The left applauds as the state tries to shore up capitalism

Printer-friendly version
Despite the nationalisation of Northern Rock in Britain, the US government rescue of Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and AIG and encouragement of Bank of America to take over Merrill Lynch, the British government's intervention to ensure Lloyds TSB took over HBOS, and the intervention of the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the central Banks of Japan and other countries with hundreds of billions of dollars to shore up the money markets, there are still people who say that state intervention is not integral to the way capitalism functions, indeed, that the increasing role of the state is part of the move towards socialism.

From the Right, a Republican senator from Kentucky was able to say of Bush's proposed $700bn rescue package "It's a financial socialism and it's un-American" and, from the Left, Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Guardian 17/9/8): "To think that the biggest neo-liberal nation in the world would start nationalising banks ... we're rubbing our eyes in disbelief."

There's no disbelief for marxists. Since the First World War revolutionaries have seen that the state has an essential role to play not just in times of war and open economic crisis, but as a permanent feature of decadent capitalism. And that socialism can only come through the revolutionary struggle of the working class, which has to destroy the capitalist state.

Yet left-wingers feed the myth that the state can be an organ of protection and planning. George Monbiot (Guardian ibid) cast his mind back to the 1930s: "A Keynesian solution along the lines of Roosevelt's New Deal could deliver many of the things that the left is calling for - more public spending, more training and education." In reality, the New Deal in the US was, like fascism in Germany and Italy, and Stalinism in the USSR, just a particular expression of a universal tendency for state intervention in the economy and of the preparations for war.

Trotskyists give their ‘critical' support to this process. The SWP (to take a typical example) said that although "The solutions Keynesian economists propose now are only partial. Many are ideas socialists would support, such as nationalising industries" (Socialist Worker 13/8/8). At the time of the Bear Stearns bailout the SWP thought that "To reshape society in a socialist direction it is necessary to take control of ... corporations and coordinate their investment decisions (5/4/8)" Certainly they say that "Recession is built into capitalism and state intervention cannot eliminate it" (13/9/8) and that "All too often the supporters of socialism, as well as its enemies, identify socialism with state ownership" (20/9/8). But they still go on to say "Socialists support nationalisation if it's used to protect jobs. We oppose privatisation of public services because it means less public accountability" (ibid). Here you see the idea of ‘protection', as if the capitalist state was neutral and could be used for the benefit of workers as much as the bourgeoisie. The ‘accountability' comes through something they call ‘workers' control'.

In Socialist Worker (ibid) they say that "workers' control has reappeared again and again", giving examples of Spain 1936, France 1968, Poland 1980, Hungary 1956, Portugal 1974, and recently in Argentina. There is the qualification that "under capitalism workers' control can only go so far. There cannot be socialism in a single country and certainly no socialism in a single workplace. Even if workers take over their factory, they will eventually end up competing on the market and thus organising their own exploitation." In fact, as the examples cited all show, ‘workers' control' can't even go "so far". As soon as workers in struggle occupy their place of work they have the choice of whether to ‘organise their own exploitation' or use it as a moment in the development of the struggle, as a place for discussion, as a base toward the extension of the fight to other workers.

Nationalisation, whether ‘under workers' control' or not, is not a goal or a means of workers' struggles - it is one expression of state capitalism. Self-managed exploitation is a trap, no alternative to spreading the fight. Car 24/9/8

Political currents and reference: 

Recent and ongoing: