Anarchism in Interesting Times
Is there anything that illustrates the servile cap-tipping cesspool that is the public life of the Irish establishment better than an American multi-millionaire being cheered on by a crowd of three thousand at the RDS as he clutches a pint of guiness in one hand, raises the other, clenched to form a fist, and exclaims, “Getting rich is f***ing easy”? Only two things; The involvement of Bono and an approving write up in The Irish Times. Thankfully we were spared the former, but the paper of record just couldn’t help itself.
In an article titled, ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ on the prowl in Dublin, Pamela Newenham, recounts, without critical comment, how a former stockbroker turned felon, turned author, turned celebrity, since being immortalised in Martin Scorcese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street, has made a fortune from public speaking and coaching entrepreneurs. The piece, as presented, is an epic tale of the rise, fall and redemption, of the proverbial “self-made man”.
Jordan Belfort made $20,000 selling Italian Ice, a kind of fruit sorbet, at a beach in Queens, New York. Initially he planned to use the money to study to become a dentist but he discovered that there wasn’t as much money to be made in that profession as he’d initially thought. Eschewing a career that would be useful to society, he decided to become a parasite and get rich. While working as a stockbroker, enjoying the kind of lavish lifestyle that we normally associate with celebrities, he got involved in securities fraud, was indicted, convicted, and lost his fortune.
Now Belfort makes his money from “motivational speaking”. His current tour is due to net him $100 million. He charges a million dollars a year for private coaching. So getting rich is easy, for some. But as Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto, the existence of private property for “the the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths.” To elaborate, the existence of great wealth for ten percent of the population, and today, it’s super concentration in the hands of the top one percent, requires the labour of the majority of the population. Like the rest of the one percent, Belfort is doing nothing of real value. The workforce produces value, the capitalist class simply collects.
This kind of commentary however, would never appear in the pages of the Irish Times. For them, the existence of Jordan Belfort’s fortune has nothing to do with the non-existence of riches for the vast majority of humanity. It has no connection for them, to the fossil fuel driven economic growth that is rapidly destroying the planet. It just exists, independent of everything other than the genius of one individual, and if you just listen to the wolf’s motivational howl, it could be you. For as he says himself, “Successful people take action: they are not held back by their fears. They move into situations that stretch them.”
What action can the majority of us take? It’s not just our fears that are holding us back, but also our chains. If Sabrina McMahon had just conquered her fears would she have been rich like Belfort instead of living with her children in a car? Or perhaps the workers at the Paris Bakery, who are owed tens of thousands of euro in wages stolen by their employer, really just need to get motivated and move into “situations that stretch them”. What would happen if tomorrow, all of us decided we were going to take action and become stockbrokers or motivational speakers?
But hark at the wolf’s tale of redemption. On the way up he exemplified the American dream. He made money out of nothing. Nothing but the labour of those who picked fruit in south america, those who transported it and processed it. Every dollar he made selling Italian Ice involved the labour of hundreds, maybe thousands. He went on to buy and sell stocks, kickstart new companies, where again the labour of others made him rich. But then he sinned.
Jordan Belfort’s sin was not that his millions were made on the exploitation of workers, but that he swindled his own kind. The investors, other stockbrokers, other members of the capitalist class – the one percent. His redemption comes from paying them back and entertaining and motivating them along the way, like a neo-liberal Derek Hatton. Capitalism is one big swindle, but you’ll pay if you target the rich. That’s the moral of the story. Once you play by the rules, getting rich is easy, but only if what you’re selling isn’t your labour.