Defeat from the jaws of victory, is how David Simon, producer of The Wire, described the fate of American Capitalism in a impromptu speech about the divide between rich and poor in America at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney. He was referring to the fact that, after the Berlin wall came down, the West short-sightedly sprung upon the opportunity to shed itself of any baggage that faintly smelt of Socialism without realising, or caring, that it was this it was this balance, or compromise, that had actually made us so strong. With union rights, banking regulations and public services cut to the bone we are facing a “horror show” of unrestrained capitalism bound to implode. Meanwhile, the supposedly socialist Peoples’ Republic of China goes from strength to strength borrowing bits and bobs from capitalism to suit her needs.
In the face of this, you would expect the left to be offering us a reasonable solution. However, all we have is an audible silence. Labour promise us they will “manage the economy better”… great, cheers Ed. The left are in a similar crisis throughout Europe and in America have simply ceased to exist without anyone really noticing. Slavoj Žižek, our favourite eccentric (and bearded… of course) Marxist Philosopher claims that Socialism is not the answer. He explains that, in Western Europe at least, we already won the many rights socialists were fighting for during the 20th Century, think universal health care, old age pensions, universal education, national insurance, and a minimum wage. Yet poverty, inequality, economic crisis and environmental disaster are still realities we have to live with. Hence, he claims, when it comes to Communism (that prescribed by Marx, not practised in the the USSR), there is no compromise, whether it be in the guise of Socialism in Western Europe or the dictatorships of the Soviet Bloc.
“the great lesson of state socialism was effectively that a direct abolishment of private property and market-regulated exchange, lacking concrete forms of social regulation of the process of production, necessarily resuscitates direct relations of servitude and domination. If we merely abolish market (inclusive of market exploitation) without replacing it with a proper form of the Communist organization of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation”
It is easy, and correct, to site countless examples of Western intervention, and plenty of cases of underhand practices within Europe and the US themselves, designed to undermine Communist movements, but this post doesn’t look to list them as I believe it is beyond the point. Historically, revolutionary movements have been so concerned with capturing state power that the moment they do it is impossible to dismantle it, as without it they would be nothing. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that the abolition of the market by the state and the imposition of an alternative economic model from above is likely to result in a “proper form of communist organization”, whatever that may be. Finally, it is only takes the toppling of the top heavy socialist state to reverse any change achieved.
Hence, it seems rather naive to expect the same state that declared war in Iraq and bailed out the bankers to provide us with a way out, no matter which party is in government. For this reason, we must move past the state / market debate, or arguing the merits of Marx as they simply distract us from demanding the fundamentals: a truly participative democracy. We need a party that represents the people, whether they be of left or right persuasion, and is dedicated to increasing democratic participation and taking power away from the state. While we the people need to start changing things from the bottom up. I believe we can work together for something we all agree on: that this country belongs to us, the people, and its about time we took control of it. I just hope we realize it in time to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.