David Harvey – The Limits of Social Democracy and of the Welfare State – July 2019

well one of the forms that this counter-attack seems at the the presidential race especially on the side of the Democrats and with Bernie Sanders at the forefront calling for what he says is democratic socialism but of course many people point out that what he's really calling for is a form of social democracy in other words a reform of capitalism not a complete overthrow of capitalism and that that raises the question and this is something that to feud seems to be too few people seem to be talking about is something that at least back in the 1970s I would say people had did question social democracy in the sense of saying well it has internal contradictions of its own that it has not resolved it cannot resolve and you could even say that's the reason why it alternately failed at least in Europe and went on a downhill decline because it it couldn't basically deal with the international context of basically a neoliberal financial system where capital is completely D territory alized and can go wherever at once and forcing basically the social democracies to adapt to this global condition because otherwise they would face whether it be faced with a capital strike or a capital flight and so I'm wondering now I won on the one hand there's there's no real debate it seems at least on the left about so to speak reform versus revolution I guess that is the the debate about can capitalism be formed in the form of social democracy again or do we need to understand why it declined eventually you know from the 1970s onwards was there a logic that went beyond just ideology and that there were in other words global financial forces that work in undermining social democracy what's your response to that that train of thought yeah right of course that I mean the left that I was associated where the the beginning of the 1970s was very critical of the welfare state as it had been constructed in the social democracies in Europe and to the degree that was welfare even in the United States was critical of that because many people saw or the welfare state is an organized way to reproduce a class relation not to challenge a class relation and and furthermore it was also structured in such a way as to be anti anti women and so many feminists I think felt that the way their welfare state was orchestrated was was perilous for them so yeah in the left in the mid-1970s was highly critical of welfare state and then of course the right took power and said okay we'll get rid of the word welfare state will wipe it all out and then and then that led to certain nostalgia on the left and say what is it that we wanted to get rid of but I don't think right now there is really an appetite for a restoration of that kind of welfare state and I'm very nervous about the Democratic field right now to the degree that it seems to me there is a tendency towards the restoration of a system that was about a reproduction of class relations and and will be so again unless we do something radically different now again fortunately it seems to me that there are elements around particularly feminist socialists and so on are going to say no we are not going to tolerate the restoration of that kind of welfare state we want to guarantee people a decent life and a decent living space and and and decent protections of Social Security we want all of those things but not in a way that simply replicates the the social social order furthermore we recognize right now in many parts of the world social welfare has been privatized through the NGOs and the non-governmental organizations of course are working out they're dealing with a lot of the social problems and the state basically says I don't want anything to do with this let the NGOs take take care of all other social issues this is a big transformation because as recipient if I'm getting something from the state I'd make a claim upon the state and say I'm a member I I'm a I'm a subject in this state or I'm a citizen of this state and I have rightful claims and I want the state to deliver on those claims when it all goes to the NGOs in effect you have to go and beg for charity now this changes the position of a low income person begging for charity or putting a legitimate demand upon the state which they believe has have some responsibility for guaranteeing their welfare so I think here too there is something which is saying there will not be a radical revolution in social relations without challenge in that NGO structure which is very difficult because there are a lot of progressive people in the NGOs and you probably will remember that the initial sort of world Social Forum there were radical elements but then also the NGOs and the NGOs were in the end kind of doing a separate game from the popular movements so I think that there's there there are these issues which the left has not grappled with and which means they need to grapple with if we are not to end up with a restoration of a kind of a soft version or a more sort of efficient version of the social democracy which which was sort of hanging around us in the sort of early 1970s before we concluded I think one of the key things that you said is about avoiding the restoration of class relations through reform and I'm wondering exactly what that might mean specifically and that is okay in the case of NGOs versus making a demand on the state and claiming a right I think that's relatively clear but even that claiming a right by itself doesn't necessarily mean challenging or changing the class relations and so I'm wondering what would a change of class relations actually look like well just think for a minute how certain class relations were transformed in say major latin-american countries one of the ways in which it was done was land reform and so the power of a landed aristocracy was essentially challenged by expropriation of of the big estates and the division of them and of course that tradition is continued by occupations by the MST and all the rest of it so you're in effect taking a power block which was the landed elites and you're breaking their power and you're taking their assets and you're distributing those assets and so if this is a real attack upon the class relations what I'm going to suggest now is selling terribly outrageous in which is this needs to be done to the capitalist class the concentrations of wealth in the capitalist class are now so enormous so huge that the capitalist class needs to be broken up and actually it's interesting if you turn it to corporations there's now a genuine debate going on over should we break up Google should we break up Facebook should we break up these these these huge monopolies and these huge concentrations of power so what we're beginning to see is a kind of a political movement that says we've got to break up these pattern at some point a rather that is going to carry over to breaking up that huge wealth which exists within the capitalist class now the capitalist class is protecting itself and I think is well aware of this threat if they're not there must be daft but they they they're well aware so they are securing their control over the state apparatus to make absolutely sure that the state apparatus will do two things one is that the state will never ever pass any legislation like land reform which kind of appropriates them so they're going to you sort of control the state that way second any movements outside of the state that start to kind of actually do that are going to be repressed by police power and exactly the same way that sort of Occupy movement was repressed by police power kind of rather brutally and unnecessarily precisely because Wall Street knew that if you didn't squash these people early on they might get traction and if they got traction their well-being and their their position in society would be threatened well regarding the point about breaking up of these big concentrations of power I mean one of the criticisms that people have made of that is that well you're just setting the clock back essentially a cup maybe a decade or two but eventually they're just going to reconsolidate as a matter of fact that's of course what are the points that Marx always makes is that there's a concentration of capital and a tendencies towards monopoly and wouldn't the perhaps better strategy in that case be an actual not necessarily state takeover but certainly it for example we could say are at perhaps or argue perhaps that a social media platform such as Facebook or a search platform such as Google or a distribution platform such as Amazon our actually forms of public utilities and therefore should be turned over to the users essentially not necessarily in the form of a state nationalization but actually more in the form of something like Wikipedia let's say in other words turned over to the people who are actually using it and benefiting from it and a matter of fact that argument could be made because it's it's good that they're big because that's where we get the benefit and we're having one search platform having one social media having one distributor makes sense from a you know efficiency perspective at the very least so you don't need to go to ten different places and comparison shop or or to need ten different kinds of social media platforms what do you think of that argument I think that's an interesting argument and I think that to some degree what you see for instance in the Labor Party in Britain right now McDonnell is proposing that there be a fund which will gradually give workers control over the corporations in which they work because the work and the thesis that the productivity of the corporation resides with the workers not with the capitalists and this was of course the thrust of the Meitner plan services sort of back in Sweden in which each year by year a certain amount of the worker remuneration was put into purchasing the stock of the corporation so that after about 20 years the corporation would be totally controlled by by the workers so I think there are ways of starting to think about taking over or splitting up the power whichever way you go you're going to disempower a capitalist class and that has to be the ultimate objective it seems to me of the left politics which is to disempower it one way or the other in a way you're proposing it's one way to try and do it the other way is to break it up and kind of say alright we want to go back to the original format of the internet where there was a lot of peer-to-peer individual kind of it was almost an anarchistic utopia for a little while but then that ultimately gets consolidated and you're right that there's no such thing as a move you can make which there won't be a counter move and therefore this idea that once you've got that you're the home-free no there will be a constant kind of attempt to rebuild traditional centers of economic and political power okay well we're going to leave it there for now thanks so much David for having joined us yeah and thank you for joining the real news network

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