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Q&A: Crisis Could Lead to ‘Revolutionary Change’

Gustavo Capdevila interviews academic ALAIN BIHR

ZURICH, Switzerland, Feb 1 2009 (IPS) - As the economic crisis bites deeper, a revolutionary outcome may be possible, in the view of French academic Alain Bihr. Everything depends on citizens’ capacity for struggle, he told IPS in an interview during events at The Other Davos, in this Swiss city.

Alain Bihr Credit: Alternative Libertaire

Alain Bihr Credit: Alternative Libertaire

At first, however, “the bourgeoisie and the governments who defend its interests” will attempt to “make the workers pay for the worsening of the crisis,” said Bihr, a professor of sociology at the University of Franche-Comté in the northeastern French city of Besançon.

On Friday, Bihr was at The Other Davos, an international conference organised by the Swiss branch of the Association for Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Benefit of Citizens (ATTAC) to express opposition to the World Economic Forum (WEF), which winds up its annual session Sunday at the tourist resort of Davos.

IPS: How will the crisis affect the most vulnerable sectors of the population? ALAIN BIHR: It is not possible to understand the situation of the poorest and most dispossessed if one does not also understand the situation of the world of waged labour as a whole, because the most vulnerable people are simply the lowest strata of that world of waged labour. And it is that world of waged labour as a whole that has been the target of aggression on the part of capital and governments in the last 30 years.

IPS: How has this aggression been implemented? AB: Under the guise of neoliberal (free market) policies that have led to a rise in unemployment and in precarious work, a reduction of the proportion of social wealth devoted to wages, and chopping up social benefits. Obviously, the most vulnerable people have been the ones most affected by these policies.

IPS: What are the prospects for these policies? AB: The crisis, which goes back to the first oil shock in the 1970s, has gone through various phases and has now entered a new stage with the recent financial and banking disasters. As for the prospects, I’m afraid governments will persist in their policies of aggression, because they will have to adopt measures that are absolutely unpopular, in all senses of the word.

IPS: What should we expect? AB: The same thing all over again: governments will allow companies to dismiss workers and resort to part-time work; they will cut social spending to shrink the fiscal deficits created by the loans they make, on the other hand, to save companies and banks and so on. All this will translate into a worse situation for the most vulnerable people in society.

IPS: What about social movements, trade unions and leftwing political parties – are they ready and organised to face this situation? AB: I would say they are not, because they are heirs to a phase of the history of the labour movement, to a workers’ movement that has been left behind. However, in recent years, labour struggles and struggles on other fronts as well have shown their capacity for conflict, struggle, resistance and organisation.

They are also showing considerable capacity for putting forward political proposals and for political imagination, which leads one to hope for an outcome different to the one I have just mentioned.

IPS: What might that different outcome be? AB: An outcome that is different to the stark solution that consists in worsening the living conditions of the working class. In a word, one that demonstrates that another way out is possible.

IPS: Could you be more precise? AB: Another possible outcome would mean, at a minimum, obtaining or imposing a new process of sharing wealth that would be more favourable to people. And – why not? – an outcome which is committed to a process of revolutionary change. I believe the worsening of the crisis creates such a possibility.

IPS: So, what future do you see for capitalism? AB: Everything will depend, in fact, on the capacity for resistance and struggle of the people. If their capacity is sufficient, capitalism has reason to be worried. But if their capacity is insufficient, clearly capitalism will manage to reestablish itself, one way or another, although the challenges facing it today are unparallelled in its history.

Capitalism is not only facing a wide-ranging social crisis, but also has to cope with an environmental crisis, which is an even greater challenge. Capitalism is hemmed in by both of these.

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