Socialist Worker

A blast at capitalism

Issue No. 1684

New Bestseller

A Blast at capitalism

By Charlie Kimber

A BOOK that tears into the multinationals and capitalism has become a huge success across Europe. French writer and journalist Viviane Forrester's The Economic Horror is an assault on the pro-business rhetoric that gushes from the leaders of all Britain's main parties.

The book has been translated into 20 languages and is a bestseller in France, Germany and Italy. It can be hard to obtain here because the publisher keeps running out of stock. Forrester denounces a society where capitalist values are not even questioned by the mainstream media and politicians. Instead "the pre-eminence of balance sheets is becoming universal law, a dogma, a sacred postulate." She denounces the gulf between rich and poor. While a small elite enjoy vast wealth there are many "forgotten ghettos in poor suburbs, housing estates adjacent to the city, but more alien to it than any foreign city".

Young people are endlessly criticised as "anti-social". But while "the damage they do is visible, what about the damage they suffer?" They face "a society organised without them, around their more or less implicit rejection".

Forrester particularly focuses on the way the unemployed are treated. "Millions of relegated individuals, and I do mean individuals, are entitled for an indefinite period or perhaps until their death, to the misery or the threat of it sooner or later, to a loss of the roof over their heads, to a loss of social respect, even self respect, to the pathos of shaken or wrecked identities, to the most shameful of feelings: shame. They are encouraged to believe themselves failed masters of their individual destinies when they are merely figures lined up arbitrarily in the statistics."

Forrester adds that the "lucky" ones who do have a job are also treated disgracefully. When workers ask for a pay increase, "it is most enlightening to compare in the same newspaper the total amount of the rise-which will lead to fierce argument-with the price quoted as most reasonable in the dining-out column of a single restaurant meal, costing only three or four times more than the monthly rise requested." In an effort to prevent unity of workers against the system, governments set out "to set a section of the country's population against another, alleged to be shamefully favoured (public service agents, low-level government employees). But no account is taken of the really privileged except to describe them as big business and to depict this big business as the only people who will dare to take risks, while such nabobs as underground drivers and such inveterate upstarts as postal workers scandalously prosper in all security!"

Another method of divide and rule is to set people against refugees. This hides the fact that "poverty can make you an exile in your own land. "But official exclusions have a definite virtue: they persuade those who are spared that they are socially included. Down with immigrants coming in, good luck to capital going out!"

Forrester's book is a bitter indictment of capitalism. It deserves to be read as widely as possible. Unfortunately, for all its power it has a great weakness-it seems to write off the power of the working class to fight back. Forrester believes that "the labour market is not just declining but is perishing", and that the era when "the many were indispensable to the decision makers has been as if blotted out". The result is that those at the top "encounter no other obstacles than the ferocious ones set in their path by their peers".

But even in this age of the internet and global communication, profits still depend on the labour of billions of workers. Workers are exploited and face crushing pressure but they also retain the power to halt production and challenge those who enjoy undeserved luxury. The working class is now the largest class in society, outstripping the peasantry. Organised and active, this class can change the world. This popular book is further evidence of the widespread mood against capitalism. But we also need to identify the force which can end the bosses' rule.

  • Viviane Forrester, The Economic Horror, �9.99, available (plus �1.50 postage) from Bookmarks, phone 020 7637 1848.

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Sat 19 Feb 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1684
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