Prof. Leo Panitch says it’s a dilemma that the gradualism of European social-democracy and attempts at a more radical transformation have so far both failed; Panitch says a first step towards democratizing the economy is to make finance a public utility
PAUL JAY: Welcome back to the Real News Network. This is Reality Asserts Itself, and I’m Paul Jay. And we’re continuing our discussion with Leo Panitch, who joins us in the studio. Thanks for joining us again, Leo.
LEO PANITCH: Glad to be back, Paul.
PAUL JAY: So, one more time, Leo’s a professor emeritus and senior scholar at York University in Toronto, and co-author with Sam Gindin of Making of Global Capitalism, the Political Economy of the American Empire. We left off saying we were gonna talk about is another world possible, which was the theme of the world social forums, and I suppose many books and articles. I think there used to be, and this is because of the Russian revolution and maybe the Chinese revolution, the thinking always was you’d have some revolution, and you’d have this massive uprising and an insurrection, and here would come socialism and you would nationalize most of everything, and off you would go.
Whether or not that worked in Russia and China … I shouldn’t say whether or not, because in the long run, we know it didn’t. Whether that works in some conditions in some places, perhaps it did to some extent in Cuba, but it’s hard to believe that this insurrectionary model is applicable to a Europe or a North America or any of the advanced capitalist countries at any rate. How do you see a socialist, and I think you have to distinguish between socialist aspects of the economy and a change of which class has political power, because they’re connected, but not necessarily the same. How do you envision that process?
LEO PANITCH: Yeah, you’re right in what you said about the state and perception that you could change things overnight in an insurrectionary revolution that would last. I think the experience has been how hard that is to do and even if change did occur, it occurred in a way that those societies got isolated from the capitalist system. This produced a form of rapid industrialization that was undemocratic. If it was planned, it was centrally planned in an undemocratic manner, and that proved its undoing in many respects.
But the other side of the problem is those socialists who adopted a gradualist perspective, also ran up against the limits. The parties that were parliamentarist, electorist, the social democratic parties, some of whom remain Marxists, until officially at least, until the last quarter of the 20th century. They introduced, in so far as they got elected to government, they introduced certain reforms, which they always presented as building blocks to an eventual socialism, getting beyond capitalism, but those reforms ran up against the limits of being embedded in a capitalist society. So the welfare reforms were structured in such a way, partly due to bureaucratic and capitalist opposition, but also because of the logic of the system, that they didn’t give you enough so that you didn’t need to go back to work or upset the labor market, right.
And the nationalizations, in so far as they occurred in some crucial industries, they were usually of industries that were failing. The state would take them over. They were run in a fashion that didn’t allow for workers’ control because it would always be said that the workers would give away the secrets of the industry or the corporation to competitors, and anyway workers aren’t capable of running such complex things. So, they were statist in their form, not democratic, and increasingly oriented themselves to be competitive. And as these reforms, these public institutions didn’t have an enormous base of support, initially they did. And in so far as there were fiscal problems, tax problems inside capitalist states, they would say, “Well, we need to open up those arenas to capital accumulation,” which becomes the basis of public-private partnerships, but also the privatizations that we’ve lived through.
PAUL JAY: And many of the reforms have since, of Thatcher, Reagan and others have gone away.
LEO PANITCH: Have been reversed, that’s right… read more: