On austerity

Matt Cox writes on the tasks of Communists in a time of looming austerity

Matt Cox, is a member of the YCL’s YCL’s West and North Yorkshire branch

Philippa Day was twenty-seven years old when she killed herself after having her benefits withdrawn. She left behind a child. Errol Graham was fifty-seven years old when he starved to death after having his benefits withdrawn. Jodey Whiting was forty-two when she killed herself after having her benefits withdrawn. She left behind nine children.

The left recoils in horror, rightly, at the cruelty of the benefits system. This horror then gives way, at least in the minds of all good and decent British people, to righteous anger. The Corbyn movement channelled the righteous anger of the British people, hundreds of thousands of whom went out in the wind and the rain, from morning to night, to campaign for an end to the tyranny and misery of austerity.

Behind this movement was the central idea that austerity is a political choice. Unfortunately, they are wrong on the material facts. Austerity is not a choice.

Austerity is not a choice insofar as economic decisions made by capitalist governments are never choices made in a vacuum, but always reflections of what is materially necessary to keep capitalism in place and functioning. Just like there are no slaves without slaveowners, there are no workers without capitalists. There are also no capitalists without profits. The profit-making system is the centre of capitalism – profit is extracted from capital – and consequently the capitalist system creates profits at the expense of everything else. There is not a choice here. 

The slaveowner does not choose to enforce slavery just as the lion does not choose to hunt the sheep. That exchange exists because of the relationship between the two contradicting forces in nature. 

Austerity is a signal of capitalist weakness, and not merely a symptom of capitalist greed. The second most common idea in the broad British Left is that Britain is one of the most prosperous countries in the world. This is also not true. Britain is a very poor country and its economy is on the brink of ruin. 

We are used to economic crises, but this one is different. Orthodox economics has no answer. Inflation and unemployment are rising and growth is stalling. The debt is spiralling out of control, and there is no more room to raise taxes. The Conservatives have tried to lower taxes for ten years but it has not created any increase in capital formation, ie investment. 

Importantly, though, for the first time in history, money velocity has reached sub-zero. This means that each pound created by the central bank is circulated around the economy less than once. This means that there are no more fiscal or monetary mechanisms to ‘revive’ the economy. The basic fact is that economic output relies on people creating things, and there is no appetite in our economy for anything other than moving money around. Since this money is completely divorced from actual economic output, we will very soon find that the basic things that make economic life possible do not exist.

You can look around you for the evidence. Our country is falling apart. We live in houses built by our grandfathers, and the few new ones are mostly held together with masking tape. The trains don’t work. When we build things, they are usually shopping centres funded by skyrocketing consumer debt. The high street is collapsing. The water companies pump sewage into the ocean. Ambulances queue up outside hospitals. Real wages are declining.

In the past, we could extract capital from the third world to solve these problems. But the third world is now standing up. Across the entire world, the victims of imperialism have stood up and refused to be victimised. Our ability to extract profits from foreign exploited peoples has now decisively come to an end. 

What does this mean for us? It means that we are about to slip into a deep and decisive economic crisis. Our task as Communists is to convert the economic crisis into a political crisis, to organise and mobilise the British working class to attack capitalism directly, in the workplace, in the community, in the streets, and yes, in the Parliament: in other words, our task is to wage class warfare by any means possible.

We can not negotiate with the capitalist class. Slaves do not negotiate with slaveowners. Lions do not negotiate with sheep. Our relationship makes negotiation, compromise, co-operation not just undesirable, but impossible. Anyway, they are already waging a class war on us. It’s our friends and family who kill themselves after dealing with the benefits system. It’s our children who go without food and shelter. It’s us who work to make profits for them. 

They are not negotiating with us and they are not so stupid as to believe that they should! We should shed this illusion. We have never won anything by negotiation with our rulers and we never will. Ask the Welsh miners! Ask the Liverpool dockers! Ask the Scottish binmen! Ask the London printers! 

We have only won things by organisation and mobilisation. Therein lies our strength. Therein lies the deployment of our anger.

One day that strength and anger will be enough to sweep from power all those people who ordered the suicide of our friends and family. We will permanently intern those people in the prison of human history, where they are destined to belong, and on the march to a greater and more just humanity, we will honour and remember those who are not here to walk with us.

That day is not a mere dream. That day is fast approaching. We will reach that day, or we will die trying.

Matt Cox

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