The suspension of the policy

Image: Khoa Võ


“Expert” rule is destroying democracy

Among the many topics to which Karl Marx devoted his interest, one of the least known is his critique of the so-called “technical government” – that is, governments led by supposed “experts” not affiliated with political parties. As a collaborator of New york tribune, one of the most widely circulated newspapers of its time, Marx observed the institutional developments that led to one of the first governments of its kind in history: the Earl of Aberdeen's office in Britain, from December 1852 to January 1855.

Marx's accounts were noted for their wit and sarcasm. The newspaper The Times celebrated these events as a sign that Britain was at the dawn of an age "when the spirit of party must fly from the earth, and genius, experience, industry and patriotism must be the only qualifications for office". . The London daily appealed to "men of all types of opinion" to support the new government as "its principles demand universal approval and support".

Similar arguments were used in February 2021, when Mario Draghi became Prime Minister of Italy. The hype surrounding Draghi, who had been governor of the Bank of Italy from 2006 to 2011 and president of the European Central Bank from 2011 to 2019, was similar to that of the The Times in 1852. All conservative and liberal press outlets, including those on the moderate left, united in a crusade against irresponsible political parties and in favor of the “savior” Draghi. With his resignation on Thursday, the experiment came to an end again.

In the 1853 article “A superannuated administration: prospect of the coalition ministry”, Karl Marx scoffed at the point of view of The Times. What the biggest British newspaper found so modern and captivating was, for it, sheer farce. When The Times announced “a ministry composed entirely of new, young and promising characters”, Marx mused that “the world will certainly not be a little confused to learn that the new era in the history of Great Britain will be ushered in by octogenarians, bureaucrats who served almost every administrations since the end of the last century, twice dead of old age and exhaustion and resurrected only to an artificial existence”.

Along with the judgments about individuals, there were others, of greater interest, relating to their policies: "We are promised the total disappearance of party warfare, even of the parties themselves," observed Marx. "What's the meaning of The Times? "

Unfortunately, the issue is very current today, in a world where the domination of capital over labor has become as fierce as it was in the mid-nineteenth century. The separation between economics and politics, which differentiates capitalism from earlier modes of production, has reached a high point. The economy not only dominates politics, setting its agenda and shaping its decisions, but it is outside its jurisdiction and democratic control – to the point where a change in government no longer alters the directions of economic and social policy. They must be immutable.


Economic “Imperatives”

In the last thirty years, decision-making powers have shifted from the political sphere to the economic sphere. Party political options have been transformed into economic imperatives that disguise a highly political and reactionary project behind an ideological mask of expertise the politics. This diversion of parts of the political sphere into the economy, as a separate domain impervious to change, involves the gravest threat to democracy in our time. National parliaments, already emptied of representative value by biased electoral systems and authoritarian revisions of the executive-legislative relationship, find their powers withdrawn and transferred to the “market”.

The ratings of Standard & Poor's, the index of Wall Street and the spread of transactions – these mega-fetishes of contemporary society – have an incomparably greater weight than the will of the people. At best, governments can “intervene” in the economy (the ruling classes sometimes need to mitigate capitalism's destructive anarchy and violent crises), but they cannot question its fundamental rules and choices.

From February 2021 until his resignation last Thursday, Mario Draghi was a prominent representative of this policy. For seventeen months, he led a very broad coalition including the centrist Democratic Party, his longtime nemesis Silvio Berlusconi, the populist Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini's far-right Lega. Behind the facade of the term “technical government” – or as they say, the “government of the best” – we can see a suspension of politics.

This phenomenon is not new in Italy. Since the end of the First Republic in the early 1990s, there have been numerous governments with “technical” leadership or without political party representatives. These include the government of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, formerly President of the Bank of Italy for fifteen years from 1979 to 1993 (and later elected President of Italy from 1999 to 2006); the government of Lamberto Dini, former director general of the Bank of Italy, after a long career at the International Monetary Fund, in 1995-96; and the government of Mario Monti, a former European competition commissioner, with relevant previous experience on the Rockefeller Group's Trilateral Commission, on the Bilderberg Group's steering committee, and as an international adviser to Goldman Sachs, from 2011 to 2013.

In recent years, it has been argued that new elections should not be held after a political crisis; politics should hand over total control to the economy. In an April 1853 article, “Achievements of the ministry”, Karl Marx wrote that “coalition ministry [“technics”] represents impotence in political power”. Governments no longer discuss which economic direction to follow. Now the dominant economic orientations provoke the birth of governments.

In Europe, in recent years, the neoliberal mantra has repeated that to restore market “confidence” it is necessary to move quickly along the path of “structural reforms” – an expression now used as a synonym for social devastation: in other words, wage cuts, attacks on workers' rights to hire and fire, raising the retirement age and large-scale privatization. The new “technical governments”, led by individuals with a background in some of the economic institutions most responsible for economic crises, have embarked on this path – claiming to do so “for the good of the country” and “for the well-being of future generations”. . Furthermore, economic powers and the mainstream media tried to silence anyone who raised a dissenting voice.

Following his resignation, Mario Draghi will no longer be Prime Minister of Italy. Most of it imploded due to the too divergent policies of the parties that supported it, and Italy will have early elections on September 25th. If the left is not to disappear, it must also have the courage to propose the radical policies needed to address the most pressing contemporary issues, starting with the ecological crisis. The last people who could carry out a program of social transformation and redistribution of wealth are “technicians” – indeed, very political figures – such as central banker Mario Draghi. His absence will not be felt.

*Marcello Musto is professor of sociology at York University (Canada). Author, among other books, of The Old Marx: An Intellectual Biography of His Last Years (boitempo).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published in Jacobin Magazine



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