The “Third Way” Indeed Exists: It’s a Discourse of Concealment

(Translated by David Van Den Brandt, a CSN Volunteer Translator)


An argumentative and vertical text about the half-truths, the fallacies, and the lies regarding the “third” way, which doesn’t exist in the real world but flourishes in the right’s discourse. No to rampant or undercover capitalism, but also no to outmoded socialism.

by Rodolfo Arango
July 7, 2014

The hegemony of one model

The Third Way has given people something to talk about in the past weeks. The media and columnists are echoing the talk and reaching social elites and former world leaders, without caring about how much they are disparaging their reputations in their own countries.

It’s worthwhile to make something clear regarding this topic: the Third Way is not the supposed alternative to capitalism and socialism, as many want to present it. Rather, it deals with a discourse of concealment of capitalism, which is today hegemonic and only challenged by terrorism and Islamic radicalism.

In its most acute and advanced phase, transnational corporation-based capitalism has displayed a prodigious effectiveness. To prove this assertion, it’s enough to mention the economic policies, involving labor and social policy, that are no longer formed “democratically” at the national level: these policies are imposed by international petitions, including confidentially arranged ones, that decide the fate of cities and towns without their people even knowing about it.

Or perhaps someone believes that the U party, the formerly “glorious” liberal party, and the “meritorious” conservative party were the ones who, representing the Colombian people, approved the relaxation of labor laws, and not international organizations following the Washington Consensus?

The Market and the State

As of now, an alternative to the means of production and labor relations as represented by capitalism and communism does not exist. Diverse alternatives are on the table, but only at a theoretical level. Suffice it to mention one of them: market socialism, which guarantees consumer goods as private property, but not the means of production. In its most current version, it even accepts that the means of production and price-fixing be determined by the market, but only under government planning and with participation of workers in the administration and profits of companies.

The so-called Third Way lacks a model of the means of production and labor relations distinct from the two options that it says it wants to overcome. It’s a typical assumption of the discourse with reality: it claims to create new factual realities via speeches, but really just replaces facts with words.

With its formula, “as much of the market as possible, as much of the State as is necessary,” Santos’ Third Way conceals the reality of international free trade, both legal and illegal, to the benefit of large conglomerates, which are in general private, and in pursuit of growing capital destined for fiscal paradises (black pool). Underneath expressions like “possible” and “necessary,” prejudices of the Third Way’s promoters surface: the market is a synonym for freedom, and the State is the opposite.

With this simple word game, the right’s technocrats look to maximize the market and minimize the state, synonymous with inefficiency, corruption, and arbitrariness. In this way, the neoliberal playbook is obeyed, filled with recipes for the deregulation of the economy, the privatization of state functions, entities, and public goods, and the general reduction of the state, despite its devastating effects on inequality, fairness and social solidarity.

The death of socialism

In its benign version, the Third Way begins with misguided assumptions, in the likeness of Fukuyama with the ephemeral “end of history” and those ideologies.

One of such assumptions believes that Marxism as an emancipating utopia has perished, laid to rest by the failure of Soviet communism or 21st century Chávez socialism. But with these examples, historical experiences get mixed together: social systems—certainly failed and inacceptable given their denial of cultural, ethnic, political, and religious pluralism—are confused with the search for true alternatives to means of production and labor relations that continue to perpetuate domination.

The superficiality of the debate becomes obvious when one simply focuses on the fact that [communism or socialism] condemns a society to totalitarianism, or in the other case, [capitalism] exalts liberty as the engine of motivation, innovation, and productivity.

Behind the slogan

But not everything is superficial or benign in the concealing discourse of the Third Way.

A fanatical dogmatism reveals in the heart of its instrumental reasoning a part of the current governing political class: ideals of Pareto, Samuelson conditions, etc., are ways of reducing great political, economic, and social decisions regarding democracy, war, sovereignty, and international relations to simple problems of efficiency, as if the idea of utility governed human beings and not the other way around.

The “unilateralism” of economic analysis, which casts variables aside and simplifies the complexity of the cultural and political context in its methodology in order to create mathematical models, ends up being as totalitarian as the collectivistic thought that it says to combat. The privatization of healthcare, education, and justice, supposedly for reasons of efficiency, shows that the Right’s latent ideology is just hiding beneath the mask of a social democrat.

The Third Way’s discourse complements the peace talks. With its center-of-the-spectrum and hodgepodged discourse, it claims to be pro-social, but in reality, it coopts and nullifies disagreement, and liquidates democracy. Public and private funds will continue flowing to maintain the status quo, to prevent democratization, and to enthrone corruption. All the meanwhile, worthwhile reforms to the territory and land system, to the political power system, and to the problem of guarantees to the opposition, will continue to be impossible to achieve—largely because they are incompatible with international business. Corruption and war, the modus operandi of transnational capitalism, will be in charge of delivering their quota of terror, which is also necessary to revive the productive apparatus and control the world’s population.

The real third way

The most worthwhile challenges to discuss in the search for real alternatives to capitalism and Soviet communism and Castro-Chavez socialism focus on, for now, the analysis of freedom.

Both historian Ouentin Skinner, with his defense of a third concept of freedom, and philosopher Philip Pettit, with his proposal for “freedom not as domination,” offer republican perspectives [in the sense of republic]—more enriching than those of the Third Way—with which to analyze the reach and limits of freedom.

We must not become discouraged by the fact that transnational capitalism and its twin, postmodern thought, dominate in today’s world. On the contrary, the theoretical weakness of its revival should encourage us, since it won’t be able to overcome the worship of the market, the advance of militarism and of corruption, or the rise of religious fanaticism as consequence to humanitarian interventions with economic ends.

Unmasked, the discourse of political cooption that will accompany Santos’ second presidential term leaves open the question of how to construct a international order that is truly republican, in which foreign powers leave behind their colonist and exploitative mentalities which they project on “inferior” or subordinated nations.

Just like a republican constitution begins with liberty, equality and solidarity among its citizens, the international political order must rebuild itself on conditions of real equality that take into account the historical injustices of colonialism and the new ways in which they have resurged.

In the exploration of alternatives, it is important to return to the classic thought texts, to reading, to critical debate, to fight the transnational televisual strategy of stupefaction, with the illusion of living well because one participates visually in the life of others: “Realities [TV shows]” that bring the anonymous audience closer to ‘examples’ of humankind, and allow them, for a moment, to enjoy a borrowed personal glory. Or impoverishing pre-recorded programs, as if we all had the right to a quota of stupidity in the world.

For the moment, alternatives to dominant capitalism and outmoded communism don’t exist. But that needn’t make us uncomfortable.

To the contrary, the fact that we can detect the manipulation to which we’re subjected should encourage us. We can recognize the active and militant Right, multi-faced, ready to lay waste to everything and everyone with its thanalogical pathos.

The contribution for a radical transformation could come from a critical and prudent Left, but not from a coopted and confused Left that believes it necessary to welcome the discourse of unanimity to have an option on this earth. The emancipation of humankind is a prevailing utopia, as is the search for means of production and labor relations that are sensitive to the differences of and respectful of other human beings. If we stay persistent in this difficult work of taming national and worldwide policy, we will be headed in the right direction.

(This translation may be reprinted as long as its content remains unaltered and the source, author and translator are cited.)

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