A spectre is haunting Slovenia — the spectre of communism. At the very least, that is what one would think if one read the more fervent responses to a document, a group of scientists, a former ombudsman, a former politician and a civil servant (Marta Gregorčič, Matjaž Hanžek, Lučka Kajfež Bogataj, Lev Kreft, Ana Murn, Dušan Plut, Tine Stanovnik and Jože Trontelj) put together as a vision of a post-crisis Slovenia, a sort of an outline for a crisis exit plan.
Apparently written at the behest of prime minister Borut Pahor, the document called “Where to After the Crisis – A contribution to a sustainable vision of Slovenia’s future” outlines future economic development, society and human relations. To cut a long story short, authors (sociologists, a climatologist, a philosopher, a neurologist/academician, an economist, an ecologist and a civil servant) put forward what they see as propose a set of eleven fundamental policy changes aimed at establishing a new paradigm of a natural, mutual, responsible, regionally harmonious and sustainable development of Slovenia. I’m transcribing this, just so you get the feeling.
Problem is that quite a number of these policy changes are controversial. Among other things, they include redefining the relationship between public and private in favour of the former, a strong public sector, with possible nationalizations of key sectors, establishing policies for solidarity and wealth redistribution and – at the gist of it – redefining the relationship between work and capital, together with introduction of co-management by employees. There are other set of policies as well, but at first glance it seems that the above are the most controversial. Indeed the document drew a lot of flak from various blogs, including (but not limited to) from Žiga Turk minister of development during Janez Janša’s tenure (Slovenian only, I’m afraid). Several points of his post were already taken apart over at Drugi Dom (ditto for the language).
At the risk of oversimplification, most critics believe that the document advocates a return into ages past, notably a reintroduction of communism and, by extent, a resurrection of a totalitarian regime. They see the document as ideologically biased and thus fatally flawed, a springboard for populist measures which would lead nowhere but into an economic and social abyss of trying to create a classless society, without any regard for individual freedom and human dignity. The fact that the document is written under a left-wing government only serves to underscore their worries.
What the document actually does (rather than call for immediate re-establishing of a communist state) is that it analyses the flaws of an increasingly (neo)liberal structure of Slovenian society and defines (some) questions which will have to be tackled if this crisis is to be solved. In short, the document states that the existing patterns of development, wealth distribution, access to resources and whathaveyou can simply not be sustained. Thus, things need to be changed. The problem with this particular crisis, as opposed to most crises after WWII, is that it challenges the very fundamentals of a liberal/capitalist society. Paradoxically, the society (the Western way of life, if you will) is today challenged by itself, rather than by an outside threat, such as communism.
As we globally became a competing society (and, at the same time, a society competing globally), there were – in the immortal words of Tom Skerritt – no points for second place. But since the race had no end it turned out to be a death-match, where ever more ludicrous bets were made by everyone (well, most players, anyway), up to the point where their egos were writing checks their bodies could just not cash. The result was an inevitable crash-and-burn which painfully demonstrated that Gordon Gekko was wrong and that greed (for the lack of a better word) is not necessarily good
However, despite everything that had happened neoliberalists, proponents of a free, privatised and ultimately unchecked economy (the market will take care of it) decided to ignore the fact that it was a free, privatised and ultimately unchecked economy which crushed many a people’s dream of “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”. The market did not take care of it, rather it took care of those who had a lot to begin with. And yet, neoliberalists would address the failures of their approach to economy with – more neoliberalism, not realising (or not willing to realise) that the crisis of today is different from all other post WWII crises because it is global and this time around even capital has no place to hide. So, what we are faced with today is a massively different array of problems which – were they attempted to be solved by neoliberalist means – would quite probably quickly lead into another meltdown, followed even more quickly by yet another, in a sort of continuous “W”, only with pick-up periods becoming ever shorter and ever weaker, until the whole thing crashed forever, firmly putting neoliberalism where its evil twin brother communism rests in peace. Solving new problems by old methods leads to disaster.
Oddly (or maybe not that much) this is precisely what critics of the document are saying. The only difference is that they see the proposed policies as paving the way back to communism rather than towards the end of the crisis. But this is precisely the point where they make a huge mistake. They forget that communism is dead and don’t see that liberal democracy (as a societal concept, part of which are more or less strict forms of neoliberalism) is fast dying. Instead they pretend that lib-dem state is purring along quite nicely, thank you very much, and that communism is lurking in the nearest shadow, waiting to homp the lib-dem state into submission. The notion is wrong for several reasons.
1. Concepts which are proposed in the document are perfectly legitimate economic concepts and have been used regardless of the type of government. Just look at nationalization, which critics of the document scoff at. During the financial meltdown of 2008, states poured galactic amounts of hard currency into banks which played with funny money and effectively nationalised them. Things get a bit tricky with co-management and self-management since this country has a bad experience with the latter and the once-bitten-twice-shy reflex is quite understandable. But self-management, nationalisation and communism do not necessarily go hand in hand.
2. There is absolutely no evidence that a lib-dem state can turn communist. In fact, history suggests that a country with a fragile or failing democracy is likely to go fascist, especially since corporativist state structures are good for business. Paradoxically, a country is more prone to go communist if its preceding social structure resembles feudal societies or is, at the very least, industrially extremely underdeveloped.
3. Proposed concepts do not aim to replace capitalism, but rather amend it. True, this would mean discarding most (but not all) of neoliberalist mumbo-jumbo, but that in itself is neither a bad thing nor it is an end of a lib-dem/capitalist state. In fact, the ability of capitalism to adapt to new paradigms (such as the one proposed by Pahor’s team of intellectuals) is remarkable. In post-WWII western world capitalism found it remarkably easy to incorporate concept of the welfare state, the very thing which was thought to be the beginning of the Apocalypse in pre-war capitalist societies. The only problem is that the whole world had to go through one helluva economic meltdown and 60-70 million dead to figure that one out. OK, so that was not by far the only reason for WWII, but it played a part.
Regardless of capitalism’s adaptability, the continuous survival or a more-or-less healthy combination of lib-dem state and capitalism is far from certain. If modification of failed neoliberalist patterns is a priori disqualified as communist and as such unacceptable, we are bound to enter a self-induced position between a rock and hard place, where rock represents the failed neoliberalism, while communism is the hard place. With no place else to go, fascism will become increasingly appealing to the masses. Therefore it is necessary that neoliberalists shake themselves loose of their primordial fear of communism and stop seeing it everywhere. To put it in Freudian terms, sometimes a wage increase in just a wage increase.
When read sans this ideological filter, the document can be seen for what it is. An attempt at constructing new tools to amend, rather then to replace, the existing socio-economical patterns. Even less. The document is not a strategy. It is not even an exit plan. It is only an attempt at defining the questions this crisis poses to us all. And that is probably more than has been done to date to tackle the crisis in the long term. As every scientist knows, a well formed question is a big step towards finding a solution.