Burawoy on social movements and the anti-commodification.

Yesterday 23rd of July I went to a conference in the Faculty of Social Sciences, U. of Chile, in which Michael Burawoy spoke about ‘Facing an Unequal World’. Very interesting. So we now proceed to summarize what I found relevant to the conference and to make a few comments.

The fundamental idea is that in order to understand, basically, the social movements of the last few years is the context of the advance of neoliberalism in the world. And this is best understood if it is analyzed from the classical ideas of Polanyi in The Great Transformation. Polanyi, speaking of the process of commodification in the NINETEENTH century is proposed that, in last instance, the advance of the market what it produces is a counter-movement, the self-regulating market is not sustainable eventually: ends up threatening the continuation of the society and therefore the society comes to regulate it. Therefore, social movements have to be understood in general as forms of counter-commodify

What makes Burawoy is to state that one has to complexify this basic idea. What is crucial is that what Polanyi had seen as a just movement -which would have proven once and for all that the self-regulating market does not work – in

reality is rather three distinct waves. And each of these rides is not only a repetition of a movement toward and from the commercialization but that have different characteristics. To do this, Burawoy retrieves the idea of Polanyi of a merchandise fictitious: a good that if markets completely threatened its use-value (and stops working). In addition, vary the actors involved in the counter-movement.

In a schema:

Wave Chronology Goods Dummy Actor Theory
First Wave 1795-1914 Work Local Community Spontaneity
Second Wave 1914-1974 Money (+T) State National Emancipation
Third Wave 1974- Nature (+D + T) Global Society Protection

One can observe, then, as the social movements of the last years are located as ways to protect themselves against the market in relation to these goods dummy: Against the commodification of nature, and in particular access to land (and as many are excluded from it), facing the commodification total of money, expressed in the

financial capital without limits, and in disputes over debt, and against the commodification of the work, expressed in the current wave as insecurity.

Part of the conclusions of Burawoy to a halt in the relationship with the State of today’s social movements. In part emphasized that there is a distrust of the State, saw it as something allegedly colluded with the capital; and that there is in general an emerging, but not yet established, a vision of a participatory democracy. Also what is the actor in charge of the counter-movement of this third wave? Because the State would have been the actor of the second, but no longer corresponds to a wave that occurs on a global level. In fact, in this sense, Burawoy emphasized the possibility that did not exist a counter-movement in this third wave. The society would not operate as a system self-regulating with mechanisms of feedback to ensure the existence of corrections.

Here Burawoy. Now the comments

  1. The first is in relation to the character of these counter-movements. Remember, Wallerstein dixit, that capitalism is a machine that is based on growth. Now, in each wave what has happened is that the goods dummy in question is a reproduction of and use would be threatened and that is crucial to the reproduction and growth of capitalism. Let us consider the case of the work: The guards to the worker what it is that workers from reproducing themselves and also promote their productivity (i.and through education for example). The financial crises end up affecting the possibility of use as a means of exchange and of the functioning of the mechanisms of credit -which are crucial for growth. In that sense, we can explain, because they have been given to these waves: In each situation the capitalism is facing a crisis of a resource that is being commodified by its expansion but its pure commodification may affect the subsequent growth of capitalism. To put it another way, the reasons of the counter-movement are not purely anti-capitalist or products of social movements that confront the commodification.
  2. With that we pass to the second topic which is the character of the State. One important thing to remember is that the State has been an actor crucial in each wave of marketisation: One of the things that Polanyi emphasized is that commodify the society requires a strong state intervention. And at the same time has been an actor crucial for each counter-movement. It may be that the actor who generates the counter-movement is not the State, as for example in the first wave, but it is the State that executes the measures that allow it. In this sense, and considering the first point, using the framework of their own Burawoy, the State itself seems to function as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie, at least from time to time, and it is there where you play as a process of ‘correction’.

More in general, in some way, we’ve forgotten that the States have power-at the end of the day, continue to maintain control of means of violence – and that there is a reason for which, following the reasoning of Burawoy, the States are co-opted: because its co-optation is important because to effectively manage resources. Think of the State as an agent without power has been one of the tricks of the most ingenious of the ideology of commodification.

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