Is Marxism capitalism or socialism

Interview with Leda Paulani
"Socialism is a regulative idea"

The economist Leda Paulani, who teaches at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP), talks about the topicality of Marxist thought in Latin America and the world.

According to the Brazilian economist Leda Paulani, the thoughts of the philosopher Karl Marx continue to help to understand the problems of today's capitalism, such as the accumulation of wealth, increasing social inequality or the loss of power of the working class. Paulani talks about it in an interview and suggests seeing socialism as a “regulative idea”.

What is the current state of Marxist thinking in Latin America?

The topicality of this thinking is the same wherever there is a capitalist mode of production in the world, practically everywhere, and no different in Latin America. Here, however, there are special features, such as the aspect of dependency, which has to be thought about and which Marxist authors also think about.

What achievements of Marxism have survived the two centuries?

It is hard to speak of "achievements", but in any case I think that the impetus of Marx's thoughts on the struggle of the working classes against exploitation and oppression by the possessing classes is responsible for all we minimal civilizations of the Have achieved employment relationships: labor law and, on another level, the welfare state. It is also clear, however, that all of this is being called into question today, for reasons that Marx also saw. In this case, therefore, we are not talking about achievements, but about the topicality of Karl Marx's thoughts.

For example, in his General Law of Capitalist Accumulation, Marx foresaw that the contradiction-based system would produce great wealth and, at the same time, a great deal of poverty and misery. We see now that the state has ceased to function as a regulating, balancing element for the contradictions and inequalities produced by the system, that this is exactly what capitalism, left to itself and only driven by its own logic, does.

What is obsolete about Marxist theory and what needs to be reconsidered at the moment?

The most important point, which from my point of view is out of date, is Marx's statement that everywhere in the world money must always be a real commodity produced by human labor, in this case gold. That has not been true since the early 1970s, more precisely since 1971 when then President Richard Nixon decoupled the American dollar from gold and thus unilaterally terminated the Bretton Woods Agreement, which had regulated international finances since the end of the Second World War.

Although the American dollar is no longer remotely related to any real value, it continues to function as a global currency. Apart from this prediction error, Marx's theory of monetary value is still up to date and is even able to capture newly created concepts such as “interest capitalization” or “fictitious capital”, which are at the center of the debate about the progress of capitalism today, for example in discussions about the Extension of the accumulation process to the financial market.

Against the Marxist background, could you say something about today's social inequality in Latin America?

The implementation of neoliberal policies since the early 1980s has led to a marked increase in inequality around the world today. Also in Latin America, where the problem is even more acute because of the already drastic starting point. Inequalities (of income, wealth and at the regional level) are always more dramatic here than in the countries at the center of the system (the developed economies). As far as the class struggle is concerned, it is changing from the classical form, which is always associated with strikes and union activity.

With trade unions all over the world (due to technological progress, dwindling influence of the state and low growth rates) losing strength and importance, class struggle is now expressed much more in social movements (such as the landless or the homeless) than in workers' unions (even if there are occasional significant strikes). As already mentioned, the loss of power of the working class can be observed all over the world, so it is a global phenomenon. But social movements in this country have greater potential and more power. In Europe, for example, a landless movement would make little sense because there was land reform there.

In your opinion, would it be possible to establish a kind of “new socialism” in today's global economy?

To answer this question exactly, we would need a clear definition of what socialism is, and we don't have that right now. There are general principles, such as respect for human species as a species (showing respect and dignity to human beings), ending all forms of exploitation and oppression, and so on, but we have no practical guidance on what to do and how . Two things, however, are clear to me. On the one hand, that although we do not have a ready-made recipe for socialism, we know exactly which direction to go in the struggles of everyday life, precisely because we have these principles.

I like to say about socialism what the German philosopher Immanuel Kant said about the good. He said that even if we don't know exactly what good is, we should act as if we did. So the good as a “regulative idea”. The same can be said about socialism: we do not know exactly what it is, not least because history can only build it, but we must act as if we did. Socialism is a regulative idea. Second, it is certain that in the world economy as it functions today, there is not the slightest possibility of building anything remotely socialist.

The “connected world”, triggered by the digital revolution with its great promises of collaboration, creative freedom and the “economy of sharing”, has finally led to the emergence of huge trusts like Google, Amazon, Uber, Facebook, which are tremendously powerful and are hardly transparent.

How can we use the means of Marxism to think about today's Brazil from the point of view of economic policy?

Marx explains how capitalism works, the logic behind it and how it develops. He doesn't say anything about economic policy. He doesn't even say much about the state. But elements of Marxism help us to see exactly where the problems are, what one has to be against and what for. For example, anything that deprives workers of rights can be criticized, such as the reforms recently introduced in our country (and by an illegitimate government, too). (Even a liberal like Adam Smith, considered the founder of economics, has recognized an asymmetry in the relationship between buying and selling labor, because workers are always on the weaker side of those who sign them.

Leda Paulani PhD in economic theory at the Institute for Economic Research (IPE) of the University of São Paulo (USP) and is a private lecturer in the Department of Economics and postgraduate studies in the Faculty of Economics, Administration and Accounting (FEA) of the USP. She is visiting scholar at the Center for Strategic Democracy, Development and Sustainability Research NEEDDS of the Federal University of the ABC Region (UFABC) and publishes regularly in Brazilian and international periodicals. Among other things, she is the author of Modernidade e Discurso Econômico (modernity and economic discourse) and Brasil Delivery (both at Boitempo Editorial).