Comment and response on “neoliberal” review
1 March 2019
A Keynesian approach is possible.
I read your review of Between sectarianism and neoliberalism and you certainly put me off reading it. One big objection I have to what you said was where you say that-
If, on the other hand, austerity is basic to the survival of late capitalism, then a revolutionary strategy is required.
Capitalism has more than one policy available to it and a Keynesian type approach is perfectly possible - that's what Corbyn wants and could implement without overthrowing capitalism. If you base the necessity for a revolutionary strategy on its being required to fight austerity you are dooming the current fight against austerity because the workers are nowhere near ready for revolution, and the need for revolution would appear to disappear when the capitalists decide on a different economic policy than austerity.
Response: “For reforms, against reformism”
I'm not sure I am in full agreement with the general point you make. Capitalism is a chaotic system and, rather than say it is pursuing a particular strategy, it is better to say that various strategies are possible given the movement of capital in a given period.
The difference is that post-war capitalist expansion led to reforms that were then explained by Keynesianism and falling profit rates today produce austerity explained by theories of neoliberalism, rather than the theories producing the movement of capital, the movement of capital produced the theories.
I can accept in the abstract the concept that a social democratic government might swim against the current and implement a programme of reform. However we must “ascend to the concrete.” The old social democratic parties led the charge for austerity, committing suicide in the interests of capital. The broad left parties that replaced them failed in their turn. Corbyn's goal is a Keynesian programme, but he leads a parliamentary party far to his right to whom he persistently concedes. How is he going to achieve his goal?
The material constraints on Keynesian reforms in the 26 county state are self-evident. 50% of national income goes on debt repayment. The remaining expenditure is constrained by the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. The idea that we can ignore this and fix things with a wealth tax is simply a pipe dream.
Then there is the reformist dilemma. In order to reform things you must in some sense support them. This approach has reached the point of logical absurdity in the North of Ireland, where the union leaderships acquiesce to savage austerity to preserve a local assembly that doesn't exist.
The main point of disagreement is when you say:
”you are dooming the current fight against austerity because the workers are nowhere near ready for revolution, and the need for revolution would appear to disappear when the capitalists decide on a different economic policy than austerity”.
The counter position is the view that, when workers do rise up, they will not spontaneously acquire their own political programme or methods of organisation. The call for revolutionary organisation and for a revolutionary party is not made when the workers are rising up, but in the relatively fallow period before.
A good example is the southern housing crisis. The left groups insist that they can win Dail resolutions to control rents and mortgage payments. I don't claim that this is impossible but believe that the focus is wrong. The Dail acts for imperialism and landlordism. Only a mass mobilisation outside the Dail could force even limited reform. While it is true that this can be achieved short of a revolution, such a mobilisation would be an immense step forward towards the remobilisation of the class and would involve challenging reformist parliamentary perspectives.
Traditionally the socialist slogan has been “for reforms, against reformism.” We don't abstain from any campaigns. We don't counter pose individual reforms to immediate calls for revolution. We do advance the call for socialist revolution as a solution to the deepening oppression of the working class.