Dissecting global economic apartheid: Western monarchies and labour aristocracies


It’s probably fair to say that most progressives nowadays are of the view that monarchies and aristocracies, as all types of hereditary power and its associated wealth, should be a thing of the past. Rightly, the Western left sees these as a small sector of the population that contributes little to society yet enjoys much of its fruits.

Just as an analysis of monarchs should centre the question of unearned material wealth and social privileges, those concerned with transforming the world economy, of global capitalism to be precise, must also be concerned with the unearned benefits of Western society as a whole. From access to vaccines to cheap consumer goods or access to clean drinking water, is the West’s vast wealth and social privileges earned or due to a global stratification of labour and resources? 

Much has been written and discussed on the division of the world economy. Whether it is anti-imperialist activists or revolutionary Marxist scholars, there is a widely accepted position that the capitalist world economy is divided into regions that are exploited and others who do the exploiting. However, this conversation, especially when it is had in the West, causes much controversy. It regularly has the effect of inspiring an energetic and forceful conservatism, otherwise absent. 

It’s difficult for the Western left to accept that even their working-class benefits from global capitalism. We hope that by holding up a figurative mirror, effectively drawing on the parallels found in the unfair accumulation of wealth and social privileges enjoyed by monarchs, we can understand the way global capitalism reconfigures class relations between regions, privileging some at the expense of others. 

The many millions of pounds that go to the British monarchy every year are possible due to the Sovereign Grant, effectively public money extracted from the British people through taxation. For all of the effort in making them appear to serve a crucial role, it is evident to most that what they contribute to society does not justify these millions in public expenditure. They are, in effect, a parasitical sector of society. They consume more than they produce, which the more radical left will argue is nothing at all. 

It would be inaccurate to argue that Western workers do not produce material wealth, yet there’s proof that they receive their very own Sovereign Grant. The unearned material wealth that Western society, including its working class, receives from the capitalist world system is, admittedly, more complicated than this. We cannot point to a sum of money that goes straight into their pockets or bank accounts. There are, however, concrete economic studies that have measured this phenomenon and dissected its intricacies. These are usually conveniently brushed aside, neglected, and ignored by the Western left due to the implications of seriously acknowledging them. 

There is a general recognition that the West enjoys higher living standards, but the how or why is not given much consideration – its mystification plays an important role. There is a justification of unearned privileges through a championing of national class struggle without profound regard of the world economy and its reconfiguration of class divisions on a global scale. Anchoring this to our analogy, the West’s material privilege in the world today is rationalised in the same way royal wealth is. The British state, for example, argues that the monarchy plays an essential role in the economy by attracting tourists to visit the Queen’s palaces and grounds. 

While it may be true that tourists flock to the Queen’s palaces, it is nonsensical to suggest that tourists travel to one of the world’s major cities for that sole purpose or that it generates enough income to justify their extravagant yearly expenses. The privilege of Western society, including its workers, is explained in similar ways. This includes simplistic (and racist) narratives of higher productivity and superior technology, the implication being that they generate their own wealth. At best, there may be a fleeting acknowledgement of a global divide in wealth with guilt deferred to an ambiguous elite. 

Without suggesting that the working class in the West enjoys the same material security as the royals, some basic guarantees and nets are afforded to them that offsets the levels of poverty and insecurity seen elsewhere globally. The unemployed and the most disadvantaged families in Britain, to give just one example, are afforded monthly benefits known as Universal Credit. Although valid criticisms exist, this welfare system means that the vast majority of society are offered enough income to pay their rent, basic monthly expenses, and childcare maintenance. 

Furthermore, drawing on our analogy, Universal Credit for the unemployed and the most disadvantaged is not equivalent to the Sovereign Grant; there are even more material and social security nets in free healthcare, education, infrastructure, state pensions, and so on. 

Rationalising the existence of these welfare nets, it is often proposed that they are paid for by the British people through taxation. Yet as British economist Tony Norfield explains, this is easily demonstrated to be untrue. Technically, taxes do partly fund welfare programs in the North. Yet, Norfield explains that since Britain’s economy is consistently at a deficit, importing more than it exports, it cannot sustain its own economy or, by extension, its welfare system. This yearly deficit in the economy is offset using sophisticated imperial mechanisms that extract value from the rest of the world using the finance industry. This is corroborated by the fact that eighty percent of its workforce is in the service rather than productive industries. Welfare in countries like Britain, then, should be seen as a material privilege that is made possible due to the imperialist economies and not just through the internal collection of taxes. 

Watch our recent discussion where we clarify what we mean by ‘Third Worldism’ – an ideology that takes into account the global economic divisions seen under capitalism.

Just as physical proximity to Buckingham Palace does not guarantee the same wealth and security enjoyed by members of the royal family, so is freedom from exploitation and impoverishment not guaranteed simply because you live in the West. The cleaners, dishwashers, and servants that tend to the royal family are paid using the same Sovereign Grant, yet many of them probably struggle on low incomes. Similarly, acknowledging that the economies in the Western world are sustained through an imperialist capture of wealth does not mean the negation of poverty, exploitation, and oppression of millions who live there. 

Moreover, the communities that benefit the least from the imperialist capture of wealth in the West are communities whose origins are in the historically colonised world. Black people, be they Caribbean or African immigrants, or those whose ancestors were captured and taken against their will to the West hundreds of years ago are, generally, the least materially privileged. Similarly, Latin American immigrants in the United States and Europe are often limited to undesired jobs that pay a pittance. 

Black and Brown lives are seen as less valuable, less worthy of access to public services like decent housing and education, and less employable, leading to them being discarded into prisons, immigration centres, or simply killed regularly by the police. 

To be precise, there are observable divisions of the working class within Western nations themselves and not just in the context of the world economy. Some workers, Western white workers to be exact, enjoy more privileges and security under this system and are not subject to racialised violence. 

The lack of a profound analysis of global economic apartheid and local class/race divisions that affect the configuration of class struggle both nationally and internationally is palpable in the Western left. With its roots and veins in the oppressed nations of the global South, the diaspora must come home ideologically and expose these divisions rather than blindly accept an idealist universalism influenced by the unearned privileges afforded to Western society. A failure to do so will make us the complicit servants of a system that allows the Western world to live like monarchs while the rest of us pay tributes as if we were their subjects. 

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