The ruling class hate you unless you make money for them

25 January 2021

In a televised debate, Deborah James, a TV presenter with stage 4 bowel cancer, said that she felt that Lord Sumption, an ex High Court Judge, was arguing that her life has ‘no value’.


Sumption, a militant opponent of lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, was arguing that the lockdown is damaging the lives of young people and that older people or the very sick should not be prioritised.

He interrupted James as she spoke: ‘I said your life has less value, not no value.’

He interrupted James as she spoke: ‘I said your life has less value, not no value.’

When asked on Good Morning Britain by Piers Morgan the next day if he felt a 98-year-old man who had fallen, hurt himself, and signed a Do Not Resuscitate order had any ‘value’ left in his life, Sumption defended himself with: ‘That depends what you mean by value. If you are making a policy choice in the NHS, suppose that resources are limited, and you cannot devote resources to that man and a 25-year-old who had come in from a serious road accident, then obviously you have to take account of the quality of the years ahead of the older man.’


Morgan pointed out he was talking about Captain Tom Moore, the 99-year-old who had raised £40 million for the NHS from his sponsored walk. At what point do you say someone’s life has less value?


Sumption is trying to make it about health care policies and priorities. But his attitude reflects a deeper view in the ruling class, that millions of people across the world are ‘unproductive’ and therefore ‘surplus to requirements’.

his attitude reflects a deeper view in the ruling class, that millions of people across the world are ‘unproductive’ and therefore ‘surplus to requirements’.

A lot of this is based on a pamphlet that Thomas Malthus, a cleric, and an economist, wrote in 1798 called An Essay on the Principle of Population. He argued that every few years the population doubled and the food supply could not keep up. He predicted within a few decades mass starvation among the ‘lower classes’.


Despite this prediction being totally wrong – food production has kept up with population, and in fact, we produce far more food globally than we could possibly eat – it helped foster in the capitalist class and the political elites the view that there were ‘too many mouths to feed’, and that poor people with large families were principally to blame for many social ills, including the creation of a ‘permanent criminal underclass’.


This contributed to the Victorian idea of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, the idea that some people were just wretched, idle, of weak character. This is the basis of the classic right-wing outlook that blames people who are struggling in society for their problems.

This is the basis of the classic right-wing outlook that blames people who are struggling in society for their problems.

Some things have changed a lot in over 200 years but the belief that we suffer from overpopulation, and that some humans are simply worth less than others, perpetuates today in the disdainful attitude that those with power have towards the rest of us. It is most manifest in the appalling lack of care for the homeless, the disabled, the unemployed, and so-called ‘illegal’ migrants, all of whom are considered part of the surplus population, and therefore a drain on resources, and expendable.


Socialists have an entirely different outlook. We believe that every human deserves a decent and fulfilling life. We see humanity as a community, and societies should be judged according to how far we take care of each other. It isn’t about whether you are ‘productive’ or a ‘drain on resources’; it is about making sure the resources we have are used properly to ensure the best quality of life for everyone.

We believe that every human deserves a decent and fulfilling life.

This is why Sumption’s comments are simply the logical extension of a capitalist system built on merciless competition and a dog-eat-dog mentality. If the hospitals have only limited resources, then we have to ask why that is the case. Why are some people able to afford private health care and live long and healthy lives whilst others are ‘less valuable’, with doctors forced to let them die through budget-based decisions.


And by extension, the arguments from some people that the high rates of COVID deaths among the elderly are acceptable or even somehow positive just shows this capitalist mentality at work. Just because someone is elderly doesn’t mean that they deserve to die of a disease or that their deaths are ‘freeing up resources’. We have to reject this capitalist death cult view of ordinary people.

Simon Hannah is a Labour and Unison activist and a member of Anti*Capitalist Resistance.

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