Let’s get one thing straight right from the start. Capitalism has no morality despite the endless grating platitudes from the likes of Will Hutton, Ed Miliband and even David Cameron. These managers and apologists for capital incessantly plead for a caring, compassionate, regulated capitalism as opposed, I presume, to a nasty, uncaring, unregulated capitalism. But capitalism is neither inherently good nor inherently evil. And it can no more be made good than it can be turned to evil.it simply does what it is hotwired to do. It follows its own logic; the accumulation and concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands. Relentlessly breaking down old, outmoded traditions – of nationality, of religion and local culture, it is, in essence, colour blind, gender neutral and free from feudal and other prejudices. And, its most defining characteristic; it always and everywhere moves to the point of highest return, circumnavigating whatever state regulation that may be put in its way. Liberal morality, state capitalist diktat and religious dogmas are irrelevant to it. And HSBC, like all cathedrals of capital, has been performing in precisely the way we should expect it to perform; maximising the return on the capital it controls and helping concentrate that capital in ever fewer hands. That is capital’s genius and at the very same time its fatal flaw.

Has HSBC been acting criminally? Of course it has. The very act of capital accumulation is a crime in itself, in that it involves the dispossession of socially produced wealth and places it in private hands. In Britain the first major criminal act of appropriation was the forced and arbitrary enclosures of the common land. If ever there was an act of criminal capital appropriation that was one. Then, when there was no more common land to appropriate, British capitalism, along with its European competitors, began the very same process across the globe. This might reasonably be considered an even bigger crime in that it involved, in the first instance, the near genocide of the indigenous land holders. Those that resisted this criminal appropriation were cut down without mercy. And even those that were too terrorised to resist, still met the exact same fate. It was not particularly personal. The indigenous peoples were simply deemed to be in the way of Europe’s relentless expansion of capital.

Having seized the land in the biggest land grab in human history, and having exterminated the local populations without mercy, it suddenly dawned on these early capitalists, too busy in the bloody business of the primitive capital accumulation, that they had made a miscalculation. They had killed off the very source of labour they would need for the growing of cash crops in the Americas. Hey presto – modern day slavery was born.  Now as crimes go, they don’t come much bigger, but capitalism was merely behaving as it was hotwired to do. And science and morality were quickly corralled into a sickeningly perverted justification of this horrendously inhuman crime.

The domestic populations in the capitalist heartlands were not to be immune from these mind boggling crimes against humanity. Intolerable working conditions were quickly imposed on the newly ‘liberated’ peasantry including of course the quaint institutions of the work house, child labour and arbitrary transportation to the colonies. In a nasty little ironic twist, the early victims of capital accumulation were themselves to be criminalised.

But if the crimes of early capitalism were brutal beyond imagination, then mature capitalism was to equal if not exceed that brutality. Under this category we might include the sale of weaponry to peoples displaced by European colonialism and the subsequent promotion of civil wars in a cynical process of divide and rule. And in the final instance, inter-imperialist war itself. Countless millions would perish in this long bloody chapter of mid-life capitalism. Of course, the military-industrial complexes of the leading capitalist nations grew fat at the expense of their victims. Capitalism was in full flow and the body count was irrelevant.

And when industrial capital finally morphed into finance capital the criminal nature of capital grew exponentially. Instead of nation against nation, the real contradiction was global capital against the  world’s increasingly impoverished population. The one percent against the ninety nine percent, though in reality it was more like the 0.1 percent against the rest. And HSBC is right up there in that 0.1 percent. Tax evasion and money laundering in carefully constructed tax havens is their speciality. But their crime is of a far greater magnitude than simple tax evasion and money laundering. By facilitating moribund practises of casino capitalism they have been instrumental in bringing the world economy to its knees. Thus, the victims of capital can no longer be counted in the millions nor even hundreds of millions but, in reality, in the billions. While HSBC and the other big financial corporations are manipulating the markets by cynically moving around trillions of dollars, vast swathes of humanity are struggling to even feed and house themselves. Western capital has become, in its dotage, totally parasitic. It no longer invests in useful manufacture, in social infrastructure or research and development, it simply gambles on the money markets in the socially useless pursuit of a quick profit. But the social consequences of this parasitic behaviour is incalculable. The world economy is still trying to recover from the 2008 crash. The next crash will almost certainly be even more severe.  It seems the endless cycle of boom and bust is growing in intensity with each subsequent crash.

Can global capital be successfully regulated? I think not. Global capital, its revolutionary potential finally exhausted, has gone feral. Only the most blinkered ideologue would deny finance capitalism is pregnant with its own demise. The more astute of our politicians probably sense this, hence their rush to get their snouts in the trough before the trough is empty. Should we pursue the criminals in HSBC and the other citadels of capital? Definitely, but I doubt it will make the slightest difference because the next tier will simply step forward and devise ever more obscure ways to hide their dirty work.

Capitalism is the ultimate crime and bringing to justice a few of its more notorious lieutenants will have little effect on the system as a whole. On a positive note, I like to imagine that we humans have nearly outgrown this absurd and irrational  system where private ownership reigns supreme. Or is that just wishful thinking? But then again, is so outrageous to demand the social ownership of socially generated wealth? Not so much wishful thinking as stating the bloody obvious.

 

End JPK Copyright 25/2/15

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 01 March 2015 12:46 )