Capitalist crisis and class consciousness

by Eric Trevett

IT IS NOT often that we agree with Mervyn King, the head of the Bank of England, but we concur with his appraisal that the present economic crisis may be more profound than that of the 1930s and that there is no way of avoiding a further recession.

This dispels the argument that the last Labour government was mainly responsible for the crisis affecting Britain. The capitalist crisis is global. And the struggle for peace and socialism has to be global too.

Now that Miliband has joined the Tory-Liberal Democrat alliance in supporting the cuts, it means that the leaders of all three main political parties in Britain are in favour of reactionary politics. Along with the right-wing press they tell us that we are all in this together. “We’ve all got to do our bit to cut the nation’s debts and achieve an expanding economy. Unity between the working class and capitalist class,” we are told, “will guarantee victory.”

It is worth noting how this unity works. The example set to us by our “betters” is very impressive. It includes massive bonus payments for the top echelons of the banking system. It includes the major private companies owing the Treasury £87 billion in unpaid taxation. Then we have company directors pushing up their salaries by 49 per cent.

We must not forget that expenses’ fiddling is widespread among the elite.

These are indeed impressive sacrifices being made by the rich compared to the “terrible workers”, “turbulent students” and outraged pensioners who have the temerity to do something to oppose cuts in services, jobs, wages and pensions and even have the guts to go on strike. Pensioners of course cannot go on strike but they can show solidarity with those who do.

In capitalist society there are two main classes: the capitalist class, which for the moment is dominant, and the working class, which is exploited, with the poorest sections being the most numerous.

The middle stratum is not a class but is thrown and vacillating between political allegiances — between the labour movement and the capitalist class. The big mistake labour leaders make is to prioritise making concessions to what are often petty bourgeois aspirations.

It is significant that capitalism is now being identified around the world as an enemy of the people. Many individuals who have described themselves as middle class are already beginning to develop a socialist outlook.

The way forward is to develop a radical working class programme combating privatisation and renationalising the heights of the economy. Military spending must be reduced, the arms programme cut and Britain must become a nuclear-free zone.

And we must restore the NHS to a standard to meet the ideals it was established to achieve and free the NHS from the shackles of Private Finance Initiative contracts.

Much of this is already the policy of the Labour Representation Committee and trade union branches and organisations should be encouraged to affiliate to it. The alternative to the right-wing policies of the party leaders represents the struggle from below.

The crisis of capitalism is a crisis of overproduction. It is not difficult to prove this, with bargain sales no longer limited to January but now on all year round. We are offered new furniture and no need to pay for a year or more. In a relatively new feature £1 bargain shops are selling goods directly from the manufacturers. When one thinks about the mass of goods available that are not sold, the bargain sales and other incentives to buy, it gives some idea of the tremendous amount that is produced that the market cannot absorb.

Nationally and internationally the banks made money available for all sorts of ventures and encouraged working people to use next year’s wages to buy things on the never-never. And with mortgage repayments they ensured that millions are in debt. This means the rising unemployment levels could be quite devastating for family life.

Since 1971 the attack on municipal housing property has featured strongly.

The relatively low cost of rents had served to keep the private landlord rented sector and property values down. In privatising the municipal housing stock, the curb on prices in the private sector was removed — so much so that it is now virtually impossible for working class young people and even middle strata people to get a mortgage. But the problem for first time buyers is not just how to get a mortgage but being able to guarantee their continued employment at a high wage and make enough to sustain the payments.

In any case we think the way forward for housing is to restore municipal property at reasonable rents relating to wage levels.

The post-war period has seen rapid advancement in the techniques of production. Over the years industrial capitalism has moved from water power to steam power to electricity and now to the new technology. It is significant that for the first time investment in equipment is not matched by investment in workers. In other words, under capitalist conditions the price of labour power is falling and the competition for advances in new technology leads to a reduction in the size of the employed labour force.

This does not mean we should oppose the introduction of new technology; on the contrary we should welcome it and realise that under socialist conditions it will prove a useful source of wealth production that frees people to enjoy greater leisure time and the chance for engaging in cultural, sporting and scientific pursuits — instead of the rat race conditions we have to endure under capitalism.

This is leading to the realisation among the working class and broader sections of the population that capitalism is obsolescent. All over the world the working class is beginning to take up cudgels once again against the capitalist class and its imperialist machinations.

Last year’s riots in London and other places were understandable but they lacked the perspective of a socialist revolution. But socialism is the only answer to the capitalist crisis for the working class.

When the crisis of capitalism becomes acute, it not only means hardship for most of the people, it also includes the drive to authoritarian government and imperialist war as the different powers and nations seek to solve their problems at the expense of their rivals.

The aims of the temporary alliance between the United States, British and French imperialism can clearly be seen by the strategy of destabilising the Middle East, not just for the oil although that is a major factor, but also to militarise the area with bases plainly aimed against Russia.

The imperialist powers use the strategy of divide and rule. Agent provocateurs generate hatred between the tribal and religious groups to instigate war between Middle Eastern countries. They back reactionary elements with military equipment while bashing progressive or non-compliant governments with trade sanctions and even unilateral acts of war.

The imperialists’ aim is to remove these leaderships and replace them forces that will be in favour of complying with imperialist demands and allow them more direct control of the resources of the area.

The result is, apart from the destruction of tens of thousands of people’s lives, that British imperialism is guilty of consigning many British youths to their death or serious injury — who are also the victims of imperialism.

The struggle for peace is more than a plea for mercy. It is a revolutionary demand and we stress that the working class aims of peace and socialism are indivisible.