Make the rich pay!

This speech was delivered by Shea Stewart at the YCL's 2022 May Day demonstration in Manchester
This speech was delivered by Shea Stewart at the YCL's 2022 May Day demonstration in Manchester
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Make the rich pay — that’s our slogan and that’s our outlook going forward. Not because they can pay — of course they can — and not out of some idea of revenge.

But because we, as a society, as human civilisation, are rich, we are wealthy — but we’re allowing a parasite class to hide that truth. 

Not only in the rich countries but globally: we have been producing enough food to feed every person on the planet since the 1960s, yet people still starve.

If we allocated resources rationally we would have the means for everyone to have a home and to keep that home heated for free — in stark contrast to the outrageous price hikes that we are now facing in this cost-of-living crisis.

When we say “make the rich pay” we are not talking about individual rich people — though they should be targeted, though they should be icons of our hatred and rage — no we are talking about an entire system. We’re talking about a system that is plunging us into poverty on multiple fronts at once. 

Me, as a young worker, with no family or children yet to support, should be able to save and plan for the future — yet for the first time, at only 23, I am having to budget for electricity, for internet access — for food! 

I am having to work as much as I can, take every job without necessary rest, just to try and attempt to have the things I grew up with as a child. Things are getting worse, and there’s no end in sight — no one is even promising us that this is temporary — offering me a stake, offering any of us a stake, in society, in the future. 

This makes no sense — that is the main thing. It’s not that I deserve a better deal, that you deserve a better deal — of course we do; and it’s not a question of justice.

It just doesn’t make any sense to impoverish people, people who are hard working, productive, who want to contribute everything they can to building and improving their lives and everyone else’s.

We have now seen four decades of this farce, this scam, called neoliberalism destroying the very basics of our society. You don’t have to be left wing to understand that. We used to have have services that worked, state-run systems that were actively there for all of us — free or affordable, and everyday working-class people like us could expect at least a level of dignity and respect, and an idea that part of society was something we were working together for.

Well no more. That life is gone. They’ve ripped up the social contract and thrown it on the fires they set to burn away our once world-class industries.

But we aren’t complaining. We aren’t begging for respite, for this process to go a little slower. 
As revolutionaries we have always said they would do this to us if they were given the chance — and they have. They’ll watch us rot and starve as we work harder for less. The stark truth of their class war against us is revealed. Marx stands vindicated when he said that under capitalism “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life.”

We are ready now, to face the truth.

So I want to go back to the start of the pandemic.

Me and some other YCL members were furloughed, unable to work because of the lockdown. So we took jobs at this mega morgue, huge refrigerated tents set up in parks in the middle of the city to deal with the wave of deaths coming in from Covid. We’d suit up in masks and gloves, drive out to hospitals, pick up corpses in builders vans then take them back to be stored in the tents. 

It was organised in part by the Ministry of Defence, and for a moment it felt like there was going to be a World War 2 response to this crisis. Certainly that’s how normal people reacted — working-class people formed solidarity groups for their areas, making sure old people and those isolating got their shopping, collected donations, delivered millions of free meals — made sure everyone was alright, money irrelevant. 

Of course at the top the opposite was happening. The government was lining its pockets — what should have been state-funded and run programmes were given to private-sector cronies, personal friends of the ministers who approved these million pound transfers of wealth from us, the taxpayers and wealth creators, to private firms. 

While me and my comrades were working in the morgue, literally stacking up the bodies, the ruling class was lining its pockets at the expense of our lives. 

Because the profit motive is so enshrined by our dependence on the financial sector, the response to covid in Britain was one of the worst — in socialist countries, where the people come before profit, where politicians are expect to some degree not to be in the service of capitalism, they were able to have effective lockdowns and fast vaccination programmes — because in these countries the state runs the economy, and the bankers and hedge fund scum don’t run the state.

When we say ‘make the rich pay’ we are talking about class — class interests: the people running these private firms, investment banks, or running the government, are acting in their class interests. Everything around them in their world is telling them — “Exploit anyone, anything, so long as you make more money. Do it, or go under. You don’t have a choice.” 

Saving more lives then and now, simply wasn’t in their interests.

Well let’s act in our class interests. Let’s make it easy for them. Rather than appealing to their better nature, let’s force them out of power entirely — through socialist revolution.

How does that start? How does that begin? First we need everyone to know that this is our goal: a socialist state, where the state controls the economy — and we are not going to put our weight behind any person or plan that promises anything less.

Then we need to organise to take action like we have in the past, but with renewed vigour, with even fewer illusions in reform. We need to take inspiration from the rent strikes, from the non-payment of the Poll Tax, from mass land and housing occupations and seizures.

Protest is part of this but only as a site of confidence building, of networking to take deeper, more direct action — protest must not feel weak and whiny but a place to inspire people to say “I’m not taking this any more — I am worth more than this.”

And it’s our job to do that, to help people overcome the capitalist programming that makes people blame themselves instead of their class oppressor for their situation.

That’s our role, to be outspoken and explicit about our politics, to organise but also to inspire – to give people faith in the possibility of rebellion, of the possibility of a totally different economic system.
People might ask — is this really what young people need to fight on, bills and wages — what about the melting ice caps, what about war between superpowers? 

The best way to stop our government getting involved in a war overseas is to escalate the class war here. To tie them up on the home front.

And the same is true for climate change — yes you can fight on that single issue, and we salute the militants who have been doing this — but they recognise too that the best response is when the masses act — and when they are empowered to act in their own interests, those interests align with with progressive politics, with sustainability, with clean cheap or free energy, with environmental protection, ecological council-house building, with demilitarisation and refocussing of all our resources on a peaceful, just society.

That’s what we are here to do. To lead that charge. To incite that rebellion. To stoke that confidence in our class — confidence that we can be more than just workers making others rich, but masters of our own destiny.

I salute every one of you coming out today and saying that proudly. I know you will all play your part in the coming class war.

Because I know that you know, that in truth, all the towers of metal, marble and glass, all the networks of technology and infrastructure don’t belong to them — they belong to us. Because we built them.

Next, we’re going to build Socialism.

And we’re going to make the rich pay for it.

Shea Stewart, is a Central Committee member of the Young Communist League of Britain

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