Return of the Fabians?
Author: Simon Stander
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 12/15/2003
Category: Book Review
Reform is the only way to go. That is the clear message of this book which adds to the growing number of others in the academic world and in the world of practical affairs. Jay R Mandle, W Bradford Wiley Professor of Economics at Colgate University, may have a lower profile than George Soros or Sir John Wolfensohn. Nevertheless this is yet another voice.
Reformism was always regarded as the major bugbear of the theoreticians among revolutionary socialists in the twentieth century. The working class was accused of compromising with the reforming elements among the capitalist classes in such a way as to accommodate their own exploitation and to maintain the capitalist system in reasonably good health.
Now the reformists within the hegemonic system in advanced economies have no allies. A point frequently made and echoed by Mandle: “an appeal to socialism is no longer politically tenable…Nevertheless , an important activist opposition to globalization has emerged.” (Mandle insists on using the term globalization rather than global capitalism.) The author’s clear position is that “globalization should be reformed, not rejected or frustrated by a certain-to-be-resented exercise of unilateral power of the United States (of America).” The purpose of such reform is to “share equitably the benefits of globalization”, and the method is “interventionist policies.” This puts him squarely in the same camp as Stiglitz (see: http://www.monitor.upeace.org/archive.cfm?id_article=22 ) and George Soros, whose new book dealing with reform as the main way of protecting the “open society”, is due to appear next month.
The history of reform is instructive. Its origins lie in the circumstances that arose in England and other parts of Britain in the nineteenth century. Major industrialists and their counterparts in the political system saw a need to control the worst excesses of the capitalist system, the need to advance education in order to improve the quality of labour, the need to improve public health in order to protect all who lived in cities, the need to improve the health of many ordinary people in order to improve the quality of the serving soldier, the need to open up the electoral franchise in order to diminish the frequency and intensity of social protest and to control labour inspired social movements, the need to raise income in order to develop a body of consumers to absorb growing quantities of products available on the market.
“An inevitable conclusion following upon Lenin’s analysis of Reformism is that a small thin crust of conservatism hides the revolutionary urges of the mass of the workers. Any break through this crust would reveal a surging revolutionary lava. The role of the revolutionary party is simply to show the mass of the workers that their interests are betrayed by the ‘Infinitesimal minority’ of aristocracy of labour. This conclusion, however, is not confirmed by the history of Reformism in Britain, the United States and elsewhere over the past half century: its solidity, its spread throughout the working class, frustrating and largely isolating all revolutionary minorities, makes it abundantly clear that the economic, social roots of Reformism are not in ‘an infinitesimal minority of the proletariat and the working masses’ as Lenin argued.” http://home.online.no/~vorhaug/politics/arkiv/cliff/economic_roots_reformism/
The reformist tendency within the labour movement was very much stronger than its recolutionary tendency. Can it now be said that the reformist tendency within the capitalist classes is similarly deep seated?
Reform came as part of a dialectic or, if preferred, interactive, process. Labour pressed for reform, and the ruling elements containing within it a sensible faction agreed with the need for reform and defined the legislative boundaries. The outcome was various forms of the welfare state, more extensive in Europe than in the USA. Now that the hegemon is the USA the benefits of the welfare state are clearer to Europeans than to either policy makers in the USA or its population at large. What Mandle argues for is the extension of welfare state provision, led, as was the case in 19th century Britain, by the state.
“If globalization is to be fair, then, an enhanced rather than a reduced role for government is required.” He goes on to quote Dani Rodrik: “…you cannot have a strategy of expanding trade if you do not have a complementary strategy at home that involves strengthening institutions of social insurance, education and training, and compensation.”
The dominant policy by the current power brokers in the USA needs, according to the author, to be held in check. Unilateral policies by the USA will be counter-productive, and lead to the gradual erosion of the benefits of global capitalism. The way forward is claimed to be reform, particularly in the regulation of international financial markets involving, again, enhanced rather than a reduced role for government. These reforms are proposed by such authors as Kenneth Rogoff , John Eatwell, Lance Armstrong, and Jeffrey E Garten. In terms of theory this new phase of reformist thought could lead us back to considerations of the incrementalism of the Webbs, Shaw and other Fabians, which was the other route to a more equitable society. Blair please note. If it is possible to say scratch the surface and you will find a deep layer of reformists, let’s start scratching. Mitigation may lead to more fundamental change after all