Reading the Wikipedia entry on Arron Banks – the financier whose bankrolling of the Brexit campaign is now the subject of a criminal enquiry – I was struck by certain similarities between him and Donald Trump. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arron_Banks.) I don’t know about Banks’s attitudes to women and to other races. I suspect him of being a serial liar, but can’t prove it. (The courts will doubtless rule on that shortly.) But it’s a fact that he was expelled twice from his minor public boarding schools, one with the Dickensian name of ‘Crookham Court’ (I kid you not), for – as Wiki reports – ‘an accumulation of offences, including the sale of lead stolen from the roofs of school buildings, and high-spirited bad behaviour’. After that he engaged in various kinds of Arthur Daley-like small business enterprises, before launching into insurance in a big way. (He seems to have been more genuinely ‘self-made’ than the Donald.) That’s where he made his millions, most of them spirited into hidden overseas tax havens: which is why the police are on to him now. They want to know where the huge amount of money he donated to Leave.EU – Farage’s outfit – came from originally. There are rumours that some of it was Russian. There are electoral rules about this. Beyond that, Banks is very right-wing, and a great fan of Trump. He’s reputed to be a bully. His Dad worked in colonial Africa. (I don’t know what to make of that; and it’s not a characteristic he shares with Trump.) And he has a foreign (second) wife.
The similarity that most struck me, however, was the nature of their businesses. Both of course are capitalist – indeed, almost the purest form of capitalism possible – but essentially non-productive. Neither of them makes anything, except – in Trump’s case – great tower blocks that nobody really needs. They buy, borrow, sell and invest. They do all this personally, which gives them a taste for authoritarian power. (It’s why most businesspeople despise any form of consensual government. ‘If only the country were run like a business…’) Essentially they are gamblers on a big scale. That after all is what the insurance and investment businesses require. The same is true of many of Britain’s other Brexiteers, including Farage, who was an investment capitalist; Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is rumoured to have shifted his investments over to Ireland; and Theresa May’s husband Philip. Unlike industrial or manufacturing capitalists, men like Trump and Banks have never contributed anything solid to society, apart from pots of money for themselves and their rich friends, and a couple of dubious reputations. That was before they launched into politics.
I think the type of capitalism they represent must be relevant to the kind of politics they pursue. In the first place, it’s exactly the kind of capitalism that most Marxists believed would represent its ‘final’, corrupt stage, before it swells to bursting point. Capitalism has always, of course, exerted an influence over British and (self-evidently) American politics, but usually behind the scenes. Now this ‘final stage’ of it has ‘come out’ and taken the reins blatantly, with a capitalist President, for pity’s sake; thus appearing to fulfil the prognostications of the Marxists to a T. – Secondly: because it’s essentially non-productive it also encourages amorality – anything to make a buck – and depends on manipulation for its success. It’s all smoke and mirrors: lies on the sides of buses, gutter press propaganda, Orwellian fears of invasion by Turks or Mexicans, denigration of ‘experts’: all designed for short-term ‘wins’. (I’ve always objected to the common American categorisation of people as ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, rather than, perhaps, ‘successes’ and ‘failures’. I write as someone who is happy to regard himself as a moderately successful loser. Trump and Banks are failures who won.) This mirrors the cold and superficial ‘short-termism’ which present-day late-capitalist economies are often accused of.
I shall be watching the results of the American mid-term elections on TV tonight, in order to see whether the downward progress of capitalism can be obstructed a little; and then waiting to see what the current ‘Brexit’ negotiations throw up. I don’t hold out much hope for either. No-one will dare to run counter to ‘the people’s will’ by trying to – for example – impeach Trump, or by reneging on Brexit. Just think of the outcry against us much traduced ‘elites’ in the tabloids or on Fox News. I’m dreadfully afraid that Arron Banks, and the final-stage capitalism he represents, may have finally won. I can just hear Marx muttering, from beyond the grave, ‘I told you so!’ (Ben once bought me a T-shirt with that on, during the 2008 financial crash.) At least Karl is no longer here to suffer the direst consequences; as neither shall I be, probably, at my advanced age. Lucky old us.