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The new ideological crisis of capitalism

8th January 2010 Socialist Action 0

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.

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Israel – the terrorist state

14th August 2006 Socialist Action 0

First published: 14 August 2006

The casualty figures for the fighting up to the ceasefire in Lebanon confirm once more that the real, that is the most strongly, terrorist state in the Middle East is Israel. In its entire struggle with the Palestinians, of course, Israel always kills a hugely greater number of civilians than it suffers casualties itself. In the fighting up to the Sunday evening before the ceasefire, Israel stated it suffered 167 killed, of which 114 were military personnel and 53 were civilians – that is, 68 per cent of Israeli deaths were military and 32 per cent were civilian (CNN, ‘Israel-Hezbollah cease-fire in effect’).

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The US gulag

22nd May 2006 Socialist Action 0

First published: 22 May 2006

One of the most frequent intellectual tricks of apologists for imperialism is to attempt to confine the study of the human and political rights record of the imperialist countries to the situation only within their own borders. By their nature, many of the greatest crimes of imperialism were carried outside the borders of the individual imperialist states themselves – the extermination of the every original inhabitant of the Caribbean following the Spanish conquest, the transportation of 12 million people in the slave trade and the deaths of many millions in it, the death of at least 20 million people in famines in British-ruled India while grain continued to be exported by the British authorities, a million deaths in the Great Famine in Ireland after 1846 while food imports were kept out by British imposed tariffs, the death of every single original inhabitant of Tasmania, systematically genocidal policies against native Americans in various US states, the killing by the US of 3 million people in Vietnam, the killing of up to 100,000 people by US and British forces in Iraq, etc.

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Human rights and political rights

18th May 2006 Socialist Action 0

First published: 18 May 2006

One of the most frequent intellectual sleights of hand carried out by apologists for imperialism is the reduction of ‘human rights’ to ‘political rights’. That is, when they claim to be speaking about ‘human rights’ they in fact eliminate most human rights and reduce these to a much narrower range of political rights – most imperialist apologists are also in practice totally selective in which countries they chose to discuss political rights in, but that is another aspect.

Consider the difference between these two issues. Human beings are real living entities. They eat, drink, get ill, raise children, are sexually active, want entertainment, have interests and hobbies. Their needs range from the absolutely vital for survival, for example food and health care, through those issues rated by almost all societies as extraordinarily desirable, such as finding friends and having partners for sexual activity, through knowledge and skills vital for participation in wider human culture and access to higher paid employment, such as the ability to read and write and education, to the desirable but less than truly essential – having a black iPod as opposed to a white one. The real ability to undertake all these, both separately and according to priorities determined by the individual, constitutes the sum of their real human rights.