This evening the Socialist Workers’ Party’s Chris Harman, Richard Brenner from Workers’ Power and the Hungarian Marxist István Mészáros debated the topic ‘Marx and the credit crunch’ at Conway Hall in central London. Around 190 people attended the meeting.
Brenner and Harman both talked at length about the irrationality of the capitalist system – with heavy stress on the ‘tendency for the rate of profit to fall’ – and the trading of ‘packages’ of debt, and to this counterposed planning and nationalisation. Harman commented that the recent spate of nationalisations had not in fact served the interests of the majority, since nationalised building society Northern Rock continued to aggressively repossess homes: and yet to the government plans he counterposed “genuine nationalisation”. If his latest pamphlet is to believed, this means a more thoroughgoing nationalisation including more public utilities, and state takeovers are also meant to be carried out ‘in the public interest’ rather than in the interest of capital – not that he poses the question of who ought to control the banks and utilities in order to guarantee this. Brenner called for the merging of the nationalised banks, as if centralisation is in itself useful to the working class.
Harman and Brenner make shallow criticisms of “greedy bankers” and “the City bonus culture” and call for nationalisations – and then Obama, Brown and Darling go and do exactly the same thing. Brenner insisted that Gordon Brown would not really carry out his announced Keynesian public works programme, presumably because such measures are imagined by such Trotskyists as these to be progressive or socialistic and so it is understood that capitalism would not resort to taking them…
Both Harman and Brenner also put forward the idea that the economic crisis and recession would through spontaneous combustion create new sites of struggle – getting excited about the prospect of stormy disputes, even at a time when the workers’ movement is in very poor shape indeed (even if it is true that the ideological edifice of neoliberalism has been broken). Neither discussed the failures of the public sector pay battle or the pensions dispute in recent years, the vacillations of the trade union bureaucrats (including so-called leftists like the PCS’s Mark Serwotka) nor the general weakness of our movement, although Harman did make a reference to the possible strengthening of the far right. When unemployment and inflation take their heaviest toll in the coming year or so, we as a movement will not be prepared.
Mészáros’s speech also focussed on the growth of China and commmented on the fact that in a world of nuclear weapons and a looming environmental disaster threatening human survival itself, the choice was not”socialism or barbarism”, but rather “socialism… or we’ll be lucky even to get barbarism”. However, he did not refer to any of his many interesting past comments on the “socialist offensive” and the recomposition of the workers’ movement.
The top-table speakers had more than 20 minutes each for their lead-offs, but there was only 40 minutes or so of discussion amongst the audience. Many odds and sods of the Trotskyist left were present, worst of all the Revolutionary Communist Group (whose members represented the first and third speakers from the floor) who support the Stalinist régime in Cuba and lauded its “resistance” to the financial crisis.
It appears that in this moment of crisis the traditional left’s “Marxism” and alternative to capitalism is nothing other than a more benevolent version of centralised state control.