ROBERT Maxwell died falling into the sea from his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, in November 1991, and was buried at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. His was a life lived to the full as a gruesome satire on the human condition under capitalism.
The story is summed up in one masterful incident. Feeling as powerful as God because he had so much money, Maxwell stood on top of the Daily Mirror building in Holborn pissing on the crowd far below. Turning to a minion he said Look at them! They don't even know they're being pissed on. Any of them who knew would not have dared accuse him for fear of a bankrupting libel writ!
Maxwell pillaged and robbed, mostly legally, on a gigantic scale, like some modern chequebook-wielding Tamburlaine. He was, it seems, set up in the publishing business by the British secret service. He was to gather and publish publicly available scientific information on their behalf, first from Germany and then from Russia.
Over time he grew very rich and became very powerful. In 1964 he became a Labour MP, but he was defeated in 1970. Soon after he was publicly branded as unfit to run a public company by the Department of Trade and Industry. But Maxwell had divine, or at any rate MI6, protection.
Evidence suggests that he also had KGB protection and possibly was, or was regarded by the KGB as, their agent. He was the public friend of Stalinist East European dictators, from East Germany's Honecker to Ceaucescu of Romania, and publisher of fawning, biographies of them. A consistent union-buster in his own enterprises, Maxwell backed General Jaruzelski when he banned the Polish labour movement, Solidarnosc, in l98l.
In 1984 he acquired the once respect-worthy tabloid Daily Mirror and turned it into something like a family photo album.
It would be wrong, however, to see Maxwell only as a grubby little man, as the demented or even psychopathic creature he must have been to treat people the way he did, casually stealing the pension funds of many thousands when he needed cash. In his last period Maxwell reached a Wagnerian grandeur of capitalist lunacy.
With the boldness and daring of a steppes bandit, he grabbed every chance to make money, crushing all who got in his way. He turned the lives of workers on three continents upside down at will. To him they were "like flies to wanton boys", to be crushed, or pissed on, for sport.
Yet he thrived because he was rich - or, at times, because he managed to pass himself off as rich - and got richer and richer. No-one could touch him. No-one could say a rude word about him in print, or he would have them for libel. Everybody in the newspaper business, it seems, knew something, at least, but no-one dared say anything seriously disparaging about the fat bandit.
He set himself up as a universal international go-between. And all the time he swindled and robbed and sacked workers, and pissed down on them in the street from the heights of his newspaper citadel.
Maxwell's career shows us what absurdities and monstrosities the power of money can generate, and how grotesque is our world in which the business of
everyone is to rob his neighbour of the fruits of his labour, if he can. In which the greatest robbers are the most respected and the most influential, the most immune from criticism. Until they die.
That is the capitalist norm. It goes on all the time, everywhere, in the pores of society. In all areas of your life, someone you don't see and don't know is pulling strings that shape and control your life. People you don't see are pissing down on you.
The good thing about Maxwell is that, though it is small comfort to the people whose pension money he stole, he was a visible, gargantuan, grotesque, monstrous caricature of the system which spawned and nurtured him and which now, continuing to do what he did in a smaller, greyer, way, righteously disowns him.
In Oscar Wilde's well-known story, The Picture of Dorian Gray, a portrait of a debauchee ages and becomes gruesomely ugly while the man whose crimes and self-indulgence register on the painted face remains young and fresh. Maxwell is to modern capitalism what that painting was to Wilde's deceptively young and fresh debauchee.
Editorial, Workers Liberty 28. Feb 1996