To its credit, the conference provided a rare opportunity for a good number of concerned people – mostly politically active already - to raise a broad range of different ideas and proposals in response to the rapidly escalating crisis. Many, but far from all, saw the urgent need to end corporate power and establish 21st century models of social ownership. Some were for a return to Keynesian economics looking for ways to get the economy back in control through improved systems of regulation.
But it seems that ordinary people understand the immediacy of the global economic crisis of capitalism better than many political activists because working people are struggling every day with rising prices for food, shocked every time they fill up with a tank of petrol or heating oil, with mounting debts, lower wages and redundancies. Evidence is mounting of a new imminent implosion in the financial system, beginning with the biggest
It can seem difficult to identify immediate “practical” solutions to recession plus inflation, especially when the market state and client governments like New Labour have neither the capacity nor the political will to intervene. Any action they take in one area makes things worse elsewhere. Providing tax breaks for
We’re in a period of history in which no amount of tinkering can solve the big questions. So we’re obliged to work on the development of ideas that link to immediate problems but raise the spectre of radical socialist transformation.
For example, on the energy crisis, the case for social ownership of power generating and oil corporations increases daily. This essential resource should not be left in private hands or market forces. In the interim, the state could slash prices and subsidise energy through the scrapping of Trident and foreign wars. To save energy, public transport fares could be reduced drastically and services reorganised so that people could get to and from work without using their cars. Rail and bus networks would then be taken back into public ownership.
Food prices could be frozen and steps taken towards bringing the supermarket chains into co-operative ownership, ending their profiteering at consumers’ expense. People threatened with repossession should be allowed to stay in their homes pending plans to convert everyone’s mortgage debt into something more affordable and less of a long-term burden. Speculating in commodities and currencies should be blocked and a programme of turning private sector finance into mutual, co-operatively owned enterprises launched.
The big question of questions looms: Who on earth is going to implement such a programme? New Labour? You can’t be serious. The Tories or Lib Dems? To ask the question is to answer it. The apparent political impasse only poses in a sharper way the spectre already mentioned, that of a break with the capitalist present and a leap into a socialist future. It’s difficult to conceive of but it’s an eminently practical solution given the prevailing view that There is No Alternative. The real challenge out of the Leap conference is to create the leadership and organization needed to bring such policies to fruition. The urgency of achieving this cannot be overstated.