Taxation of "super-profits": No, capitalism cannot be reformed!

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After a media spike early last autumn, the theme of "super-profits taxation" has crept into the speeches of many politicians, in the press and even in the mouths of media economists.
The indecent rise in profits is a reality. The dividends of CAC-40 shareholders in France, the profits of TotalEnergies, LVMH, Engie, Arcelor Mittal, those of the major energy distributors in Germany, Italy or Great Britain, such as Shell, BP, British Gas... all are setting records. For example, TotalEnergie doubled its net profit in the second quarter of 2022. In the United Kingdom, the Shell Group has made a profit of 40 billion dollars. Germany's top 100 companies are reporting record revenues of 1,800 billion euros compared to the same period last year. The global freight giant CMA CGM has increased its revenue for the first quarter of 2022 by $7.2 billion, an increase of almost 243%!
This situation, which accentuates social gaps and inequalities, is accompanied by a disgusting exhibition of certain incomes while workers' salaries stagnate, if not regress. Precariousness has become the norm and inflation is plunging a growing mass of workers into poverty[1].

The bourgeoisie verbally condemns super-profits the better to defend capitalism
In the face of this constantly deteriorating situation, the "taxation of super-profits" is presented as a possible solution or as one of the means to respond to the crisis. The Bundestag and other parliamentary chambers in Europe have been led to plan such a tax, mainly on profits related to the energy sector. In his speeches, President Macron, preferring to banish any reference to the lexicon of leftism, mentioned for example the possibility of taxing the "undue profits" of the large energy companies. The aim was probably to make the forced use of their cars less unbearable for workers, especially the most precarious, and to respond ideologically to what is experienced as a real injustice: "the rich are gorging themselves while we are struggling more and more to fill our petrol tanks". Such propaganda, in the mouths of other European leaders of the same ilk, in the midst of an economic crisis and in a context of strong inflationary pressures, is a sign of the bourgeoisie's concern about an increasingly tense social situation.

Faced with increasing misery, proletarians began to raise their voices in the struggles in Britain, France and many countries of the world: "enough is enough" or « maintenant, ça suffit!».Because of the upsurge of struggles around the world, the bourgeoisie is forced to hand out a few crumbs. But what it lets go with one hand, it will immediately and inevitably take back with the other.

Beyond these concerns, the danger for the working class lies in an apparently more radical mystification put forward by the left, the unions and above all by the leftists, as is the case particularly in France with the Trotskyists.

At the end of August, LFI-NUPES[2] was already organising a petition entitled: "Let's tax super-profits"! In many of their speeches, LFI MPs, from Manuel Bompart to François Ruffin, stressed the need for taxation as a response to the social crisis. But this same idea was the almost exclusive ideological niche of leftists, just a few years ago. Like those of LO (Lutte Ouvrière), whose demagogic slogan often boiled down to "make the rich pay", a sort of variant of the Stalinist speeches of the past, which presented themselves as the "enemies of the trusts", exploiting in passing the old myth of the "200 families".[3] This old idea of "taking from the rich" was also conveyed by other propagandists, such as those of Attac, who still advocate the application of the Tobin Tax[4]. (3)

In reality, the slogan "let's tax profits" has always expressed the will to whitewash capitalism, to hide from the exploited the historical bankruptcy of the system and the causes of its crisis. What the leftists' idea of "expropriation" hides, by polarising attention on the "profiteers" who thus play the role of lightning rod (as during the 2008 crisis attributed to the bankers), is to make us believe that the roots of the world crisis come from the "excesses" of the big firms, from the egoistic behaviour of the "greedy" managers and shareholders or of this or that boss. In short, despite the contradictions of capitalism, it would be possible to "relieve the workers’ lot" through a "fair redistribution of wealth".

But today, these old discourses of the extreme left, recycled in response to the reflection going on among more conscious and combative working-class minorities, are no longer sufficient. While the classical left perpetuates its ideology of "redistribution" and "regulation" by the state, the leftists now force themselves to talk about the "need to overturn the system". For LO, this taxation now becomes a "deception". [5](4) A group like Révolution Permanente (RP), a split from the NPA, also criticises this slogan which "does not allow us to attack capitalist private property".[6] Without abandoning the old "reformist" platitudes such as "indexing wages to inflation [...] to unite our class" – proof that this new leftist boutique does not aim to question wage exploitation in any way.

Behind the apparent radicalism of its speeches lies the staunch defence of state capitalism under the guise of "expropriations" which would make it possible to build a so-called "workers' state". The leftist organisations do not at all distance themselves from the conceptions conveyed by the classical left, consisting in maintaining the illusion of the possibility of constituting a state "above classes", capable of "regulating the economy in the service of the workers". Consequently, far from being at the service of workers' emancipation, the left and the far left will always remain in the bourgeois camp at the service of the conservation of capitalism.

Is there any money in the pockets of the bosses?

The capitalist world is inexorably sinking into an acute economic war, against a background of massive indebtedness. All companies and all nations are fighting each other to maintain their competitiveness in the face of fierce rivalry. To survive in this jungle, there are no easy ways: you have to accumulate as much capital as possible by squeezing workers to lower production costs. Contrary to persistent myths, such as that of the "thirty glorious years", capitalism has never and will never be able to "redistribute wealth fairly", as this would mean dooming itself to ruin. With the generalised crisis of the system, it is not even conceivable to grant the slightest reform in favour of the workers. The only perspective that capitalism can propose to the proletariat is a permanent degradation of its living and working conditions.

This is what the propaganda about the "taxation of profits" seeks to conceal! As sophisticated as it may be in the mouths of "left" economists, this lie has for the sole function of filling the skulls of the workers with illusions about a way out of the crisis. Capitalism has no philanthropic vocation; it can only act in conformity with its nature: to accumulate capital and make profit through the sweat of the workers.

Can the state share the wealth better?
The idea hammered out in the past by leftists, especially Trotskyites, of "taxing the rich" to invest "sleeping money" and pretend to invest in schools, health care, etc. for a better world under the leadership of a state democratically controlled by the workers, is a pure lie. Contrary to what they want us to believe, capitalism can in no way overcome its insoluble contradictions which generate a permanent crisis of overproduction and an abysmal debt. The fantasy model of "redistribution", or of state control fraudulently assimilated to "communism", remains in reality that of Stalinist state capitalism! A "model" of capitalist management that all far-left politicians are still nostalgic for.

Contrary to the belief in the possibility of creating a more "social" state, the reality is that the state represents the spearhead of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie likes to portray states as subservient to the big transnational corporations. But the balance of power between the "private" bourgeoisie and the state is strictly the opposite: without the tight state control of production and trade at all levels, without the sophisticated regulatory apparatus (favouring tax breaks), without the army of civil servants to train or care for the workers, without the imperialist influence of the states, the companies, small ones or run by billionaires, would be nothing. To be convinced of this, you only have to look at how a megalomaniac like Elon Musk is entirely dependent on the orders and goodwill of the US state.
The bourgeois state is not a neutral place of power to be conquered, it is the main instrument of exploitation and domination by the bourgeoisie over society. As such, it is the main enemy that the working class has to defeat. The myth of the "protective" state has a long life. As the spearhead of all the attacks, it is in its name that the "reforms" that degrade our living conditions are carried out. In reality, the state's only function is to guarantee the order that allows the best exploitation of labour power: any idea of "regulation", "redistribution" or "workers' control" under capitalism is a delusion.
Proletarians have no choice: they must wage the most united and broadest possible struggle. To do this, they must start by remaining deaf to the media noise, but also and above all to those of false friends such as the leftists and the unions who claim that it is possible to reform or control the state in favour of the workers. The most dangerous enemies are those who, behind the mask of justice, or even revolution, remain the last bastions of the bourgeois state.

WH, 17 March 2023




[1] These record profits are not, however, signs of a healthy economy. They are essentially explained by the soaring price of hydrocarbons, speculation and the fall in production costs, in particular due to the intensification of the exploitation of labour power and the low wages maintained for all proletarians.
[2]  La France Insoumise, Nouvelle Union Populaire Ecologique et Sociale, which has a number of seats in the French parliament

[3] This myth appeared at the end of the Second Empire, implying that political power in France and the power of money, via the banking system and credit, were in the hands of a few extremely rich "200 families".

[4] The American economist, James Tobin, proposed in 1972 that foreign exchange transactions be taxed by a levy of between 0.05% and 1%.

[5] «Taxation des superprofits : une supercherie ». Lutte Ouvrière n° 2822

[6] «“Taxer les superprofits” ou comment ne pas s’attaquer à la propriété privée capitaliste » on the RP website.


Ideology of the capitalist left