(OPE-L) Review of _Keynesianism, Social Conflict and Political Economy_ by Massimo de Angelis

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sat Oct 25 2003 - 04:29:35 EDT

The following, from another list, is a review of a book by Massimo
de Angelis, a  former OPE-L member. The reviewer wishes to
remain anonymous. /In solidarity, Jerry


Review of Keynesianism, Social Conflict and Political Economy
by Massimo de Angelis

 Brilliant advance on understanding of modern capitalism

 De Angelis comes out of the best of the late 60s and early 70s
autonomist  tradition of Italian working class and student
radicalism. That movement attempted to bridge the gap between
revolutionary theory and independent working class activity. At
its best it generated vigorous and constructive debate among
students, workers, intellectuals and  the middle class of  Italy.
Autonomia, as it was known in Italian, was initially influenced by
the student and worker activism of the great upheaval in France
in 1968 and  the Prague Spring of the same year. But it soon
developed its own unique flavor, and more importantly, an
exceptional feel for the importance of  independent working class
organization from below.  (Unfortunately, at its worst the
frustrations at the difficulty of organizing workers led some
 adherents of this movement into violence and terrorism, though,
as in the United States, it is likely that state infiltration
of the movement helped its descent as well.)

De Angelis takes the insights of that period into the often dry
world of  macroeconomic theory and in doing so unravels some
of the most important  debates of the last fifty years. He makes
clear that the key to understanding figures like Keynes and Friedman
is  their political impact.  Economic theory that is not viewed through
that lens often remains impenetrable. De Angelis argues that Keynes
solved a crucial political problem for capitalism: namely the potentially
problematic impact that the creation of a large industrial working class
had on the workings of the free market. Powerful workers organizations,
which  Keynes witnessed first hand during the 1926 General Strike in the
United Kingdom, could upset the natural tendency towards equilibrium.
De Angelis argues that the post WWII  institution of collective bargaining
helped break what Keynes and others called the "wage rigidity" caused
by trade unions by  linking wage increase to productivity increases through
long term contracts with "no strike"  clauses and arbitration built in.

The framework lasted, more or less, for several decades, only to break
down as rank and file workers in the late 60s began to chafe under the
 authoritarian rule of the employers and the apparent bureaucratic lethargy
of their unions. Productivity began to slow as employers lost the ability
 to introduce innovations. In the US, a nascent revolt emerged in large
 industrial sectors like auto, where militant black workers were influenced
 by and influencing outside activity in the civil rights movement. And a
 near revolutionary situation broke out in Paris, Prague, northern Italy and

 But a new ideal type for capitalism emerged with the rise in influence of
 Milton Friedman and monetarism. These were the early days of what
we now call "globalization," as Friedman advocated  liberalized exchange
rates and tight control on the creation of credit by a non-political central
 These new disciplinary devices at the macro level were linked to a
 union-busting effort at the micro level that continues to characterize
 political economy to this day.

 While de Angelis brilliantly adapts the direct experience of Italian
 workers in the late 60s and early 70s to develop this more global theory,
 his work shows the limits of this tradition as well. Certainly there were
 constraints on the power of trade unions that  resulted, at least
 in what he calls their "institutionalization" into capitalism, but every
 worker knows that it is often necessary to accept certain compromises in
 order to live to fight another day. It is in this sense that his Italian
 experience is a drawback. He is not alone in this limited view of American
 trade unions. Very few European commentators seem to quite understand the
 harsh terrain upon which trade unions were forced to grow in this country.
 Their "legitimation" in the upheavals of the Great Depression and WW II
 were a singular social achievement rather than simply a conservatizing
 integration with the employers.

 Nonetheless, this book's achievement stands apart  from that
complaint. My only regret is that the publishers have not yet
made  a paperback edition available so that this work could
find the larger audience that it deserves.

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