the illusory conflict

Image: Hamilton Grimaldi


Plan of action for the Progressive International

Our era will be remembered for the triumphant march of authoritarianism and its wake, in which the vast majority of humanity experienced needless hardship and the planet's ecosystems suffered avoidable climate destruction. For a brief period—what the British historian Eric Hobsbawm described as “the short twentieth century”—the forces of establishment came together to deal with challenges to their authority. It was a rare phase, in which the elites had to face a range of progressive movements, all seeking to change the world: social democrats, communists, experiments in self-management, national liberation movements in Africa and Asia, the first ecologists, radicals, etc. .

I grew up in Greece in the mid-1960s, governed by a US-sponsored right-wing dictatorship under Lyndon Johnson (whose government was one of the most progressive at home, but who did not hesitate to support fascists in Greece or to bomb the Vietnam). The fear and aversion to right-wing populism that we find today stamped on the pages of the New York Times, simply did not exist at that time.

Things changed after 2008, the year the western financial system imploded. After 25 years of financialization under the ideological cloak of neoliberalism (learn more in Ann Pettifor's article on the global financial system), global capitalism had a spasm similar to that of 1929, which nearly brought it to its knees. The immediate reaction of governments to this crisis, to support financial institutions and markets, was to turn on central bank printing presses and transfer bank losses to the working and middle classes through so-called “bailouts”.

This combination of socialism for the few and rigid austerity for the masses did two things. First, it depressed global real investment, as companies knew that the masses had little to spend on new goods and services. This generated discontent among many, while few received large doses of “liquidity”.

Second, progressive uprisings broke out initially—from Indignados in Spain and the aganaktismeni in Greece, to Occupy Wall Street and various leftist forces in Latin America. These movements, however, were relatively short-lived and were dealt with efficiently by the establishment, both directly, with the Greek spring crush in 2015, for example; and indirect, as in the weakening of Latin American leftist governments when Chinese demand for their exports fell.

As progressive causes were eliminated one by one, mass discontent had to find political expression. Mimicking the rise of Mussolini in Italy, who promised to look after the weakest and make them proud to be Italian again, we witness the rise of what we might call the Nationalist International, most clearly expressed in the right-wing arguments fueling the departure of Great Britain. Britain of the European Union and in the electoral victories of right-wing nationalists: Donald Trump in the United States; Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil; Narendra Modi in India; Marine Le Pen in France; Matteo Salvini in Italy and Viktor Orban in Hungary.

And so, for the first time since World War II, the great political confrontation ceased to be between the establishment and the various progressivisms, to become a conflict between different parts of the establishment. One part appears as the bulwarks of liberal democracy; the other, as representatives of the anti-liberal movement.

Evidently, this clash between the establishment liberal and the Nationalist International is totally illusory. In France, the centrist Macron needed the threat of Le Pen's far-right nationalism, without which he would never have been president. And Le Pen needed Macron and the austerity policies of the establishment liberal, which generated the discontent that fueled his campaigns. Likewise in the United States, where the policies of the Clintons and Obamas, who rescued Wall Street, fueled the discontent that created Donald Trump — whose rise reinforces, in an endless circle, Clinton and Biden's defenses against someone like Bernie Sanders . It was a reinforcing mechanism between the establishment and the so-called populist, replicated around the world.

However, the fact that the liberal establishment and the Nationalist International are co-dependent does not mean that the cultural and personal clash between them is not authentic. The authenticity of their confrontation, despite the lack of any real political difference between them, made it almost impossible for progressives to be heard, due to the cacophony caused by the many conflicting variants of authoritarianism.

This is exactly why we need a Progressive International — an international movement of progressives to counter the false opposition between two varieties of globalized authoritarianism (the establishment liberal and the Nationalist International) that trap us in a typical business agenda that destroys life prospects and wastes opportunities to curb climate catastrophe.

The question, then, is: what would a Progressive International do? For what purpose? And by what means?

If our Progressive International simply creates space for open discussion in city squares (as Occupy Wall Street did a decade ago) or merely seeks to emulate efforts like the World Social Forum, it will fail again. To succeed, we will need a common plan of action and a common campaign strategy that encourages progressives around the world to implement that plan. Last but not least, we will need the shared will to envision a post-capitalist reality.

Let me break down these three prerequisites one by one:

Prerequisite 1: A common progressive action plan

Fascists and bankers have a common program. If you talk to a banker in Chile or Switzerland, a Trump supporter in the United States or a Le Pen voter in France, you will hear the same narrative. Bankers will say that regulation and capital controls are detrimental to progress; that financial engineering increases the efficiency with which capital flows into the economy; that the private sector is always better at providing services than the public sector; that minimum wages and unions impede growth or that climate change can only be tackled by the private sector.

In turn, the Nationalist International narrative is as follows: electric border fences are essential to preserve national sovereignty; immigrants threaten local jobs and social cohesion; Muslims, in particular, cannot be integrated and must be kept out; foreigners conspire with local liberal elites to weaken the nation; women should be encouraged to bring up their children at home; LGBTQI+ rights come at the expense of basic morality and, last but not least: “Give us the power to act authoritatively, and we will make the country great again and you proud”.

Progressives also need shared narratives. Fortunately, we know what must be done: energy generation must shift massively from fossil fuels to renewable sources, mainly wind and solar; land transport must be electrified, while air transport and maritime transport must rely on new zero-carbon fuels (such as hydrogen); meat production is expected to decline substantially, with greater emphasis on organic crops; and strict limits on physical growth from toxins to cement are essential.

We also know that all of this will cost at least 10% of global revenue, or nearly $10 trillion, annually – a sum that can be easily mobilized, provided we are ready to create institutions to coordinate the various actions and redistribute revenues across the North. and the global South. To achieve this, we need to invoke the spirit of the New Deal Franklin Roosevelt's original—a policy that succeeded because it inspired people who had lost hope that there were ways to direct idle resources into public service.

Our Green New Deal International will have to use transnational credit instruments and carbon taxes — so that the money raised from oil taxes can be returned to the poorest citizens who depend on gasoline cars, in order to generally strengthen them, also allowing , who can buy electric cars. To apply these resources to green investments, a new Organization for Emergency Environmental Cooperation is needed, in order to bring together the intelligence of the international scientific community in something like a Manhattan Project green—one that aims, rather than mass murder, at ending extinction.

Being even more ambitious, our common plan should include an International Monetary Clearing Union, of the type suggested by John Maynard Keynes during the Bretton Woods conference in 1944, featuring elaborate restrictions on capital movements. By rebalancing wages, trade and finance on a global scale, both involuntary migration and involuntary unemployment will decrease, thus ending the moral panic over the human right to move freely across the planet.

Prerequisite 2: An unusual campaign

Without it, our common plan, the Green New Deal International, will remain in the draft only. And here's a campaign idea: we need to identify multinational companies that abuse workers locally and target them globally, utilizing the wide disparity in costs to participants of, say, boycotting Amazon for a day and the costs of the same boycotts. for target companies. Global consumer boycotts are nothing new, but now, using the power of platform mega-companies like Amazon against themselves can be much more effective. Especially, in a second phase, they would be combined with local strike actions involving the most important unions. This global action in support of workers or local communities has immense reach. With smart communication and planning, they could become a popular way for people around the world to share in the feeling of helping to make the planet a freer and more just place.

Of course, for this to happen, our Progressive International requires an agile international organization. The problem with organizations that are capable of global coordination is that they surreptitiously reproduce bureaucracy, exclusion and power games. How can we prevent neoliberalism and authoritarian nationalism from destroying the world without creating our own brand of authoritarianism? I recognize that it is more difficult to find the right answer to this question as progressives who reject hierarchies, bureaucracies and the encroachments of paternalism. But we have a duty to find her.

Prerequisite 3: A Shared Vision of Post-Capitalism

Consider what happened on August 12, 2020, when the news broke that the British economy had suffered the biggest slump in its history. The London Stock Exchange jumped by more than 2%! Nothing comparable to this had ever happened. Similar facts occurred in Wall Street, in the United States.

Indeed, when Covid-19 came face to face with the gigantic bubble in which governments and central banks have kept corporations and financial institutions alive like zombies since 2008, financial markets finally disengaged from the capitalist economy around them.

The result of these remarkable developments is that capitalism has already begun to evolve into a technologically advanced type of feudalism. Neoliberalism is today what Marxism-Leninism used to be during the Soviet 80s: an ideology wholly at odds with even the regime that invoked it. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991, and of financialized capitalism in 2008, we are in a new phase, in which capitalism is dying and socialism refuses to be born.

If I'm right, even those progressives who still harbor hopes of reforming or civilizing capitalism should consider looking beyond capitalism—or, indeed, planning for a post-capitalist civilization. The problem is, as my good friend Slavoj Zizek pointed out, most people find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

To combat this failure of our collective imagination, in my most recent book entitled Another Now: Dispatches from an alternative present (“Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternate Present”), I try to imagine what would have happened if my generation had not missed all the pivotal moments that history has presented us with. What if we had seized the moment of 2008 for a peaceful high-tech revolution that would have led us to a post-capitalist economic democracy? How would it be?

There would be markets for goods and services, since the alternative—a Soviet-style rationing system that gives arbitrary power to the worst of bureaucrats—is too depressing. But for a new system to be crisis-proof, there is one market we cannot afford to preserve: the labor market. Why? Because if labor time is reduced to a rental good, market mechanisms inexorably drive its price down, while commodifying all aspects of work (and, in the age of Facebook, even leisure). The greater the system's capacity to do so, the lower the exchange value of each unit of production it generates, the lower the average rate of profit and, ultimately, the closer we are to a new systemic crisis.

Can an advanced economy function without labor markets? Of course! Consider the principle of one employee, one share, one vote. Changing corporate law to make every employee an equal (yet not equally remunerated) partner, by granting a non-negotiable one-person-one-share-one-vote vote, is as unimaginable and radical today as universal suffrage. it seemed to be in the 19th century. If, in addition to this fundamental transformation of corporate ownership, central banks provided every adult with a free bank account, we would have a post-capitalist market economy.

With the end of stock markets, the debt leverage associated with mergers and acquisitions would also become a thing of the past. Goldman Sachs and the financial markets that oppress humanity would suddenly cease to exist — without even having to banish them. Freed from corporate power, freed from the indignity imposed on the needy by the welfare state, the tyranny of profits, and the tug of war between profits and wages, people and communities can begin to imagine new ways to employ their talents and creativity.

We come to a fork in the road. Capitalism is in deep crisis, although we are on the way to dystopia. Only a Progressive International can help humanity to change its path.

*Yanis Varoufakis is a former finance minister of Greece. Author, among other books, of the global minotaur (Literary Autonomy).

Translation: Simone Paz.

Originally published on the website Other words.


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