Home page > 1. IV Online magazine > 2010 > IV427 - August 2010 > Capital goes on the offensive
Save this article in PDF Print article Printable version

European Union

Capital goes on the offensive

Monday 2 August 2010, by Jan Malewski

Austerity! As the capitalist crisis has rebounded in the form of a crisis of sovereign debt, which is spreading from Greece towards the other countries of the European Union, the governments of the hard core of this Union have decided to impose everywhere an austerity policy without precedent.

It involves, neither more nor less, the dismantling what remains of the gains of the “Welfare States” that European capital had to grant after the Second World War, afraid of the power of the workers’ movement and seeking to legitimize its states as it rebuilt them. The goal that is announced is a reduction of 20 per cent of the purchasing power of the popular classes, the dismantling of pension rights and social security, and the dislocation-privatization of public services.

The state, an instrument of neoliberalism

To do this, capital is using its state apparatuses and its international para-state apparatuses (the IMF, the World Bank, the European Central Bank, the European Commission…). It has drawn support from neoliberal theories, which, contrary to traditional liberalism, do not consider that “the market” and “competition” are “the natural run of things”, but that it is a question of “something that has to be built” [1]. While letting their propagandists talk about the reduction of the role of the state, in order thus to justify deregulation thus and to build what the neoliberals regard as the essential motor of the market - competition -, the neoliberal leaders have set to work to modify the role of states and para-state structures. Pierre Dardot synthesizes this turn, which has been in progress for more than a quarter of a century, in the following way: “This role is rather new, insofar as, in the tradition of a certain liberalism, (…) there was an image which pretty well summed it all up, which was that of the state as a “night watchman”. The state as a night watchman has firstly and above all the function of ensuring the security of private property and private individuals. (…) The neoliberals (…) consider that the action of the state is something very important. They take on board without any complex the idea that the state has to intervene in the field of the economy. (…) It must intervene initially to create, where it does not exist, and then to make respected where it exists, the norm of competition, since that is precisely the norm of the market. It is a state which decrees rules on the level of the functioning of the economy; it is not at all a state which remains completely in the background in a spirit of “laissez-faire” [2]. The objective of the state and para-state apparatuses conceived of in this way is “to transform all social relations”, as Nicolas Sarkozy put it in connection with the law on self-employed entrepreneurs, to an audience of the first thousand self-employed entrepreneurs whom he had invited, or, as Margaret Thatcher formulated it well before him, “to change or transform hearts and minds” [3].

The “Washington consensus”, the treaties of the European Union, from Maastricht to Lisbon, the multiple “reforms” - aimed at dismantling the gains of progressive reforms, therefore in reality counter-reforms – adopted by national parliaments made it possible to prepare the ground and to begin the transformation of society, to create the conditions so that “individuals are placed in situations such that they cannot do anything else but act in the direction which is precisely sought (…), to obtain from individuals by these incentives that they should act as it is desired that they act, without having to incessantly remind them and without having to incessantly tell them what to do. ” [