The Problems of Reformism

Below, we look at how some reform legislation has fared in capitalism.

Environmental regulation

The difficulties of regulating the profit system have shown up in recent attempts to reach an international agreement on ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions, which are causing global warming. The proposed agreement, known as the Kyoto Protocol, was rejected by the US, the country responsible for almost 25% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (a greenhouse gas responsible for a high proportion of global warming). The Protocol aims for reductions in 38 industrialised countries of 5% from 1990 levels by the year 2010. Yet, the World Resources Institute points out that even if the US joins in and this target is achieved, projected world emissions will be 30% higher than 1990 levels due to the increased emissions of developing countries.

The burning of coal and gas for energy production causes a large proportion of global CO2 emissions. Yet the economic interests involved in the extraction of coal and gas have caused capitalism to be incredibly slow to invest in renewable energy technology. Alternative, largely non-polluting, technology has been available for over 30 years, yet investment in it has been a fraction of investment in polluting technologies.

There are numerous other examples of the economic interests of the capitalist class blocking progress towards environmentally sustainable policies.

For further information visit our Environment Section.


In spite of attempts to tackle poverty by charities and non-governmental organisations, including the United Nations, the vast scale of global inequality remains and according to most measures is increasing:

The average (per capita income) for the richest 20 countries in the world was 15 times the average for the poorest 20 countries in 1960, and it is now 30 times— twice as high.

The World Development Report 2002 [p. 51] states that

…available estimates indicate that there have been some increases in worldwide inequality between individuals in past decades.

The scale of global inequality remains high:

Excluding China, the number of people living on less than $1 a day has increased from 880 million in 1987 to 961 million in 1998

The global total is 1.2 billion people.

For more information, see Who Owns the World?

Welfare state

When the welfare state was founded in Britain in the 1940s, it was heralded as a triumph for social equality. The Socialist Party of Great Britain (the British party in the World Socialist Movement), however, developed a unique analysis that has proven to be more or less correct. A pamphlet produced at the time pointed to the reasons why the welfare state was economically necessary for British capitalism at that particular time and how it was an attempt to buy off growing working class discontent following the Second World War. Beveridge Re-organises Poverty (SPGB pamphlet; 1943) The economic scenario facing the industrialised nations of global capitalism is now markedly different. With a rising proportion of retired workers and pressures to keep tight control on taxation, there is downward pressure in many European countries upon payments such as unemployment benefits and pensions.

For further information, see Holes in the Safety Net.