Friday, 13 May 2011


Neo-Liberalism does seem to be a partial misnomer for the era beginning in the early 70s. I imagine the term originated from the French "néo-liberalisme" that was coined by the French organization ATTAC in the early 90s, before passing into Spanish. Now, in the spectrum of French politics, "libéral" means exactly the same as "laissez faire" in the US. Whereas the English term "liberal" means ... progressive.
Which has always caused no end of confusion. The latest instance being the numerous conservative French people who describe their political views on Facebook as "Liberal", thinking it means "anti-Socialism", and are then extremely surprised to receive invitations to join the "Free Mumia Abu-Jamal" cause.
Just as, by the way, the term "libertarian" means exactly the same as "laissez faire" in English, but means "Anarcho-Communist" in French...
So a bad translation to begin with (neo-liberal), but that's just the English teacher speaking. The heart of the problem is how you define neo-liberalism.
There has been a strong class offensive on the part of Capital from the 70s to the 2010s, which was, as always, precipitated by equally strong pressures on the variable and constant side of capital that threatened to slow down the accumulation of capital and potentially affect the rate of profit.
Capital responded by downsizing and outsourcing, opening vast new markets, and, but this is NOTHING NEW, also trying to use financial capital to augment the time between the successive phases of the capitalist cycle : production, realization of surplus and productive investment.
Nothing new, because the pattern of capital accumulation in the second half of the 19th century was very much the same. Banks became the main stock owners and the main drive for routing and equalizing capital between the different branches of production. And each crisis, 1847, 1857, 1864, 1873, 1884, 1890, 1900, 1907, was caused by the mightiest banks of the time going bankrupt and familiar "run on banks" episodes.
And each time, governments had to be lobbied to bail out the capitalists, much to the disgust of the general public. So in that sense, "neo-liberalism" is, IMHO, similar to the era of the robber barons.
What had changed was the perception born in the 1940s-1960s that Capitalists were accountable to the General public, and not the lowly rabble of the 1880s that did not have a say in the management of public affairs. Corruption had become less brazen after the second world war, and a sense of utter privilege was not welcome anymore (although it continued to exist). The Capitalist class's open attack on Labour in the 1970s-2010s thus came as a shock to a public opinion that had forgotten the way public offices had been openly sold to the highest bidder in the Tammy Hall years of the 19th century and how the Pinkertons would casually open fire on strikers at every opportunity.
After the defeat of Nazism, the declaration of Human Rights, the introduction of the Welfare State, there was a sense of bewilderment at the fact that corporations were once more flouting their viciousness and their profit-maximizing agenda, without any regard for the fate of the rest of the planet. Organized labour, which had painfully learned how to face aggressive Capitalism in the 1870s-1930s, was now completely taken by surprise by the new onslaught. It still hasen't recovered its capacity for autonomous working class combat, but it will, eventually...
The current austerity measures are clearly seen by the global working class as unfair, as they follow on the heels of a massive bailout of financial institutions. The working class though still has to re-invent the wheel, so to speak, and return to more combative unions.
Ideologically, THEIR interests are now quite distinct from OUR interests, in the common man's mind, so at least the demonstration of the corruptness and mendacity of governments is no longer a prerequisite. What now remains for the global working class is to overcome despair and organize.