On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism
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On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism

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On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism Presentation Transcript

  • On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism Center for Marxist Social Studies ABF-huset, Stockholm October 20th 2013 CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 1 / 27
  • Goals of the talk and text Figure : The Impossibilities of Reformism, samizdat, 2011. Explaining rise and fall of reformism: ‘Opportunism’ and ‘leadership betrayal’ are not adequate nor fruitful. Present a framework to grasp the limitations of reformist socialism based on past research and debates. Enable a structured discussion on strategy across the socialist Left. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 2 / 27
  • Reformism as a strategic path Common goal amongst socialists: A society that does not reproduce social inequalities but rather enables the free development of individualities. Requires a transformation of the political economy ⇒ popular control of the productive assets. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 3 / 27
  • Reformism as a strategic path Common goal amongst socialists: A society that does not reproduce social inequalities but rather enables the free development of individualities. Requires a transformation of the political economy ⇒ popular control of the productive assets. Reformist socialism as a strategic path to reach the goal: Centered on winning national-parliamentary elections to gradually implement a series of reforms which transform the structure of the political economy. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 3 / 27
  • Reformism as a strategic path Figure : The bearers of reformist socialism? SAP 1925 och PT 2005. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 4 / 27
  • Social-democratic conception of history Three phases of the conceived strategy in SAP: political democracy → social democracy → economic democracy Figure : Bearers of reformist socialism in Sweden. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 5 / 27
  • Social-democratic conception of history Three phases of the conceived strategy in SAP: political democracy → social democracy → economic democracy Understood as a cumulative process in Sweden from 1890s to 1970s... ...until a series of events derailed the movement: OPEC oil price hike Counter-offensive by business community Internal traitors: Kjell-Olof Feldt, et al. External saboteurs: Prime PR, et al. ... CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 6 / 27
  • Social-democratic conception of history In sum: 1 The collapse of reformist socialism as a project is conceived as the outcome of contingent factors and/or leadership betrayals. 2 Consequently, dilemmas or structural problems inherent to the reformist strategy cannot be examined and exploration of viable alternative paths to the socialist goal is precluded. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 7 / 27
  • Social-democratic conception of history Hidden assumptions in this conception: Parliamentary hypothesis: Societal development is primarily determined by the character of the national-parliamentary government. The state is a neutral instrument in the hands of national representatives. Stability hypothesis: Economic conditions are in the main stable and external factors set the economy into crisis. Distribution hypothesis: Conflicts between the working class and bourgeoisie are primarily a struggle over distribution, not a structural feature of the production process. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 8 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Strategic limitations: Inherent limitations which tend to undermine the strategy. Structural obstacles: Obstacles inherent in the mode of operation of capitalist economies that confront the strategy. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 9 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Strategic limitation #1: The ideological effects of parliamentary institutions Formal separation between political and economic order. Individuals within unequal class relations are represented as formally equal citizens. Parliamentary institutions appear as the embodiment of abstract general public: fictional unity which expresses the self-governance of the people despite their separation and nonparticipation. Parliamentary elections in and of themselves tend to ideologically affirm a liberal conception of society. Counter-tendency possible only through class-polarizing and conflict-based mobilization. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 10 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Strategic limitation #2: The demobilizing effects of parliamentary strategies The MP:s of the movement are transformed into representatives in an institution that is based on nonparticipation of membership. Within parliamentary-oriented movements the activity of the representatives tends to displace the activity of the movement. In order to garner votes beyond the movement, the potential MP:s need to be responsive to nonmember voters, rather than the movement. Incentives subordinate the movement to the party leadership. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 11 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Strategic limitation #3: Formation of a parliamentary bureaucracy The political profession secures economic privileges and the parliamentary system tends to select people based on status and formal education. The professional politicians of the party tend to be dominated by people who systematically distort the goals of the labour movement. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 12 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Strategic limitation #4: The limits of the nation state Focus on the national parliament affirms the nation ideologically as the natural political unit. But capital accumulation proceeds beyond these boundaries. Lacking a coordinated political strategy the reformist parties cripple when the possibilities of ‘reformism in one country’ vanish. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 13 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Strategic limitations 1 The ideological effects of parliamentary institutions 2 The demobilizing effects of parliamentary strategies 3 Formation of a parliamentary bureaucracy 4 The limits of the nation state ⇒ Demobilization of the labour movement CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 14 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Structural obstacle #1: The dependency on the capitalist sector The state provides the capitalist sector a legal system etc., but is in turn dependent on tax revenues from the sector. State managers must ensure that economic activity is maintained. This is largely determined by the level of investments within the sector. Potential investment strikes and capital flight constitute a structural mechanism which disciplines states to pursue policies which do not harm the business confidence. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 15 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Structural obstacle #1: The dependency on the capitalist sector The state provides the capitalist sector a legal system etc., but is in turn dependent on tax revenues from the sector. State managers must ensure that economic activity is maintained. This is largely determined by the level of investments within the sector. Potential investment strikes and capital flight constitute a structural mechanism which disciplines states to pursue policies which do not harm the business confidence. Contra the parliamentary hypothesis CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 15 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Structural obstacle #2: Economic consequences of high rate of investment Average rate of return on invested capital stock is determined by the balance of three factors ⇑ Growth rate of total labour-time ⇑ Growth rate of productivity ⇓ Investment level CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 16 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Structural obstacle #2: Economic consequences of high rate of investment Average rate of return on invested capital stock is determined by the balance of three factors ⇑ Growth rate of total labour-time ⇑ Growth rate of productivity ⇓ Investment level The reformist strategy strives for high levels of investment, but if this balance is not favourable the result is a crisis of profitability. Contra the stability hypothesis CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 16 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Structural obstacle #3: Political consequences of high rate of investment Class configuration which enables high investment levels and full employment unravels due to shifting balance of forces. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 17 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Structural obstacle #3: Political consequences of high rate of investment Class configuration which enables high investment levels and full employment unravels due to shifting balance of forces. Indeed, under a regime of permanent full employment, the ‘sack’ would cease to play its role as a disciplinary measure. The social position of the boss would be undermined, and the self-assurance and class-consciousness of the working class would grow. Strikes for wage increases and improvements in conditions of work would create political tension. (M. Kalecki, 1943) Contra the distribution hypothesis CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 17 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Structural obstacle #4: Ecological limits to economic expansion rate High investment level is required for a transition to resource- and labour-saving technologies. In capitalism, high investment levels result in growth of output per capita, but in general lacking counterbalancing reduction of finite resource extraction. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 18 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Structural obstacle #4: Ecological limits to economic expansion rate High investment level is required for a transition to resource- and labour-saving technologies. In capitalism, high investment levels result in growth of output per capita, but in general lacking counterbalancing reduction of finite resource extraction. High investment levels for advancing reformism or sustainable development? Dilemma inherent to strategy CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 18 / 27
  • The limits of reformist socialism Strategic limitations 1 The ideological effects of parliamentary institutions 2 The demobilising effects of parliamentary strategies 3 Formation of a parliamentary bureaucracy 4 The limits of the nation state ⇒ Demobilization of the labour movement Structural obstacles 1 Dependency on the capitalist sector 2 Economic consequences of high investment rate 3 Political consequences of high investment rate 4 Ecological limits to economic expansion ⇒ Dependency on capitalists’ investments CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 19 / 27
  • The rise of reformism in historical context 1 The preconditions for the parliamentary strength of Social Democracy were given by the structure of the political economy. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 20 / 27
  • The rise of reformism in historical context 1 The preconditions for the parliamentary strength of Social Democracy were given by the structure of the political economy. 2 Despite exceptional parliamentary strength of Social Democracy in Norway and Sweden, comparable quantitative development of welfare-state policies and employment in several other advanced economies. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 20 / 27
  • The rise of reformism in historical context 1 The preconditions for the parliamentary strength of Social Democracy were given by the structure of the political economy. 2 Despite exceptional parliamentary strength of Social Democracy in Norway and Sweden, comparable quantitative development of welfare-state policies and employment in several other advanced economies. 3 SAP 1920-2012 shifted between administrative versus reformist periods depending on the politico-economic conjuncture. 4 Establishment of welfare states and full employment policies only after Second World War. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 20 / 27
  • The rise of reformism in historical context 1 The preconditions for the parliamentary strength of Social Democracy were given by the structure of the political economy. 2 Despite exceptional parliamentary strength of Social Democracy in Norway and Sweden, comparable quantitative development of welfare-state policies and employment in several other advanced economies. 3 SAP 1920-2012 shifted between administrative versus reformist periods depending on the politico-economic conjuncture. 4 Establishment of welfare states and full employment policies only after Second World War. 5 Destruction of the Great Depression and the outcome of WWII altered the balance of forces between state apparatuses, workers, capitalists, and peasants in Europe, and enabled therefore the breakthrough of the reformist project. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 20 / 27
  • The rise of reformism 1945-1975 Industrial capital Workers Finance capital Figure : Balance of forces circa 1890. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 21 / 27
  • The rise of reformism 1945-1975 Industrial capital Workers Finance capital Figure : Balance of forces circa 1950. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 21 / 27
  • The rise of reformism 1945-1975 Industrial capital Workers Finance capital Figure : Balance of forces circa 1950. New balance of forces with high levels of investment: High rates of capita growth Full employment Implementation of welfare-state policies Rising real wages Initially proceeding without the collapse of business confidence. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 21 / 27
  • The rise of reformism 1945-1975 SWE Profitkvot (% per år) 20 15 10 5 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 Figure : Decline in average profitability... CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 22 / 27
  • The rise of reformism 1945-1975 SWE Profitkvot (% per år) 20 15 10 5 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 Figure : ... as a consequence of high level of investment CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 22 / 27
  • The rise of reformism 1945-1975 High investment level ⇒ full employment 90 ArbetsInställelser per miljon anställda 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 Figure : Sweden is a part of an international wave of labour militancy CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 23 / 27
  • The decline of reformism 1983-1990 1 ⇒ Crisis of profitability and confidence for owners of capital. 2 No coherent strategy to address the declining scope of reformist policies that follow from the dependency on investments in the capitalist sector. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 24 / 27
  • The decline of reformism 1983-1990 1 ⇒ Crisis of profitability and confidence for owners of capital. 2 No coherent strategy to address the declining scope of reformist policies that follow from the dependency on investments in the capitalist sector. 3 Two most ambitious attempts: LO:s wage-earner fund proposal (1976) and the reform offensive by the French Socialist party (1981) fail due to the demobilizing effects of the strategy. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 24 / 27
  • The decline of reformism 1983-1990 1 ⇒ Crisis of profitability and confidence for owners of capital. 2 No coherent strategy to address the declining scope of reformist policies that follow from the dependency on investments in the capitalist sector. 3 Two most ambitious attempts: LO:s wage-earner fund proposal (1976) and the reform offensive by the French Socialist party (1981) fail due to the demobilizing effects of the strategy. Organized representatives of financial capital take the lead: 4 Low inflation and high real interest rates are prioritized Capital mobility and labour reserves in the East are opened up Privatization and cuts in tax-financed services ... CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 24 / 27
  • The decline of reformism 1983-1990 Industrial capital Workers Finance capital Figure : Balance of forces circa 1990. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 25 / 27
  • The decline of reformism 1983-1990 Industrial capital Workers Finance capital Figure : Balance of forces circa 1990. Social-democratic parties carry on with same objectives: win national-parliamentary elections, but now in the context of Internationally weakened labour movement Declining scope of reformist policies Abandonment of any alternative political economy What remains is therefore their role as state managers and an orientation towards profit-led capitalist recovery. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 25 / 27
  • The return of reformist socialism? Historical changes that weaken the strategy: The decreasing autonomy of individual nation states The trend towards smaller workplace units CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 26 / 27
  • The return of reformist socialism? Historical changes that weaken the strategy: The decreasing autonomy of individual nation states The trend towards smaller workplace units Rising structural obstacles: 1 Return to high levels of investments lacking a balancing technological pattern will reproduce crisis tendency. 2 Welfare policies become increasingly contested due to the labour-intensive character of services and growing social needs. 3 Exponential growth required for reformist policies increasingly incompatible with sustainable development. ⇑ Dependency on the capitalist sector CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 26 / 27
  • Conclusions 1 The strategic limitations and structural obstacles of reformist socialism: Demobilization of the labour movement Dependency on investments in capitalist sector 2 The crisis of European Social Democracy as a long-term result of clinging to the objective of winning parliamentary elections while lacking a set of strategies to circumvent the obstacles on the parliamentary road. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 27 / 27
  • Conclusions 1 The strategic limitations and structural obstacles of reformist socialism: Demobilization of the labour movement Dependency on investments in capitalist sector 2 3 4 The crisis of European Social Democracy as a long-term result of clinging to the objective of winning parliamentary elections while lacking a set of strategies to circumvent the obstacles on the parliamentary road. Each parliamentary advance must be used to strengthen and expand the extra-parliamentary strength of the labour movement. The question of control of investments and the structure of the political economy must therefore become the central issue in practical politics. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 27 / 27
  • Conclusions 1 The strategic limitations and structural obstacles of reformist socialism: Demobilization of the labour movement Dependency on investments in capitalist sector 2 3 4 The crisis of European Social Democracy as a long-term result of clinging to the objective of winning parliamentary elections while lacking a set of strategies to circumvent the obstacles on the parliamentary road. Each parliamentary advance must be used to strengthen and expand the extra-parliamentary strength of the labour movement. The question of control of investments and the structure of the political economy must therefore become the central issue in practical politics. If the primary goal is to be a ‘party of government’ then all that remains is the role as state managers and, out of necessity, as guardians of a class-divided society. CMS Stockholm (ABF) On the Limitations of Reformist Socialism 20th 2013 October 27 / 27