Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Guardian, UK - We've heard the bankers' stories. The economists have had their say. But what do the opponents of capitalism make of the global financial crisis? Is this the moment they have been waiting for? Stephen Moss and Jon Henley ask high-profile leftwingers for their views on the meltdown - and whether any good can come of it

Jarvis Cocker, Singer

It's really nice seeing capitalism getting its comeuppance. It had gone too far: I think most people can understand capitalism when it's about companies that make real products, but when it's about organizations that just make money . . . that's abstract capitalism, it's beyond most ordinary people . . . I mean, you see the FTSE index, or whatever, running along the bottom of the TV screen and generally it just doesn't impinge at all on the way you live your life, and then suddenly you're told your life is going to take a nosedive. Who understands that?. . . Maybe a bit of a recession will do us some good. A lot of people have been living beyond their means. We've all done it, I've done it: you feel a bit depressed, you go and buy something. People might now actually talk to each other a bit more, make their own entertainment, all those other great northern cliches. The tragedy is that it will be the ordinary people who will bear the brunt. The guys who are responsible may have to sell the yacht.

Salma Yaqoob, Birmingham City councillor

When the markets were being treated as gods, we were always being promised that there'd be a trickle-down of prosperity. But all that's trickled down has been a greed-is-good philosophy. The consequence is a more unequal, self-centered, crueler Britain. It's important that we should reflect on the kind of society we've become, but also on the kind of society we want to be. . . The very people for whom it was a sacred othodoxy that there should be no government intervention are now coming to the government on their hands and knees begging for assistance. But what about the government intervening on behalf of ordinary people? Why not do something literally concrete on the ground and start building cheaper social housing? Why not put people at the centre of things?

Ken Livingstone, Former Mayor of London

Sadly, I don't think this will be the end of capitalism. But there is going to have to be a return to a much, much more interventionist state. As a system for the distribution and exchange of goods, you can't beat the market. But the mistake a lot of politicians have made is to think that because the market was good at that, it could be good at everything: it could train workers, create infrastructure, protect the environment, regulate itself. Quite obviously, it can't.

Bob and Roberta Smith, artist

Yesterday, at the same time as Lehman Brothers went belly up and Merrill Lynch was bailed out, Damien Hirst made L70m. This tells us that capitalism is not dead. The rich got richer, and the poor got poorer - and in the evening, the rich went to an art sale and spent the small change in their pockets. This crisis is kind of like the capitalist cat shifting on its cushion. I don't buy the romanticism of the left: you can't kill capitalism, trade is how people operate. But I do think the left's analysis has to be coruscating and hard. The number-crunching, the smokescreens, that particular flavor of snake oil has to be finished; this has to be about real people now. There should be no self-congratulation, no, "oh good, they're getting their comeuppance," because behind every banker there are ordinary people in bigger trouble.

(Bob and Roberta Smith is the pseudonym of artist Patrick Brill Caroline Lucas)

Ken Loach, Film director

The market is massively inefficient, capitalism is massively unstable and turbulent, and it's insane that we are all bound to this terrible wheel of instability. . . The real left is making a lot of noise about this. There'll be a convention of the left during the Labor party conference, all the shades of genuine leftwing opinion, and we'll be hammering all these questions out from a socialist perspective. But if the papers and the broadcasters fail to record it, it's very difficult for these ideas to penetrate the public consciousness. The media just turns a deaf ear; it chooses not to hear it. . .

Michel Onfray, Philosopher

Is this the end of capitalism? Absolutely not. The key feature of capitalism is that it's malleable. It has been through antiquity, feudalism, the industrial era, it has worn the guise of fascism and now it's wedding itself to the ecology cause. After this latest event, it will take on a new form. It is indestructible and works like the Hydra of Lerne, cut off one head and another grows in its place. Is this the end of society's obsession with money and credit? Not at all.

Chris Harman, Socialist Workers Party

This could be a big moment for the left. But we really need to stand up and use the "c" word, say this is a crisis of capitalism and that people are suffering. The thing is, all the media coverage yesterday was of the bankers leaving Lehman Brothers with their boxes, but the people who will really be hit are the cleaners, the secretaries - what did we see of them? We have to build resistance. Because so far we've only seen the minor problems; people stuck in foreign airports or having a bit of trouble getting a job. Things are going to get much, much worse.

George Monbiot, Green campaigner

A Keynesian solution along the lines of Roosevelt's New Deal could deliver many of the things that the left is calling for - more public spending, more training and education. I'm particularly interested in the idea of a green new deal, which would employ large numbers of people to insulate homes and carry out major environmental works. Remember that the central plank in the New Deal was the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed three million people. It is striking that the left has been slow to capitalize on the situation. There is now a good opportunity to build a common front between trade unions, disillusioned labor voters, greens and people who feel that their economic position is slipping.

Max Keiser, Former broker

This is not a blip. It's extremely significant. We will see a shift in power away from the US, and towards the developing world - to countries such as Brazil and the Gulf states that have commodities to sell, and to China, where the savings ratio is high. We are going to see a new world order. America as a driver of the global economy is finished. The left has nothing to say about any of this. And because the left has no economic program, we will see the rise of social unrest. We are already seeing it in the US. The left has no real response to that either.

Tony Benn, Former Labor minister

I believe a new labor movement will emerge from this with a more realistic sense of how capitalism works. There is a left convention at this year's Labor conference, a sort of parallel conference. This year's Labor conference is the first in my lifetime when you will not be allowed to vote, so the left convention will get a lot of attention. At last, after a period when we've been told to trust the gamblers, there are many relevant ideas emerging on the left.

Sheila Rowbotham, Socialist feminist

In the late 19th century and also in the 1930s, the impact of depression made people begin to question whether the free market and a completely unfettered form of capitalism was the best form of organizing society. In both periods it encouraged on the left the idea of a complete social transformation through revolution, and also encouraged people to devise various schemes for social reform. The problem now - unlike in the 1880s, when people discovered the ideas of socialism, and in the 1930s, when it seemed that communism was the solution - is that the left doesn't have a coherent alternative vision. . . There is a consensus forming that says an unregulated financial system is a disaster, but whether that new left can be formed is questionable. I'd be very glad to see it happen.

George Galloway, Respect MP

I think the end of capitalism will be a process, not a single event. But each event we've seen so far has gone deeper than people have predicted, and we don't know how deep this one will go. It could well be that it marks the collapse of at least a major section of the capitalist economy: the financialization of the economy that has been powering ahead since the deregulation and neo-liberalization of the Thatcher-Reagan years.

What the left still has to overcome is its inability to speak in a language that ordinary people can understand. And to stop arguing about dead Russians.

Hari Kunzru, Novelist

A great financial economist and historian called Michael Hudson talks about how the US economy is basically fictitious, based on pretend earnings and pretend values. This will only genuinely become a crisis of capitalism if people generally become aware that much of the growth and prosperity produced by capitalism is a fiction, and if the consensus about where the real global value lies shifts radically. In other words, if people stop believing that apparently wealthy countries actually are producing wealth. I don't immediately expect to be living in some kind of Mad Max world. But this could be the death knell of the time when we were all singing the beauties of free-market capitalism.


At October 5, 2008 5:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this is 'the british Left' heaven help us.


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