Systemic “Alternatives”: On Ordoliberal Rule in Europe and the Corruption of the Left


In a debate between Giorgio Napolitano – member of the right-wing faction of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and later President of the Republic – and the late philosopher Norberto Bobbio, the latter queried what is it that peculiarly distinguishes the PCI from other parties of the European social democratic tradition. Napolitano replied as follows:

  1. The PCI is a mass party, and it is politically organised as such;
  2. The PCI is a political force whose ultimate aim is the radical transformation of society;
  3. The PCI is an internationalist force;
  4. The PCI enjoys a distinctive internal regime and costume.

The debate took place in the late 1970s. Bobbio had no great difficulties in answering Napolitano’s position. He argued that the first and the third of Napolitano’s points, and partly also the fourth, are to be found in all major social democratic parties in Europe. The second point is an interesting one and Bobbio had had some difficulties answering it back then, given the left-wing, communist, faction in the PCI led by Pietro Ingrao and the radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s in Italy and Europe with which the PCI had showed substantial affinity. However, he appeared to have had no such difficulties answering this point some ten years later, when the PCI announced that it aims at changing its name and identity (November 1989). “I wonder if today”, the socialist philosopher argued, “Napolitano would argue the same, especially that the PCI aims at the radical (I repeat, radical) transformation of society”.

Clearly, Bobbio insinuates here that the PCI did not have an alternative policy proposal that could alter capitalism, as a social system, in Italy. The PCI, Bobbio argued, was just a social democratic, reformist party like all other European social democratic parties, such as the British Labour Party or the German SPD. It was a party whose strategy and programme were confined within the boundaries of the capitalist system, its main aim being how to improve the system in favour of the subaltern classes, not to bring the subaltern classes in power in order to socialise the capitalist relations of production, distribution and exchange, thus establishing socialism. The peculiarities of the PCI were the peculiarities of Italy as a national formation, but this does not qualify it as a “communist party”.

This debate is of great significance. It helps us understand how Marxist theoretical postulates transpire in left politics. It also serves us to proceed to define the concept of “alternative”. Alternative is an anti-systemic strategy that aims at altering the capitalist relations of production, which are based on the private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and are at the root of the extraction of (relative and absolute) surplus-value (and exploitation). An alternative strategy is a strategy that goes beyond the confines of the capitalist mode of production aiming at constituting a radically different society on the bases of a socialist mode of production. It should be noted that this massive alteration of social and political axes can only take place at the level of nation-state first.

Reformist socialists and philosophers, such as Bobbio, do not have such concerns or programme. Their strategic intent, whether in governmental power or in opposition, is to reform, to the extent that this is feasible, the political institutions of the country and advance the rights of subaltern classes and general citizenry, including the right to enjoy higher wages. Reformist socialists advance only what is in the context of their pro-systemic approach. A left reformist pro-systemic approach entails striking a balance between the interests of workers and the interests of the bourgeoisie under the mediating role of the nation-state. This is what is usually called “the social contract” or “the Keynesian consensus”. As we shall see below, the debate between Bobbio and Napolitano took the form it took because Keynesianism and mass politics had still an important presence and influence in Italy and Europe.

We will first examine Keynesianism and ordoliberalism as systemic (capitalist) alternatives. Then we shall move on to explore the way in which ordoliberalism became the key guiding policy instrument of the European Union. In this context, the corruption of the European social democratic Left by ordoliberalism will be examined. The narrative we lay out here and the experience of the Eurozone crisis provides us with a great lesson, namely, that the EU/Eurozone is such a complex, disciplinarian, institutional-class materiality that cannot be reformed. It can only be overthrown by a coordination of anti-systemic movements employing anti-capitalist alternative strategies at the level of the nation-state first.

Systemic “Alternatives”: On Ordoliberal Rule in Europe and the Corruption of the Left

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24 ALTERNATIVE dicembre, 2019 - Autore:, ,   Condividi


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