A short interview with Robert Kurz, in which he discusses traditional Marxism (“still chained to the old epoch”), social movements against globalization such as the World Social Forum (proposals for “the resurrection of old recipes for Keynesian regulation”, “formulated in language from the past”), the erosion of U.S. hegemony (“more societies will descend into crisis and this will exceed the power of the U.S. to control them all”), Lula in Brazil (“a real transformation … can only start with new social movements which do not allow themselves to be seduced by traditional political institutions”) and Chavez in Venezuela (“a populist politician, he presents no social alternative”).
Interview with Robert Kurz – Marcus Peixoto, Fortaleza, Brazil, September 19, 2004
Marcus Peixoto (MP): What is the theory of Radical Critique? Does this new concept lead to the abandonment of belief in parliament?
Robert Kurz (RK): I think that the problem is the crisis of politics, of institutions, not only of political parties, but also of governments themselves, that they lost the capability of regulating society in the globalization process. I mean, the old relation between economics and politics no longer exists. As a result, social relations also have a direct impact on the world market and the world market is directly embedded in the pores of society and even in its micro-structures. That’s why I say that social movements that want to get results can no longer opt for the old road of traditional politics. All parliaments, all governments, are nationally-limited institutions.
MP: Without a parliament, what would replace it? Would the transition to another system be peaceful or traumatic? Or would there be a radical insurrection?
RK: I don’t think we can predict that. It would be better if the transition could be carried out peacefully. But we should consider this: how much pressure is exerted by the world market and what happens if people are separated from their means of livelihood? Traditional parliaments are in no position to respond to this reality. Politics, even leftist politics, is now just crisis management. And crisis management means a growing number of people are excluded from the system. Exclusion is not a process limited to Brazil. It has already begun in Europe itself, the center of capitalism, affecting an increasing part of the population.
MP: The abolition of parliament will not just lead to changing the mode of this institution’s activity?
RK: I think that the problem is less a matter of the institution’s form than of the field of application to which the institution refers. What we should do is create a new institution, in which the traditional separation between politics and economics would be overcome. In other words, we should find social institutions which would directly formulate the question about what we should do with existing resources in order to use them rationally. Politics and its parliaments, governments and parties can only react, they cannot act, they react as they would were they faced by a natural catastrophe.
MP: Does this concept derive from a genuine Marxism, from a more up-to-date ideology, even for Brazilian reality?
RK: The social critique of traditional Marxism was still chained to the old epoch. This is why traditional Marxism is not prepared to confront globalization. Traditional Marxism still operates with the old categories and is established in traditional politics, in the regulation of the market economy, by means of parties, and this no longer works.
MP: How is adherence to this movement manifested in Brazil?
RK: I think this movement does not yet exist. Social movements against globalization do exist, like the Porto Alegre Social Forum, which is international. I believe that this movement’s existence is something positive, but it finds itself in a paradoxical situation. It is composed of many inter-connected national movements, but its political objectives remain those of the past. It aims for the regulation of the domain of globalization. Thus, what these movements aspire to is the resurrection of old recipes for Keynesian regulation, to regulate the financial markets, but this Keynesian policy is still tied to the domain of the nation state. These social initiatives critical of capitalist globalization are not generating a new response. They are organized in transnational systems, but their remedies are formulated in language from the past.
MP: How does this movement oppose growing North American hegemony, both military as well as economic?
RK: I do not think it is entirely correct to assume the absolute hegemony of the United States. I think this is only a superficial impression. I believe the U.S. is already losing control, even in the military dimension. The United States can defeat any regular army. But societies in crisis can no longer be controlled. The problem, then, is as follows: more societies will descend into crisis and this will exceed the power of the U.S. to control them all.
MP: Will this out-of-control situation lead to the growth of terrorism or, less tragically, to the growth of guerrilla warfare?
RK: There is no longer any favorable outcome—and I say this even though it is not something positive from the point of view of social emancipation. There are guerrillas, new forms of guerrilla warfare, but these movements no longer have a future, they no longer have a perspective. They are based, for example, on religious ideas, defended by fanatics, who embody forces which represent barbarism. In the past, the guerrilla was interested in leading the construction of a new reformulation of the nation. He wanted to assume state power so as to promote social and economic development within the world market, industrialization, and so on. This was the goal of the old guerrillas. The new guerrillas are now a product of disintegration within the crisis, as in Iraq, for example. Some people think that the United States is defending civilization against barbarism in these conflicts. But it is just the opposite, since the military machine of the United States is also a vector for the promotion of barbarism. At this moment, we can see in Iraq that only the forces of barbarism confront one another everywhere.
MP: How do you assess the Venezuelan referendum and president Hugo Chavez? What does the referendum mean for Latin American social movements?
RK: I won’t try to make a clear assessment of the results of the referendum, since I don’t know enough about Venezuela. I have devoted myself above all to the world market and the problems of social critique, in the context of the economy’s system of production and modernization. Chavez is himself very much a populist politician, he presents no social alternative. At no time has he ever defended the interests of the lower classes in Venezuela against the aims of the U.S. and the traditional Venezuelan oligarchs, who want to ruthlessly surrender the country to the world market. At this time, everything depends upon the profits produced by oil exports. This economic structure is not sustainable in the long term. It would be more important to develop a new structure for social reproduction which would not be based exclusively on oil income and bringing about a redistribution of the profits of oil-related business.
MP: What instances of progress and regression do you see in Lula’s government?
RK: Lula’s government seems to be a great disappointment for many people in Brazil. I don’t know the situation from the inside, but I have been there. In many discussions in São Paulo and other large cities, such as Porto Alegre and Río de Janeiro, the dominant opinion was that Lula is an enormous disappointment. The issue of president Lula also highlights the problem of political paralysis. Even if Lula did originally want something different, he could only have done what he is doing now. Why? Governments, politics and political parties are all linked, connected to the globalizing world market and to international financial structures. What the Brazilian government could do, domestically, is to finally promote a radical agrarian reform, but even in this area nothing at all has taken place up until now. In this case, not much more has happened than what occurred under the previous governments. In other words, a real transformation, and here I will reinforce my earlier assertions with reference to the agrarian sector, can only start with new social movements which do not allow themselves to be seduced by traditional political institutions. Any entry into the political structure is synonymous with dependence on the prevailing power structures and the existing global financial structures.
MP: Radical Critique split from the Krisis Group. What happened?
RK: The most important issue in the split was the debate concerning gender relations, relations between men and women. This theme is of great importance, at the grassroots level, throughout the world. The traditional structure of male domination is disintegrating, and even in Radical Critique’s groups there is a kind of struggle to preserve masculine identity. The struggle in question was as follows: what role does gender relations theory play? What is woman’s role in society and in the activities carried out by women? I believe it is not by chance that we see once again, in the favelas, that it is the women activists who almost always constitute 90% of the front ranks of the struggle. But there is also a male identity, and a similar phenomenon can be observed in the groups composing Radical Critique. The fact that a woman should appear with the intention of undertaking innovations on the theoretical terrain is perceived by some men as if a horse had suddenly started speaking. This was an important issue in the role of women in our journal’s [Exit!] editorial committee, along with the status of gender relations theory. If this problem is now relegated to a secondary level in the conceptual hierarchy, it will yet become a central problem, as important as the others, such as the critique of the commodity, money and labor. There was a conflict and I joined the side of the women and gender relations theory.
Robert Kurz, interviewed by Marcus Peixoto, September 19, 2004. Fortaleza, Brazil.
Translated from the Spanish translation in June 2008; English translation revised December 2013.
Spanish translation: Contracorriente