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The Modern Era

We may be too close to the 1990s to be able to provide a proper historical perspective. Nevertheless, a number of important themes may be picked out.

The collapse of 'Communism' in Eastern Europe at the end of the eighties surprised many by its speed and spread. It had nothing to do with communism or socialism, but instead represented the end of dictatorial state-run capitalism and its replacment by a mix of private and state capitalism with some limited capitalist democracy. Nevertheless, it was widely hailed as a demonstration of the failure of Marxism and, conversely, proof of the superiority of capitalism.

World capitalism, however, continued on its bloody and barbarous way. The Gulf War of 1991 was a clear example of the way in which war—no matter how dressed up in nationalist or moral rhetoric—is basically fought for economic reasons. Oil and access to means to distribute it were at the bottom of the causes of the war. And as events at the start of the 21st century have shown, these reasons have not gone away or diminished in importance.

Racist and fascist ideas continued to fester within the despair, alienation and rootlessness of class society. The press maintained their fascination with crime and criminals, and the murder of Jamie Bulger in 1993 provided yet another opportunity for them to rail at the supposed evil of the children responsible. The Socialist Standard pointed out that evil and fascism have social causes, rather than being a matter of the inborn nature of some humans.

Capitalism's economic troubles meant a continuing rise in unemployment in the nineties and increased stress for those 'lucky' enough to have a job. In one of capitalism's absurd contradictions, building workers were laid off as the housing shortage grew. The profit motive indeed turned useful people into beggars.

In the UK, the Labour government elected in 1997 made little pretence of aiming to change society, just of running capitalism in a 'modernized' way. It did introduce parliaments/assemblies for Scotland and Wales, as part of plans for devolution and regionalization. Socialists oppose nationalist ideas, whatever their flavour, and voted neither 'yes' nor 'no' in the referendum.

As the decade and century ended, the Socialist Party looked back on a period when hopes for a better and safer world had been cruelly dashed, when both left- and right-wing approaches to running capitalism had failed to change or tame the nature of the beast. Poverty, starvation and misery remained the lot of so many, while a handful of billionaires lorded it over the rest of the world's population.

The attacks on 11 September 2001 showed that a world based on division and inequality can always throw up new pretexts for conflict. Yet economic factors remained the underlying case and, just as in earlier wars, the Socialist Standard maintained that wars over oil and trade routes did not justify the shedding of any working-class blood. Socialists oppose both 'sides' in such conflagrations, and support only working-class unity to establish a Socialist world.