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Issue #1771      March 29, 2017

The forces of evil are gathering

We are living in momentous times. Global capitalism is in its deepest crisis and has no way of resolving it except by war, which it uses to feed the global machine. The unabated, excessive greed of monopoly capital and its very existence is predicated on a ceaseless search for increased profits at any cost. There is no room in that search for concerns about people’s needs, for sharing the wealth, for building a better world – only for personal power, greed and an insatiable need for more of both.

The headquarters of Mussolini’s Italian Fascist Party, 1934.

Planning and decision-making to maintain control, grow wealth and protect ownership take place in boardrooms, in secret conclaves and in deepest privacy. There they hatch the plans and policies to take over, subvert, destroy, plunder and colonise other countries and their resources. They are aided and protected by a corrupt media and what we shall call the state apparatus: the armed forces, the police (both secret and overt), security services, the courts and parliaments, regardless of who is currently misrepresenting us in power.

Today, surreptitiously, legislation is introduced that limits democratic rights, purportedly to protect the community from terrorism, a terrorism that grew from their imperialist policies.

At the same time there is a concerted campaign to provide a tangible, visible enemy: yesterday Jews, today Muslims. Both major parties preach “law and order” while propagating the politics of fear. At the same time, trade unions are under savage attack and the programs and services we need are either cut completely or under-funded. Jobs are disappearing, unemployment is growing and austerity is savagely promoted. Yet no link is drawn between disappearing democratic rights and growing poverty, between the lack of hope and destruction of community, between the growing and no longer concealed corruption at all powerful levels and the inevitable increase in crime as people are denied the resources to live and hope for the future. This is not just a viewpoint – these are undeniable facts!

Global

Nor is it only an Australian problem. It is a global problem, because we live in a global world and the policies of fear, austerity and inequality come from those who control the global markets, not from ineffectual but compliant politicians.

In previous addresses I have given examples of these problems in the US and the UK, and they are far worse than ever, but today I want to illustrate what is happening in South Africa.

Let me read a statement from South Africa’s biggest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, which held its 10th National Congress from 12-15 December 2016 in Cape Town:

1. This “Workers’ Parliament” could not be meeting at a more critical time for the world working class in general and the South African working class in particular. All over the world, workers are under attack from employers who, as always, are making us, the working class, pay for their global crisis of monopoly capitalism. They are destroying jobs, cutting wages, attacking trade unions and reducing spending on essential social services.

2. The foundation of South African racist capitalism is the super-exploitation, impoverishment and unemployment of, and extreme racial inequalities against, the majority black and African working class. The ongoing global crisis of the capitalist system simply worsens these already pre-existing horrible conditions of the black and African working class. Congress will be sending a clear warning that unless these are urgently attended to, the country is headed for a violent class and racial confrontation, as so many voices have warned already.

Jobs, especially in manufacturing, are becoming ever more precarious. Whole industries like steel are in danger of disappearing, throwing thousands more onto the streets. The shocking employment statistics released on November 22, 2016 confirm beyond any doubt that South Africa’s economy is in deep crisis. Unemployment rose to a record 27.1 % in the third quarter of 2016 – up from 26.6% in the second quarter and the highest since 2003! South Africa now has the highest unemployment rate among more than 60 emerging and developed countries.

Of particular concern to our members is that the manufacturing sector suffered the most job losses – 91,000. Quite apart from the human misery this level of unemployment causes, it adds up to a colossal waste of potential for the 5.8 million unemployed people to create wealth and to supply essential goods and deliver services to the poor.

An inevitable consequence of these levels of unemployment is that employed workers will have more unemployed family members to support from their meagre wages. The pathetic proposed R3500 (AU$350) minimum wage will do virtually nothing to improve this lack of income for millions of South Africans, especially in those households where nobody has a job. It also encourages employers to bully their workers into even worse levels of exploitation, using the threat of the sack to quell any resistance.

What makes all this even worse is the country’s white racist level of inequality. An international survey of CEOs’ pay by Bloomberg revealed that South African CEOs (who are still predominantly white and male) are the seventh highest paid in the world – receiving more than those in Norway, Spain, Australia, France and Japan. These, like the six with higher-paid CEOs, are all rich countries in which the working class is far better off than in SA.

This shows that South Africa is now by far the most unequal society in the world. CEOs’ pay exceeded that of the average person by a greater ratio than in any of the 25 countries Bloomberg measured. The income of the average CEO is 541 times more than the income of an average South African, as measured by the gross domestic product per person. Only second-placed India with a differential of 483 times comes anywhere close.

The most important conclusion from these horrifying statistics on unemployment and inequality, which will be drawn by delegates to next week’s Numsa Congress, is that both are inherent features of the racist monopoly capitalist system, based on the super exploitation of the African working class.

This crisis also makes building strong unions more vital than ever and the National Congress will be a platform for Numsa members to plot a fight-back strategy, to build a powerful, united army of workers to resist the horrendous levels of poverty and unemployment and to fight for a living wage.

Imperialism

Apart from the minimum wage differential, the above report could be referring to the US, the UK, Australia or Europe. We are living in the period of capitalism now commonly accepted as imperialism. What is the definition of imperialism? One is “a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through colonisation, use of military force, or other means.” The US has been the major imperial power for the best part of the last 80 years, but it is struggling to maintain its position.

Imperialism is in dire crisis, a situation that has not occurred before, so any resolution remains an unknown. We are in new territory. We don’t know how the crisis will unfold yet but we can look to the past for examples. In the crisis of the First World War in 1917 Russia it was resolved by revolution; in the 1930s in Germany where revolutionary activity was on the rise it was resolved by fascism.

What is fascism? Some think it a relic of the past, indigenous to Nazi Germany, that it is jackboot and swastika. In fact fascism was a product of Mussolini’s Italy. Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism that came to prominence in Italy in early 20th-century Europe, influenced by national syndicalism (the Italian equivalent of national socialism). Both used the language of genuine socialism to mislead the people. I have mentioned fascism many times in my addresses and described some of its tenets. The 14 steps to fascism have been described and hang on the wall in our foyer.

What happened in Germany in the 1930s and what is happening here was the gradual habituation of the people little by little to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information that the people could not understand, or so dangerous that even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. A scapegoat was required and found, fear needed to be instilled, and it was. Legislation gradually introduced to deal with the “scapegoat” extends to the curtailing of everyone’s freedoms, but we convince ourselves it is needed for our safety and security. Laws are introduced that traduce democratic rights but we accept them because we are told they are necessary for our protection. Trade union rights are curtailed, leaving workers unprotected and less able to organise but these are supposedly necessary to deal with corruption. Slowly the net tightens but lives go on as before because as yet we are not all affected.

Listen to the following by German historian Irene Guenther:

Germany appeared to be on the brink of civil war. The young Weimar Republic was wracked by armed street fighting waged mainly between Communists and Nazis. Foreclosures, bankruptcies, suicides and malnourishment all skyrocketed. Six million Germans, 40 percent of the working population was unemployed and thousands found themselves without a place to live ... By 1932 German industrial production was at 58 percent of 1928 levels. The effect of this decline was spiralling unemployment. By the end of 1929 around 1.5 million Germans were out of work; within a year this figure had more than doubled. By early 1933 unemployment in Germany had reached a staggering six million.

The effects this unemployment had on German society were devastating. While there were few shortages of food, millions found themselves without the means to obtain it. The children suffered worst, thousands dying from malnutrition and hunger-related diseases. Millions of industrial workers – who in 1928 had become the best-paid blue-collar workers in Europe – spent a year or more in idleness. But the Great Depression affected all classes in Germany, not just the factory workers. Unemployment was high among white-collar workers and the professional classes. A Chicago news correspondent in Berlin reported that, “60 percent of each new university graduating class was out of work”.

Here?

The real beneficiary of the Great Depression was Adolf Hitler. With public discontent soaring, membership of the NSDAP (Nazi Party) grew to record levels. In September 1930 the NSDAP increased its representation in the Reichstag almost tenfold, winning 107 seats. Two years later they won 230 seats, the most won by any single party during the entire Weimar period. Revolution was avoided by fascism.

Could it happen again? Could it happen here?

Think about what is occurring in Australia today. Could you have imagined our country locking up innocent men, women and children in concentration camps simply because they wanted to live a decent, free life? Could you have imagined Aboriginal children being tortured in white jails? Could you have imagined that we would go to war without parliamentary decision or that we would witness the cancellation of so many of our civil liberties? Could you have imagined people being denied the pension, university students incurring huge debts simply to be educated, people working until 70, trade unions under threat, legal services denied, growing job losses, hungry children, homelessness and hopelessness? Surely these were relics of the 1930s? No, they are characteristic of the 21st century!

Today we must choose either to seek the truth or bury our heads in the sand. The truth of course is a difficult path to follow. To seek the truth is to open a Pandora’s Box, because once you examine the truths, you are confronted with choices. Do I believe this? What impact will it have on my life? How do I know it is true? Can I ignore it? What are the implications? What can I do?

Fifty years ago, even 20 years ago, it was easy to bury your head in the sand and ignore the signs, but today it is no longer possible. Changes are occurring so rapidly, with crisis after crisis erupting across the world. Terrible wars of aggression for profit and power; the appalling displacement and death of so many innocent people; the Trump disaster in the US; Brexit; the growth of ultra-right fascist forces emerging around Europe, the US, Britain, and Australia; the displacement of millions from their homes and destruction of their cities; the environmental disasters and the huge loss of so many animal species. Here at home there are aggressive wars, increasing government and private corruption, growing job losses and rising poverty, homelessness and despair.

Dialectics or the dialectical method is a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments. Melbourne Unitarians [where this address was delivered – Ed] have always practised this kind of dialectics. That is one of our basic purposes, wishing to establish the truth through reasoned argument.

So let us provide the opportunities to have such reasoned argument about the state of the world and to determine possible solutions without fear or favour. We do all share concerns about the world and its crises and we do all recognise that we need to provide solutions.

What I have said today represents not just my deeply felt views. Ten years or more ago I would have suggested as such because what I observed then many people did not believe or did not want to be true. But now it is irrefutable. You may still try and disagree with my conclusions, but let’s have that dialectical discussion.

An address delivered by Marion Harper, Honorary Secretary of the Melbourne Unitarian Church, on Sunday March 19, 2017.

The Beacon

Next article – Taking Issue – Making America great for the top 1%

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