The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement has resonated around the world. Its significance, in the middle of an economic/financial crisis that the head of the Bank Of England, Mervyn King, says may be the worst ever in the history of capitalism, could be enormous. Unlike some of the ‘anti-capitalist’ and ‘anti-globalisation’ movements that have sprung up and died down over the past couple of decades, this is directly linked to a sense of failure of capitalism itself. It is also intimately linked to working class discontent and rage at the conspicuous enrichment of the super-rich continuing through an enormous decline in working class living standards, unprecedented since the 1920s.
This at last offers up the opportunity for the re-emergence of a mass-based left. Capitalist failure is obvious to many millions today. It is also what we on the Marxist left are in business to lead humanity out of. Ultimately, we have the arguments why capitalism is not a rational system that maximises the productive potential of humanity and uses that potential in a rational and humane way, but rather an obsolete method of organising social production.
Capitalism played a progressive role in earlier times in industrialising important parts of the world and creating the material basis of an advanced human civilisation freed from blind subjection to uncontrolled natural forces. But at the same time, having outlived that progressive role, through its deep social, economic and ultimately political contradictions, it threatens to destroy the fruits of that earlier progressive development. Economic collapse, destruction of the environment to the extent that life on this planet is under threat in the longer term, the threat of future world wars waged with nuclear weapons, all are part of the capitalist system and eloquent arguments as to why it needs to be superseded. But to be replaced by what?
There is only one thing that can supersede capitalism in a progressive sense. That is democratic control and management of the world economy. Major productive forces cannot be allowed to be the private property of individuals or private corporate bodies that are in fact collectives of owners of productive forces that control the lives of all of us in practice. These productive resources must be controlled by all of us – equally and democratically. The economy must be planned democratically, for the benefit of all. Decisions as to what is to be produced must be taken rationally, by accountable bodies elected by the mass of the people affected by those decisions, and recallable by them if they mess things up. Living standards cannot and must not be limited by the ability to pay in a society where inequality has never been greater.
Decent living standards must be available to all that contribute to society. And anyone who is able to work must do so – in decent jobs with decent pay and./or benefits in kind to reward their work. Those who are unable to work through disability must be looked after and have full social and economic equality. If there are no jobs in existence for people right now, they must be created, either through public works or by sharing out available work among all potential workers with no loss of pay. The crippling debts, both for ordinary working people and for whole nations, that are the result of the capitalist financial crisis must be cancelled, and those who have been profiteering from them have their wealth confiscated and reduced to the level of the 99%. Basic social and economic equality can only be achieved by taking all the large-scale industrial resources out of the hands of the big capitalist elite.
With small capital more flexibility is needed, we cannot simply abolish business in a rigid and punitive manner. But we can modify it to stop the reproduction of profiteering and the regeneration of a new big capitalist class We can use democratic measures such as enhanced workers rights, workers control, the encouragement of elected workers representative with real power over management, and the conversion of smaller companies into cooperatives, to modify the small business sector to the point where it mutates into something very different, a grass-roots cooperative socialism.
This could be envisaged only in the context of the abolition of big capital as an economic and political force, which would create a massively different relationship of forces and environment when addressing questions involving small-scale enterprises. But the thrust of this is clear, the domination of big capital over everyone’s lives, the system of capitalism, rule by big capital where the political system, though formally democratic is in fact bought and paid for by big capital, has to be torn up by the roots and replaced by real popular control and democracy.
And this cannot be done in one country, on a local basis. That is what is good about the spreading of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. The capitalist press calls it ‘copycat protests’. Good! We need an international movement against capitalism, attempting to build some isolated fortress of socialism while capitalism remains intact in the rest of the world will fail. Globalisation is a good thing, but in its capitalist form it has been a curse allowing capital to move across borders whereas workers are hounded and impoverished when they stay in their own countries and persecuted, shunned, treated as outlaws, often brutally abused and sometimes even murdered when they try to migrate for a better life.
We need to turn the tables on this, we need to bind the capitalists hand-and-foot so that they cannot move their property, obtained through exploitation and robbery, anywhere without workers’ permission, but workers have the right to move anywhere they like in pursuit of a better life. Yes to workers control over all capital movement, and smash all immigration restrictions on workers! For socialist globalisation and a world citizenship of a socialist world!