On 21 October last year, 321 Tory MPs voted to deny free school meals to the poorest school children during half-term and Christmas holidays – a vote that was indicative of the heartless cruelty of the ruling class, especially at a time when 4.5 million UK children live in poverty and over a third of households in this country have a real struggle to provide themselves with food.
The government had been shamed into dispensing food vouchers for children in receipt of free school meals for the period between the lockdown and summer holidays only as a result of the campaign initiated by the footballer Marcus Rashford.
Rashford’s appeal evoked a tremendous sympathetic response among decent people throughout the country, with cafes, restaurants and ordinary people offering free meals to families in need over half term. As a result, the government was forced on 7 November into making available £170m to extend the food programme into the Easter, summer and winter holidays of 2021.
Rashford’s campaign made the very modest demand that all under-16s should be entitled to fee school meals if their parents are in receipt of universal credit or an equivalent benefit.
To justify their disgraceful votes, many Tory MPs used language reminiscent of 18th-century parson Reverend Thomas Malthus, asserting that it was the responsibility of parents, not the government, to feed their children.
The very people who have had no problem looting the state treasury in order to syphon off literally tens of billions of pounds to their friends during the pandemic through all kinds of bogus contracts – a gravy train which even the Tory-friendly Times newspaper has meticulously exposed – were justifying their shameful stance by asserting that state provision of free school meals to the poorest children would serve to increase ‘dependency’.
In their way of thinking, any state provision for working-class children will only cause them to cultivate a culture of dependency and laziness, and deprivation and hunger are the sole means of teaching them discipline, decency and obedience to the dictates of capital.
Since the near-meltdown of the imperialist financial system, and the worst-ever crisis of capitalist overproduction in 2008, the working class has been subjected to relentless austerity, with cuts to social spending and the provision of services, hand in hand with stagnant wages.
The present coronavirus pandemic has served to exacerbate, and expose, the dire state of deprivation to which the poorest sections of our society have been subjected. According to a YouGov poll, more than eight million people – one-sixth of the population – experienced food insecurity owing to the coronavirus crisis. Not surprisingly, then, the demand for food parcels has risen dramatically, with six parcels of emergency food supplies expected to be dispensed every minute by the end of December, according to the Trussell Trust food bank organisation.
With rising unemployment, businesses going bust and working-class poverty, hand in hand with rising indebtedness, the working class is being plunged deeper and deeper into dire destitution. At this moment some 350,000 households face the risk of imminent eviction from their homes because of their inability to pay the rent.
Already by 2017 Britain had become one of the worst countries in the developed world in terms of child poverty, with 10 percent of children experiencing ‘severe food insecurity’. ‘Severe food insecurity’ is only a polite term for regularly experiencing hunger.
By 2019 the situation had become so dreadful that Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty, characterised it as akin to living in the aftermath of civil war.
The attempt of the ruling class to shove all the burdens of the crisis of capitalism on to the shoulders of the working class and punish the most vulnerable section – especially the children – can, in the final analysis, only produce social unrest and resistance on the part of those under attack. This is well understood by farsighted and thoughtful members of the bourgeoisie, if not by the parliamentary dimwits of the Conservative party.
In a remarkably candid article, the Financial Times, the most representative mouthpiece of British finance capital, expatiated on this issue in its issue of 31 December 2020. In this New Year’s Eve edition, the article, entitled ‘A better form of capitalism is possible’, stated that “everyone loses from the growth of a precariat [the underclass, a combination of ‘proletariat’ and ‘precarious existence’] in rich economies”.
The economy, it went on, “has shone a harsh light on the vulnerable parts of the rich countries’ labour markets. Most of us depend – at times literally for our lives – on people stocking shelves, delivering food, cleaning hospitals, caring for the old and infirm. Yet many of these unsung heroes are underpaid, overworked, and suffer unpredictable work opportunities and insecurity while on the job.”
The article continued: “Over the past four decades, work has failed to secure stable and adequate incomes for growing numbers of people,” resulting in stagnant wages, erratic incomes, lack of savings for emergencies, “low job security and brutalised working conditions – to the point of such grotesque episodes as the woman giving birth in a toilet cubicle for fear of missing a shift. Many suffer a rising risk of homelessness …”
Noting that this is a problem of long standing, the Financial Times noted that it had become sharply intensified in 2020. Most jobs in the precariat, since they require “physical presence for manual service work”, leave workers exposed to contagion and loss of income from lockdowns.
It is, therefore, “a moral imperative to help the neediest”, adding that “lifting people out of economic precariousness is also greatly in the self-interest of the better off [ie, the capitalist class]”. And this because those left behind “are increasingly concluding that those in charge do not care about their predicament”; that the economy is rigged in favour of the capitalist class against those on its receiving end.
As a result, “Slowly but surely, that is putting capitalism and democracy in tension with one another.”
Since the global financial crisis, “this sense of betrayal”, says the Financial Times, “has fuelled a political backlash against globalisation and all institutions of liberal democracy”.
Right-wing populism, tapping into this resentment, may thrive on this backlash for a while but since “it cannot deliver on its promises to the economically frustrated, it is just a matter of time before the pitchforks come out for capitalism itself, and for the wealth of those who benefit from it”.
“Capitalism’s acceptability requires its adherents to polish off its rougher edges.” The better-off have the most to lose from the rejection of capitalism through increasing polarisation, but, says the Financial Times, they also have “much to gain” from addressing it.
As is to be expected, the mountain has delivered a mouse. Capitalism “can be made to secure dignity to all; the alternatives are worse for everyone”.
The truth is that only the proletariat has a class interest in drawing the proper conclusions from the premises so succinctly described by the Financial Times. These conclusions are that, ever since its inception, capitalism has polarised society into a handful of the rich, on the one hand, and the poor, deprived and destitute masses of proletarians, on the other, who have nothing to sell but their labour-power, and that too only if capital needs them.
The alternative to capitalism – namely, socialism – will not be ‘worse for everyone’, as the Financial Times would have us believe.
We have arrived at a juncture where a handful of capitalists own as much as the majority of humanity, such is the growth of monopoly and the concentration of wealth and the means of production. As its whole history palpably demonstrates, capitalism cannot get rid of its periodic crises of overproduction, which are a recurrent characteristic of its being.
It cannot get rid of unemployment, poverty, homelessness or the endless wars that are so destructive of human life and humanity’s material wealth. Socialism alone can save humanity from these scourges.
Let the working class organise itself and deliver the coup de grace to this bloodthirsty system, which has for so long tormented the proletariat in the centres of imperialism and the hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people in the oppressed countries.
Capitalism is not a system that can be reformed to provide peace and prosperity to humanity. It needs to be overthrown; it must be overthrown. The expropriators must be expropriated!