The state we are in
That capitalism today requires incredible, almost unimaginable levels of financial support and assistance from the state just to keep the system on life support in intensive care, is beyond dispute. What is also apparent is that both the state and the cap-in-hand former masters of the universe who run capitalism have fatally wounded the case for their own continuance.
What is the point of a state that is bankrupting the very same state in the interests of big business and the banks (the claim that this will help ordinary people is one of the great lies of the crisis) while unemployment soars? In Britain, the £3,000 billion bail-out of the banks brings a whole range of tottering institutions right into the heart of the state. The money to buy up shares in fairly useless companies is, of course, going to be borrowed at interest.
No one is rating highly the chances of getting this money back. The economy is sliding deeper into recession, as the dramatic rise in unemployment of 164,000 in September revealed today shows; the capacity of ordinary people and companies to repay debts/mortgages/loans to the banks is ebbing away fast. As the major shareholder in several banks, what will the state do? Using its powers of force and coercion, the state will defend its interests in ways which today seem inconceivable.
Which brings us to the nature of the “state”. The takeover of the state by the banks over the last few weeks should leave no one in any doubt that this is a capitalist state as opposed to a state in capitalist society (which reformists like to characterise it as). The capitalist state is not a neutral body which can become anti-capitalist under popular pressure.
Today’s British state exists primarily to uphold capitalist private property and ownership and to defend an economic system driven by profit accrued through the exploitation of human labour. When Gordon Brown says he will do “what it takes” to prop up the banking system, he means just that. That’s what presiding over the capitalist state is all about.
So, where does this leave us in political terms? Popular anger is growing against the bail-outs. On the BBC news forum dedicated to Bush’s sudden U-turn on the banks, Trevor Tinker writes: “The governments of the world reigned in human rights after 9-11. A few well organized religious fanatics killed several thousand people and affected the lives of several thousand more. The financial terrorists (read financial engineers) who's actions have affected millions if not billions around the world vaporizing savings and pushing people to despair if not suicide with their insatiable greed remain unpunished. When will we see a global witch hunt against the financial terrorists?” There are many more comments along similar lines.
While the Financial Times story “Undertakers deliver last rites for US capitalism” is good for a laugh, it is unfortunately not quite the case. The body is still breathing – and inflicting great damage in terms of unemployment, repossessions, inflation as well as state bankruptcy.
To halt this process and create a sane economic and financial system will require real power – state power. Establishing people’s power in place of corporate power leads directly to the creation of a truly democratic, transitional state in place of the existing capitalist state. Then, instead of bailing out bankers, society would be in a position to put people before profit. On Saturday, at our Stand Up for Your Rights festival, our new book, Unmasking the State – a rough guide to real democracy, will be on sale for the first time. It is a handy thing to have in these times!
AWTW Communications editor
15 October 2008