Despre austeritate și cum poate fi aceasta combătută

Texte selectate sau scrise de echipa redacţională: Vasile Ernu, Costi Rogozanu, Florin Poenaru.

De pe Lenin’s Tomb o analiză a austerității și a modalităților de rezistență la aceasta:

Theses on austerity, and how to fight it



I. Austerity is a class strategy for installing (or conserving) a capitalist growth strategy under the dominance of finance capital.  Whether it has been implemented in New York City in 1975, or in Greece in 2013, it is the financial institutions and their materially connected state apparatuses (treasuries, central banks, finance ministries, etc) which have been at the forefront of driving this policy.


II.  Austerity is a crisis response.  Gramsci warned that in any situation of structural crisis, “the traditional ruling class” was at a considerable advantage over opponents because of its control over the dominant institutions, its loyal cadres of supporters in the ideological apparatuses, and its overwhelming economic and political strength.  Its ideological interpretations of the crises would prevail, and it was in a better position to impose its preferred solutions.  Austerity was first floated immediately around the time of the bank ‘bail-outs‘.  The Right began to blame government over-spending for the accumulating deficits, and treated these as the major political element of the capitalist crisis.  In so doing, they engaged in an adept prophylactic move against the Left.  Knowing that there could be a powerful political and cultural reaction against neoliberalism and the banks, and a popular demand for nationalisations, they began to displace anger onto the government.  A ‘common sense‘ developed according to which there was just not enough money, and the government was going to have to begin tightening its belt just like everyone else.


III.  Austerity does not just mean ‘cuts’.  Nor is it a deficit-repayment strategy.  Many of the measures implemented as part of austerity – tax cuts for corporations, privatizations, creating business opportunities in public utilities – are either of no use to reducing deficits, or they make it worse by sapping revenue or inflating costs.  There are rational reasons why capitalist states want to minimise deficits, not least of which is the disciplinary effect such goals exert on public spending and thus on democratic demands.  But in the case of austerity programmes, deficits are a pretext for far more fundamental transformations.  The complex of policies labelled ‘austerity’ add up to a seismic shift in the political economy, the class structure and the culture of the capitalist states implementing such policies.  The end results will be: a) a more polarised class system, with greater stratification within classes, a weaker working class, and the greater dependency of all classes on financial systems; b) a further penetration of capital, particularly but not exclusively financial capital, into the state, and the weakening of democratic institutions; c) the further spread of competitive, ‘entrepreneurial’ values, and the further mediation of human relations by markets.


IV.  Austerity is not simply stupid and ineffectual, as Keynesian critics argue.  Of course, they are right to say that cutting state spending at a time of economic weakness will reduce aggregate demand and thus weaken growth further.  But this is an intended effect.  It was exactly the predictable effect of implementing austerity in Britain from 1979-82, and it was the predictable effect of the ‘Volcker shock’ in the United States.  It not only disciplined labour but it helped institutionalise economic priorities that fit the needs of the leading sectors of capital: militant counterinflation, balanced budgets and strict market discipline for everyone except the banks.  That it succeeded owes much to the discovery of new vectors of growth in south-east Asia, permitted a global economic recovery to begin in 1982.  This allowed the austerity discipline to be relaxed, allowed the austerians to claim victory, and ensured future electoral successes for neoliberal governments in the US and UK.  And indeed, some form of sustained recovery for the global economy in the next few years cannot be ruled out.  It is far from impossible that George Osborne will be able to go into the 2015 general election claiming some sort of victory – he is already bragging about green shoots of recovery, and promising a further sustained attack on welfare.  And if the Tories can prove to their voters that they can implement austerity against all political opponents, and cruise to a general election on the back of growth, they will have at least temporarily rebuilt their base, which was in decline.  Austerity is, far from being stupid, a form of intelligent ruling class praxis, which applies lessons from past class struggles and previous crises to resolve this crisis of capitalism in ways that are in the interests of the dominant sectors of capital.


V.  Austerity does not involve the withdrawal of the state from the economy, as per the ‘free market’ myth, but rather the further penetration of capital into the state, and the re-organisation of state apparatuses to better accommodate the accumulation imperatives of specific sectors of capital, above all finance.  In general, the state supplies not just the social reproduction necessary for capitalist growth, but also, as Mariana Mazzucato has demonstrated, the primary investments that make capitalist enterprise work from start-up capital to research and development.  The state is integral to the production process and will continue to be so.  But its current reorganisation is about bringing capital more and more into the material spaces of the state itself, on terms which leave capital’s autonomy intact.  The way this works can be seen in the ‘bail-outs’.  The government created a public company, UKFI, to organise the ‘bail-outs‘ at arms length from any government control, such that state funding was pumped into the banks in exchange for no public influence over the banks‘ decisions, even on something as basic as interest rates.  In theory, the government owned large chunks of these banks.  In practice, this was a partial privatization of the Treasury.  We see a similar pattern in the UK with policies like ‘free schools’ and with the de facto privatization of the NHS, where public services are re-organised to resemble ‘markets’, with competitive structures built in, and opportunities for private sector investment.  The idea in the case of ‘free schools’ is that businesses will take over and run state-funded private schools that will compete against state schools.  All of these processes undermine Britain’s already weak democratic institutions, from parliament to local authorities, and they particularly limit the extent to which popular, working class interests can assert themselves.  They register within the materiality of the state the changing balance of class forces in society.


VI.  Austerity is not necessarily unpopular.  Ideology is incomplete and ‘contradictory’, and therefore no government could expect to achieve total acquiescence in its goals.  But it is a matter of what underlying precepts are accepted, what people think is the dominant issue at stake.  In the UK, almost all austerity measures aimed at the poorest have proven to be popular in opinion polls.  Even more contentious measures such as ‘free schools’ have gained majority approval in some polls.  It is worth examining why this is.  Ipsos Mori’s ‘Generations’ poll provides some of the answers.  There is been a long-term, generational collapse in support for the welfare state.  Ironically, the voting demographic most supportive of welfare are otherwise most likely to be right-wing – the elderly population.  Why should this be?  Two factors are likely to be key.  The first is that more and more of the welfare state is experienced not as a collective provision but either as a bureaucratic nightmare (the job centre), or as a vicious competition for scarce resources (this is how even state school placements are treated).  The second is that while Thatcher was only able to exploit those antagonisms to a degree, inserting neoliberal ideas where social democracy had retreated, New Labour was able to actively sell neoliberal ideas about welfare to its working class base.  It was notably in the New Labour period that social resentment against ‘chavs’, ‘feral children’, ‘nightmare neighbours’, and ‘ASBO kids’ was effectively aroused and channelled into an authoritarian anti-welfare politics.  Or take the case of ‘free schools’.  Of course, state schools and the national curriculum bore kids to tears.  They are often lamentably under-funded and the pupils over-tested.  So, ‘free schools’ offer a chance for some parents, generally middle class parents, to free their kids from the national curriculum and gain a bit of control over their education.  Underpinning this, ironically, is one of the same ideological thematics that makes tuition fees and the abolition of Education Maintenance Allowance so unpopular: meritocracy.  Insofar as people believe in meritocracy and competition, they buy the ‘free schools’ idea; but they also find it scandalous that ‘opportunity’ is denied so many young people once they turn sixteen.  The basic problem is that much of the ideological ground-work for neoliberalism has already been done over almost forty years and, despite the resilience of certain collectivist values such as support for the NHS, and despite a sizeable minority contesting even the more popular elements of austerity, the Left is at a clear disadvantage in the ideological terrain.


VII.  Thus far, there have been three basic responses to austerity, together forming what the sociologist Charles Tilly would have called a ‘repertoire of contention’: a) trade union action ranging from strikes to national demonstrations; b) radical left party agitation, generally emerging from long-term splits in the social democratic parties; and c) Occupy and ‘indignado’ style direct democracy, movements based on taking over key public spaces in protest against cuts and financial dominance.  None of these tactics has been adequate in itself, and in the UK they have been retarded in their development:

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