Keith Hart on Mon, 14 Nov 2016 19:20:23 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: <nettime> What is the meaning of Trump's victory?

This is an interesting analysis of the transition from neoliberal to
whatever, Felix. You take off from Polanyi, but don't actually rely on him
so much. As you will see, I think this a good thing. My post will focus
more on the double movement hypothesis, Polanyi and Marx, 19th and 20th
centuries. I hope it is in dialogue with yours, since you certainly
stimulated this piece.

Polanyi and double movement then and now

The main takes on Polanyi’s ‘double movement’ are two: one slanted towards
historical shifts in the state/market/capital relationship framed by
discourses on capitalism and its contradictions. The other is closer to
Polanyi’s chief concern in *The Great Transformation *with economy/society
dialectic. The non-revolutionary centre left fixes on ‘the fictitious
commodities’ argument, which is inspirational for sure, and the line about
the market ‘disembedding’ society which had been embedded before the 19th
century. Jens Beckert debunked the sociology of embeddedness launched by
Granovetter very effectively in Hann and Hart eds Market and Society: the
Great Transformation today (2009).

Polanyi’s idiosyncratic, but to my mind important argument on the role of
classes in the double movement, is rarely discussed. He held that classes
are often sectarian, but sometimes, especially when resisting the
encroachments of the self-regulating market, they become vehicles for
asserting the interests of society as a whole and then take on a certain
universality. Polanyi was not entirely clear whether ‘disembeddedness’ is
just an ideological fiction of liberal economists or ever actually happened
in history. Politicians need money and moneymen need political cover. They
have been in bed together for 300 or 400 years, maybe always. To what
extent then have markets long been embedded in states and their social
structures with fluctuations in emphasis?

Something different took root in 19th century Britain and spread to the
world. Marx, long before Polanyi, underplayed rent, interest and debt in
Victorian capitalism; he accepted the liberal version of economy in order
to turn it upside down. Yet finance and rentier capitalism, as well as
massive indebtedness, have seemed to dominate industrial capitalism’s
preoccupation with production and sale for profit at various times in world
history, from the 19th century until now. Marx and Polanyi both missed the
political revolution undertaken by all the 20th century’s leading countries
in the 1860s and early 70s, based on a new alliance between capitalists and
the military landlord class. The most clear-cut examples of this were Japan
(after 1868) and Germany (after 1870), but the United States, Russia, the
Anglo-Indian super-state, France and Italy all went through similar
revolutions at much the same time.

A bureaucratic revolution then took place in the late 19th century, the
result of a new, but tense partnership between the modern state and
business corporations, which spawned the era of mass production and
consumption. Marx probably had more excuse for missing this than Polanyi,
since he published *Capital *(1867) in the teeth of national capitalism’s
birth, a phase that is now reaching its limits as a result of neoliberal
globalization. Of course, writing with the retrospective insight of
Minerva’s owl when it took wing, in the twilight of ‘the second thirty
years war’ (1914-1945), Polanyi  had no idea what was coming next or what
to recommend, beyond a weak preference for planning and pluralism.

Markets revived in tandem with social democracy, under the aegis of the
American empire. Developmental states sprang up almost everywhere -- in the
industrial West, the post-colonial states and the Soviet bloc. This was the
last world revolution and neoliberalism was its counter-revolution some
three decades later. Marxists like David Harvey play down the
distinctiveness of *les trente glorieuses*, borrowing Ruggie’s term
‘embedded liberalism’ to show that social democracy was still capitalism
under another name. We must try to understand the continuities and
discontinuities of the last two centuries better than so far. Marx went out
of fashion after ‘state socialism’ (or ‘state capitalism’ in Trotskyist
terminology) was defeated in the Cold War. Polanyi’s popularity has
benefited from that swing. Marx’s book sales, if not his politics, have
also taken off since 2008,.

Polanyi flourished in the neoliberal era that is collapsing around our ears
now, especially when all the left-wing political parties and unions were
emasculated (they were mostly male) by a sustained attack from the right
(including what was left of social democracy), as they were less
comprehensively in the 1930s. Trump’s election and Brexit do seem about to
usher in another phase of world history, based on God knows what
combinations of state and market, of economy and society. I have noticed
that Polanyi’s name is already often cited in the current crisis, Marx
perhaps less so.

If there are two sides in all this, adhering to Marx or Polanyi
respectively at different times, both camps are misguided and myopic. We
will see if either of them influences our moment in history.  I have always
thought that TGT is a brilliant read -- I never came across an unsatisfied
reader. But its conceptual, historical and political relevance to *our
times* around the world is rather less than its protagonists think. For now
Polanyism is still upheld by large swathes of the western intellectual
class, mainly disgruntled academics and their followers. Its appeal is
obvious – adherents can feel themselves to be critical without actually
rocking the boat. I wonder if this position will be tenable for long.


> Way back in 1944, Karl Polanyi defined both Axis fascism and
> Stalinist communism as self-protective movements of society
> against the damaging forces of capitalist exploitation. The forms
> taken by these self-protective movements, he said, could be more
> damaging than the problems they initially tried to address. This is
> definitely happening again now, in a big way.

I think this is precisely it. Neo-liberal policies very deliberately
destroyed social solidarity and increased competition and
exploitation. The effect was a massive rise in social inequality,
economic insecurity and total lack of any sense of collective destiny
(aka what's the greater purpose of all of this?).

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info:
#  archive: contact:
#  @nettime_bot tweets mail w/ sender unless #ANON is in Subject: