The New Year will begin with a sense of fear gripping both the top and bottom of society. Working people across the globe fear for their jobs, pensions and services. At the top there is fear that the economic crisis is entering freefall and will lead to widespread resistance.
The last year has seen turmoil grip the capitalist system and the governments that run it.
The credit crunch has developed into a recession, spreading from the financial sector to envelop the rest of the economy.
This threatens to become a slump on a global scale – pulling in the new “wonder economies” of China and India.
The significance of events in Greece, described by The Times newspaper as a “popular uprising”, is leading some commentators to draw parallels with the May 1968 events in France.
For the ruling class this is a serious worry – the French uprising heralded almost a decade of working class insurgency, which seriously raised the prospect of revolution.
The Greek events are not yet on the scale of 1968 – which involved student protests, riots and an all-out general strike. But they represent the most serious uprising in Europe since the mid-1970s.
Any economic crisis impacts at three levels – the ideological, political and economic.
Gordon Brown’s and George Bush’s governments have torn up the free market template that has been gospel in ruling circles for three decades. And ordinary people are looking for alternatives to the system.
The anti-capitalist and anti-war movements of the last decade means that there is a receptive audience for radical ideas.
Establishment politics have become volatile. Before the crisis Brown’s ratings sank as David Cameron was declared unstoppable – only for everything to be reversed as the Tory leader floundered in the economic turmoil.
And there are other dangers in a world still dominated by the US’s “war on terror”. A regime in crisis can lash out and launch a military adventure, just as the Georgians did against Russia in the summer.
The war in Afghanistan has spread over the border into Pakistan. Pakistan’s government is now being threatened by Condoleezza Rice, Brown and the Indian government unless it effectively launches a civil war on its own people.
The huge protests in Greece, Italy and Ireland show that economic crisis can breed mass rebellion. The discontent is a response to governments that are implementing austerity measures rather than the neo-Keynesian policies seen in Britain and elsewhere.
And even though governments in the US and Britain have undertaken bailouts and nationalisations, unease remains close to the surface.
The idea that working people – not just the banks and major firms – should qualify for bailouts is becoming common sense for all those fearing job losses and home repossessions.
These ideas question the fundamentals on which capitalism operates – that the market should be free from any democratic control. This can feed popular resistance.
Many of us will see the popular uprising in Greece and mourn the contrast with the lacklustre behaviour of most of our union leaders.
Yet one lesson from Greece is how quickly things can explode in such a combustible situation.
Brown’s actions to save the economy may appear relatively painless now, but he has admitted the costs of such bailouts will be huge. It will mean increased taxes and lower public spending.
Meanwhile New Labour’s nasty social agenda continues – attacking benefit claimants, single parents and migrants – against a background of mounting job losses and a crisis affecting pensions and housing.
Many people will enter 2009 with a sense of foreboding. But we should look forward to what those at the top fear – revolts similar to Greece could spread across Europe, and the English Channel is only 22 miles wide.