Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rob Griffiths: Address to the Cambridge Union, 4 October 2012

Robert Griffiths, CPB
Cambridge Union debate, Thursday, October 4

Posted 9 Oct 2012 13:02 by phil katz

Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths spoke at the Cambridge Union as the third speaker of three in support of the motion that This House believes that capitalism has failed. A nineteen year old engineering student who is secretary of the University Communist Society also spoke in favour.

The motion was lost by a margin of 253 votes to 193 with 90 recorded abstentions. Rob Griffiths delivered the following speech:

"Comrades, or at least those whom I can call that after this evening’s vote.

Most of the mass media are in the hands of capitalist monopolies or the capitalist state, and they promote the capitalist system 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. I have 10 minutes to put the opposite case and so I hope you will forgive me if, Mr President, I don’t take take any interventions or points of information from the floor.

The motion before you is clear enough. ’This House believes that capitalism has failed’. It doesn’t ask you to abolish capitalism next week or next year. It doesn’t require you to support any alternative form of society. It doesn’t advocate socialism or communism, still less the feudalism which Mr John Longworth [President of the British Chambers of Commerce, speaking against] seems to be so worried about.

You will, therefore, have noticed the shoals of anti-Red herrings launched by the opposition during the course of the debate. They are intended to divert your attention from the sole proposition under consideration.

In the Communist Manifesto of 1848, Marx and Engels recognised how capitalism had revolutionised the face of the earth. But they also warned that:

Modern bourgeois society ... [which] has conjured up such gigantic means of production and exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether-world whom he has called up by his spells.

Could there be a more apt description of today’s economic and financial crisis, the longest and deepest for 80 years? And how does today’s sorcerer and his apprentices look to overcome this crisis?

By exploiting labour more intensively, cutting jobs, wages, pensions and public services, and seeking new markets in the former Soviet Union, China, India and the Middle East, doing whatever it takes. But no serious steps will be taken to control the powers of the nether-world. The bankers will mostly escape the consequences of their actions.

Meanwhile, the world’s banks and financial markets have, so far, received public subsidies and pledges worth close on £20 trillion of public money to bail them out. That is enough to feed the 800 million people on this planet, in the capitalist world, who suffer malnutrition, including the 6 million children who die every year as a result.

It is enough to educate the 114 million children who, in the capitalist world, have no schools and the 584 million women who are illiterate.

And, by providing basic sanitation and safe drinking water for almost half of the earth’s 7 billion people, it is enough to eradicate preventable diseases which—in this capitalist world—kill 11 million children and 6 million adults every year.

In Britain, the bail-out bill so far is £1.3 trillion, about six times the total cuts in public spending planned over the next five years.

The banks have been handed £375 billion in Quantitative Easing—enough to keep open every closing Remploy factory for disabled workers or every shut-down Post Office for the next 10,000 years.

In reality, capitalism’s vast wealth and productive forces are not devoted to solving the most desperate, basic problems of billions of our fellow citizens. The giant monopolies which dominate every sector of the capitalist economy are driven by one over-riding goal: to maximise profit.

(By the way, I hope nobody has fallen for the myth of the ’free market’ being peddled by opposition this evening. There is no such thing because, in the modern capitalist economy, every sector of the economy is dominated by five, six or seven giant monopoly companies).

Ah, but the sorcerer’s well-rewarded apprentices say, that profit is needed to expand investment. So how true is this in, say, the vital pharmaceutical industry?

In the British Medical Journal this August, two eminent American academics reveal that the world’s seven biggest drugs companies spend around 80 per cent of their budget on sales and marketing, 12 times more than on innovative research. Their profits have grown six times more than their spending on research and development since 1990. They mark up the prices of drugs by as much as 569,000 per cent. They mainly develop products for their lucrative clients in Western markets. They use the patent system to deny cheap drugs to poorer peoples and then they lie on a massive scale about their operations.

I’ll skip over the cess-pit that is the armaments industry, with its corrupt deals with tame Arab dictators and its rampant profiteering at public expense, because I must mention that giant casino, the City of London, and the giant financial corporations which:

  • Mis-sell loan insurance and pension schemes, robbing more than 10 million people of £21 billion.
  • Fiddle the interest rates and make billions as a result.
  • Launder money for dictators and big business throughout the world.
  • And help monopolies and the super-rich in Britain stash more than £3 trillion in secret banks accounts and some 28 tax havens under British jurisdiction around the world.

Al Capone got 13 years in prison for fiddling his tax returns. Why aren’t Britain’s financial gangsters in the dock?

Capitalism’s well-paid propagandists plead that their system promotes democracy.

  • There was nothing democratic about slavery and the slave trade, which provided much of the capital, the raw materials and the markets for Britain’s Industrial Revolution.
  • There was nothing democratic about empires that imposed oppressive rule and cruel exploitation on subject peoples.
  • There was nothing democratic about the crucial support of Krupp, Thyssen, the Deutsche Bank and I G Farben who put Hitler into power or profited from his rule.
  • Nor was there anything democratic about the installation of dictators and their death squads across large parts of Latin America, Africa and the Middle East for most of the 20th century.

Democratic rights have been fought for and won by the people, never willingly granted by their rulers.

This is also true of progressive taxation, the welfare state, comprehensive education, employment and trade union rights and many other measures to combat capitalist privilege and inequality.

Now, we see the monopoly corporations and their paid-for politicians rolling back those democratic and social gains, telling us that we should obey the bond markets, the Bank of England, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation and all those unelected, unaccountable bodies that represent big business interests in our society.

• Capitalism is failing the people—especially the young people—of Britain and Europe today.

• Capitalism has failed and continues to fail billions of people around the world.

• Capitalism is failing the planet and its whole eco-system.

Why? Because most of the power and wealth is in the hands of a small minority of the population, who take their decisions on the basis of private and corporate self-interest.

The sorcerer’s apprentices tell us that nothing else is possible because of ’human nature’ which, they say while looking in the mirror, is predominantly selfish, greedy and short-sighted—like capitalism, in fact. The opening speech from the representative of this evening’s corporate sponsors talked of the ’greed, selfishness and ignorance’ of human nature.

Really! Does that describe you?

Can we not build a society based on hard work and human ingenuity, but also on the principles of coordination, cooperation, solidarity, democacy and environmental sustainability?

If you think we can, then you will support the motion."

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