Brian Holmes on Tue, 14 Sep 2021 18:56:43 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> On the return of the interventionist state

Paulo, this is really brilliant to read.

Obviously the "great recoil" from market society is happening and will only intensify as the need for protective interventions against the consequences of climate change gets stronger. We are experiencing, I would say, an all-too-classic Polanyian "double movement," where an acceleration of market forces is met and checked by a protectionist demand. And let us hope that the second movement does not become worse than the first, as it did in Polanyi's time (30s, 40s).

Of course I am curious whether your approach adopts a Polanyian framework, and with which corrections and adaptations? Or maybe your theoretical framework is distinct from that one? A very interesting question in this context is which sectors respond to the popular demand for protection, and why. There is room for a lot of "class fraction" analysis at the corporate and state level, but also among the popular and (if you will) petty-bourgeois classes too, because as you are saying, the new demands take different forms and are politically instrumentalized in a variety of ways. This is painfully obvious in the US: much of the industrial and extractivist working class wants to be protected from Chinese exports, whereas the progressive urban middle classes are afraid of climate change and the multiracial precariat is basically afraid of white supremacy/national-fascism! There is no simple formula for exiting this kind of crisis... which remains illegible for most people. The new "common sense" that you speak of must be created, I take that as your main intention.

Seems to me that the most important thing is how the center left reacts, especially to frankly leftist proposals. In the US, the protective movement has found an admirable elder statesman in Bernie Sanders, who is succeeding in getting the "economy of care" written into new federal budgets. The entire issue of precarity has become part of official discourse - a far cry from where we were just ten years ago! Nonetheless, the left is meeting the usual resistance from the center, a resistance now redoubled by the refusal of many actors to give up an inch of their positions in the extractive CO2 economy. The Bernie/AOC approach has made spectacular gains, but they/we could easily lose it all in the midterms, and in the worst case, that would all be an early blip in a protracted crisis.

The complicity of the state in both exploitation and ecological destruction is immense. But neoliberalism is over and those who continue to rely on its oppositional mirror, self-organizing anarchism, will see their influence shrivel and disappear as the demand for protection grows stronger. I am very glad to see a comrade from that former period publishing this particular book! Capitalism changes fast, and the subjective question is how to change with the times, yet not abandon older convictions and solidarities.

all the best, Brian

On Tue, Sep 14, 2021 at 5:11 AM Paolo Gerbaudo <> wrote:
Dear All,

I would like to share some ideas contained in my new Verso book The Great Recoil, which I think some of you will be interested in.

The key argument of the book is that we are moving away from neoliberalism and towards and neo-statism, a return of the interventionist state fundamentally concerned with issues of protection and security (in their manifold, regressive and progressive, manifestations). This neo-statism is visible at different levels: 1) in massive state mobilisation during the pandemic, 2) in the return of deficit spending and some elements of trade protectionism and industrial policy; 3) in the way in which climate change and the green transition seem to call for a return of state dirigisme.

This neo-statism should be seen as the ideological (or better meta-ideological) master frame of a new ideological era, comparable to previous ideological eras (social-democratic and neoliberal as the most recent ones). It does not automatically mean a return of socialism or social-democracy. Rather it means that political common sense is changing and moving away from notion of self-regulating markets, forcing both the left and the right to find adaptive positions in this new landscape.

The dividing question is who the new post-pandemic state should protect and from what. For the right it is obviously immigrants and foreign forces those that pose a threat, as well as the poor that demand redistribution away from the rich. But also the left is articulating its own discourse of state protection: from the mending of social safety nets, to the focus on health and care, to end with the discourse of safe-guarding democracy by the likes of AOC and Ilhan Omar.

While until recently political debate was focused on the question of how should we manage the market, the key question now is how to use the state, with which means and to what ends. This has huge implications for strategy, discourse and practice. Now that the phantasy of self-regulating market and anti-power suspicion has partly dissolved the key question becomes what should be done with the state, and how its complicity in massive social inequality should be addressed.

I hope this is of interest. I'd be glad to hear your ideas on this and particularly to what extent you agree with this diagnosis of neo-statism acquiring centre-stage in post-pandemic politics and what the implications may be.

For more information on the book:


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