As the whole of our economic system teeters on the edge of meltdown its worth just taking stock of how we got here. Capitalism is an economic system which relies on greed and exploitation. Capitalists appropriate the surplus value (profit) of worker's labour for themselves. Workers create wealth, capitalists expropriate that wealth. In the middle of the nineteenth century Marx and Engels were the first people to analyse capitalist exploitation, and in doing so put socialism on a sound intellectual footing.
In the twentieth century the Soviet Union, based on the principles expounded by Marx and Lenin, was created to put power in the hands of the working class, to end capitalist exploitation, and to give the workers the fruits of their labour. The Soviet Union succeeded in ending capitalist exploitation but failed to find a successful alternative economic model. Various theorists have argued that the Soviet Union simply substituted 'state capitalism' for capitalism.
Capitalists have seized upon the collapse of the Soviet Union as 'proof' that alternatives to capitalism cannot succeed. The reasons for the collapse are complex. The Soviet Union didn't just fall apart - it was actively and relentlessly undermined by Western Capitalist agencies such as the CIA. But when it fell most of the people of the Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union didn't want to return to red blooded capitalism - that was rapidly forced upon them by leaders like Yeltsin who ensured that the conditions were created for what was in effect a capitalist coup. The mineral wealth and industry of the Soviet Union was put into the hands of Yeltsin's capitalist cronies. The Russian people were ripped off in one of the biggest heists in history. Capitalists wanted to make absolutely certain there was no chance for the people of Russia and former Soviet states to create an alternative socialist model.
In the West neoliberal economics propounded by the likes of Reagan and Thatcher became the new orthodoxy and is the direct cause of our current malaise. The aim of neoliberalism is to undo all the democratic gains that our parents, grandparents and great grandparents made through the trade union movement, and political parties of the left. The plan is to make the rich richer and the rest of us poorer. They get more we get less.
Alongside neoliberal economics we have globalisation. This is sold to us as as panacea which will make us all richer but is in fact a means for corporations and the rich to loot the wealth and resources of whole countries - not just people. Capitalists and their corporations enforce globalisation through effective control of institutions such as the International Monetary fund, the World Bank, the World Trade organisation and the European Union, and have written the rules so that they favour profit making over welfare, democratic rights and the environment. This stitch up means that it is very difficult for individual nations to opt out. In the case of the UK we are bound by European Union rules.
The construction workers demonstrating in the UK have discovered too late that the European rulebook allows foreign companies to bring in cheaper non-unionised labour to carry out work here. Very neat. It undermines trade unions, rates of pay and workers rights - all in the name of greater profit - making UK workers poorer and capitalists richer. Of course the construction workers are right to walk out and show solidarity with their colleagues but this is not enough. Other workers should support them. What we need is a national protest against these laws organised by the TUC - and quickly. Labour MP John Cruddas seems to have just noticed what is going on. Read this article - its good. But what have Cruddas and other 'left' MPs been doing for the past eleven years? Sitting on their hands whilst a New Labour government supported legislation and deregulation in Europe which has got us into this mess!
So how do we turn things around? It isn't going to be easy. We need to work hard in the trade unions and political parties to influence public opinion and create a socialist narrative which voters and understand and relate to. We need to get candidates elected locally, nationally and in Europe who will oppose neoliberal economic ideas a re-assert the supremacy of democracy over profit making.
But even more than this we need to start setting up social enterprises and cooperatives, owned and controlled by the people who work in them, which will take over the economy from capitalists. That, historically, is where the left has failed. In the end we can only beat capitalism economically - by creating wealth for ourselves.