Capitalism in crisis
The case for socialism
By Hannah Sell
Editor’s Note: This pamphlet, written in 2008, sold out and was revised and reprinted, under the title The Case for Socialism, in November 2009. It is online here.
Note added for the new web edition of 2022: The latest Socialist Party pamphlet outlining the case for socialism is here: What the Socialist Party stands For
Capitalism in Crisis by Hannah Sell
The defenders of capitalism were wrong and the socialists and Marxists were right. This is what the current economic crisis means – as well as hardship for millions of people. Over the last few decades the representatives of capitalism have claimed victory for their system, declaring that the ‘free market’ is the only way of running the world and that it would bring us all peace, democracy and prosperity.
Socialism was, they declared, dead, buried and gone forever. As far as ‘official politics’ was concerned this was largely true. In Britain all three establishment parties were wholehearted advocates of neo-liberal, unregulated capitalism.
Labour, which had once had a socialist wing, had become just one more capitalist party.
Despite this, it has consistently been the case that the vast majority of the population stands far to the left of the parliamentary parties.
In a Mori poll in 2001, for example, 72% of people supported the re-nationalisation of the railway system, despite none of the major political parties arguing for it.
In opinion polls opposition to further privatisation of public services has remained consistently above the 70% mark throughout New Labour’s time in office.
This was true even before the current economic crisis. Capitalism may have been growing for sixteen years in Britain but it has not brought peace, democracy and prosperity.
Instead we have had the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the undermining of our democratic rights.
Above all, the one-sided nature of economic growth has meant unimaginable wealth for a few while the majority struggle to get by.
National Shop Stewards Network protest outside Bank of England, photo Paul Mattsson
The richest 1,000 people have seen their wealth quadruple under New Labour. Britain is among the most unequal countries in the world; second in the advanced capitalist world’s inequality index, beaten only by the US.
Nonetheless, most of us have managed to get by with a little help from our credit cards and bank loans.
The average adult has a debt of £33,000. Now, as the credit crunch bites into the real economy, that is an enormous added burden to workers coping with increased costs and less work.
To make ends meet, 25% of people are cutting back on food spending, 11% are buying fewer clothes for their children, and more than 10% have been forced to borrow more to pay their rent or mortgage.
Unemployment is predicted to increase by hundreds of thousands over the next few months. Factories are on short time. Repossessions of homes increased by 71% in the three months to June. Commenting on the deep recession unfolding at the moment Will Hutton sneered in The Observer (12.10.08): “This is history’s joke: the crisis of capitalism long predicted by communists and socialists who are no longer able to take advantage of it.”
In the coming years he will be proved wrong, as well. Even in the ‘difficult years’ of the 1990s, the Socialist Party has been able to build an important basis of support for socialist and Marxist ideas.
We have elected councillors in Coventry and Lewisham. We play a crucial role in the trade union movement, with twenty of our members elected as members of trade union national executives.
In the coming period, however, it will be possible to begin to build mass support for socialist ideas as millions begin to look for an alternative to the nightmare of capitalism.
A little foretaste of what will be possible was shown in the recent general secretary’s election for USDAW, the right-wing led shopworkers’ trade union.
Robbie Segal, a Socialist Party member, stood on a socialist programme for that election. Her campaign was run on a shoe-string budget by a handful of activists, and yet, such was the anger of ordinary USDAW members, she was able to win 40% of the vote.