Wednesday, March 09, 2016

"The Marxism of the 1970s that I encountered as a student seemed dry and abstract to me. There was no life in it, only structures and definitions, and "laws" of which I could not make sense. I had come to social science because I was curious to see what the world out there was like, the world of real people.

It was only later, much later, that I discovered Marx the economic historian, the keen observer of the American civil war, the passionate political analyst of French politics. As much life, easily, as in Weber or Barrington Moore! Right now I am becoming more familiar with American Marxists writing in the 1950s and 1960s — and am deeply impressed with the farsightedness of their analysis.
Working on my 2009 book taught me that the historical agnosticism of most of academic social science — its refusal to recognize and theorize endogenous evolutionary movement in social formations — was its biggest deficiency, and was the cause of most of it being as boring as it is.
Once you bring back history into social science, however, you cannot possibly bypass Marx. Without Marx evolutionary theories become abstract in the sense of empty: a postmodern Glasperlenspiel for connoisseurs, or an attempt at faith healing through stubborn insistence on the real effectiveness of moral counterfactuals, without even trying to explain why they have not long become facts.
I have no hesitation to say that my early work was driven by an intention to prove the possibility of social democracy under capitalism — it was "wishful thinking," in the sense that I wished that what could be shown to be possible could eventually be made real.
In particular I was interested in the possibility, and perhaps generalizability, of a capitalist production system driven "from below," by a labor constraint commanded by strong trade unions and forcing capitalists to produce in ways compatible with the requirements of a good society and a good life.
Globalization made this much more difficult, especially for entire national economies — and in particular as it extended to capital markets. These forces soon began to work upon production systems from above, overriding and cancelling the "beneficial constraints" exercised by organized labor from below.
It took me some time — too long, you may say — to understand the truly fundamental change caused by internationalization and financialization. Focused on labor, I needed to work in money — the ultimate driving force of a capitalist political economy..."

— Wolfgang Streeck , a director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Germany. His most recent book is Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, published by Verso in 2014

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