Translating 'Capitalese' Into Ordinary English


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 example.

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