The world’s super-rich own vast sums of wealth and squirrel it away in whatever ways they can find. That’s nothing new.
But the revelations contained in the Paradise Papers have reignited working class people’s repulsion at huge wealth inequality and the behaviour of the capitalist elite.
The data shows that the world’s biggest multinational corporations – from Nike to Apple – are involved in what the Guardian calls “aggressive tax avoidance”.
Leading figures in Donald Trump’s administration are involved in these schemes. The Isle of Man and Malta have refunded billions in tax to the owners of private jets and luxury yachts. $600 billion has been shifted offshore by multinational companies in the last year alone.
The most revealing fact is that almost none of these statements alone would be surprising to most people – especially after the Panama Papers, a similar leak in 2016.
But combined, and held in contrast to the food banks, pay stagnation, and public services devastated by austerity that the rest of us face – not to mention the crippling poverty in much of the neocolonial world – they are the latest on a centuries-old list of reasons why we need to get rid of this cruel, corrupt and crisis-ridden capitalist system.
There is some suggestion that a few of these tax avoidance schemes may be operating outside the law. But more importantly, most are entirely legal.
Appleby, the legal firm at the centre of the Paradise Papers, said in its response to the leak: “We are an offshore law firm that advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business.”
What they mean is that they charge huge fees to the super-rich to find every possible loop-hole and convoluted way to get around the pathetic financial legislation that does exist.
Tory donor Lord Ashcroft hid $450 million in a secret account in Bermuda – legal. Millions of pounds from the Queen’s private estate was invested in a Cayman Islands fund with investments in discredited rent-to-own store Brighthouse, among others – legal.
Several actors from the BBC’s Mrs Brown’s Boys have saved thousands on tax by using offshore trusts based in Mauritius – legal.
We do need stringent regulation and for that regulation to be enforced. The PCS civil servants’ union has pointed out that there is £120 billion avoided, evaded and unpaid in tax every year – the vast majority by the super-rich.
That is money that should rightfully be spent on schools and hospitals. But instead of working to reclaim it, the government exacerbates the problem by closing HM Revenue and Customs offices across the country.
The number of staff in the department has been cut in half in recent years. These cuts must be stopped and reversed.
But that’s not enough. Two billionaires who own bulk shares in Arsenal and Everton respectively made numerous transactions between them which essentially led one to put in all the money for both investments – despite rules that prohibit owning significant shares in more than one Premier League side.
If campaigners are successful in forcing the Premier League to step up the rules to account for such close business ties, will these billionaires give up or will they just pay their advisors to find a new way to achieve the same end? The super-rich will always find ways around the toothless rules and laws that they always have the biggest hand in creating!
Theresa May wouldn’t even commit to Jeremy Corbyn’s demand for a public register of offshore companies and trusts and who owns them.
That’s not surprising either – how many of her friends would feature on such a list? How many more Tory donors? We must demand the books are fully opened – let the public see where the money is and how much.
Such data shouldn’t have to be leaked secretly and then shared between unaccountable news companies. Democratic representatives of trade unions, finance workers, tax inspectors and communities should have oversight.
But the Paradise Papers show that neither introducing laws (which a number of countries did after the Panama Papers) nor knowing what’s going on, is going to stop the capitalist class behaving as they do.
We want to put a stop to this giant rip-off! And there’s one major obstacle to that which unfortunately Corbyn failed to raise – we can’t control what we don’t own.
80% of offshore wealth belongs to the richest 0.1% of the population. They made their money off the hard work and exploitation of working class people.
But it’s also working class people who have the potential power to put a stop to all of this and to take back that wealth.
We call for the nationalisation of the banks and finance companies under democratic workers’ control and management to give us a proper view of what wealth exists and the funds to invest in jobs and services.
This would also allow the bank accounts of the rich to be frozen and transactions controlled to prevent them trying send their money abroad (to tax havens or elsewhere) in protest against such progressive measures.
But to really end the corrupt dealings of the capitalist class, a socialist government would have to go further.
The democratic nationalisation of the top 150 companies that dominate the economy would give the basis to begin planning production and the use of resources properly and without interference from the 0.1%. Compensation should be paid only on the basis of proven need.
The Panama Papers led to the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland. These revelations are more than reason enough for us to demand the same of May and the Tories.
They’re already on the ropes with the sexual harassment scandal engulfing Westminster and Brexit divisions unresolved.
The possibility of a general election at any time remains – and a call for mass action from Jeremy Corbyn could force the Tories’ hand even more.
He should organise, with the Trade Union Congress, a massive national demonstration against austerity – which has been proven completely unnecessary by the Paradise Papers.
This could spark coordinated strike action, student protests and big community campaigns to defend services.
If Corbyn put forward the kind of programme for fundamental change we outline here, he could win huge support.
It’s time to boldly fight for a socialist alternative to capitalism which can only ever mean a paradise for the capitalist elite and misery for the rest of us.
Editorial in the Socialist, England and Wales