Editorial from the January 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
We are now in the middle of the biggest economic and financial crisis since the 1930s. In a world that has the potential to produce enough food, clothes, housing and the other amenities of life for all, factories are closing down, workers are being laid off, unemployment is growing, houses are being repossessed and people are having to tighten their belts. There are in fact already 16 million officially recorded unemployed in the EU. Outside Europe the situation is worse and people are rioting because they can't afford even the basic necessities of life.
Capitalism in relative "good" times is bad enough, but capitalism in an economic crisis makes it plain for all to see that it is not a system geared to meeting people's needs. It’s a system based on the pursuit of profits, where the harsh economic law of "no profit, no production" prevails. It's because the headlong pursuit of profits has led to a situation where they can't make profits at the same rate as before that those who own and control the places where wealth is produced have gone on strike – refusing to allow these workplaces to be used to produce what people need, some desperately. So, as in the 1930s, it’s poverty in the midst of potential plenty again. Cutbacks in production alongside unmet needs. Why should we put up with this?
But that's the way capitalism works, and must work. The politicians in charge of governments don't really know what to do, not that they can do much to change the situation anyway. They are just hoping that the panic measures they have taken will work. In Britain the Labour government is trying to spend its way out of the slump, but this has been tried before and has never worked. The slump will only end when conditions for profitable production have been recreated, and that requires real wages to fall and unprofitable firms to go out of business. So, there's no way that bankruptcies, cut-backs and lay-offs are going to be avoided, whatever governments do.
What can be done? Nothing within the profit system. It can’t be mended, so it must be ended. But this is something we must do ourselves. The career politicians, with their empty promises and futile measures, can‘t do anything for us. We need to organise to bring in a new system where goods and services are produced to meet people's needs. But we can only produce what we need if we control the places where this is produced. So these must be taken out of the hands of the rich individuals, private companies and states that now control them and become the common heritage of all, under our democratic control.
In short, socialism in its original sense (which has nothing to do with the failed state capitalism that used to exist in Russia or with what still exists in China and Cuba) as a society of common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit, with goods and services available on the basis of "from each according to ability, to each according to needs".