By Steve Wallace
The financial events of 2008–2009 inaugurated not only an economic but a new ideological crisis of capitalism. How deep this crisis will become depends on the development of the economic situation and the intervention of the political left. The character of this crisis, however, can be seen most clearly by placing it in an historical context.
Twenty years ago, in 1989–91, capitalism achieved enormous victories. It overthrew the non-capitalist economies in the USSR and Eastern Europe. The opportunity to achieve this was created by the final failure of the policy of ‘socialism in one country’ inaugurated by Stalin – with its economically utopian attempt to create a fully developed socialist society within the framework of a single state, its introduction of a fully planned economy in a short period by administrative means, and the political repression that followed from such policies.
Within the former USSR the objective result of this capitalist victory was, in literal terms, the greatest economic catastrophe in peacetime in history. The former USSR’s economic output fell by half, large parts of the former system of social benefits were destroyed, male life expectancy fell by almost ten years, tens of millions of women were forced out of work while prostitution and social degradation acquired massive dimensions, and war broke out in the southern states of the former USSR as the systems of economic and social protection that had protected the population of the Soviet Union were destroyed. The stupidity of those within the former USSR who had introduced this programme of capitalist restoration in the belief that it would ‘revive’ Russia after the Brezhnev ‘period of stagnation’ was shown in the fact that alongside this economic and social catastrophe the former Soviet Union was destroyed as one of the world’s great powers and it became subject to many new threats – which the US promptly started to exploit. The restoration of capitalism in the USSR therefore created an economic, social and political disaster for its population.