Michael Barker: “Of central importance is that the ongoing battle against capitalism and imperialism is waged internationally”
Michael Barker. DR.
Mohsen Abdelmoumen: In your opinion, why was Jeremy Corbyn ousted as leader of the Labour Party? Don’t you think that Jeremy Corbyn has paid the price of being a supporter of the Palestinian cause and an anti-Zionist?
Michael Barker: Right until the moment that Corbyn took the mistaken position of volunteering to leave his position as Labour leader he still had the support of the vast majority of his party’s active socialist membership. So, although it is true that he came under immense pressure to resign throughout the duration of his time as Labour leader from the vast majority of his Parliamentary colleagues, it is not strictly true that he was ousted. Corbyn and his parliamentary supporters however failed to seriously encourage the types of actions that would have enabled ordinary Labour members to assert any form of democratic control over Corbyn’s opponents, who to this day still maintain their elected positions within the Parliamentary Labour Party. One of Corbyn’s most serious shortcomings revolved around his perpetual efforts to bridge the gap between the socialist membership of the Labour Party and the pro-capitalist elements of the Party. This blurring of class interests served to promote political confusion where clarity was needed and meant that a critical opportunity to reclaim the Labour Party for working-class interests has now likely been squandered.
Of course, Corbyn’s support for the people of Palestine and his vocal opposition to the right-wing State of Israel meant that this longstanding issue became an important point of attack for the warmongering elements of the Labour Party. We would not expect anything less considering that many of those within the Labour Party who attacked him using this issue continue to provide uncritical support for Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing politics, as they do to capitalist politicians all over the world. But I would say the main reason why Corbyn was opposed so viciously by the machinery of his own party was that they felt threatened by his promotion of democratic and socialist ideas, which could open the door to attempts to transfer political power in society away from the billionaire-class and towards the hands of ordinary people.
How do you explain that every time someone defends the just Palestinian cause against Israel’s criminal policies, he is accused of anti-Semitism?
Anti-Semites exist in society beyond their most common home on the far right of the political spectrum, and it is true that conservative commentators regularly slur socialist criticisms of the Israeli state as being anti-Semitic when this is rarely the case. Capitalists stoke division and racism within the working-class in order to prevent us organizing effectively against them, and this is the primary reason why individuals on the left are so regularly denounced for their alleged anti-Semitism. This is a very dangerous game that is being played by right-wing politicians, and in the long-run this game can only serve to increase genuine confusion amongst society on this critical matter which can only act to increase the growth of real anti-Semitism.
In your very relevant book « Under the Mask of Philanthropy« , you raise the issue of philanthropy in the West. Aren’t these philanthropic foundations a scam? Don’t they serve big money?
Philanthropic foundations are indeed a scam in much the same way that the entire capitalist system is a scam. Capitalism does not promote the needs of the 99.99% of ordinary people but only exists to service the greed of the 0.01% billionaire-class. Under the current economic system every capitalist enterprise, whether that be their for-profit corporations or their non-profit corporations, that is philanthropies, serve to prop up capitalism. Any good that may be derived from such enterprises is purely secondary to the pursuit of profits.
How do you explain that a minority of 1% controls the majority of the world’s wealth?
In the final analysis it has been the historic failure of socialist organizations to overthrow capitalism globally that explains why we still have such massive inequality in society today. It is not Marxist ideas per se that are at fault, but the long and anti-democratic legacy of first Stalinism and then Maoism that contributed to lost opportunities to replace capitalism with a socialist alternative.
As many people know already, the tiny 0.01% minority is only able to maintain their precarious grip on power by waging a relentless offensive against the democratic organizations of our class. Hence huge corporations owned by multi-millionaires, with the active support of capitalist politicians, try to prevent workers gaining access to the immense wealth that our class generates through our everyday work. Many people have already paid with their lives for capitalisms crimes, but if anyone is to pay for this pandemic it should be the corporate scroungers in society. In the UK alone the super-rich fail to pay around £120 billion a year in tax, money that could have been spent on helping ensure our country was prepared to deal with any coming pandemic.
Here in the UK a perfect example of such divisive corporate actions is being played out the food manufacturing sector, where Britain’s key food workers are being treated by their bosses in the most appalling ways. Where I live in the East Midlands, members of Socialist Alternative supporting organizing efforts of local food workers at exploitative manufacturers like Greencore Food Group and Samworth Brothers, and we raise the basic demand that no worker should lose out because of this pandemic. Locally, increasing numbers of workers are now joining the Bakers Union, a good example of a militant union that fights hard for its membership. This perpetual struggle in workplaces up and down the country will only intensify in the coming weeks and months and workers must be firm that under no circumstances will we be forced to pay for a crisis that is not our making.
Don’t you think that the exploited peoples of the Earth must have strong organizations to fight big capital and imperialism?
I believe that the most critical factor in determining the success of any socialist organization in waging a successful fight against capitalism and imperialism is that such organizations must be run democratically. The more democratic such organizations are, the greater their ability to marshal the collective strength of the working-class in a unified struggle to overthrow their class enemies. Also, of central importance is that the ongoing battle against capitalism and imperialism is waged internationally. So, exploited peoples across the planet must coordinate their resistance against their capitalist oppressors across all borders. Personally speaking, I am a member of Socialist Alternative, a revolutionary socialist organization that is part of an international body built across all continents called International Socialist Alternative. https://internationalsocialist.net If you are not already part of a socialist organization then I would suggest that you consider joining ours.
Knowing that the mass media are controlled by the establishment and the oligarchy that rules the world, don’t you think the working class and the exploited peoples need an alternative press that defends their interests in the face of capitalist domination?
Yes, the capitalists have their own media, so all exploited people need an alternative press to push forward our own working-class interests. Such a press should take no money from representatives of the billionaire-class, be that through advertising or grants, and must be democratically run and funded by ordinary people.
Doesn’t the Covid 19 crisis, with the lack of beds, respirators, tests, the precariousness of the nursing staff, reveal the bankruptcy of the capitalist system?
Of course. I couldn’t agree more. Capitalist politicians across the world knew that a pandemic was coming, and yet they still failed to prepare us for the coming devastation. In fact, rather than ready our countries for a deadly pandemic our so-called leaders made decisions that rendered us more vulnerable. In the UK, our health services have had real terms funding cuts for years, while wages and working conditions have been continually ground down too. Moreover, when the British government undertook their latest pandemic planning exercise in 2016 (Exercise Cygnus) they concluded that our country needed to stockpile PPE for our front-line health staff. But rather than invest money in stockpiling PPE our government apparently prioritized other things, like supplying military hardware to the government of Saudi Arabia to allow them to continue their illegal war upon Yemen.
In your opinion, by making health care an economic sector that generates profit, didn’t the proponents of the capitalist order break the health care system? Are we not experiencing the consequences of catastrophic management of the public hospital?
Health services should never be linked to the profit motive, but they are. The tragedy is that the acceptance of mass mortalities is a central part of any privatised health care system: those who are wealthy enough and can afford treatment and those who can’t… well, they die. With a deadly pandemic in progress, it is the working-class who are now suffering the consequences of the decimation and privatisation of healthcare services across the world. This is one of the reasons why COVID-19 is claiming its highest numbers of victims from amongst the poorest in society. This needless sacrifice of life makes the nationalization of all healthcare systems under democratic workers control absolutely essential.
How do you read the war being waged by multinationals like Gilead, Johnson & Johnson, etc. over the Covid 19 vaccine?
Getting a safe vaccine created for COVID-19 cannot be left in the hands of Big Pharma. They have a track record of treating human life with contempt and will fight tooth and nail against all other corporate interests to maximize their own personal profits from this crisis. Globally Big Pharma have had years in which they could have helped prepare medical responses to all manner of threatened pandemics, but evidently such life-saving work has been deemed unprofitable. Their recklessness demonstrates beyond all reasonable doubt that their businesses must be taken into public ownership. This is a task that must be undertaken at the earliest opportunity. We need full democratic oversight over the global response to the pandemic.
How do you explain the behaviour of capitalist thugs who steal each other’s loads of protective masks? Hasn’t the capitalist system reached an unprecedented degree of immorality?
Capitalism is a system in perpetual crisis, always straining to extract profits from every element of life. During periods of global economic growth, the capitalist systems political enforcers have an easier job in glossing over the brutality inherent to their relentless profiteering. During crises, however, the unplanned chaotic rules of capitalism and its deeply immoral attitude to human life are fully exposed for the world to see, as elites compete in a desperate scramble for essential resources like PPE. There is no solidarity of interests in capitalism, where only the most ruthless and powerful succeed, except to note that the ruling-class share one interest and that is in trying to make the rest of us pay for their system and their mistakes. More than anything the actions of capitalist thugs highlight the limitations of their system, providing a horrifying demonstration of the social murder that takes places when profits come before people.
Are not some politicians not criminals who should be tried for exposing the lives of their citizens, such as Boris Johnson who first refused to confine the British people? In your opinion, isn’t the world run by thugs and corrupt people rather than Statesmen? Can we talk about democracy?
It is true that many politicians have committed political actions that are directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people. And yes, in any meaningful democracy it is commonsense that they should be held accountable. But the capture of much of the world’s political apparatus by elites, who only serve the interests of corporate power, means that justice will never really be delivered until we transition to a socialist society. In the meantime, we can use the existing democratic processes that do still exist to elect fighting representatives to political office, where we can use their positions of authority to agitate for a socialist alternative. These socialist tribunes should be part of and not separate from mass struggles against capitalism. And good examples of how individual elected representatives can work alongside workers to expose the corruption of the super-rich include Seattle city Council member Kshama Sawant, and Mick Barry, an Irish member of Parliament, both of whom are revolutionary socialists and tried-and-tested class fighters.
Don’t you think we’re going to experience an unprecedented economic recession because of this Covid 19 crisis? Shouldn’t the peoples of the Earth take their destiny into their own hands to counter the disastrous projects of an oligarchic minority that rules the world?
Even before the pandemic hit, the press was reporting that the world was already entering a new period of economic recession. The shock caused by the pandemic has therefore brought forward, and deepened, the beginning of this recession, which makes the need for organizing to ready ourselves for ousting the worlds capitalists’ thugs a pressing reality. Here a critical terrain of struggles will need to take place within the trade union movement. Needless to say it is a sad reality that for many years the leadership of many unions have been dominated by individuals who would rather seek accommodations with capitalist exploiters than work to unite the working-class in a fight for socialism. But this can and will change, and already we are seeing a grassroots radicalisation of workers, who are now recognising why it is vital to become better organised both locally, nationally, and internationally. We cannot trust the bosses and political class to say when it is safe to return to work. If workers collectively decide that it is unsafe to return to work then they should refuse to start work until their workplaces are made safe. It is we who hold the real power in society, a power that is often untapped and suppressed, but now is the time to make that power a living reality to take our destiny into our own hands and work towards building a world that places the needs of humanity before the needs of profit.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Michael Barker?
Michael Barker is a support worker at a school in the UK where he also acts as a trade union steward. He is also an Assistant Secretary to the Leicester and District Trades Union Council. In his spare time Michael writes about local and international issues for a variety of
publications, include Counterpunch. He is a member of http://socialistalternative.net
Michael is the author of three books: Under the Mask of Philanthropy (2017); Fighting For Our Future: Ongoing Struggles Against Big Business and New Labour (2016); and Letters to Mercury: The Socialist Fightback in Leicester (2015). He is also the author of two pamphlets, Why Socialists Oppose the EU (2018) and How and Why Labour Councils Should Fight All Cuts Now (2019).
Published in American Herald Tribune May 13, 2020: https://ahtribune.com/interview/4147-michael-barker.html
In French in Palestine Solidarité: https://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.140520.htm