Wednesday 24 August 2016

After Neoliberalism

It was with some interest I approached Martin Jacques's piece in The Graun, not least because he made his name in the 1980s describing the contours of the 'New Times' then being fashioned from the collapse of the post-war consensus and the broken bodies of the British and American labour movements. Much of what he and his comrades wrote in Marxism Today back in the day was spot on. The rise of flexible labour markets, inescapable consumer cultures, a displacement of class politics, deindustrialisation and the shift - at least in metropolitan countries like Britain - from the production of tangible commodities to service industries and knowledge/information production (of which more another time). They also advocated that the left in the shape of the jolly old Communist Party draw on the work of Antonio Gramsci and wage a cultural struggle as opposed to the trusty 'n' rusty industrial-focused strategy favoured by the left. In practice it meant embracing the "new" struggles around environmentalism, gender, anti-racism, and sexuality and placing less stress on class as traditionally conceived. Accused at the time of abandoning the field of class politics, Marxism Today was later held responsible for providing the intellectual heft of Blairism and New Labour.

That's by-the-by as far as this post is concerned. What Martin does in his article is catalogue the breakdown of neoliberalism but, despite the banner advertisement, he does not address what comes or is likely to happen after neoliberalism. And who can blame him? Forecasting in politics is a notoriously fraught business, as pundits and pollsters have found to their cost this last couple of years. Yet thinking about what might come after neoliberalism isn't click-attracting speculation and idle musing. Just as Martin and his comrades did in the 1980s, it's about understanding what's coming so it can be politically pre-empted.

Before we consider what's coming next, it's worth thinking about what neoliberalism is *now*. Traditionally, and understandably, it's seen as a matter of economics. After all, in terms of economic policy the kinds of measures it favours are easily distinguishable from the post-war consensus that came before it. To apply broad brush strokes, in the advanced countries it meant active intervention by the state in economic affairs to, above all, maintain full employment. Markets were strictly regulated, capital controls enforced, workers representatives (via unions or some other consultative mechanism) integrated into the management of the system, and the state itself had a considerable economic footprint in the shape of nationalised industries. Again, broadly and ideal-typically, neoliberal policy is about withdrawing the state and leaving the market to its own devices. Based on the idea that the anarchy of market relationships nevertheless produce the most efficient economic outcomes, evacuating the state from the market via privatisations of state-owned industries, the deregulation of finance, and the curbing of union power creates, Bentham-stylee, the greatest good for the greatest number. The objective now is not the maintenance of full employment. Key indicators of economic health are quarterly GDP growth, low inflation, low public spending, and low tax rates. In Britain, Nicola Sturgeon and Ed Miliband were the first mainstream political leaders to suggest neoliberal policies fuelled inequality and social dysfunction, and hence had broken from the neoliberal consensus. Ditto Theresa May and her wholesale pinching of the 2015 Labour Manifesto's economic policy.

That, however, is a very superficial understanding of what neoliberalism is. Yes, it's fundamentally about the market, but it's more than a macroeconomic policy preference: it is a mode of governance. Or, to put it plainly, a series of strategies deployed by institutions for managing populations and cultivating them as types of people, or subjects, conducive to capitalism in its neoliberal phase. What neoliberalism isn't is a conspiracy thought through in advance by various elites and implemented against an unwitting populace. As Dardot and Laval note in their The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society, neoliberalism didn't emerge as a coherent alternative to the crisis of the post-war Keynesian order. It came into the world bit by bit, as (apparently) pragmatic policy responses to pressing economic and political problems. Denis Healey didn't submit Britain to structural adjustment in return for an IMF loan because he was philosophically committed to the Mont Pelerin Society. At the time, it seemed like the loan could get the economy out of the toilet. Thatcher's government went after the trade unions because they represented a challenge and threatened the interests of British business, not because Hayek and Friedman were opposed to the "distortions" collectivised labour exercised over labour markets. In the process of struggle, governments introduced policies we now consider neoliberal and, especially in the case of Reaganomics and Thatcher, increasingly identified their economic and governance strategies with the intellectual spadework of the Chicago School and other cabals of neoliberal thinkers. As Thatcher herself admitted in The Downing Street Years, she didn't enter Number 10 with an intellectually rounded-out programme. It took on coherence largely after the fact. Before that point, what came to be neoliberalism was, in Dardot and Laval's words, effectively a set of strategies without a strategist.

To properly get to grips with neoliberalism, we should think about it on three levels. The first is economic policy, which we've already talked about. The other two, that interest us here, is the intertwining of government and subjectivity. Condensing Dardot and Laval's arguments, the incremental adoption of neoliberal strategies have resulted in what they call the 'entrepreneurial state'. Take Britain for example. As society has become more complex, so has the state. The classical Marxist conception of the state as a repressive body that defends and prosecutes capital's interests is right on a basic level, but doesn't capture the complexity of the body as it exists today. Rather than a unitary institution with an executive, a bureaucracy, and its repressive arms the state has developed into a more dispersed and diffuse gaggle of semi-autonomous institutions. In the British example, from Thatcher onwards the physicality of the state is distributed among a number of bureaucracies with areas of competence, each under a particular minister and therefore responsible to the government of the day. Think the DWP and its previous iterations, the MOD, the Education Dept, and so on. Each are operationally autonomous from one another but are united under a relationship of command to the executive. As well as this, we have the devolved administrations and local government, and any number of Quangos with areas of competence and specialism. On top of this there are subdivisions in each of these institutions, and various non-governmental organisations like charities, community groups, and so on can be incorporated into the mix. What they all have in common is the sharing of governance functions. Or, rather, they specialise in a particular kind of population management.

With the emergence of neoliberal policy in the 80s, so public spending cuts inculcated particular behaviours on the part of institutions funded by central government. Namely, to get by public bodies had to make cuts and think about ways to replace lost revenue. As night follows day, necessity was transformed into a virtue. Standards of measurement and evaluation were put into place to justify spending and act as 'performance indicators' aiming to demonstrate that 'the taxpayer' is getting value for money. Under these conditions, the management of the public sector underwent a profound transformation. Civil servants and other employees are performance managed in terms of specified targets they have to reach (waiting times and patient turnover in the NHS, grades in schools, bums on seats in universities), the efficient management of budgets, caseload churn, and income generation. In a lot of cases there is competition between state institutions in markets that have only recently come into being. As the bottom line is the relentless focus, so the state, its institutions, and its employees are positioned and forced to act entrepreneurial. Commercial enterprise is the model, to be applied to all institutions under all circumstances, and the penetration of market relationships and private capital into the public sector is the effect. In sum, government power was used to bring about this state of affairs and maintain it. It wasn't a retreat of the state but a rejigging of its configuration according to market fundamentals.

Yet neoliberalism is even more pernicious than this. These same strategies, impositions, and policy consequences have inculcated a particular way of being, a type of individual. Just as the state and its institutions are entrepreneurial in theory and practice, so the expectation is that we as human beings act in the same way. I've argued previously that the inculcation of the entrepreneurial, or neoliberal subject can be read as an attempt by the state and its institutions to step in and provide a particular kind of work ethic after the collapse of the labour movement. These working class communities themselves provided an ethics of wage labour, and in some cases where community and solidarity went hand in hand, this included collective action against employers to secure their immediate interests. But neoliberal governance became the norm across Western Europe even in countries that don't immediately appear to follow the Anglo-American model of capitalism, such as Germany. The features of this sensibility is treating oneself as a bearer of different kinds of capital that, regardless of your situation and personal outlooks on life, you're expected to deploy. In a work setting, you're performance-managed as an individual in terms of how you mobilise your capitals to get the tasks done and further the objectives of the employer. In leisure time, many practices revolve around looking after one's self. Health and wellbeing employ similar techniques exhorting you to motivate yourself and perform fitness regimens, abide by diets, take exercise. Package holidays with their itineraries are designed to maximise your limited 'time capital' with things you Must Simply See and Do, and if you're going to be a good neoliberal tourist you mobilise your time accordingly. It spills over into all endeavours of life. How big your collections of whatevers are. The cramming of free time with Interesting Things. The accumulation of friends/followers/likes on social media. The number of liaisons on the trendy dating app. The good life is defined in terms of the accumulation of things and experiences, and this behaviour is a mere extension of one's habits in "professional" life.

One is therefore positioned as an entrepreneur. As such, like businesses, you're in competition. The inculcation of competition among classes of employees is as old as capitalism, but it has undergone a qualitative transformation in the neoliberal era. Performance management benchmarks in the workplace are always constructed with an eye to your conduct vis a vis everyone else. Being a "team player" is not a question of being good in a team, but performing as someone who competes with others, consciously or otherwise, to fulfill the objectives set them by the boss. Being "helpful" or "supportive" is a measure always read off against others. Competition is bound up with recognition, and being seen and being noticed is culturally privileged in and out of work and bound up with affirmation and self-worth. It is, as such, a source of much anxiety as most of us know we're doomed to pass through life with nary a ripple beyond our immediate social circles. And undergirding the neoliberal subject is the principle of self-reliance and self-responsibility. You are solely responsible for your successes and your failures. The state will actively intervene to ensure you participate on a level playing field, but it and the rest of society owes you no favours, least of all a living, so make of the world what you will.

This form of subjection is and isn't imposed. Human beings aren't brain washed dopes. We all have agency, the capacity to think and the capacity to act. We may not know what we do half the time, but nevertheless our life is a ceaseless set of decisions. Being a neoliberal subject isn't an imposition in the sense of domination in dictatorships, where you either go along with things or get banged up or worse. It is a subjection of choice. To borrow Althusser's and Poulantzas's notion of interpellation, institutions in neoliberal society hail (or greet) you as entrepreneurial, neoliberal subjects. You have the choice of engaging with them, you're not forced to, but all choices have consequences. If you're unemployed, you don't have to sign on for Jobseekers Allowance. You don't have to put yourself through the regimen of compulsory job searches, interviews, CV workshops, "training", and forced labour in return for the dole, but the alternative is no money. You don't have to be the good entrepreneurial subject at work, but if you choose not to give it 110% your position is at risk. You don't have to choose a healthy lifestyle, but if your beer, fags, and takeaway-fed body is the butt of jokes and opprobrium, that's your fault. As a mode of subjection, neoliberalism is successful because it supports a particular socio-economic system founded on the private expropriation of socially generated wealth while completely depoliticising these relations and making capitalism appear the spontaneously natural way of doing things. The fact it is a class system in a permanent state of crisis because of its ensemble of contradictions is effaced and rendered invisible from the standpoint of neoliberal subjectivity. The politics appropriate to this situation where, effectively, there is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families is technocratic, managerial politics. Perhaps the most pristine example is this pamphlet issued by Scottish Labour in 2008, which defined the aspirations of its constituents as "second home ownership, two cars in the driveway, a nice garden, two foreign holidays a year, and leisure systems in the home such as sound, cinema, and gym equipment". Forget "tribalism" and other irrationalities: vote according to your individual interest.

Martin Jacques's piece therefore falls on two counts. He does not consider neoliberalism in its totality, as interlinked economic policies, a panoply of population management strategies, nor as a mode of subjectivity, an actively promoted standard way of being. Which is peculiar considering that the end of her time in power, Thatcher noted in a 1988 Times interview that "Economics are the method. The object is to change the soul". Nor does Martin consider what might come after neoliberalism.

We can see beginnings of what a world after neoliberalism might look like, but there's a key point worth remembering before we go there. First and foremost, governmental and governance techniques only appear to be active agents. As Foucault notes, power isn't repressive, it is productive and when set in train can, at particular historical intervals, produce subjects of certain kinds. However, what tends to be missed in discussions of Foucault's approach is that power is always reactive too. Scholars often note that he believed power always begat resistance, but an elaboration of what 'resistance' is went untheorised in his work. And, if you'll permit me this aside, that's not surprising. Foucault was interested in the genealogies of the technologies of power, of governmentality as revealed and developed in old texts, out of which he sketched lines of descent for disciplinary practices commonplace in the West. He was foremost a philosopher masquerading as a historian and philologist, not a sociologist. Anyway, the point is that from the very moment the state emerged in antiquity as an institution apart from and above society, its common purpose has been the defence of class and property. Sometimes in relation to other states, in relation to sections of its own class, and always with regard and against uprisings of peasants, slaves, subject peoples, and barbarian invaders. With regard to the latter, states have historically pursued all kinds of ways of seeing off sedition and rebellion among subject populations. These strategies, which for most of human history were episodic, crude, and violent, were about meeting resistance instead of forestalling it.

To a large degree, this remains the case now. Remember the 1970s. Capitalism underwent a period of crisis beset with all sorts of economic problems, but its freehand was everywhere challenged by the surging power of organised labour. France came the closest an advanced capitalist nation has ever done to a socialist revolution in 1968. Italy, Germany, and Britain were beset with industrial struggles, rebellion, and terrorism. The dictatorships of Spain, Portugal, and Greece collapsed with the left insurgent. Neoliberalism as an economics, a mode of governance, and an apparatus of subjection was not a technocratic response. It was shaped in a confrontation between classes, between authorities and rebellious populations. It proved efficacious in the heat of battle - in Britain its economics broke up concentrations of heavy industry that employed the backbone of the labour movement. Its governmentality disciplined and homogenised that state while its institutions and functions were dispersed, which in turn disciplined and homogenised other organisations with no formal connection to the state. And it inculcated a form of individuality in which collectivism of any sort, let alone collective action, is alien. And part of the success and persistence of neoliberalism is precisely because it has incorporated a number of things the 1960s and 1970s left were fighting for. It was Blairism's achievement to formally marry neoliberal equality of opportunity discourse and policy with the goals of anti-racist, feminist, and LGBT movements. The rebellious zeitgeist of the 1960s eventually found a home in the celebrated autonomy of the neoliberal subject. And so, through struggle, pacification, and consent, neoliberalism remade the world. That however is not the same as saying everyone is a happy little subject.

Neoliberalism is smooth, but it is neither indestructible nor for forever. Like other modes of population management it will pass from the scene, and it will, as before, be the result of resistance from below. As a socialist that can't come soon enough, but routing neoliberalism is a difficult task. Martin Jacques implies that it's quite a simple process. The economics have been found wanting, intellectuals are attacking it, and political outbursts from Trump and Sanders, to UKIP, the SNP, and Corbynism are rebellions against the prevailing order. If it was that easy.

Turning back to Dardot and Laval, they argue the 2008 crash didn't kill neoliberalism. In the years since, despite a reluctant move by governments to a more "managed" capitalism neoliberalism is alive and well. Nor would the crisis deposit the doctrine into the receptacle of history. There is no reason why governments adopting Keynesian-inflected industrial activism, of stepping in to promote their businesses, of enforcing tougher regulations, and building new institutions for the benefit of capital-in-general wouldn't be compatible with neoliberal governmentality and subjection. It underlines the point that while neoliberal economics are exhausted, that is far from the case where it comes to population management.

And so we're back to the question of resistance. Without it, what comes after neoliberalism could be an unholy marriage of Keynes and Hayek, or, in plain English, more neoliberalism. However, the political economy of capitalism and contradictions within governance and subjection point toward other possible futures. Despite the official promotion and constant hailing of neoliberal subjects, capitalism remains capitalism. The basics teased out and critiqued by Marx are still there, be it stagnant Japanese or Italian capitalism, authoritarian Russian capitalism, capitalism with "Chinese characteristics", Greek austerity capitalism, or British post-neoliberal neoliberal capitalism. The antagonism of interests, the struggle between class relationships at its heart defines capitalism and disfigures societies. It concentrates wealth at the top and leaves the rest of us to make do. And the basic contradiction between capital's ceaseless drive to pump more surplus (and, ultimately, profit) from labour power and labour power's defence of its wages, work conditions, and autonomy continues to find expression in struggle. From vast strikes and factory occupations in China to Californian Uber and London Deliveroo drivers, neoliberal smoothness meets resistance to its individualist logics.

Quite apart from the inescapable dynamics of capitalism, neoliberal subjectivity has its own contradictions. As we have seen, choice and agency is core to this mode of subjection. One cannot be a passive entrepreneur - action and performance is demanded of us. We cannot be dopes or sheeple, we have to strive to create our own opportunities. Neoliberalism inculcates a mindset that is sceptical of tradition for tradition's sake, hierarchy, and alive to opportunity. Therefore self-motivated action is necessarily analytical and critical. It mostly realises itself in choices ratified by neoliberal convention and mores, but can easily turn against the social relationships it is meant to serve. Entrepreneurship can find outlets in collective action, in the ceaseless mutation of mobilisation technique and the staking out of spaces for counter-neoliberal activity. The seeking of economic opportunities for oneself isn't a million miles away from identifying political opportunities for a collective. At the cognitive level, neoliberal subjectivity inculcates the sensibility that makes its overthrow possible. The problem for neoliberal capital is to ensure the rewards of entrepreneurial activity are readily available, and looking at persistent inequality, rocketing house prices, stagnant wages, precarious working, and jobs that fall far short of the promise of self-realisation, it's failing.

The other big challenge of neoliberalism and capital more generally is what to make of the opportunities and challenges posed by an increasingly networked world. For instance, Facebook makes its money by providing space for and targeting adverts at people using their platform to create content. It depends on the creativity of others to turn a buck. This rentier model is the dominant business model for social media and, well, virtually anyone who tries to make money off the internet without paywalls. From capital's point of view it is potentially dangerous because previous regimes of capitalist production depended on capital having the whip hand over labour - it foisted a relation of dependence on it with the back up of the state. Now, as digital capitalisms and the work practices associated with it become symbols of its modernity and dynamism, the terms of the dependence are reversed. It requires labour to be creative, free, and autonomous so capital can ponce off its product. Overt attempts at control stymies the new opportunities for profit, and so it has no choice but to double down on neoliberal subjectivity as a way of "disciplining" creativity within its tried and tested limits, even as it threatens it. The further spread of neoliberal governmentality in Britain after the alleged death of neoliberalism - the full marketisation of the NHS and Higher Education, toughened sanctions in welfare regimes, austerity - are not unconnected to the free, collectivist challenge a networked world poses.

What comes after neoliberalism? That depends on what happens to the resistances now being called into being. Assuming capitalism continues and nuclear war nor decades of dictatorship are avoided, the contours of post-neoliberal capitalism would, like other previous modes of governance, be concerned with containing the energy and aspirations of the mass. After all, capital as a relationship is an exercise of certain interests and their primary concern is a perpetuation of that relationship. Given what has already been said about the trends and challenges besetting capitalism now, by way of idle forecasting post-neoliberal management would likely see a more industrially active state, with and without nationalisation. It would probably continue to centralise the powers of surveillance and be less amenable to liberal democratic pressure. That much is apparent already. But this would be at odds with the most likely forms of governance and subject generation, it is possible the the basic income could be conceded as precarity and the attendant anxiety and anger is a potent axis future struggles can and are emerging along. The emerging hegemony of the network might see renewed attempts at popular capitalism. This is something Thatcher tried and was only partially successful in, and her legacy was a dysfunctional housing market and the usurpation of "popular" privatisations by institutional investors. The harnessing of the power of networks might see the state sponsor cooperative business, or the cooperatisation of existing public services and/or private utilities. And the subject appropriate to this? One concerned with partnership, the pooling of talents, and of mutual aid on top of the agent-centered, creative, and entrepreneurialism of the existing neoliberal subject.

And so the new post-neoliberal managerialism is born with an obvious contradiction. A popular participatory capitalism overseen by a surveilling, authoritarian state: an institution that acts as guarantor for capital's continuation in the face of its partial socialisation. Especially as the governance and subjection associated with this possible mutation in capitalism takes us much closer to socialism than the post-war settlement and the Soviet nightmare. And as capitalism becomes increasingly superfluous to the organisation of things, its dynamism exhausted as the new emerges from the chrysalis of old, it can then finally take its rightful place in the museum of social systems past.


Ellie said...

Hi Phil, this is really interesting, thanks. May I share this with my Labour Party Facebook group?

Phil said...

Of course! This blog also has a Facebook page, so feel free to plug both :)

Phil said...

I should also have asked which Labour Facebook group this one is? There's too many to count ...

asquith said...

The pre-2008 order has shown remarkable resilience, I agree, and Blair's failure to regulate banks adequately, flatulent "Third Way" policies and general refusal/failure to move on from the 80s have allowed the Tories to get their narrative of the global economic meltdown installed with staggering success. There is also not as much appetite for Corbynism as some might think, the core of followers hasn't been swelled as one might have thought in November 2008 (a heady time that many seem to have forgotten) that it would.

Two very interesting & challenging forecasters speculated on the possibilities of a post-neoliberal time.

"The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.

The 'dangerous class', the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more [to vote Leave] for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue."

And, particularly apposite in these post-Brexshit days,

"When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation."

Have you discovered the thinking of Nick Timothy? As my girlfriend lives in Birmingham I bought his book about Joe Chamberlain, both for local & historical intrest & on the grounds that knowing his opinions will let me know what's being said in the corridors of power, given that he now advises the PM.

Unknown said...

Hi Phil, thank you for your writing. Very enjoyable as always, and if I may comment a few random thoughts for contemplation.

- I liked the Guardian article, and had wanted to leave a comment, however the comments were closed. I found that the article summed up the Guardian's juxtaposition in that the readership mindset was not that of the mindset of a S*n reader. Many BTL comments were critical, analytical and provided depth to an article. In this article the author argues that we are on the cusp of a transformation, of which The Guardian is terrified of and would rather pin it's tail to the Yvette Cooper donkey of more of the same. The analytical readership have moved on dropping it's readership numbers, leaving behind the yar-booing BTL as the Guardian heads towards the Iceberg.

- I wounder if The Guardian will steer it's way clear of the iceberg and embrace what comes after Neo-liberalism? The closed comment section below the very article warning the Guardian is symbolic of The Guardian being closed to change that the new media such as yourself, AAV, The Canary, etc are open to embrace, question, discuss and debate.

- You mentioned that Jacques's piece does not expand further than the catalog of breakdown of neo-liberalism, and I believe that this shows more of the constraints of publishing in The Guardian, both in word count and expressing outside of editorial consent. Frankie Boyal writes 'like he want's to get sacked', which sounds great for The Guardian to echo to make it sound ‘trendy’ until he wrote against the grain and his article was pulled. He had to publish it elsewhere. No publishing in The Guardian and then no sacking. A let down on both sides showing The Guardian to be a stooge like Owen Smith that should be put out to pasture to allow new media to shine the light onto the darkest corners.

The above can be summarised as the difference between the clinton emails in Wikileaks and the Panama scandal ‘reported’ in The Guardian.

Unknown said...

Part 2

What society do we have today? – I enjoy reading your articles because I have no knowledge of the indepth knowledge you have of sociology. However working for many years with severely disturbed adolescence and children and knowing of the inside lives of many, you only have to walk into a college, with signs in every room saying “always wear your identification badges, for your safety”. These bright students who passed their GCSE’s to get into college are learning unquestioning conformity.

Working with the children with conduct disorders, ADHD, ODD, etc, they are the product of neo-liberalism, and they are our neighbours. Disfunctional families living on our streets that value material possession about all else, growing a second skin to cope with the trauma. Money is God to some poor families.

As an interesting exercise, go stand in an Ikea store and feel the transference from other people. Neo-liberalism soul sucking. Then go and observe the ‘food hall’ in Ikea.

- –

Thinking about the future, where does the answer lay? I believe one such answer is the model / concepts used in the Free Software world. It has been modelling an answer for years. It has it’s own characters. RMS, with his four freedoms of the software, this would translate out into the wider society, everyone scratching their own itch in a castle vs bazar scenario. There is the stooge of Libre software and that is the Open Source Solution, sucking up the resources of other peoples own time and effort for profit much like The Guardian, Google and Facebook, while arguing that it is the ‘pragmatic’ approach to software development, like Owen Smith is the ‘progressive’ candidate.

Thank you again for your writing, it is great, and Facebook allows us to be notified of your presence on the internet, but while Facebook and Google might be open, they are not free. Google recently wiped Palestine off the map. If that is not a warning to take hede, then we’ll all vote Clinton next.


Hopefully you are correct that capitalism can be confined to the past and maybe the free software philosophy is a model that can be a new broom..

jim mclean said...

Will read it at the weekend, but the few things that clicked in the speed read seem interesting.
First problem I am having with all proposals is how do we get hold / make use of the massive amounts of Capital that is being hoarded outwith the general flow of capital. Distorting the market to the extent it is working in a restricted manner, this has led to labour being devalued to the point of chattel slavery in many regions.
Second problem, we think 1st world, although we are 1st and 3rd world may share the same geographical area.
Third problem. How do we organise, it was easy when Ted Grant pointed out that the main organiser of labour was capital, always wary of the corporate state. will read more later.

BCFG said...

(I have had to seriously cut my response down to size! So this is missing some of my specific thoughts on the nature of neo-liberalism)

This article exhibits the kind of illusory drivel I would expect from the Yvette Cooper loving centre left. In other parts it is quite good!

This article encapsulates (albeit rather subtly) how I imagine Blair views his years in power and role in history, “One day history will come to realise how great I was and in the future all schoolchildren will be taught that the wonderful future they now enjoy was all down to me!”

We are more and more moving away from socialised solutions, unless one erroneously believes an authoritarian sate is a socialised solution!

The essence of Third wayism is that the workers really are just pawns in the game; this is not the surface appearance of capitalist social relations but a fact for all future time. And this articles blind faith in the future echoes this mentality. This articles belief that hierarchies are being undermined fails spectacularly to pinpoint the true nature of neo-liberalism.

I do not agree that neo-liberalism was a wholly ‘natural’ evolution; I believe it was partly a response to the New Deal in the USA and the distaste for the New Deal among the ruling elite. When the US brought in the rule that a president could only serve 2 terms this was not some natural pragmatic evolution but was a conscious response to the popularity of social democratic measures and an attempt to undermine them. So the crisis of Keynesianism in the 70’s provided justification for speeding up a process that had already begun. For example the ruling elite were already well under way in reducing their tax burden before the 70’s crisis broke out.

The idea that Thatcher came to monetarist economics late is risible, Denis Healey had already started the ball rolling as a precondition to getting an IMF loan, Thatcher and the Tories relationship with Pinochet etc. Changing the configuration of an entire economy does not happen overnight and is long in the planning. The deregulation of finance and the deindustrialisation were long term plans that Thatcher helped realise.

I fundamentally disagree that neo-liberalism empowers the neo-liberal entrepreneur in all of us. Neo-liberal ideology no doubt challenges people to stand on their own 2 feet and expect a precarious existence and have the skills to meet any problems. Or in other words, all your problems are your fault, you get exactly what you deserve, the hierarchy is just ,you are on your own, oh and do not moan at zero hour contracts! The idea that it is participatory is a mere illusion. If we consider how little this article mentions the state of the media and their role then I think we have all the clues to find what is wrong with your perspective, which seems to me like it can be summed up as: from neo-liberalism to socialism. Despite the biggest fall in real wages in recorded history we still see full backing for the Tories. We live in an age when economic factors are not impacting much on political outcomes. This is the end of history in action, all embedded by an unabashedly biased media.

Facebook is not a challenge to neo-liberalism anymore than gardening at the weekend or playing scrabble with the family at night is. The internet just revolutionises processes it isn’t as far as I can see revolutionising the system itself. Facebook is not replacing Chinese factory workers!

So what this article is really saying is: Thanks Mr Blair, despite the millions dead and the rise of food banks, history will prove your greatness! The great leap to socialism would never have been possible without you! We never did need class agency just self fulfilling individuals living obediently and allowing history to take its natural course! Vote Yvette Cooper!

Phil said...

I was going to provide a serious response to some of the more interesting points your raised, BCFG. But this ...

"So what this article is really saying is: Thanks Mr Blair, despite the millions dead and the rise of food banks, history will prove your greatness! The great leap to socialism would never have been possible without you! We never did need class agency just self fulfilling individuals living obediently and allowing history to take its natural course! Vote Yvette Cooper!"

... suggests it's probably not worth the bother.

Igor Belanov said...

One thing that I think tends to be understated when it comes to 'neoliberalism' is its relationship with 'neoconservatism'.

Both essentially share the same fondness for the market and against restrictions on management decision-making, but I'd argue that neoconservatives tend to be a lot more pessimistic about human nature, emphasising the need for strong state intervention on issues relating to crime, culture and identity. Neoliberals, on the other hand, tend to share more of the optimism of classical liberalism, stressing (as you suggest in the OP) the ability of all to become entrepreneurs and the freedom to assert all our identities through consumerism.

There is a large overlap between the positions, but I'd argue that they have effectively formed the two 'camps' of mainstream politics throughout Europe and North America since the 1990s. Neoconservatives would include such people as Thatcher and Reagan, who were old-fashioned in many socio-cultural attitudes and had an almost complete disregard for those left behind by economic change. 'New Labour', on the other hand, were much more positive about identity politics and keen on certain types of state intervention that they felt would promote (or provoke) the less well-off to compete in liberal capitalism.

The breakdown in neoliberalism has been evident in the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe and the US, and the resurgence of social democracy with the likes of Corbyn and Sanders, but also newer movements such as Syriza and Podemos. The sad thing is that I think neoconservatism is still well placed to adapt to this. People such as May and Sarkozy are quite able to play the authoritarian and flag-waving cards when it suits them, while at the same time ensuring that the economic elites remain unthreatened. They will certainly continue to run rings around the mainstream neoliberal left who, as we see in the Labour Party, are utterly devoid of ideas, personalities and strategy.

MikeB said...

As desirable - even necessary - as it might be to think otherwise, I believe that the prospect of a transformation of the neoliberal world order is still beyond the horizon.

The "networking" that Phil posits seems hopelessly inadequate(although I have to admit to not really understanding terms like "subject creation"!). Where is the evidence that these developments have led to *any* new forms of "state sponsored cooperativisation", let alone ones that could threaten neoliberal power?

On the contrary, neoliberal institutions have swallowed up technologies like Facebook with ease. Even the excitement of the social-network-facilitated Arab Spring seems to have run into the (bloody) sand without troubling the supra-national economic order (even if the politics of some nation-states may have been rearranged).

It's a gross simplification, of course, but in general, these rearrangements, along with uprisings like Syreza, rightist neonationalisms etc seem to me are transient phenomena, even if they sometimes show us where neoliberalism is presently causing most social disruption.

But nowhere is there a basis for an "anti-neoliberalism" powerful enough to generate the kind of transformation that is suggested. And why should there be? There's no timetable, no deadline that says that this particular social system has to be replaced by the Year X. We going to have to work - and wait - a little longer...

Unknown said...

A really interesting article; thank you..although I'm no economist this issue has been puzzling me for some long can all the contradictions such as unaffordable housing, increasingly low paid low status jobs etc carry on sustaining neo liberal economies? As an aside I find it depressing that for many years now there has been no really credible alternative developed by the left in any country.Also capitalism seems to be incredibly successful..the other day I was with a group of people; who would all consider themselves as alternative and left wing and the topic of conversation was whether I phones were better than Samsung ironic I thought..but now we are all consumers are we not? Cheers

Phil said...

In the Dardot and Laval book (which comes highly recommended), they talk about the left refusing to get to grips with neoliberalism in all its dimensions and therefore positioning itself as honorable but ineffectual opponents of bad things. The new populist left movements in the West may break from that, but only if we think about the left as a huge movement with a programme that doesn't just oppose, but proposes. A good starting point would be accelerating some of the trends outlined here while seeking to extend them to the state so the contradiction outlined in the post above between state and society is something that's avoided.

Roy Madron said...

I've been asking not only 'After Neoliberalism?' but also,' After Social Democracy and even 21st Century Socialism?' The result is a book I'm calling 'Super-Smart Democracies: Dissolving Neoliberalism,Elitism and managerialism'. It's described at

Organized Rage. said...

You wrote you were intending to revisit this article, although in a later comment you said why bother or some such, which I feel was a mistake. I was a member of the CP when Martin's politics took hold amongst what I can only describe as a CP middle class urban elite, most of whom had cut their teeth in the NUS, icepicks and all. I have no doubt there was a conspiracy, although I have no idea whether Martin was part of it, and i hope not as on a personal level I liked him. What was irrefutable, the state orchestrated a nudge nudge attempt to move the left away from class politics.

Those who promoted the single issue crap in the CP were rewarded with jobs and money. Up until then few if any CP members could get a foot in the door of the MSM, blacklisting was the order of the day not being invited to work on the editorial floor of a national newspaper. Yet almost over night Martin and others were being lorded in the Times and receiving offers they could have only dreamed about. The CP's trade union organiser post was filled by a supporter of MT, once an influential position across the Labour Movement it was run down deliberately until it became a nonentity. The guy who held this position actually wrote a MT article which trashed trade unionists.

Never forget the CP imploded over this issue and most of the Marxism Today crowd either ended up in Fleetstreet or academia, those who didn't ran off to the right with the party spoils after it imploded. The role the spooks had in crashing the CP, as far as i'm aware has never been investigated adequately, perhaps its day has come.

Phil said...

I am kind of revisiting this article via other pieces, but it depends on what points you mean. For instance, while Martin Jacques and some of his posse used the New Times to wind up the old CPGB, it didn't mean the processes they analysed in the 1980s were not happening and that they haven't transformed class relationships ...

Organized Rage. said...

True Phil, but the MT and later NT spinoff did far more that just analyse what was happening in the 1980s they for a short space of time became the main advocates against class based politics and were rewarded very well for their services by the ruling class.

As to class relationships being transformed, I am not sure they were if you look at it socially, Class prejudice is the very bases of the society we live in today as it was in the 1980s. Its surely why radical socialists place class at the center of our politics, back then and now?

Phil said...

Yes Mick, I agree. Class is central. My argument is that because the composition of the working class has changed and the kinds of post-industrial production our New Times friends used to write about is more important for capitalism now than was the case back then, class itself has changed. There is still class struggle, it still requires collective organisation, and a socialist society can only come about through pursuing those class interests.

I will be writing more on this (indeed, just written a chapter for a book due out in Sept and penning something for a journal on this presently), but in the mean time this one - in case you haven't seen it - more or less sums up my views:

Organized Rage. said...

Thanks Phil, you’re a good man.