“When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live – forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence – knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains. I have now to prove that society in England daily and hourly commits what the working-men’s organs, with perfect correctness, characterise as social murder, that it has placed the workers under conditions in which they can neither retain health nor live long; that it undermines the vital force of these workers gradually, little by little, and so hurries them to the grave before their time. I have further to prove that society knows how injurious such conditions are to the health and the life of the workers, and yet does nothing to improve these conditions. That it knows the consequences of its deeds; that its act is, therefore, not mere manslaughter, but murder…”
At what point can the state’s mass disregard for human life be deemed ‘social murder‘? When does a ‘cost of living crisis’ tip over into a full-scale crisis of hegemony for the ruling class? And what kind of civil resistance to that inhuman system might this crisis yet unleash?
Rocketing prices, double-digit inflation for the first time in forty years, massive energy hikes, overwhelmed food banks running out of supplies, and the prospect of even more spiralling fuel bills from October.
Welcome to crisis Britain, the latest in a long history of capitalist crises where the seeming ‘resolution’ always involves the intensified brutalisation of the poorest.
As the usual ‘market rules’ and ‘corrections’ play out, there’s a gathering mood of public anguish, rising hostility, and even the serious prospect of civil insurrection.
Yet we’re still being encouraged to focus on the fallout effects of the crisis rather than the true structural causes. Unlike affordable goods on supermarket shelves, distracting narratives are in plentiful, cheap supply.
We’ve had the whole tortuous Truss-Sunak hustings promotion, picking over whether or not tax cuts can ‘alleviate’ the economic burden. Tell that to poverty-waged and benefits-struggling families now having to decide over heating or food for their kids.
And, of course, we have Brexit, relentlessly cast as the ‘primary cause’ of the crisis.
Whatever the apparent issues over border controls, product supplies and labour shortages, none of this gets to the true heart of why the poorest always have to suffer the most from capitalist disruptions.
What sort of ‘civilised’ order would permit such a tiny elite to own and control all the basic resources of life?
While RMT and other struggling public sector workers have been forced into strike action, nothing of these corporate demands are being scrutinised by a compliant media.
Not only is Lynch calling for fair, inflation-matching pay, urging protection of existing rail services, and making the laudable case for rail nationalisation, he’s framing it all in an intelligible class politics about need versus greed.
This, in turn, is forcing a hostile media to move with expedient caution; still pushing the same ‘need to curb union militancy’ line, yet seeking to be ‘onside’ with the angry public mood.
Such is the process of hegemony – cultivating both social division and consent for repressive measures.
Yet, after the staggering handouts to business friends during covid, and now corporate energy bonanza, the grasping of ‘crisis wealth’ by the few is now so brazen, the political defence of it so naked, that the whole neoliberal edifice itself is coming under crisis examination.
For those desperately seeking alternative political goods, alas, there will be no delivery from Keir Starmer’s Labour.
The very minimum policy pledge from Labour to the energy crisis would have been to nationalise the big five energy companies. Predictably, there’s not even a murmur of it from Starmer.
True independence – if ever delivered – will require energy sovereignty as well as political sovereignty.
And with this has come a new class assertiveness in handling establishment forces.
When media interviewers seek to portray striking rail, cleansing and other vital workers as ‘greedy’, ‘irresponsible’, and ‘holding the country to ransom’, Lynch and other union leaders are not only pointing to members’ paltry wages and basic needs, but the real rampant greed of corporate elites and basic immorality of capitalist life.
As Eddie Dempsey illustrates, “if we woke up tomorrow and the billionaires were gone, there’d be no change to the running order of our daily lives. If the same happened to the workers, the country would grind to a halt. And they know it.”
This is a renewed and welcome class politics, confident in its radical voice, re-energised by the historical understanding that everything people ever gained in life had to be struggled for in the face of unmoving authority.
In a truly rational order it would be elementary to hold in common trust the core things that sustain human life.
But so entrenched is the ideology of neoliberalism these past decades that privatisation has been normalised as a ‘public good’ rather than a charter for unconfined greed.
It’s the same inbuilt ‘logic’ with the US/UK/NATO war machine and corporate-driven weaponry. Relentless production, expansion and human misery.
In every such case, it’s people who ‘must’ suffer and die while a greedy few profit from death and destruction.
But is wider obedience to that dominant orthodoxy now unravelling? As people contemplate this latest capitalist winter of discontent, is a disillusioned and weary public more readily seeing through the veil of political lies? Has the flaunting of corporate greed while people face increasing hardship created a new space for meaningful resistance? Is there a coming ‘October revolution’?
It’s always important to remember the ruthless energy and resources of the ruling class in co-opting, infiltrating, undermining and breaking-up any real radical formations. Remember the fate of Occupy?
Yet the same enduring issues and challenges remain. Whatever form any such resistance takes, it must have as its central aim true systemic change, rather than token amelioration of this latest capitalist crisis. It must be guided by a true politics of compassion that puts people and environment before profit and wealth.
Indeed, the old schemas for socialistic change don’t even cover what’s truly required any more. What’s really needed is not just the nationalising, but the humanising of all our vital resources – energy, food, health, transport and so much more – garnered, organised and distributed in sustainable and equitable ways.
In truth, there is no ‘cost of living crisis’. The poorest have always faced a daily crisis of existence. What we see before us, unfolding on a now vast and existential scale, is a cost of greed crisis.
Only a systemic understanding and tackling of that crisis will permit the wellbeing, and very presence, of human life on this plentiful but now greedily threatened planet.