Over the past few weeks, Occupy Leeds has been present in City Square attempting to act as a forum for discussion about the economic crisis affecting Britain and in particular the financial elite’s part in this.
In the press, the Occupy movement has been widely labelled as anti-capitalist, in part due to the large ‘Capitalism is Crisis’ banner hanging at Occupy LSX, but mostly because it challenges the financial elite that are pivotal to the leaders of world capitalism.
However, some of the occupiers have rejected the label of anti-capitalist. On the one hand there are those who are angry at the present system, but see it as an example of ‘bad’ capitalism and the solutions of its problems in reforming the capitalist system into a more equitable form by in particular, redistributing the concentration of wealth at the top of society.
Unfortunately, the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the ‘1%’ at the top of society is not accidental. Capitalism by its very nature produces ever greater concentrations of wealth. The very secret of capitalist money making lays in not paying workers the full value of the wealth they create, leaving a surplus amount from which profit is extracted. This causes the very economic contradictions we are seeing today, where workers are unable to purchase the full products of their labour, which leads to over-production like we saw with cars at the beginning of the recession. With more in stock than can be sold at a given time, then production shuts down with further knock on effects.
To overcome this contradiction, the financial elite offered cheap credit to continue to propel the financial system. By loaning workers the money to buy goods and services, they were able to overcome this for a period. However, all loans need to be paid back at some point, and it was those in relation to housing, the sub-prime mortgages in the US, which sparked the current great recession. We agree with the banner ‘Capitalism is Crisis’, as a system it only resolves a crisis by preparing the way for the next one.
On the other hand there are some who say they are anti-capitalists or socialists but do not want to be labelled as such for fear of putting people off by such radical ideas.
We believe this is mistaken. Many people’s starting point will be anger at specific measures of the government or financial elite – the bank bailouts, bankers bonuses, corporate tax evasion etc. and these issues should be taken up clearly. But to then deny your own views only adds confusion to the movement instead of clarifying our own views and working out a coherent way forward.
For its part, the Socialist Party affirms that we are anti-capitalist, indeed we are socialists fighting against a world run in the interests of accumulating wealth for the 1% at the expense of the 99%, and instead fight for a world that meets the needs of all.
But most importantly we have a programme to fight for this. Whilst we support ideas such as taxing the rich, or a Robin Hood Tax (on finacial transactions), we realise that by themselves such measures would be insufficient. The wealthy and/or financial institutions would wish to vacate the country to a more 1% friendly economic climate, and therefore we argue for taking the financial system into democratic public ownership. The rich can leave, but their wealth should stay with those who created it, the 99%.
A publicly owned, democratic banking and other financial services system could deal woth many of the problems facing people. It could offer loans to small businesses circumventing the hoarding going on by privately owned banks at the present. It could make mortgage repayments affordable, or convert them to affordable rents, to avoid people losing their homes.
A plan for investment could be drawn up with mass democratic participation, with forums or general assemblies in each city and town. Investment could, for example, be put into building new social housing, to meet the massive council house waiting list (around 25,000 in Leeds).
But why stop at the financial sector. To give an example of supermarkets where I used to work, you have companies making huge profits each year, whilst their staff are overworked and paid almost minimum wage. In that industry there is most certainly the money to pay increase wage rates to shop floor staff, whilst hiring more staff to reduce stress levels would also improve customer service amongst other things. Yet despite profits rising by 12% at both Tesco and Sainsbury this year, the wealth this created by the companies staff is channeled into the back pockets of shareholders, the 1%.
Such measures could reduce the mass unemployment around us, by sharing out the work without loss of pay, you could reduce the working week to give people time to participate in the running of society. On that basis it would be possible to have general assemblies that didn’t just involve tens of people, but representing the hundreds of thousands that live in Leeds and similar assemblies in other cities around the world.