Neoliberalism, capitalism; sustainable development, socialism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Sep 8 06:51:14 PDT 1998

Dennis Redmond:
>Oh yes there is. Neoliberalism is the ideology of global finance
>capitalism. It's a heavily Anglo-Saxon thing, mostly, fuelled by
>Reaganomics and later the Wall Street Bubble.

I don't find a term like "neoliberalism" useful because it is often used instead of capitalism in a manner that obfuscates the nature of the problem. Specifically, I object to the way that people like Roger Burbach and Harry Cleaver use the term, which is as a post-Marxist theory strongly influenced by the Zapatista movement. This is an example of how Cleaver talks about neoliberalism:

"Neoliberalism is a variation on the classical liberalism of the 19th Century when British and other imperialisms used the ideology of market competition and "free trade" to justify both capitalism at home and colonialism abroad. Revolt in the North by industrial workers and the unemployed in the 1930-40s and in the South in the 1940-50s by anti-colonial struggles ended classical liberalism and most colonialism. These efforts, however, were contained by Keynsianism: government management of the wage and collective bargaining, subsidies to industry to support productivity growth, the welfare state for the unwaged and a mixture of counter-insurgency and "development" for the new neo-colonies."

Therefore, instead of targeting capitalism, the emphasis is on an epiphenomenon of the system. As a corollary, the antithesis of neoliberlism is "sustainable development" on a local basis rather than socialism. Cleaver writes:

"We must find ways to link the emerging alternative new approaches to redefining and organizing the genesis and distribution of 'wealth' and to crafting new relationships among humans and between them and the rest of the universe in ways that are capable of linked or complementary action. There are many on-going experiments around the world whose experiences and creativity can be shared. This does not mean unity for socialism or any other singular post-capitalist 'economic' order, but rather the building of cooperative interconnections among diverse projects."

In practice this has mean orienting to co-ops, slum food distribution centers, squatters, etc. Workers do pop up from time to time, but not as the class which can rule society but as one more "insurgent" element of a broad spectrum. Cleaver has been a big fan of the "wharfies" in Australia, but not with an eye as to how they can spearhead a revolutionary labor movement.

This sort of post-Marxism, largely influenced by Toni Negri, will eventually fade from the scene, just as the earlier forms of new leftism inspired by Herbert Marcuse faded from the scene in the late 60s. The reason for this is that we are on the eve of powerful proletarian mass movements that will once again raise the age-old agenda of Marx and Lenin. In the late 60s and early 70s, the focus was in Europe as France and Italy, as well as Eastern Europe. Auto workers, etc., became key players. From Renault in France, to Fiat in Italy, to the Czech electricians and machinists who backed "socialism with a human face", Marx became necessary reading as "One-Dimensional Man" started popping up in remainder bins. The same thing is true today. Marx and Lenin will become read and discussed the way they haven't in a generation: as practical tools for transforming society.

Louis Proyect


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