In 1997, as New Labour was first being elected, we carried a series of articles about the future of capitalism. In the light of the London riots, which spead with devastating effects through many other towns and cities across England a few weeks ago, it seems timely to reproduce some of the most salient points this month. They seem even more apposite now than they were then, and are all the more tragic that they were so predictable.The social and moral codes which developed alongside the rise of the capitalist class during the system’s ascendency have been undermined. The nuclear family, the bourgeois work ethic and the sanctity of private property have all taken a battering under pressure from the rampant and ruthless individualism unleashed by the market itself. For any system of society to survive and prosper it needs its own codes and regulations of behaviour, but those that developed within bourgeois society are now being ceaselessly undermined.
It is in these ways that capitalism is undermining the principles and continued existence of collective life . . . and all the signs are that it will continue and probably deepen, for there are few if any forces or tendencies within capitalism operating in the opposite direction.
This putrefying of capitalism's social basis and codes has taken on a number of forms, all of which are symptomatic of a society which is, to coin a phrase, ‘ill at ease with itself’: The ongoing break-up of community relationships and the atomisation of the individual. This has been particularly characterised by the development of a competitive "every person for themselves" type culture as the dominant one in society, and by the appearance and consolidation of seemingly unbridgeable generation gaps. The massive explosions of crime and drug taking, phenomena which were once peripheral or isolated in pockets, but which are now generalised throughout the market economy. The increases in violence and social disorder, spurred on by the horror and violence infecting the media (especially for children), and the re-appearance – generally for the first time since capitalism's turbulent infancy – of mass rioting on a regular basis, which has turned major cities at the heart of capitalism into uncontrollable war zones. The continuing, if not increasing, political vacuity of the capitalist class which has been mirrored in the rise of a nihilistic ‘no future’ culture among large sections of young dispossessed workers who see no progress and no hope beyond their pint glass or next ‘hit‘. The massive corruption of capitalism's political apparatus, which is particularly evident in Britain, but which is in fact a feature of the modern nation state virtually across the globe.
Filling the prisons is no solution on many grounds, not least of which is cost, and no government following this line has yet really succeeded in reversing the process which the market has started. None of the political appeals to "family values" are likely to succeed either as the very continued existence of capitalism and the forces it has unleashed make that near impossible.
Appealing to some sort of higher morality or set of values within the context of the market is clutching at straws, a long way from a considered and practical response to the problem. If the social decadence infecting society is to be overturned it has to be tackled at source – and that means the abolition of the market and the poisonous relationships which spring from it.