September 29, 2021
From The Public Source (Lebanon)

Eroding capitalism succeeds if combined with “taming” capitalism, or the idea of redressing the ills of capitalism through welfarist state policies. Combining the two, he writes, is “a way of linking the bottom-up, society-centered strategic vision of anarchism with the top-down, state-centered strategic logic of social democracy. We need to tame capitalism in ways that make it more erodible, and erode capitalism in ways that make it more tamable.”

While conceptually attractive, his theory applied to the Lebanese context — and elsewhere, including in liberal democracies — reveals its key weakness: a deep disconnect from the repressive powers that protect and reproduce the status quo. Indeed, thinking from Lebanon provides a much-needed nuance to Wright’s theory.

The approach of “eroding capitalism” most closely aligns with the strategy of building at the grassroots, but the former fails to account for Lebanon’s context of acute crises: How are bottom-up and community-led initiatives supposed to emerge and survive without basic resources such as fuel and electricity? Can co-operatives and mutual-aid initiatives serve as viable alternatives to the waning clientelistic networks of traditional parties? Can collaboration between different groups and individuals help facilitate this process by tapping into existing networks and resources? While the path forward is indeed mired with uncertainty and challenges, existing initiatives from below are proving there are avenues to build progressive alternatives. The “Dikkeneh Co-op,” for instance, a consumer cooperative in Basta Tahta is rising to the challenge and partnering with small-scale rural farmers to provide more affordable foodstuff and other goods to its members. Other solidarity initiatives, from food banks to cooperative farms and the Daleel Tadamon platform, are also working in this direction.

Rather than viewing seats in Parliament or an independent government as an end-goal, anti-establishment groups ought to adopt a more holistic approach that recognizes the nature of the regime, the severe limitations of the sectarian state, and the protracted nature of revolutions.
There is no doubt, however, that Lebanon’s economic and political landscapes are detrimental to the sustainability and growth of those alternatives. With the right type of backing from a progressive state, their prospects would become much more favorable. Under present-day realities, though, the state is a tool in the hands of clientelistic parties, and views such practices as threats to the ruling class.

This is where a portion of Wright’s theory becomes relevant to anti-establishment groups in Lebanon, particularly those aiming to effect change from within the state: In his approach of “taming capitalism,” Wright recognizes that the system cannot be transformed from within, in light of the limitations of the liberal state. Instead, he argues that the state can be pressured to pass favorable reforms and legislation that can accelerate processes of change from outside the system. Therefore, rather than viewing seats in Parliament or an independent government as an end-goal, anti-establishment groups ought to adopt a more holistic approach that recognizes, on the one hand, the nature of the regime and the severe limitations of the sectarian state and, on the other, the protracted nature of revolutions. With such a reading of Wright, his contribution does not lie in particular policy proposals, but rather in an approach to change that is community-oriented, socialist, and radical in its diagnosis of the regime.

Indeed, the road to change will not be straightforward or linear. Revolutions are processes shaped by unpredictable ebbs and flows, victories and losses, and hopes and disappointments. If anti-establishment and revolutionary actors can come to terms with this reality, new visions of change could emerge in support of already-existing emancipatory alternatives. With increasing demoralization and despair, this path might be the only way toward preserving our sense of agency for a better tomorrow.