The global credit crisis provides unparalleled opportunities to expose not just the failure of capitalism as an economic and financial system but also to confront governments like New Labour that are desperately trying to keep the show on the road, whatever it takes.
Ordinary people in financial difficulties as a result of losing their jobs, rising loan charges or lack of credit are left to their own devices. They are at the mercy of the very same banks that are being lined up for a massive hand-out. Increasing numbers of people’s homes are being repossessed while the bankers form a queue for state aid. As the old proverb goes, it’s one law for the rich and another for the poor.
The financial meltdown thus has the merit of clearing the air in a political sense. Who can deny now that the New Labour government is a corporate and bankers’ regime, which is deploying the power and resources of the capitalist state to try and save the system from itself? Where are the differences in outlook between New Labour and other capitalist parties like the Tories or Liberal Democrats? You can use a microscope if you want, but you won’t discover anything significant.
In these circumstances, there is absolutely no point in focusing protest and pressure on the New Labour government in the hope that it may somehow, in some miraculous, semi-religious fashion, undergo a conversion and become anti-capitalist. New Labour is what it is and has been since the Blair/Brown/Mandelson counter-revolution that began in the early 1990s. In fact, the cabinet reshuffle has only strengthened its business orientation.
Of course, this situation throws up its own problems. The conventional political approach on the Left has always been to make demands of government, especially ones elected under a Labour banner. As such an approach is today absolutely unrealistic and may even unwittingly reinforce the fast-disappearing credibility of New Labour, a new line of attack is required.
The labour and trade union movement should therefore seize the chance created by the crisis to campaign against the government, in the spirit that workers fought the Callaghan government in 1978-9, whose policies opened the door for Thatcherism (and later, Blairism).
Such a campaign could easily show how the crash of 2008 arises from a system based on the ruthless pursuit of profit and that alternatives are urgently needed. Policies developed in opposition to a bankers’ bail-out would raise the possibility of reorganising the economy along not-for-profit lines. This could best be done by revisiting some well-established principles in the light of conditions transformed by corpoate-driven globalisation.
They could, for example, incorporate new forms of democratic power in opposition to the authoritarian, capitalist state. Democracy could and should be extended through co-operative forms of ownership and workplace control of major corporations, enterprises and services. Restoring the right to strike and freedom for trade unions along with new social rights would be essential. Those Labour MPs like John McDonnell who are opposed to the government, could seize the initiative and demand that trade union leaders adopt this strategy and mobilise their members.
As to who is to implement such a programme, this extremely important question will need to be raised as part of the building of an independent movement against this government and the other parties waiting in line to either take over or join a coalition. As New Labour is patently not the vehicle for revolutionary (or even reformist) change, new political solutions will be elaborated and discovered in the course of building support for the campaign. The importance of taking the first steps along this path cannot be over-emphasised.