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Posted on 18 February 2012 at 10:31 GMT

'Capitalism fails the poor' agree Oxford University students!

The world famous Oxford Union was the setting for a debate on the proposition: "This House Believes That Capitalism has Failed the Poor".

Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party, was a speaker for the motion. Alarm bells must be ringing in the circles of the ruling class that, in one of Britain's most privileged universities, the motion was accepted.

If the Oxford Union has such a negative view of capitalism, then change is truly in the air!

Peter argued that capitalism has not only failed the poor, but also the working class and society as a whole; that this crisis was not episodic, but systemic; it was failing the peoples of the world and needed to be replaced by a more rational system of democratic socialism.

Amongst the speakers - both for and against - this was a unique position which, surprisingly, was welcomed by sections of the almost 500-strong audience.

For example, there was applause when he supported the Greek workers' call for the cancellation of the debt and the nationalisation of the banks.

The other speakers arguing for the motion, Sir Ronald Cohen, by his admission a venture capitalist, Michael Brindle QC and student Scott Ralston, all made damning points about various aspects of capitalism's quite obvious deficiencies. They wanted to make capitalism work more humanely.

Opposition speakers

However, the opposition crudely justified even the worst aspects of capitalism. John Longworth, director of the British Chamber of Commerce, incredibly suggested that British workers should be happy that the gap between rich and poor in this country was not as great as elsewhere! No recognition here of the class division of the 99% versus the 1%.

He was outdone, however by the musings of Dr Madsen Pirie, whose claim to fame was that it was he who suggested to Margaret Thatcher the introduction of the poll tax.

Peter Taaffe reminded him that we represented the force that buried the poll tax and consequently Thatcher too.

Pirie informed us that capitalism was "beautiful", that he "loved capitalism" and he went to bed "dreaming about capitalism".

Andrew Brigden MP revealed the Tory Party's brutal right wing face. He denied there was any real poor in Britain; the high figures on poverty were just a statistical scam; that family breakdown, failing teachers, and immigration were to blame; and that bad government and the corrupt state were untrustworthy forces to solve problems.

In fact the theme of all the pro-capitalist speakers was that capitalism should be allowed to operate freely without the slightest government or state interference; that capitalism was the only viable system and was still progressive.

No mention of course of the massive state bailout of the banks - socialism for the rich! They buttressed their case against democratic socialism with references to Stalinist North Korea!

Peter Taaffe pointed to mass unemployment and the events in Greece to demonstrate that capitalism was now an absolute fetter to the further development of society.

Students reinforced this case in their contributions, with one female student pointing to Marx's analysis of "surplus value", which is a product of the labour of the working class and which the capitalists then accumulate for themselves.

Lord Grantley fittingly summed up for the opposition the real prospects for capitalism with the immortal words: "Let's pray for a miracle; grab a glass of whisky as the ship goes down!"

Linda Taaffe

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 18 February 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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