Friday, November 03, 2006


Translating "Capitalese" Into Ordinary English
By Thomas Riggins

Recently I read an article in The New York Times business section
("In France, a Bullet Goes Unbitten" Tuesday, April 11, 2006) by Floyd
Norris. It is a very revealing article as it shows how the Times keeps
its well heeled corporate base informed about what is really going on
in the world of capitalist economics. They use their own secret
language to communicate with one another, a language that says one
thing on the surface but has a hidden subtext that, if recognized,
allows the reader to translate "Capitalese" (the secret dialect of the
capitalists) into more meaningful ordinary English. I'll give you an

Norris begins his article talking about the views of an unnamed
(fictional?) CEO of a large transnational "based in France." Mr. X, as
I will call him, laid out his views as to the best means for "needed
economic reform" which would entail "making it much easier to hire and
fire workers." People may talk about the "partnership" between capital
and labor, but here we see that Mr. X only sees workers as pawns to be
hired and fired based on the needs of capital. So as not to mince
words, I will simply say the 'needed economic" reforms entail an
attack on the working class so as to weaken it with respect to capital
and to see how many of the gains it has made in the years since the
Second World War (and before then even) can be taken away.

Norris' Mr. X maintains that the "politicians from all parties" know
that an attack on the working class is necessary. It is also known
that this attack "was unlikely to be popular with voters" (it was an
error to enfranchise the sans culottes). In other words, the
representatives of the political institutions of so called modern
democratic Europe know that they have to launch an undemocratic attack
against the working class and it must be carried out against the
majority will. What better evidence is there that the representatives
of modern day capitalism are opposed to democracy itself and care
nothing for the will of the majority – except to manipulate it.

Mr. X now goes on to tell how this attack on the workers can best be
carried out. The parties should work to get themselves elected then
once in office start to carry out the attack. They know that this will
cause their defeat at the next election, but so what, parties switch
back and forth all the time and work in coalitions with each other
anyway. So the government will be replaced "at the next election by a
government that would then offend the voters by adopting more such
legislation, and in turn be replaced." A completely cynical and
undemocratic procedure.

Mr. X can propose this because, in general, this is just how bourgeois
democracy works in the first place. It is capital that controls the
parties and the parties ultimately represent the class interests of
the capitalists unless the masses can force concessions from them (as
recently happened in France with regard to the labor laws).

Norris says it was almost two years ago that Mr. X put forth these
views, and that he was pretty much correct. Mr. X thought Germany was
more likely than France to be able to follow this scenario. The recent
fall of Gerhard Schroder and the "abrupt surrender" of Jacques Chirac
bears this out.

But, Norris, says it also looks like many politicians are shying away
from the attack. If Silvio Berlusconi is finally out of power in Italy
it maybe because he attacked the workers (upping the retirement age)
and Romano Prodi attacked that measure. We are seeing a left upsurge
which was unforeseen 2 years ago by Mr. X. This does not, however,
change the underlying need to attack the workers and their benefits!

Here is how Norris describes Berlusconi's action – he did it
(increasing the retirement age) to "ease by a little the burden on the
government pension system." Its true that unproductive seniors are a
"burden" from the capitalist point of view but the burden could also
be eased by a small increase in the tax rate on capital. This would
amount to a small portion of the surplus value extorted from the
workers being turned over to the state pension system. Norris does not
mention this possibility.

Norris also tells us that the "pressures of globalization mean that
Europe must eventually change." This means that whatever victories in
the short run the workers may now be celebrating, the capitalist
attack upon them will not go away. This pressure is that the cost to
reproduce labor power in the third world is considerably cheaper than
in Europe.

For the time being there appears to be a standoff in France. The
coming year will let us see if Mr. X's scheme is going to get some play
or not. At least in Germany we can expect the attack on the workers to
soon get underway again. Meanwhile, France, Italy, and to a lesser
extent Spain are in the pressure cooker. So far the Spanish socialist
government has been playing a fairly progressive role. Lets hope the
new Italian center-left coalition government follows suit and that the
left also wins a solid victory in the upcoming (2007) presidential
election in France. Stay tuned.

--Thomas Riggins is the Book Review Editor of Political Affairs and
can be reached at

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