Oxfam: “we’re 10 years from Earth’s first trillionaire… and 230 years from ending poverty!”

The latest report by Oxfam, titled Inequality Inc., reveals that the world’s five richest men have more than doubled their wealth since 2020, while the vast majority of humanity is sinking deeper and deeper into squalor. Fearing for their system, a group of 250 “mega-rich,” calling themselves “Patriotic Millionaires,” are asking for a portion of their wealth to be taxed to fund social services. We say: we must take all their wealth and build a communist society fit for all.

While the bosses have the audacity to blame workers’ wage demands for rising prices, the Oxfam report reveals that the wealth of billionaires has grown at three times the rate of inflation. CEO pay has risen by more than 1,200 percent since 1978, while workers’ wages have only increased by 15.3 percent. The wealth of billionaires has reached such obscene levels that, if the five wealthiest men were to spend US$1 million a day, it would take them 476 years to run out of cash!

While the rich live it up, 800 million workers across the globe have collectively lost US$ 1.5 trillion over the past two years, equivalent to nearly a month’s wages each. Levels of poverty in the poorest countries are higher now than they were in 2019. Global inequality is now on par with inequality in South Africa, the most unequal single country in the world. In fact, inequality has reached levels unprecedented in human history. According to Oxfam, it would take 230 years at this rate to end poverty, but, in just ten years, we will see the world’s first dollar trillionaire.

As Marx pointed out, “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.”

Workers fight back, bosses fear for their system

Wolf is subsidised Image conceptphoto.info FlickrThere are currently massive farmers’ protests ongoing in Germany, France, and India / Image: conceptphoto.info, Flickr

The widening chasm between the rich and the rest of us has led to backlash the world over.

According to the report, cost of living protests occurred in 122 countries and territories in 2022. In the United States, more than 7.4 million work days were lost due to strikes in 2023, the most in almost a quarter century. Canada saw the most work days lost to strike since 2005. In the United Kingdom, 2022-2023 brought the most strike days lost since the 1980s.

As this article is being written, there are currently massive farmers’ protests ongoing in Germany, France, and India. Tens of thousands have recently taken to the streets in Argentina to protest attacks on standards of living. The list goes on.

This uprising has the capitalists afraid for their system. As Abigail Disney, the grand niece of Walt Disney, put it, “Throughout history, pitchforks were the inevitable consequence of extreme discontent.”

It is in this context that the wealthy have come up with their plan to save themselves from themselves through the wealth tax. However, it seems they have failed to ask themselves: if Oxfam has been putting out these reports year after year, why do things continue to get worse for the vast majority of society?

Capitalism: a system for producing inequality

Under capitalism, workers sell their ability to work to the capitalists for a wage or salary. This is not a free choice on the part of workers, but a necessity to survive, as workers do not own the means of production–the factories and workplaces. Over the course of the working day, workers produce more in value than the value of the wages that they are paid. That difference, known as ‘surplus value’, is where profits come from.

Billionaires can only exist through the massive extraction of the surplus created by workers, who since 2020 have been pushed down in ever-greater numbers into penury to boost the capitalists' profits. The massive increase in billionaires' profits thus depends on and is the direct result of the impoverishment and ever-more brutal exploitation of workers.

Paying workers a so-called “living wage” is incompatible with capitalism. It is therefore no surprise that, as the Oxfam report itself points out, “Just 0.4% of over 1,600 of the world’s largest and most influential companies are publicly committed to paying their workers a living wage.” 

The Oxfam report also outlines the immense growth of monopolies over the past decade, and their parasitic role. In response, Oxfam proposes governments “break up private monopolies and curb corporate power,” and that “governments can learn from current anti-monopoly cases, such as those against Amazon and Google in the USA and Europe.” 

BS Image Shelly Prevost Wikimedia CommonsWe cannot rely on the state to regulate capitalism, as Oxfam and some ‘socialists’ such as Bernie Sanders suggest / Image: Shelly Prevost, Wikimedia Commons

We certainly can learn from those anti-monopoly cases: learn precisely that they don’t work! It is true that monopolies create super profits. However, monopolies are not an aberration under capitalism: they are the product of its development to its highest stage. 

Bigger businesses that make more profits swallow up those that are less profitable. That’s why we see the emergence of monopolies, as Lenin explained in his text Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.

Imperialism is also responsible for the global syphoning off of wealth from the poor countries to the rich. This is not a new phenomenon, nor is it a policy choice; it is the inevitable result of capitalism.

Nor can we rely on the state to regulate capitalism, as Oxfam and some ‘socialists’ such as Bernie Sanders suggest. As the report points out, capitalists use the state to further their aims, such as lobbying to remove workers’ rights, rolling back child labour protections, putting restrictions on unions, and lowering taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

As Honore de Balzac once wrote, “Laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.” The state under capitalism exists to ensure the rule of the capitalists. 

The proposals laid out in the Oxfam report and the letter of the ‘Patriotic Millionaires’ do not work because they do not address the fundamental root of inequality, which is capitalism itself.

Communist revolution, not ‘patriotic millionaires’

The measures that milquetoasts ‘socialists’ or ‘patriot millionaires’ are proposing, such as a “‘modest’ 1.7% wealth tax on the richest 140,000 people,” represent a mere drop in the bucket compared to what is necessary to address the crisis in society. It’s also a drop in the bucket compared to what is possible with the wealth that the working class has created.

Abigail Disney Image U.S. Institute of Peace Wikimedia CommonsThe measures that ‘patriot millionaires’ are proposing represent a mere drop in the bucket compared to what is necessary / Image: U.S. Institute of Peace, Wikimedia Commons

Measures such as a wealth tax are ultimately a smokescreen for the capitalists while they continue to exploit us. Returning a small portion of their wealth is attempting to drain the sea with spoonfuls. Why should the bosses continue to have any of their profits, based as they are on the labour of the working class, while society falls apart?

Even if an attempt was made to implement it, this modest proposal would prove utopian in reality. Capital, being international, is able to flow from one tax regime to another. According to the Oxfam report, “about US$1 trillion in profits – 35% of foreign profits – were shifted to tax havens in 2022” alone.

As national gangs of capitalists engage in constant competition against one another, they constantly press the bought-and-paid politicians of their state for new subsidies and tax cuts to help outcompete their rivals. Any attempt to introduce tax hikes would be met with revolt, and capital flight.

Inequality is not a problem of distribution which the capitalist state can simply iron over (even if it wanted to)/ Rather, it is one of ownership of the means of production. The wealth of the capitalists will continue to build up, leaving the rest of us in the dirt, so long as the capitalists continue to own the banks, insurance companies, factories, offices and mines.

As a Financial Times article opined, “Capitalism’s political acceptability requires its adherents to polish off its rougher edges.” What we need is not “polish off [the] rougher edges” of capitalism; what we need is communism.

The concessions that the working class has gained in the past, such as the recognition of trade unions, were won by fierce class struggles: struggles that were often led by communists. However, as the report points out, “the past 10 years have witnessed ‘a consistent increase in the violation of workers’ rights across regions’, including widespread violations of the right to collective bargaining, as well as violence against and even the murder of trade unionists and workers.’” 

This is what capitalism has to offer in its senile decay.

The working class cannot wait 230 years for capitalism to end poverty. It’s hard to imagine that there will be much of a liveable planet left if capitalism is allowed to continue existing for a fraction of that time. The fact is, poverty will never be eliminated under capitalism, dependent as it is on a class of workers who own nothing but their ability to work.

A better world is possible, but we won’t achieve it by begging for crumbs; we will achieve it by taking over the entire bakery. In a communist society, in which the immense wealth created by the working class is put to use by the toilers, not the bosses, we will be able to end war, poverty, disease, and starvation, and build in its place a society of plenty for all. This is the future the International Marxist Tendency is fighting for. If this is also the future you want, then this is your party, the banner of your victory: so join today!

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