[OPE-L] WTO Director "rehabilitates the Marxist criticism of capitalism"

From: GERALD LEVY (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sat Dec 08 2007 - 07:23:29 EST

<http://www.challenges.fr/recherche/20071206.CHAP1022615/anous_ne_pouvons_pas_nous_satisfaire_du_capitalismea.html> > "Capitalism Cannot Satisfy Us" > Daniel Fortin and Mathieu Magnaudeix interview Pascal Lamy > Challenges > Thursday 06 December 2007   > World Trade Organization Director > Pascal Lamy, one of globalization's shrewdest observers, > rehabilitates the Marxist criticism of capitalism.  > A man of the > Left and director general of the World Trade Organization, Pascal > Lamy is at the heart of globalization. His sense of things? Marxism > remains pertinent as a tool for analysis of modern capitalism. His > conviction? We must look for alternatives to this same > capitalism.  > *Challenges: Does Marx, as a certain number of > recent authors have written, remain the best thinker about > contemporary capitalism?*  > Pascal Lamy: Not the best, because > history has shown us that he was not the prophet some vaunted. But > from the perspective of nonpredictive explanatory power nothing > comparable exists. If one wants to analyze the globalized market > capitalism of today, the essential tools reside in the intellectual > toolkit Marx and some of those who inspired him created. Of course, > everything is not> perfect. There are stacks of criticisms to level against Marx, and > he was probably a better philosopher and economic theoretician than > he was a political thinker....  > *What do you retain from Marx?*  > Before everything else, the idea that market capitalism > is a system based on a certain theory of value and the dynamic and > the dysfunctions it may generate. A system where there are owners of > capital who buy labor and holders of their own labor power who sell > that. That relationship implies a theory of profit which ensues from > alienation: the system has the tendency for the rich to become richer > as they accumulate capital and for the poor to become poorer when > they own nothing but their labor. All that remains largely true. No > one since Marx has invented an analysis of the same significance. > Even globalization is only a historical stage of market capitalism as > Marx imagined it.  > *But what good does it do to criticize > capitalism? Isn't it accepted by everyone?* > Market capitalism is a system that possesses virtues and quirks: > efficiencies, inequality, innovation, short-termism.... Its recent > financialization has brutally changed the equilibrium laboriously > hammered out between capital and labor. The institutions developed to > protect workers have proven ever more inadequate and ineffective. > Hence the priority I gave to the goal of mastering globalization > during my term as European Trade Commissioner. At the time, in 1999, > that surprised people. We must listen to those who talk about > alternative modes of growth, those who sign up against this enormous > consumerist weight that materializes, commodifies everything, who are > against this system that puts people into relation with symbols they > are sold thanks to the media and the Internet, so that in essence > they buy nothing but their own image all day long. There's a kind of > psychic cannibalism in all that that provokes dissolute behavior. > Many people are unhappy because they are> constantly being compared to their neighbors, with a fabricated > image of themselves they cannot achieve. I belong to those who think > we must continue to seek alternatives and that politics must be > involved in these questions.  > *Alternatives to capitalism or > alternatives to the way capitalism operates?* > Alternatives to capitalism. Capitalism cannot satisfy us. It is a means that > must  remain in the service of human development. Not an end in itself. A > single example: if we do not vigorously question the dynamic of > capitalism, do you believe we will succeed in mastering climate > change?  > *Isn't that Utopian?*  > So? From a theoretical point > of view, I don't believe we can satisfy ourselves with limiting the > historic horizon by saying that market capitalism is a stable model, > give or take a few amendments. It feeds on too many injustices. But > we can also be realistic and observe that up until now, whatever has > been either theorized, or written, or applied as an> alternative to capitalism has not worked. The reality test must > remain essential.  > *But all the same, we don't want to throw everything in capitalism out.... * > Of course not. I'd like to see > us get beyond reciprocal anathematization. The Berlin wall fell close > to twenty years ago. It's time to be able to discuss reality without > falling into caricature. Capitalism is even a very effective system. > All the more so as it is now globalized, which produces more > economies of scale. With the same capital, one may use more work in > bigger batches. That certainly creates inequalities, but also it also > creates purchasing power and growth. Capitalism has brought between > 300 and 500 million people out of poverty in the course of the last > twenty years. That's the case in India and China, somewhat less so in > Africa; it's a reality and we mustn't deny it. We have to be clear-> headed enough to acknowledge the drawbacks, but also the advances of > this system.  > *With respect to> China's rise in power, isn't that an instance of the sublimation of > capitalism before its self-destruction at the heart of Marxist > theory?*  > If Marx analyzed today's China in its reality and its > plan and he talked about it with Tocqueville, he would tell him that > America is ultimately very social-democratic compared to the model > China incarnates. In the United States, you have a form of social > assistance for the poorest people; you have food stamps; largely > private contingency systems, certainly, but also some public ones for > those who are most destitute. None of that exists in China. > > *Chinese leaders talk about a transition phase...*  > When I talk to > Chinese leaders, they tell me that, for them, this economic > transformation phase entails risks of social, regional and > environmental imbalances. And they are worried. They say: "We have to > deal with the issue, but we've succeeded in bringing millions of > people out of poverty, and done so consistently over thirty> years. No one else has done that (which is true); credit us with the > fact that it's a point on our trajectory."  > *You believe them?*  > I understand them.  > *But go on; do you associate with them regularly? *> I believe they are very concerned about the > resolution of these questions, but I also believe that the resolution > of these questions is intrinsically necessary to the development of > the Chinese system. If these social questions of social, > environmental and regional imbalances are not dealt with, then it's > the system itself that is at stake. The Chinese save too much and > don't consume enough. That's one source of the imbalance in global > trade.  > *Why, according to you?* > Because they save up for > their retirement, for their children's education and for the day they > might be sick. That's where we come back to market capitalism. It's > not altogether an accident that Mr. Bismarck invented social > security, that Mr. Ford was in favor of it and that Mr.> Beveridge perfected it. These are necessities for the operation of > the system itself in the absence of the search for an > alternative.  > *Where is the French Left with respect to Marx?*  > Let's talk about the Left at a global level. In a phase > when market capitalism is more efficient and less equalitarian than > previously, the present political reality is, from a certain > perspective, much more favorable for the Left. You have, moreover, > events that come to corroborate the least bearable aspects of the > model: either its intrinsic dysfunctions, such as the subprime > crisis, or the phenomena that capitalism and its value system don't > allow us to deal with - the most obvious of those being global > warming.  > *But is the French Left still too Marxist?* > Yes, > but not in its analysis of capitalism, but rather in the sense of > what Marx wrote about the Commune. What the French Left likes in > Marx, is the aspect "the Revolution is for tomorrow; workers of the > world, unite,> strike, break the backs of capitalism and of the capitalists and > take power." That's the myth of the French Left. That's Marx's > fertilization of Gracchus Babeuf in French political thought because > Babeuf was one of those who inspired Marx.  > *Why has the social-> democratic model never prospered in France, do you think?*  > Because the French Left remains obsessed with equality and because it > has a frequently theoretical vision that distances it from, for > example, the labor movement, which is more practical and more dynamic > in its approach. John Rawls is a man whose thinking is accepted by > three-quarters of the world's social-democrats and who continues to > be rejected by the [French] Socialist Party. They tell you, "Rawls is > a right-wing philosopher." And why? Because he talks about equity and > not equality. That's something that deserves debate. Because if the > concrete incarnation of equality is equity, then rejecting equity in > the name of the fact that it's a> right-wing notion amounts quite simply to rejecting reality when it > doesn't adhere to one's analysis of it. If I am a social-> democrat, it's both because I believe deeply in the necessity and the > possibility of changing the world, and also because I believe that > all politics is grounded in the facts. 

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