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November 08, 2005


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Still not there!

Neither the upsurge in France nor the preceeding resentments on the global scale has yet oriented itself to challenge and striven to undermine the origins laid by exploitative strains of capitalism. We are still deluded by the idea of 'humanising' capitalism, thus throw stones to windmills. Is it really a necessity to detour through Keynesian state once more?

Marc Lombardo

I'd prefer the detour to the direct route, thank you very much!

john buell

I too prefer the detour. I think that at the height of European social democracy, the poorest segments of the population in Western Europe were better off than today. Nonetheless, I think that those of us on the Left need to articulate more clearly just why the social democrztic model is in trouble. It has become almost a mantra on the right that Europe's unemployment problems, especially among the young, are proof that social democracy does not work and that the pure free market is the only answer. It is worth pointing out, even in discussions over the back fence, that Europe's problems have become more acute as the Continent has moved in a more neoliberal direction. Top marginal tax rates have been reduced, taxes on buinsss cut, privatization pursued. In addition, the ECB pursued a monetary policy even more restrictive than Greenspan's. The right argument is in essence if half a glass of neoliberalism is poisoning you, the full bottle will bring a cure.

The problem as I see it is how does Europe extend social democracy from a nation to a continent or even to a global economy. The European social democracies were formed around notions of nationalism and it is nationalism in France that has blinded leadership to the limits of is own model. Today's NY Times points out that the French have argued that all French citizens are fully French and fully equal. But this is an abstract problamation, and the government and the media refuse to collect statistics or do analyses of government programs and economic develoopment along ethnic lines. So ethnic anomosities can grow even as the government adopts a studied blindness to it. In effect the problem cannot enter politics and so is more likely to explode.


I think it is a soft spot we are rubbing on, so I will continue. The issue to opt for the Keynesian lesser evil is only helpful to construct ourselves the humanely oasis of capitalism. The challenge lies far ahead. How to undo the eternal realness of capitalism, destruct the idea that it is the best possible way for human needs and progress. If we can get along under neo-liberal form, than try once again the welfare state. Why? This is exactly where I disagree. To my view, it is a matter of understanding capitalism as a social form. A form that shapes (even we think and argue otherwise)our everydayness, our sense of being. Isn't it viable to note that the post-war order's biggest achievement was to build mass consumer armies and disguise the integration of these same masses by phoney social provisions.

"I think that at the height of European social democracy, the poorest segments of the population in Western Europe were better off than today." says John Buell. Well, empirically solid and I have no doubt Buell's honesty to have longing for 'people' to have better access to humanely social provisions. But more we identify solutions with the problem, the problems characteristics become reasonable as we adjust them to our perspective.(Yet, I may be overstretching this point!)

And how did I manage to come to all these speculations on capitalism from the riots in France? It is 01:00 am at night in Istanbul and while I am writing this message, there is a dicussion program running on TV. Six speakers, academically proficient in sociology and political science, offering different views. Depending on their personal inclination, they decipher certain aspects of the issue: the rise of left, the urban poverty, the odd "clash of civilisations" thesis and so on. But even when they come closest to identify (some even say it)a general pattern of global distress stemming from inequalities, then the argument stops. People are afraid to utter that this is a problem about capitalism. They are hesitant to point that Parisian slums are not only 'foreigners', but also the 'lumpen' France. And this is exactly where the radical left is drawing its power. Above all, people are afraid to affiliate capitalism with any ill. It is either culture, religion, or 'nationalism'. What we are witnessing today should not be interesting only because it is between black/Moslem/North Africans and white/Christian/ French. The problem in France was no cuckoo's egg.

PS: I probably could not make myself very clear, but I hope to achieve that in follow of responses. Thank you!

PS2 to Buell: It is an illustrative point you made on nationalism, i.e. the so-called 'civic nationalism' of France. I think, figures like Hans Kohn and Elie Kedourie are rolling over their graves seeing that their examplary civic nation is burning with its Peugeots in the street.



In the last comment I used a phrase 'the rise of left', it goes without saying that it should be 'the rise of radical right'. A grave mistake, I am sorry.

Marc Lombardo


I don't think that we disagree so terribly. I just feel that as long as they're going to screw us anyway, there's something to be said for utilizing the rhetoric of capitalist states in order to secure basic economic concessions. And, I don't feel this way for "people" in general, but for myself! I would rather live in a country (preferably a world) where I could have some guarantee of health care, housing, and income.


Your point is well taken! It reminds me the Gramscian war of position. In so far, you mean to reach more gainings for the commodified labour in time.

Yet, I am not convinced entirely for several reasons. First of all, there is a particular problem with the mechanics of the welfare state (I assume you mean more or less this terminology) as it was in the post-1945 period. The point is about social provisions when implemented in market economies. It is inevitable that at some point that the social concessions start eating up capitalist profits. (this is very well argued in Robert Biel's The New Imperialism). Thus what you seem to suggest as a viable alternative is not att all a solution in the long run. It is bound to cause frictions. This is more than obvious in societies with remarkable growth figures. Second point is that you risk conflacting 'protectionism' (in its wider meaning; not only raising quotas and such) and Polanyi's reembedding of economy back into social. (Though Polanyi himself was wrong to take post-war order as 'reembedding') The social turn would only mean to tranquilise people into the market economy. (see my point on "the humanely oasis of capitalism"), but it won't itself provide necessary openings for complete transcendence of the markey society. Final point is that it is impossible for humanity to exist with capitalist market, it has to take measures. But these measures (i.e. social provisions) have proved to be destructive. You can't have both capitalism and social concord. That simply doesn't make sense. Let me substantiate this in a different way. A wage labourer in capitalim, in today's world, is full of desire to have his own bussines one way. A desire to employ wage labour one day. This points to capitalism enveloping mentality inscribed in each and every of us. Thus, you can't have some or all of it. You either have it or not. You either abstract market from society and let it run in its predatory way; and if by some epochal necessity grant some concessions to labour, only to distract their dissidence for the time being. Or to reembed in into the society to meake it subject to social norms. (This is obviously a problem, I have grappling with. Thus I can't claim to offer answers, for how to achieve it. For that Marc Lombardo's understanding is a way out, which I guess ultimately roll back to markey society at the end.)

While whatever the problem we are dealing with, say it's implosion of French slums or revealing of the ills of the American system after the Hurricane Katrina, for me the motto is single: "The world does not have to be like this." For the world we know is ultimately a fiction, it can be unmade! Thank you!


How timely it is to watch again Mathieu Kassovitz's movie La Haine pointing the social problems of France. And it is remarkable opening story:

C'est l'histoire d'un homme
qui tombe d'un immeuble de 50 étages.

Au fur et à mesure de sa chute,
pour se rassurer, il se répète:

Jusqu'ici, tout va bien.
Jusqu'ici, tout va bien.
Jusqu'ici, tout va bien.

Mais l'important, c'est pas la chute.

C'est l'atterrissage...

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