Into the new millennium

Into the new millennium

Socialist Party general secretary, Peter Taaffe

Millions were out on the streets throughout the world. For a short moment the world experienced a moment of human solidarity, as TV carried the joyous global celebrations.

Of course, the powers that be, the capitalists, used this occasion to extol the benefits of their system. However, the fireworks, enjoyable and spectacular as they were, could only dim for a brief historical moment the underlying reality of the present and future under capitalism, for the masses.

Capitalist newspapers declared the so-called free market as the best means of delivering humankind’s future: “The world in short is becoming a better place… capitalism is broadly accepted worldwide as the least bad way of organising economic activity.” (Observer, 2 January)

Yet at the same time they can write: “The gap between the incomes of the rich and the poor in the advanced democracies is widening and the disparity in wealth is extraordinary… Nor is that all. The disparity of income and wealth between countries is also becoming insupportable. More than a billion people live in abject poverty, their collective income no more than the 600 of the richest men and women on earth.”

This does not, however, prevent the Observer from contemptuously speaking of the “implosion of socialism as an idea”. Why then do they draw parallels with the uncontrolled, untrammelled capitalism prior to 1914 and fearfully write: “It was the profound anger at economic and social inequality that underpinned the growth of socialism and communism in the first 40 years of the century”?

And 19th century conditions are being recreated in Blair’s ‘modernised’ Britain, which is clearing the ground for a mass resurgence of socialism.

In his New Year’s message, Blair proclaimed that Britain will become a “beacon for the world”, especially under his conductor’s baton. But a beacon for whom?

For the spivs and stock exchange sharks who pocketed £1 billion in Christmas bonuses? Bonuses partly spent on lavish champagne parties, before these creatures departed to the suburbs of Essex and elsewhere on trains christened by them as the ‘vomit comet’.

The new millennium generation

BUT WHAT of the new millennium generation?

We are told that the glittering progress of science could mean ‘millennium babies’ living much longer than the present generation, some well over 100. Yet, depending upon where they live, one baby’s life will be startlingly different to another.

Incredibly, four-fifths of households in Edge Hill, Birkenhead and Bootle in Liverpool, and in Middlesbrough, Leicester and central Belfast get by on less than £13,000 a year. By contrast, four in ten homes in the central London areas of the Barbican, Blackfriars, Belgravia, Temple and Embankment gross more than £50,000. On the basis of Blair’s capitalist Britain, this gap will grow even wider.

The number officially classified as poor grew by a million in the first two years of his government in power. Little wonder that George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, implicitly chastised Blair and other capitalist dignitaries gathered in St Paul’s cathedral for adopting the new “warped creed” of “blessed are the rich and famous” in place of the poor.

As the last century ended, Nelson Mandela introduced a necessary dose of reality. When visiting his former prison cell on Robben Island he declared: “We close the century with most people still languishing in poverty, subjected to hunger, preventable disease, illiteracy and insufficient shelter.”

However, the minimal cut in the debt to some poor countries, promised by Gordon Brown, will have only the slightest effect in altering this pattern in the 21st century. It is the equivalent of taking a thimble to empty the oceans of the world.

Africa is immeasurably worse off economically than it was ten years ago. It is also plagued also by the new ‘Black Death’ of Aids,. Nelson Mandela calls for an ‘African renaissance’, but this will be a fantasy so long as it is locked into the capitalist system.

The same applies to Latin America, where 39% of the continent’s population live in poverty, higher than the 1980s.

Capitalism’s supporters

IN THE advanced industrial world, capitalism’s supporters argue it has surely done better. Yet a leaked report comments that in the US between 1983-1997: “85.5% of the vaunted increase in America’s wealth was captured by the richest 1% of the population. In that time, the country’s income rocketed yet 80% of American families received 0% of that increase. The market’s up, but who is the market? The gilded 1% owns $2.9 trillion of US stocks and bonds out of the total of $3.5 trillion.”

In Europe in this winter, 700,000 Europeans will live under canvas in Kosova, Turkey and elsewhere. Capitalism oozes inequality ‘naturally’ from its pores. Tony Blair may not be personally responsible for all the ills that beset Britain and the world. But he supports a system which creates these conditions.

Blair and his right-wing Labour predecessors bear a heavy historical responsibility for swinging the Labour Party away from its opposition to capitalism and of converting it from a workers’ party, at least at base, into a completely pro-capitalist party like the Democratic Party in the USA.

Capitalism by its very nature is incapable of overcoming these problems but socialism will eliminate them. The system’s high priests of the ‘new economy’ argue that through new technology and the wired worker, a massive increase in productivity is under way which will sustain the present boom.

The OECD even declares that American, European and world capitalism is on the eve of a ‘long boom’ which could rival 1950-75. They are more drunk with their own seeming success than any participant in the New Year millennium celebrations.

But the more sober economists realise that the system is built on a house of cards. There is a massive share and asset bubble taking place which has seen one US firm in 1999 reach a market capitalisation higher than the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of New Zealand.

Just five stocks on the Nasdaq index in America had a book value equal to the annual output of Britain, the fifth largest economy in the world. However, the dizzying heights which some new technology shares have reached disguises the fact, as Larry Elliot has commented in the Guardian that “a pretty ferocious bear market is already under way in New York and London. More than half of the S&P 500 stocks are down this year.”

Heading for a fall

CAPITALISM IS heading for a fall, the timing of which and the scale upon which it will develop, is unknowable precisely because it works in a blind fashion. Marxism, scientific socialism, properly understood and applied, can work out in a broad sense how events are likely to develop.

This doesn’t mean it’s possible to work out the winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day! Marxism is the science of perspectives through understanding the broad processes which are developing economically, how they will be reflected socially and, ultimately, politically as well.

In the US the yawning current account deficit could be a trigger for the dollar’s collapse, as could further economic collapse in Latin America, Asia or Russia. British capitalism is not immune from this process.

Indeed, despite Blair’s blandishments, British capitalism’s real underlying position is precarious. Its long-term decline, enormously aggravated under the Thatcher government, has consequences which are only becoming fully obvious today.

Unbelievably, New Labour chancellor, Gordon Brown, said recently that his government will ‘build on the foundations of the 1980s’. What were these ‘foundations’?

Left-wing economics professor, Bob Rowthorn detailed in a recent report on Britain’s deindustrialistion and mass unemployment the continuation of the long-term effects of Thatcherism. Rowthorn emphasises that while all major industrialised countries have de-industrialised to some extent in the past 20-30 years, in Britain it has been precipitous and calamitous

Until recently, New Labour took for granted its so-called ‘core vote’. But recent elections have shown not only disenchantment but outright hatred, precisely amongst former pro-Labour voters for Blair and New Labour.

Pensioners are up in arms over the miserly 75 pence per week ‘granted’ by ‘their’ government. One wrote to Brown saying that promises of ‘goodies’ in the future was not much use to him as he was 77 and wanted action now.

Teachers, civil servants and other public workers are increasingly angry at the way their wages and living standards are held down. A recent report showed that in order to have the access to the same kind of housing that teachers had in London in 1900 the average teacher would need a salary of £80,000 today!

Industrial and social revolt

A HUGE industrial and social revolt is brewing in Britain. Even John Edmonds, a right-wing union leader, has understood this. He recently commented that the trade unions’ mistake in the winter of discontent at the end of the last Labour government of 1974-79. was not waiting until after the 1979 election, when Labour would probably have been re-elected, before pressing their demands.

(In reality, they did not make a mistake as the winter of discontent arose from the colossal pressure of ordinary trade unionists from below which compelled the official trade union leaders to head the movement.)

Real pressure for action on jobs, housing, working conditions, etc, will probably come after the next election. This is when the real ‘fireworks’ will ignite.

It could break out before, particularly if there is an economic slump or recession. Blair probably realises what is coming and events in Britain and internationally could push Blair to call a snap election to ensure his much-heralded ‘second term’.

The striking collapse of the Tory Party is an additional factor in his calculations.

The Tory Party could be supplanted by the Liberals and become what Karl Marx expected in the 19th century, the second party of capitalism, not its main instrument.

The Tory Party’s ultimate weakness arises from the fact that Blair’s New Labour is doing the best job for capitalism that is possible at this stage. The Liberals could possibly gain from the Tories’ demise in the south. Moreover, disillusioned Labour Party supporters could switch to the Liberals who will present themselves as something ‘new’. This is despite being a prop for the New Labour government.

The Labour Party itself faces a haemorrhaging of support both in its activist base and electorally. Its huge parliamentary majority and the Tories weakness will probably ensure that New Labour will be returned at the next general election but with a much reduced majority. It is not excluded that Blair could then go for an open coalition with the Liberals in place of the disguised coalition which exists at the present time.

A new election will continue the ‘Americanisation’ of British politics with increasing numbers refusing to vote for parties which are fundamentally the same but with different brand names. Then the need for an alternative will increasingly be seen by the new generations of workers, youth, black and Asian people and women.

The outlines of the future were seen in the marvellous anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle, USA and elsewhere. This situation has the features of a pre-pre-1968 period.

In the 1960s there was perhaps a more conscious understanding of the alternatives to capitalism. But the mighty general strike in France in 1968 was preceded by the lightning flashes of the student movement in Britain, Germany and France which was inchoate and as confused as some of the movements today.

Tom Hayden, one of the Chicago 8 who demonstrated against the Vietnam war in the 1960s and 1970s, and who was arrested and beaten during the Democratic Party Convention in 1968 said, after participating in the WTO demo: “In 1968, we had one or two issues, but this is about everything.”

Opposition will grow

OPPOSITION TO the colossal power of the global caitalist system will grow.

The power of a handful of capitalists has been underlined by American economist and author, David Corton: “The sales of the world’s ten largest companies exceeds the GNP of the world’s 100 smallest countries. The leading 50 industrial corporations control up to 25% of the world’s economic output. The combined assets of the world’s 50 largest banks and financial companies control 60% of the world’s global capital.”

The 21st century opens up two roads. It can usher in even greater destruction than the previous century. National antagonisms, wars, pestilence, famine, massive environmental damage (which can take generations to overcome) are possible if the power of a handful of capitalists is allowed to continue. Or it can take the socialist road.

A significant minority is against the system as a whole, with another layer groping towards an alternative. The inevitable generalisation that will take place through experience will lead these layers to seek out the ideas of socialism. The mass of the population in Britain and worldwide will not be far behind.

The world is crying out for planning, which capitalism cannot do. Only socialism, through the democratic control and management by the mass of the population, can achieve this.

In the millennium celebrations there was only a glimpse of human solidarity. While millions celebrated, the obscene Russian capitalists bombed Chechnya and millions continued to starve throughout the world.

A lasting unity, a real and enduring human solidarity, will only be possible when working-class people and the poor farmers and peasants throughout the world take the power into their own hands through world socialism.