The financial markets have taken a hammering. Speculators (that’s a rich person’s word for ‘gambler’) lost incredible sums of borrowed cash in bets on everything from mortgage values to the possible price of wheat in 2011. Banks who lent out far more money than they actually had needed governments to step in with billions to bail them out. In some countries the state took them over.

Unfortunately, capitalism is not collapsing. Nothing massively unexpected has happened. If the ‘economists’ who turned up on every news programme this Autumn really didn’t know there was going to be a crash at some stage they should think of changing jobs.

Capitalism is definitely going into a slump. Production is slowing down, employment is falling, investment is drying up, wages are starting to fall behind inflation, less is being bought. We didn’t know exactly when the boom would end; we don’t know exactly how deep this slump will be – but we do know the boom/slump cycle is, and always has been, an integral part of that system.

Even if capitalism suffered a massive worldwide crash of such a magnitude that production almost ceased entirely (and there is no sign of that), it would not, in itself, mean the end of that particular system.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that capitalism is a social system. It is a way that people have dealings with each other in their everyday lives. There have been other systems in the past, like barbarism, slavery and feudalism. Nothing need be fixed for all time.

Today we live under capitalism, where the means of production and distribution are owned by a small ruling class, the capitalists. The driving reason for this class’s existence is to make a profit. Wage or salary earners, with our dependants, are the great majority of the population and make up the working class.

That is the dominant social relationship. The majority are used to make profit for a small minority. Unfortunately, most people are not yet thinking about ending this particular relationship, and no social system simply fades away because it’s unfair or just hugely inefficient. A social system gets kicked off the stage of history when it is physically overthrown and replaced by a different one.

Some would have us believe that capitalism can be gradually abolished through ‘public ownership’ or nationalisation. This odd idea possibly has its roots in the mistaken idea that either ‘old Labour’ or the Stalinist dictatorships represented some sort of socialism.

The relationship between workers and a state employer, like in the health service, does not differ in any significant way from the relationship between workers and private bosses. From the beginning of capitalism governments have tried to solve certain of the system’s problems through nationalisation, more accurately called state capitalism.

It does not change the essential structure of the capitalist system, of workers and bosses having different and opposed interests. Changing a social system is not about changing the people at the top, it’s about changing the relationship between people. So, state capitalism is in no sense a step towards socialism.

What then are we to replace the present set-up with? How about a system where production is organised to meet people’s needs, where it would be regarded as insanity to have building workers idle while others go without adequate housing, where the idea of paying farmers not to grow food while hunger is still a daily reality in much of the world would be seen as immoral. This can only work when the means of producing and distributing wealth are owned in common, by all of society. That’s the meaning of socialism.

How about a system that takes socialism and freedom to be of equal value? One where people can do as they wish so long as they don’t interfere with freedom of others? One where you can have a direct say in making the decisions that will effect you? One where control is in the hands of the majority through democratic assemblies and councils? That’s anarchism.

From Workers Solidarity 106, Nov 2008

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