Saturday, April 21, 2007

Istvan Maszaros

The current issue of the Monthly Review has an essay by Istvan Meszaros titled "The Only Viable Economy." In it -- I'm not going to check the exact words -- he speaks slightingly of Social Democracy.

Actually, no, I am going to check the exact words. Here they are. Meszaros is arguing that the Social Democratics got their political and economic analysis from 19th century bourgeois thinkers such as John Stuart Mill, who saw the problems with capitalism, but thought they could be fixed.
...Social-democratic reformism at its inception took its inspiration from such naive, even if at first genuinely held, afterthoughts of liberal political economy. Thus,due to the internal logic of the adopted social premises, emanating from capital's standpoint and vested interests as the unchallengable controller of the reproductive metabolism, it could not be surprising in the least that social-democratic reformism ended its course of development the way in which it actually did: by transforming itself into "New Labor" (in Britain; and its equivalents in other countries) and by abandoning completely any concern with even the most limited reform of the established social order.

If you think this guy's style is a bit dense, you are right. Meszaros believes that capitalism is not ultimately fixable, due to "the dramatic onset and relentless deepening of the system's structural crisis." Therefore, attempts to reform it are in the end futile and reformist parties will end by degrading into New Labor.

This is the old left argument about reform vs. revolution, which has been going for over a century, but may be finally ending, as we enter into a century that looks to be full of astounding crises.

Capitalism has shown a remarkable ability to recover from crisis and is still with us 160 years after Marx and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto. Can it recover from the current ecological crisis? How does a system based on growth fare, when it reaches the end of its home planet's carrying capacity? We shall see. If it is not able to survive, what will replace it? A new and better society? Or merely a different society? Or ruin?

In the meantime, while Meszaros may be right about the degradation of the Social Democratic parties, we should not forget what western Europe has achieved, due to the left and the union movement: universal health care, a social safety net far better than that of the U.S., shorter work weeks, better vacations and benefits we can't even dream of. The Nordic states sound like pretty good places to live.

We should always remember what has been achieved, because it reminds us that struggle can have good results. But we should not be content with what has been achieved, and we should remember that reforms can always be pushed back. They must be defended, and the only way to keep them safe is to keep pushing for more.


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