As the cost of living soars, public services fall apart and anger grows apace in the working class, the government is blaming, in equal measure, the workers (for daring to try and hold back the steep decline in their wages) and Vladimir Putin (for daring to resist Nato aggression).
Tory party chairman Nadhim Zahawi managed to blame both Putin and the British working class at the same time, declaring that nurses should call off their strikes and abandon their pay demands because their action risked playing into the hands of the Russian president, who allegedly ‘wants to fuel inflation’ in the west. According to this fantastical logic, NHS workers have chosen the ‘wrong time’ to strike over poverty pay because a pay rise will ‘increase inflation’ and ‘help Vladimir Putin divide the west’.
No doubt if the strikes are called off, those kids who don’t get school shoes, or dinner, or a warm place to sleep, will perfectly understand that they ought to suffer in the interests of maintaining the status quo for their parents’ exploiters. No doubt our academy CEOs are already preparing the assemblies: ‘Why we’re lucky to have British exploiters keeping us hungry and not that evil monster Putin.’
We can’t help noticing that there is never any suggestion that negative economic effects might arise from the inflation-busting pay deals and bonuses that CEOs and various mandarins of the ruling class regularly award themselves. Indeed, these flunkeys have been piling up their wealth to record levels throughout the crisis while expecting workers to accept the drastic wage cuts that inflation has caused.
The reality that capitalist economists and politicians are keen to hide is that the biggest reason for the growth of inflation has been endless money-printing, which went up to a whole new level during the banking crisis of 2008, and has continued at an elevated rate ever since.
As the capitalists scramble to help their staggering system lurch from crisis to crisis, they have been bailing out one monopoly-dominated section of the economy after another, each one considered ‘too big to fail’ – or just next in line for a hand-out. (See, for example, the ‘Covid’ stock market bail-out of 2020, and the almost limitless subsidies given to the pharmaceutical monopolies under cover of the health crisis.)
As the capitalist economic crisis deepens, equally enormous handouts are making their way into the coffers of the energy companies (by way of the ‘price cap’ mechanism) and the arms manufacturers (by way of the British government’s unlimited commitment to the USA’s proxy war on Russia in Ukraine).
Just in time means no contingency plan
Another factor fuelling inflation has been the disruption in supply lines caused when the capitalist ‘efficiency’ of ‘just in time’ met the hard reality of closed factories and ports during the pandemic.
The just-in-time system so much favoured by capitalist economic gurus is so finely tuned to optimise profit at every stage in production that it can’t easily withstand even a single day’s strike at a single factory, or a single adverse weather event, or a single stranded container ship.
The chaos created by a succession of such ‘freak’ events, occurring in many places around the world and often simultaneously, led to disruptions in the supply of parts and finished goods that are still causing chaos and inflation two years later.
The profitable (for the monopolies) practice of abolishing all contingency planning and all warehouse space turned out to be extremely expensive for humanity at large.
Monopoly price gouging
Another cause of high prices is good old-fashioned price gouging, which is always indulged in by monopolies that are in a position to get away with it. Prices are set artificially high to maximise profits, often as a result of a secret arrangement between the few big companies that between them control a particular area of economic activity.
Capitalist economists make much of the system’s ability to bring prices down, and indeed it does, as a result of the battle of competition, the economies of scale that come from mass production, and the utilisation of the cheapest possible labour. But if big capitalists find themselves in a position where they can keep prices higher, they will most certainly take it.
It is noticeable, for example, that it only takes the rumour of a potential, future disruption in the oil supply for prices at the pumps or on the meter to go up. And if there is later a small ‘correction’, the price never seems to go back to where it was before. The line over time for such monopoly-controlled essentials only seems to go upwards.
Economic warfare backfiring
And then, of course, there are the sanctions. The imperialist countries have been using their control of world trading mechanisms to starve all independent-minded countries into submission for decades, but the steady ratcheting up of this blunt weapon against Russia and China in the last decade has forced both countries to take serious steps to protect themselves.
In the process, they have not only made their own economies more diverse, self-sufficient and resilient, but they have created a framework that allows other countries to join them and do the same. The weapon that was supposed to ensure US domination forever has actually accelerated the process of the decline of imperialist global supremacy.
When Russia finally (after decades of provocations and broken promises, and eight years of trying to implement the peace process in eastern Ukraine) responded to the proxy war being waged against it in February 2022, the west launched a massive sanctions war, which it confidently asserted would bring Russia to its knees in a matter of weeks, collapsing its economy, starving its people onto the streets, and toppling the hated Putin government.
The result, our leaders were sure, would be the installation of a stooge regime in the Kremlin, the break-up of Russia into seven or eight manageable chunks, and an orgy of unfettered looting of Russia’s people and resources – just like the one that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and which the rise of a nationalist government in Russia so rudely brought to a halt.
When Russia failed to collapse as predicted, the sanctions began to hurt those who were wielding them far more than they were hurting Russia itself. While Russia found new markets for export commodities such as oil, gas, minerals, wheat and fertiliser, the absolute dependence of western industries on these materials was starkly revealed.
How many workers in Europe had understood before May 2022 that Germany’s industrial strength rested on the provision of low-cost oil from the Urals? How many understood the fact that the very engines and refineries that power Europe’s economies are built around the specific features of this particular grade of oil, and that no ‘alternative source’ can easily replace it?
Who caused the war in Ukraine – and who is being asked to pay?
So yes, a certain amount of the inflation that Britons are currently experiencing has been caused by the economic war against Russia, which has had the effect of disrupting supply and boosting prices. But it’s quite a stretch to blame the intended victim of Nato’s aggression for the inflationary consequences of Nato’s war!
Whilst we are encouraged to dwell on such propositions as the notion that ‘every 1 percent raise in pay for NHS workers costs the country £700m’, nobody is invited to marvel at the cost in blood or treasure of the latest in hi-tech killing machines destined for the Ukraine meatgrinder.
The brilliant example being set by rail workers, posties, health workers and others is a red rag to the Tories and an uncomfortable reminder to the imperialist Labour party that the working class has not gone away.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting recently put the boot into the BMA, accusing the doctors’ representative body of promoting a “something for nothing” culture in the NHS and whingeing that in spite of Labour’s “commitment” to more staff, these ingrates remain “so hostile to the idea that with more staff must come better standards for patients”. How better standards are supposed to be achieved in departments that are understaffed precisely because pay and working conditions are so bad, Mr Streeting didn’t say.
As for Keir Starmer, he announced in a radio interview that the pay rise nurses are fighting for (19 percent, that is, 5 percent over the current official RPI and a long way short of the real-terms pay cut they’ve suffered over the last 15 years) is “more than could be afforded”.
No parliamentarian of any political stripe would dream of breaking with the holy consensus: blame greedy workers and evil Russian dictators, and don’t talk about the capitalist crisis or the class war.
The truth is that with their system in deep crisis, our rulers have only two ways out: pass as much of the burden of the crisis onto the poor as possible, and search ruthlessly and relentlessly around the globe for ways to make a profit.
That might be by cutting wages to raise profits margins. It might be by putting the poorest workers with no choice onto prepay meters and wringing a few more quid out of them that way. It might be by privatising services like healthcare and education so that the public purse can be rinsed for private profit.
Or it might be by driving to war against any and every corner of the world where maximum profit-taking is curbed by some independent-minded people who have the temerity to think it’s up to them how the resources in their lands are used and who should benefit from their wealth.
Either way, it is the workers who pay, and the poorest who pay the most.
Karl Marx proved long ago that it’s not high wages which cause inflation. What higher wages ultimately do is reduce profit margins and the dividends that are paid out to the parasite class. While the system of capitalist production for profit remains, it’s a fundamental right and duty of the working class to organise and to demand a bigger share of the wealth that its own labour has created.
Ultimately, of course, we need to recognise the truth of Marx’s revelation that workers’ problems can only really be solved when we drop the demand for ‘fair wages’ and take up the demand for an ‘end to the wages system’: that is, for an end to the system of workers’ enslavement to the capitalist class, whose wealth is built upon our poverty.