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Asset-value politics: why the tech crash is bad news for the climate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 7:00am in

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The past weeks have been turbulent times for global stock markets. Russia’s war in Ukraine caused global energy and food crises on top of the horror it brought to the Ukrainian people. The war and the COVID-19 crisis have disrupted global supply chains, significantly affecting the production of high-tech goods. To curb rising inflation, central banks have returned to hiking interest rates – even though it is unclear how these changes are supposed to cool off the simultaneous supply shocks – feeding to growing concern on the outlook of economic growth across the globe. These developments have led to a sell-off that has significantly hit global stock markets.

However, the impacts of the recent crash are unevenly distributed. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost around 5% of its market value over the past month, the Nasdaq Composite Index representing mostly tech shares has lost around 12% of its value over the same period. At the same time, rising energy prices have led to skyrocketing revenues of fossil fuel firms that have significantly bolstered their market capitalisation. ExxonMobil is a case in point here, with its shares gaining over 35% in the past six months. As the Financial Times reported, oil giant Saudi Aramco has just taken over Apple as the world’s most valuable corporation for the first time since 2020.

This shift in asset values from tech to fossil fuels is bad news for the climate. The need to quickly reduce dependencies from Russian oil and gas is already leading to a boom in fossil fuel exploration and investment that may lock-in carbon trajectories. But the situation is even worse when also taking into account the corporate politics of today’s financialised capitalism. As political economist Benjamin Braun has recently argued, we are living in an age of asset manager capitalism, where a significant part of global stocks worth tens of trillions of dollars is currently held by the big three asset management firms BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street. With asset managers becoming new “universal owners”, their importance for global corporate governance can hardly be overstated.

The way how asset managers earn money is of crucial importance for the impact of the current tech crash on corporate climate policies. Asset managers’ principal source of income is management fees that are charged as a fixed percentage of the managed assets. Asset managers therefore have two principal avenues to increase their income. The first way is to attract new business in competition with other asset managers. The second way is to benefit indirectly from rising stock markets, as fixed percentages correspond to higher fees when the overall asset base increases.

The important thing to note is that the recent stock market dynamics have led to a significantly higher dependency of asset manager revenues on fossil fuel firms. The sell-off has lowered the value of tech firms in asset management portfolios, while the fossil fuel boom has led to a corresponding increase. As a result, asset manager revenues are now significantly more dependent on the market value of fossil fuel firms than they have been a year ago. This means that any threat to the share price of fossil fuel firms – for example by having to write off oil reserves that are incompatible with avoiding disastrous climate change (so-called stranded assets) – will directly impact a large and growing share of asset manager revenues.

Asset managers are already responding to these developments by rolling back their ESG voting policies. The world’s largest asset manager, Blackrock, announced last week that it will be more critical to shareholder resolutions aimed at a rapid decarbonisation. This is in stark contrast to a statement of Blackrock CEO Larry Fink who wrote as late as this January that “climate risk is investment risk.” Although Blackrock said that the main reason for their U-turn was the need for new fossil fuel investment following the war in Ukraine, following the money paints a different picture. From the perspective of asset managers, the recent change in asset values has translated greening from a minor source of expenses justified by the hope for new mandates into a major threat of corporate revenues. If fossil fuel shares are the only source of stable asset values, forcing them to decarbonisation through voting will affect both, Blackrock’s promise to profitably manage client’s assets as well as their current revenue base.

For political economy, this case shows the importance of studying in detail the value models of financial market actors. What makes asset-value politics unique is that they are neither driven by the pursuit of returns on investment, nor by speculation per se. As universal owners, exit is not an option to asset managers, making voice their only option. This is the reason why large asset managers are keen to manage not just asset allocation for their clients but become the legal owners of their clients’ shares. But it also shows that asset managers have a vested interest to sustain asset values that may be larger than their clients’ wishes for decarbonisation, or even the redistribution of corporate profits. Asset-value politics is thus a prime example of a toxic fusion between the organised reality of financial capitalism and the emerging asset economy.

The current stock market crisis also foregrounds the latent problem of tasking financial markets with climate politics. As Blackrock’s asset-value politics shows, even minor commitments to greening the economy rapidly end as soon as they pose a threat to the profits of financial intermediaries. While a greening of the financial system is laudable and important, the current crisis lays bare the utter insufficiency of financial markets as a greening mechanism. As many others have argued, there is only one way out of this crisis: drastically increasing regulation and public investment to green our economies, combined with smart central planning. If we are to avoid a deadly climate crisis quickly nearing the critical 1.5C threshold, we urgently need to take politics away from asset managers and put it back in the hands of governments.

The post Asset-value politics: why the tech crash is bad news for the climate appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Delivery as Dispossession: Land Occupation and Eviction in the Postapartheid City

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 7:00am in

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I’ve just released a book with Oxford University Press (Global and Comparative Ethnography series) that seeks to provide micro-foundations for a properly dialectical reading of Antonio Gramsci. As it is typically understood, civil society is the private sphere beyond the purview of the state, or “political society,” in which people begin to organise themselves. But in the book, I argue that this is precisely the opposition against which Gramsci was writing. As he put it in a letter from prison, his theory of the integral state was written to challenge

certain definitions of the concept of the State that is usually understood as a political Society (or dictatorship, or coercive apparatus meant to mold the popular mass in accordance with the type of production and economy at a given moment) and not as a balance between the political Society and the civil Society (or the hegemony of a social group over the entire national society, exercised through the so-called private organizations, such as the Church, the unions, the schools, etc.).

Just as Marx was a critic of political economy rather than a political economist himself, Gramsci’s theorisation of politics must be understood as a critique of political science, and in particular, its theorisation of the state.

But why does this matter? The book, titled Delivery as Dispossession: Land Occupation and Eviction in the Postapartheid City, is a comparative ethnography of two land occupations in Cape Town, South Africa. One of them was evicted, whereas the other was ultimately tolerated. Today, a decade after the latter’s initial formation, it remains a large informal settlement of over 18,000 people.

Typically, theorists of eviction and displacement envision the state as a coherent entity that acts from on high, targeting preexisting populations below. In other words, the state “sees” these populations. But this is to reduce all populations to features of the natural landscape, writing politics out of the equation altogether. In the book, I argue for a relational understanding of state vision: the state may see these populations, but this vision is in turn shaped by how residents organise themselves collectively. The organisational form they assume affects how they are seen by government officials, judges, police, and countless other actors. But of course, this organization does not take place in a vacuum. How residents see the state affects how they articulate their project of land occupation, which, in turn, affects how the state sees them.

Most of the existing literature on mass evictions tends to imagine states – municipal, national, or otherwise – that formulate blanket programs of removal. So, for example, we can imagine a local state attempting to render the city “world-class,” displacing residents in the name of various investment-related aesthetic considerations. Or maybe it’s a case of a straightforward land grab, with the government evicting residents in order to recover valuable real estate. But the bulk of the cases I observed in Cape Town fit neither characterisation. In one of the cases considered in the book, for example, after a months-long standoff and violent battles with police and the Anti-Land Invasion Unit, not to mention proliferating court dates, the occupation was evicted. But today the land remains vacant. It wasn’t even private property, but remains land owned by the City of Cape Town. Why then would the municipal government evict land occupiers?

This gets at a larger question, which is surprisingly absent in the literature on evictions. Why are some occupations targeted for eviction, whereas others are ultimately tolerated? If it’s not straightforwardly about property value or visibility – and as I demonstrate in the book, neither is it about maintaining racial order, subduing restless surplus populations, or party politics – how to account for this outcome?

This is where Gramsci’s relational theory of the state comes in handy. The problem with the “variable”-oriented perspective – as if it’s simply about value, visibility, race, and so forth – is that it conceives of the state as a singular actor with a coherent set of interests and desires. It imagines a state acting upon land occupations, projecting its designs over a landscape of populations.

But these populations actively resist naturalisation. As I argue in the book, all land occupations are articulated as projects, which shapes the organisational form they assume. We cannot simply reduce residents’ self-organisation to a quantitative question, i.e. more or less organisation; there are also qualitative differences in organising strategy.

In one occupation discussed in the book, the project of taking land was articulated as the distribution of plots to residents in need. It was organised by a group that claimed to be acting in partnership with the government – even though it was ultimately a political party front group. But what’s crucial is how this group articulated the project: most participants assumed that the occupation was legal. Rather than working collectively then, they formed what Jean-Paul Sartre called a “series.” In Critique of Dialectical Reason, he famously describes people waiting in line for a bus. They wait simultaneously, but not collectively; each remains a serialised individual.

Similarly, in the first occupation, this object – housing – was experienced much as Sartre’s bus. For their entire adult lives, many of the participants were waiting with countless others for housing; but the “with” here must be qualified. They were not doing so collectively or collaboratively, but simply simultaneously. And they were alienated by the process, bitter that they had to wait decades for housing and were not provided with decent alternative options in the meantime. During this waiting period, they were largely living in backyard shacks in various homeowners’ backyards. Their spatial fragmentation perfectly encapsulates the idea of seriality. When an organisation appeared on the scene and promised to deliver “houses” to each of them, they did not have to adapt their passive seriality to a new situation; once again, they understood themselves to waiting for an external organisation to distribute plots of land as if they were seats on a bus.

In the second occupation discussed in the book, participants articulated their project of occupation themselves, forming what Sartre called a “fused group.” Here too, a mass of people relates to an object, but in this case, they do so collectively, together. In this case, most participants did not come from backyards, but from informal settlements elsewhere in Cape Town. Many of them had experienced conflict with the state – the Anti-Land Invasion Unit, police, and so forth – and viewed it not as a partner in delivery, but as an obstacle to realising homeownership. As such, they related to this object collectively and cooperatively, protecting one another from arrest, building shacks together, and actively trying to expand the settlement. They formed something closer to the model of a social movement, albeit with one major difference: they did not make any demands on the state and actively sought to be left alone.

But “the state” is not a discrete object upon which one issues demands. Whether or not they sought to engage the municipal government, they soon found themselves in dialogue with housing officials, lawyers, and judges, marching for housing, their signs clearly addressed to the municipal government. Their civil society articulation as a fused group, in other words, already had an articulation at the level of political society –  whether or not they wanted to communicate with state officials. Their organisational form was never powerful because it granted them some collective leverage over the state; it was powerful because it represented them as a “deserving” poor – not jockeying with each other for a handout but working together to realise their constitutionally guaranteed right to housing.

The political society articulation of the first occupation was quite different. This was ironic, as the second group occupiers were far more dismissive of the state, whereas the first group of occupiers perceived the organisation distributing housing as the state – even if it was not. They constituted themselves as a series, “passive” in Sartre’s sense: they were waiting in relation to an object (housing) which would presumably be distributed to each of them. But there were a finite number of plots, or so they were led to believe, yielding a situation of artificial scarcity as in the Critique. And so they acted simultaneously but never collectively. If anything, they understood themselves to be in direct competition with one another, mobilising to keep newcomers out and forming constantly shifting factions that were often violently in conflict with one another. Even if they did not seek to relate to municipal officials, they soon found themselves having to do so, read by housing officials and judges as an “undeserving” poor who were self-interested and refused to work as a community.

Both of these cases exemplify hegemony in the proper Gramscian sense. This was not something that was forged on the terrain of civil society alone, but one which traversed the boundaries between civil society and political society. Even when occupiers sought to evade the state altogether, organising independently and attempting to withdraw themselves from the government’s housing delivery apparatus, they found this to be an impossible task. They were soon facing proliferating court dates and had to secure legal representation, and they were issuing memoranda to the municipal government in marches and rallies. Even when they sought to disarticulate themselves from political society, acting “solely” on civil society, it turned out to be an impossible task under conditions of bourgeois hegemony. Private property – and the legal order its defense requires ­– were represented as if they were in the interest of all; but in reality, these exclusively benefited the class of property owners.

This was hegemony at work.

The post Delivery as Dispossession: Land Occupation and Eviction in the Postapartheid City appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Next Past & Present Reading Group Text

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/05/2022 - 6:00am in

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This is to announce that the Past & Present Reading Group will be meeting to discuss, on a weekly basis, our next text which is  Jairus Banaji, A Brief History of Commercial Capitalism (Haymarket Books, 2020).

Our discussions will commence with the first meeting to be held on Zoom on Thursday 19 May 4:00pm-5:00pm (AEST).

To participate, please contact the Past & Present Group sub-convenor: Adam David Morton.

The set image is by Guillaume Berggren, Panoramic View of Istanbul (1880s).

We have just finished our twenty-third book in the group, which was Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labour: A Critique of Epistemology (Haymarket Books, 2021) and a commentary on that book, as with all the titles we read, is available by clicking on the book titles, below:

The post Next Past & Present Reading Group Text appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Unravelling the Social Formation in Turkey

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/05/2022 - 7:00am in

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The collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s, and the integration of China into the word trade system have transformed the social relations of production across the world. This transformation in global capitalism has also transformed global value chains, dividing the process of production into segments in historically specific social formations. In this new phase of capitalism, the so-called “emerging market economies” have been a major target for transnational companies which have penetrated the countries of the Global South with their industrial and financial capital.

Turkey has been one of the most popular destinations for these companies to operate because it has experienced a remarkable growth in its foreign trade and a series of structural changes in its process of capital accumulation in the 2000s. This was seen as confirming the neoclassical idea that free trade would lead economic and social convergence among the countries engaged in it. This is the updated version of David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage which suggests that different parties engaging in foreign trade would mutually benefit from the exchange of goods and services. Remarkably, this necessitated establishing an alliance between different social classes in Turkey and transnational capital operating in different social formations. The resultant outcome was to increase the level of integration of the countries in the Global South and to integrate them into the global value chain. However, as argued in my book Unravelling the Social Formation: Free Trade, the State and Business Associations in Turkey, the evidence from Southern countries, like Turkey, starkly differed from the predictions of the neoclassical theory of comparative advantage. In particular, Turkey did not catch up with advanced capitalist countries and thus the rapid growth in exports and profits in Turkey in the 2000s did not affect the underlying structure of unequal trade. It was a success for capital accumulation, but not a developmental success.

Through a set of conceptual reflections, this book defines Turkey as a late developing capitalist country in the Global South, which has submitted itself to the process of global capital accumulation in an uneven way. It then argues that capitalist classes and the state have played important roles in the process of Turkey’s integration into the world economy. In this regard, the book examines the role of business associations (BAs) and the state in Turkey in analysing the dialectical relationship between global free trade and the Turkish social formation during the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, the AKP) government since 2002. The book constructs a three-level analysis based on the social relations of production, forms of state and world order. It explores the class characteristics of the BAs in relation to the social relations of production in Turkey. It further unpacks the role of the Turkish state in the process of integration of Turkish BAs into global capitalism, and at the same time, the internalisation of global class relations inside the Turkish social formation. Studying the BAs in Turkey is a neglected area in the literature on the political economy of Turkey and Turkish politics. For this book, I have chosen three different BAs in Turkey which are TUSIAD (Türk İş İnsanlari ve Sanayicileri Derneği, Turkish Industry & Business Association), MUSIAD (Müstakil İşadamları ve Sanayicileri Derneği, Independent Association of Industrialists and Businessmen) and TUSKON (Türk İşadamları ve Sanayicileri Konfedarasyonu, Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists). These BAs are selected because of their economic and political impacts on the Turkish social formation as well as their members’ active participation in global free trade relations. The book also examines how the BAs in Turkey integrate into global free trade relations and reveals differences between Turkey and advanced capitalist countries, which appear in the patterns of capital accumulation.

The first chapter of the book constructs the theoretical background in relation to free trade and the state, and critically engages with mainstream theories of political economy, namely classical-liberal, neo-classical, and institutional. It offers a fresh evaluation of theories of imperialism and the uneven and combined development approach from a neo-Gramscian perspective. Additionally, to unearth the role of the Turkish state in this process, this book employs a neo-Gramscian understanding of the state with a specific reference to Nicos Poulantzas.

Following the theoretical discussions, Chapter 2 of this book provides a historical materialist analysis of the development of capitalist relations of production in Turkey. Hence, it divides the process of capital accumulation in Turkey into four different but connected periods which are: (i) the defining role of uneven and combined development—commercial and agrarian capital-based accumulation until the late 1950s, (ii) industrial capital-based accumulation based on the Import Substitution Industrialisation model until the 1980s, (iii) export-led capital accumulation in the post-transition period and (iv) transnationalisation of Turkish productive capital in the 2000s.

In Chapters 3, 4, and 5, the book provides a class-based analysis of business associations in Turkey in order to understand the historical specificity of capitalist relations in Turkey and the expansion of Turkish capitalism towards the Middle East and North Africa in the 2010s. The book argues that BAs in Turkey are constitutively divided into class fractions. Accordingly, it argues that these BAs are not monolithic blocs without contradictions and cracks. Each association brings together several class fractions with slightly different but overlapping interests. Also, it is argued that the fragmentation of capitalist classes in the Turkish social formation is not primarily based on religious, ideological, and cultural dynamics, rendering it misleading to speak primarily of secular and Islamist capital or of Istanbul and Anatolian capital. To a considerable extent, what differentiates capitalist class fractions is the way in which they engage in the social relations of production, what role they play in the power bloc, and their specific forms of integration into global relations of free trade, bearing in mind that they are at different scales and stages of accumulation arising from uneven development, and thus have interests corresponding to a capitalist class at different stages of its development.

In the concluding chapter, the book examines the current stage of capitalism in Turkey amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The book concludes that Turkey is an intermediate producer in global production chains, as a site where companies assemble imported resources into finished goods. This increases the dependency of the different class fractions in Turkey on the global market to reproduce the social relations of production. Turkish domestic investment is heavily dependent on capital inflows, or in other words, Turkish production is dependent on the import of low-value-added intermediate goods, especially in the automotive sector, a type of dependency which has become a characteristic feature of the Turkish economy. Turkey has become an importer of intermediate goods from countries in Asia and an exporter of finished goods to European countries. Under these circumstances, the Turkish state directly engages with the relations of production. Therefore, its role is not limited to ideological or repressive applications, but also managing the contradictions among different fractions of capital and reorganising the power bloc.

The post Unravelling the Social Formation in Turkey appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

For a Progressive Arts and Cultural Policy Agenda in Australia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/05/2022 - 7:00am in

Reset Arts and Culture is a collaboration between cultural sector professionals and researchers from South Australia’s three universities. We aim to combine our practice, research and activist knowledge and experience in a space for new ideas, policy engagement, advocacy and change. This post is a collective effort, building on the Reset Working paper Art, Culture and the Foundational Economy.

ARTS AND CULTURAL POLICY is in a deep crisis in Australia. And it’s not just because of the pandemic or years of cuts. The fundamental basis of this crisis is generally accepted and is not of the arts and cultural sector’s making. For decades governments have imposed a logic of market efficiency and individualism on many areas of our economic, social, and public life; and this has come at great cost to public policy, the provision of fundamental rights and services, and to our collective sense of citizenship.

However while sectors such as health, education, social services, utilities, and public housing, have been privatised and outsourced, they are still viewed as public goods and collective rights. This has not been the case for art and culture. Art and culture has not escaped neoliberalism’s gravitational pull; in fact, arguably, it has been more completely captured than many other areas of public policy. Art and culture’s worth has been substantially reduced in policy terms from collective value and rights to a troublesome concoction of economic growth and non-cultural metrics, industry development language, and individual consumer experience.

So, while progressive and radical ideas are expressed in much artistic and cultural practice by Australian artists, they are far less reflected in the arts and cultural sector’s policy work. Reset Arts and Culture is a policy and advocacy initiative aiming to change this by putting progressive ideas back into arts and cultural policy, and art and culture back into progressive imagination and activism.

EVERYWHERE CAPITALIST REALISM – the idea that capitalism is the only viable economic system – is being challenged by a new generation of economists and activists. Informed by feminist, socialist, ecological and First Nations thinking, there is a resurgence of ideas and proposals around commons, cooperatives, mutual aid, municipalism, and networked localism, that are turning economics on its head. Previously unthinkable policies such as income and job guarantees are now debated by mainstream political parties.

Not only does art and culture have something profound to offer these new movements, as a central component of programs for social change and liberation, in turn these ideas offer so much for a new cultural policy agenda – if as a sector we dare to embrace them. To join this conversation we need to think very differently about the way art and culture is understood as an economy, how it is publicly funded and regulated, how its workers are treated and educated, how its audience-participants are respected, and how it interacts with public and democratic spaces.

Firstly, this requires breaking with the notion of ‘creative industries’, the dominance of which has come at a significant political cost. Not only have governments ignored the shaky and over-inflated claims of the creative industry narrative, the sector has allowed its self-understanding to be colonised by economic rationalism and neoliberalism.

We can see this in the default models for artists and arts organisations. Artists forced to masquerade as small businesses, the ubiquitous language of entrepreneurship and innovation, so-called skills-based governance that infantilises artists and sees non-arts corporates given control of boards, public agencies, and cultural institutions. Creative education that is increasingly hollowed out and given over to Business 101 programs.

The prevailing assumption is that ever-declining government art and culture budgets exist simply to plug gaps left by the market. This deficit model has distorted both the positive public value of art and culture, and the positive role of government. Meanwhile vast global commercial monopolies dominate film, music, games, publishing, streaming, and media. Data extraction intrudes deep into our personal and social lives. Global economies of scale, precarity and the brutal reduction of labour costs, define the lives of workers including artists.

Challenging this current situation and recovering art and culture’s centrality to communal, radical and democratic imagination is a central challenge facing progressive cultural policy advocacy in Australia. This type of policy change project requires divesting from a self-image of a disruptive, competitive, fast-growing industry, and relocating art and culture to the foundational economy, its value in its contribution to a just society rather than GDP growth.

If this proposition is deemed unrealistic, it is no more so than the belief that the status quo will protect art and culture, and its makers. In fact, this approach locates art and culture within a wider set of powerful social change agendas that have gained serious traction in the years of austerity, climate crisis, and now the pandemic.

SO, LET’S GET BACK TO BASICS. Art and culture are as essential to the flourishing of human life and society as health, education, and the material infrastructures of everyday life.

Yes, just like anything else, art and culture can be reduced to a notion of ‘industry’ but this is a deliberate choice not an empirical reality, and it comes with serious consequences and distortions. Like other sectors, art and culture has a mixed economy. It does have a significant economic footprint, and includes production that can be called ‘industrial’, alongside a broad system of public institutions, private firms, not-for-profit corporations, cooperatives, and individual creators and participants.

However, rather than having the resources to provide for expanding cultural and artistic aspiration and practices, art and culture as a public sector in Australia has been hobbled – by funding cuts, political bullying, ministerial power grabs, endless econometrics, lobbying and accountancy firms, boards dominated by corporate representatives, the marginalisation of the skills and institutions required to deliver art and culture as a public good, and landing on the wrong side of a culture war.

Moreover, art and culture, and its own inherent value, has been disappeared in the shift to creative industries, cultural economy, and other assorted instrumentalisms including ‘social impact’. While art and culture may be all around us, as we have been telling ourselves throughout the pandemic, it receives only minimal affirmative mention in progressive public policy. This needs to change. We need to speak about the value of art and culture definitively and forge a new, progressive, public policy agenda.

BUILDING A NEW PUBLIC AGENDA for art and culture in Australia is a big task for a sector fettered by government hostility, its sectoral research resources stripped, resulting in a widening ignorance about itself, its labour force, its dynamics and possibilities.

We need to relearn the language and practice of public value. This requires actively aligning art and culture with other public sectors and their campaigns, and developing new principles for sector planning, regulation, and protection.

A new public agenda must include arguing for a federal arts and cultural policy that ambitiously speaks to and is organised around the value of art and culture. And yes, a well-resourced Ministry for Culture could greatly improve the governance and status of art and culture, and place it back into the centre of future government policy making. However a new progressive agenda can go much further.

In Australia much of arts and cultural advocacy has focused on increasing the grant funding pool. While this continues to be very important, especially after a decade of cuts, we need to more directly address the twin crises of access to dignified working conditions for professional artists and cultural workers, and arts education for all (both of which raise questions of class).

A new policy agenda would valorise art and culture’s labour intensive low productivity. In doing so, and moving away from ‘jobs and growth’ rhetoric, the cultural sector could join the wider debates on the future of work, labour rights, the nature of care work, and decoupling income and work.

We need to bring our attention to establishing fair labour conditions as well as to the multitude of initiatives that could directly support artists and cultural workers such as basic income initiatives, job guarantees, fellowships and public employment schemes.

Winning these reforms, that could dramatically improve artists’ working lives, means connecting to the broader union movement, alongside growing campaigns to combat precarity and poverty.

Similarly, the arts and cultural sector can be central to public education campaigns aiming to reverse the reduction of education to fee-for-service acquisition of employment skills. We can exemplify the value of life-long learning and experimentation, and argue that freely available education, in any field, is a cultural right of all.

If we take culture to be a civil right, essential alongside other rights, then embracing participatory democracy – and opposing threats to democracy – should be central to the work we must do.

A new cultural policy agenda would reclaim a far wider and more radical understanding of democracy, rejecting its cynical cooption by the Right and by free marketeers. And let’s not mince words: monopolies, Murdoch and the undermining of media diversity, and state capture, all heavily impact on art and culture in Australia.

Let’s urgently prioritise creating new governance structures, protecting and remaking our arts statutory authority the Australia Council and Australian public broadcasters, divesting from fossil fuel barons and other billionaires, rethinking data, promoting anti-monopoly legislations, and connecting art and culture with the many global movements for new democratic forms, such as citizens assemblies and worker-run (and artist-run) platforms.

Returning our thinking about art and culture to the foundations of social life – the infrastructures, services and localised everyday economies that account for the majority of Australian employment – brings us into conversation with urban and regional planning, policies that recalibrate work, leisure and income, and new forms of common ownership and community wealth-building.

Let’s advocate for arts and cultural policy that encourages local experimentations and concrete utopias, the communal luxury of public art and cultural institutions small and large, co-ops rather than start-ups, collective responsibility not individual risk, and the radical importance of everyday public infrastructures like libraries, parks and community recreation.

Let’s talk about building communities around care, craft and culture. Let’s relearn the community and union organising traditions that have been central to cultural work and art in everyday life.

A new cultural policy agenda would supercharge important sector work on justice, intersectionality, diversity, and decolonisation, learning from First Nations ontologies, and creating new artist-led and kinship-based leadership models.

The arts and cultural sector can be central to championing justice and liberation, not simply diversity and representation, for the many demanding to be reckoned with. First in the Australian context is centring First Nations leadership and sovereignty, truth-telling and deep listening, treaty and reparation.

A new cultural policy imaginary would centre Caring for Country and Culture, reject Australia’s obsession with an economy built on extraction, and prioritise the global challenges of climate change and a post-growth world. In doing so it would be truly internationalist, not as a means to the ends of trade and diplomacy, but instead by promoting a new social license and purpose for art and culture in a world facing existential environmental and social challenges.

EARLY IN THE PANDEMIC, author Arundhati Roy noted that the crisis had created a portal through which we can reimagine – and fight for – the world anew. Anything is possible again. It was a call to action that resonated with many working for change around the world.

Relooking at arts and cultural advocacy through this kind of transformative lens is a task for all of us in the sector – not only our leaders, researchers, our under-resourced peak bodies, or those with the unenviable task of policy-making in the public sector as it currently stands.

It is a big challenge but we can make a start by looking outside of ourselves to other public sectors and precarious workforces, unions, progressive policy thinkers, new economy networks, and social change movements. It’s here where we will discover new ideas and alliances that could transform our campaigning potential and the power of art and culture in Australia.

Find out more and subscribe to updates at resetartsandculture.com.

The post For a Progressive Arts and Cultural Policy Agenda in Australia appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Teaching Material: Symposium on The Pedagogy of Political Economy in Australian Law Schools

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/04/2022 - 7:00am in

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Australia’s political and economic system is built on exploitation. From the violent foundational occupation of Indigenous lands, to the ongoing denial of Indigenous sovereignty over those lands; from the destructive extraction of natural resources, to the profound devaluation of the care work that sustains human life and non-human nature; from dependence on the cheap and precarious labour that sustains complex global value chains, to the inequality generated by credit-fuelled asset acquisition: across these and many other domains, the exploitative structures of Australia’s political economy are plain to see.

Significantly, those structures are at least partially maintained and legitimated through legal arrangements. The bases of those arrangements span the entire law school curriculum: property, contracts, torts, administrative law, constitutional law, corporations law, equity, criminal law, jurisprudence, labour law, international law, and much else. As legal academics, we believe that providing students with the tools to understand and critique the legal arrangements underpinning Australia’s political economy should be a central goal of legal education. Such an approach is also being demanded by a growing proportion of our students. Their concern reflects the fact that many young adults feel excluded from old expectations of prosperity and perpetual growth, and from a political economic system built upon them. At the same time, legal education leaves many students dissatisfied, as it frequently does not provide them with the tools and vocabularies they seek to articulate their frustrations and work toward their resolution.

The Australian legal academy has a long and vibrant, if turbulent, history of critical legal research and pedagogy. However, the relationship between these two dimensions of academic work is often strained. First, the wealth of critical legal work produced here does not always carry over into teaching, which often re-mains anchored in formalist, rule-centred understandings of law and subordinated to the (perceived) needs of vocational training. This reality often finds critically minded academics running conventional core law courses. Secondly, while critical legal work in Australia has produced indispensable insights into settler colonialism, racism, colonial modernity, and patriarchy, work focused on ideology, aesthetics, and culture has come to predominate, with less attention given to the material underpinnings of these phenomena. Critiques of the Australian legal system that centre questions of production, circulation and distribution, class inequality, material deprivation and interests, have less readily found a place in core law curricula.

We believe that teaching itself can be a valuable source of original thinking about the law, and that this generation of students is owed as rigorous a critical education as any other, if not more so. We also believe that valuable practices of heterodox teaching about the law and its role in the construction, reproduction and contestation of Australian settler capitalism are already in practice in law classrooms around the country.

Accordingly, we are organising a symposium to share such practices and to facilitate their development and proliferation. We are particularly interested in contributions that explore:

  • The history of critical legal education in Australia from a political economic perspective;
  • Indigenous legal orders and the political economy of settler law;
  • The impact of national and international political economy on Australian legal education (content and structure);
  • Contemporary examples of courses that adopt a progressive political economic lens;
  • Practical recommendations on how to incorporate progressive insights on political economy into the Priestley Eleven and other commonly compulsory courses (for example, legal theory or international law);
  • Comparative insights, especially with other settler colonies/common law jurisdictions/Pacific states.

Submissions

Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be submitted by the 30th of June 2022 to Ntina Tzouvala (ntina.tzouvala@anu.edu.au). Please write ‘Teaching Material’ in the subject line. Limited financial assistance may be available upon request, and priority will be given to casual academic workers.

The symposium will take place on 29 and 30 November 2022 hosted by the Julius Stone Institute of Jurisprudence at Sydney Law School. We are currently envisaging that the event will take place exclusively in person. The symposium will be accompanied by a launch event for Australian Progressive Legal Studies, a network which aims to centre progressive political economic re-thinking of legal research and legal pedagogy in Australia.

Organisers

  • Coel Kirkby, University of Sydney
  • Dylan Lino, University of Queensland
  • Eddie Synot, Griffith University
  • Ntina Tzouvala, Australian National University

The post Teaching Material: Symposium on The Pedagogy of Political Economy in Australian Law Schools appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Heller on Needs, or How to Think Radically in a Quantified World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/04/2022 - 7:00am in

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This post is written jointly by the Value, Health and Radical Needs Reading Group, a collective of activists, early career researchers and PhD candidates interested in the study of the contemporary social condition (Value), its costs (Health) and its possible transformation (Radical Needs).

Agnes Heller’s The Theory of Need in Marx has impressed us as an abiding and complex reflection on the concept of need. Her prose is inspiring both politically and on an everyday level, in a way that only a philosophical discourse rooted in the Marxist tradition can. Certainly, this says much about the intellectual movement related to her work, that is, the Budapest School, the “informal group of followers”—as Jon Grumley calls it—of Georg Lukács. But Heller’s argument also stands on its own. What she offers is an analysis of this seemingly commonsensical category, need, approaching it from a standpoint that is at the same time historically sensitive and openly moral. Her concern is, in other words, with the immanence of capitalist needs, as well as with the transcendence of the needs that are proper to the human being as such.

In relation to immanence, Heller makes it clear that any discussion of the needs of the subjects of capitalism must not abandon or dismiss the domain of the forms, the sphere of socialisation and culture to which even the most “necessary” and “natural” needs belong. This means that needs are socially determined, in different structures, different circumstances. According to Heller, then, to speak of true needs in terms of pure content or unmediated materiality would represent an exercise in mystification, for it would undoubtedly obscure the form of satisfaction of these needs. Nonetheless, in capitalism, the practice of satisfying needs is not primarily a matter of individuals themselves, of their conscious goals and enterprises, but a matter of “an essentially alien force”, of quasi-autonomous social relations. No concrete or essential need (such as eating or drinking) is thus completely free from the capitalist tendencies of commodification and quantification.

On the other hand, Heller also mentions that the way in which we satisfy our needs brings us decisively closer to quality and use value, which, for her, carries a subversive potential. This could well be considered the most “humanistic” aspect of Heller’s argument, where she most explicitly shows her affinity for the young or “romantic” Marx. Thus, in a later revision of her ideas in Thesis Eleven about needs, she writes: “[a]ll kinds of need-satisfaction, if they are co-determined by culture and imagination, can become qualitative in this way. Sunshine does not cost a penny and it can be the source of happiness”. Indeed, Heller’s longing for qualitative needs may seem problematic when contrasted with her initial immanent stance, but here we should not forget that, for her, the human is first and foremost a process of becoming, not a pre-given, asocial substance of being. And this also applies to human needs: sunshine becomes happiness once the form of satisfaction involved manages to reconnect with quality.

This transgressive vision of the satisfaction of needs in capitalism is thematic in Heller’s book. Specifically, in it she distinguishes between “radical needs”, or the radical concept of meeting needs, and the bourgeois concept of equality. This is surely a radical insight. Equality is a general, numerical and abstract measure, an equivalence, and needs met in a commodity dominated society must necessarily be converted to this value equivalent. By contrast, need in the emphatic sense is still linked to the experience of each individual—what each person needs and meeting that need carries the potential to challenge the commodity and its value as the basis of society. Accordingly, Heller goes on to talk about radical needs in terms of the needs for other things than commodities. For example, she especially focuses on Marx’s discussion of time as being the greatest wealth, one’s own free time. At some point she states: “in [Marx’s] society of associated producers the need for ‘free time’, for ‘leisure time’, has… a leading role in man’s system of needs”. From this it follows that the activities that satisfy this sort of need are genuinely human activities, free activities devoid of the compulsion to strive for surplus-value, for the enhancement of the productive self. They are forms of practice aimed at usefulness and consumption, made possible by disposable time.

Moreover, it goes without saying that Heller’s “radical needs” are nothing but collective needs. On this point she is clear: the well-known problem of capitalist alienation, which gives rise to the consciousness of such alienation (that is, radical needs), could only be resolved by the constitutive practice of the collective Ought, the, as Heller refers to it, “consciousness that exceeds its bounds”. This is, again, the elemental collective recognition of the alienated status of capitalist society. Now, is this collective consciousness made possible by the contradictions of capital the same as Lukács’ “imputed” consciousness, as Heller herself maintains? Our position is that Heller’s radical need is a slightly different version of Lukacs’ concept of class consciousness, in that Heller’s argument reflects a different view of human consciousness, one that relies less on the purported authority of cognition and more on cognition’s very failure. Here we draw particularly on J.F. Dorahy, who sees in the recognition of “a primordial experience of deficiency” or “the suffering and exposure that characterises the human condition” one of the defining features of the work of the early Budapest School (and by extension, of Heller).

The point at which Heller’s ideas do indeed become firmly intertwined with Lukács’ is, at least according to her book on needs, in the search for the possibility of a communist society. Once capitalist legality and institutions disappear, says Heller, genuine individual possession, leisure time and creativity finally become possible. These are the attributes of a social formation built around a determinate conception of community, where the need for community, for the other person, passes from being a mere means to being an end in itself. In addition, Heller also talks about the phases of communist society or postcapitalist society. In a second phase, needs are met following the principle of “from each according to labour to each according to needs”. Employment and work in the beginning continue to be the basis of production and allocation to needs. In a second phase, however, society moves away from labour, towards qualitative needs as the basis for the allocation of the products of labour—the radical transition. Crucially, this would involve the replacement of the struggle for wages by the struggle to abolish the wage system as a whole, an endeavour “motivated not by interest but by the ‘radical needs’”. Despite the above, it should be noted that Heller does not pose a comprehensive answer on how to solve that transition, or a fuller picture of the actual formation of that collective Ought. But what she does strongly advocate is, once again, a direction toward communism, toward a free communist society. It is along these lines that, on the very last page of the book, she would invoke “the change in Being” as the fundamental process through which to achieve such a goal.

While Heller had written these words over forty years ago, her argument on needs based on Marx’s theory of capital is ever relevant at the present time as the world faces multiple crises. It is conspicuous on the topic of food, for instance, which was referenced four times in the book. Defined as an essential or natural need for survival, the universal right to food is under threat not only with climate change impacting its production, but also in the unequal distribution through corporate control and concentration of ownership. Global food security bares the characteristics and issues of needs in the capitalist system presented by Heller. Take wheat for example, as a staple food which is traded internationally as a commodity. The business of wheat is—to borrow from Heller—“generally of self-seeking interests” of the few transnational agrifood corporations and advanced capitalist nations of the Global North. Having this in mind, it is not surprising that like many other wheat exporting countries with deregulated industries, Australia too is contributing to deepening food import dependency in countries of the Global South. In the case of Indonesia, one of Australia’s biggest customers for wheat, the situation is highly reminiscent of what Heller understands as the so-called “social needs”: Indonesians’ insatiable appetite for instant noodles (a wheat-based commodity) simply could not be dissociated from the important historical role played by Australia in that market. Put differently, it would be difficult to maintain that the rate of wheat consumption in Indonesia accurately represents the qualitative needs of its people. There are self-proclaimed “representatives” of the “social needs” that must be identified and questioned, representatives of the universality of capital that:

take it upon themselves to decide the needs of the majority, and to pursue the alleged ‘unrecognised needs’ instead of people’s real and actual needs.

And, more recently, what could we extract from Heller’s book that helps us better understand the peculiarities of the form taken by needs in times of COVID-19? Is her deliberation adequate enough to explain certain needs that arise in conditions of lockdown and the unexpected emergence of free time? If the answer is negative, perhaps it is time to turn our attention to other important but still little-known figures of the Budapest School. For Maria R. Markus, for example, solitude is one of those truly radical needs despite not being immediately recognised as such. Solitude, which must be distinguished from loneliness, becomes essential when the subject of capitalism is exhausted by its self-inflicted overexposure to certain spheres of socialisation, like the Internet and its social media. Yet, are we prepared to rediscover this kind of need, i.e. the time, as she argues, for “self-reflection that allows us to connect to others in a better way”, which has now come to the fore so manifestly due to the isolation conditions brought about by a global pandemic? Our proposal in this regard is not to lose sight of the revealing insights of critical thinkers such as Heller and Markus. They have not only articulated concepts with a socially transformative purpose but, most importantly, have struggled to do so without neglecting the terrain of historically specific forms, which, as we know, are so central to Marx’s later writings.

The post Heller on Needs, or How to Think Radically in a Quantified World appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Does the Kishida cabinet mean the death of neoliberalism in Japan?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/04/2022 - 6:00am in

The ascendency of Prime minister Kishida and his new focus on economic inequality has many wondering whether Japan has reached the final death knell of ‘economic reform’ – a euphemism for the kind of neoliberal policies that may be able to make a dent in the government’s enormous debt. Kishida’s new focus on redistributive growth would seem to be a rebuke to the third arrow of Abenomics. However, it is worth investigating how committed the Abe administration ever really was to economic reform.

Abenomics was nothing if not a victory of public messaging. Who doesn’t remember the “three arrows” fiscal stimulus, super easy monetary policy and of course “economic reform”? However, while easy monetary policy and consistent fiscal stimulus became hallmarks of the Abe era, the economic reform arrow always seemed to be mysteriously missing from the quiver.

In truth Japan has had only two prime ministers firmly committed to some form of fiscal consolidation. The first was Hashimoto Ryu̅taro, whose premature attempt to reign in government spending whilst Japan still languished in the aftermath of the early 90s property bubble is widely seen as a failure. Then of course there is legendary reformer Koizumi Junichiro, who built his reputation on a promise to tear down Japan’s developmentalist status quo and privatise the behemoth that was Japan Post – the country’s largest government employer. Koizumi’s tenure ended before his signature policy was complete – with Japan Post technically a private entity but still 100% owned by the Ministry of Finance.

It was Abe who would revive the JP privatisation process with an IPO finally occurring in 2015. However, the sell-off has itself proceeded slowly with the new Japan Post Holdings still 56.88% government owned. When we look back at Abe’s own history this makes sense. While Abe rose through the ranks in the Koizumi era, he always had an ambiguous relationship with “Koizumi’s children” – the tranche of young reformist LDP MPs who came into the parliament in the 2005 election. Instead, Abe made his name as a foreign policy Hawk who took tough lines on constitutional revision and the return of Japanese abductees from North Korea. When he returned to the Prime ministership for a second bought in 2012, Abe was still very much a politician in search of an economic ideology, which may explain the ambiguous relationship he has always had to what is ostensibly his own regulatory reform agenda.

The other key piece of economic modernisation that was meant to define Abe’s third arrow was incremental increases in the consumption tax. These increases would theoretically bring Japan in line with other developed countries and reduce the long-term debt by widening the country’s narrow tax base. The move was championed by neoliberals within the Ministry of Finance and supported by Abe’s pick for BoJ governor Kuroda Haruhiko. Kuroda’s logic was textbook economics – he argued that a long-term government commitment to reducing the debt would in turn make the BoJ’s 2% reflation target appear credible to businesses and households. However as is often the case reality did not align with theory. Every time the consumption tax was raised the fragile revival of consumer demand would crater and the 2% target would seem ever more unreachable. Of all the players in the game it was Abe and his cabinet who seemed most reluctant to pursue the tax increases, with raises delayed several times and the country even going to a snap election over the issue in 2014. Abe also showed no sign of reigning in the wide-ranging stimulus packages that have defined the LDP since the 1960s, launching the largest yet with the onset of the corona virus in 2019.

After a brief continuation of Abe’s policies in the short lived Suga cabinet, Japan now has a new prime minister. Whilst public opinion favoured and LDP party rank and file members favoured the reformist Kono Taro the party MPs choose the middle of road Kishida. Kishida’s economic agenda has refocused on addressing the growing economic inequality that has become a cornerstone of public frustration with Abenomic’s ‘welfare for the wealthy’. In his first speech on economic policy Kishida did pay brief lip service to fiscal consolidation saying his government would work to “put public finances on a sound footing”. However, he also stated (rather less ambiguously) that “neoliberal policies have had the harmful effect of creating a deep rift between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’” and that “It is only when the fruits of growth are properly distributed that subsequent growth materializes.” The core of Kishida’s approach was to be an “income doubling plan” a call back to the language of that original hero of big spending LDP developmentalism – Prime Minster Hayato Ikeda. However, this language was quickly dropped, perhaps a sign that Kishida’s redistributive ambitions may already be in the process of being tempered by the veteran bureaucrats that control the implementation of the cabinets agenda. On the other hand a modest rise in the minimum wage, up to 930 Yen per hour, may be a sign that Kishida wants to blunt the appeals increasingly vocal and organised opposition parties on the left.

Through the reformism of Koizumi and then mixed approach of Abe, Kishida would so far seem to be a return to LDP classic – big spending policies that keep both the corporate sector and the public onside through a mix of growth and distribution. Whether Kishida can recapture the miracles of the 1960s remains to be seen but one thing is clear: Abe’s third arrow is stuck in the ground somewhere well short of the target and Kishida has no interest in picking it up.

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The Catalan social and solidarity economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 8:00am in

In Catalonia, in recent years, a myriad of enterprises and organisations have emerged which prioritise putting people, planet, and social justice at the centre of their socio-economic activity, rather than capital and profit-maximisation. This phenomenon is referred to in Catalonia as the social and solidarity economy (SSE); other labels include the ‘solidarity economy’, ‘social economy’, ‘co-operative and solidarity economy’, and ‘transformative economies’. Historically, the SSE has its roots in pre-capitalist commoning and nineteenth century co-operatives, associations, and mutual aid societies, all of which constitute collective responses to societal needs or risks in the areas of food, care, health, housing, work, culture, education, and social security. Today, this approach to organising enterprise and socio-economic activity is finding renewed relevance among civil society actors, public policy makers, and academics who see the SSE’s potential for developing societies that are not characterised by systemic inequalities and global crises. The Catalan solidarity economy proposes a transformative development model based on values that include democracy, equality, social and economic justice, sustainability, and concern for community. It defines itself as a movement that seeks to construct an economy in the service of life and, in this sense, its aims intersect with feminist perspectives towards economies.

The wider Catalan SSE framework encompasses several large ‘families’: the third social sector (non-profit service delivery organisations), mutual societies, the co-operative movement, as well as diverse community economy initiatives including care economy projects, agro-ecological consumption groups, exchange networks and time banks, community currencies, urban gardens, and citizen management of public facilities. At the Catalan territorial level, the broader SSE encompasses approximately 7,422 organisations, 139,202 working individuals, a social base of 2.5 million people, and a turnover of €7,853 million. These statistics back the declaration made on a movement postcard – Una altra economia és possible ja existeix! which translates to: Another economy is possible already exists!

My recently completed PhD thesis traced the evolution of the Catalan co-operative movement and the solidarity economy between the years 1975 and 2019. The aim has been to understand better how social actors have contributed to the concerted growth of this socio-economic transformative movement since the 1990s. The thesis is based on qualitative interviews conducted with forty-two individuals across twenty-two worker co-operatives located in and around Barcelona Province. The analysis compared the experiences of these architects, legal- finance- and organisation-professionals, social scientists, economists, authors and journalists, software and multimedia designers, musicians and music educators, and audiovisual technicians. Drawing on these participants’ experiences, the thesis pursued two lines of enquiry. The first line of enquiry was to understand how these service-sector professionals and technicians came to view co-operative self-management (autogestió cooperativa in Catalan) as a meaningful and viable way to organise their working lives, especially in the context of the employment crisis that began in 2008. The second line of enquiry investigated how the participants approached the tensions involved in sustaining their ethical values while navigating multiple objectives (social and economic) and pursuing quality of working life in capitalist market environments that are often unfavourable to such aims.

When I arrived in Barcelona in 2015 to carry out the fieldwork, Catalonia was still experiencing the effects of an economic, social, and political crisis which had seen unemployment in Spain increase from 1.94 million in December 2007 to 6.28 million in April 2013. This was the highest level of unemployment Spain had experienced since the 1970s. With the bursting of the domestic housing credit bubble in 2008, what had begun as a financial crisis cascaded into the real economy. Ordinary citizens were shouldering the full burden of this systemic crisis through the destruction of jobs, severe household indebtedness, and massive mortgage foreclosures and evictions. The political response to the crisis involved austerity measures applied to public budgets, bank bailouts, and structural reforms in finance and labour markets, all of which demonstrated a blatant unwillingness to break with the prevailing neoliberal agenda.

Yet this systemic crisis also opened up possibilities for social change as those civil society activists who viewed systemic change as imperative began to self-organise. Civil society mobilisations were taking place across Spain, particularly from 2011 onwards. Citizen groups were seeking to reinstate and expand social rights, protect public services, and to ‘take back democratic control’ of public institutions and make them more accountable. This grassroots democratic renewal brought to the fore a generation of social activists who had participated in ‘counter-project’ events between 1994 and 2004 in Barcelona: the mass demonstrations against the Iraq War, the World Bank, and European Council summits. For these individuals, the worst excesses of global capitalism had alienated them from their city home. A post-Olympic Barcelona now experienced rampant mass tourism and real estate speculation that disrupted local social life and displaced residents. These activists were responsible for the emergence of new social movements such as alter-globalisation, environmentalism, pacifism, feminism, as well as NGOs, co-operatives, and alternative media outlets. In response to the 2008 crisis and a delegitimised traditional party politics incapable of responding to people’s needs, these citizen networks and political organisations ushered in the so-called ‘new politics’, which was characterised by socially progressive electoral platforms based on a decentralised and participatory democracy. Political successes resulted, including for the anti-austerity party Podemos in the 2015 Spanish general election, the Junts pel Si platform in the 2015 Catalan parliamentary elections, and the left-wing electoral platform Barcelona en Comú in the the 2015 Barcelona Municipal elections.

These political platforms have created a political-economic climate more favourable to the development of SSE ideas. From around 2015, the SSE entered what could be described as an expansive phase, which has included normalising the SSE through its integration within mainstream institutions and general socio-economic policies. Political will especially at the local Municipal level has supported enabling SSE policies that have a long-range, cross-sectional, and mainstreaming approach and which have been co-constructed with movement actors. The SSE has been promoted ‘as a powerful engine of socio-economic transformation that responds […] to the multiple problems, challenges, and needs of the city’.

As my thesis documents, this expansive phase represents the culmination of concerted movement building by committed co-operative movement actors beginning in the 1980s, if not earlier. Between the late 1970s and mid-1990s, factory takeovers and self-managed firms were established in the industrial sector as a response to economic crisis and pervasive unemployment. These experiences marked not only the beginning of a rediscovery of legal forms that enabled worker self-management but motivated strategies by co-operators to shift self-management from a marginal and defensive position to one of agency in innovative economic and social progress. By the late 1980s, the co-operative enterprises formed by professionals and technicians in the rapidly-expanding services sector had started to be viewed as potential social actors who could help realise this objective.

From the mid-1990s onwards, a more ideologically and politically motivated movement was beginning to take shape, notably through the Xarxa d’Economia Solidària de Catalunya (XES), the Catalan Solidarity Economy Network, which was formally constituted in 2003. The XES is committed to realising social transformation through systemic change. For over a decade, a key strategic objective of the XES and the Spanish-wide Red de Redes de Economia Alternativa y Solidaria (REAS) has been to advance economic democracy, conceived as a decentralised and democratic social market populated by collectively owned and managed entities. Unlike the Basque region’s co-operative group Mondragón, which operates in large-scale manufacturing, economic activity in Catalonia consists predominately of SME’s located within the services sector. Collaboration, intercooperation, and territorial and sector-based networks have therefore been the main strategies adopted to achieve greater scale and benefit from synergies between SSE entities.

XES members have been co-constructing movement-specific social institutions, including training and enterprise advisory services, with the goal of supporting entities to sustain both their substantive values and enterprise viability. Knowledge has been collectively generated and circulated in fields spanning feminist economics, degrowth, social auditing and impact methodologies, the procomún (digital and knowledge commons), and ethical finance. These co-operators have demonstrated a clear will to recover the historical hope of the progressive left by creating organisations and socio-economic systems that act as real and viable alternatives to capitalist models, profit-maximisation objectives, and hierarchical management styles. The solidarity economy proposal represents, therefore, the will to rethink socialism in search of greater efficiency and, above all, greater democracy.

The service-sector professionals interviewed for the thesis identify with the XES and its broader ethico-political project. The majority initiated or joined worker co-operatives between the mid-1980s and mid-2010s. Their role in bringing about systemic change is demonstrated through co-operative case studies, including in legal services; ethical insurance brokering; journalism, communication, and web technology services; and architecture, urbanism, and co-operative housing services. Across each of these sectors it is shown that a neoliberal capitalist market and business logic can compromise the realisation of professional ethics and personal values. These professionals are instead reclaiming the etymological meaning of the term profession, that is, ‘to profess something that defines one’s fundamental commitment’. They have been adapting cooperativism to their own occupation-specific concerns regarding professional ethics, quality of working life, and the contribution they might make towards developing a more just, equitable, democratic, and sustainable society.

Based on their experiences, I developed an occupation-specific framework that draws on existing moral behaviour models and this framework guided the discussion of how co-operative members have been reimagining and remoralising their profession, cultivating moral agency, and sustaining their multiple objectives. Members have been going beyond their professions’ self-regulation mechanisms to radically rethink the enterprise models, social responsibility, and organisational arrangements needed to realise their professions’ social roles. Their co-operative models foreground indispensable elements of the ethical world, such as the freedom to act and to choose and to take responsibility for one’s choices, as well as durability over time.

The Catalan SSE proposal is viewed as a long-range proposal, given that its goal is to contribute to reconfiguring society and economies based on solidarity economy principles and values. It does not, nor cannot, offer panaceas for moments of crisis. Its consolidation requires manifold communicative actions to foster dialogue and social consensus on both the need for and the existence of alternatives. This movement has generated an enduring and plausible social reality that has been attracting individuals from increasingly diverse occupations and backgrounds. Cornelius Castoriadis describes such ‘innovative ideas’ within the social and political ambit as having ‘contagious effects’ and this is indeed cause for hope and optimism.

The set image is ‘IV Catalan Solidarity Economy Fair, 2015’

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The Political Economy of a Stateless Nation: When Polanyi Meets Gramsci at the Kurdish Mountains

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These days we are witnessing a growing interest in Karl Polanyi’s framework to explain the organic crisis of neoliberalism, including the populist reaction; while Antonio Gramsci has always been popular within a wide range of movement studies from different disciplines.

My recently published monograph, Constituting the Political Economy of the Kurds: Social Embeddedness, Hegemony, and Identity, develops the ideas of Polanyi and Gramsci within a poststructuralist framework i.e., social constructivism, radical democracy, agonistic pluralism and left-wing populism as a tripartite theoretical formulation. It explains the trajectory of the Kurdish political economy and the transformation of collective political identity through interrelated levels and historical contexts. It offers a model based on social, political and economic progress.

The book analyses three main historical periods as case studies to understand the nature of the uneven development of the Kurdish social formation, which emerged through unorthodox and alternative practices in the Middle East. Hence three distinct conjectural and critical accounts are utilised to examine the micro-dynamics of human impact (e.g., society, agents) rather than focusing on macro factors (e.g., the state) as essential determinants of the micro-foundations of the Kurdish political economy. This use of an innovative methodology helps to go beyond the essentialist analysis of political economy.

A stateless nation can be defined as the people without their own sovereign nation-state and includes people like Kashmiris, Tibetans, Tamils, Palestinians, Catalans and Scots. Among these, the Kurds are identified as the largest ethnic population in the world without a nation-state. I call these political communities, the societies that ‘missed the opportunities’ of the nineteenth century to undergo their ‘great transformation’ in the form of industrialisation, institutionalisation and a Westphalian state model. Yet they have survived within their own moral political economy in the form of ‘imaginary communities’ sustaining their survival and resistance against the predatory newly constituted ‘artificial’ nation states.

In the so-called Kurdish question of the Middle East, the Kurdish political actors propose a wide range of formulates in the post-Westphalian regional nation(alist)-states, such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey for a ‘real’ solution. Therefore, after a historical victory against the Islamic State (IS/ISIS-DEASH), as the ‘Rojava revolution’ in Northern Syria, they established a ‘stateless democracy’ to generate a communal economy and Canton-based autonomy in an ontological manner, while the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) practises a de facto state, free-market economy and liberal democracy in Northern Iraq and the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) as a Kurdish-led and left-wing populist party promotes a radical democracy in Turkey.

Moral political economy 

In the first part of the book, I argue that the rise of a self-regulating market economy system with the push of international capital demolished the moral values of the traditional Ottoman imperial society by dis-embedding the economy from the social formation. The process of macro economy and polity of empire embarking on its ‘great transformation’ entailed that the economy was dis-embedded from social life and thus from its morality, resulting in the commodification of nature, labour and money as fictitious commodities even though it was against the intrinsic characteristics of such moral political economies. With the rapid emergence of the market economy paradigm, the economy no longer worked as embedded in everydayness as it had always done in the past, a change that defined the nature of the new political economy. This commodification and new income-based economic system clashed with the existing social relations as people used to be governed by the principles of embeddedness, reciprocity, redistribution and household economy via the institutional pattern of symmetry, centricity and autarchy where social rather than economic formations primarily determined the character of the society.

The Kurds, however, being on the periphery of the empire, resisted the imposition of the centre’s great transformation and a new fin-de-siècle order. Hence Polanyi’s anthropological theory of economy based on embeddedness and double movement provides an analytical tool to understand why the internal dynamics – noneconomic archaic institutions (such as tribes, endogamy, kiriv [kinship], tariqas [Islamic orders]) and political leadership (i.e. emirates [principalities], aghas [landlords] and sheikhs [Islamic scholarship) – could not follow the linear modernist process of industrialisation and institutionalism. Hence their moral economy provided a base through which they resisted the change towards a modern economy and market society.

The loyalty of society to their traditional social formation and a moral economy based on cultural and spiritual-religious values as their raison d’etre hindered the ‘great transformation’ to a market economy and explains the Kurds’ uneven (and –perhaps- combined) development. As a pre-capitalist civilization the profit motive-based production was not so important for their economic behaviour. The relationship was not oriented economically towards self-interest as the economy was not monetised or focused on production for exchange and profit. Self-sufficiency was dominant in the household economy and sustained through solidarity, a gift economy and social responsibility since honour, reputation, kinship, and faith based on the expectation of the quid pro quo principle of moral political economy were more important than individualism and personal gain.

Social protectionism in a double movement 

Revisionist agents of the Istanbul government of the Empire (i.e., Tanzimat, Young Turks, Abdulhamid) aimed to change this authentic Kurdish regional economy into a self-regulating market economy as a part of the project to save the Empire. The Kurds demonstrated resistance to this in order to sustain their social protectionism based on a moral political economy. This counter-movement was led by the conventional political leadership aimed to prevent the transformation of Kurdish society into a market economy, while the archaic socio-cultural establishment resisted being replaced by modern institutions in their daily life.

State hegemony and colonial society

The expansion of laissez-faire principles and the nation-building process after the failure of many local armed rebels and the absence of political authority in Kurdish society created a hegemonic gap filled by Republican Turkey. With the involvement of the state in internal affairs and the control of the region through the Republic’s centralisation and marketization policies applied through coercion and internal colonisation, the organic nature of Kurdish society was forced to dissolve and replicate a dis-embedded economic and institutional form. Because the change was imposed through a top-down process externally, suddenly and by force, Kurdish society was forced to adapt nineteenth century institutions without having a corresponding shift internally and organically. It should be noted that the Kurdish moral political economy managed to hold its ground until the1980s when the neoliberal policies in Turkey acted as a soft power to generate its transformation and convergence. Consequently, according to modernist literature, the Kurds remain economically underdeveloped and politically disunited in the new world and hence have become the subject of colonialism and disdain.

The book then turns to the notion of hegemony to explain this post-sultanate era, as nationalism became ‘common sense’. Polanyi’s moral economy needs help to explain the problematised issues such as identity, sovereignty, emancipation, internal colonialism and the strategies of struggle, i.e., frontal attack, historical bloc and passive revolution. This is complemented by Gramsci’s hegemonic articulation which offers an appropriate justification for the power struggle between the new state and the Kurdish leadership in the twentieth century. Hence the historical evolvement of the Kurdish narrative and moral political economy can be continued to explain through the meeting of Polanyi and Gramsci.

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