20 May 2010

What's wrong with Scandinavian capitalism?

A friend asked not too long ago: "things are pretty good in countries like Sweden and Norway despite the countries still being capitalist. Is it not possible for the UK to go in the same direction? What's wrong with those countries as they are?"

The big problem with strongly social-democratic systems is simply this: no matter how many concessions you get out of the ruling class, as long as the ruling class persists as the ruling class — that is, in the absence of workers' revolution — then they will always push back and undercut and break down every gain that's made.

That's what we've seen in Europe over the past 60 years. The British working class gained huge concessions under the post-war Attlee government, just as the people in France and the Netherlands and, as the questioner cites, Sweden, Norway and Finland did. But in all these countries, all these concessions have been worn away at through conservatism in its many presentations: a supposed need for austerity, an unjustified faith that the market can do what public ownership can't, a glib statement that there are no classes anymore and so the class struggle is irrelevant.

I read recently, as I've been told many times before, that we no longer need women's liberation — women, the writer asserted, are liberated already. I can hear your hollow laughing from here. What's more, you know that no amount of bureaucratic concessions will bring about real women's liberation. Any numbers of legal reforms and bureacratic directives have not brough about gender equality. The scientific socialist, indeed, the scientific sociologist in general, will now reasonably conclude that bureaucracy, legal reform, all the mechanisms of liberalism will not bring about equality, because liberalism requires capitalism and capitalism is that which drives and demands inequality. If equality is to be found at all, it must be contingent on an end to the capitalist system and a progression beyond liberalism.

"Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat." — Marx & Engels, "The Principles of Communism".

No point changes from the case above. In the struggle for human equality, bureaucracy and legalism can be progressive — and this progress, in the form of national health care, nationalised transport and utilities, nationalised industry, should be lauded. But this progress must be ephemeral unless there should come an end to bourgeois rule, and an abolition of capitalism.

In Sweden for a time, as in Britain for a time, a worker could live happier, freer and more securely. That happiness and freedom and security was contingent on the greater happiness and freedom and security of some clique of great owners.

That time is ending, and the clique once again hoards happiness and freedom and security to itself.

Hence, while we will take the concessions we can get, today, tomorrow and for the generations to come, our goal remains: revolution.

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