[Marxism] David Harvey: it's about a New Deal

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Sun Nov 30 04:39:53 MST 2003

Q. In The New Imperialism (2003), you do not seem to argue against
imperialism as such. In fact, you seem to see it as unavoidable in the world
today. Could you perhaps elaborate on your position? How would you
distinguish your own vision of imperialism from that espoused by the current
Republican administration?

A. I share with Marx the view that imperialism, like capitalism, can prepare
the ground for human emancipation from want and need. In arenas like public
health, agricultural productivity, and the application of science and
technology to confront the material problems of existence (including the
preservation of the environment), capitalism and imperialism have opened up
potential paths to a better future. The problem is that the dominant class
relations of capitalism and the institutional arrangements and knowledge
structures to which these class powers give rise typically block the
utilization of this potential. Furthermore, these class relations and
institutional arrangements set in motion imperialist forms dedicated to the
preservation or enhancement of the conditions of their own reproduction,
leading to ever greater levels of social inequality and more and more
predatory practices with respect to the mass of the world's population
("accumulation by dispossession," as I call it).

My argument is that, at the present moment, the US has no option except to
engage in such practices unless there is a class movement internally that
challenges existing class relations and their associated hegemonic
institutions and political-economic practices. This leaves the rest of the
world with the option of either resisting US imperialism directly (as in the
case of many developing country social movements) or seeking either to
divert it or compromise with it by forming, for example, sub-imperialisms
under the umbrella of US power. The danger is that anti-imperialist
movements may become purely and wholeheartedly anti-modernist movements
rather than seeking an alternative globalization and an alternative
modernity that makes full use of the potential that capitalism has spawned.

There are two sorts of solutions that seem possible today. The first
consists of a radical overthrow of existing institutional arrangements and
the re-structuring of political-economic practices in ways that confront and
ultimately displace class powers as articulated through market exchange and
capital accumulation. In the long run I believe that something of this sort
has to occur if humanity is to survive without falling back into barbarism.
There are multiple movements around the world in motion searching for some
such alternative (as symbolized by the World Social Forum). These are full
of interesting ideas and partial victories have been won. But I do not
believe the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement is currently
strong enough or even adequately equipped, theoretically or practically, to
undertake such a task. This then poses the question of what to do in the
immediate present, in the face of a very dangerous political and economic

In my own view, there is only one way in which capitalism can steady itself
temporarily and draw back from a series of increasingly violent
inter-imperialist confrontations, and that is through the orchestration of
some sort of global "new" New Deal. This would require a considerable
realignment of political and economic practices within the leading
capitalist powers (the abandonment of neo-liberalism and the reconstruction
of some sort of redistributive Keynesianism) as well as a coalition of
capitalist powers ready to act in a more redistributive mode on the world
stage (a Karl Kautsky kind of ultra-imperialism). For people on the left,
the question is whether we would be prepared to support such a move (much as
happened in leftist support for social democracy and new deal politics in
earlier times) or to go against it as "mere reformism." I am inclined to
support it (much as I support, albeit with reservations, what Luis Inacio
Lula da Silva is doing in Brazil) as a temporary respite and as a breathing
space within which to try to construct a more radical alternative.
Otherwise, I fear a catastrophic beginning to the twenty-first century that
will bring death and mayhem to even more of the world's population than is
now afflicted. The mass consequences of a capitalist collapse would be far
more catastrophic now than in the past simply because of the way so much of
the world's population is now integrated into, and therefore in some sense
crucially dependent upon, the functioning of the world market. It was for
this reason that I argued for a new New Deal in The New Imperialism. In the
long run, however, I believe the respite to be had from such a politics will
be short, perhaps all too short. We therefore need to think alternatives and
to begin building them now in the interstices of capitalism.

Q. How would you assess the position of left-leaning free-market advocates
like George Soros, who have sought to combine economic liberalism with
democratic reform. Are Soros' goals realistic in your view? How are your
views similar or different from Soros' and others?

A. This question concerns, in very general terms, the issue of alliances
that can be pinned together to realize reformist political goals. This is a
tactical question in which all manner of oppositional forces, including
dissident voices (like those of George Soros, Paul Krugman or Joseph
Stieglitz -- if they really mean what they say) within the dominant classes,
have a potential role to play. My own view is that we should have one foot
firmly implanted within those conventional political movements that are
prepared to take up the cause of reform and one foot implanted in the
radical movements seeking more revolutionary solutions. This straddling of
political positions can sometimes be uncomfortable or even unbearable. But I
think it wise to recognize that reformists and revolutionaries can often
make common cause in a particular conjuncture, the only discernible
differences sometimes being the long-term goals rather than the short term
actions. Given the political and military violence of neo-conservativism
coupled with the economic violence of neo-liberalism, it seems to me that a
powerful reformist movement deserves every ounce of support we can give it.

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