From the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
Tumbles across the world’s financial markets have sent shockwaves through the media and the owning class. The “dotcom” revolution is under threat as new technology corporations report stalled sales, faltering profits and now share prices in freefall. One of the greatest success stories of the 1990s was computer company Cisco which was the best-performing stock of the decade with its share price soaring 100,000 per cent at one point to make it the world’s most valuable company; Now it has announced that it is axing thousands of workers, just like its competitor Compaq and many other high-tech companies.
This has confirmed that even the largest firms are now being hit by the US slowdown, undermining confidence in the entire cconomy. The impact on the world stock-market bubble has already been considerable. Here in the UK the FTSE 100 is down 20 per per cent already on last year and it is likely there may be some way to go. In the US the Nasdaq index of technology stocks has plunged as depressing business results pour in. In Japan. the situation is worse still: the economy refuses to kick in to life despite the best efforts of successive governments and its financial system has lust been described by a government minister there as “on the verge of collapse”.
So much then for the perpetual boom capitalism had allegedly entered and the associated “paradigm shift” in the world economy that was supposed to have taken place. Day by day capitalism is again showing itself red in tooth and claw — and lust as prone as ever to the economic crises and slumps that have beset it throughout its history. Socialists have never been fooled into thinking the system can act in any other way, of course—which is rather more than can be said for Gordon Brown, Eddie George or Alan Greenspan who now seem to be on a learning curve as steep as the Nasdaqs plunge.
“Patriotism is the last refuge ot a scoundrel”, wrote Dr. Johnson. “In a half-hour speech in which he used the words Britain or Britishness 25 times, Mr. Hague insisted that he, his party and Conservative voters were not racist, bigoted or little Englanders.” (The Times, 5 March)
We can expect a beleaguered politician like the Tory leader who is facing political extinction, to appeal to the worst elements of Xenophobia in a deperate attempt at survival. His depiction of the possibility of an other Labour government as a “journey to a foreign land” and his promise to toughen up restrictions on refugees is to be expected.
But what of the Labour Party? A chance to champion the plight of the refugees? No chance, because the same newspaper reports, “Labour refused last night to criticize Mr. Hague’s remarks on asylum and Europe—areas which party officials believe they are vulnerable— and attacked the Tory economic record.” The awful fate of some refugees being sent home to be imprisoned, tortured or killed can only be wondered at, but it is worth noting what one unknown visitor to the Hololocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum has recently recorded in the visitor’s book.
“It is 2.15pm. I came into this exhibition at 10.15 this morning I feel very overwhelmed. I am Jewish— on my mother’s side and some of her family perished in the Holocaust. Some survived because they escaped. It would have been interesting to reflect on the debates which must have gone on in thousands of families as the 30s unfolded. To escape? To what? To lose all and face a life of uncertainty and exile. Or to stay because “it’ll all blow over” or “we’ll manage” or some other reason. I have never seen this written about and I think it is especially relevant today when asylum-seekers are so reviled and suspected.”
Environmental disasters ahead
At election times it often suits politicians to make sympathetic noises about environmental issues, but after the elections are over the same politicians can usually find “practical considerations” that make them have “re-appraisals” of previous “policy statements”. This cynical manipulation is rife throughout the capitalist world, but it is doubtful if any of the political con-men could beat President Bush for the rapidity of his volte-face on the environment.
In a letter to Republican Senators, Bush reversed his election campaign promise to limit CO2 emissions from coal-fired plants, saying a new study shows it would be too expensive. He also reiterated his opposition to the Kyoto protocol, a 1997 agreement which aims to reduce greenhouse gases in the industalised countries by 5.2 per cent by 2012 (New Scientist, 15 March).
This is of course, the crux of the matter—cost. We live in a capitalist world based on commodity production with the aim of obtaining a profit. In competing with other capitalists, both nationally and globally, it is necessary to drive down costs in order to grab a bigger share of the market.In such a cut-throat society environment considerations count for little, except perhaps a little electioneering rhetoric. With the USA putting the interests of their capitalist class before the needs of the planet the future looks grim indeed.
The reversal was a blow to Kyoto supporters, since limits on power plants are probably necessary for the US to reach the goals. Christopher Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute says: ‘It is essential since those plants are one of the main reasons for the recent sharp increase in US CO2 emissions. In the last two years, the US has passed China to be the world’s number one coal burner'” (New Scientist, 15 March)