Enron and the class struggle

Were the consequences not so serious, the Enron debacle would have the makings of quite a comedy. Never have so many capitalists, CEOs, bankers, accountants, stockbrokers, media moguls and politicians all conspired to loot so many pension funds and defraud small investors, consumers and each other. Never has such a seemingly huge corporation collapsed so quickly. The coming recriminations and lawsuits are sure to win Oscars.

In its “Retire Rich!” issue only one year ago, Fortune touted Enron as a “Top Ten” stock to buy for the “long term.” By Dec. 2, Enron was the biggest bankruptcy in history. It had supposedly been the world’s 16th largest corporation in 2000, with sales of $101 billion and profits of $1 billion. Those figures are now in doubt.

The full repercussions of Enron’s bankruptcy will be felt for a long time. Millions are likely to suffer, from California to New York, from Calcutta to Sao Paolo. Pension funds worldwide have been looted. Enron could push the stressed Japanese banking system over the edge.

Enron was like an upside-down pyramid. It rested on a narrow but crucial base of productive assets. These included a power plant in India, natural-gas pipelines in the U.S. and water companies in Brazil. It borrowed on this base to build a huge speculative venture in energy, communications and other trading.

Enron in fact was a leader in gouging heating-oil and natural-gas consumers last winter. It was a key player in gouging California electricity consumers in that deregulated market last year.

Often overlooked in the volumes being written on Enron is the role of class struggle. Struggles in India and Brazil, led by Communist and workers’ parties and trade unions, helped erode the base of Enron’s pyramid. Consumer resistance to its gouging, and losses due to persistent overproduction in energy and other Enron trading markets, undermined its speculative ventures at the top. The pyramid collapsed.

There is an epidemic of hunger worldwide. Why isn’t the capitalist class investing in food production? There is an epidemic of homelessness. Why isn’t the capitalist class investing in steel and cement? Because, as the capitalists see it, there is overproduction of food, steel and cement. There are few or no profits to be had today from capitalist investment in agriculture, steel, education, public health, medicines, etc., despite the crying need.

Capital exists only for profits. So capital is flooding into speculation instead. As Marx explained, speculation is nothing more than trying to pocket the already available wealth of others, using cheating, trickery, war – whatever means are available. The numbers back this up.

U.S. banks use something called “derivatives” to engage in speculation. U.S. banks’ portfolios in derivatives grew from $7 trillion – yes, trillion – in 1990, to $51 trillion in September 2001. No less than the head of credit at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has called these figures “eye-popping.”

The $51 trillion is more than the value of the entire world’s annual production of goods and services! It is dozens of times the total annual investment in agricultural and industrial production.

Just seven U.S. money-center banks, led by two Rockefeller dominated entities, JP Morgan Chase and Citibank, hold over 95 percent of bank-held derivatives. Those two banks, and other Rockefeller family ventures such as Chevron, were heavy investors in Enron. But Enron is just the tip of a speculative iceberg.

At its peak, it accounted for no more than one-tenth of 1 percent of these banks’ speculative portfolios. That speculation is where the exploiting class’ heart lies is evident in how the entire capitalist apparatus was enlisted to prop up Enron’s venture.

This included the stockbrokers, accountants, credit-rating agencies, media and, above all, the banks and government itself. Deregulation and privatization fed Enron’s fires. George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin (now at Citibank), regulators and quite a few others have much explaining to do.

Capitalist speculation is increasingly destabilizing the world economy, looting savings and pensions worldwide, spreading insecurity everywhere. Class struggle helped bring Enron down. Still greater struggle is necessary to end the system behind it.