Mohsen Abdelmoumen: Your book “Savage State: Welfare Capitalism & Inequality” is an original vision of the impact of the welfare state in contemporary capitalist society. In your opinion, can the structural crisis of the capitalist system be overcome?
Dr. Edward Martin: The structural crisis of capitalism will never be overcome precisely because capitalism is built upon the absurd promise of satisfying unlimited amidst scarcity and the maximization of profits at the expense of labor. This begs the question: who then will buy capitalist products if there is little or no purchasing power? This is what Marx meant when he argued that capitalists “become their own grave diggers.” The system implodes on itself if consumers don’t spend all of which presupposes living wage jobs. The tragedy of this system is the perpetual class struggle. The good news, on the other hand, is that public policies prioritizing justice and human rights can avoid class struggle and “inevitable revolutions.”
Is the capitalist system reformable? Is it not out of breath and is there not a need for a revolutionary start?
No. It can’t be reformed since the rationality of the system is structured on the prioritization of capital over labor, which in turn perpetuates its bi-polar nature. Somehow within a capitalist system, when businesses become mega-corporations, they become too monolithic to serve the common good. Their purpose at this point then becomes monopolistic and predatory whose primary purpose is to increase the wealth of their CEOs and shareholders. What capitalism ultimately facilitates is the dysfunction of markets. I distinguish this from running a small or self-owned business or worker cooperative. In this sense workers are co-owners and the major shareholders. Richard Wolff and Cornel West have worked hard to present these options to monopolistic capitalism. Also the work of Gar Alperovitz is crucial in this regard. His video on “Beyond Corporate Capitalism and State Socialism” is spot on. The evidence from the City of Cleveland is starting to come in. Local urban economic development isn’t simply attracting businesses to Cleveland; it’s now promoting worker cooperatives. This is the beginning of reform, but reform based on a new system within a market structure.
Are not the ideologues of capitalism, who today claim that there is no alternative to the capitalist system generating profits and wars, against the natural process of history and against any progress? If capitalism is born out of the rubble of feudalism, is there not a historical necessity that makes another system arise on the rubble of capitalism?
The historical necessity comes from a constant trial and error method, or praxis. This is also defined as materialism. Corporate capitalism and state socialism are, for all intents and purposes finished. Flexible capital markets are the future, that is, on a smaller scale where capital and labor are unified. The worker cooperatives and worker owned businesses are the new wave. Self-employed, small businesses are also desirable since these smaller more democratic models better fit with the principle of subsidiarity. The principle of subsidiarity is key in making markets more efficient and effective. Mega-corporations destroy this efficiency and effectiveness. This is the historical necessity emerging from the collapse of both corporate capitalism and state socialism, a more democratic socialized economy.
How do you explain that when job insecurity is almost universal, we have a weakened trade union movement that has lost all fighting spirit?
Job insecurity and a “reserve army of labor” is the key to the domination of capital over labor. The Reagan Administration’s economic agenda placed a great priority on attacking labor and identifying it as the cause of economic inefficiencies during the stagflation of the 1970s. But the demise of labor has been taking place for the past forty years even with democrats in power at times. This is because the democrats have been co-opted by Wall Street elites.
Shouldn’t the trade union movement be self-critical?
Yes. And they should address the contradictions of capitalism and its tendency toward nihilism. They need to correct this tragedy by prioritizing labor over capital. The priority of labor over capital creates a healthy economy; the opposite wreaks havoc. And it needs to be made clear, labor needs to engage in class analysis. Their friendly association and accommodation with capital has been their demise. The results are obvious today with wages and benefits being surrendered by the working class. Labor is afraid to be identified as “radical” and that’s a tactic that is only hurting them.
In your opinion, canwe fight effectively against economic inequality in a society dominated by predatory capitalism? If yes, how?
It will be difficult to fight against economic inequality since the measurements of economic success are always understood in terms of GDP growth and the success of the 1%. To combat this, prioritizing labor over capital is the key. The best model for this is not going to be found here in the US, but instead in the Solidarity Movement in Poland in the 1980s. Lech Walesa and Polish labor took on the oligarchs behind the state socialist regime. Walesa was a trade unionist and a socialist. And his argument was always that labor created value, not capital, and in this particular situation, state capital. Workers should then be rewarded with the greater share of the wealth created, not the elite wealthy oligarchs. The workers according to Walesa create the surplus value, not capital or the communist oligarchs sitting in their offices. This is one way we can fight predatory and parasitic capitalism in the US, in the same way that Walesa and the Solidarity Movement took on the elites of communist Poland.
Do you think a union like Solidarnosc with ties to the CIA via the NED is a model for the American labor movement?
You are correct.
The CIA and the Vatican were involved, just like the CIA and the Vatican undermined the Sandinistas efforts at land reform and worker cooperatives in Nicaragua after the 1979 revolution. In this regard, the model of Solidarity I urge is defective since it can be manipulated by outside influences. And you can count on this form of subversion to continue by the same actors.
But the model, of the prioritization of labor over capital, is the key to a Solidarity Movement and what Gar Alperovitz is arguing for with his advocacy for The New Economy … a democratic economy based on human rights. Nevertheless, the Solidarity Movement I support must be assertive yet nonviolent in the tradition of Gandhi and King.
Admittedly, this is a long march toward justice.
So to answer your question, a labor movement based on Solidarity has the potential to be a model for a revived labor movement in the US, but it must maintain a vigilance against being influenced by the CIA and other forms of infiltration and manipulation.
Do you think there is a need to re-read Marx? How do you explain that Marxist ideas are always resisting time in spite of the relentless and incessant onslaught of capitalism and its apostles?
Yes. Re-read Marx In the same way that Lech Walesa and the Solidarity Movement did what I call a “reverse-Marx” on the Marxist oligarchs. It needs to be done by applying Marx’s labor theory of value in a universal context. This means that labor always creates value and is entitled to the “lion’s share” of value it creates. John Locke defines this as the “labor theory of property.” Interestingly, Marx got this idea from David Ricardo, who in turn got this idea from Adam Smith, who then got this idea from John Locke. Here, the idea of labor creating value is hardly a new or radical idea; it is a moral value dating back to the Medieval Guilds of Europe. This is economic justice as passed down through the ages and the root of this form of economic justice, ten centuries ago, was based on a passive view of the universe which is anathema to the mindset of a modern, and now, postmodern universe. But the key for the labor movement in the USA is to use Poland’s Solidarity Movement and demonstrate how the Solidarity Movement is tied to the labor movement, or lack of, here in the USA.
The report of Oxfam, an NGO that can not be accused of being linked to Marxism, tells us that the 1% of the world’s richest population has shared 82% of global wealth in 2017. What is your analysis of this alarming report?
I’ve studied reports like this and others from the United Nations that draw similar conclusions. This is the outcome of neoliberalism and globalization. The interests of the international elites through NAFTA, GATT, and potentially TPP, are the designs for major corporations to dominate markets. So it’s no surprise that the interests of billionaires and major corporations in the USA are the same interests of billionaires and international corporations. This means, for example, the financial interests of Gates, Buffett, and Goldman Sachs are the same financial interests of the Sultan of Brunei and Carlos Slim in Mexico. This includes the domination of natural resources and the marginalization of labor. These trade arrangements, like NAFTA, GATT, potentially TPP, do nothing for the purchasing power of labor. What the 1% of the world’s wealthiest elites want is a “new underclass” (the top 2% – 5%) to be their consumers since they have the disposable income to purchase from the 1%. The remainder of the global population and environment are expendable.
I am very interested in your work on Marxist thought, how do you explain the disappearance of the term ‘ class struggle ‘ when, in reality, there has never been so much inequality between classes as it is today?
The left in the US has been running from class politics for a long time. Currently, Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein are the only political leaders that address this. But every time the democrats or the left identify and expose the inherent class struggle going on in the US, the political momentum fades. Probably because the democrats and some on the left have allegiance to Wall Street. The same is true of labor. They don’t want to be too critical of capital because capital will subvert labor through the corporate media, capitalist ideology, and education. The term used to disguise class struggle is “populism” which means that the class struggle is some shallow emotional response. So this is how class struggle is delegitimized by both democrats and republicans. The underlying issue is: capitalism itself is subject to critique and even being discredited. And that used to be taboo. No longer. So in reaction to this there is an attempt by both political parties and their corporate high priests to keep this a secret. We’ll see where this goes. I suspect this will come in the form of some form of censorship via the media. But it won’t be suppressed by social media outlets like this outlet, The American Herald Tribune and others.
In « Revisiting Marx and Liberalism » you mentioned the need for capitalism to have markets: “…less developed countries are strategically important to capitalists not only as sources of raw materials and manufacturing, but also investment outlets for surplus capital…”. How can progressive forces resist this state of affairs that you describe? And how to unite the workers of the center and the periphery in the same fight, knowing that they are not impacted in the same way by the immeasurable damage of capitalism, to know how to neutralize capitalism and its supreme stage imperialism?
I don’t think progressive forces can resist this state of affairs, at least directly. They can bypass capitalist arrangements through small businesses, cooperatives, and worker-owned businesses. But the “Walmart effect” will eventually challenge these grassroots business ventures. And labor has been co-opted by corporate America. As mentioned earlier, I argue for a labor movement that replicates the Solidarity Movement in Poland, one that includes greater democratic control of economic matters. This is one way to neutralize capitalism and its inexorable drive to colonize markets, and even our collective subconscious, According to Baudrillard and Jameson.
At the level of several countries, we notice the emergence of oligarchies that are linked to big capital and are led by a comprador bourgeoisie. I take the example of my country of origin, Algeria. Do not you think that fighting this oligarchy requires a broad front at the global level? Does this type of forces recruiting in the 1% not represent a threat to the sovereignty of nations?
The 1% of international elites has already decided that sovereignty is expendable. The trade arrangements of NAFTA, GATT, and potentially TPP dismiss democratic and sovereign rights of the global population. Wallerstein was correct, and continues to be correct, when he and the World Systems school of thought identified the expendability of democratic rights as essential to international capital. In other words, the rights of people are subsumed to the rights of oligarchs and international corporate elites. So, in addition to a universal Solidarity Movement to confront this trend, I would also argue for an “Economic Bill of Rights” which was advocated by FDR. This can also be supported by citing those economic rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It can be done through NGOs, etc., if and only if, this development translates to sustainable local economic development.
Knowing that the capitalist matrix is generating wars, is there not a risk of extinction of the human race? In your opinion, can we keep hope and move towards a change in the capitalist system?
I believe the hope comes in small steps, nonviolent protest, and open discourse. Resisting violence within an inherently violent patriarchal structure like capitalism is important. The opposite, the urge toward violence, is not an option. The focus should be on providing a minimum floor of economic subsistence that no one person would fall below. This can be done at the local level. The Mondragon Experiment in Spain has been an excellent example of a counter strategy to capitalism. Anarchist movements like the Mondragon Experiment I believe are critical because they bypass corporate monopolies. This model is what Marx argue for at the Paris Commune in 1873 and described metaphorically as the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Is it not urgent to remind the truths to the ideologues and cantors of capitalism that are boring us to death with their model that has generated only wars and devastation throughout the world?
The urgency is to identify what exactly is meant when the “ideologues and cantors” refer to capitalism as having virtually a “divine” status. Or ask them what exactly do they mean when they rejoice in capitalism’s “unleashing of the animal spirits”? The response should be to focus on the data and the increased class divisions. This is the key in pushing back on quasi-divine status associated with capitalism. Other than this as a response to their propaganda, the options are basically limited to a universal Solidarity Movement and an Economic Bill of Rights in the USA and global community.
What does Donald Trump’s slogan « America first » represent for you? President Trump who did not stop promising jobs to Americans is not he caught up in the reality?
First off, Trump is a mad man. So are his cult followers, the Republicans, and Trump’s Cabinet. This is the premise upon which everything else should be analyzed related to Trump, the Republicans, and his political movement.
Now to your question: “America First” was really a shibboleth for the fascist ideology of American Exceptionalism and the New American Century. Trump’s American First cult isn’t really about bringing decent paying jobs back to the USA. In their collective mindset it’s primarily a war cry for the US to return to its status as a juggernaut military power and Aryan elite. The America First faction believes they are an empire in decline and their white power Eurocentric legitimacy has slipped away. What more proof is needed than the huge demographic changes that have taken place in the US. This isn’t new. This is exactly what happened to the Roman Empire. Moreover, as the US has taken on the role of dominant world power with over seven hundred military bases outside the US, the public resource allocation for domestic infrastructure has been undermined. Take for example Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. His general thesis is that as empires expand globally their internal cohesion disintegrates and collapses.
How do you explain that there was no substantive debate in the last US presidential campaign that looked more like a reality show?
The corporate media. Their investments are tied to international capital. A substantive debate in my mind involves class analysis and environmental devastation. These two issues were missing, specifically a discussion based on an economic analysis. Democracy Now, LINK TV, Truthout, Truthdig, The Intercept, were the media outlets that pushed an economic critique. But other than these media outlets, the corporate world simply provided an interesting narrative. Their ratings, however, spiked with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Trump had no substantive message other than the fascist America First shibboleth; Bernie’s message was a critique based on class struggle. Ultimately, the corporate media had to ditch Bernie and his message.
What do you think of the appointment of Gina Haspel as head of the CIA, a criminal woman who tortured and ran CIA black sites?
In 2002, Gina Haspel ran a secret, post 9-11, CIA « black site » in Thailand where she tortured « detainees » and destroyed approximately ninety videotapes of the torture sessions. Both of these acts are illegal, under US law and international law. She was directed to do this by her superiors, most likely those in the Executive Branch as well as the Justice Department, State Department, Pentagon, etc. Her role in this illegal activity, and the directives she received from others must be revealed. This needs to be the primary focus of the questioning she must face in the Senate confirmation hearings as the nominee for the director of the CIA.
Whether torture is and effective tool of foreign policy, or not, is not the issue. But Republicans and some Democrats will, of course, insert this issue as a necessary evil, and thus obfuscate the focus on the illegality and immorality of torture. The 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, to which the US is a signatory, is clearly breached.
The sadistic side of this is when detainee, Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded eighty-three times. This needs to be revealed in the Senate hearings along with the information from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report (2002) and the CIA and its torture. The report must be declassified and unredacted. In essence what the US has done is decriminalize and legitimize sadist tactics in law enforcement and counter-terrorism. No one has been held accountable legally for any of this.
Haspel’s appointment as director of the CIA must be rejected and the illegality of US counter-terrorism tactics must be exposed. Criminal investigations must then move forward if justice is to be upheld in the US and international order. My fear is that Haspel’s domination process will become more political theatre.
You are editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Public Administration, of which Noam Chomsky is a member of the editorial board as well as Rodolfo F. Torres and Mateo S. Pimentel and other eminent intellectuals. I find its concept very original because this review is open to various analysts from many countries. To counter the mass media at the service of big capital, is it not essential to have a strong alternative press and serious media like yours, because the issues related to information are strategic today?
What we are trying to do with the IJED is present political economy models that emphasize democratic participation. Moreover, we attempt to focus on political economy models that examine the distribution of power in economic decision-making. This is typical of the Frankfurt School in Germany, which then morphed into the New School for Social Research in New York. The goal is a heterodox approach. So the political economy critique that IJED encourages doesn’t exclude diverse political economy models and is equally critical of corporate capitalism, state socialism, or the emergence of oligarchies in Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, etc. Any authoritative hierarchical approach is subject to what I describe as an Orwellian critique.
The IJED provides an equal opportunity for evaluating authoritarian social, political, and economic regimes that benefit themselves at the expense of majority. In this sense the IJED does not apologize for our inherent bias in that we see capitalism and democracy in conflict with each other and that a radical rethinking of Marxism (New School), anarchism, common-pool resource theory (Ostrom), and rational actor theory (Elster and Roemer) are needed more than ever before.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Edward Martin?
Dr. Edward Martin is Professor of Public Policy and Administration, Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Long Beach. He is the faculty representative for the campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
His research interests focus on urban affairs, political economy, sustainable development, and social welfare policy.
He is the co-author of Savage State: Welfare Capitalism and Inequality (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), and Capitalism and Critique: Visions of Democratic Alternatives(Routledge, 2017). He has published research articles in Contemporary Justice Review, New Political Science, International Journal of Public Administration, California Politics & Policy, Latin American Perspectives, Public Administration and Management and Counterpunch.
Published in American Herald Tribune, March 18, 2018: https://ahtribune.com/us/2186-edward-martin.html
In Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.190318.htm