How was post-war social democracy undermined?

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wojtek
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May 25 2012 11:46
How was post-war social democracy undermined?

DSG wrote in Ten growth markets for crisis:

Quote:
a return to social-democratic social models is simply unfeasible – not for economic reasons (although such an argument holds considerable weight) but for socio-political reasons. What built and sustained the welfare state was a model of social-democratic political organisation which simply does not exist anymore. A large part of its dismemberment was undertaken by the neoliberal market reforms after 1979, but we have yet to accept that it was also being eroded by demands coming from within the working-class – demands of social liberalisation, increased personal autonomy and a rejection of the fetishisation of work, or indeed work itself – which traditional structures of class organisation could not deliver without breaking up their own bureaucratic structures.

There were quite a few articles that made this point last year when critiquing Occupy's social democratic elements, but I can't find them... How was social democracy undermined, to what extent and by whom? I'm assuming that's the whole situationist/ autonomist marxist thing... but the UK didn't really experience anything on that scale did it?

Also, in the VULGAR KEYNESIANISMZ edition of the Novara show, they claim that the rhetoric/ spirit of this undermining of social democracy was hijacked by neo-liberalism. Is that true?

Skraeling
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May 30 2012 09:59
wojtek wrote:
DSG wrote in Ten growth markets for crisis:
Quote:
we have yet to accept that it [social democracy] was also being eroded by demands coming from within the working-class – demands of social liberalisation, increased personal autonomy and a rejection of the fetishisation of work, or indeed work itself – which traditional structures of class organisation could not deliver without breaking up their own bureaucratic structures.

There were quite a few articles that made this point last year when critiquing Occupy's social democratic elements, but I can't find them... How was social democracy undermined, to what extent and by whom? I'm assuming that's the whole situationist/ autonomist marxist thing... but the UK didn't really experience anything on that scale did it?

For what it's worth, I think a good case can be made that it was precisely a widespread and very broad working-class revolt that shattered the Keynesian class compromise of social democracy, esp. from 1968 onwards. That's the normal autonomist Marxist argument. While autonomist Marxism has taken a bit of battering in recent years, with the return of more structuralist versions of Marxism, I believe this more subjectivist viewpoint has much validity in explaining crisis for the late 1960s and early 1970s, and also the mid to late 1970s, but is somewhat unsuitable to other historical periods eg. 1929 depression, 2007- present depression.

It's a real falsification from DSG to assert that soc dem was undermined by individualistic demands for personal autonomy and social liberalisation. That's a caricature of the revolt of the late 1960s and 1970s - for example, the 1970s was the biggest recorded strike wave in high income countries so far. ie. it was a mass, collective revolt, and not just about demands for personal autonomy.

I think this point holds from John Holloway:

Quote:
It is clear that the crisis [of the late 1960s and 1970s] can be understood neither in terms of the failure of the objective structures (or the working of the ‘objective laws of capital’), nor simply in terms of the subjective drive of labour, nor, even more clearly, in terms of tensions between capitalists, or national capital groups. It was the relationship between capital and labour that broke down: there was a swelling and bursting of the tensions present in the relationship from the beginning.

from http://libcom.org/history/abyss-opens-rise-fall-keynesianism-john-holloway

Aufheben write:

Quote:
Yet in recognizing and representing the working class within capital, social democracy is essentially in a contradictory position. On the one hand, to assert its power against that of the bourgeoisie, social democracy must mobilize the working class: the organs of social democracy are animated by the working class, who join and vote for parties and unions, and who take part in union-organized industrial action. On the other hand, social democracy must prevent the working class from mobilizing too far - from becoming a class-for-itself - since it must preserve the capital relation. Social democracy must therefore both mobilize and demobilize the working class if it is to represent it. The working class is recognized and enabled to act as an agent but is simultaneously reified. As such, social democracy functions to recuperate proletarian antagonism but is also vulnerable to such antagonism.

- from http://libcom.org/library/social-democracy-1-aufheben-7

So soc dem was vulnerable to its internal contradictions. Some of those tensions were:
* the “Keynesian productivity deal” whereby workers got wage hikes in real wages in return for increasing productivity, thus harnessing 'working class struggle as a motor of capitalist development'. (See Negri, Revolution Retrieved http://libcom.org/library/revolution-retrieved-writings-marx-keynes-capitalist-crisis-new-social-subjects-antonio-)
* “The acceptance of disciplined, soul-destroying monotony during the day and a relatively comfortable consumption after hours, the rigid separation between the death of alienated labour and the ‘life’ of consumption”. (Holloway) Capital harnessed dissatisfaction with work into demand for consumer goods.
* The rise of union and state bureaucracies to mediate/regulate/police/manage the class compromise, also created multiple contradictions in the workplace and in the community.

So when the class compromise did break down, all these tensions came to the surface - workers rebelled against speed ups, assembly line workers rebelled against the boredom and monotony of work (the 'refusal of work' - see e.g. echanges et mouvement on this), many workers aimed for more pay for less work and found the spectacle unsatisfying, hence made new 'utopian' demands for a better quality of life (or the transmogrification of everyday life), and people revolted against union, state and corporate bureaucracy and the way their lives were being managed.

All this squeezed profits, lowered productivity, made it hard for bureaucracies to function, etc etc, and then capital adopted neoliberalism in response.

That's an incomplete, partial explanation and i'm sure others know better. For example, there is a need to acknowledge how the long boom started to come to an end from the late 1960s. So that's another factor. But at least its far better than the normal liberal ones that it was all about the Vietnam war, personal autonomy, naughty 'middle class' young students rebelling against parents etc, or orthodox Marxist ones that it was all about impersonal, structural forces and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (independently of class struggle).

I'm not British but Britain was well known for being a bit of a hotbed of class struggle in the 1970s, eg. 1974 Miners' strike, winter of discontent, waves of sit in strikes and occupations, etc etc a struggle that did shatter the class compromise and Thatcher can be seen as the response. others will know far, far more than me. Internationally, the UK was up there with a 'highly strike prone' group of high income countries including the US, Australia, Canada, Finland, Spain and Ireland in the 1970s - only Italy and Iceland were more strike prone than this group.

(That was a longer post than I intended, oops, but it's a complex topic).

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jura
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May 30 2012 10:11
Skraeling wrote:
It's a real falsification from DSG to assert that soc dem was undermined by individualistic demands for personal autonomy and social liberalisation.

I think this is too harsh. The way I read it is that DSG think that an important part of those very struggles you mention was resistance against the paternalism and authority of the boss and the state (in both workers and students struggles) typical for "Fordism". I vaguely remember the story about some struggles in Italy in the 1960s which were against uniforms and haircut regulations on the job. IIRC sexuality also played an important role (weren't the students struggles in France, for example, sparked by separate dorms for women and men?). So perhaps it's not so much a falsification on DSG's part as a matter of emphasis and interpretation. I think they would agree with what you write (as I do).

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Joseph Kay
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May 30 2012 11:46

Skraeling's post and Jura's corrective sound pretty good. On the more 'objective' side there were also internal contradictions in the international financial system which went into crisis in this period. The Keynesian productivity deals were based on the 'embedding' of capital at the nation-state level (i.e. deals could be struck without too much capital flight), via the system of capital controls and the gold standard. this system broke down more or less at the same time as rising class conflicts put a strain on the social compromise from below, and together all these factors made the social democratic/Keynesian regime untenable.

I think the 'neoliberalism hijacked personal autonomy' thesis comes from Italian post-Marxism and the 'communism of capital' thesis - the idea neoliberalism is capitalism's version of the communist desires of the '68 period. I don't find it very convincing myself. I mean, there were things like extending home ownership to get people to think more like indebted individual investors and the like. But the when you get into saying that casualisation is capitalism's 'refusal of work' I think you're doing mental gymnastics.

So for all these reasons a return to the Keynesian regime is impossible* (without a return to analogous conditions at least). The question is, is a return to the neoliberal regime possible after this crisis? Paul Mason's been arguing something like a Minskyian regime is emerging with a nationalised financial sector, a deregulated private sector, slashing the public sector, abolishing welfare and the state instead becoming the employer of last resort (workfare). I'm finding it a pretty compelling thesis at the moment tbh.

* I'd go as far to say utopian, and full communism is more realistic.

Skraeling
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May 31 2012 11:04
jura wrote:
Skraeling wrote:
It's a real falsification from DSG to assert that soc dem was undermined by individualistic demands for personal autonomy and social liberalisation.

I think this is too harsh. The way I read it is that DSG think that an important part of those very struggles you mention was resistance against the paternalism and authority of the boss and the state (in both workers and students struggles) typical for "Fordism". I vaguely remember the story about some struggles in Italy in the 1960s which were against uniforms and haircut regulations on the job. IIRC sexuality also played an important role (weren't the students struggles in France, for example, sparked by separate dorms for women and men?). So perhaps it's not so much a falsification on DSG's part as a matter of emphasis and interpretation. I think they would agree with what you write (as I do).

I interpreted DSG to say they are sceptical that social democracy was undermined by working-class demands, whatever those demands were. I may have got it wildly wrong, but my post was strongly disagreeing with this. That was my main point.

I was also reacting against the commonly held view that the sixties and seventies were all about personal autonomy and demands for social liberalisation, while over looking the strike wave and wildcats etc of the time, and i think DSG could possibly be interpreted as saying that (with a bit of rejection of work thrown in, but that again could be dismissed as a thing coming more from hippydom - i mean hippies were well known for rejecting work -- than from within workplaces). After all, this view is the predominant one of the sixties and seventies: it was a cultural rebellion.

I'd agree that demands for cultural and sexual freedom in the here and now were an important part of the revolt, and i think a great strength of much of the revolt of the late 60s and 70s was how it combined the collective with the personal, and saw them as complementary rather than separate or antagonistic. plus how revolts grew from little things that were experienced in everyday life, and then related to the bigger picture. I'd place what you are talking about Jura in more the revolt against the way people were managed/bureaucracy that i mentioned above.

One thing that should be added to the list above was the revolt of the unwaged, students, domestic workers, unemployed etc, which also played an impt role in the downfall of the class compromise.

Joseph, I've never heard of that stuff before, of course there are many who say the focus on personal liberty in the 60s and 70s movements was a precursor to neoliberalism, but not quite in that way.

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Joseph Kay
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May 31 2012 11:24

I was thinking of Thesis 10 from here.

Paolo Virno wrote:
If we can say that Fordism incorporated, and rewrote in its own way, some aspects of the socialist experience, then post-Fordism has fundamentally dismissed both Keynesianism and socialism. Post-Fordism, hinging as it does upon the general intellect and the multitude, puts forth, in its own way, typical demands of communism (abolition of work, dissolution of the State, etc.). Post-Fordism is the communism of capital.

I'm pretty sure both DSG and Novara are familiar with this kinda stuff (far more so than me, I suspect). Virno's thesis argues neoliberalism is the result of the "failed revolution" of the 60s and 70s, incorporating its demands against Keynesianism and for capitalism, which seems to be the kind of argument DSG are making too.

fatbongo
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Jun 1 2012 04:30

I reckon that any explanation of the collapse of the postwar settlement should include the fact that it was based on the traditional sexual divison of labour and so in part represented a deal between organised male workers and the state where the male worker recived a family wage and females did the domestic labour and were a subordinate labour force.

This deal was/is explicit in the welfare system (eg child benefit paid to the mother with other benefits such as pensions paid to the male 'head of household').

Skraeling
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Jun 1 2012 07:02

For sure, that's an impt point, there was a deal between capital and male workers in permanent jobs to receive a family wage, a deal which rested upon unpaid female dominated work in the home. I take it you also mean that the revolt of women against patriarchy also helped to undermine the Keynesian class compromise? Because it sure did, not only in the home, but also in the workplace and in the community. That's what I meant when I (belatedly) recognised above that the revolt of the 60s and 70s also involved the unpaid, including domestic workers ie. homeworkers.

What i sketched above was and is a necessarily incomplete explanation, and I made no claim to infallability. Any argument about causes for a complex topic like this one is going to have multiple factors. I guess another that we've overlooked is the role of anti-racism, as well as other struggles, in undermining the class compromise. And so on. All important stuff. I guess where things can get heated is where someone says 'this cause is the predominant cause, all others are unimportant or secondary' or 'how dare you neglect such and such'. Actually, with arguments about causes, it's very difficult to work out the weight you give to various causes, or aspects of the class struggle if you like, not to mention more structural causes.

Anyway, to Virno. I find Virno's work hard to read cos it's so abstract and philosophical (and lacks concrete evidence and investigation), so i make no claims to understanding him. i gave up reading the grammar of the multitude for that main reason.

But from a quick read of Virno's last chapter, either Virno is saying something that to me which seems pretty obvious- that capital recuperated many of the demands of the 70s (eg. abolition of work) and thereby 'put these demands in its own way' which means it turns them against us by giving the appearance of giving us freedom/flexibility while exploiting us more (as Virno recognises, eg. there has been a 'the irreversible shrinking of socially necessary labor time' but it is based on 'an increase in labor time for those on the "inside" and the alienation of those on the "outside."' ie. more work for less pay for those lucky enuf to have a job, and exclusion for the rest). Same could be said about a whole range of demands, like demands for less work (so capital and some unions talk about a 'work/life balance' which in reality means a whole lot of talk about such a balance while work takes over more and more of life - and indeed, unions often secure productivity deals in return for softening the effects of austerity and layoffs).

Or, if one takes Virno at face value, his thesis is pretty absurd, eg. how can capital be communised by capital? How can capital abolish work? How can capital dissolve the state? All of these are empirically false eg. 'post-fordist' capital needs a strong state, not a weak or minimal one, as Bonefeld argues.