The artifice for capitalism’s survival will not work forever

Interview with the Greek online journal, Marginalia , October, 2018.

In your most recent book (How will capitalism end?, 2016) you mention that the history of capitalism has been, since the 19th century at least, a history of its crises. However, the various predictions of its end have been proven wrong until now. Today, alongside a widespread consensus on the seriousness of the ongoing crisis, there is a total disagreement on how and if it is going to have an end at all. How can one explain this “Babel”? Does it make sense anymore, after so many false predictions, to ask economists and sociologists to predict the future?

What older theories of capitalist decline, or capitalist end, did not know, and could not know, is how many different forms capitalism as a social and economic system can assume – from liberal to state-administered to neoliberal, or from merchant to industrial to financial, etc. etc. Often enough, these transformations happened in the last minute, forced by crises, powerful countermovements, or, not least, the rise of the state and global warfare in the twentieth century. Still, the basic problem of modern capitalism remains: it is a socio-economic regime that depends on endless growth – endless accumulation of capital – in a finite world. All sorts of tricks have been invented to suspend that problem provisionally and for the time being; but there is no reason to believe that this will always be successful. In any case, giving up on thinking only because the question is difficult is not a good idea. (…)

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Greek version

Marx’s writing more relevant today than ever

Interview by Jipson John and Jitheesh P.M., Monthly Review Online, December 06, 2018.

Originally published in Frontline, November 09, 2018

In “How will capitalism end?”, your 2014 article for “New Left Review”, you gave a theoretical farewell to capitalism. You identified five disorders to the system, namely, declining growth, oligarchy, starvation of public sphere, corruption and international anarchy that would bring about the end of capitalism. Are you saying that such an end is impending or immediate before us?

I am not saying that. I am saying that those five trends will continue as there is nothing to be seen that can stop them. I am also saying that there is no new society waiting in the wings of history, which will only have to be instituted by the forces of capitalist opposition. Instead, I am expecting a long period of high uncertainty and disorder—an interregnum in which the old order has died while a new order cannot yet be born. Very strange things can happen in such a time, as Antonio Gramsci pointed out in a famous passage of his The Prison Notebooks.

You argue that capitalism will continue to regress and atrophy until at some point it might end. You also add that we do not need to confront capitalism but let its “natural” end come about. Will capitalism end in such a peaceful manner or will it endanger humanity? People such as John Bellamy Foster speak of either socialism or exterminism as the choice before humanity.

The interregnum will be an extremely dangerous period. It is not that we don’t need to confront capitalism. I said we don’t have the collective capacity to do away with it. I wish we did. But capitalism is now a global regime while anti-capitalist politics is inevitably local. That makes it possible to throw sand into the wheels of capitalist development but, I am afraid, not to end it. (…)

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Legado de Merkel es un montón de promesas vacías

Entrevista por Catalina Göpel, La Tercera, 19 de noviembre, 2018.

De visita en Chile para participar de la tercera cátedra Norbert Lechner 2018 “Globalización y la crisis del sistema estatal internacional” organizada por la Universidad Diego Portales, el sociólogo alemán Wolfgang Streeck, del Instituto Max Planck para los Estudios de Sociedades, conversó con La Tercera para abordar -entre otras cosas- los principales desafíos de Europa frente al auge del populismo en ese continente y el fin de la carrera política de la canciller germana Angela Merkel. “Va a culpar de su salida a estos movimientos nacionalistas”, dijo.

¿Qué ha permitido el auge de los movimientos nacionalistas y populistas en Europa?

Cuando la centroizquierda no pudo responder a los problemas actuales, esto puso las esperanzas de la gente en los nacionalismos. Actualmente la globalización socava la capacidad política del Estado Nación y frente a esto los desafíos son también los de encontrar las respuestas a las fuentes de la ansiedad e incertidumbre que experimenta el electorado. Eso quiere decir empleo, seguridad, sistema de pensiones, básicamente los fundamentos del orden de la posguerra. (…)

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Linke Politik im Schachmatt?

Gespräch mit Clemens Lukitsch, Grautöne, November, 2018.

Der Soziologe Streeck analysiert einen zunehmend der demokratischen Kontrolle entzogen Kapitalismus. Auf die wirtschaftlichen, folgen die politische Erschütterungen in den westlichen Gesellschaften – der Aufstieg regressiver Parteien in Europa, die Wahl Trumps in den USA. Grautöne fragt Streeck, wie viel Zeit noch „gekauft“ werden kann, bis der Konsens des „demokratischen Kapitalismus“ der Nachkriegszeit in sich zusammenfällt. In dem Gespräch geht es auch darum, welche Projekte eine auf soziale Gerechtigkeit abzielende Verteilungspolitik angehen müsste, was die Bewegung #aufstehen dazu beitragen kann und warum im linken Lager ein scharfer Konflikt zwischen Identitäts- und Verteilungsfragen entbrannt ist.


Das deutsche Imperium europäischer Nation

Interview mit Loren Balhorn, Ada Magazin, Juli 2018

Beginnen wir mit einer einfachen Frage: Wie schätzen Sie die große Koalition nach ihren ersten 100 Tagen ein? Notwendiges Übel, oder wäre Ihnen etwas anderes lieber gewesen?

Nein, keine Präferenzen. Vielleicht wenn Aussicht bestünde, dass eine SPD-Linke in der Opposition sich gezwungen sähe, sich mehr als bisher auf die nicht-sektiererischen Elemente in der Linkspartei einzulassen, so dass in der Schnittstelle etwas Neues entstehen könnte: eine Linke mit so etwas wie einer Machtperspektive. Aber dazu wäre es wohl auch unter einer Jamaika-Regierung nicht gekommen.

Machen Sie sich Sorgen über die Möglichkeit vor Neuwahlen angesichts des andauernden Streits zwischen Merkel und Seehofer?

Nein, überhaupt nicht. Das macht alles keinen Unterschied. Außer dass die SPD unter 15 Prozent fallen würde und die Grünen die CSU in einer Regierung „Merkel V“ ersetzen würden. (…)

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English translation:

Germany’s European Empire

Interview by Loren Balhorn, translation by Zachary Murphy King, Jacobin Magazine, August 2018

Read the full article here

Spanish translation:

El imperio europeo de Alemania

Entrevista por Loren Balhorn, traducido por Cristian Barros, octubre, 2018.

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One Question: Marx at 200

Interview by Cihan Aksan with John Bailes and leading thinkers,State of Nature, May 7, 2018

Wolfgang Streeck: As a student of sociology in Frankfurt at the end of the 1960s, I encountered Marx early. Unfortunately, however, nobody prevented me from getting in at the wrong end: the first chapters of Capital. This was too abstract for a twenty year-old from the provinces, with a pent-up need for concrete real-world experience.

It was only much later that I returned to Marx, when I was teaching at an American university, UW-Madison. There I became aware of the breathtaking complexity of Marx’s Hegel-trained conceptual apparatus, which surpasses everything that was produced at the time and later in social science, and which is uniquely suited to observe and represent conflicts, dilemmas, or ‘contradictions’ in social life. On this background I realized why the attempt had failed and had to fail to develop a theory (and practice) of the social-democratic governance of ‘modern’ societies with the help of a functionalist sociology and empiricist political science. (…)

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Other answers by: Ursula Huws, Sven-Eric Liedman, Terrell Carver, Jayati Ghosh, Frigga Haug, Lucia Pradella, Neil Faulkner, Lars T Lih, Esther Leslie, Guilherme Leite Gonçalves, Michael Roberts.

Macron risque d’être le troisième Président consécutif à ne faire qu’un mandat

Interview by Jorge Gomes-Ferreira, L’arène nue, April 24, 2018.

Vous observez beaucoup l’Europe. Après la longue crise politique qui a eu lieu dans votre pays et a amené à la reconduction de la « Grande coalition », après les élections italiennes de mars dernier, où en sommes nous selon vous ?

Nous nous trouvons devant une impasse, devant un équilibre, non pas des forces, mais des faiblesses. Suite aux élections, l’Allemagne n’est plus en mesure de répondre aux attentes de ses partenaires en termes de « réformes », c’est-à-dire en termes de concessions matérielles : l’AfD et le FDP feront tout au Bundestag pour dénoncer ouvertement et avec fracas toute initiative qui irait au-delà du traité de Maastricht ou de ce que permet la Constitution allemande. En Italie, depuis la fin de Renzi, il n’est plus envisageable que le pays poursuive les réformes néo-libérales exigées d’elle jusqu’à maintenant. Cela impliquerait que l’Italie puisse attendre de l’Allemagne un soutien économique en retour, qui ne soit pas que symbolique. (Continuez sur

Are we heading for another economic crash?

Interview by Cihan Aksan with John Bailes and leading thinkers, State of Nature, January 15, 2018

Wolfgang Streeck: I’m not a prophet. But there is no capitalism without the occasional crash, so if you will we are always heading for one. Inflation in the 1970s was ended by a return to ‘sound money’ in 1980, which begot deindustrialization and high unemployment, which together with tax cuts for the rich begot high public debt. When public debt became too high, fiscal consolidation in the 1990s had to be compensated, for macro-economic as well as political reasons, by capital market deregulation and private household debt, which begot the crash of 2008.

Now, almost a decade later, public debt is higher than ever, so is private debt; the global money volume has been steadily increasing for decades now; and the central banks are producing money as though there was no tomorrow, by buying up all sorts of debt with cash made ‘out of thin air’, which is called Quantitative Easing. While everybody knows that this cannot go on forever, nobody knows how to end it – same with public and private debt, same with the money supply. Something is going to happen, presumably soon, and it is not going to be pleasant. (Read other answers)

Other answers by: Cédric Durand, Susan Newman, David M. Kotz, Minqi Li, Mary Mellor, Andrew Ross, Tim di Muzio, Dario Azzellini, Ying Chen, Richard Murphy, Michael Roberts, Lena Rethel and Heikki Patomäki.