Review of Joshua B. Freeman (2018), Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Appeared in London Review of Books 41 (3), 2019, 29-31.
It was in the early 1960s, I think, that our class at a small-town Gymnasium made a trip to south-western Germany, accompanied by several teachers. We visited Heidelberg and Schwetzingen and similar places without really seeing them; 17-year-old boys have other things on their minds. But we also went to Rüsselsheim, near Frankfurt, for a tour of the Opel car factory. I had never imagined that a place like this could exist: the deafening noise, the dirt, the heat, and in the middle of it all, people stoically performing minute predefined operations on the cars-in-the-making that were slowly but relentlessly moving past their work stations. The high point of the visit was the foundry in the basement – which, as I now learn from Joshua Freeman’s marvellous book, was the standard place for foundries in car factories of that era. Here, where the heat seemed unbearable and there was almost no light, half-naked men carried the molten metal, red-hot, from the furnace to the casting stations in small buckets filled to a back-breaking weight. Trained in the classics rather than the real world, I felt I had entered the workshop of Hephaestus. Looking back, I think it was on that day I decided to study sociology, which I then believed could help me and others to improve the lives of those slaving away in the basements of factories everywhere. (…)
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Norbert Lechner Lecture, Diego Portales University, Chile, November 14, 2018.
In a globally integrated capitalist economy borders between states are supposed to become economically irrelevant. Globalization is the ultimate form of liberalization; it shields free markets, instituted on a global scale, from national state intervention, in particular of a redistributive kind. Rather than markets located in states, under globalization states become located in markets. This has momentous consequences for the nature of statehood, both domestically and internationally. States located in markets lose the capacity to protect their economies and societies from market competition; in fact their economic role, if one is left for them at all, is to deregulate their national economies in order to make them more competitive, internally first and as a consequence externally as well. (…)
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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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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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Published in Social Research Vol. 85: No. 3: Fall 2018, 661-685.
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin
For a social scientist, reading Darwin’s origin of species is a simultaneously humbling and reassuring experience. What an achievement! Science and scientific writing at their best. A book that is the product of long thinking, such as we today, haunted by deadlines, can only dream of, and written in a clear, engaging language, immensely readable for even the (educated and interested) layperson. Everything is as simple as possible but no simpler, as allegedly demanded by none less than Albert Einstein himself. And profoundly honest: the open questions, the remaining mysteries carefully exposed, careful attention paid to the difficult spots, and the arguments of the opposition, both real and anticipated, treated with polite respect. (…)
Published in Efil Journal of Economic Research, Vol. 1 (2018), No. 3, 30-47
The international state system is in turmoil, due to pressures on its architecture that emanate from capitalist-economic globalization. Large states in particular seem to be losing the capacity to hold their societies together through economic redistribution from prospering to lagging sectors and regions. The results are centrifugal tendencies toward decentralization and secession, as well as toward exit from international organizations. To defend centralized rule, governments of large political units tend to turn authoritarian. Experimentation with small-scale units of governance seems attractive in many places, given the example of successful small countries that have preserved their national sovereignty, like Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland. Small states tend to be more homogeneous, more suitable for democratic self-government, and more capable of specializing on niches in the global economy where they are comparatively safe from head-on competition. (…)
Appeared in Culture, Practice & Europeanization, August 2018, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 3-22
As a sociologist working on political economy, one of the most difficult questions I encounter is how social norms, the location of actors in the class structure and the collective construction of reality, present and future, hang together. How are facts construed to fit, justify and make appear possible moral or economic practices, or economic practices defended as moral ones, and how do socially constructed factual accounts of the world reflect, preserve and produce political identities and cleavages and the prevailing interpretations of structurally based social interests? This is the classical theme of Ideologiekritik and, later, Wissenssoziologie. Both interrogate the collective “ideas”, the legitimacy-enhancing “narratives” and the conceptual “frames” of the common sense of the time as to the hidden impact on them of material interests growing out of the social locations of actors and the specific cognitive and moral perspectives they impose on them. It cannot possibly be my intention here to try to present a complete analysis of this extremely complicated subject. Rather, I will limit myself to exploring a few selected facets of the interconnections between interests, politics and moral values, drawing for illustration on one of the most intriguing moral-political-economic issues in the rich democracies of today, which is immigration. (…)
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