‘In the capitalist countries of the West the number of people employed is comparatively high, and so is the wage level. Workers there have been deeply influenced by the bourgeoisie, and it would not appear to be all that easy to carry through a socialist transformation. And since the degree of mechanization is high, the major problem after a successful revolution would be transforming the people.’
A Critique of Soviet Economics by Mao Tsetung, Monthly Review Press, 1977, page 51.
Maoist Third-Worldism is generally associated with the notion that revolution cannot come in the First World due to the affluence of the western worker, an affluence subsidised by the labour of the Third World worker in plantation, mine and sweatshop. It is certainly true that no revolution can be made on the basis of a revolt against poverty or low wages in the UK. However, Marxism is not just about increasing people’s material well-being. We must try to attract the non-materialistically minded people to Marxism in the UK. Struggles against state oppression, racism and the oppression of women, among other issues, can be the basis for a revolutionary movement. Ultimately the aim is to replace a society based on meaningless, alienated labour with a society that is superficially poorer but which creates a freer and more fulfilled population.
The great majority in the UK rely on mainly on wage labour not on income from property, thus on the one hand they are proletarian. But they are not exploited in the Marxist sense of the word. This is because the exploitation of the Third World subsidises the income of First World countries to such an extent that if it ended, a sum approximately equivalent to the profits of the capitalists would disappear, as Zak Cope shows in his book Divided World, Divided Class.
Moreover, the wealth of the British people, like most Europeans, is based on centuries of plunder. Look at the obvious facts. The indigenous populations of the Asian, African and American continents either had to make do with the natural resources under their feet or they were dispossessed even of those. The Europeans went from occupying one continent to taking over America, Australia, New Zealand and large swathes of Africa. Thus resources per head for the European became much greater as a result of this plunder. The Europeans who had only 6.8% of theworld’s landmass, acquired another 34% of it by occupying North and South America and Australia and then settled large parts of Africa. The land and minerals gained from this genocidal plunder were enough on their own to render the European (‘white’) population the labour aristocrats of the world. The Europeans gained a total land and resources 6 times larger than the European land mass. This built a powerful base on which the Europeans could increase their massive wealth by adding in slavery and then the super-exploitation of cheap Third World labour by First World capital.
In Britain we must ask, whether given the levels of privilege, socialism could conceivably bring any material benefits at all.
In 2012 average world GDP per capita was $12,800.
UK average gdp per capita in 2012 was $37,100
What would happen to the average person’s income if UK incomes were reduced to the world average in a system of global socialism? According to the Office of National Statistics Report-‘The Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Incomes 2011/12’, the average income of those in the the middle 20% of UK earnings was £32,500 (about $54,150) a year for an average family of 2.7 people before tax and benefits. This is compared to an income for a UK family of 2.7 of only about £21,000 a year if there was global socialism ($12,800×2.7 in UK money).
It is a self-evident that the typical British family, rather than gaining from world socialism would lose out quite seriously. (In fact it’s even worse than the above when you take into account such factors as the need for some investment of income, the need for taxation and so on.)
So it must be asked why might the British opt for socialism? The answer based on all historical experience is that they do not. However, this does not mean that this state of affairs will last forever.
The problem is that UK revolutionaries have obsessively concentrated on trade unions and wages struggles rather than the really significant issues in the UK class struggle.
Despite the affluence of British society severe divisions remain.
Firstly, as stated, the majority of British people are wage earners not bourgeois. They do not have the internalized commitment to their work that those who own the means of production (like for example a petit-bourgeois who owns the means of production they work with.) As wage-slaves (albeit very highly paid ones) they are not free and are still subject to the despotism of their management and the capitalist system as a whole. In order to keep the proletariat under the dictatorship of capital, there must be repression. This means things like unemployed people having their benefits cut and left without food in order to discipline them to take alienating jobs in super-markets and fast food restaurants.
Ultimately state repression prevents the revolt of the people against their alienating and oppressive lives. This is most obvious in the policing of protests where we are beaten and kettled by state thugs. Activists are put under constant surveillance and our organisations and lives are infiltrated, even at the level of our most intimate relationships.
Secondly, the mass of the people suffer from the state’s obsessive grip on power too. Our every email or internet search is monitored by the state. Our every phone call is monitored. There is a camera on every street and the government wants make Britain into a nation of spies continually reporting our neighbours for suspected ‘extremism’.
Thirdly, the reproduction of labour still depends on the unpaid labour of women. This requires the existence of the family as an institution of repression. Single parents are stigmatized in order to force people to conform to the oppressive structure of the bourgeois family.
Fourthly, the centuries of imperialist oppression and the existence of racist immigration controls gives rise to a pervasive racism in UK society. Not a week goes by without another politician trying to whip up anti-immigrant hatred.
So would the British give up their high incomes for a freer society, less scarred by mindless hatred? Well at the moment we are only likely to attract a minority to the cause. There are some who we can convince that a poorer society can still provide a healthy fulfilling life for its citizens (as Mao’s China did.) £21,000 a year is more than enough to provide the necessities of life and a rich cultural life. There are some who are already asking if we really need cars, holidays lying on beaches in Spain, junk food, 2 metre wide televisions and all the rest of the nonsense we waste our money on at the moment. A supposedly poorer Britain would also be a Britain without the oppression and corruption of the body and the mind we experience in our everyday life in the UK. In the right circumstances a minority could lever the majority to make revolution. We need to be fighting for this not sitting back and waiting for others to make our revolution for us.