Neither right nor left have a solution to the economic crisis

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Explaining why it decided to downgrade Britain’s AAA credit rating, the credit agency Moody’s tells us that Britain’s “sluggish growth” will in all probability “extend into the second half of the decade”, resulting in a “high and rising debt burden”. And indeed, Britain’s borrowing is already forecast to be £212 billion higher than planned over this parliament.

Britain is therefore facing not just a triple-dip recession, with the economy shrinking in five out of 10 quarters since the summer of 2010 but an out-and-out depression. Britain’s poor performance is second only to Italy’s among the countries of the G7. Investment in the UK economy is 15% below what it was before the open financial crash of 2007.

The human cost of these dry figures? A fall in living standards unprecedented since the 1920s. The average worker has lost around £4,000 in real wages over the past three years. In 2017, real wages are predicted to be no higher than their 1999 level. And although there has recently been a 7.8% fall in official unemployment figures, there has been an increase in involuntary part-time working and a sharp drop in productivity.

The government’s response to this disaster? That the loss of the AAA rating, maintaining which was a central justification for the Coalition’s austerity programme, only goes to show that we must press on regardless. The Tory-LibDem medicine is accelerating the patient’s decline into depression and failing to shrink the UK’s gigantic tumour of debt. And these wise doctors reply: ‘more of the same’.

So the economic policies of the right are proving their utter worthlessness. And less and less people are fooled by the excuse that ‘we are only making up for the 13 years of Labour misrule’ which preceded the present Coalition.

All these points are taken from the article ‘Osborne hasn’t just failed – this is an economic disaster’ by Seamus Milne, published in the Comment pages of The Guardian on 27 February. Milne is one of the most left-wing of The Guardian’s regular commentators. His article demonstrates very clearly the bankruptcy of the government’s economic solutions. But his ‘alternative’ programme no less clearly demonstrates the bankruptcy of capitalism’s left wing.

“The shape of that alternative is clear enough: a large-scale public investment programme in housing, transport, education and green technology to drive recovery and fill the gap left by the private sector, underpinned by a boost to demand and financed through publicly-owned banks at the lowest interest rates for hundreds of years”.

These apparently radical measures go hand in hand with a criticism of the hesitations of the Labour Party. For Milne, Ed Miliband is faced with a “crucial choice”, since the fall in living standards is greatly increasing Labour’s chances of re-election: “So far Miliband has backed a limited stimulus, slower cuts and wider, if still hazy, economic reform. Given the Cameron Coalition’s legacy and the cuts and tax rises it’s planning well into the next parliament, the danger is that Labour could lock itself into continuing austerity in a bid for credibility. As the experience of its sister parties in Europe has shown, that would be a calamity for Labour – but also for Britain”.   

It is arguments like these which show that Milne’s starting point is a fundamental premise of bourgeois ideology: that capitalist social relations, and the political state which maintains them, are eternal, the only possible basis for organising human society.

This is clear at the ‘political’ level: a solution to the economic disaster can be found by pushing the Labour Party further left and engaging in the alleged choice offered by parliamentary elections. The existing system of bourgeois democracy is not to be questioned.

And the state system which was born and has its being in the needs of the exploiting capitalist class is also proclaimed as the instrument which will defend the needs of the vast majority: public investment, public banks, Keynesian policies of stimulating demand. And all within the framework of ‘Britain’, of the nation state. These policies can all be summed up in the phrase: state capitalism.

So just as Cameron, faced with the slide into depression, advocates policies that can only make it slide faster, so Milne, like the TUC in its ‘Alternative for Growth’, advocate the same measures which provoked the ‘debt crisis’ in the first place: economic growth fuelled by vast injections of fictitious capital.

Neither the right or left wings of the official political spectrum are capable of admitting that today’s economic depression is, just like the depression of the 1930s and the world wars that preceded and followed it, confirmation that capitalist social relation as such – the exploitation of wage labour, production for sale and profit, the division of the world into competing nation states armed to the teeth – have become an obstacle to human progress. Neither the right nor the left will admit that we are witnessing the bankruptcy not just of this government or that country, but of the capitalist phase of human civilisation, and on a worldwide scale; that this civilisation has outlived its usefulness and its capacity to be reformed. This is why the only genuine ‘alternative’ is for the exploited of the world to struggle together against all attacks on their living standards, preparing the ground for a social revolution that will halt the accumulation of capital and replace it with a real human community – with communism. 

Amos 2/3/13

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