Eric Hobsbawm has written in the Guardian that, following communism’s failure in the last century, capitalism has now followed suit. So what’s still available, ideologically speaking? He states that social democracy as practised by the Blair and Brown administrations has run out of steam as well – this is, after all, the author of “The forward march of labour halted”, so this is familiar territory. But does it have much to offer us in the way of prescriptions? I think not.
First, let’s get a grip. Many people, since the recession began last year, have written capitalism’s obituary. Certainly the TUC believes that the mystique of the neoliberals, the deregulators and Wall Street and the City of London’s ’masters of the universe’ has been badly dented. We aren’t going to take lectures about how there is no alternative any more, and we suspect that most people feel the same way (there have been some polls in the US recently suggesting that even there, people have abandoned a belief in capitalism – but not, instructively, the free market).
But we shouldn’t make the mistake to believe that capitalism is dead. I rather suspect that Marx was right in seeing endless reinvention as capitalism’s unique selling proposition (I think that’s what he said in Das Kapital, anyway!) It will be a matter of political choice whether free market capitalism is re-established after the recession ends. There are still plenty of people arguing that the objective should be to get back to business as usual, and they may yet win.
Our objective should be to persuade people that this would be the wrong direction. But what would be the right one? Hobsbawm says that New Labour social democracy, where the free market is key but the state has a major role in distributing its proceeds more equitably (I’m simplifying, of course) is also dead. What he proposes in its place is … er … a more extensive role for the state in a predominantly market economy.
Perhaps this is left social democracy, compared with the failed right social democracy of New Labour. And this is the correct, but hardly milleniallist, answer.