Richard Wollf talks about the structural crisis of the capitalist world economy, the root causes for the rise of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and right-wing movements, and about the necessity for the left to come up with a plan for a new economic order. Worker cooperatives would play a key role in such an order, being supported already by the programs of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.
Richard D. Wolff, Prof. em. for Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His latest book is: "Capitalism's Crisis Deepens: Essays on the Global Economic Meltdown".
“If you make a tiny group of people, say five percent, very very wealthy, and you plunge the mass of people into a declining, frightening situation, you will have a political explosion.” The shift of employment to low-wage countries and the dismantling of the New Deal and the welfare state have created a structural crisis of capitalism and, at the same time, a political crisis. The working class is “agitated and worried”. “The rich, knowing that the mass of people are angry, have decided to manage the situation by buying the political system, by literally taking it away from any democratic foundation.” The anger of the working class has contributed decisively to the shift to the right in Germany, the ascent of the Front National in France, the election of Donald Trump, and Brexit.
Nationalism and protectionism in the US will hardly succeed, according to Wolff. It will only worsen the crisis of the world economy. There are parallels to the history of Germany in the 1930s. Trumps policies could lead from a trade war to a military war. Ironically, the left has opportunities in this situation if it is able to come up with a convincing concept for a new economic order. The flaws of socialism in the 20th century ought to be considered. Worker co-ops would play a major role in such a new, democratic system, overcoming the distinction between employers and employees. As everybody is dependent on financial relations like cash, bank accounts and debt, a private, for-profit financial system is “irrational” and “crazy”. Banks and insurance companies should be controlled by both the employees and the public.
The structural crisis in the US and the EU can only be overcome by changing the institutions, laws and parties that have adapted to the neoliberal agenda in the past 30 years. The left has to come up with a plan in this situation. Both, Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the US, promote worker co-ops in their programs. According to Corbyn’s concept, enterprises that are to be closed or sold or are planning to go public by issuing stocks, have to offer to its employees the opportunity to buy the company. The state would provide financial assistance in such a case. Corbyn has already attracted 500.000 new members to the Labour Party. In the US, Bernie Sanders was the first candidate for the US presidency to call himself a “socialist”. For people younger than 35, he would already get the majority.