By Ameen Izzadeen
Karl Marx must be both happy and sad — happy because capitalism is crumbling and sad because it is not happening the way he thought it would in a revolution of the proletariat. When socialism, albeit a corrupt version of it, was wiped off the political landscape of the world some 20 years ago with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the capitalists touted the free market liberal economic system as the only engine for the progress of mankind. Of course, they interpreted the word progress in a loose sense, confining it to short-term economic prosperity and not taking its social cost into account. Little did they realize then that unbridled capitalism, sustained by selfishness and greed, was evil incarnate — warts and all.
Just as the seeds of destruction of any system are found within it, capitalism’s downfall is largely caused by its own rotten core. When greed or selfishness, which the capitalists interpret as economic freedom of an individual, becomes the operative vice, there is little place for values.
When the Soviet-led politico-economic order collapsed, many pundits dismissed the proposition that capitalism would also crumble sooner or later. They argued that capitalism served mankind, as Adams Smith had explained in his Wealth of Nations. True, capitalists earn their profit by providing goods and services that the people need. But over the years, they have tricked the people into buying not only what they need but also what they do not need. The form of capitalism that exists today was a far cry from what gave birth to Protestantism or Puritanism in feudalistic yet frugal Europe. Max Weber in his much hailed work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, claims that the Calvinist European entrepreneurs in the early days of capitalism were prompted by a desire to serve God. Material success was, for them, a sign of divine favour, though Jesus Christ made it clear that a person cannot serve God and money, for he will hate one and love the other.
But today’s greed-driven capitalism has given rise to commercialism and materialism and buried moral values with even God being reduced to a commodity.
Thus it comes as no surprise that the United States, the world’s biggest economy, is in the throes of death or an unbearable burden of debt and is being hit by crisis after crisis. Since 2000, the capitalist-driven western economies have been in recession with occasional booms. They have not recovered from the 2006-2008 economic crisis brought about by big time Wall Street capitalists or banking racketeers.
Instead of finding economic remedies to its economic problems, the US used its military might to boost its faltering economy. The economically unsustainable or misfired wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have dragged the US into a $14.3 trillion public debt quagmire.
On August 2, the US raised its borrowing limits after much haggling between the Republicans and Democrats over a compromise. But it was a temporary measure aimed at providing breathing space for the Barack Obama administration to survive till reelection time in November next year. One need not be an economic genius to sense that it will be only a matter of time before capitalism is dealt another deadly blow. It may happen sooner rather than later because the Republicans and the Tea Party activists are more concerned about ousting Obama than saving the economy.
In Britain, too, signs that capitalism have failed emerged this week. Prime Minister David Cameron admitted on Wednesday that there was something seriously wrong with society. But he failed to acknowledge that the fault lay in the capitalist system or, in Britain’s case, Thatcherism which it has embraced as economic gospel. Thatcherism promoted wholesale privatization; preferred policies aimed at controlling inflation at the expense of social welfare measures and curtailed trade union activism while moral values became less important in the hunt for profit and prosperity.
Thatcherism sowed the wind and Britain this week reaped the whirlwind with children as young as ten becoming looters. They did not loot book stores. Rather they targeted shops that sold items that guaranteed immediate liquidity. A photograph in London Daily Mail showed a ten-year-old boy carrying a bottle of wine which he had looted while another showed two teenagers running away with bottles of vodka. Perhaps, the difference between the Wall Street bankers and the British looters is that the former did not break windows.
What has happened to Britain? Where are the values? Perhaps, a girl looter provided the answer. She told a BBC reporter that rioting and looting gave them an opportunity to show “the rich” and the police that “we can do what we like”.
So the looting was revenge or a mini revolt by the marginalised against the rich and a state that protects the rich at the expense of the poor. Most of these youth have no jobs. Statistics show that about 18 percent of youths in Britain between 16 and 24 are jobless and nearly half of all black youths are out of work.
No wonder, Britain has one of the highest violent crime rates among the European Union countries. The underprivileged, who are different from the Englishmen and women we see at the Lord’s cricket grounds, at Wimbledon, at the Ascot race course, have lost faith in the system. Their welfare is no business of unbridled capitalism which puts self before community. For the capitalists, community is only a market.
To make the marginalized forget the revolution which Marx spoke of, the capitalists have succeeded in corrupting the mind with pop culture, drugs, liberal sex and pornography with the capitalist-backed media also playing a big role. Visit the websites of Britain’s Sun, Daily Mail or Daily Star. They are full of pictures of half-naked celebrities whom the middle class take as role models though most of these so-called stars are intellectually and morally bankrupt.
Against the backdrop of values being reduced to a discarded commodity, it was no surprise when robbing other people’s property took place this week in Britain as though it was innate. Why won’t the youths behave so when their governments have shown them that invading Iraq for oil is perfectly alright and supporting Israel’s continuous robbery of Palestinian land is part of accepted political behaviour. It seems the chickens have come home to roost.
(This article also appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)