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An interview with Takis Fotopoulos

péntek, 2005. április 29. kendre

Takis Fotopoulos, the author of the book Towards an Inclusive Democracy answers questions about his book, the EU, the Kyoto protocol and most importantly, about the possible solution of the multidimensional crisis.

1. Have you changed your mind in any significant respect since you published the Inclusive Democracy book?

The ID book, which summarises the ID project, consists of two parts. The first part deals with the chronic multidimensional crisis which began with the establishment of the system of the market economy and its political complement, representative 'democracy', about two hundred years ago. It concludes that the ultimate cause of this crisis (economic, political, social and ecological) is the concentration of power at all levels to which the dynamic of these two institutions, inevitably, leads. The second part consists of a proposal for an inclusive democracy, whose main characteristic is the equal distribution of political and economic power among all citizens, as the way out of this crisis and also as a means to establish an alternative society securing individual and social autonomy.

Nothing since the writing of the book has changed to make me change my mind. The crisis deteriorates all the time, and the need for a new institutional framework establishing a genuine democracy is more imperative than ever. This need is being increasingly realised by more and more people all over the world, as for instance the Argentinian insurrection a couple of years ago showed. What is therefore needed now is the creation of a new international massive political movement which will articulate a new antisystemic political project, with its own strategy, analysis of the present and proposals for the future. The need for such a movement is imperative today because a new genuine democracy could only come about through systematic self-organisation. As History has shown again and again spontaneous insurrections, taking place at a moment when the crisis somewhere becomes unbearable, will either be suppressed by the elites and their fellow travellers in the middle classes, or simply left to fizzle out.

2. According to you: "regulatory controls, which have usually been introduced by the capitalists in control of the market economy in order to "regulate" the market...Examples of such controls are the various controls introduced at present by the latest round of GATT, or by the Maastricht/Amsterdam treaties,..." As I know these were introduced by nation-states.

You say "these controls were introduced by nation-states". Do you really believe that the political elites which represent the various nation-states in the European Commission have equal power, as the EU ideology asserts? How, for instance, the Greek or the Hungarian political elites could have equal bargaining power to that of the German and French political elites, when in fact the dynamic of the Greek or Hungarian market economy (their growth rates, investment rates etc) depend much more on capital and trade with these countries than vice versa?

In fact, as I attempted to show in my D&N; article on globalisation, the existence of a transnational elite which manages the globalisation process could be theorised, as well as substantiated by the existing evidence. Few, for instance, are aware of the European Round Table of industrialists (ERT), an alliance of the chief executives of Europe's largest companies, whose purpose is to formulate policies for adoption by the European Commission. Thus, the Single European Act, which opened and liberalised markets in the European Union, was framed not by the EU but by Wisse Dekker (the president of Philips and subsequently chairman of the ERT) whose proposal became the basis of the EU's 1985 white paper (The Guardian, 16 December 1999). Also, the EU enlargement plan (approved by the European heads of government in Helsinki at the end of 1999), which required new entrants to deregulate and privatise their economies and invest massively in infrastructure designed for long-distance freight, was mapped out by Percy Barnevik head of the Swedish company Investor AB and chairman of an ERT working group. It is therefore the members of the transnational elite within the EU that take effectively all important decisions and not the political elites of all member states, as the EU ideology asserts. Minor states have simply to follow the line.

3. In your book you wrote: "Thus, as regards first, the collective action in the form of class conflicts between the victims of the internationalized market economy and the ruling elites, I think there should be no hesitation in supporting all those struggles which can assist in making clear the repressive nature of statist democracy and the market economy"(p. 283) This can be understood in many ways. Do you support a mass revolution, however bloody it is? Do you support Red Brigades-type terror? So could you explain this in more detail.

As I attempted to show in my D&N; article on the global war against 'terrorism', democracy is intrinsically incompatible with any form of physical violence. Democracy, whose very basis is speech and reason, is incompatible with violence and terrorism--as long, of course, as change by democratic means is possible within a given institutional framework. In this problematique, the only political issue is whether political violence can be justified as a means of reaching a genuine democracy, something which brings us to the issue of 'confronting the system'. This confrontation can be seen in a broad or a narrow sense.

In a broad sense, this confrontation involves any kind of activity which aims to confront rather than to bypass the system, at any stage of the transition to a new society. Such activities could include both direct action and life-style activities, as well as other forms of action aiming at creating alternative institutions at a significant social scale (e.g. the taking over of local authorities through the electoral process). The condition for such activities to be characterised as confronting the system is that they are an integral part of a mass political movement for systemic change. Clearly, this type of confrontation does not involve in principle any physical violence, apart from self-defence in the case, for instance, of direct action, although it should be expected that the elites will use other forms of violence -- particularly economic violence -- to crush such a movement.

On the other hand, in a narrow sense, confrontation means the physical confrontation with the mechanisms of physical violence which the elites may use against an antisystemic movement and refers exclusively to the final stage of the transition towards an alternative society. For the Inclusive Democracy (ID) project, whether the transition towards an ID will be marked by a physical confrontation with the elites or not will depend entirely on the attitude of the latter at the final stage of transformation of society, i.e. on whether they will accept peacefully such a transition, or whether they will prefer instead to use physical violence to crush it, as is most likely given that this transition will deprive them of their privileges.

4. You also wrote: "the autonomy tradition, after its brief explosion in the late 1960s, is also in a state of 'total eclipse', a fact that illustrated by the lack of social, political and ideological conflicts."(p 334). But what about the revolts e.g. in Albania (1997) when the whole State almost collapsed, or Los Angeles (1992) when smaller riots occurred in other United States cities, including San Francisco, New York, Seattle, and Chicago, and some other struggles in other parts of the world?

Yes, it is true that there have been lately incidents like the Argentinian insurrection, which might be taken as indicating a kind of revival of the autonomy tradition. However, I will not include into such incidents the cases you mentioned because, when I wrote about the lack of social, political and ideological conflicts in relation to the autonomy tradition, I meant conflicts which implicitly or explicitly challenged the institutional framework of the market economy and representative 'democracy' - the hallmarks of today's heteronomy. Clearly, the revolt against a corrupt regime - a revolt which does not challenge this institutional framework but simply aims at its non corrupt counterpart (Albania), or the minority riots against an oppressive majority with the aim to ensure equality of rights (US cities) do not qualify for that. The Seattle riots, which marked the emergence of the antiglobalisation movement, did qualify, but the antiglobalisation movement today, in the form of the World Social Forum and the continental and national Social Fora has been dominated by the reformist Left and is consequently been transformed into an establishment or status quo movement, like the Green movement before it.

5. Do you think that the fact that Kyoto protocol recently came into force proves that the ecological catastrophe is avoidable in the present system of statist 'democracy' and market economy?

Of course not. Everybody knows that unless the biggest polluter on earth, the USA, also adopts the Kyoto protocol, this agreement is not worth the paper is written on! But, although there are parts within the transnational elite that would adopt the mild Kyoto proposals (which of course by no means solve the problem and, even if fully applied world-wide, could only have a negligible-if noticeable at all-effect) there are other parts within it which have opposite economic interests and would fight any effective controls. In the first category belong industries that are particularly affected by the climatic changes brought about by the greenhouse effect (e.g. insurance industries, big agro-business, tourist industries etc) whereas in the second category belong industries that will be particularly affected adversely by the introduction of effective environmental controls, like the oil industry. Obviously, at the moment, the latter are stronger than the former and they impose their line through the institutions they control (G7, IMF etc). [See the full analysis of the effects of ratifying the Kyoto protocol]

The same applies to environmentally friendly technologies and to Green capitalism in general, which is another myth propagated by the reformist Green parties to justify their existence. . First, we should not forget that technology clearly is not 'neutral?. The techniques to be adopted each time are always a matter of choice by those who have the power to make such choices in a market economy, i.e. the economic elites. [See on the nature of technoscience.] Second, although it is true that some green technologies might be profitable and therefore could be adopted by the elites, the problem is that such technologies could only have a marginal effect. This is because the ecological crisis is systemic, i.e. it is related to an economic system, whose dynamic depends on economic growth and the consequent concentration of economic power. For example, as long as most people in the North and increasingly more in the South live in huge urban conglomerates, so that they could ensure their work, (i.e. their own survival,) then, no environmentally friendly technology could really solve the ecological problems that such urban concentrations create. Similarly, intensive agriculture, which has created all sorts of health problems with the pollution of the food chain, could not be replaced by organic agriculture, given today's' concentration of economic and social power. What happens therefore today is that privileged social groups simply attempt to buy their ticket to what they think is healthier food, by encouraging the creation of expensive organic enclaves within the main body of intensive agriculture.

In other words, the ecological crisis, as also the other parts of the multidimensional crisis, cannot be sorted out by reforms within the existing eco-catastrophic system, but only through a systemic change. This can never be achieved through a change of our values at the individual level, or through a change in technologies, as reformist Greens suggest, but only through the creation of new economic and political institutions, which explicitly aim at a radical decentralisation and the abolition of the present institutions that have led to the growing concentration of economic and political power, urban concentration, and so on.

6. By the way, do you know the "State Primacy Theory" of Alan Carter (explained it in the Radical Green Political Theory)? What do you think about his analysis and proposed solution? Carter is clearly green, do you think he's a reformist?

As far as Carter's analysis is concerned, it is obviously baseless and could easily end up with reformist proposals. It's in fact a technocratic attempt, using the fashionable at the time rational choices theory, to show the existence of independent states and state actors who are serving their own interests by developing the technology that increases the surplus available to the state.

But, first, this approach assumes the existence of independent from the political elites actors, who control the state machines. Still, even in cases like Britain, which supposedly has the most independent from political influences state mechanism, this proved lately once again as a myth. The various official reports, which were commissioned by the Blair government and carried out by supposedly 'independent' state actors, simply whitewashed the criminal choices of the British political elite on the Iraq war, as, I suppose, Carter himself would admit.

Second, this approach assumes that the 'independent' state actors function on the basis of the 'state surplus maximisation' motive, exactly as private firm managers function on the basis of the 'profit maximisation' motive. However, things are not so simple-or simplistic-- so that they could fit to the Procrustean* bed of our model. Higher up state agents are only interested in keeping their position and in maximising their own income. This is not necessarily related to state surplus maximisation, as it was shown by the East European regimes and by most of the state machines today, which are seen to be far from functioning with the objective of maximising their country's economic surplus, on which, ultimately, depends the size of the state surplus.

7. It seems to me that the academic thinkers are more important to you than the proletarian struggles, the real class-war. You mention the Spanish communes only very few times in your book and don't even mention the Makhnovshchina. You discuss the official Marxism in details but forget about other anti-capitalists like the Situationists. It seems that somehow you would like to be 'politically correct' and to avoid the words 'anarchism' or 'communism' or 'exchange-value'. You condemn some movements as reformist but don't really use the word revolutionary or counterrevolutionary.

I do not think this is a valid criticism. The reason I refer more to academic thinkers than to real historical movements is because my aim in this book was to analyse the present crisis from a libertarian-democratic viewpoint and to propose a way out of it in terms of an alternative autonomous-democratic society - something that, as Dave Freeman and others pointed out, was done for the first time in libertarian thought. This implied that I had to criticise other Left thinkers, particularly those supporting state socialism, as well as those belonging to the reformist Left or Green movement, who today dominate the Left. I only mentioned some historical movements when I wished to refer to examples of historical cases that substantiated my argument about a historical conflict between the autonomy and the heteronomy tradition-- not in order to provide a complete historical account of such movements, which has been done effectively and repeatedly by other thinkers in the libertarian Left. To my mind, a perennial problem of the libertarian left is its insistence in talking about the past and/or in using the theoretical tools which were developed some two hundred years ago in a desperate attempt to analyse the present! On the other hand, my aim was to analyse the present and make proposals for the future - a process which required the development of new theoretical tools.

Similarly, I explicitly criticised political correctness in the book and the reason I didn't use the terms 'anarchism' or communism was because, as I attempted to show in another D&N; article ( The end of traditional antisystemic movements) I consider them as antisystemic movements of the past, which are effectively dead today. Today's remnants of anarchism, for instance, after the effective death of anarcho-syndicalism in the post war period, are either of the 'life-style' variety, as Murray Bookchin aptly called them, or of the post-modern variety, which do not believe in the need for a comprehensive antisystemic project and an antisystemic movement but propose instead the support for various rights movements, or a change in our values (eco-anarchists, primitivists and the rest) --if they do not end up with straightforward reformism like Chomsky. No wonder that Bookchin, the greatest living anarchist does not wish to be called anarchist anymore!

Finally, I wished to transcend the usual antithesis between reformist vs. revolutionary movements because I believe that the age of revolutions in the traditional sense has ended, at least as far as the North is concerned. The new antithesis that now emerges is between antisystemic and reformist movements. This is based on the assumption that the change in the system may be brought about today through the building of alternative institutions within the existing system (this is already happening in several parts of the world) - a process which will lead to a period of tension between the old and the new institutions, until one of the following happens: either the present elites abandon peacefully the present institutions when the balance of power begins to turn against them (as it happened with the so called 'velvet revolutions' in East Europe) or - more likely in the capitalist case - the present elites react violently to suppress the alternative institutions. In that case, a violent revolution in the form of a popular self-defence will follow. But it will be a very different revolution from the historical ones.

As I stressed in my D&N; article on transitional strategies, if there is one lesson History taught us, this is that the basic cause of failure of previous, revolutionary attempts aiming at a systemic change was exactly the significant unevenness in the level of consciousness, in other words, the fact that all past revolutions had taken place in an environment where only a minority of the population had broken with the dominant social paradigm. This gave the golden opportunity to various elites to turn one section of the population against another, or led to the development of authoritarian structures for the protection of the revolution (e.g. French or Russian revolutions), frustrating any attempt for the creation of structures of equal distribution of power. However, for a revolution, to be truly successful, a rupture with the past is presupposed, both at the subjective level of consciousness and at the institutional level.

Still, when a revolution in the past was 'from above', it had a good chance to achieve its first aim, to abolish state power and establish its own power, but, exactly because it was a revolution from above, with its own hierarchical structures etc, it had no chance to change the dominant social paradigm but only formally, i.e. at the level of the official (compulsory) ideology. On the other hand, although the revolution from below has always been the correct approach to convert people democratically to a new social paradigm, it suffered in the past from the fact that the uneven development of consciousness among the population did not allow revolutionaries to achieve even their very first aim of abolishing state power. So the major problem with systemic change has always been how it could be brought about, from below, but by a majority of the population, so that a democratic abolition of power structures could become feasible.

In conclusion, the rupture in the socialisation process could only be gradual and in continuous interaction with the phased implementation of the program for the inclusive democracy, which should always start at the local level and then proceed, through the creation of regional, national, continental confederations, to the creation of an alternative truly autonomous and democratic society.


* a mythical giant in the Greek mythology who was a thief and murderer; he would capture people and tie them to an iron bed, stretching them or hacking off their legs to make them fit.

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