Socialism 2021 conference: Illuminating conversations on capital, labour, health and fascism

Register for the second weekend of the Socialism 2021 conference (4-5 December 2021) at https://www.socialismconf.org/

While participating in the Socialism 2021 Conference, I was curious and looked for information about who got richer during pandemic. The world faced not one but four crises in one go: Covid-19, Climate Emergency, Debt/Economic Crisis, Socio-Economic Inequality.

One of the speakers at the conference, Dr. Rene Ofreneo from the Phillipines highlighted a contradiction which relates to current increase in cost of living, over-production and under-consumption. The general justification provided for the price increase is labor shortages and increase in operational cost! If that’s the case, the workers should be getting more wages, right? No, they are still struggling with low pay. Rather, the reason behind the inflation problem is financialization – market speculation! Both consumers and workers seem to be for ever in crisis while the investors play God deciding the extent of our suffering!

Billionaire Boom!

While many poor people became poorer, the number of millionaires increased by 5.2 million to 56.1 million globally, Credit Suisse research found [BBC, 23 Jun 2021]. The 400 richest Americans added $4.5trillion to their wealth last year, a 40% rise, even as the pandemic shuttered large parts of the US, [The Guardian, 5 Oct 2021]. according to Financial Times’ “The billionaire boom!” by Ruchir Sharma, “the biggest surge came in China, which added 238 billionaires for a total of 626. Next came the US, which added 110 for a total of 724”. The writer provides analysis who are good and bad billionaires and the possibility of backlash or uprising as a result of the inequality the system creates. Indian billionaires increased their wealth by 35% during the lockdown, says Oxfam report [The Hindu, 21 Jan 2021]. Tycoons on the 2021 Forbes Malaysia Rich List saw a rebound. The nation’s 50 richest saw their collective wealth rise 14% to nearly US$90 billion, up from $79 billion a year ago [Forbes, 02 Jun 2021].

Forbes mentioned that rubber industries e.g. glove, metal (aluminium), home improvement, tech hub and banking gained in Malaysia despite the pandemic and the continous lockdowns that crippled most of our livelihoods.

Red Carpet for Investors

Another concern raised during Socialism 2021 was that governments don’t have adequate resources to redistribute wealth because they have to compete with neighbouring countries to bring in foreign investment. To do so, they compete to keep the corporate tax low, wages low and more privatisation. There are also another factor, corruption. Even if government has resources, would they prioritize people’s needs?

Dr. Rene Ofreneo in his presentation at Socialism 2021, “Government still rolling red carpet for investors” highlighted 4 crises that we are all in now, Covid-19, Climate Emergency, Debt/Economic Crisis and Socio Economic Inequality.

So, what are the solutions proposed by the Socialism 2021 virtual conference held on 27 and 28 Nov 2021? There were some interesting ideas brought up by Dr. Rene Ofreneo, Socializing the Solutions, Sovereignity, Sustainability and Solidarity. Dr. Chee Heng Leng of People’s Health Forum, Malaysia said taxation is the best way forward if we have the option to ensure Universal Health Care.

While we as audience still grasping with these ideas, Luke Espiritu, President of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), in the Phillipines spoke on the next session on Revolutionary Unionism with a statement ‘interests of workers and capitalists are antagonistic’. He elaborated on the concepts of Labor Aristocrat and Traditional Unionism. Interesting point to note on the difference between “economic struggle” as an end goal or “economic and political struggle” as the end goal. We should push for the latter, considering the challenges workers are facing now as a result of pro-capitalist governments is overwhelming: precarity, survivalism, ideological hegemony of the ruling class.

Looking forward for the second part of Socialism 2021, on 4-5 Dec 2021!

Letchimi Devi

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