Rascal profiteers, here is money
Big corporations have used for decades their capital to speculate instead of maintaining factories and employment at home. Imperialists are always exploiting cheap workers abroad. Marx depicts problems Swan River Settlement Western Australia 1829 on
Rascal profiteers, here is money.
Fernando García Izquierdo.
It was given as a novelty in the press, five weeks ago, that a famous transnational corporation has been continually reducing its manufacturing activities for the last seven or eight years and is now concentrating on making money out of money.
‘By the time the 2008 economic crisis hit,’ says Time magazine, ‘General Electrics had gone from being an industrial innovator to being the country’s sixth largest bank, relying on financial wizardry rather than engineering.’ This is done, we are further told, in order ‘to satisfy investors.’ Investors of course are those that lay out money for the precise purpose of securing at the end of the day a bigger chunk of money, nothing else.
And the magazine finds it quite logical, it would appear, that everything should be done to satisfy said investors. The rich and powerful ought ever to be kept quite content. This is perfectly clear capitalism through and through. Adam Smith, the first in a long list of learned sycophants, at the very beginning of capitalism, said that ‘the rich owner had to be satisfied’; though he generously adds that the workers should receive a ‘subsistence amount.’
That is the capitalist’s main purpose in life, his ‘raison d’être’, to accumulate. There was first in history a ‘primitive accumulation’ through wars and massacres. Then came the time when the victors, sparing the lives of defeated enemies, learned how to utilise them as slave labour, and the notion of profit (if not the word) entered the mind of the rich man, exploitation.
One day in history, the man of property, transforming part of his wealth into capital, purchased some instruments, then raw material and other means of production, paid some poor men some agreed wages. Or he might have been a clever dodger, who borrowed the money from some usurer, and the operation comprises payment of interest. Speculation necessarily follows, banking and in the end financial wizardry, as Time says.
But we are not going to enter here in the matter of the birth of capitalism and all the methods of speculation necessarily accompanying the system. My interest in writing this article is limited to discovering how and why the generous company mentioned in the article (‘its nickname says everything: Generous Electric’) changed from manufacturing into a bank speculating. And secondly, what happened to the workers in the meantime? Or, putting it differently, what made a normal corporation turn (as we learn) into a joint for making money out of money, simply with the stroke of the enchanter’s wand.
‘General Electric, the manufacturing giant, (started) in 1892… (it) grew into a multinational powerhouse that made everything from lightbulbs to locomotives.’ Since that year thousands (then perhaps millions) of workers everywhere have been employed, have been given their wages, enabled to buy their daily bread. Now that is finished (no engineering) if I understand the article correctly. The writer must know what that signifies… unemployment for the young, drugs, crime or joining (as an alternative) the army, etc.
There have always been this sort of megatrends, that is clear. What has varied is the shamelessness, the intensity of the crime. Through my hands, as an insignificant lawyer in 1970, passed some files where matters more or less like the present one of the generous transnational were concocted. Small matters, of course, if compared with the robbery apparently being performed (having been performed for decades) by the Swiss Banks and all the crews of so many pirate firms that have been operating in the European Union.
During the second third of the twentieth century, the so-called Eurodollar Crisis, nearly all firms, juridical persons, from bankers to pharmaceuticals, speculated. It could not have been otherwise. The System led you to it, as everybody then knew, as everybody knows it today.
The Wolves of Wall Street.
Big Cities, Big Counting Houses, Big Investors, Agitating Activists, Sharks, Wolves, Scoundrels of all kinds. Who said that communism (during the Cold War) was working to destroy democracy? Capitalism-imperialism was, and in the process was working to destroy mankind.
During what is called ‘the Enlightenment’ in the eighteenth century there were some philosophers who contended that ‘man was wolf to man.’ Seeking power, domination, exploitation, war, as Timon of Athens knew, in his time: this is the cause of revolutions.
The history of society has always been the history of revolution and the organised proletariat will one day deliver humanity from the evils which now oppress it. All the great thinkers that have existed agreed on this. Real revolutionaries will be needed. What can we do the people asked Timon, twenty-six centuries ago; we cannot live on grass (they said), on berries, water, as beasts and birds and fishes, nor on the beasts themselves, the birds, and fishes, we need help, we need jobs, we need bread: what is to be done? Well (the answer came directly), if you want to know go and fight them: the real enemy of mankind, the exploiters, the activists and the other wolves nowadays stalking about, in New York, the City, Brussels, Frankfort… finish once and for all with that financial wizardry for there is boundless theft in the superior spheres of our society, free world my foot! ‘Rascal thieves, here is gold, go, suck the subtle blood of the grape till the high fever seethe your blood to froth and so escape hanging.’ And thou, the people, assault the Wall that girdles in those wolves, ‘out with your knives and cut your trusters throats!’ That was twenty-six centuries ago. We have not changed much, we have learned little.
A story with a witty end.
Karl Marx, towards the end of the first volume of Capital deals briefly with the question of colonialism, and specially with the employment of workers in the European colonies. For Marx was not only a genius; he was a humanist, always thinking of the condition of the labouring classes and always fighting for workers’ rights.
The industrial revolution was already in full swing, and capitalism-imperialism too, when the story we are going to relate took place. In history, all the humanists and other thinkers have always agreed not only that the working class is necessary, as could not have been otherwise, but that all growth, creation of value, all the wealth of a nation is ultimately due to the working class.
Not unnaturally, therefore, he refers to the question of the working class and, in this particular case, under colonialism.
The Spaniards never brought their workers from the home country. Those that came to America were mainly ‘conquistadores’ and ‘misioneros’; some belonged to the nobility, including the impoverished hidalgos who wanted to get money, gold, as well as members of the church. Even though destitute men came in great numbers all the time from the Peninsula, engaged as sailors and soldiers, these were only to do hard manual work.
For agriculture and mining, from the start, the Spaniards used slave labour, supplied abundantly by the native populations of the islands (the poor ones were decimated with work and infections in a few years) and of the mainland.
The English had a different philosophy. In North America, for instance, all the whites were superhumans, even those belonging to farming and trading classes, very religious people many of them, but not of the same religion as the Southern Europeans. No matter how miserably had the people lived in the British Isles, in North America they became landowners.
To exploit massively the lands they conquered was their purpose. Eventually they imported cheap labour. Slaves brought in great numbers from Africa.
And the tactics followed by other Northern Europeans were rather similar. The Dutch have always been a proud protestant race, like the English, and at bottom, like them, a nation of merchants and shopkeepers. The French (like the Spanish) lived more intimately in contact with the natives and often made love to the prettiest native women.
In Australia things happened differently, and it took many years of exploration and colonisation to complete the conquest of the entire vast continent, as can be imagined. Marx refers in particular to the story of the Swan River settlement, about which I am going to write in greater detail.
The transportation of convicts forms part of the country’s early history, really with the birth of the nation. We can say that all of them belonged to the working class and that they contributed a great deal to the building of what is today a very prosperous and free land. Colonisation started in 1787-1788, in what is now called New South Wales, with the arrival, in May 1787, of the so-called First Fleet at Botany Bay; and then the fleet moved, in January 1788, on to Sydney Cove, where Sydney Town was founded. This fleet brought, together with a crew of sailors and soldiers engaged in the service of the Crown, a few hundred convicts, namely 586 men and 192 women. These and many like them in successive transportations were the people who founded Australia, working people, I repeat, farmhands and factoryhands in the old country, or else workers from the towns and cities, men caught stealing bread for survival and women ambling at night in the streets of said towns and cities of Great Britain and Ireland.
The British (as the Spaniards had done earlier, on many occasions) claimed possession at once, in the name of the Crown, to great extensions of land; and a whole continent in the case of Terra Australis. It all became British. But where the Spaniards utilised the natives, for mining and agriculture, the native Aborigines of the new continent were simply pushed away from the land in the case of the fertile eastern coast and on to the desert, more and more inland, until they were left on absolutely barren land. As for the Island of Tasmania, inhabited by a Polynesian race, the conquerors just exterminated the lot. Not one was left to tell.
But let us revert to the matter of settlement in Western Australia, to which Marx refers in his book. The discovery took place in 1828. European explorers had passed by and seen the land to be inhospitable, possessed of such an unbelielvably torrid climate that the first to arrive, the Portuguese, did not even bother to disembark. The Dutch did try to settle, but gave up and rushed away pretty quickly. As for the French, they did try to get a foothold on the North West coast and, likewise, as soon as they saw the imposing emptiness of that most arid land, changed their mind. They have left written reports of their endeavours: they saw a crew of natives walking about in the distance. It is not sure whether they got in touch. They found them so few and so miserable that they did not feel like staying in the new land. Besides, the women were very ugly.
It was in1828, forty years after the settlement in Sydney, that a Secretary of State for Colonies despatch reserved new land on the West coast (Western Australia), for the Crown, with provision for distribution of land to colonise the territory. A most cursory exploration had preceded this Royal decision to found a new colony. Makeshift arrangements were concluded concerning the way it was to be governed and the eventual establishment effected. As well as the granting of the land to future proprietors, etc.
A fleet departed from London; along the Thames it went; then the English Channel, the open sea and the big mysterious oceans of the world to Australia. The first ship to arrive, on 25 April,1829, anchored off Garden Island, and Captain Fremantle, who led the expedition, declared the foundation of Swan River Colony for Britain on 2 May 1829.
But let us go back a few moments in history. As soon as news of the discovery of some habitable land (on the south west of the continent) had reached the capital of the empire, there was tremendous agitation in the House and in the City. Another extension of the British Empire! The usual speculators began to raise money to ensure that the exploitation of the discovered land would be carried out to the utmost. Tremendous agricultural revenues were expected, as well as other not specified gains. Everyone had in mind the successful experience in New South Wales, which they hoped would be repeated.
The City bosses and the usual profiteers started planning at once. The wealthy aristocrats of old and the new-rich of the modern bourgeoisie were called together, experience and money. But about workers nobody seemed to have given a thought.
In a country like Great Britain where only a few people were proprietors and the rest totally dispossessed, exploitation was the norm, legions of workers who produced wealth for the rich. From the point of view of the exploitation of the Swan River settlement in Australia, an Act of Parliament was passed, a limited liability company was constituted, and the stock exchange, of course began to function, high half-yearly dividends were promised. A fleet was prepared and all the necessaries were embarked.
‘The colonisers took to Swan River means of subsistence and means of production to the amount of Sterling Pounds 50,000.’ And it turned out that colonisation was a catastrophe, because it was meant to be a colony of free men. In fact, it was known from experience, not only in other parts of Australia, but also, and particularly from the North American colonies, that in the circumstances slaves were needed.
‘Colonisation in Swan River was impossible,’ Marx writes, ‘since it was to be a colony of free men and (the catastrophe that followed) had to do in fact with slaves being needed… Slavery is the sole natural basis of colonial wealth.’ And he goes on: ‘A great mass of capital, of seeds, implements, and cattle has perished from want of labourers to use it.’
When the news of the disaster, including some dead from starvation, reached the capital of the empire, late in January 1830, it was too late. ‘Free immigrants were given land, but they could not begin the exploitation without labour,’ says Marx. ‘In England the capitalist farmer possesses a number of handfarms, a miserable, wretched, pauper class.’ Free labourers did not exist on Swan River. For, in Australia, free men expected to earn more than the bare subsistence wage, whereas back ‘in England (Marx further comments), farm-horses, being valuable property, were better fed than English peasants.’
‘However,’ Marx goes on, ‘we are not concerned here with the condition of the colonies. The only thing that interests us is the secret discovered in the new world by the Political Economy of the old world, and proclaimed on the house-tops: that the capitalist mode of production and accumulation, and therefore capitalist private property, have for their fundamental condition the annihilation of self-earned private property; in other words the expropriation of the labourer.’
The Swan River adventure started in 1829. By the time Marx wrote about it, some years had passed. The appropriation of Western Australia had taken place quite anarchically, always favouring the rich. ‘The shameless lavishing of uncultivated land on aristocrats and capitalists by the Government has produced, especially in Australia, in conjunction with the stream of men that the gold-diggings attract, and with the competition that the importation of English commodities causes even to the smallest artisan, an ample relative surplus labouring population… (has suddenly brought) a glut of the Australian labour-market, and prostitution in some places there flourishes as wantonly as in the London Haymarket’ and therefore accumulation of capitalist private property, and the fundamental annihilation of self-earned private property; in other words, the expropriation of the labourer.
It is the same today.
Modern capitalism, too, forgets the working class and this why whole nations are heading today towards a still greater catastrophe to the one that hit in 2008. Thus the mouthpiece of capitalism-imperialism’s article we were referring to at the beginning of this article. An international powerhouse that made everything (we are told), a manufacturing giant which became big when the United States became the world’s sole superpower, by 2008 had turned to do business differently and more quickly. Financial wizardry.
Is that all the free media want to tell us? Don’t they tell us anything about the many workers who must have lost their jobs, in consequence, how humanity suffers so that investors, speculators, activists and wolves of a certain category may be satisfied at the end of day, when it is announced at Wall Street that once again some more money has been successfully made?
If I had written an article about this,I would have done it as follows.
‘In 1892, a United States company founded by Thomas Edison began to make lightbulbs. It employed, say, five hundred workers. Then, on such a date, the company doubled its production expanding in two or three directions, bulbs, etc., etc. And additionally the now mega corporation went onto the manufacture of such and such other things, different electrical appliances, say. Three thousand or ten thousand more workers were employed. Kitchen utensils, perhaps, afterwards, and also refrigerators, soon employing, say, three hundred thousand workers. The corporation went on expanding, now very quickly, because of the second world war and the Marshal Plan. Still more when all the regions in the home country opened modern factories, or on the other side of the Mexican border. Americans began to lose their jobs in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, etc. By the time the Cold War ended, the megacorporation had subsidiaries in all the countries of the earth… and so on and so forth’.
By the time the 2008 economic crisis suddenly hit the glorious system, the transnational corporations (this one and others) had gone from being industrial innovators to being the country’s sixth, seventh, eighth… largest banks, relying on financial wizardry rather than working for the production of commodities. I would have studied what this represented for Human Society, relating unemployment with criminality, etc.
On a marginal note, I would have tried to know what the capitalists have done to find such cheap workers, in countries like Bangladesh, India, Thailand or wherever. I would have strolled about in the deserted industrial towns of the free world, and tried to discover what had happened in them.
Now passing from what capitalism has done to the people to what capitalism has done with towns and cities and even with our planet in general, I would have liked to be able to describe the panorama of desolation that you behold with your bare eyes if you walk in streets and alleyways of industrial towns and cities in Europe, particularly those very prosperous two decades ago, now in decay. I have been walking in one of them these last few years. In Andalucia.
We had been there several times, my elder brother having bought an appartment, in a tall building facing the beach, shiny Coast of the Sun. This time there was desolation. No war had passed through there, no tsunami, no geological devastation, flood or big storm. It had happened, that was all. All falling in decay, as if following an order come from above, Almighty God. Everything, people and things brought down in society, not by God, but by Almighty Capitalism.
… as I walked with my wife on the promenade, in the past always so full of holiday-makers and the people from the land, and we passed by a musical cabaret, which appeared to be closed, I closed my eyes, for I felt dizzy.
… you couldn’t stand, then, passing by and hearing the music, always a high number of decibels. Opening my eyes again I saw the establishment, only glass and steel or aluminium bars; you could not see inside, all blackness.
… we found scarcely any people walking with us that night, and I asked my wife, please, to stop and sit down. All benches were free, a novelty in that promenade and as Nicky preferred to keep her peace, I just looked again at the cabaret, in the distance, so dark and positively ugly.
… within a minute I had fallen in a reverie. There had been a platform once, not so long ago, with the orchestra, about twelve real professionals, another time there was a lovely Cuban singer. And at least once the whole summer three Mulatto girls imported from Brazil.
… I now could see the girls in my imagination. Dancing and frisking about on the platform practically naked, bending at times, their hands hanging down, kissing the men at the tables who had stood up excited and generous-looking. I had never in my life seen more beautiful bodies.
We walked right to the end of the promenade. Long, long ago an eucalyptus forest had been there. One winter a constructora visited the area and within a few months the trees had disappeared and a whole new town had been built there.
The inside of this little town had completely fallen in decay. The night was black, not a bit of moonlight or the light of any street lamp. Suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a large plaza. Mountains of rubbish creaked beneath our tread. Buildings, ten or twelve storey-high were all around. Not one appeared to be tenanted, for not a light or sound of life came out of them. Lumps of fungus clung like clotted blood on the façade of one. It was the ‘OFICINA DE VENTAS’. All the window-panes had been shattered, and net curtains were ballooning in and out with the breeze.