Keith Hart on Mon, 16 Jan 2017 18:55:53 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Nancy Fraser: A Triple Movement? Parsing The Politics

Nancy Fraser wrote (via Felix):

>Why is there no double movement in the 21st century? The problem
>here is clear: focusing on what is absent, we ignore that which
>is present. Suppose, however, that we re-cast our inquiry in a
>more openended way, by examining the grammar of really existing
>social struggles in the decades following publication of The Great
>Transformation? To this end, let us consider the vast array of social
>struggles that do not find any place within the scheme of the double
>movement. I am thinking of the extraordinary range of emancipatory
>movements that erupted on the scene in the 1960s and spread rapidly
>across the world in the years that followed.

The main takes of the extreme and centre left on Karl Polanyi’s ‘double
movement’ are two: one slanted towards historical shifts in the
state/market relationship within a framework of competing discourses on
capitalism and its contradictions; the other is closer to Polanyi’s chief
concern with the economy/society dialectic. The centre left fixes on his
‘fictitious commodities’ argument, which is surely quotable, and his line
about the market ‘disembedding’ economy from society in the 19th century.

Polanyi 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 degree of universality. He was not clear whether ‘disembeddedness’ is
just an ideological fiction of liberal economists or ever actually happened
in history. Politicians need money and money men need political cover. They
have been in bed together for centuries, maybe always. Markets have thus
long been embedded in states and their social structures.

‘National capitalism’ was launched in a linked series of revolutions during
the 1860s and 70s featuring a new alliance between capitalists and the
military landlord class in the US, Russia, Italy, Britain, Japan, Germany
and France. These spawned both a bureaucratic revolution and several
decades of financial imperialism, in a tense partnership between the modern
state and business corporations that ushered in an era of mass production
and consumption. Marx probably had more excuse than Polanyi for largely
missing this in *Capital*, since he published it in the teeth of national
capitalism’s birth. Writing from a retrospective view 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 then revived under the aegis of an American empire then tolerant of
social democracy. The anti-colonial revolution was a seismic upheaval of
unprecedented significance for world society in the decades after 1945. Its
scope vastly exceeds the “social struggles” of the post-war period.
Developmental states sprang up almost everywhere at this time -- in the
industrial West, the new post-colonial nations and the Soviet bloc – with
the aim of raising ordinary people’s purchasing power and the public
services available to them. This and the collapse of colonial empires were
the last world revolutions; neoliberalism from 1979-80 was their

The notion of a self-regulating market and resistance to it had almost no
press before the 1970s, for the good reason that it was hobbled by
developmental states. The neoliberal era recapitulated the decades of
financial imperialism that ended in World War 1 by reviving the
self-regulating market idea on a global scale. Now it became appropriate to
ask if the double movement applied anywhere. The BRICS have all been
installing their own versions of social protection lately in order to save
themselves from the social disaster faced by millions who came to rely on
urban markets without it. The mad attempt to impose intellectual property
(DRM) on the world has likewise provoked a massive double movement,
featuring the corporations who promote it and the masses everywhere who do
the opposite.

Marx went temporarily out of fashion after ‘state socialism’ was defeated
in the Cold War. Polanyi’s popularity benefited from that swing; but Marx’s
book sales took off after 2008.  Contemporary political events may or may
not mark the beginning of another phase of world history, based on who
knows what combinations of state and market or of economy and society.
Polanyi’s reputation has not been harmed by this conjuncture.

Both camps, adhering to Marx or Polanyi respectively, could be said to be
myopic in important respects. We will see if either influences our moment
in history.  The Great Transformation is a brilliant read -- I never came
across an unsatisfied customer. But its conceptual, historical and
political relevance to *our times* around the world is rather less than its
protagonists think. For now Polanyi's followers have a toehold in some
western universities, mainly among disgruntled academics. His appeal is
obvious – adherents can feel themselves to be critical without actually
rocking the boat. I doubt if this position will be tenable for long.

Nancy Fraser is right to be ambivalent about Polanyi's relevance for the
last half century or today, but like him she has a weak grasp of world
society's movement and direction; she also needs a more precise formulation
of the problem and its periodization.


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