Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Get ready for the next big thing

Sli Eile: This is the conclusion of a writer in the current edition of that internationally respectable journal, Foreign Policy, under ‘Why bad times lead to great ideas’: If the 1930s gave us plastic, the 1940s nuclear power and the 1970s/80s micro-computers then it could be argued that economic destruction played its part in laying the seeds for entirely new discoveries and innovations. However, with destruction came mass poverty, homelessness and unemployment in US of the early 1930s. And the ultimate fruit of the 1929 crash – along with other factors – was 1939-1945.

We shouldn’t take Western liberal democracy for granted. We should protect (what is valuable within it) and change it by extending democracy in the workplace, in corporate regulation and in empowerment of citizens and various communities. That way, the boom-bust-boom cycle doesn’t necessarily have to destroy individuals, communities and societies in its relentless march. The 20th Century saw the failure of various forms of socialism and now capitalism. Marx was about half right. What next? A new political economy based on human values can offer something.

Leo Panitch writes a thought-provoking piece (all of which is worth reading but here is a key passage):

Despite the depth of our current predicament, Marx would have no illusions that economic catastrophe would itself bring about change. He knew very well that capitalism, by its nature, breeds and fosters social isolation. Such a system, he wrote, “leaves no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’” Indeed, capitalism leaves societies mired “in the icy water of egotistical calculation.” The resulting social isolation creates passivity in the face of personal crises, from factory layoffs to home foreclosures. So, too, does this isolation impede communities of active, informed citizens from coming together to take up radical alternatives to capitalism.

Marx would ask first and foremost how to overcome this all-consuming social passivity. He thought that unions and workers’ parties developing in his time were a step forward. Thus in Das Kapital he wrote that the “immediate aim” was “the organization of the proletarians into a class” whose “first task” would be “to win the battle for democracy.” Today, he would encourage the formation of new collective identities, associations, and institutions within which people could resist the capitalist status quo and begin deciding how to better fulfill their needs.

Provocatively, Panitch writes:

Marx would insist that, to find solutions to global problems such as climate change, we need to break with the logic of capitalist markets rather than use state institutions to reinforce them.

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