Ten friends out for a meal. If you added up all the wealth of the table, one has 90%. The other 9 have the remaining 10% between them. The rich one is dining out on steak, lobster, and expensive wine – while the other nine are ordering the side salad and water as it is all their budget can afford. The bill comes and the wealthy person turns to the nine and says ‘we must split the bill equally’. The nine look at each other and grimace. Someone pipes up ‘But…we didn’t have any steak or wine’ The rich person quips back ‘That may well be true…but I didn’t have any of your salad either!’
Osborne and Cameron claim that the whole population will have to make “sacrifices”. What these defenders of capitalism utterly and deliberately fail to tell us is that the overwhelming burden of the sacrifice will have to be made by the working class. Perhaps, the average multi-millionaire or billionaire will only be able to “afford” two yachts in the Caribbean, instead of the more normal, three. Perhaps, some of the wealthy will have to delay refurbishment of their opulent gated homes, for a few months etc. The reality is that capitalism can never be made to work in any other way. It always works in the interests of the rich minority and against the interests of the majority.
Osborne said his Budget would set "out a plan for Britain for the next five years to keep moving us from a low wage, high tax, high welfare economy; to the higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare country we intend to create". Of the present Budget itself it is hardly necessary to speak. It’s the same old story. Profits are being squeezed and the government is trying to protect them by squeezing costs. This, at a time when workers are themselves being squeezed by rising food prices and gas and electricity bills. As members of the working class living on state benefits are well aware, it is quite impossible to put a little by for a rainy day, for every day is forecast as a downpour, and trying to keep your head out of the deluge is a constant problem. And for those who are wholly dependent on benefits as their only source of income, their whole lifestyle is dictated by their resourcefulness in eking out their pittance from one day to the next. Yet this Tory government is planning to make things worse. As socialists who know how capitalism works – how it can’t be controlled by governments and how it can never been made to work in the interest of wage workers. It is not “Britain’s hard working families” that are being put first, but profits. As it has to be, and always will be, under capitalism.
When chancellors of exchequers oppose higher wages and decent welfare benefits they do so because their immediate and predominant responsibility, by virtue of being the Government, is to keep the capitalist system functioning in the only way that capitalism can function, that is by enabling the capitalists to make profits. Socialism is not a scheme for redistributing wealth and income inside capitalism, but a system of society to replace the capitalist system. Like a has-been stage magician, the government must keep on performing its budgetary tricks to give the appearance of doing something—anything. Taxes go up, go down, and are moved from place to place in a blinding game of find the lady. Underneath it all is a watered-down version of an old illusion—the illusion that the state can control the economy, can direct its course, by playing around with its tax structure. That the act remains the same, time after time, will not stop the show, since the has-beens refuse to stop. The Budget confirm that the role of governments is to run the state machine in the general interest of the capitalist class, the tiny minority of super-rich who own and control the means of wealth production. That governments really are the ‘executive committee of the ruling class’ that Marx said they were.
In the meantime we have to live with it. That doesn’t mean we have to take what the government has planned lying down. The precise cut in our living standards is not something the government can decree. It depends on how determinedly we resist. In other words, on the class struggle. But, since the cards under capitalism are always stacked against us, this will only be a defensive, rearguard action to try to stop things getting worse. Yet another reason why we should be organising, not just to limit the damage, but to put an end to capitalism and usher in a society based on common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, so that production can be geared to satisfying people’s needs instead of being subordinate to making profits for the few.
Austerity should be resisted to the extent that it can be – that’s what trade unions and such organisations are for – but without illusions. The most that can be achieved is a few mitigations here and there or a different distribution of the cuts, but they cannot be avoided. This is not defeatism. It is realism. The only alternative to the present austerity is neither a change of economic policy nor a change of government. It is a change of system, from minority ownership and production for profit to common ownership and production directly to meet people’s needs, in a word, to socialism. What a future capitalism has to offer workers: struggles to try to slow down things getting worse in a world that it technically capable of providing plenty for all. Socialism is, quite literally, the only realistic alternative to the present austerity. That’s what those who call themselves socialists should be advocating. As long as the employing class own the means of production the toilers will battle in vain for a large share of the world’s wealth. The only remedy is for the workers to own and work in common the land, factories, railways, etc. The path to the socialist cooperative commonwealth is contained in the policy of the Socialist Party. Join it and work for its triumph.