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Occupy the Banks

At the 2012 Left Forum, The Rosa Luxemburg Institute and the Socialist Register partnered to offer a pair of workshops entitled Occupy the Banks. The workshops intended to suggest an ambitious demand that social movements can and should make against the state: nationalize the banks! In this excerpt from those workshops, we hear Canadian Marxist scholar and activist Leo Panitch join Philipp Hersel, spokesperson for the German parliamentary party Die Linke (The Left) to 1) offer a rare detailed examination of how German socialists have advanced and won demands that have fundamentally transformed the German banking system, and 2) provide context for social movements in the US to make parallel demands in this country.

Occupy the Banks from Rishi Awatramani on Vimeo.

Some interesting points from the discussion:

How do we put forward a plausible way of convincing people of the need to socialize finance, of the central importance to their own lives of doing so, of turning finance into a public utility? How doe we convince people of that. Because it can only be done if indeed this is part of a massive shift in the political balance of forces. It's the only way it can be done. And in order to do that, this has to become an element in developing people's capacities to understand the banking system, and to be prepared to put up with the sacrifices that are going to be involved to see this through.

So it's a political thing, but it's also a technical thing. It's not just a political thing. Because in order to speak to people plausibly about how this could be done, you have to know something about how it can be done. You don't have to layout every detailed blueprint; the situation is such that this can't be done tomorrow anyway given the balance of forces everywhere, but you have to be able to explain to people how the system works and how a socialization of finance, of turning banks into a public utility could operate, could function, how it could be a structural reform, I would argue the central structural reform in a transition to socialism.

....and that's not opening a community bank  in your neighborhood, because as Doug [Henwood] has pointed out, you put your money in that community bank and it ends up on Wall Street tomorrow anyway. So, this involves a whole understanding of the national and global financial system. (starting at 24:50)

You can't just buy your own car and drive around, you need a public institution that actually can prove that this car is viable for public traffic, and the same should apply to financial instruments as well. Why should every bank invent its own financial instruments that, when they launch their next war, we must pay for it. There's no reason. We need a public institution that can approve these instruments....Whenever we talk about creating a democratically controlled financial system, as long as people don't know how banks work, there is hardly any chance of making them the sovereign of such a bank. It's as simple as that, it's as terrible as that. (starting at 52:22)

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