We can't go on like this by Serge Halimi
It's five years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, on 15 September 2008. Since then, the legitimacy of capitalism as a way of organising society has been undermined; its promises of prosperity, social mobility and democracy have lost credibility. But there has been no radical change. The system has repeatedly come under fire, but it has survived. Part of the price for capitalism's failures has been the end of some social advances previously wrested from it. "Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything - yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever," wrote the US economist Paul Krugman (1).
Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique. To read this article published in the English edition Sept 2013, click on
"The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands, bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."Franklin D Roosevelt, 22 May 1932
It's five years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, on 15 September 2008. Since then, the legitimacy of capitalism as a way of organising society has been undermined; its promises of prosperity, social mobility and democracy have lost credibility. But there has been no radical change. The system has repeatedly come under fire, but it has survived. Part of the price for capitalism's failures has been the end of some social advances previously wrested from it. "Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything - yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever," wrote the US economist Paul Krugman (1). But the system is still holding up, even if it is on autopilot, and that is not to the credit of its opponents. What has happened? What can be done about it?...
The anti-capitalist left rejects the idea of economic inevitability because it realises the economy is shaped by political forces. It should have deduced that the financial disaster of 2007-08 would not clear an easy path to its objectives.
Spontaneity and improvisation can favour a revolutionary moment, but don't guarantee a revolution. Social networks have encouraged the horizontal organisation of demonstrations, and the absence of formal organisation has enabled them to avoid police surveillance, for a time. But power is still achieved through pyramid structures, money, activists, electoral machinery and a strategy: which social block and which alliance for which project? Accardo's metaphor is relevant: "Having all the pieces of a watch on a table does not enable someone who has no assembly instructions to make it work. Assembly instructions are a strategy. In politics you can utter a series of cries or you can think about how to put the pieces together" (14).
Relationship to power
The watchmaker strategy would be to define the major priorities, reconstruct the debate around them, and stop complicating things to prove individual cleverness. A "Wikipedia-style revolution, in which everyone adds content" (15) will not fix the watch. In recent years, local, diffuse, febrile action has produced an opposition in love with itself, an impatient and impotent spectrum, and disappointments (16). Given that the middle classes often form the backbone of these movements, such fickleness is not surprising: they only ally themselves with the working classes in extremis, and on condition of quickly recovering control of operations (17).
The question of the relationship to power also arises, more and more often. Now that no one imagines that the main parties and current institutions will change the neoliberal order at all, there is a growing temptation to prioritise changing minds over changing structures and laws, and to abandon the national terrain, and re-address the local or community level to create a testing ground for future victories. "One group is betting on [social] movements, on diversity without central organisation" Wallerstein wrote; "another contends that without political power, you can't change anything. All the governments in Latin America are having this debate" (18).
The difficulty of the first strategy is considerable. There is a coherent ruling class, aware of its interests, master of the terrain and of the use of force, set against many associations, unions and parties, all tempted to defend their turf, their uniqueness and autonomy, as they fear being swallowed up by political power. They may also suffer from the Internet illusion, which makes them imagine they count because they have a website. What they call "network organisation" becomes the theoretical mask of an absence of organisation and strategic thought, since the network has no reality beyond the circulation of electronic communications that everyone forwards and no one reads.
The relationship between social movements and institutional channels, counter-balances to power and parties, has always been problematic. Now that there is no longer a principal objective, a general line — and less than ever a party or cartel that embodies it — it is necessary to "reflect on how to create the global starting from the particular" (19). Defining priorities directly challenging the power of capital would make it possible to arm fine sentiments, attack the central system, and to identify those political forces which are also disposed to do so...
Boldness is required. Writing about the environment in 1974, André Gorz called for "a multi-level political attack to wrest [from capitalism] control of operations and to counter with a completely different plan for society and civilisation."
n the EU, the sums lost to society as a whole as a result of legal activities such as tax optimisation, "transfer pricing" (which enables the localisation of subsidiaries' profits in low-tax jurisdictions), and the relocation of company headquarters, might be nearly €1,000bn ($1,300bn). In some countries lost revenue is greater than the national debt.
The noose around society's neck would be loosened more quickly if it were possible to recover the taxes eroded by 30 years of neoliberalism — not only through challenges to the progressive nature of taxation and increases in fraud, but through the creation of a structure in which half of international trade in goods and services goes through tax havens. The beneficiaries include not only Russian oligarchs or a former French economics minister, but businesses with state protection (and sway in the media) such as Total, Apple, Google, Citigroup and BNP Paribas...
The game is not over. The neoliberal dream has lost its status as an absolute and an ideal, without which its social projects will wither and perish. All it is capable of producing now are privileges, and cold, dead beings. A change will occur. Each of us can help it happen a little sooner."
Hope beyond hopelessness - France's political vacuum - Feb 2014
Corporate Invasion by Lori Wallach - Dec 2013
- See more at: http://www.thomhartmann.com/forum/2014/02/we-cant-go-serge-halimi#sthash.k178Yx7V.dpuf
contribute to this article
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion