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.
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".
Fabian Scheidler: Since the financial crisis in 2008, the EU and the Euro in particular have been facing massive risks of breaking apart. Germany and the troika are imposing harsh austerity measures on southern Europe, where a whole generation has lost its future, with 50% and more of youth unemployment. Meanwhile, the old most powerful parties, especially the Social Democrats, and parts of the conservatives as well, are imploding in many European countries, with right-wing populists filling the vacuum, in some other cases also with new progressive movements or parties coming up. What are the options for Europe in your view and can there be progressive change in Europe within the framework of the neoliberal EU treaties and the Eurozone?
Richard Wolff: To answer the last part first, I cannot see how Europeans could proceed without undoing the last 30 years of the regime. It’s the same here in the United States. We have adjusted here in the United States our institutions, our laws, our political parties, to serve a capitalism that is internationalized, globalized, that is presiding over growing inequality on a scale that we have not seen for a century. All of the institutions have adjusted to that, which means that if you’re going to break that pattern, you have to rethink and reorganize all of the institutions. My belief is that this is very much up in the air, whether this will take a leftist form or whether it will take a rightist form. I don’t believe the rightists have the solution. They really want to solve the problems of capitalism by all kinds of cultural, social, governmental manipulations, but the problem isn’t the social, the cultural, and the governmental. The problem is the economic and they have no solution for that. They want to do more of the same. You can see that here in the United States very clearly. So, ironically, I think the left wing, if it could come up with a coherent plan, has as equal a chance, if not a better chance, to show a way out than the right wing. The problem for us has been, here in the United States, and I suspect it’s not so different in Europe, that the left wing has been unable or unwilling to break from its own traditions and chart a new path. The biggest critique I have of the social democratic party and even of the Linke party is, you have to come up with a plan. This is how you, as a left winger, are going to solve these problems. You can’t always be reacting to the latest difficulty; you have to teach people that the problem isn’t neoliberalism – that’s just one kind of capitalism – the problem is capitalism, whether it’s the neoliberal kind or the old social democratic kind, or the Keynesian kind. These are past, dead, we’re not going to solve that. And I think that the way to go is what I said before about worker coops, about this whole new organization of the workplace which no right winger says a word about, no right winger endorses. No right winger would dare offend their funding sources. You’ve got to do that. And here I would give you two examples of people doing that and they’re surprising, because they don’t come from social democracy in Europe, where you would’ve expected it. They come from the United States and Britain, which you would not have expected, for all the right reasons. So first, Mr. Corbyn in Britain. If you look at the program of Mr. Corbyn, it is in one respect very radical. He is saying that he is committed, as with his chancellor of the exchequer, John McDonnell. He has said that if they come to power, they will pass a law which says that every enterprise in England can stay the way it is, but if it plans to close or if it plans to sell itself to another or if it plans to go public by issuing stocks, it cannot do that without first offering to its own employees the opportunity to buy the enterprise and run it as a coop. And when the question was asked, well, where would the workers get the money, Mr. Corbyn smiled and said, the government will lend it to them. That is extraordinary. That is charting a way forward. It’s saying, we, as a political party, are committed to build a coop sector of this economy that is large, that will have lots of support, lots of people. The second one is Bernie Sanders. He didn’t go as far as Corbyn, not at all. But he did in his program, if you looked at it, his economic program, coops. He was willing to begin, very cautious, not much specifics, but: the beginning. And I think that’s where they’ll figure out, and of course we’re trying to push them, but they’ll figure out that this is the way to become unique and to begin to be a party with an answer, which is what people are looking for and I can assure you that what we saw here in the United States you will see elsewhere. For the first time in American history for half a century a man calling himself socialist who talks against big business, who talks in favor of worker coops, got 13 million votes in this country from all kinds of communities that no one had ever expected to vote, couldn’t imagine – here we are different from Europe. In the United States, socialism, communism, anarchism, terrorism, are all the same for the mass of people. We thought that, but we were wrong, because a socialist stood up and said, no, I’m something else. And it turns out, particularly people younger than 35, he gets the majority. If the vote was only people 35 and younger, he’d be the president. So you have to now begin to build on what that tells us.
Fabian Scheidler: Last question, concernining Bernie Sanders. He raised a remarkable number of people and there was a lot of engagement. How do you see the future of the movement now, after the election and after the election of Donald Trump? He’s still part, in a way, of the Democratic Party, although he is an independent. He has created an organization also. What do you think, how should the people who were engaged before the election engage now in order to make change happen?
Richard Wolff: That is the issue being fought out in the United States right now. The biggest criticism from the left of Bernie Sanders is precisely that he stays in the Democratic Party. The biggest counterargument that comes from him is that American politics is so set up that if he didn’t stay in the Democratic Party, he wouldn’t get the attention to what his criticisms are. He wouldn’t get the audience, he wouldn’t get the opportunity. So that at least for the time being, he has to stay in the Democratic Party. My response is, we need him in the party and we need him out. Since we can’t have him both, let him stay in the Democratic Party and be the left-wing voice. And if I can borrow from the German example, perhaps Mr. Sanders’ role would be a little bit like Oskar Lafontaine. Maybe his job is to stay in the Democratic Party until those of us that are outside of the Democratic Party can have something big enough, strong enough, vibrant enough for him to say goodbye to the Democratic Party and we can merge that which is to the left with the left wing of the old Democratic Party, and develop our version of the Die Linke party. That may be how this proceeds, but I couldn’t, I wouldn’t say, don’t do it in the Democratic Party, because the reasons to agitate there remain. But for the same reason, I would strongly support people working outside of the Democratic Party, critical of the Democratic Party, because for an awful lot, particularly of younger people, the Republican and Democratic parties are the old, dishonored, disrespected, leftover of a society they don’t like, that they don’t support, and that they don’t want. If you didn’t have something outside of the Democratic Party, these people would turn away from political activity and they were only brought in by Bernie Sanders, just like Jeremy Corbyn brought in half a million British people into the Labor Party. That has to be dealt with as a serious proposition. If the Labor Party succeeds in pushing Corbyn and his supporters out, they will form a new party. If the Democratic Party pushes Bernie out, same thing, which is why they don’t do it. They’re terribly afraid that they will begin to go down like the Social Democratic Party in Germany, which is what I believe would happen. Mr. Trump understood that by championing working class interests, by keeping jobs from leaving, by destroying Mexico – which is an insane political decision, the United States is going to have a failed state right on its borders, with millions and millions of desperate people. If Mr. Trump succeeds and it actually works, which I don’t think it will, but if it did, it would produce such a disaster in Mexico that that will be our politics for the next 40 years. So Americans know all of this and I think the Democratic Party is in extreme difficulty now, not knowing what to do or how to move in this situation and this is their own fault. They had opportunity when Obama was elected, they could’ve tried to do something. They didn’t. And that’s because they’re part of this system and they can’t think like that and this is now going to cost them very big. That’s why this election happened and that’s why our politics in the next year or two is going to be from the European point of view extremely strange and dangerous. Fabian Scheidler: Thank you very much, Richard Wolff.