Due to my workload, I need to break this little project into four pieces. I’ll try to get one published every night and will gather them all together in a few days. As always, comments/corrections are appreciated. This is part 2; you can find part 1 here.
David Harvey, Marxist geographer and intellectual: “I’m skeptical about the idea of reforming neoliberalism”
Originally posted in Spanish here: http://lachispa-revista.blogspot.com/2014/12/david-harvey-geografo-e-intelectual_23.html
LC: In one of his last books, Eric Hobsbawm, said that with the fall of the Berlin Wall Marxism “liberated” itself from the Soviet tradition. Today, a boom of social movements around the world exist. What happened with the concept of the Party and its Leninist approach?
DH: The Leninist concept of the Party is largely becoming abandoned because of its relationship to what happened in communist countries like the USSR and China. Their was an attempt, as John Holloway called it, to change the world without taking power or without forming political parties, and without necessarily taking on the project of seizing the State’s power. So there has been a period in which social movements have tried to find a different foundation for political action and to make democratic decisions. I believe it is a phase, I suspect that it is going to end later and we will see the emergence of new political forms like, for example, Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain that definitely could gain a parliamentary majority in the near future. And I believe that people are accepting that the experiments that have occurred in recent years with democratic and horizontal assemblies have reached a limit and that they cannot change the world without seizing power, and that somehow they rebuild democratic forms for decision-making inside a type of party structure and, at some point, they are going to have to deal with a specific relationship to the nature of the State. This is a very problematic area because, undoubtedly, the State has become, in effect, an exclusive agent of capital, even more in the past 10 or 15 years, so there is a battle that seems to emerge regarding this question, but I do not believe that the majority of the left is prepared to fight it or think it. I believe there is a reevaluation of how we would govern ourselves, like established democratic structures that have not been corrupted by the power of money or destroyed by a structure of hierarchical leadership that cannot be accountable to its political and social base. Therefore, we are in a moment of transformation and I believe that it is going to last for 2 or 3 years, with great experiments regarding what Syriza and Podemos will do if they seize power. What would these alternative forms of government do, for example, if they won Scottish independence? What would have happened in Scotland? There are various types of interesting possibilities that are not feasible now, and they will be looking at a very different political scene in a period of 2 or 3 years.
LC: Follow the idea of abandoning Marxism, the hegemony of the World Bank and concepts like the “war on poverty” have had a profound influence on Latin American governments, generating a concept of “Progressivism,” understanding this strategy as an efficient form of taming social conflicts across redistributive politics and in a western democratic frame (such as the Worker’s Party and the program Bolsa Familia in Brazil). In your perspective, what is the role and the limits of these types of governments? Where is class warfare situated when governments focus on poverty and not on wealth?
DH: I believe that any government of the left that takes power encounters two problems: the first is – in a profound sense – that we have all become neoliberals without recognizing it. I am amazed that here in Latin America for all that rhetoric that “we are not neoliberals,” in fact, neoliberal ways of thinking that are profoundly rooted, although in a different forms, in each country. For example, here in Chile they are very deep. Therefore, the mental conception of the world flows from what one would call “rooting of neoliberal thought in people,” is a serious problem itself, both on popular and governmental level, and that points again to the significance of Marxist critique. And when I say there should be a Marxist critique, I do not want to say a type of “ultra-leftism” that simply says “The Worker’s Party is coopted” or something like that. I am referring to a deep understanding of how political subjectivity has been formed by a certain story and that this is what is required to transform those political subjectivities so that we can go beyond the politics of redistribution that is currently dominant.
The second problem is that each economy is not an island and I believe that the idea of a national economy that can remove itself from a global economy that functions in another way is a fantasy. Therefore, there are perpetual contradictions that have to be confronted. For example, if your economy is based in some type of extraction, then it was very difficult to come and say “we are ending extraction” because you don’t have any division of labor and you can’t get basic goods that you need like computers or this microphone that I am holding. So there are tensions that have to be managed because I believe that here is where there are serious politics that could be put into motion. I believe that strategies for the reindustrialization of economies that are in various aspects of deindustrialization are limited, but that what I’m talking about here is the exploration of new ways of producing thing that are not seen wrapped in the difficulty of competing with the extremely low costs of production in China. And I believe that now there are technological developments like 3d printers or others for the production of many goods and services that are localized and are much less stressful on the environment, and that can also generate goods for people based on local sources instead of getting them through international trade. Now I am not saying that this can create total independence, but there are many areas for the recolonization of the internal markets and for the reconfiguration of industry and agriculture. This occurs in many countries in Latin America that are driven toward the development of exports and ending importing food when they really would be able to easily have self-sufficient food when they are not selling soy to China or fruit to New York.
I believe that attempts to explore possibilities of new forms of social relations, new forms of organization, that would permit a strategy of modest reindustrialization in Latin America and that brings me to another point: all of this could be carried out if there were more and better collaboration between the countries of Latin America. Today a discourse of solidarity exists, but there are many nations that say, “you have that, and we have this.” This signifies many things: for example, the connectivity of transportation that exists in Latin America is terrible, to get a ticket from capital to capital is incredibly difficult (laughs) and is also incredibly expensive, and is something that could be corrected easily. But this requires collective action and I believe that for Latin American countries to unite should be understood as developing a regional economy in place of “our economy versus your economy. This is one of the things that is slowing what could be called a modest strategy of reindustrialization for Latin America as a whole.