In recent days, a debate on the current state of Americanism has been circulating in the networks. The concept was coined in the early 1930s by Antonio Gramsci, who envisioned the emergence in the United States of a type of capitalism that differed substantially from its European counterpart.
Fordism and Taylorism, together with new systems of psychological management of workers, would be the basis of an authentically passive revolution — that is, an updating of capitalism redesigned to confront the “historical tendency of the fall of the rate of profit.” Gramsci questioned the ability of European elites to promote a transformation of this dimension. Strictly speaking, the aristocratic and clerical estates, the dense layers of noblemen and landowners and the “sumptuary spirit” of the bureaucratic and military bodies had so far inhibited such a phenomenon on the old continent.
It was the violence and the spread of World War II that dismantled the power of the estates — but not those of the Mediterranean, of course — that had kept many European societies from modernization. However, in the 1950s, a new and unthinkable reordering emerged, initially based in the United Kingdom — a variant that, driven by the strength of social and workers’ organizations, could perhaps be called Europeanism.
Instead of the high wages advocated by Henry Ford for workers (always under the close supervision of social and psychological control mechanisms managed by the companies themselves), the welfare state appeared: health, education, food and pensions became functions guaranteed as public responsibilities. Disciplinary techniques would be the responsibility of state systems. Europeanism became a form of capitalism obliged to increase its productivity on the basis of technological inventions and to secure wage limits through immigrants coming mostly from the Mediterranean countries.
In my opinion, the great crisis of the old Americanism began in the 1970s. More than an energy collapse, it was the revelation of a reason for the diminished competitiveness of the U.S. economy in the world market: high wages in manufacturing industries. Fordism had ceased to work.
The response was no longer a passive revolution as in the 1920s, but a process of restoration. The conservative (read: neoliberal) crusade was led by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who were impressed by the speed it had demonstrated in Chile under dictator Augusto Pinochet. This crusade consisted of privatization, deregulation, opening borders to capital and peripheral migration, the weakening of the power of trade unions and, above all, the transfer of manufacturing industries to emerging economies. It was a phenomenon that could be called Americanism II that Bolívar Echeverría analyzed with great precision at the end of the 1990s.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union facilitated the rapid spread of this model, with the exception of three areas: Europe, which preserved the order forged in the 1950s; the Asian capitalism of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore; and, surprisingly, the hybrid economy of China.
The technological key to Americanism II was the cyber revolution. The political-cultural key to the new discipline: psychopolitics. The social key: the massive migration of workers from the periphery, who were denied — and continued to be denied — citizenship, qualifications, health and a dignified life. The party was short-lived.
The financial crisis of 2008 called into question the solvency of both Europeanism and American restoration. As does Yannis Varoufakis, I believe they have not yet recovered. In fact, the economies of Europe have been in stagnation for a decade. And the German machine owes more to Chinese productivity than to the rhetorical excesses of its own assumptions.
Looking at the current map of the geoeconomies, the U.S. economy shows a continuing inability to regain its former vigor. The reason is both simple and complex: Business cannot pay for what the state should take in hand (health, education, pensions, etc.). To do so, it would have to stop subsidizing financial capital. It looks difficult. In Europe, attempts have been made since Silvio Berlusconi to move to the U.S. scheme. The difference is that social resistance is much more serious and severe there. These days, Emmanuel Macron must face the most radical workers’ challenge since 1995: a belligerent opposition to the reduction of pensions. As a green deputy in Germany said, “Neoliberalism is a pit from which no one emerges unscathed.” And NATO is preparing with more vigor to confront local social protests than it is to fight Russian tanks.
The dilemma for Mexico is how to get out of this hole as quickly as possible. But that is not the goal of the Moreno* government’s social reforms, which aim to expand consumption by directly distributing money; however, it is a start. They legitimize the need to distribute income, but the most important thing is missing: to place the world of work, and not the world of investment or “poverty,” at the center of society.
* Editor’s Note: This is the liberal political party of Andrés Manuel López Obrador.