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Cooking the Books 1: Nothing to offer

“People in general have lost faith in the free-market, Western, democratic order,” lamented Daily Telegraph columnist Charles Moore (22 July). “They have not yet, thank God, transferred their faith, as they did in the 1930s, to totalitarianism. They merely feel gloomy and suspicious. But they ask the simple question, ‘What’s in it for me?’, and they do not hear a good answer.”

They certainly don’t. The mad-marketeers who ruled the roost at the time of Thatcher and Reagan didn’t have anything to offer, but at the time many people thought they did. Thatcher openly proclaimed that she intended to destroy “socialism”, by which she meant everything associated with the post-war Labour government (nationalisations, NHS, council housing) and her government went a long way towards doing so, even if she was only doing what the economic circumstances of British capitalism required her to do.

Then, in 1991, the USSR collapsed. The partisans of “the free-market, Western, democratic order” were elated. They proclaimed the “end of history” and that “socialism is dead”. But what had died was state-monopoly capitalism not socialism (which had never existed in Russia). A “peace dividend” was promised. It never materialised. Instead, there was the First Gulf War, to be followed by the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by the Western capitalist countries. In 2007 the biggest slump since the 1930s broke out. We’re still in it.

Wars, slumps, capitalism as usual. No wonder the likes of Charles Moore are disoriented and disillusioned. He even entitled his column “I’m starting to think that the Left might actually be right”, explaining:

“One of the great arguments of the Left is that what the Right calls ‘the free market’ is actually a set-up. The rich run a global system that allows them to accumulate capital and pay the lowest possible price for labour. The freedom that results applies only to them. The many simply have to work harder, in conditions that grow ever more insecure, to enrich the few. Democratic politics, which purports to enrich the many, is actually in the pocket of those bankers, media barons and other moguls who run and own everything.”

What Moore was lamenting was that the Right (to accept his term) has no answer to this criticism (only slightly caricatural) of the private corporation capitalism they uphold and promote. And they haven’t. Capitalism is now more intellectually bankrupt than ever. It has no inspiring vision to rally people, not even “freeing” people from state capitalism. As a result of the way it inevitably works, capitalism has become a dirty word again.

But what is the answer? By “the Left” Moore probably means the supporters of state capitalism (he explicitly states that “the Right” includes “the New Labour of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown”), but the above is a criticism of capitalism which we in the Socialist Party could broadly share, even though we don’t consider ourselves a part of the Left precisely because they stand for state capitalism.

We are opposed to private corporate capitalism and to state capitalism, both of which have failed. The answer is a classless society without rich or poor where productive resources have become the common heritage of all so that the production and distribution of the things we need to live and enjoy life can be carried out in accordance with the principle “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”. It’s the original meaning of socialism before the experience of Russia and Labour governments made it a dirty word. It’s high time it became respectable again.