SOCIALIST POLITICS AND THE CRISIS OF MARXISM

Linked with Elmar Altvater – Germany, and with Attac weist Versuch zurück, jede Kritik unter Gewaltverdacht zu stellen.

Published on Socialist Register, by Elmar Altvater and Otto Kallscheuer, Translated by David Fernbach, 1979.

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THE CRISIS OF MARXISMHAS ERUPTED AT LAST

Excerpt of pages 31-32: … We cannot deal in any comprehensive way here with the key points in the conception of an alternative economic policy in the Federal Republic (cf. on this subject Altvater, Hoffman and Semmler, 1979a, 1979b). Two brief remarks, however, must still be made, which apply also to the conception of an alternative ‘austerity’, even if the consequences for wages of husteritri’ and the Memorandum are opposed to one another.

Firstly, it is important that the policy proposed and carried through by the government should confront an alternative. But such alternatives alone are not enough, if they remain mere models without a political subject able to implement them. The political subject is not simply the party (PCI) as an organization, or the trade union apparatus, but rather the broad base of the social movement.

The point is, therefore, to take up and articulate the demands developed by the mass movements in the phase after 1968, integrating these into a concept of social synthesis without thereby displacing the movements themselves. The Keynesian compromise was agreed between capital (and its political associations) and the organizations of the workers’ movement.


We believe that it can no longer be established in this way, and that alongside the ‘traditional’ workers’ movement a broad social and political movement has arisen that neither can nor will be brought any more into the Keynesian compromise. (We have attempted to show this in our discussions of the crisis of Marxism.) This is true for the women’s movement, and equally so for the movements of young people, students and unemployed.

In order to overcome the crisis of working-class strategy, which is what the ‘crisis of Marxism’ actually indicates, it will prove more necessary than it has been in the past to take account of these ‘new’ demands, though without abandoning the ‘centrality’ of the workers’ movement. These needs are no longer simply centred on and around the labour process (the demand for jobs, ensuring the conditions of reproduction of labour-power, leisure time, etc.), but rather arise on new paths of political socialization, being no longer unconditionally work-centred (we do not see Badaloni’s distinction between productive and unproductive workers, as applied in this connection, as very adequate to the problem; cf. Asor-Rosa, 1978a). The problems that have thus arisen require a solution (cf. also the interview with Trentin 1978a), if alternatives in economic policy or a ‘left’ austerity are to become really effective.

Secondly, alternatives in economic policy are directed at the state. The state is the central subject of economic policy, and this also has its problems. For in many fields of policy, the state now acts in a compensatory way, but one that is problematic. Given the level of socialization of the reproduction process, the effects of the private sector have ever more ravaging effects on society. This can be seen both in the field of health, and in the ecological effects. The quantitative dynamic of capitalist accumulation does not yield to the qualitative requirements of individual and social life. To stem its course is one goal of the social movements that we mentioned in the previous section. We have still to show here, however, how new approaches for the discussion of alternatives follow from this situation.

For it is questionable whether the destructive effects of highly developed capitalist production can still be stemmed or cancelled by a policy of state compensation, or whether the point of application for alternative measures does not need to be sought in a new organization of the production process itself, starting with new technologies that are benign towards workers and their environment, through to new dispositions of (shortened) working hours and changed organization of work, as well as alternative raw materials and products.

In this way we can link up with an antithesis that determines the discussion on the state: the politicization of society or the socialization of politics. Here the fact is expressed that it is already necessary under capitalism (and not just ‘after the revolution’) to develop approaches for taking the formulation, decision and execution of policy ‘back into society’. The alternatives raised by the workers’ movement in the present crisis, therefore, which always and necessarily develop as a force against the primacy of economics that the bourgeoisie seeks to reactivate, must consequently aim at politicizing the economic base of social domination (and hegemony), and not just the ‘political superstructure’. The socialization of politics embraces the production process just as much as it does the realm of state activity in economic policy. (full text).

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