BEYOND MARKET AND STATE
The Project of Democratizing the Economy
By Alex Demirovic
[This article published in: arranca 40, 2009 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://arranca.nadir.org/arranca/article.do?id=354
The current economic crisis is often compared to the worldwide economic crisis of 1929 to emphasize its seriousness. Despite the depth of the present crisis, the left in general, the Left party (Die Linke) in particular, social movements and the unions have not revealed the causes. The dynamic of capitalist privatization destroying individual and collective life perspectives and counter-measures should be made clear. Many put their trust in those who massively contributed to the genesis of the crisis and proved how dubious is their economic and political competence. The dominant capital factions use the crisis to further enrich themselves at others’ expense by appropriating the wealth of society through indebtedness of the state. The left and organizations of civil society have warned of such a crisis for years. With arguments and protests, they try to influence the rulers and politicians to restrain and limit the power of the financial industry.
The crisis is the result of past attempts to remedy the over-accumulation crisis of capital and the policy followed in the last years. A “socially dis-embodied market” is not involved. With many laws to promote the financial markets and the ease of speculation with establishment of private old age provisions, the SPD and the Greens promoted the conditions for the crisis dynamic with pressure on wages, lower taxes on the wealthy and continuous privatization of public property. Not noticing the reality of many people is part of the dominance of this capital group. Representatives of the economy even urge empathy for themselves because they were also surprised by the crisis. Greens and SPD politicians acted as though they were completely uninvolved. Prominent Green politicians like Joschka Fischer and Daniel Cohn-Bendit and some journalists have given the impression that the crisis is nothing but a “black swan” that unexpectedly flutters by us.
The system question was raised at the first party convention of the Left party (Die Linke) in the summer of 2007. This was also true for the journal “Tagesschau.” Amazingly, however, Spiegel Online recently said no one poses the system question despite the crisis. Reality is different.
That the middle class camp is rarely well informed about the positions of the left has been a historical experience of the left for many decades. The rulers have decreed neoliberal ignorance. Something like society does not exist. They prefer to live in the dream world of model-Platonisms and market utopias. These are rational so far as they bring the possibilities of enrichment to a few powerful groups in the middle class camp. The considerable risks for others are pushed to the side. In the crisis, conflicts occur in the middle class between the different capital fractions.
The economic crisis is dramatic and far-reaching. Many billions of dollars and euros were destroyed. Many people in the US, Europe and Japan have lost their jobs, pensions, savings and apartments or houses. In all countries of the global South, many people – first forced into the existence of free paid laborers – are laid off or made redundant. This causes a tremendous wave of migrants, labor-migrants returning to their homelands, from oil-producing Arab states back to Egypt or the Philippines and from industrial regions and states back to rural life in India and China. The transfer money of these migrants is lacking for the survival of relatives. Subsistence on the land is not guaranteed, which could intensify the exodus to the cities. What is noteworthy in this crisis is that a new far-reaching crisis is already occurring after the wave of crises in the 1990s that struck Mexico, Argentina, Russia and Southeast Asia and after the dotcom crisis at the beginning of the decade before an economic recovery.
The crisis that broke out in 2007 was not only a crisis of the financial industry and the world economy. The crisis was defined by other crises: the food crisis, the crisis of energy and the climate crisis. Further crisis elements could be added. After the boom triggered by information technologies made possible considerable rationalizations, the leading OECD states are in a technological crisis because further innovations would require basic changes of the industrial structure. They are still oriented in fossil sources of energy. Mobility is still based on combustion engines. The automobile fleet will be renewed with the clunker premium used in a dozen countries as a crisis instrument so cars with an outmoded technology will not be the main means of transportation for another twenty years and contribute to CO2 emissions. Technological innovations that could raise social reproduction to a higher level in sustainable ways are marginal. Genetic engineering is a risky super-technology that does not contribute to a sustainable way of life.
Many states are marked by an increasing imbalance between cities and the countryside. More and more people are concentrated in a few cities while rural areas become deserted. The population declines, older people and children are left and material and cultural provisions become precarious. There is an education crisis because the rich states do not make available the money for education necessary to ensure the reproduction of knowledge. Knowledge is sold on the world market. Poorer countries and the middle classes there bear the education costs while the well educated migrate to the centers where higher incomes beckon.
To complete the picture, politics and the state must be discussed. Democratic societies create channels for opinion- and will formation enabling critical and oppositional forces, express social crisis moments and work toward reforms that wrest concessions to improve life from the rulers. However democratic mechanisms are not in a good condition. In a “post-democracy,” the interests of global corporations prevail with the continuing façade of democratic institutions and procedures. The partiers are weakened and lose members. The population’s interest in politics is at a low level; the unions for years have endured a shrinking of members. Their support among youth and the highly trained is relatively trifling. A large portion of businesses does not have a works council. Some politicians and economic barons would like to see the right to vote limited according to criterion of income or region. Efficient executive decision-making processes that can no longer be prevented or slowed down by laws, legal procedural rules or social movements are sought. In the case of the enforcement of financial market security laws and the establishment of a financial market stabilization board SoFFins, a “coup d’etat” and an “emergency order” were rightly emphasized in the media. Support for democracy is trifling; democracy passes through a crisis.
Social movements are often named as alternatives to parties and unions. However movements are in a difficult situation; the model “Streets against Palaces” is also in crisis. The advantage that social movements are recognized as a form of representation of interests and an element of the political system of Germany has the disadvantage of normalizing their existence, themes and practices. They are recognized and therefore they can be overlooked and ignored by politics and the economy.
The number of demonstrators must be very high and violence must occur before the media and politics grapple with reality. Substantive demands are not central but the forms of action, individual groups among the demonstrators and the media and politicians acting as though they were neutral arbiters protecting the rules of the game. The wrath of the people fizzles on the streets. Pictures and marginal notes are found in the media for a day, writes Adrian Kreye in the Sueddeutschen Zeitung newspaper. What was regarded for a long time as a strength of the social movements is described as its weakness. The left is faceless. The few well-known persons do not have a majority. In other words, they cannot symbolize the movements in their diversity. The movements thematicize the far-reaching crisis context of social formation. Many themes have a global range and are not only local, regional or national. But they did not successfully bundle their themes, demands and goals for a long while. The social movements recognize the complexity and non-reducibility of the problems. This fact like the temporal, spatial, social and practical range of the social movements makes them superior to the ruling camp. At the same time, they are inferior.
One of the necessities of politics is to symbolically condense different problems in a theme since all struggles refer to other struggles. Other problems can be solved when one problem is solved. Equivalence chains must be formed that make a link between the different social connections. Only those who protest and champion emancipatory goals see themselves as actors in an expansive social movement directed against a common antagonist. Thus the different social movements could join together by forming equivalents. An equivalent is neither a shared interest underlying all things nor an argument convincing everyone because it is true. Rejection of nuclear power can be such an equivalent. For some, nuclear power is a life-destructive industry, for others a masculine technology and for a third a key capitalist industry.
In the last years, the equivalent that brought together many movements and groups was criticism of neoliberalism. Privatization of public goods, deprivation of rights of the unemployed, wage pressure, deregulation of working hours and other moments made neoliberalism into the symbol of the opposing camp. Mobilizations occurred in the scope of the Social Forum movement, the G8 protests and formation of groups like Attac. There were many protests of groups concerned by Agenda 2010: environmental- and climate groups, Antifada- and anti-racist groups, migrant groups and groups that set the sexual- and gender question in the center of their activity. Activists in the areas of monitoring and urban development organized varied activities and discussed themes at anti-capitalist conferences. Since universities have lost significance as places of critical knowledge production, an increasing number of seminars, lecture series and summer academies are organized from critical perspectives. However despite all efforts, no movements forming into a comprehensive block arose in the past years out of these activities. “Neoliberalism” has no symbolic power to resolve contradictions.
But shifts in the relative strengths in favor of the left can be identified. Experiences with the government policy followed by the SPD and the Greens – militarized foreign policy, Agenda 2010, continual privatization of public goods, privatization of old age provisions and promotion of enrichment strategies – have contributed to overcoming passivity from below. The social market economy, Rhine capitalism and the New Middle are not convincing any more. With the formation of the Election Alternative: Labor and Social Justice (WASG), a noteworthy 2004 initiative from the working class for political self-organization occurred for the first time in the history of Germany. That the distance between unions and social movements existing since the 1970s becomes trifling is also new.
The Left party (Die Linke) is the result of political efforts of a large number of groups and schools, not only the union of WASG and PDS. Its founding in the summer of 2007 led to a shift of relative strengths because alternatives to capitalism have been addressed in the official public since then. With the Left party, the possibility exists for eastern and western leftists to reflect together on an emancipatory perspective on the mistakes of past state socialist experiments and the authoritarian dynamics in the socialist project. The search for alternative concepts and their conversion in concrete policies have a basis and support in the official political realm.
The production of an equivalence chain against the common adversary “neoliberalism” is occurring but has a weakness. By concentrating on a criticism of neoliberalism and its state-phobia, the left limits its perspective to state-euphoria. In the Left party (Die Linke), a budget focus exists where socialism is the realization of effective laws and nationalization. The failure of markets and managers could be remedied by businesses and banks secured by the state or under public ownership and control. The neoliberal side opposes this demand in that state-controlled banks have participated in speculative transactions. Experience teaches that businesses in state-ownership are run more miserably than in private enterprise. In the present crisis, the state now prevents the market from exercising its purging function. Over this narrowing to the alternative state or market, arguing for the third possibility of a conversion of businesses into holding companies is necessary. In this case, the enterprises must not only gain the high profits commensurate with the benchmarks of the financial markets.
In addition, producers and consumers should be directly involved in operational decisions. They must bear all the risks, literally unemployment or tax increases. Thus it is appropriate for their involvement in the operational decisions about products, investments, working hours and the nature of work. The political economy of profit can be replaced by the political economy of labor. The society under capitalist conditions denies organizing the community and its existence around productive labor. The central question of extending democracy is raised far behind the political realm in the centers of economic power. This will not be a direct solution for all problems of social movements but could contribute to conditions under which they can be better tackled.