Just when you think the credit crunch may be past the worse, along comes another bank, or two, or three, going bust and the financial system is thrown yet again into crisis. And as each crisis hits, governments rush in with our billions, to keep the whole financial sector from collapse.

So much for all that crap preached for years about the need for market discipline under which uneconomic companies are allowed to go to the wall. It would seem that the iron laws of the free market only apply to coal mines. The banks are allowed to play by another set of free market rules, in which the well connected are allowed to make billions from corrupt deals, then when it all starts to fall apart, we pay the price with rising unemployment, falling living standards and repossessions. In the words of the old song, it’s the rich who get the pleasure and the poor who get the blame.

And what about all that nonsense from Labour that we can no longer afford to use public money to build houses, hospitals and schools. For years Labour has forced PFI (private finance initiatives) down our throats, a system under which fortunes are borrowed from the private sector, at loan shark rates, in order to finance public sector buildings. Now here we are pouring in public money to keep the financial sector afloat. Would it not have been a tad cheaper to use the vast amounts of money being used to bail out the financial system on building schools and hospitals in the first place?

That we should find ourselves in the current mess should come as no surprise. The whole history of capitalism has been one of booms followed by bust. The markets are inherently unstable due to their internal contradictions and the freer they are the more unstable they become. That is precisely why state regulation was introduced in the first place as an attempt to stop the whole chaotic market system from going down the plughole.
This lesson, that capitalism is profoundly unstable, was lost on a new right wing breed, made giddy on long discredited free market ideology. The Thatcherites dusted off the old free market textbooks, injected some of their own dodgy economics and announced to the world that they now had the solutions that would free the world from the evils of the state.

From the 1980s the Tories started to dismantle state regulation. In the City this took the form of the “big bang”, which heralded the era of deregulated financial markets. That the “big bang” would end up in a “big mess” should have been obvious from the outset. If the sight of all those obnoxious city traders, off their heads on a mixture of money and cocaine, was not enough, little things like the “saving and loan” scandal or the “dot.com” crash should have been enough to warn our glorious leaders that, just perhaps, all was not quite right in the financial sector.

But no; these warning sign were ignored. Labour were quite happy to see the country slip ever further into debt. As ever bigger slices of people’s income was handed over to the filthy rich in the form of interest payments, the City of London boomed. Labour leaders began to brag how deregulation had turned the “City” into the world’s leading financial centre. Taking the lead from their “new comrades” from the extreme free market right, Labour even started to boast that capitalist boom and bust had been overcome. Life from then on was going to be one long economic party.

All of which now seems just a little bit over-optimistic. But as governments struggle to stop capitalism going into meltdown, we should not be seduced into thinking that once the crisis has passed, it will be back to business as usual. There will be a price to pay for the current debacle. And not just by the population as a whole. It is true that those at the top, and in the know, have been able to walk away from the car crash, having earned a fortune for doing nothing. But there will be a reckoning and that reckoning will be paid for by the right, whose whole free market ideology now stands in tatters.

Events like the credit crunch change perceptions; they alter how people view the world. And amid those changing perceptions free market solutions no longer have a place. Free market ideology had already lost it allure; gross inequality, obscene wealth, privatised utilities hiking up bills and making billions, had already tarnished many of their ideas. The credit crunch will be the end of them.

But before going out and celebrating the demise of the right, it’s worth remembering just how we ended up with a lunatic like Thatcher. The Tories came to power in the late 1970s on the back of economic crisis, which state regulation had failed to control. As unemployment grew and inflation shot through the roof, panic set in and people started turning to free market solutions in desperation. It was that failure of the whole post Second World War state interventionist project which breathed new life into a moribund set of free market ideas, long abandoned by the sane after the horrors of 1930s depression.

So, as the social democratic bandwagon begins to roll and calls for ever greater state intervention increase, it is worth remembering that it was the failure of state intervention to control the worst excesses of capitalism, that got us here in the first place.

It may be true that certain sectors of the economy, such as health and education, are much too important to be left to the gross inequality of the markets, but that is not saying much. The idea that the state is the answer to all our problems has been the disaster that wrecked the socialist movement in the 20th century. State control cannot replace capitalism; look at the Soviet Union. Nor can state intervention be an instrument for making capitalism a more humane system. Ultimately, the capitalist beast will always slip the state leash, causing mayhem in its wake.

So state intervention may get capitalism through the current crisis but it offers no long term solutions. As long as there is capitalism there will be instability, inequality and misery for much of the world’s population. The only real solution is to rid ourselves of capitalism for good. And for capitalism to go the labour movement has to reinvent itself and once again begin to challenge the very existence of capitalism.

At the heart of that redefining of socialism has to be an alternative to market forces. It is here that anarcho-syndicalism has much to offer – an alternative to the market that is not dependent on the state. As opposed to a state run economy we put forward a democratically controlled economy based on workers’ control.

Anarcho-syndicalism argues that the economy should be owned and run by society as a whole to the benefit of each and every one of us. In contrast to the chaos of the market, we propose a planned economy in which goods and services are produced to meet need rather than profit, a system in which all the rich resources that society has to offer are made available to everyone so that we can all develop and explore our individuality to the fullest.

Without an alternative to capitalism we are condemned to live with its many failings. Standards of living may rise and the quality of life improve but such gains will always be dependent on a failing and unjust system controlled by such charming people as hedge fund managers. The task facing us all at the start of the 21st century is not only to organise as working class people to improve our immediate lives but to constantly link the fight for improvements to the wider struggle to rid the world of the capitalist system that will always put profit before people.

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