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Issue #1452      28 April 2010

Culture & Life

Cops, capitalism and the steep road ahead

On the “reality” TV show The Force the other night, NSW police descended on a house in the Sydney suburb of Auburn to execute a search warrant. The coppers were looking for evidence of car “rebirthing” (stealing cars and then combining elements from different stolen vehicles to hopefully make identification difficult – or at least confused – and thereby to make resale easier).

The police did in fact find the evidence they were looking for, but a hostile crowd gathered, jeering and threatening violence. The all too common crime of car theft – even organised car theft as here – did not put the people from this house into the category of criminals as far as the crowd was concerned.

They were only too well aware that the people whom our legal system serves – corporate bosses, MPs, socialites and “personalities”, brokers and financiers and all the rest who make up the so-called “big end of town” – are just as willing as the car rebirthers to believe that the law does not actually apply to them if it conflicts with their self-interest.

The crowd knew, because everybody knows, that the local entrepreneur running the rebirthing racket was only doing on a smaller scale what the business world does on a large scale everyday. The people in the crowd might not have thought it through very thoroughly, but they knew it, all the same.

The tendency on the part of the lumpen proletariat – the underclass of our society – to regard society itself as a hostile force and the police in particular as the enemy is a significant function of capitalism. More than once it has had a pernicious influence on the working class, who are also frequently victims of the police.

Culturally, this tendency manifests itself in the practice of treating underworld figures as heroes rather than villains and thugs. This is particularly so among the ultra-left, who are prone to see criminals as rebels, and to readily imbue them with the characteristics of Robin Hood or Ned Kelly, rather than as anti-social elements who actually weaken and divert the class struggle.

Hoodlums, thieves, burglars, thugs and the rest, even when organised in gangs, rarely act for the common good. They are always on the lookout for what will serve their own advancement, their own interests.

They certainly do not “rob the rich to give to the poor” but to keep it for themselves. It is one of the expressed principles of our society that it is forbidden to pillage what other people have worked hard to produce. Of course, capitalism is based on doing just that; it’s just one of the many contradictions of that very flawed system we in Australia live under.

To prevent the people from rising up and ringing the ruling class’s collective neck for the thieving rogues they are, the capitalists disguise what they do, making a great pretence that they actually adhere to the principle “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”, which sounds a lot fairer than it really is, anyway.

Wage labour is based on a simple (but unspoken) principle: workers are paid a part, but never the whole, of the value of what they produce. The unpaid part is appropriated by the employer for their own benefit. The workers produced all of it but only receive part of it. And this is called “a fair day’s pay”?

When capitalism was a newly emerging system, thrusting against the restraints of the still-prevailing feudal system, it railed against unfairness: the emerging class of factory-owners, financiers and merchants needed skilled workers in their enterprises, so they campaigned for universal public education (at least of boys), which the feudal gentry had no need for since they saw the common people only as servants, shepherds and corn-mill attendants.

The emerging capitalists did not seek to educate the masses because they felt that ordinary people had a right to an education. No, they needed educated people to work in their industrial and financial enterprises.

(Today, when they have more workers available than they have suitable jobs for, they have much less interest in providing a high quality education for the masses, and more interest once again in providing quality education only to an elite. Unfairness now suits their purpose.)

Capitalism established the working class because it needed such a class; it turned peasants off their land, fenced in what had been common land so they could no longer support themselves, all so that they would have to leave the land and gather in the towns, there to toil for the owners of mills and factories – for the new soon-to-be-ruling class, the capitalists.

That working class, as Marx showed, would eventually be the grave diggers of the capitalist system itself, through collective struggle and great sacrifice and effort, finally overthrowing the rule of capitalism altogether and ushering in a new social system, a higher social system, socialism.

The road to socialism, like the road to the stars, has been and still is steep and full of obstacles, but with effort and strength of will, and clear political understanding of what is required, we can be confident that the working class will get there.  

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