Academic journal article Capital & Class

Germany's Agenda 2010 Reforms: Passive Revolution at the Crossroads

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Germany's Agenda 2010 Reforms: Passive Revolution at the Crossroads

Article excerpt


Antonio Gramsci's discussions of passive revolution have proved instructive for scholars working in a range of fields. For instance, they have attracted the attention of those interested in the philosophy of dialectics (Finocchiaro, 1988); in the historical sociology of state formation and the evolution of the world states-system (Morton, 2007b); in India's trajectory after decolonisation (Chatterjee, 2008); Italian history (Davis, 1979); the process of EU enlargement to the east (Bohle, 2006); the transition to capitalist democracy in post-communist countries (Worth, 2005; Shields, 2006); and post-apartheid South Africa (Taylor, 2002). They have also been of interest to scholars of the conditions under which social democratic parties came to accept neoliberalism (Motta and Bailey, 2007); of the role of multilateral international agencies in 'development' in the global South (Soederberg, 2001); and of the notion of 'development' itself in the East Asian context (Moore, 2007). This diversity reflects the expansive nature of the term 'passive revolution', for Gramsci's own use of the term moved quickly beyond its original starting point of Italian unification to become a criterion of interpretation of 'every epoch characterised by complex social upheavals.' (Gramsci, 1971: 114, Q15[section]62). As Adam Morton (2007a: 151) notes,

   Gramsci also extended the term through a historical methodology to
   refer to nineteenth-century liberal-constitutionalist movements as
   a whole; to the post-Napoleonic restoration (1815-48); as well as
   to the restorations following the social upheaval of the First
   World War that culminated in the rise of Fascism [and, later,
   Americanism and Fordism].

This leads Christine Buci-Glucksmann (1979: 222; original emphasis) to conclude that 'the theory of passive revolution as a critical supplement to the Marxian problematic of transition is not limited to "passive transitions": it has also to do with the modes of passive restructuring of capitalism itself'. Nevertheless, despite the sterling work done by the above authors and others, this article argues that--when one considers passive revolution not in relation to different historical and social conditions but to some of Gramsci's other concepts--shortcomings can be identified. Hence I do not concur with Alex Callinicos's contention in this special issue that the concept of passive revolution has been stretched too far. However, there is something in his belief that we need to draw distinctions between the institution of capitalist social relations by non-revolutionary means and the perpetuation of capitalist domination.

Below, I make the case that passive revolution--when utilised to analyse the reproduction of capitalist social relations--sits rather uneasily next to Gramsci's discussions of hegemony. In particular, it often requires hegemony to be defined as little more than the granting of active consent by the led to the leading, which for this author is untenable. Therefore, it is possible to view processes of economic restructuring in core capitalist countries--such as the recent, sweeping Agenda 2010 reforms in Germany--as cases of passive revolution, but this requires a prior realignment of the conceptual relationship between hegemony and passive revolution. Clearly I would contest such a move, but this should not preclude others from taking this path. In other words, passive revolution is--like the stalled Agenda 2010 process--at the crossroads, and hopefully this article will contribute to future debate on where to go from here.

The next section considers the doubly expansive nature of passive revolution as a concept, before critically commenting on the implications of such an expansion for how we view hegemony. I then discuss the Agenda 2010 reforms, why they could be seen as a passive revolutionary process, and how hegemony in the end provides a more satisfactory analysis of this period in Germany's contemporary history. …

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