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London’s Burning

posted 9 Aug 2011, 01:03 by heiko khoo   [ updated 9 Aug 2011, 02:07 by Admin uk ]

London’s streets are mythically supposed to be lined with gold. The City of London, its corporate epicentre, hosts four hundred banks and is the world’s leading financial centre. It has its own quaint flag, government, and ancient traditions; even the Queen has to ask permission to enter the City. This symbolism holds a wider significance if one strolls a few hundred meters across the river Thames to Southwark, or Eastwards to Whitechapel or Bethnal Green, for there another forgotten world exists.    

 The grotesque disparity between the lives of the international banking elite and the poor of London is at the ultimate extremity of global inequity. London is a veritable mirror of world capitalism, home to hundreds of nationalities welded together by historical dramas acted out over centuries on a global scale.

 Sixty years ago the sun never set on the British Empire. The splendours of imperial might gained by trade and plunder, faded away as the Second World War came to an end. The British Empire disintegrated and the United States took over the reigns of world leadership. British capitalism was in deep crisis, most of those who fought Hitler’s armies in the war felt the social chasm caused by the Great Depression of the 1930s had to be eliminated forever. They swept aside Winston Churchill and with him many of the chains of subordination to the rule of the old elite.

 In 1945 a Labour Government committed to radical social change was elected. A National Health Service was created to provide universal quality treatment from the ‘cradle to the grave’ this became an example for the world. Treatment was not connected to your ability to pay and was funded by universal National Insurance. Housing was radically improved with slum clearance and the provision of low cost public housing for the working classes. Education from primary school to university was provided free. These were all radical reforms in the eyes of the working classes who remembered the workhouse and the dire poverty and hunger of the 1930s.

 But Labour leaders refused to fundamentally transform society. They left all the governing institutions of capitalism, alongside many medieval relics, like the Monarchy, the House of Lords and other reactionary anachronisms, untouched. In addition they left decisive levers of economic power in the hands of private banks and private companies. Although important enterprises and services were under public ownership, like coal, steel, transport, post and telecommunications, and some industrial enterprises; the key levers over the commanding heights of the economy remained in private hands.

 After the long post war boom driven by rising profit rates between 1946 and 1965, came an era of declining profits and consequent economic crisis. As prospects worsened, social unrest burst to the surface at the end of the 60s and in the early 1970s. The Keynesian ideology underpinning the public-private economic balance was challenged. The clash between the interests of the working classes and the capitalists took on an increasingly radical form. The Conservative Party claimed, that Marxist led trade union militancy, was undermining business ‘freedom’ and the viability of political governance.

 After a series of victories for the workers in industrial struggles in the 1970s, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher defeated the National Union of Mine Workers (then Britain’s strongest trade union) in 1985, after a year-long strike. The period of offensive by the employers and the government in a struggle ‘against socialism’ was a thinly veiled assault on the working classes and their organisations.

 Britain and the United States were the main advocates of the ‘neo-liberal’, ‘monetarist’ ideology, that believes that free markets must not be hindered by state ownership and that there is ‘no such thing as society’. They see unfettered greed as a positive social force driving the individual and society forward.

 This ideology in one form or another became dominant in economic and political circles around the world. Its supreme victory was proclaimed with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR. Its ascendancy corresponded to an upward wave in the rate of profit in the main centres of capitalist power between 1982 and 1997. The period of falling profit rates after 1997 was largely hidden from public awareness by the extraordinary credit bubble that private banks, businesses and governments, did everything to encourage.

 The economic collapse of 2007-9 was followed by desperate attempts to make the working people of Europe and the United States suffer the consequences of a corporate and banking investment strike. Austerity measures expose the fact that the wealth of the rich is secure and protected, while the real living standards of the majority take an ever-bigger hit.

 As there is market panic and less liquidity, social stability all over the western world, keeps crashing against exposed rocks. Thieving bankers, insane military adventures, criminal activities by global media corporations, tax avoidance by the wealthiest companies, abuses at the centre of political power, incompetence at the tops of the police and judiciary, and an all-pervasive stench of corruption fills the air.

 It is small wonder that a single incident in London -an unexplained police killing- is followed by widespread riots and unrest. The acrid stench of burning buildings is the explosive and contagious response of a youthful underclass that is utterly and completely alienated by the institutions and practices of modern capitalist democracy.