Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?

Issue section: 

This book is written as a wake up call for the American ruling class. “If democracy cannot harness capitalism it runs the risk of subverting itself and giving way to neo-fascist regimes that will pretend to manage the market but more often ally themselves with corporations and substitute ultra-nationalist symbols and scapegoats for reforms.”

Kutner laments the fact that the political “elites have won the policy debates but have lost the citizenry”. Alarmed by the election of Trump, the Brexit vote, and growth of the far-right in Europe, he looks back to the period when, with US leadership, capitalism brought prosperity as well as democracy. This was seen most clearly by the “collective empowerment of organised labour and the drastic regulation of private capital” under Roosevelt in the 1930s, and in the global institutions that rebuilt a “democratic” Europe with a “social contract”.

Politicians need to steer back to “some form of equitable mixed economy” that would bring “broad prosperity” and “reinforce support for liberal democracy.”

Kutner charts the collapse of the democratic left parties and leaders: Mitterrand, Clinton, and Blair. But they have no excuse. They “signed on to much of the neoliberal policy regime — whose effects they and hundreds of millions of citizens are still suffering.” Kutner points out that “even when further left parties such as Greece’s Syriza coalition managed to get elected they found themselves shackled by the system’s rules.” So the rules need to be changed. “Capitalism can be managed”. A “benign globalism” is possible.

Reflecting on the state of US democracy today Kutner points out that “whether voters cast their ballot for Clinton, Bush, Obama or Trump they somehow get Goldman Sachs”.

For Kutner the “liberation of finance” in the 1970s and 1980s was just a policy choice that “was not required by economic circumstances”. But the US-backed coup in Chile, widespread union busting and derecognition, the British miners’ strike, all suggest that the rise of neoliberalism was rather the outcome of a class war against organised workers.

Kutner interviewed former Trump advisor Steve Bannon. “The Democrats. The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity and we go with economic nationalism we can crush the Democrats.”

For Kutner there is hope. The Republicans must split. Then with the election of a “progressive Democratic president and Congress in 2020” we can “restore faith in affirmative government, to counter and contain the power of finance, to damp down the appeal of neo-fascism domestically and globally, and reclaim domestic policy space from the current golden straight jacket of globalism.”

He concludes, “admittedly a long shot, but our only shot”.