soviet farms, and so on. Abroad, Soviet trade missions would have their offices destructively raided and their staff assaulted by security services claiming to be searching for evidence of spying.

Also in the 1920s, the Soviet government set about collectivising Russia’s myriad small peasant farms, in readiness for the massive program to industrialise the country under the First Five Year Plan. Agents of capitalism abroad and their remnants in Russia set out to sabotage the collectivisation agriculture by every means possible even telling the peasants to slaughter their livestock before the beasts were “seized” by the Soviets. The result was famine which, along with the deaths it caused, capitalism unhesitatingly blamed on socialism. Although that claim was exposed as lying, anti-Communist propaganda at the time, it has been revived in recent years as people no longer remember the details and it makes yet another convenient club with which to bash Socialism.

It was capitalism that drove the colonialist regimes that resorted to death and destruction on a mass scale to enforce their rule and protect their “investments” in countries regarded as imperial possessions in Africa, Asia and South America.

Fascism arose as a system to protect capitalism from the possibility of Red Revolution. In the countries it took over, mass killing became the norm. German fascism killed millions in a mad quest for “racial purity” and millions more in slave labour camps serving German capitalists.

In the decades since WW2, many thousands – perhaps millions – have died in industrial accidents, mine disasters, the sinking of overcrowded or unseaworthy ships, or simply from over-work. Many millions more have died from hunger, in a world with the capacity to feed everyone! Without a profit in it for the capitalists, the capitalist system is simply not interested in improving working conditions, preventing starvation, eliminating pollution or the destruction of the environment, or stopping epidemics.

Thanks to capitalism’s inhuman, destructive policies and practices, millions of people are condemned to suffering and death. And that’s without even mentioning wars!

Next article – The insecure bonds of White Australia

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