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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Paul Boccara : Une autre civilisation est en gestation

by Pierre Ivorra

Paul Boccara: A New Civilization Is In Preparation

Translated Sunday 7 November 2010, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

In a recent hearing before the Environmental, Social and Economic Council, the French economist Paul Boccara presented his latest research: the crisis of our civilization can rally the forces for change.

So indeed he argues in his latest work Transformation et crise du capitalisme mondialisé, quelle alternative? [1], which marks a turn in the Marxist researcher’s reflection, now centred on the crisis of civilization and the emergence of an alternative civilization.

He is here interviewed by Pierre Ivorra.

HUMA: In what respect is the present resistance to the government’s pensions reform a fight over civilization?

BOCCARA: This resistance has a double dimension. One is economic and social, it expresses social needs and demands a progressive reform of the financing of pensions when the so-called “reform” ensures the domination of finance. The second dimension, which is not economic, concerns social life and civilization. We are told that we must work longer because of the increase in life expectancy. We cannot simply retort that there are other ways of financing pensions. We must also insist that the idea is to reap the full benefit of those extra years when a retiree is still fit, by developing free social activities. The new productivity makes it possible to reduce working hours in all the stages of life: to lengthen the initial period of education and training, to reduce working hours, and lengthen the period of retirement so as to develop social activities that are free, whether social, cultural, political, associative, and political, as is already the case. This change in the cultural model of retirement points to a new type of society. It gives considerable support to the struggles that contribute to transform civilization.

HUMA: You maintain that we are going through a crisis of civilization. What do you mean by civilization?

BOCCARA: There is not just the economic system in social life. There are all the non-economic aspects, or what I call the “anthroponomic” system [2]: parental, political, cultural relations. Those two systems, combined in a given geographical and historical frame, form a civilization. Thus we have had the combination of the economic system of capitalism and of the anthroponomic system of neo-liberalism within the frame of Western Europe, then of the United States of America, from the 16th century to the present day. They form western civilization, which has now become global. This globalization is one of the factors of the current crisis.

According to Marx, the capitalist economic system is a system in which external nature is transformed into goods for human needs. This system consists of the social relations between capitalists and salaried workers and the technical operation that originated in the industrial revolution when manual labour was replaced by machine-tools, with a consequent rise in productivity and in capitalists’ profits, the part of wages in the added value produced being held down so as to accumulate capital. It also consists of the system’s regulation, the rules of the market, the regulation of the profit rate, the crises of over-accumulation contributing to the regulation.

Marx did not use the expression “system of anthroponomy” but actually started working on the notion. Thus he asserts in Capital that “by transforming external nature, men transform their own nature.” Anthroponomy precisely consists in the transformations of human nature, through parental relations, productive activities, but in their effects on the psyche and the development of people, on political relations and on culture.

HUMA: Why do you maintain that the crisis of western civilization is characterized both by a crisis of capitalism and by a crisis of neo-liberalism?

BOCCARA: The present systemic crisis is both an economic crisis and a crisis that affects all the anthroponomic aspects. They are interdependent. On the economic level, there are not simply periodic crises every seven or twelve years. There are more lasting crises, which are the crises of the capitalist system itself, for the type of technology has become too heavy, the type of social relations too hard. These crises originate in the lasting over-accumulation of capital, as was the case in the inter-war years, or as is the case now. The current crisis calls for systemic transformations far more drastic than those that were implemented after WWII within the frame of welfare monopolistic state capitalism with the setting up of nationalized companies, health insurance, and the development of public services.

We are also going through another systemic crisis on the anthroponomic level. Again this crisis points to the excessive use of representative delegation. Together with the recourse to contracts, these forms of delegation characterize the anthroponomy of neo-liberalism in our civilization. They are obvious with respect to politics and elected representatives, heads of government and state. But delegation is also standard practice elsewhere: there are heads of household, company directors to whom workers delegate the organization of work, while culture is delegated to authors, with a split between readers and writers due to printing. This would already have called for deep transformations in representation and the distribution of power after the second world war, considering the promotion of the role of trade unions and the social references to salaried workers in institutions or female suffrage.

HUMA: The systems of capitalism and neo-liberalism are in your view radically challenged as a result of a series of technical revolutions as well as social operations. What are these exactly and how do they operate?

BOCCARA: At the economic level it is first the information revolution, with the replacement of operations of the brain with material means, as with computers. Information, like the results of any research, tends to become predominant, more important than machinery in production. Now any information, or research, unlike machinery that stands in a definite place, can be shared on the global scale.

This favours the development of multi-nationals and privatization, but also global industrialization and massive extension of the ranks of salaried workers with the rise of emerging countries. Indeed, a private multinational company finds it easier to share the costs of research than a purely national public company. But that has led to an epidemic of competitive frenzy, notably between salaried workers, on a global scale. To this must be opposed the prospect of a universal sharing between workers and peoples. The extraordinary productivity, and the savings it allows in direct labour and also in material means and the labour that these represent, including through the rise in services, result in massive unemployment and the spread of precarious conditions.

Next we have the monetary revolution, with money being now almost completely divorced from gold. As a result monetary creation is now emancipated from gold, for worse today, but for better tomorrow. Hence the frenzied monetary creation for the financial markets, for speculation, especially in dollars, since, as a matter of fact, the dollar has become the global currency; hence, too, the US formidable international public debt.

Lastly we have the ecological revolution with intolerable levels of pollution and climatic perils, abut also new domains, spaces and technologies that require the reconversion of productions and global cooperation.

But there are revolutions in the anthroponomic dimension too. That is the other side of the information revolution for human life, the digital revolution and the telecommunication of information, with personal computers, which give every individual access to information of all kinds and permit its circulation in all directions as well. This can bridge the gap between authors and readers in printed books, as readers can contribute creative answers or changes, or information. But for the time being, this mostly benefits the large monopolistic services.

The double demographic revolution should also be taken into account, with the reduction of birth-rates and longevity, even globally. It is the parental revolution, especially in western countries (but it is also gaining ground elsewhere), with the rising incidence of divorce, of unmarried couples with children, of women’s equality in the household management, of single-parent families, of re-composed families, of homosexual couples. This challenges traditional mores on a global scale. Hence the rise in clashes but also in the possibilities of emancipation. It is also the migratory revolution of the South to the North, with the challenges it poses: rejection, integration, or cultural cross-fertilization or miscegenation for immigrants; the military revolution with wider access to nuclear weapons and massive destruction.

HUMA: You see in the crisis an exacerbation both of the domination of capital and of the delegation of power and of its contestation. You also consider that this global systemic crisis is taking a dramatic turn for the worse. Could you make yourself clearer on these points?

BOCCARA: The exacerbation of the markets was coincident with the progress of industrialization and the growth of the salaried status and all the attendant deregulations. Then, in 2008-9, there was clearly a turn, with the excessive, mainly household, debt bursting, while credit to households had made it possible to a certain extent to compensate the inadequacy of demand. Hence the banks’ enormous difficulties and the need for public budgets to shoulder the debts. There was also a rise in representative hyper-delegation. On the political level this meant the exasperation of presidentialism [3], of supra-national powers in free-trade areas like the EU, the removal of company management away from the local workers, the crisis of the traditional cultural powers before the advance of television and the internet. Parallel to the progress of urbanization and wider access to culture, inequalities have dramatically increased, while conflicts over mores and values have become more radical. We are now confronted with the rise of fundamentalism, whether Islamic fundamentalism in reaction to contemporary Western mores, both against their emancipation and against their individualistic excesses, or Western fundamentalism, in the form of populist conservatism and far right movements in the developed countries. Hence the challenge of terrorism and the wars in Irak and Afghanistan.

The exacerbation of representative delegation has also taken a decisive turn; but so has the rising discredit into which financial markets and hyper-liberalism have fallen, owing to the new massive state interventions. Yet those undemocratic interventions, aimed to support banks mostly and guarantee the persistence of financial profitability, have stimulated speculation, especially on public debts. Hence the crises of European public debts and of the euro and the enormous risk in the future concerning the US Treasury bonds held by foreign central banks and the dollar.

HUMA: You have made proposals to control and transcend global capitalism’s markets. You have also put forward measures to control and transcend neo-liberalism’s forms of representative delegation. What exactly do you propose?

BOCCARA: What we need is the very opposite of inefficient adjustments: we need to control and start transcending the four markets.

As concerns monetary and financial markets, we need a public banking sector and beyond that another monetary creation, from the European Central Bank and the euro to the IMF, with a global common currency, in favour of a new credit for investments and employment and the taking over of public debts for the expansion of public services.

As concerns the labour market, what we need is to make professional careers safer and aim at safe employment and training.

As concerns the productions market , we need to promote criteria for management that ensure social efficiency, a sparing use of material means and the development of human capacities as well as bigger shares of public ownership in companies.

As concerns the global market, what we need is more reciprocal cooperation and guarantees, the very opposite of frantic competition, social, fiscal, ecological dumping and the imbalances of the global market.

As concerns the ecological challenge, we cannot be content with taxation or subsidies; we must develop new criteria for management and also public services for the environment that cooperate on the international level so as to restructure production. All this would converge towards public services and common goods for humanity as a whole.

But that cannot be done without new powers, without an alternative culture. That is why we must control and start transcending representative delegation. That concerns public services, with new powers conferred on customers to cooperate with public employees. Whether in the health sector, in education, or in public services that are yet to be set up for infants and for the elderly. Giving workers and users new rights in the management of companies and public services would enable them to develop their capacities and give them new political powers and so promote a participative and active democracy. Elected assemblies and forms of direct exercise of power would mix and cooperate, from the local to the global level.

HUMA: You mention a new culture for humanity as a whole: what exactly do you mean?

BOCCARA: For a new civilization, and every individual’s mastery over his or her life at any time, new powers are not enough; an alternative culture is necessary. This concerns information on systemic interconnection in all the spheres. It is emerging now but it might be spurred by public services, schools and the media. It is also a new ethics, the promotion of sharing as a value, and respect for everyone’s creativity.

A new humanism, not just equal rights, as under neo-liberalism, but equal access to material means and information, would encourage the sharing of resources, information, powers and creative participation. This would accompany a transcending of all forms of fundamentalism, including a new form of ecumenism between religions, not just tolerance, but actions for peace and the creative dignity of every human being. Beyond the Western civilization and its domination over the whole of mankind, the challenge posed by the material and cultural hegemony of the US notably points to the need for a civilization for the whole of humanity. It would combine the Western values of individual freedom (without the selfishness and monopolies) and the values of community and solidarity of the East and South (without the hierarchical dominations).

HUMA: Can the various critiques of capitalism and liberalism favour an unprecedented convergence of the struggles?

BOCCARA: That is indeed what we can hope to achieve by making civilization the issue. The ruling forces put up a fierce resistance to radical economic and social changes. The call for the demands of civilization, for another way of life, for new powers and new ethical values can rally more massive energies to counter their opposition. This could also counterbalance the aspersion cast on revolutionary transformation by neo-liberal forces taking advantage of the experiences that degenerated into state or even totalitarian rule. We must also transcend the popular divisions that result from cultural or violent conflicts thanks to democratic measures in the fields of safety and culture.

What this requires is the convergence of all struggles. The struggles of all the categories of salaried workers all over the world. Including struggles for non-economic emancipation against the domination of women, generations, young people, old people. The struggles of the nations and cultural zones that are dominated, and of all the immigrant minorities. This concerns the convergence of all forms of emancipation against all social monopolies, for a civilization based on sharing and the intercreativity of humanity as a whole.

[1Transformation and the crisis of capitalism: what alternative?, Le Temps des cerises Éditions

[2Boccara started developing this concept at an early stage, notably after the 1968 movement

[3i.e.the hyper-concentration of governmental power in the presidents’ hands.

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