Friday, February 11, 2005

What classless society?

Someone phoned our office today (on 0207 622 3811) at 52 Clapham High Street to ask if we had any figures on the distribution of wealth ownership in Britain. The figures we have been using are for 1992 from our 1997 pamphlet "The Market System Must Go!". Since we say capitalism is based on the minority ownership of the means for producing wealth the official figures we're interested in are those for "marketable wealth less value of dwellings" (since people's homes are means of production).
The official figures we quoted showed that:
The top 1% owned 29% of such wealth
The top 2-5% owned 24%
The top 6-10% owned 12%
The top 11-25% owned 17%
The top 26-50% owned 12%
The bottom 50% owned 6%
In other words, in 1992 the top 5% owned more than 50%, ie, more than the bottom 95%. Or, as we put it, "out of every 20 adults, one has a stake in the ownership of the means of production equal to that of the other 19 of us added together". This, we went on, confirmed "that the basis of present day society is indeed, as socialists contend, the concentration of the ownership of productive resources in the hands of a tiny minority of the population".
Our caller's query led us to look up the latest figures, those for 2002 (which can be found on the site of the Office for National Statistics at These show that the figures in our pamphlet are out of date and in fact are not an underestimate.
The equivalent official figures for 2002 are:
The top 1% owned 35%
The top 2-5% owned 27%
The top 6-10% owned 13%
The top 11-25% owned 13%
The top 26-50% owned 10%
The bottom 50% owned 2%
So, now the top 5% own getting on for twice as much as the rest of us put together.
So, the richer have been getting richer -- and under a Labour government too, not that this is at all surprising since, first, governments can't do much about this and, second, the Labour Party has given up trying to do this for some years now. They just administer capitalism and let it work in its normal way, having learned the lesson that if you don't do this you make things worse (as happened under Wilson and Callaghan the last time there was a Labour government).
Having said this, we socialists are not advocating a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. That's not our programme at all (and doesn't and can't work anyway, given capitalism). What we are saying is that the means of wealth production should be owned in common by the whole community, ie shouldn't belong to anybody, but should simply be there to be used under democratic control to turn out what people need instead of as present to make a profit for the tiny minority who own and control then.
That -- common ownership, democratic control, production for use not profit -- is what socialism means and that's what we'll be standing for in Vauxhall in the coming general election. That, and nothing else. It's the only framework in which current problems of transport, education, healthcare, insecurity and destitution can be tackled and cleared up. Trying to reform capitalism to make it work in the interests of all, as proposed by all the other candidates, is an exercise in futility.

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