Capitalising on Marxism

10th July 2001

Given privatisation, no supertax, the shunning of Old Labour and partnerships with business, you'd think Marxism was long dead in British government. Unfortunately you'd be wrong, for despite the collapse of the USSR, Marxism lives on here in a new form. A few examples from that venerable document, The Communist Manifesto, commissioned in our capital city 154 years ago, should suffice to make this clear.

Marx believed that capitalists stole the wealth produced by the workers and so he demanded "a heavy and progressive tax" to enable the state to give it back to them. Today the largest source of government revenue (27%) is 'the income tax'. Its bands are 10%, 22% and 40% which indeed present a formidable gradient. Some might argue that at least we no longer have the 90% bracket, but it should be noted that in those days we did not have 17.5% VAT nor 22% National Insurance. (Why bother being progressive if you can get away with a great big flat rate?) Despite this concurrence with Marx's belief, contemporary governments do not justify their policy by referring to The Manifesto. Indeed to be certain they are not accused of being Marxists, they are careful to tax even the poor. Thus a person may only earn 87 a week before being hit by both PAYE and NI.

A second recommendation from Marx was the centralisation of industry and agriculture including transport. In speech and writing, both Conservatives and Labour heartily reject this doctrine, yet in practice they embrace it. The privatisation exercises of the past 20 years have removed the Crown from the factory gate but in most cases, they have left a sceptre behind the scenes, either as a member of the board or as an all-powerful regulator. This arrangement has given the government the advantage of power without the disadvantage of responsibility.

Marx also said we should "[centralise] credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank". The recently instigated independence of the Bank of England is an attempt to deny this article of faith. But for practical purposes the Bank is still an arm of the Treasury. It cannot refuse to print government money, nor decide its own fiscal strategy apart from government spending, nor avoid bailing out failed companies when instructed. As for the 'private' banks, the government controls them through the FSA. As for the future, what could be more "centralised" than a European Bank?

As a final example, The Communist Manifesto also demands "free education for all children in public schools". This policy at least seems to be a consistent exercise of Marxist theory and practice today. But if Marx were alive and saw the state of some of these public schools, would he not applaud the efforts of workers to save money and provide better ones for their community? He might even consider tax credits.

In this case, as in all the others, governments enact Marxist policies while rejecting Marxist theory.

Marx was wrong in theory but at least he had a just aim: the restoration of property to those who earned it. Today's governments in contrast, continue to centralise property but with no such aim - they take it because they desire control of it. Since 'power-lust' is not a very presentable political theory, they merely hope that by saying they reject Marxist doctrine no one will notice they are continuing to practice it.

Marx has not given us the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, but the Dictatorship of the Leader of the Ruling Party: a situation belonging to the Dark Ages. Marxism is dead in theory and so its unjustifiable practices should be banished from politics. It is time we had a more enlightened political theory for protecting the interests of the workers, a theory based on the rights of actual individuals, not nameless members of class struggles. It is time for laissez-faire capitalism.

- Henry Afton