Revolutionary Democracy Assumes Wrong, Acts Faulty [opinion]

In his view point piece headlined, “Why the Neoliberals Go Wrong on the EPRDF” (Volume 14, Number 723, March 9, 2014) Merkeb Negash accused me of being neoliberal as if I was trying to diagnose the EPRDF through the neoliberal lab. So I found it necessary to reiterate the fundamental premise to him.

Merkeb reminds me of Sam Walter Foss’s poem called “the calf path”that tells the story of a calf and his allegation of my neoliberalism means that he is following the well-trodden “calf-path”. I hope that he will not continue down this route by labelling as neoliberal anyone with a different perspective or philosophy. His lamentation for democracy in the previous piece obscured the notion of revolutionary democracy from Che Guevara’s “die for liberty” to vanguardism or in defence of the “Leviathan”.

I think that every economy that is structured and function contrary to the Washington Consensus cannot necessarily be described as developmental in nature. This would take us back to the other classical debate over the market-state nexus. The debate should not be ‘rolling back the state’ as neoliberals led by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, in the 1980s and 1990s cried out for or to simply “bring the state back in”.

No doubt that in a poor economy with a fragile market, weak private sector and poor infrastructure,the state has a key role to play in the allocation of resources, implementation of policies and the design the outcomes. To denounce it and calling to shy away or ‘downsize’ it as a regulatory “night watchman state” or ‘enabling’ agent is to misread how the world’s great economies were built and prospered.

The well-known Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang in hisbook, “Kicking Away the Ladder”, argues that virtually all of today’s developed countries including the champions of free trade and free markets, such as Britain and the United States, became rich on the basis of policies that are contradictory to the neoliberal orthodoxy espoused under the Washington Consensus. The miraculous economic growth achieved by East Asian economies is also due to their adoption of heterodox economic policies that were contrary to the Washington Consensus.

The problem of some ardent developmental state theorists and proponents is that they tend to see the state as omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient with none of the limitations or failings exhibited by the market itself. It is this “statist” nature of the proponents hindering a viable and critical diagnosis of the political economy of the states.

Reading Merkeb’s piece, most would conclude that he is gly statist in thought. He mentioned the influential Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci in his theory of hegemony. His letter also focused on making the state more repressively coercive and able to opt the various political and economic actors and entities that make it effective and capable.

But conventional wisdom and history teaches us that modern states are not built from above, by ‘top down institutional mono-cropping’, but from below, by political processes with interaction between social, political and economic interests and groups along a tradition of g central authority. The economist Daron Acemoglu and the political scientist James Robinson in their book, “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty”conclude that nations fail due to their inability to build inclusive political institutions. They elucidate the reasons for the disparity of economic wealth among nations over the last two hundred years or so.

Central to their theory is the link between political institutions and prosperity. Inclusive institutions are those that enforce property rights, create a level playing field, and encourage investments in new technologies and skills, and are conducive to economic growth than extractive economic institutions that are structured to extract resources from the many by the few.

The other most important difference between Merkeb and myselfis the treatment of Nordic and Brazilgrowth models as developmental states. This,from the outset,misses the logic of economic development and the way that policies evolve as states integrate themselves into the global economic order.

Some argue that post-war Europe has shown examples of developmental states. Michael Loriaux in his article, “The French Developmental State as a Myth and Moral Ambition” argues that France has a striking resemblance to Japan when it comes to the basic building blocks of developmental states.Some also include Finland and Austria.

In fact, there are debates as to the point at which a developmental state comes into being and intellectuals like Thadika Mkandwire contend that the developmental state runs the risk of being tautological since it presumes developmentalism through economic delivery and policy success. This is why Merkeb thinks that every economy deviating from the neoliberal paradigm is developmental, a train of thought that is both misleading and erroneous.

The Nordic growth model is very different from what Chalmers Johnson, the scholar who first coined the term, refers to as the developmental state. The Nordic model or Nordic capitalism involves combining a free market economy with a welfare state. Even though there are g differences between Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), they all have common features supporting a universalist welfare state which aims at enhancing individual autonomy, promoting social mobility, ensuring the universal provision of human rights and stabilizing the economy together with the commitment to free trade.

Pragmatism better explains why Nordic countries can often seem to be amalgams of left- and right-wing policies and how the new consensus has quickly replaced the old one and their combination of big government and individualism may seem odd to some. These countries offer a very good lesson to those who have blind faith in the market and who argue the virtues of a ‘small state’ and the work of the ‘invisible hand’. They also give food for thought to those who are “statist” and arguing for ineffective big governments. It is the efficiency, capacity and functional ability of the state that matters more than its size. In the case of Brazil, it is the transition to democracy from military authoritarianism and the successful economic reforms in the 1990s carried out during the reigns of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula da Silva that consolidated the political system. This is a very different scenario.

When we come to Botswana, its democracy is being challenged for having a dominant party system. That is why I intentionally skipped mentioning it and the country has not yet been adequately tested with regard to its history of democratic power transition. However it is still one of the freest countries in Africa regardless of the deeply rooted economic inequalities across its population.

Another point of departure with Merkeb is his view on the developmental state that he presents as static. Adrian Leftwich, the renowned scholar on developmental politics, in his book, “The Primacy of Politics” explains that developmental states are not ‘static’ entities. Often their very industrial success produces new interests and organizations, which then could challenge the power, authority, and autonomy of the state, and hence produce further challenges.

Peter Evans, another intellectual, also in his book, “Embedded Autonomy” affirms in the case of South Korea that “successful transformation, not failure, is what produces gravediggers. Viewed this way, the South Korean state’s role in producing militant workers brings to mind Marx’s vision of the bourgeoisie as “calling forth its own gravedigger” in the form of the proletariat. It, therefore, had no choice other than to create its own enemies whose interests and agendas conflicted with its own. Evans provides the same line of thought in the case of the developmental state.

Christopher Dent, a political economist, in his book, “Taiwan’s Foreign Economic Policy: The Liberalization Plus Approach of an Evolving Developmental State” argues two main forces undermined the hegemony of the developmental state: democratisation and globalisation. As democratization deepened in East Asia, so has the emergence of a more pluralistic society and polycentric distribution of power that has challenged the authoritarian basis of the developmental state.

He further explained this through the ‘gravedigger’ hypothesis that the state’s nurturing of the business sector created and empowered it to seek greater political power and liberal agenda. The late 1980s onwards saw the onset of democratisation together with political influence on policy formation.

Acemoglu and Robinson also contend that economic growth requires innovation, something that cannot be decoupled from creative destruction, which replaces the old with the new in the economic realm and also destabilizes established power relations in politics. I fully understand that there are no easy recipes for achieving inclusive institutions via ‘institutional drift’ to transition towards economically g state. As the two scholars rightly explain, Ethiopia has the aantage of having been a centralized state for a long time, facilitating national economic strategy.

But because of the incumbent’s control over economic institutions, the extent of creative destruction is heavily curtailed and this will remain so until there is radical reform in political institutions. Francis Fukuyama, one of the leading political scientists of our time, in his “Stateness First” asserts that state building should be given primacy to order political economic changes. He elucidates that “stateness” is required before having democracy or economic growth.

Thus, what the success of East Asia’s ‘Four Tigers’ economies and their emulators has shown us is what can be accomplished with this new thinking. Their experience serves to question long-held notions that market-based economies require functioning and capable states in order to operate and grow.

It is an established fact that both too weak and too g states can stifle investment, and that the success of developed countries rests on the development of a combination of politically soft and economically g environments. This is reminiscent of Michael Mann’s, a British-born sociologist, “The Sources of Social Power” differentiation between despotic and infrastructural powers. Despotic powers refer the ability to use force whereas infrastructural power refers the ‘capacity of the state to actually penetrate civil society and to implement logistically political decisions throughout the realm’. There is no prescription in economics as to what type of policy to follow and above all the quintessential strength of developmental states as late industrializers is their readiness to learn from others and from their own experience coupled with the commitment to catch up with the industrialized neighbours and the West.

Merkebaccused me of misquoting ThadikaMkandwire. I hope the debate is much more than quotation and misquotation.

As he said, Mkandwire sees the possibility of replicating the East Asian model in Africa. However, he is learned enough to highlight the various deficiencies of African states that limit their abilities to follow this path exactly.

For Mkandwire, developmental states are ideological and structural. He also contends that, in terms of their policies, the first generation of African leaders in the 1960s and 1970s were developmental but authoritarian. And I was referring this argument.

The most ambiguous thesis of Merkeb is his theory of power. He quoted the influential neo-Marxist philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, to show his Marxist notion of ‘class struggle’. His ‘third face of power’ or ‘invisible power’ has its roots partly in Marxist thinking of pervasive power of ideology.

The political and practical implications of Gramsci’s ideas were far-reaching because he warned of the limited possibilities for direct revolutionary struggle for control of the means of production this ‘war of attack’ could only succeed with a prior ‘war of position’ in the form of a struggle over ideas and beliefs, to create a new hegemony. This idea of a ‘counter-hegemonic’ struggle – aancing alternatives to dominant ideas of what is normal and legitimate – is what Merkeb calls for to succeed apriori ‘war of position’ and reveals his hidden Marxist view.

Gramsci accepts that elite theory is anti-democratic. It stands in opposition to pluralism in suggesting democracy is a utopian ideal and it is also against the theory of state autonomy. Of course, it was Niccolo Machiavelli who greatly influenced his theory of state.

Alas, the internal contradiction comes again here. However, to scholars of democracy there is no hegemony without democracy and hegemony is a rational intellectual and moral leadership and it is inconceivable without pluralism and deliberation. Contrary to Marxist hegemony,it does discourage the suppression of politics. This is why Gramsci’s view is contrary to democratic principles and values.

Merkeb tries to adopt this Marxian class analysis to the Ethiopian context viewing the intellectual, the urban mass, civil societies and the Diaspora as ‘counter-hegemonic’ to the developmental state. The problem in this argument is that it presents the forces as appearing against the very essence of the state rather than trying to understand why the incumbent’s Marxist class analysis is responsible for this sort of continual marginalization of the actors from the political and economic arena.

To support his thesis, Merkeb used evidence of the late Prime Ministers tenure. I understand that Meles Zenawi was a leader with a magical shrewdness, calibre and astuteness to his party and administration and it is these qualities that no doubt caught the eye of Merkeb here.

But to think of him balancing consent and coercion is to make a simplistic and wrong political analysis. I respect that his opinion is his own but it is questionable as to what kind of “social contract” he is trying to foresee in democratizing the revolutionary democracy and the consent-coercion equilibrium of the late prime minister.

The political scientist Merrera Gudina (PhD) argues that the EPRDF is trying to implement the Marxist ideology of controlling forces of production,given that the peasant remains the dominant demographic in Ethiopia’s population,a crucial segment to linger on power for long period of time. The developmental state of Chalmers Johnson dictates a state where the politicians reign and the state bureaucrats rule. But here, the state reigns and rules. The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi also once reiterated that the peasant is the bedrock of a stable developmental coalition for the incumbent.

The elusive quest for economic development should be a shared vision and what has to be hegemonized is the principle that economic development should improve the lives of the majority while also guaranteeing everyone’s fundamental rights. To this end, Merkeb has said nothing on how institutions are crucial and the ‘synergetic’ effects on the development endeavour.

I would rather look to Michel Foucault, the influential French philosopher, whose theory of power is radical in its socialized focus. For him power is everywhere,a ‘regime of truth’ that pervades society, and which is in constant flux and negotiation.

Power is not only negative, repressive or coercive but can also be a necessary, productive and positive force in society and I believe the state should act in such fashion.

But Merkeb did not say one word about the role of opposition parties, the quest for inclusive growth, and democratisation in Ethiopia right at this moment. So far he has not come up with a plausible argument about how a democratic developmental state can be constructed in a revolutionary democratic context of Ethiopia right at this time. And one must be ready to abandon the tired orthodoxies of the left and right and forage for good ideas across the political spectrum.

The question is how can the revolutionary democrats with their monist view of society, who do not give space to pluralism of ideas and values,build a democratic developmental state in Ethiopia?

The two are irreconcilable theoretically, and this before learning from the lessons of the last two decades. This tell us that the role of politics in the complex development process is fundamental and decisive, inferring that it is not how much state intervention should take place, but rather what shape it should take.

Obviously, as the reputed scholar on Ethiopian politics, Christopher Clapham, contends the very different historical, cultural contexts and social structure that various development experiences have evolved from make direct comparisons and borrowing of models problematic. As Evans argues ‘the art of leapfrogging is not yet dead’ and I have no Afro-pessimism with this conception, however, denying the rarity of the birds of the democratic developmental states is simplistic. Strengthening state capacity to devise and implement policy- ‘cannot had to order’, and that the historical circumstances which were associated with the emergence of these more or less effective states are not easily replicated.

Even Meles whom Merkeb and other proponents of developmental state took as the ‘architect’ of the system also reiterated that ‘when [the developmental state] has done its job it will undermine its own social base, to be replaced by a social democratic or liberal democratic coalition’.Trying to develop democratic developmentalism where the institutions of rule, governance and the state are insecure is democratising backwards, seems the rule.

Development is inescapably political and it is the politics that is unintelligent here. The philosopher Edmond Burke succinctly states a system entirely with no adoptability or means of reform has no means of preservation of the very its own existence and essence.

Zerihun Addisu He a Graduate in Political Science Who Is Now Working As a Foreign Trade Relation and Negotiation Expert. He Can Be Contacted At

Source : Addis Fortune

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