Is another capitalism possible?

In a previous life, we believed that Marx’s critique of political economy led inexorably to the conclusion that the only solution to the problems of capitalism was revolutionary socialism. Now, we are not so sure. The more natural question to ask, given the stubborn resilience of capitalism, is the one in our title. And the answer seems fairly obvious, given that there have always been different ‘capitalisms’ operating within a variety of contexts with varying results. It is interesting to note that George Osborne appears to believe in the same inexorable logic that many of our erstwhile comrades do; namely, that for capitalism to flourish, profits must be restored and the social wage cut; a ‘trickle-up’ economics. Is this the only way the system can work? Is George just following Marxist logic, capitalism’s logic, or is it ideological smoke and mirrors to justify an attack on the poor?

If one has an ‘objectivist’ understanding of capitalism that sees profit maximisation/restoration as the system’s raison d’etre, it is hard to see the likes of Osborne as morally culpable. Indeed, our old comrades are consistent on this, and argue that the Tories have a far better understanding of “how capitalism works” than the left-reformists, who think that water can be made to run uphill.

However, we should question these basic assumptions about the nature of capitalism, whether they come from George or from Marxists. Even if you accept that actually existing capitalism is a rapacious and inhumane set-up – and we do – we need to go back to first principles and ask: what is the scope for change within the system? To what extent is it helpful to think of capitalism as a ‘system’ at all? If we de-objectify capitalism, what appears instead are historically constituted social relationships. And social relationships, no matter how constrained, can surely change if the participants in them decide that change is what they want.

When Osborne decides to make his cuts to social spending, this cannot be the only option open to him. There is a subjective (ideological) driver at work. This ideological driver you might call “Thatcherism” – the unchallenged ruling ideology for getting on for four decades. This is the context in which to understand the potential of “Corbynmania“. It opens up a space where we can question old certainties and look at the world with fresh eyes. Even if, contrary to the mainstream press, Corbyn’s programme is relatively modest, its effect really might be revolutionary because it upends common sense and changes what is even thinkable, let alone doable. Even if you disagree with everything Corbyn stands for, or discount his potential for success, then still mainstream culture in this country has now to deal with a politician who is straight-talking and honest and seems to sincerely believe in the possibility that things might be organised differently. That is in itself revolutionary.–Dave&Stuart


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