Extreme wealth, extreme poverty


To greet the super-rich, now meeting in Davos, Switzerland, anti-poverty analysts from Oxfam — who challenge capitalism’s symptoms without challenging the disease — have issued a new report on wealth inequality.

Back in the Cold War, when every aspect of capitalist culture exuded anti-communism, it was constantly drummed into the U.S. working class that “Karl Marx was wrong: The workers are becoming middle class.”

Presidential candidates still talk about the middle class. But the Oxfam report shows this phrase is empty: “In 2015, just 62 individuals had the same wealth as 3.6 billion people — the bottom half of humanity. This figure is down from 388 individuals as recently as 2010.”

That’s quite a concentration of wealth. Indeed, these few super-rich amassed even more riches. An Oxfam illustration shows that while in 2010 they would have needed a giant airliner to travel together, now they can all fit in a bus. Not that any of them would ever travel in a bus, without servants, aides, secretaries and bodyguards.

What is worse, the 3.6 billion people at the bottom got even poorer. And that’s despite the fact that several hundred million Chinese workers rose out of real poverty in that time.

Now let’s examine Oxfam’s report from another angle: “The richest 1 percent now have more wealth than the rest of the world combined.”

This level of wealth concentration arrived a year earlier than Oxfam had predicted. It has brought greater instability and erosion of support for the system of capitalism. It means that even for those with a few possessions, life is precarious. And Oxfam shows that even in the imperialist countries, so-called “middle class” workers are losing out:

“One of the key trends underlying this huge concentration of wealth and incomes is the increasing return to capital versus labor. In almost all rich countries and in most developing countries, the share of national income going to workers has been falling.”

Oxfam emphasizes that low-wage workers, disproportionately women, are losing the most. In the U.S., there is no doubt workers of color also lose the most.

To summarize: A strong worldwide trend shows this system is concentrating greater wealth in fewer hands while impoverishing billions and grinding down those who sell their labor — leading to growing instability, even in imperialist countries like the United States.

Oxfam’s leaders think the solution is to call for stricter enforcement of tax laws. But they have little hope it will happen, since the super-rich own the governments. Oxfam, like a preacher, can rage at greed and corruption, but the fault lies not in “sin,” but in the motivating force of the capitalist system itself: The goal of production is not to raise the living standards of the people, but to increase the profits of those who claim ownership over this vast, socially integrated economic system.

To reverse the growing inequality, to eliminate poverty, to transform the great wealth now being created into the property of the people, we must replace capitalism with socialism. We must build the fighting party with this goal. Solidarity between the working class and the most oppressed is the essential ingredient in winning this struggle. Unity can be built only by putting first the interests of those most pushed down by this vicious system. We must start yesterday.

It is the only way forward.

The Oxfam briefing paper, “An Economy for the 1%,” is at tinyurl.com/hfmylx9.