Saturday, November 1, 2008

Is capitalism crumbling? (2008)

The editorial from the November 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism has never had such a bad press as the last few months. Countless commentators have given more than a passing consideration to the question, will capitalism collapse? Whilst this hopeful question could be expected to emanate from excitable journalists, and from the rump of what remains of the left-wing throughout the world, it should be noted that the likes of Bill Gates and Nicolas Sarkozy have been asking similar questions.

The real challenge to capitalism however is not so much a challenge to its on-going operation – it will carry on in some shape or form regardless. The last few months are after all nothing other than a "market correction", albeit a pretty big and widespread one. Rather, the challenge to capitalism is one that is of more interest to world socialists.

For us worthwhile social change cannot come about blindly in knee-jerk reaction to events, nor in the role of passive bystanders as events unfold around us. What has become crystal clear over the last few weeks is the extent to which the experts of capitalism, the self-styled "Masters of the Universe" were flying by the seat of their silk monogrammed pants, with little idea what they were actually buying and selling.

Genuine social change will require more than just restricting executives' bonuses, or trying to improve regulation of the financial services sector, as many are calling for. Even when it is working right, even when it is booming, the market system fails miserably to do the one thing it claims as its unique selling point. Far from efficiently sending market signals between supply and demand, between producer and consumer, the market system sends confused, unreliable and skewed information.

And of course there are some areas of demand that the economic system is just not interested in even supplying – because of the low profit returns available. World hunger is one example illustrating how the market operates on the basis of profit, not human need. There can surely be few clearer signs of the priorities of capitalism than the contrast between the painfully slow progress made to address world hunger over the last few decades, and the haste with which politicians around the world have responded to the banking crisis. The sums of money hastily committed to increase banks' liquidity and stabilise the sector would – if used to meet real human needs - ensure not one person need die of hunger for the next 23 years.

Capitalism won’t collapse of its own accord. But for many millions it has never functioned to start with. Instead the market system must be dismantled intellectually, ideologically and democratically. A genuine alternative society must be agreed before capitalism can start to be dismantled in reality, with alternative mechanisms emerging to replace both the market and the state.

If we want to get rid of capitalism we will need to work at it. That's why we exist: to try and help as one small part of that massive process. If you want to help out in that process – if you want to become humanity to become a "master" of its universe – then please make contact, and the sooner we may succeed.