Category Archives: Media

Public Lecture by 3rd visiting professor Ayşe Buğra

Visiting Professorship - Ayşe Buğra

Universalism, cultural difference and the “revenge of politics”: Revisiting Karl Polanyi in the contemporary global political environment

May 17th, 2022

Public Lecture

There is an apparent contradiction between the denial and affirmation of diversity in neoliberal global capitalism. On the one hand, it was assumed that “There is no alternative” to market-dominated, open economies, leaving little room for diversity in economic institutions and policies. On the other hand, the “cultural turn” predicted geopolitical conflicts due to a “clash of civilizations” or promoted “alternative modernities” in which social and political relations and institutions are shaped differently from those in Western democracies. 

The lecture problematizes this “culture talk” that impedes a proper diagnosis of the current threats to democracy and the rule of law in both Western and non-Western countries.

By drawing on Polanyi’s idea of the “countermovement” against the disruptions caused by a market-dominated economic order, illiberal political parties and movements that challenge liberal democracy are part of a reactionary countermovement. Claims to exclusive representation of the “real people” against “internal and external enemies” of the nation are sustained by idealizing the will to protect society’s historically given cultural identity. Contrary to such culturalization and in line with Polanyi’s reflections on “the reality of society” and “freedom in a complex society”, it has to be stressed that the ideals of equality and freedom are not limited to Western societies. Empowered by information and communication technologies, all over the world dissidents who embrace the ideals of equality and freedom will continue to exist in increasing numbers. Ignoring their voices by references to civilizational difference is neither compatible with global justice nor with peaceful international co-existence.

Ausstellung im Wirtschaftsmuseum

Events

Ausstellung im Wirtschaftsmuseum WIEN

14th April, 2022

Einladung zur Eröffnung
Im Rahmen einer kleinen aber feinen Eröffnungsveranstaltung laden wir unsere Mitglieder und Interessierte am Dienstag, den 3. Mai 2022 um 18:30 zur gemeinsamen Feier des Beginns der Ausstellung im Wirtschaftsmuseum Wien in der Vogelsanggasse 36, 1050 Wien.

Programm:
Eröffnung & Moderation: Andreas Novy (WU/IKPS)
Keynotes:

Claus Thomasberger (IKPS)
Karl Polanyi und das Rote Wien

Karl Polanyi und das Rote Wien – eine vielschichtige Beziehung: 1886 in Wien geboren, kam Polanyi im Jahr 1919 – schwerkrank und durch eine Kriegsverletzung geschwächt – in die Stadt zurück. Hier traf er seine spätere Frau. Hier wurde seine Tochter geboren. In Wien arbeitete er bis 1933, als er sich aus politischen Gründen zur Emigration gezwungen sah, als Redakteur des „Österreichischen Volkswirts“, der damals wichtigsten mitteleuropäischen Wirtschafts- und Finanzwochenzeitung. Gleichzeitig beteiligte er sich an der Debatte über die sozialistische Rechnungslegung, die von Ludwig von Mises, dem in den 1920er Jahren führenden Vertreter der Schule der Österreichischen Schule der Volkswirtschaftslehre, initiiert worden war, wie auch an den Strategiediskussionen, die am Rande des Austromarxismus geführt wurden. In Wien verbrachte Polanyi die prägenden Jahre seines Lebens. Der Vortrag zeichnet in wenigen Strichen nach, wie sich Polanyis Erfahrungen im Roten Wien in seinen späteren Werken, die ihn zu einem der bedeutendsten Sozialwissenschaftler des 20. Jahrhunderts werden ließen, niederschlugen.

Maria Markantonatou (University of the Agean, IKPS)
Die Covid-Pandemie verstehen: Inspirationen von Karl Polanyi – per Video
To cope with the effects of the lockdowns and to try to return to “normality”, governments around the world, and even self-portrayed neoliberal ones, resorted to massive spending and the breaking of pre-pandemic fiscal orthodoxies. Thus, a current understanding of the pandemic management is that “The state is back. Long live globalization”, that states have “a choice between authoritarian nationalism and an open global order” and that “the return of government” ends an era “in which power and responsibility migrated from states to markets”. Is this the case? Does the rise of authoritarian nationalism conflict with the neoliberal globalization of the past decades? Karl Polanyi stressed that the self-regulating market system was not established spontaneously, and the state intervened to assist the maintenance of the market and correct the effects of crises borne by capitalist dynamics. What does this tell us about today’s state interventions implemented to correct the pandemic crisis effects? Do they restore or challenge the pre-pandemic economic governance?

Brigitte Aulenbacher (Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, IKPS)
Von der entfesselten Wirtschaft zur solidarischen Gesellschaft: Das Ausstellungskonzept

Wie ein roter Faden zieht sich die hochaktuelle Frage, wie die Menschheit die industrielle Zivilisation überleben kann, durch Karl Polanyis Wirtschafts-, Sozial- und Kulturgeschichte des Kapitalismus hindurch, in der er das Verhältnis von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft und die Herausbidlung der “Marktgesellschaft” wie des “Maschinenzeitalters” thematisiert. Als scharfsichtiger Kritiker des Wirtschaftsliberalismus zeigt er, wie die ökologischen und sozialen Lebensgrundlagen zerstört werden, wenn Märkte der Gesellschaft den Takt vorgeben und Natur, Arbeit und Geld wie Waren gehandelt werden, und wie die Gesellschaft sich zu schützen sucht. Der Vortrag arbeitet heraus, wie seine Denkfiguren dazu beitragen können, die Transformation des Gegenwartskapitalismus zu verstehen, und seine demokratisch-ökosozialistische Vision einer freien und gerechten Gesellschaft die Suche nach Wegen in eine post-kapitalistische Zukunft anregen kann.

More ‘News’: 

Join us for the public lecture by our third Vienna Karl Polanyi Visiting Professor Ayşe Buğra on May 17th @7pm
In Vienna for the first time! From May 4th to June 21st at the Wirtschaftsmuseum Wien!
Andreas Novy in INTERNATIONAL – der Zeitschrift für Internationale Politik zu Freiheitsverständnissen in der Pandemiepolitik.
Interview with IKPS Vice-President Dr. Brigitte Aulenbacher on the topic of “The Great Transformation” for CAOÖ Podcast. 20th of September.
Zhang Runkun on the Importance of Polanyi’s work in China. 31st of May.
Laudatio at the Inauguration Event of the 1st Viennese Karl Polanyi Visiting Professorship by Brigitte Aulenbacher, May 4th 2021
Rowan Alcock on the democratic sphere of football and the spontaneous countermovement against the ESL. 25th of April.
Chris Hann on Eurosceptic populism, comparing Boris Johnson and Viktor Orban. 30th of December.
Report about the IKPS webinar on „The political Trilemma of Social-Ecological Transformation“. By Lukas Tagwerker, 23rd December

Covid-19 und Demokratie

Beitrag in "INTERNATIONAL - Zeitschrift für Internationale Politik"

COVID-19 und demokratie

In der nächsten Ausgabe “INTERNATIONAL”, der Zeitschrift für Internationale Politik, erscheint ein Beitrag zu den aktuellen Diskussionen rund um Freiheit in der Pandemiepolitik von Andreas Novy. Vorab bereits hier für unsere Mitglieder zu lesen.

January, 2022

Andreas Novy

Es ist fast schon ein Gemeinplatz festzuhalten, dass
Covid-19 die westliche Demokratie auf die Probe stellt. Die Gefahr ist aber
nicht diejenige, die auf ermüdende Weise die öffentliche Debatte der letzten
Monate prägt: dass nämlich durch Corona der gesellschaftliche Zusammenhalt
bröckle. Ja, eine gewisse Polarisierung der Bevölkerung ist zu beobachten. Doch
diese passierte nicht aus sich selbst heraus, sondern wurde in Österreich
massiv von der FPÖ und anderen staatskritischen Gruppen vorangetrieben. Die FPÖ
hat eine politisch autoritäre und kulturell reaktionäre Grundhaltung, die sie
auf opportunistische Weise mal mehr, mal weniger stark betont. Mit dem neuen
Parteichef Herbert Kickl wird aktuell radikalisiert. Die Covid-Maßnahmen sind
ein Vehikel dafür. Eine Partei, die in der Vergangenheit selbst verpflichtende
Impfungen forderte, heftet sich nun das Banner der Freiheit auf ihre Fahnen.
Das sollte nicht verwundern, trägt die FPÖ ja „Freiheit“ sogar in ihrem Namen.
Doch welche Freiheit meint eine Partei, die gleichzeitig autoritär und
reaktionär ist? Leider ist es keine Erfindung von Kickl, Bolsonaro und Trump,
freiheitlich, autoritär und reaktionär gleichzeitig zu sein.

Tatsächlich können sich all diese reaktionären Politiker,
denen oft vorschnell Unwissen unterstellt wird, auf eine bestimmte Tradition
westlichen Denkens berufen: In einer Spielart des Liberalismus – der Hayek‘schen
Variante eines Neoliberalismus, der den angelsächsischen
Wirtschaftsliberalismus radikalisierte – wird Freiheit absolut gesetzt. Freiheit
wird einzig negativ definiert, nämlich durch die Abwesenheit von staatlichem
Zwang. Diese Spielart des Liberalismus kokettierte immer mit einem
Sozialdarwinismus des „Rechts des Stärkeren“. John Lockes Besitzindividualismus
legitimierte schon im 18. Jahrhundert die Enteignung der amerikanischen
Indigenen, weil sie das Land nicht so „vernünftig“ nutzten wie die weißen
Siedler. Dieses Verständnis von Freiheit radikalisierte sich mit der
neoliberalen Globalisierung der letzten Jahrzehnte und wird in der
Covid-19-Pandemie zu einer echten Gefahr für die westliche Zivilisation. Die
radikalste Variante dieses Hyperindividualismus findet sich im Silicon Valley,
verkörpert von Peter Thiel, dem neuen Arbeitgeber von Altkanzler Sebastian
Kurz.

Friedrich Hayek sah noch ein Spannungsverhältnis von
Demokratie und Freiheit. Freie individuelle Entscheidungen seien Grundlage
einer freien Gesellschaft. Der Markt als effiziente
Informationsverarbeitungsmaschine schaffe eine spontane Ordnung, die durch den
Preismechanismus die gesellschaftlich besten Ergebnisse produziere. Der Markt,
so Hayek, wisse mehr als alle Experten. Daher müsse die politische Demokratie
so begrenzt werden, dass sie nicht willkürlich die wirtschaftlichen Freiheiten
der Einzelnen beschränkt – gleichsam einer marktgerechten Demokratie. Und schon
Hayek postulierte, dass Freiheit in einer Diktatur überleben könne, nicht aber
in einer „unbegrenzten Demokratie“. Damit meinte er eine Demokratie, die nicht
nur das ungestörte Funktionieren des Marktes sicherstellt, sondern die auch in
die Art zu leben und zu arbeiten eingreift. Dieses neoliberale Verständnis von
Demokratie und Freiheit prägte die letzten Jahrzehnte. Nicht nur Libertäre,
sondern auch Angela Merkel, Barack Obama und die de-facto-Verfassung der
Europäischen Union orientierten sich am Grundgedanken, staatliche Eingriffe in
die Marktwirtschaft möglichst gering zu halten.

Neoliberale erzogen die Menschen, das Ausmaß ihrer Freiheit
an der Höhe des Bankkontos und an der Nicht-Einmischung des Staates zu messen.
Die Freiheit zu konsumieren galt mehr als die Freiheit zu wählen. Die Linke sympathisierte
immer öfter mit einem weltoffenen Linksliberalismus: Individuelle Lebensformen sollten
durch Antidiskriminierungsgesetze gesichert, individuelle Freiheitsräume ausgeweitet,
der Staat beschränkt werden. Das gute Leben wurde privatisiert: Die eine
leisteten sich für ihre Kinder teure Privatschulen, die anderen gründeten
Alternativschulen. In einer derart individualisierten Gesellschaft ist es die einzige
Aufgabe des Staates, möglichst wenig zu stören, und die einzige Aufgabe der
Demokratie, staatliche Willkür zu verhindern. Die Folge ist ein schleichender Legitimationsverlust
von Politik und Staat.

Die Plattformkapitalisten des Silicon Valley orientieren
sich an Hayek und fordern einen Hyperindividualismus, der von möglichst allen
staatlichen Regeln und Zwängen befreit ist. Peter Thiel unterstützte im
Unterschied zu den meisten anderen Plattformkapitalisten Donald Trump. Er
versteht sich als Nonkonformist. Er predigt für eine Welt, in der jeder seines
Glückes Schmied ist. Eine Welt, die gut ist, weil sich die Stärksten und Besten
durchsetzen. Eben dieser Peter Thiel glaubt auch nicht, dass Freiheit und
Demokratie miteinander vereinbar sind. Damit ist er konsequenter, radikaler als
Hayek.

Die Covid-Pandemie eröffnet dieser antistaatlichen Ideologie
neue Möglichkeiten. Jede effiziente Pandemiepolitik muss eingreifen in das
Leben und Arbeiten von Menschen. In Ostasien erfolgte dies geplant und vor
allem anfangs für westliche Verhältnisse zu einschneidend. Tatsache ist, dass
in den Demokratien und Diktaturen Ostasiens die Verwerfungen der Pandemie
deutlich geringer waren als in Europa und Amerika.

In Österreich ergriff die FPÖ die Chance zur weiteren
Destabilisierung einer politischen Ordnung, die schon neoliberal destabilisiert
und durch ÖVP-Skandale noch weiter delegitimiert ist. Pandemiemaßnahmen gelten
manchen pauschal als ungebührliche Eingriffe in die Privatsphäre. Dem Staat wird
das Recht abgesprochen, den Einzelnen Grenzen zu setzen. Covid-Maßnahmen werden
als Grundrechtsverletzungen bezeichnet, auch wenn sie der Verfassungsgerichtshof
erlaubt. Letztlich verschließen sich „Impfgegner“ allen Autoritäten – der
demokratisch gewählten Bundesregierung, dem demokratisch gewählten Parlament,
in dem die meisten Maßnahmen von vier der fünf Parteien beschlossen wurden, dem
Verfassungsgerichtshof, der in bestimmten Fragen über Regierung und Parlament
steht.

Es stimmt, dass viele der Demonstrierenden das autoritäre
und reaktionäre Gedankengut eines Herbert Kickl und Peter Thiel nicht teilen.
Aber alle Demonstrierenden leugnen, dass ein Gemeinwesen Freiheit und
Solidarität erfordert. Alle Demonstrierenden teilen ein verantwortungsloses
Freiheitsverständnis, das staatliche Regeln grundsätzlich problematisch findet.
Doch es ist schlicht verqueres Denken zu glauben, Verbote seien prinzipiell schlecht.
Nur weil es verboten ist zu stehlen, kann Privates genutzt werden. Nur weil auf
der Straße nicht gespielt werden darf, können sich Autos rasch bewegen. Und nur
wenn es Autos verboten wäre, auf der Straße schneller zu fahren als Schrittgeschwindigkeit,
könnten Kinder auf ebendiesen spielen. Verbote sind Grundlage von Freiheit,
dialektisch miteinander verbunden.

Die Demonstrierenden wiederholen, ohne es zu wissen, die
Auseinandersetzungen der Zwischenkriegszeit. Für Hans Kelsen, Architekt der
österreichischen Bundesverfassung, war Demokratie die beste Herrschaftsform,
weil sie diejenige ist, die individuelle Freiheiten am wenigsten beschränkt. Moderne
Gesellschaften sollten sich, Kelsen folgend, am Freiheitsbegriff der antiken
Polis orientieren, in der Freiheit und Verantwortung Hand in Hand gingen.
Demokratie ist dann eine Form kollektiver Selbstbeschränkung, Freiheit eine
Form koordinierten und gemeinsamen Handelns der Bürgerinnen und Bürger. Diesen
sozialen Freiheitsbegriff unterschied Kelsen von einem germanischen und
anarchischen Freiheitsbegriff möglichst unbehinderter Selbstentfaltung.

Für Kelsen ist Demokratie die Herrschaft der Mehrheit. Da
ihm bewusst war, dass dies gefährlich werden könne, gibt es in unserer
Verfassung auch den Schutz von Minderheiten, von Grundrechten und der
Privatsphäre. Demokratie und Freiheit stehen in der österreichischen
Bundesverfassung in einem Spannungsverhältnis. Einzelne Maßnahmen – wie eine
Impfplicht – sind immer in diesem abzuwägen. Das letzte Wort hat in diesen
Fragen der Verfassungsgerichtshof.

Damit sind wir mitten in den Debatten zur Pandemiepolitik,
die als Trauerspiel die ganz konkreten, schmerzhaften Folgen illustriert, zu
denen ein falsches Verständnis von Freiheit und Demokratie führt. Niemandem ist
die Freiheit genommen, sich zu betrinken. Aber es wäre ein verqueres
Freiheitsverständnis, die Freiheit einzufordern, alkoholisiert Auto zu fahren. Ebenso
ist es ein verqueres Freiheitsverständnis, die Freiheit einer Minderheit nicht
zu beschränken, andere mit einem potenziell tödlichen Virus anzustecken. Die
demokratische Alternative zu solch verquerem Freiheitsverständnis heißt,
Verantwortung für das Gemeinwesen zu übernehmen – um Leben zu retten und
mittelfristig wieder ein sicheres Leben zu ermöglichen.

Für Kelsen haben demokratisch legitimierte
EntscheidungsträgerInnen die Aufgabe, das Zusammenleben so zu regeln, dass
möglichst viele in möglichst vielen Belangen frei sein können. So viel Freiheit
wie möglich, so viel staatliche Eingriffe zum Schutz der Bevölkerung wie nötig.
Die Pandemie effektiv zu bekämpfen, hier in Österreich und durch effiziente
Impfkampagnen auch weltweit, ist oberstes Ziel einer Politik, die langfristig
wieder Freiheit für alle schaffen will.

Hier hat die EU international versagt, weil es noch immer keine vorübergehende Aufhebung der Impfpatente gibt. In Österreich haben die EntscheidungsträgerInnen zu oft zu spät gehandelt. Es gelang der Bundesregierung nicht, zu erklären, dass Freiheit mit Verantwortung einhergehen muss, dass wir selbst impfen und dem Globalen Süden zur Impfung verhelfen müssen, um durch andauerndes
Infektionsgeschehen nicht laufend gefährlichere Mutationen zu produzieren, und
dass Freiheit die Solidarität mit Immungeschwächten, akut Erkrankten, Verletzten
und dem Gesundheitspersonal erfordert. In einer Pandemie so wie in der
Klimakrise sitzen alle im selben Schiff – auch wenn sich im Notfall manche
besser retten können als andere. Gesunken ist auch die Titanic.

Kelsen verließ Österreich 1930, weil sein
Demokratieverständnis von den Christlichsozialen nicht geteilt wurde.
Autoritäres Denken ersetzte in den 1930er Jahren sein Verständnis einer
aufgeklärten und pluralistischen Gesellschaft, die immer Kompromisse braucht
und in der immer einige unzufrieden sein werden. Die zentrale Lehre aus dem damaligen
Scheitern der Demokratie ist: Ist Demokratie nicht imstande, ein gesichertes
und gutes Leben zu gewährleisten, dann greifen Menschen nach autoritären
Lösungen. Dann kann ein pervertierter Freiheitsbegriff von Staatsverweigerern
der Demokratie den Todesstoß versetzen. Dann sind die Corona-Demos nur der
Auftakt zur Demontage unserer liberalen Demokratie.

Nicht Herbert Kickl, nicht die liberalen und esoterischen
Nicht-FPÖler, die gemeinsam mit Rechtsextremen demonstrieren, sind das Problem.
Das Problem ist libertäres Denken und libertäres Tun, das staatliches Handeln
diskreditiert mit einem einzigen Zweck: selbst die Macht an sich zu reißen.
Peter Thiel geht weiter als Hayek. Nicht Markt und Konkurrenz, sondern
Monopole, die von den Starken und Erfolgreichen kontrolliert werden, seien das
Rückgrat einer hyperindividualisierten Gesellschaft. Wenige Auserwählte,
Entrepreneurs des Silicon Valleys und andere Unternehmensbosse, schreiben das
Skript nicht nur ihrer geheimen Algorithmen, sondern auch unser aller Zukunft.

 

So löst sich letztlich das Rätsel, wie man freiheitlich,
autoritär und reaktionär gleichermaßen sein kann. Neoliberale so wie Thiel
perfektionieren einen Trick: Anti-Autoritarismus und Freiheitsdenken für die
Masse zu propagieren, um sie letztlich selbst autoritär zu führen. Kurzum: Weg
mit den alten Autoritäten! Her mit den neuen Eliten! An die Stelle der „Altparteien“,
des „korrupten, streitenden, nicht handlungsfähigen“ politischen Systems tritt dann
eine neue Form des Antidemokratismus: die unheilige Allianz von Trump und Thiel,
von wirtschaftlicher und politischer Macht. In den USA scheiterte Trump am 6.
Jänner 2021. In Österreich hat Ibiza eine Regierung zu Fall gebracht, die stolz
war auf die enge Kooperation von Politik und Wirtschaft – bis zu den nun im
Raum stehenden Korruptionsvorwürfen. Demokratie kann also Bestand haben. Aber
nur, wenn sie ein verqueres Freiheitsdenken in Schranken hält und ihre
Vordenker entmachtet. 

Nancy Fraser’s analysis of the Capitalist Society

Karl Polanyi Visiting Professorship

Nancy Fraser’s analysis of the capitalist society: intellectual traditions, theoretical approaches, and visions for the future

Laudatio at the inauguration event of the 1st Viennese Karl Polanyi visiting professor on 4th May 2021, Vienna City Hall by Brigitte Aulenbacher

7th May, 2021

It is a great honour—and an equally great challenge—to deliver this speech in recognition of Nancy Fraser’s rich and multifarious work. And I am delighted to be doing so on behalf of the International Karl Polanyi Society. The last time my colleagues and I from the International Karl Polanyi Society met Nancy Fraser was two years ago. It was at an event at Bennington College in Vermont on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Karl Polanyi’s magnum opus The Great Transformation, which he had written at the college. It perhaps came as no surprise to those who know Nancy Fraser when she said at that event that she would in fact consider herself as ‘Marxist’ or ‘Marxian’ rather than ‘Polanyian’. It would have probably been just as unsurprising had she said, for example, that she considered herself a ‘feminist’.

At the time, we had no idea that, before too long, a visiting professorship in Karl Polanyi’s name would be created in Vienna—the city that had such an impact on his life and work—and that we would have the tremendous honour and pleasure of welcoming Nancy Fraser as our very first visiting professor. But how does this fit together: an internationally renowned author and researcher, who has contributed decisively to the ongoing rediscovery of Karl Polanyi’s work and made it accessible for constructive discussion, yet who epitomises so much more?

In this brief address I will try to illustrate how Nancy Fraser’s oeuvre drives the discussion forward, the discussion which we seek to encourage in the spirit of Polanyi and through the newly established visiting professorship in Vienna as well as a lecture series, this year’s motto of which is: ‘Countermovements: putting the economy in its place’. I shall do so by presenting some unique aspects that highlight the many facets of Nancy Fraser’s work.  

Intellectual Traditions

Nancy Fraser is a social philosopher and effortlessly crosses the boundaries between disciplines. At times we encounter thoughts and ideas related to political science, at other times to sociology, alongside her philosophical reflections. What remains constant however, is that her ideas are always rooted in long-standing intellectual traditions. As the internationally renowned representative of critical theory that she is, Nancy Fraser has always sought to engage with Jürgen Habermas (Fraser 1992, 2015). Her theory of justice—rooting in feminist research (Fraser 1996, 2001)—developed out of the controversy with Axel Honneth and her critiques of the limits of his theory of recognition (Fraser/Honneth 2003). Her analysis of capitalism and society is strongly influenced by Marx, we find Polanyi’s work inscribed in her theory of the contemporary capitalist society, accompanied by reference to Antonio Gramsci—and in her ‘conversation in critical theory’ with Rahel Jaeggi she brings all these distinct intellectual traditions together (Fraser/Jaeggi 2018). So, can we in fact identify a common theme?

In my view, her ultimate objective, as she spelled out with Axel Honneth in the tradition of critical theory, is to ‘conceptualise capitalist society as a “totality”’ (Fraser/Honneth 2003, p. 10). Her aim—and indeed, that of the various intellectual traditions listed above, albeit each in its own distinctive way—is to discern the social structures and interrelationships that cause the ecological, economic, social, cultural and political crises we have witnessed over the past few decades and which have so far had a considerable impact on the 21st century (Fraser/Jaeggi 2018).

“According to Nancy Fraser, capitalism as such, regarding both its emergence and various forms of manifestation, cannot be separated from sexism and racism.”

Understanding this development of society, the feminist Nancy Fraser explains, requires a broadening of the perspective on capitalism and society. We need an analysis of capitalism that regards not only class inequalities, but also the dimensions of gender and race as constitutive of this social formation (Fraser 2018a). According to Nancy Fraser, capitalism as such, regarding both its emergence and various forms of manifestation, cannot be separated from sexism and racism. In this sense, capitalism is neither compatible with the idea which Nancy Fraser—well ahead of her time—introduced to the discussion in the 1990s: the organisation of society according to the ‘universal caregiver’ principle, a conception of humanity and idea of man which aspire, in keeping with ‘anti-poverty’, ‘anti-exploitation’, ‘anti-androcentrism’, ‘equality of respect’, etc. (Fraser 1994, p. 610; see also Fraser 1996), for all people to be able to care for themselves and others. Nor is capitalism conceivable without colonialism and slavery, a circumstance that is currently being condemned by the Black Lives Matter movement and has led Nancy Fraser to speak of ‘racialized capitalism’ (Fraser 2018b, 2018c).

In my understanding, Nancy Fraser seeks to develop a feminist and intersectional theory of justice and an analysis and critique of capitalism that traces the relations of dominance and causes of crisis to the economy and the relation between economy, ecology and society, while at the same time pursuing emancipatory change.

Theory of Justice

Nancy Fraser’s (2001, 2003, 2006, 2007) theory of justice, developed at the beginning of this century, is highly relevant and topical, as we shall see in the following. I will venture to highlight some of its key aspects here. In her widely acknowledged concept of social justice, she recombines what has been separated historically: the topics of redistribution and recognition, commonly more closely associated with the ‘old Left’ or the ‘new Left’ under the label of class politics or identity politics, respectively (Fraser/Honneth 2003, pp. 8; Fraser 2009, p. 481). And she reflects on the issue of the ‘representation’ of people in a globalised world, the nation-state-based structure of which does not provide for the participation of all people, even in democracies (Fraser 2007). Nancy Fraser’s ‘three-dimensional’ concept of social justice focuses on economy, culture and politics as the domains that structure and determine the practice of social life (Fraser 2004, p. 19, Fraser 2007). It is where the decisions concerning the redistribution of wealth and goods, the recognition of diversity and the opportunities for influencing the destinies of society are made. A just society, according to Fraser (2003, p. 55), can be measured by the extent to which the norm of ‘participatory parity’ of all members of society has been established. The path to such a society is marked by struggles for redistribution, recognition and representation, in the course of which marginalised and discriminated groups in society have to claim their right to participation in the face of institutional obstacles. Fraser’s ‘perspectivist dualism’ states that questions of redistribution always also entail a dimension of recognition and vice versa, and the dialogical and deliberative negotiation of issues of redistribution, recognition and representation is without alternative in a democratic society. The ‘political sphere serves […] as a kind of stage on which the struggles for redistribution and recognition take place’ (Fraser 2007, p. 351) and where the question of who is entitled to make which demands is determined and new forms of democratic participation must be developed.

Theory of Capitalism

With regard to Marx and Polanyi, Nancy Fraser argues ‘why two Karls are better than one’, for ‘each of these Karls affords some indispensable insights for understanding capitalist crisis’ (Fraser 2018d, p. 67). According to Nancy Fraser, society is suffering from a fundamental contradiction inherent in capitalism. Building on Marx, she defines this contradiction as follows: the accumulation-driven dynamic of the capitalist mode of production destroys the very foundations of social and ecological reproduction on which it relies for its own functioning (Fraser 2016, 2018a). Here, her perspective focuses on the relations of ownership and exploitation, which subordinate humanity and nature to the logic of capital valorisation and accumulation and which is where the appropriation of surplus value and the wealth redistribution in favour of the 1 % takes place. Yet this Karl (Marx), she argues, is too fixated on inner-economic processes. Nancy Fraser considers the other Karl (Polanyi), by contrast, to be the best diagnostician of crisis of our time. His concept of ‘fictitious commodities’, according to which the destructive commodification of land, labour and money in line with the requirements of the ‘self-regulating markets’ leads to the ‘demolition of society’ (Polanyi 2001, pp. 71ff), explains the more recent ecological, (finance-)economic and social crises which have proven to be politically momentous for some time (Fraser 2012). To some extent, however, Nancy Fraser is at odds with this Karl as well. Even though he does address the relation between economy and society, society seems to remain a ‘black box’ (Fraser 2018d, 71, see also Fraser 2012).

“Yet this Karl (Marx), she argues, is too fixated on inner-economic processes. Nancy Fraser considers the other Karl (Polanyi), by contrast, to be the best diagnostician of crisis of our time.”

Correspondingly, Nancy Fraser’s own approach differs. The decision about what is to be organised in a marketised, private-commercial, familial or state-coordinated form, and in what way this is linked to social inequalities and occurs not only in the economy or in the relation between economy and society. It occurs also in ‘border struggles’ that develop along the ‘social institutional order’ of capitalism (Fraser 2018d, p.72, see also Fraser 2018a) and are closely linked to the division of labour. While Polanyi (2001, pp. 79f.) considers history to be the result of a ‘double movement’, that is, the ‘movement’ of the market-fundamentalist commodification of land, labour and money and the ‘countermovements’ through which society seeks to protect itself from the consequences of market dynamics, Nancy Fraser (2012), proposes her concept of the ‘triple movement’, which is close to her conception of social justice. This concept includes—besides the Polanyian double movement—those social protests and struggles that are neither of the Marxian type (i.e. directed against exploitation) nor of the Polanyian type (i.e. for the protection against the consequences of market fundamentalism), but which pursue the goal of ‘emancipation’ in the sense of recognition and may be linked to a critique of exploitation and the dynamics of the market, but not necessarily so.

The Analysis of Contemporary Crises

Nancy Fraser sparks debate. I would like to illustrate this based on two specific examples. The first pertains to populism, the second, to feminism with regard to the present and the future.

With respect to populism, Nancy Fraser (2019a, pp. 11ff.) emphasises the path from ‘progressive’ to ‘reactionary’ and ultimately to ‘hyperreactionary neo-liberalism’, not only in the United States. In her view, these developments were, and continue to be—before, during and after the financial crisis—the cause of economic, ecological and social crises and of the intensification of social inequalities and divisions, while also leading to far-reaching shifts in the relationship between capitalism and democracy. Alongside the rise of anti-democratic forces, the latter includes the destabilisation of the political institutions which the capitalist market economy relies on for its functioning—given that it does not exist independently from society, as Karl Polanyi (2001, 1979) made clear. To Nancy Fraser, ‘today’s crisis of democracy is a dimension of the capitalist crisis’ (Fraser 2019b, p. 82), as neoliberalism is stretched to its limits. Drawing on Gramsci, she speaks in his words of an ‘interregnum’, in which ‘the old is dying and the new cannot be born’ (Fraser 2019a). This goes along with a ‘hegemonic gap—and the struggle to fill it’ (Fraser 2019a, p. 18). As regards the chances of managing to form a ‘counterhegemonic bloc’ (Gramsci) in light of a society shaken by crisis, she provocatively states that the current situation ‘leaves progressive populism as the likeliest candidate’ (Fraser 2019a, p. 30). To her, redistribution and recognition are topics through which ‘progressive populism’ can take effect both subjectively and objectively, reach people and thus change conditions, considering the existential social uncertainties felt by large parts of the population and the struggles discriminated groups face to assert their rights.

Regarding my second example and to Nancy Fraser (2009), the history of neoliberalism is also one of the co-optation of feminism. Policies of gender equality in the context of the given economic order have helped only very few women to climb up the social/professional ladder and achieve real success, while the ‘99%’ suffer the consequences of the economic, ecological, social and political crises. Nancy Fraser has provided inspiring contributions to the debate across a wide range of feminist and intersectional critiques of capitalism, always with the objective of inverting relations that are the wrong way round—to paraphrase Marx—and reversing the subordination of social-ecological reproduction to economic production (Arruzza/Bhattacharya/Fraser 2019). With regard to our motto: this also includes ‘putting the economy in its place’ in society, instead of—in the words of Karl Polanyi (2001, p. 79)—degrading society to the status of an ‘accessory of the economic system’. To Nancy Fraser, ‘progressive populism’ is not a ‘stable endpoint. Progressive populism could end up being transitional—a way station en route to some new postcapitalist form of society’. (Fraser 2019, p. 39)

The Vision for the Future

Nancy Fraser’s work is pervaded by a holistic view on economic, social, cultural and political claims to participation and egalitarian distribution, equal recognition and participation.

In the last chapter of his main work, entitled ‘Freedom in a complex society’, Karl Polanyi envisages a society that could be ‘just and free’, ‘when the utopian experiment of a self-regulating market will be no more than a memory’ (Polanyi 2001, p. 258). In this society, the ‘right to non-conformity’ (Polanyi 2001, pp. 260ff.) as a form of individual freedom would take centre stage just as much as the organisation and structuring of society in a way that would break with the structures of privilege and replace existing economic organisation with forms of ‘planning’, ‘regulation’ and ‘control’ in order to guarantee freedom for all (Polanyi 2001, pp. 264ff.).

Nancy Fraser’s (2019c) vision for the future is one of ecological socialism, in which the centralism of the failed socialist systems is entirely alien, in which the relations of ownership and economic organisation are subjected to a radical democratic restructuring and in which it ultimately becomes a collective decision which growth paths are chosen, and how and for what purposes surplus value is actually used.

When comparing both Karl Polanyi’s (2001) and Nancy Fraser’s (2003, 2019c) conceptions of a ‘just and free’ socialist society, it turns out that they may have far more in common than is often assumed.

Today, and in the coming days, we can look forward to being part of some exciting discussions with our very first Karl Polanyi visiting professor Nancy Fraser, contributing to the intellectual ‘countermovements’ of our time.

References:

Arruzza, Cinzia / Bhattacharya, Tithi / Fraser, Nancy (2019): Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto, London/New York: Verso

Fraser, Nancy (1992): Was ist kritisch an der Kritischen Theorie? Habermas und die Ge-schlechterfrage, in: Ostner, Ilona / Lichtblau, Klaus (Hg.): Feministische Vernunft-kritik, Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag, pp. 99-146

Fraser, Nancy (1994): “After the Family Wage: Gender Equity and the Welfare State”, Political Theory, vol. 22 no. 4 (November 1994), Newbury Park: Sage Publishing, pp. 591-618

Fraser, Nancy (1996): Die Gleichheit der Geschlechter und das Wohlfahrtssystem: Ein postindustrielles Gedankenexperiment, in: Nagl-Docekal, Herta / Pauer-Studer, Herlinde (Hg.): Politische Theorie. Differenz und Lebensqualität, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, pp. 469-498

Fraser, Nancy (2001): Die halbierte Gerechtigkeit. Schlüsselbegriffe des postindustriellen Sozialstaats, aus dem Amerikanischen von Karin Wördemann, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp

Fraser, Nancy (2003): Soziale Gerechtigkeit im Zeitalter der Identitätspolitik. Umverteilung, Anerkennung und Beteiligung, in: Fraser, Nancy / Honneth, Axel (Hg.): Umverteilung oder Anerkennung? Eine politisch-philosophische Kontroverse, übersetzt von Burkhardt Wolf, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, pp. 13-128

Fraser Nancy (2004): Feministische Politik im Zeitalter der Anerkennung: ein zweidimensionaler Ansatz für Geschlechtergerechtigkeit, in: Beerhorst, Joachim / Demirović, Alex / Guggemos, Michael (Hg.): Kritische Theorie im gesellschaftlichen Strukturwandel, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, pp. 453-474

Fraser, Nancy (2006): Mapping the Feminist Imagination. From Redistribution to Recognition to Representation, in: Degener, Ursula / Rosenzweig, Beate (Hg.): Die Neuverhandlung sozialer Gerechtigkeit: feministische Analysen und Perspektiven, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, pp. 37-51

Fraser, Nancy (2007): Zur Neubestimmung von Gerechtigkeit in einer globalisierten Welt, in: Heidbrink, Ludger / Hirsch, Alfred (Hg.): Staat ohne Verantwortung?: Zum Wandel der Aufgaben von Staat und Politik, Frankfurt a.M.: Campus Verlag, pp. 343-372

Fraser, Nancy (2009): Feminismus, Kapitalismus und die List der Geschichte. in: Forst, Rainer / Hartmann, Martin / Jaeggi, Rahel / Saar, Martin (Hg.): Sozialphilosophie und Kritik, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, pp. 481-505

Fraser, Nancy, (2015): “Legitimation Crisis? On the Political Contradictions of Financialized Capitalism”, Critical Historical Studies vol. 2, no. 2, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 1–33

Fraser, Nancy (2016): “Contradictions of Capital and Care”, New Left Review 100, London: New Left Review, pp. 99–117

Fraser, Nancy (2018a): “Krise, Kritik und Kapitalismus, Eine Orientierungshilfe für das 21. Jahrhundert”, in: Scheele, Alexandra / Wöhl, Stefanie (Hg.): Feminismus und Marxismus, Weinheim/Basel: Beltz Juventa, pp. 40-58

Fraser, Nancy (2018b): “From Exploitation to Expropriation: Historical Geographies of Racialized Capitalism”, Economic Geography 94, no. 1, pp. 1-17

Fraser, Nancy (2018c): “Is Capitalism Necessarily Racist?” [2018 Presidential Address, APA Eastern Division], Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, vol. 92, pp. 21–42

Fraser, Nancy (2018d): Why Two Karls are Better than One, Integrating Polanyi and Marx in a Critical Theory of the Current Crisis, in: Brie, Michael / Thomasberger, Claus (Eds.): Karl Polanyi’s Vision of a Socialist Transformation, Montreal, New York, Chicago, London: Black Rose Books, pp. 67-76

Fraser, Nancy (2019a): The Old is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born, London/New York: Verso

Fraser, Nancy (2019b): „Die Krise der Demokratie: Über politische Widersprüche des Finanzmarktkapitalismus jenseits des Politizismus“, in: Ketterer, Hannah / Becker, Katharina (Hg.): Was stimmt nicht mit der Demokratie? Eine Debatte mit Klaus Dörre, Nancy Fraser, Stephan Lessenich und Hartmut Rosa, Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, pp. 77-99

Fraser, Nancy (2019c): “What should socialism mean in the 21st century?”, in: Panitch, Leo / Albo, Greg (Hg.): Socialist Register 2020: Beyond Market Dystopia: New Ways of Living, London: Merlin Press, pp. 282–294

Fraser, Nancy / Honneth, Axel (2003): Umverteilung oder Anerkennung? Eine politisch-philosophische Kontroverse, übersetzt von Burkhardt Wolf, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp

Fraser, Nancy / Jaeggi, Rahel (2018): Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical Theory, Cambridge/Medford: Polity

Polanyi, Karl (2001): The Great Transformation, The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Boston: Beacon Press

Polanyi, Karl (1979): Ökonomie und Gesellschaft, übers. v. Heinrich Jelinek, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp

Translation by Jan-Peter Herrmann

Nancy Fraser

Nancy Fraser is Henry A. & Louise Loeb Professor of Political & Social Science at the New School for Social Research and the 1st Karl Polanyi visiting professor hosted by the Central European University Vienna, the University of Vienna and the WU Vienna.

Brigitte Aulenbacher

Brigitte Aulenbacher is Professor of Sociological Theory and Social Analysis at the Johannes Kepler University Linz and Vice-President of the International Karl Polanyi Society.

Degrowth and the US-Elections

US Elections 2020

"Our most fundamental need is for a habitable planet - and we’ve lost sight of it"

In order to better understand the current fight for the presidency in the US, John Hultgren and David Bond from Bennington College (Vermont, USA) talked to Gareth Dale about the importance of the Green New Deal, the need for a reduction of fossil fuels and the Degrowth movement. 

29th October, 2020

The Green New Deal and the Threat of Corporate Capture

David Bond & John Hultgren: The Green New Deal has captured the imagination of the Left in the US and beyond. After decades of playing defense, the Green New Deal advances a bold progressive vision on par with the immense need of today: a moment tipping precariously towards climate catastrophe. The Green New Deal also has the great advantage of harkening back to an immensely popular moment when government reimagined its responsibilities to the people. Drawing on Karl Polanyi’s own “ambivalences and ambiguities” about the New Deal, you advise caution on the Green New Deal. Can you explain your hesitations around the Green New Deal?

Gareth Dale: As you say, the climate catastrophe is tipping perilously. The Mauna Loa emissions graph climbs ever upwards. Radical change is urgent, and the GND is visionary. We shouldn’t see it as a definitive programme but as a “battlefield”—to use Thea Riofrancos’ term. And so too was Roosevelt’s New Deal. He didn’t enter office with a social-democratic agenda. It came thanks to movements—the hunger marches and rent strikes, the Teamster Rebellion and the waves of sit-down strikes. Those same years remind us that when organisers and movement leaders tied themselves to state institutions, their ability to mobilise went into decline. And while the New Deal did enact vital progressive reforms, and legitimated the unions, it also re-stabilised the capitalist order. It consolidated America’s grotesque, nature-trashing growth model—and then Roosevelt launched the US oil grab in the Middle East. Similar dangers face the GND today. State leaders and corporate interests are trying to own it. We saw this back in 2008 with the so-called green stimulus packages in South Korea and China. When you looked at the detail there’s virtually nothing green, it’s almost entirely greenwash and growth boosterism. The same was seen again in South Korea this year with its new GND. Within a fortnight of the announcement, the Korean government authorised a colossal bailout of Doosan Heavy Industries, one of the world’s biggest coal exporters. So any “caution” I’m voicing is against the threat of corporate capture. The movement angle of the GND, the campaigning efforts and visions of environmentalists and socialists, is inspiring—a bright light in the general murk.

“When organisers and movement leaders tied themselves to state institutions, their ability to mobilise went into decline”

David Bond & John Hultgren: Despite being quite popular and fanning the enthusiasm of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, in the current presidential campaign the Green New Deal is lambasted by both sides. Trump calls it a socialist takeover of American democracy while Biden backpedals into a less transformational, more corporate friendly, and utterly devoid of social justice version he calls “Build Back Better.” With so much at stake in 2020, why do you think now is the time to push the Green New Deal to clarify its relation to growth in particular and to the capitalist state in general?

Gareth Dale: Surely it’s always the time to clarify the relations of political projects to capital and capitalist states, for it’s they who set the economic and political framework, the rules. It’s their machine that’s steering the world to the precipice. Trump’s version is the death cult, exulting in planetary arson. Biden is a bit less repulsive, but driving a similar juggernaut. He’s currently distancing himself from the GND but if he returns, it’ll be with the aim of clipping its wings, taming it for Wall Street. So yes, in November 2020 there’s a lot at stake—and this campaign year also showcased the ability of the US electoral system to blackmail the left, with the threats that any militancy will endanger the Democrats’ prospects. So, whoever wins, organising in our communities and on the streets (…um, with masks of course…) will be more needed than ever: to push back the fascists, to keep the heat on Biden (if he wins), but also to begin to build left spaces independent from the state-supporting parties.

Fossil Fuel Reduction, Poverty Reduction & Degrowth

David Bond & John Hultgren: COVID-19 has shuttered economies around the globe and sent hundreds of millions of people worldwide into abject forms of destitution. As transportation ground to a halt and people sheltered in place, fossil fuel consumption declined significantly. You note that the sharp reductions in CO2 emissions we’ve experienced in the past 9 months must continue for decades to stave off the worst of climate change and retain some semblance of modern society. How can we continue drastic reductions of fossil fuels without also sending billions of people into poverty?

Gareth Dale: Well, billions of people already are in poverty. If we don’t drastically reduce fossil fuel use, they’ll be sent into early graves—and perhaps the human species with them—through the well-established laws of global heating and the slightly less predictable feedback loops that it’s triggering. As to how to reduce, the climate threat is so severe that drastic reductions are needed of both fossil fuel production and overall demand. So, ramp up renewables, quickly. And cut demand. Human energy consumption rose from forty terrajoules per year in 1900 to a hundred in 1950 to over five hundred today. That’s unsustainable, and can’t all be supplied by wind and waves. Obvious targets are the consumption of the super-rich, and the Pentagon—slash all that. Direct resources instead to supporting the poor, ensuring good food and shelter, and water, sanitation and electricity for all. And beyond? Well, homo sapiens is an enthrallingly needs-expanding species, but are we also a needs-comprehending species? Our most fundamental need is for a habitable planet and we’ve lost sight of it—thanks to the blinkers enforced by the capitalist system. Really, humanity should hunker down for a few hundred years. Tread lightly, to save ourselves and millions of species. This isn’t a prescription for hair shirts and self-flagellation, but resource and energy use must be clipped. You and I met at a Karl Polanyi conference. Well, in the early twentieth century Polanyi lived a happy and culturally extremely rich life, consuming a small fraction of the energy and materials that are at the command of his counterparts today. And Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto argued that the productive forces had reached the point at which a transition to communism could be envisaged. This was 1848. Before the invention of the car, the telephone, even the safety pin. I’m not suggesting we ‘rewind’ to that date. But for the love of life, of people and nature, present and future, a few delights of civilisation simply have to be suspended: all SUVs, all aviation (apart from dirigibles), nearly all beef (unless lab-grown), and so on.

“Our most fundamental need is for a habitable planet and we’ve lost sight of it—thanks to the blinkers enforced by the capitalist system.”

David Bond & John Hultgren: Degrowth, you have argued, is actually the most sober assessment of the current situation. Yet it struggles, as you note, to “find mass resonance.” Part of the New Deal, you suggest, contained kernels of contemporary degrowth – the government suppressed housing construction, people tore up their lawns and grew victory gardens, etc. Yet outside of the inflamed patriotism of a nation at war, it’s hard to imagine such sacrifice becoming a core commitment of party platforms let alone policies in the US. How can degrowth gain an enthusiastic base? Can we have a “homefront ecology” shorn of its nationalism?

Gareth Dale: A ’sober’ assessment of our situation is hard to reach. Can human minds really grasp the import of the climate catastrophe, the accelerating mass extinctions that their society is causing, let alone the possible end of their species itself? But yes, the degrowthers come closer than anyone else. In terms of strategy, I would put a rather different emphasis: I’d emphasise climate jobs programmes. These bring labour unionists together with environmentalists to campaign for a state-led ‘just transition,’ with secure ‘green jobs’ and care jobs and across-the-board economic change. It’s a programme that can address, and counter, two great fears of the present—mass unemployment and environmental collapse.

David Bond & John Hultgren: The poor have, in one way or another, been living a coercive form of degrowth for generations. Is there a class dimension to your theory of degrowth?

Gareth Dale: Degrowthers would say you’re completely misrepresenting their position. Their politics is all about overcoming poverty even as the materials and energy envelope reduces. And in some of my own work (The tide is rising, don’t rock the boat!), I’ve discussed how the growth paradigm, as an ideology of capitalist society, has been used historically to legitimate poverty and inequality. So yes, all of this pivots on class. The capitalist system is geared to relentless accumulation, which is spun as “growth,” which destroys nature, polarises society by class, by race, by gender and between rich and poor nations. The ownership of the world by a particular class—capitalists—who are driven by competition and the profit motive—is the root of all these evils.

“The capitalist system is geared to relentless accumulation, which is spun as “growth” and destroys nature, polarises society by class, by race, by gender and between rich and poor nations.”

David Bond & John Hultgren: The last decade has brought tremendous hope for progressive policies in the US as the neoliberal agenda is shown to be insufficient to the present challenges and actually part of the problem. In many parts of the world, the perennial logic of austerity is weakening and tax hikes on the obscenely wealthy promise a new boon to an emboldened progressive state (in the US, nationalized healthcare, free college education, and the Green New Deal). Is there a danger, in such a conjuncture, that a turn to degrowth morphs into an argument for austerity by progressive means?

Gareth Dale: Degrowthers are totally opposed to neoliberal austerity politics. A few of them do re-work the term ‘austerity’, but for very different purposes. On this, I criticise their position, you can find it in Degrowth and the Green New Deal. But it’s a small difference, perhaps only a quibble. And I hope you’re right about the tax hikes on the super-rich!

Polanyi's non-revolutionary Socialism

David Bond & John Hultgren: You argue that Polanyi “advanced a radical but non-revolutionary socialism.” Is there a contemporary party or movement that is similarly advocating for this brand of socialism? Where does BLM fit into this?

Gareth Dale: Yes, Polanyi was an anti-capitalist but didn’t understand capitalism—indeed, it wasn’t even on his theoretical compass. I think Bernie and especially Corbyn are quite close to his politics. That came with some tremendous strengths—not least of course the ability to build a sizeable socialist movement—but also weaknesses—including the tendency to collapse back into the liberal centre, and in Sanders’ case to cast votes for US imperialist adventures and projects. As to BLM, well, how much has it taught us, yet again this year! What an inspiring reminder of the capacity of popular rebellion to shake up an ossified political landscape. It has reminded us how radical politics can challenge the state ‘from without.’ Thanks to BLM, race politics in the US may have made greater strides during Trump’s tenure than any time since the 1960s. Possibly not. But even to have raised this as a possibility would’ve been laughed out of court half a year ago when politics still seemed a space strictly reserved for the state-supporting parties.

Gareth Dale

Gareth Dale is senior lecturer in politics and international relations at Brunel University, London. Before joining Brunel in 2005, he worked at Birkbeck, the LSE and Swansea University. His most recent books are Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left and Reconstructing Karl Polanyi: Excavation and Critique, and a critique of ‘Green Growth’ (all in 2016).

David Bond

Associate Director of CAPA (Center for the Advancement of Public Action) in Bennington College, Vermont, USA

John Hultgren

Faculty of Society, Culture & Thought and Faculty of Environmental Studies, Bennington College Vermont, USA

More on the US: 

Online-Discussion with Fred Block, Margaret R. Somers, and Robert Kuttner. Organized by the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy (Montreal).
Margaret Somers on the US-Elections and beyond, interviewed by John Hultgren and David Bond. November, 2020.
Gareth Dale on Degrowth and the US-Elections, interviewed by John Hultgren and David Bond. October, 2020.
David Bond and John Hultgren on the importance of Polanyi’s work in the US. 30th of June.

Polanyi in South Africa

Polanyi all over the World

Polanyi in South Africa

In this seventh part of our series ‘Polanyi all over the world’, South-African Sociologist Edward Webster elaborates on the importance of Karl Polanyi’s work for South Africa. Polanyi’s work arrived relatively late to South Africa and its impact has been narrowly focused around his idea of the Double Movement. Nevertheless, his work continues to attract both activists and scholars until today. 

19th October, 2020

Edward Webster

The work of  Karl Polanyi was relatively unknown in South Africa until the arrival of democracy in 1994. The advent of political democracy was the culmination of nearly a century long national liberation struggle against white supremacy. The embrace by the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) of key neo-liberal economic and social policies came as a surprise as the ANC had won the elections on a package of classic social democratic redistributive policies. The impact of these neo-liberal policies was devastating on the long deprived communities and their high expectations of decent work and a better life for all. 

Increased  labour market flexibility, fiscal austerity  and unemployment led to  the emergence of a plethora of new social movements   – the Anti-Privatisation Forum , (APF), the Soweto Electricity Forum (SEF) ,  the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) . They mobilised around a wide variety of issues, including the commoditisation of essential services such as electricity, access to land, water and the need for treatment for those with HIV/AIDS.

Polanyi’s notion of the ‘double movement’ quickly captured the imagination of progressive academics and social activists alike. The concept of ‘embeddedness’, the idea that the economy is not autonomous , but subordinated to social relations , was a direct challenge to economic liberalism, and its assumption that the economy automatically adjusts supply and demand through the price mechanism. The opening page of Part One of The Great Transformation , seemed like a call  to action to build a counter movement: “Our thesis is that the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution  could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society” (Polanyi (1944);3-4)

South African scholars  embraced enthusiastically what Jamie Peck calls  the ‘hard’ Polanyi, the critic of (free-market) capitalism and the advocate of socialist transformation,(Peck,2013 ;1538).A range of studies emerged in South Africa drawing on Polanyi’s argument that society will resist the extension of market relations into areas seen as threatening to society itself – notably with regard to labour and land. Like labour and land, water was  seen as one of Polanyi’s ‘fictitious’ commodities, ie goods which have the appearance of commodities (in that a price exists) but which can never be fully commoditised without threatening the existence of society (or at least a significant part of it). (Galvin, 2016) Others linked the emerging ‘decommodification’ strategies  to national, regional and international advocacy(Bond, 2005)

In a comparative study of the response of workers in the white goods industry to neo-liberal globalisation the authors found,  faced by retrenchment , workers in South Africa lacking a welfare safety net  engaged in informal non-wage survivalist activities. ( Webster, Lambert and Bezuidenhout, 2008). This pointed to the fact that Africa  has followed a historical trajectory that differed markedly from the First Great Transformation of the industrialised North. Africa  never secured a welfare state . In Polanyian terms they had skipped a stage leaving workers highly vulnerable to growing insecurity and precarity  (ibid: 55-56)

The impacts  of these new social movements proved diffuse and the counter movement elusive in spite of on-going ‘service delivery ‘ protests. It led to a critique of what was described as  Polanyi’s   ‘false optimism’ (Burawoy,2013) .The reason,  Michael Burawoy argued  for Polanyi’s false optimism lay in “ his failure to take seriously the logic of capital …. In particular the recurrent deployment of market fundamentalism as a strategy of overcoming its internal contradictions “ ( Ibid, 39) In an important  reconstruction of Polanyi, Burawoy identified  three waves of marketization : the first wave, from 1795 to 1914,  involved the  marketization of labour , the second wave, 1914-1973, the marketization of labour continues but now money is commoditised  , and then in the third wave  , 1973-?, the marketization of nature, money and labour  takes place ( Ibid,40)

Attempts to build a counter movement continue although increasingly Polanyi is seen through Marxist eyes and the need to include an understanding of the ‘logic of capital’. In late August the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign launched a Climate Justice Charter from a Polanyian perspective. Under the impact of Covid-19  Polanyian scholars are turning to the crisis of democracy , researching  rising authoritarianism , the politics of hate and exclusion and the emergence of right wing populist movements ( Williams , Forthcoming)

Surprisingly little attention has been paid in South Africa to Polanyi’s work on pre-colonial societies in West Africa (Polanyi, 1966). In this work Polanyi  identifies non-market relations of exchange as the basis for building alternative social relations based on reciprocity and redistribution. However there is one study that explores the re-emergence of notions of reciprocity and non-market relations  in a township  outside the coastal city of Durban – what is called Ubuntu or loosely translated, sharing. ( Ngcoya ,2009)   Mvuselelo Ngcoya describes the emergence of Ubuntu at community level through self-organised survivalist organisations designed to protect society from marketization. These organisational forms include savings clubs, burial societies, the revival of cultural traditions and the promotion of self reliance through popular education. These responses constitute , Ngcoya believes, the African equivalent of a Polanyian double movement designed to protect society from marketization.

While Karl Polanyi’s work  arrived relatively late to South Africa  and its impact has been narrowly focused around the idea of the double movement, all indications are  that his work continues to attract both scholars and activists interested in challenging the fallacious idea of “economic man” and  the universality of market relations  in time and space.

Edward Webster

is a Distinguished Research Professor in the Southern Centre for Inequality and founder and associate of the Society, Work and Development Institute Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. He was the first Ela Bhatt Professor at the International Centre for Development and Decent Work (ICDD) at Kassel University in Germany in 2009/2010

More ‘Polanyi all over the World’: 

Zhang Runkun on the Importance of Polanyi’s work in China. 31st of May.
Edward Webster on the importance for Polanyi’s work in Japan. 19th of October.
Chikako Nakayama on the importance for Polanyi’s work in Japan. 5th of September.
Nils Brandsma on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Sweden. 31st of July.
David Bond and John Hultgren on the importance of Polanyi’s work in the US. 30th of June.
Attila Melegh on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Hungary. 30th of May.
Claire Baker and Alan Scott on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Australia. 25th of April.
Patricia Villen and Bruno de Conti on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Brazil and Latin America. 25th of March.

Polanyi in Japan

Polanyi all over the World

Polanyi in Japan

In this sixth part of our series ‘Polanyi all over the world’,  Japanese professor Chikako Nakayama writes about the revival of Polanyi in  21st century Japan and its most important scholars. Read here why such a revival was necessary. 

5th September, 2020

Chikako Nakayama

Karl Polanyi has been revived in the 21st Century in Japan, just like in other parts of the world. One common ground is the publication of the revised edition of “The Great Transformation” in 2001 being read as a fundamental and structural critic of market-based global economy, from which a Japanese translation appeared in 2009, and the consciousness for change to a more human, social and solidary economy. In Japan, the complex disaster due to a huge earthquake, a Tsunami and a severe accident of the Fukushima atomic plants in 2011 in the midst of depression, urged many people to re-think the neoliberal, economy-oriented mind-set. It was the revival of the swell of civil movement around the 1970s. Since then, Polanyi, along with Marx, has been the major icon for active citizens seeking for social and sustainable development in Japan.

The main contributor to the first introduction of Polanyi in Japan since 1970s was Yoshiro Tamanoi (1918-1985), but we cannot forget two Keio Boys (graduates of Keio University), Takehiko Noguchi (1941-2014) and Shinichiro Kurimoto (1941-): Noguchi was the main translator of “The Great Transformation” in 1975 and also the new one in 2009, interested in monetary and financial theories and history. But a friend of him, also a Keio Boy and the founding president of a company for snacks (Calbee), listening to Noguchi and applying Polanyi’s idea to his enterprise, advocated the concept of ‘smart terroir’[1] to vitalize local areas and organized an NPO (Non Profit Organization) for ‘the most beautiful villages in Japan’. In contrast, Kurimoto’s approach to interpret Polanyi’s economic anthropology in connection with contemporary philosophy was more interdisciplinary and spectacular, gradually deviating from academics. His essay “Budapest Story”, containing interviews to pay homage to people around Polanyi, has been read often.

Tamanoi, economic scholar at Tokyo University, discovered Polanyi after his extensive research on comparative economic systems and history of economics, focusing on Marx, Menger, Schumpeter and the German historical school. He edited an unique Japanese volume of translations from representative works of Polanyi in 1975 and then energetically developed his idea of regionalism, ‘economy and ecology’ and ‘economy of life’, taking over Polanyi’s thought and collaborating with Ivan Illich. Furthermore, Tamanoi actively expressed his opinion against nuclear weapons, against the base in Okinawa and for the peace movement in general. This stance was shared by those who engaged in the theory and practice of endogenous development, popular in Japan at that time. The endogenous development was conceptualized opposing to exogenous, that is, large-sized, government-driven one, and hence sought for community-based, participants-oriented development which can be seen as precursory of sustainable development recently discussed.

Since the 1980s, although this tendency decreased and Polanyi was increasingly forgotten in Japan, formal and informal students clung to his idea.: Some persistently read and investigated Polanyi and others continued their practices for alternative economies such as cooperatives, regional currencies, small-sized energy etc. 1995 marked a turning point for Japanese society: Kobe was hit by a strong earthquake in January and people began to spontaneously commit to voluntary activities for Kobe.  Atsushi Fujii (*1967), who has long pursued social economy, explains that he started with the research of community business in Kobe and gradually recognized the need for theoretical backbone and discovered Polanyi later. In the meantime, Midori Wakamori (*1973) and younger scientists enthusiastically reintroduced Polanyi, making access to his idea much easier.

In 2019 I happened to join the board of an NPO, the Pacific Asia Resource Center (PARC), founded in 1973 for civic activities and education, where different people can come together and discuss together.

 

[1] Terroir is a French word to emphasize locally unique characteristics like the taste of local wine, and the adjective ‘smart’ implies to listen to women’s voice who had rather been neglected in Japanese local agricultural villages. (M. Matsuo 2015, “Smart Terroir: The Great Transformation from the Argument of Extinction of Agricultural Villages” (in Japanese), Gakugei Shuppan.)

Chikako Nakayama

is Professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies in Japan and member of the Board of Directors of the Pacific Asia Resource Center in Tokyo.

More ‘Polanyi all over the World’: 

Zhang Runkun on the Importance of Polanyi’s work in China. 31st of May.
Edward Webster on the importance for Polanyi’s work in Japan. 19th of October.
Chikako Nakayama on the importance for Polanyi’s work in Japan. 5th of September.
Nils Brandsma on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Sweden. 31st of July.
David Bond and John Hultgren on the importance of Polanyi’s work in the US. 30th of June.
Attila Melegh on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Hungary. 30th of May.
Claire Baker and Alan Scott on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Australia. 25th of April.
Patricia Villen and Bruno de Conti on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Brazil and Latin America. 25th of March.

Polanyi in Sweden

Polanyi all over the World

Polanyi in Sweden

In this fifth part of our series ‘Polanyi all over the world’, Dutch-Swedish political economist Nils Brandsma elaborates on the importance of Karl Polanyi’s work for Sweden. He therefore looks on Swedish processes of de-commodification and subsequent re-commodification of housing, using Polanyi’s theory of land as a fictitious commodity

31st July, 2020

Nils Brandsma

I am a young scholar from Sweden. Last year, I finished my master’s thesis; a Polanyian perspective on Sweden. Being a Swedish leftist, you find yourself in the peculiar position of seeing your country being benchmarked by fellow progressives, while simultaneously seeing it transforming rapidly into the neoliberal state which is the source of many of those problems the progressives want to rid themselves of.

There has been a lot of erudite academic reflections on Polanyi in and on Sweden, to start with Sweden becoming the emblematic case of decommodified and universalist welfare provisioning in Esping-Andersen’s (1990)  typology of welfare regimes. In 2002, Mark Blyth wrote a comprehensive overview of the Swedish transformation towards neoliberalism. At the time of writing, it was just early enough to see traces of an emerging far-right political party, but not late enough to see that party becoming a dominant fixture in Swedish politics. For years, the economist Ernst Hollander has written about Polanyi in the Nordic countries, discussing the possibility of enriching the understanding of what is a fictitious commodity (Hollander 2017; 2018): Are welfare activities, such as healthcare, elderly care or education, commodities? What about essential services such as water supplies or the internet? Furthermore, Eric Clark, professor of cultural geography at Lunds University, has taken inspiration from Polanyi when describing alternative urban futures. Clark has for long done research on the “rent gap”, that is the gap between the rent levels of a property and the potentially achievable rents from a property (in short the process of gentrification, see (Smith 1979)). Recently, his interest has focused on socio-political mechanisms to make the theory to not be true: What has to happen in order for gentrification not to happen. He lists the following: Collective forms of ownership, reduced income and wealth inequality, a use-value driven decision making and the absence of market fundamentalist culture (Albet and Benach 2017, chap. 7)

In my master thesis I also looked at Swedish processes of de-commodification and subsequent re-commodification of housing, primarily in Stockholm. Housing in the 20th and 21st century becomes very similar to how Polanyi discusses the fictitious commodity of land in The Great Transformation, a natural surrounding with the purpose of providing shelter and a home. Commodified housing is instead a financial asset which primarily is used to make money, it’s use, and use value, is secondary.

A decisive step towards decommodification was the housing policy just after the second war and its ensuing establishment of council housing (allmännyttan), followed by the million dwelling units project of the 1970s. The idea was to build a million new housing units across the country between 1965-1974, which is a massive number of housing units for a country which had a population of about 8 million. It resulted in the further decommodification of housing in Sweden, although it also supported small-houses for ownership and cooperatives. Municipal housing companies owned around a third in council housing (almännytta). Rents for all dwellings were relatively cheap and accessible, as they resulted from negotiations with the tenants organisation, according to the so-called use-valuesystem. Most apartment buildings built after the war and with the million dwelling units project had communal spaces at the bottom floor that could be used as rehearsal spaces for bands, workshops or meeting spaces.

Over the last decades, there have been partial steps towards privatization, but the legacy of decommodification has survived until today, although challenged. The stock of housing owned by municipalities is called allmännyttan, which literally means “the public good”.  Those lucky to rent through these schemes are confronted with increasing rents, although still low when compared internationally. Although the million housing units project was not contested when introduced in the 1960s, it increasingly upset market-liberal forces in the ideological shift towards neoliberalism from the 1970s onwards. This led to a number of liberal counter policies of the conservative government in 1991-84., which has all but completely destroyed this public good.

While both the social democratic party and the right-wing parties were influenced by change happening in Europe at the time, the real arbiter of the transformation in Sweden was the independent central bank. In 1985 the previously existing ceiling on how much debt could be accumulated was removed by the central bank, in an event now called the 1985 November revolution – still with Olof Palme as prime minister. This decision taken by the central bank in one stroke effectively enabled the re-commodification of both money and housing.

Banks, previously heavily restricted in how much they could lend, now behaved like “a horde of elephants in a porcelain store” according to the central bank director at the time. Credit flowed into private construction companies which built up the stock of privately-owned housing. The quick expansion of debt levels in Sweden culminated in the financial crisis of the 1990s, which simultaneously saw a social-democratic government enact the tax reform of the century. The reform was modeled after other western European contemporaries: slashed wealth taxes, flat taxes on capital, heavily reduced top marginal tax rates.

The 1990s also saw the beginning of a particularly sinister process. The right-wing government allowed tenants of public housing to purchase their building at bargain prices. But it is a specific form of privatization, as not the tenants themselves, but the cooperative housing association, that they have had to establish together before that, buy the public housing. Up to today, individual ownership of apartments does hardly exist in Sweden. But this has depleted the housing stock and is partly to blame for the fact that renting a publicly owned apartment now requires decades of standing in queue. As cooperative and ownership housing are much more profitable to build, the amount of new buildings remains restricted, which means rent levels have increased many times faster than for other goods (even if they are still regulated according to the use-value-system).

The publicly owned rental companies, often owned by the municipalities, are run as profit-motivated companies instead of vehicles to distribute and maintain housing in Sweden. The long waiting lists for those who want to renting an apartment through the public queuing system have strengthened the voices of those who want to further liberalize the public housing system. A proposal that long has been on the table is a reform to set rents at so called market levels. The Swedish Union of Tenants estimates that such a reform could increase rent levels in the city by up to 80% (Swedish Union of Tenants 2018). How the Swedish housing sector develops remains to be seen. Although it is unlikely that further liberalizations something like that would happen under a social democratic government, there is also an absence of any efforts for reforms attempting to reverse the marketization of Swedish housing. Over the last years, the transformation of Stockholm from a city for everyone into a city for those with money has been rapid and ruthless.

 

References
Albet, Abel/Núria Benach (2017): Gentrification as a Global Strategy: Neil Smith and Beyond. Routledge Critical Studies in Urbanism and the City. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge.
Esping-Andersen, Gøsta (1990): The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Hollander, Ernst (2017): “The Contemporary Relevance of Karl Polanyi – a Swedish Case.” In Theory and Method of Evolutionary Political Economy: A Cyprus Symposium, edited by Gerhard Hanappi, Savvas Katsikides, and Manuel Scholz-Wäckerle, 54–72. London ; New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-23542.
Hollander, Ernst (2018): “The Relevance of a Polanyi-Inspired Analysis When Interpreting Socio-Economic Developments in the Nordics.” In . http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-28685.
Smith, Neil (1979): “Toward a Theory of Gentrification A Back to the City Movement by Capital, Not People.” Journal of the American Planning Association 45 (4): 538–48. https://doi.org/10.1080/01944367908977002.
Swedish Union of Tenants, (Hyrsgästföreningen) (2018): “SCENARIOANALYS Marknadshyror för hyreslägenheter i Stockholms län.” Hyresgästföreningen (Swedish Union of tenants). https://www.hyresgastforeningen.se/contentassets/d3b4277c09b9453f84f5b952f8a64b1d/marknadshyror-for-hyreslagenheter-i-stockholms-kommun.

Nils Brandsma

is a Dutch-Swedish political economist, having studied at Stockholm and Leiden Universities. He is currently a graduate trainee at the Eurofound and aspires to study Polanyi in the Swedish context at doctoral level.

More ‘Polanyi all over the World’: 

Zhang Runkun on the Importance of Polanyi’s work in China. 31st of May.
Edward Webster on the importance for Polanyi’s work in Japan. 19th of October.
Chikako Nakayama on the importance for Polanyi’s work in Japan. 5th of September.
Nils Brandsma on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Sweden. 31st of July.
David Bond and John Hultgren on the importance of Polanyi’s work in the US. 30th of June.
Attila Melegh on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Hungary. 30th of May.
Claire Baker and Alan Scott on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Australia. 25th of April.
Patricia Villen and Bruno de Conti on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Brazil and Latin America. 25th of March.

Polanyi in the US

Polanyi all over the World

History, Once More, in the Gear of Social Change

In this fourth part of our series 'Polanyi all over the world', David Bond and John Hultgren took some time to review 'The Great Transformation at 75', probably the first major Polanyi conference held in the US in October 2019. In their essay, Bond and Hultgren elaborate on the three main issues that came up again and again during the conference: fascism, democracy and the climate - and thus draw a bigger picture of the multiple crises happening in the US today.

30th of June, 2020

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David Bond and John Hultgren 

In October 2019, Bennington College in Vermont, USA, organized a conference entitled “The Great Transformation at 75” to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of Karl Polanyi’s magnum opus. It was the first major Karl Polanyi conference in the United States to bring together scholars from all around the world, all of whom gathered in this small town where Polanyi found intellectual sanctuary while writing The Great Transformation.

Introduction
In 1940, as recession, racism, and totalitarian rule metastasized into worldwide terror, Bennington College announced it would devote its annual lecture fund to supporting endangered scholars fleeing the rise of fascist Europe. Through the serendipitous intervention of Peter Drucker, Karl Polanyi soon arrived on campus as an honorary fellow of the college. It was here, amid the rolling hills, meandering roads, harsh winters, and warm conviviality of rural Vermont, that Polanyi found the time to pull together scattered lines of inquiry into his prescient masterpiece The Great Transformation.

To mark the occasion of the 75th anniversary of its publication, this past October Bennington College brought together scholars and journalists from around the world to reflect on how Polanyi’s magnum opus might help us to understand the worsening condition of the contemporary. The last few years have witnessed the advance of fiercely anti-democratic forces, economies shedding any figment of generalized prosperity, eruptions of parochial hatred and insurgent racisms, the forced displacement of millions, and deepening ecological instability as the uneven impacts of climate change intensify. For three days, we gathered in seminar rooms, dining halls, and walks across the campus Polanyi called home to reflect upon the discordant timeliness of The Great Transformation today. With generosity of thought, spirited debates, and a growing sense that that present is being stretched past its breaking point, we discussed how the insights of The Great Transformation might sharpen our engagements with our fractured world, both to better grasp the cascading forces that enliven human inequity today and to chart ways past them.

Surely, we are living in an age of upheaval once more. Yet our conversation turned to Polanyi’s work less as a blueprint for explaining our present turmoil than as a potent set of concepts that help clarify the specificity of our contemporary crisis. The Great Transformation, as Robert Kuttner reminded us, is not scripture. And it was in the gaps between Polanyi’s terminal diagnosis of his time and our own inhospitable condition that some of our richest conversations took shape, whether around the necessity of incorporating capitalism, as Nancy Fraser insisted, or the necessity of foregrounding ecological crisis, as James Scott retorted. Polanyi always believed society would eventually act to save itself, Michael Burawoy said at one point; today, such survival cannot be presumed. Over the course of the conference, three themes emerged that now anchor this essay: 1) the origins and geography of resurging fascism; 2) the tactics and reach of reinvigorated democratic practice; and 3) the potential form and purpose of eco-socialist responses to the climate crisis.

Fascism
The Great Transformation insists that fascism is a global phenomenon, forged in the fires of international finance and geopolitics. But it was the inability of democratic institutions to join with popular pressures against marketization that formed the soil within which each instance of fascism took root. Against a backdrop of lived subtractions and foreclosed horizons, authoritarian rule once more surges to the helm. While Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Orban, Duterte, El-Sisi, and Trump are frequently explained by provincial problems and national resignation, is there an underlying thread that ties these instances together? What wider webs of misery now snag democratic vitality and entice brutality from above? While some participants turned to the disruptive terrain of globalism and the preemptive tyranny of financial institutions as the key update to Polanyi’s theory of fascism, others brought attention to how militarized violence cleaves populations from social legibility, how progressive identarian critique has hollowed out the terrain of human values, and how climate change shifts our primary register of induced precarity from financial networks to ecological systems.

While widening the focus beyond the nation, Polanyi also insisted we not give too much credence to the fascist militants who first seized power. The Great Transformation carries that startling insight of the 1930s: fascism was not a revolutionary seizure of power but a palace coup. Wary of a socialist reckoning rising in the winds of popular dissent, German business and party leaders readily handed the keys to the statehouse over to a ragtag bunch of militants. In a calculation that still resonates, elites found the burlesque brutalities of fascism more reassuring than reinvigorated democracy. Sound familiar? Even as the corruption and savagery of the Trump Administration comes to ever more light, Trump’s fundraising continues to break records, and relatively few CEO’s have publicly criticized him, as Fred Block noted. In the US, we have to wonder if white nationalist rallies and self-appointed militias should be better understood as a dress rehearsal of what Polanyi called “the sham rebellion” of fascism rather than a broad grassroots revolt against democracy. Indeed, many commentators overlook the well-heeled coalition of evangelicals and shareholders that stand behind Trump, instead explaining our lurch into authoritarianism by way of a clown car of adolescent grievances that appears to be leading the neo-fascist parade. But who is paving the way?

 

Democracy
Democracy is under siege. Whether in exempting amassed money from democratic accountability, in widening the reach of executive prerogative, in criminalizing expressions of popular sovereignty, or in tactically restricting access to the ballot, the institutions and practices of democracy are battered from all sides. So much of this echoes themes in The Great Transformation, where Polanyi diagnoses an “anti-democratic virus” endemic to the industrial state. Yet across the US and Europe, capital left the factory for dead decades ago. While still coloring policy prescriptions and the conceptual iconography of class, industrialism is largely a thing of the past in so much of the US and Europe. Where, then, does the contemporary virulence of anti-democratic forces come from?

The legitimacy crisis faced by democratic states is in no small part a product of global institutions in which free-market policy prescriptions are deeply entrenched. Greta Krippner, Claus Thomasburger, and Shaina Potts reminded us that international financial institutions continue to take great pains to insulate economics from politics, and both from democratic pressures. With neoliberal reforms constitutionally enshrined in the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and myriad free trade agreements, what recourse do democratic publics have to resisting the tired triumvirate of austerity, privatization, and deregulation? While radical cosmopolitan sensibilities increasingly permeate left movements, the institutional venues for demanding socialist (or even social democratic) reforms at a global scale remain altogether absent. Robert Kuttner asked: Can democracy survive global capitalism?

The fallout from decades of neoliberalization is acutely felt at home, where shuttered storefronts line Main Street, where work is shattered into pieces (none adequate to build a life), where dreams of ownership are cast aside as rents rise, and where the toxic aftermath of industrial pasts darkens and dampens collective aspiration. Distrust in the system is at an all-time high, and anger refuses the compromised ideologies and platforms of party politics. In these conditions, forms of what Sheldon Wolin calls “fugitive democracy” remain; for example, in the activism of care workers examined by Brigitte Aulenbacher and the solidarity economy movement highlighted by Marguerite Mendell. And yet, much of this democratic ferment unfolds in places of some privilege, at scales below the state and outside the corridors of accumulation. Perhaps we need to re-center democracy around distribution, as Margaret Somers suggested, to confront the profitable basis of our disorder more directly. Or perhaps local struggles over habitation, as Fred Block described, can provide a new basis of progressive politics beyond archaic institutions unable to reign in circuits of capital. From the reallocations of goods or the possibilities of care, our discussion explored the pathways that might pull the capacities of the state into a more principled taming of the market. Whether these political stirrings prefigure new Red Vienna’s or represent the ghost dance of a dying demos, our discussions of democracy were inseparable from considerations of socialism.

 

Climate
For one weekend in Vermont, the necessity of a radical socialist transformation was the default political position in regards to climate change. In true Polanyian fashion, this was not a promethean socialism, where economic growth and technological progress co-exist as hallowed solutions to distributional struggles; but, rather, an eco-socialism where the plausibility of continual economic growth in the midst of ecological crisis must be questioned. At the center of our debate lay the Green New Deal, a bold policy aimed at reasserting democratic control over the economy by bending its capacities towards the production of environmental goods and creating decent jobs in the process. For Kate Aronoff, the Green New Deal is far preferable to market-based reforms like carbon taxes or cap and trade programs whose moderate tone covers over their broken logic: adapting to the crisis of fossil capitalism by drawing nature even further into the casino economy. Gareth Dale cautioned, however, that a Green New Deal, as currently conceived, continues the conceit that we can maintain infinite economic growth on an ecologically finite planet. Referencing the near universal expectation of meat and petrol as the basis of the good life, Andreas Novy asked how a Green New Deal can be implemented in a way that doesn’t reinforce what Brand and Wissen term the “imperial mode of living”?

The lessons of the original New Deal are instructive in this regard. Many Polanyi scholars look to the post-war moment — the durable legacy of the New Deal and the social programs of the Labor Party in England – as the best example of what taming the market consists of in policy (despite Polanyi’s own disappointment about what unfolded in the US and UK after World War II). In light of our present ecological crisis, it is worth reconsidering if the broad post-war prosperity experienced in the US and western Europe was the result of democracy reining in capitalism, or of the engine of capitalism shifting from exploited (domestic) labor to extracted (foreign) nature. While labor successfully negotiated a pathway into middle class lifestyles for workers, and national institutions held back the most spectacular excesses of capital, the economies became newly attentive to, and dependent upon, a massive influx of coerced resources from abroad. The compromise of the industrial welfare state was an agreement, in no small part, bankrolled by Nature from elsewhere.

Mindful of this history, there existed widespread agreement that the Green New Deal must be internationalist in scope, tackle the problem of unequal ecological exchange, and figure out ways to confront an international institutional infrastructure in which markets remain sacrosanct.

 

A New Age of Upheaval
Kari Polanyi-Levitt closed the conference by walking us through the personal and historical disruptions that converged in the writing of The Great Transformation, and how prescient Polanyi’s emphasis on upheaval has proven to be. And even as we took stock of this new age of upheaval we had no idea of what lay ahead: a global pandemic that, in a matter of weeks, infected every inhabitable corner of the globe. COVID-19 appears a species level event that has catapulted the vulnerabilities and values of humanity itself to the forefront of policy considerations worldwide, though the lesson so far seems to be dismally familiar: distribute suffering downward rather than face-up to the great transformation needed to lift us all up, together.

The world’s poor will surely bear the brunt of this pandemic in the long run, but in the short-term COVID-19 has pricked the swagger of superpowers. The United States has found its sizable fiscal and militarized grasp on the world wholly inadequate to the task of taming this virus. Although it has now shelled out trillions of dollars to stabilize corporate bottom lines, by most human measures the US is a failed state. In this maelstrom – with the economic free-fall and pandemic purgatory that falls hardest on the poor and racial minorities – yet another overt act of racial violence has galvanized a widespread uprising. These past few weeks have witnessed protests that both seize upon and exceed the dilemmas of the pandemic, protests that provide an outlet for both longstanding racial injustice and newfound despair. On the one side, a newly energized movement for racial justice demands the defunding and/or abolition of police, the empowerment of local communities, and, above all, the basic right to breathe – a right threatened by the indiscriminate use of violence, environmental injustice, and inequitable access to healthcare. On the other side lies the demographic and ideological remnants of American conservatism, where the edifice of market fundamentalism is so strong that, even in the face of a pandemic, begging for the freedom to work and the right not to wear masks makes more sense than calling upon the state to provide ample monetary assistance and adequate healthcare. The resonance of this neoliberal reaction is narrow enough, though, that the Right has fallen back onto the only iron-clad ideological tenet of Trumpism: white supremacy.

Worldwide, dissent and despair now gather again on the knife’s edge between the ease of authoritarian certainty and the work of socialist transformation. It may be premature to declare that twentieth century civilization has collapsed, but there is little doubt that history, once more, is in the gear of social change.

David Bond

Associate Director of CAPA
(Center for the Advancement of Public Action, Bennington College
Vermont, USA

John Hultgren

Faculty of Society, Culture & Thought and Faculty of Environmental Studies, Bennington College
Vermont, USA

More ‘Polanyi all over the World’:

Zhang Runkun on the Importance of Polanyi’s work in China. 31st of May.
Edward Webster on the importance for Polanyi’s work in Japan. 19th of October.
Chikako Nakayama on the importance for Polanyi’s work in Japan. 5th of September.
Nils Brandsma on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Sweden. 31st of July.
David Bond and John Hultgren on the importance of Polanyi’s work in the US. 30th of June.
Attila Melegh on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Hungary. 30th of May.
Claire Baker and Alan Scott on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Australia. 25th of April.
Patricia Villen and Bruno de Conti on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Brazil and Latin America. 25th of March.