Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Summing up a huge part of the problem

Oldish posts can be worth a look, such as this one - David Harvey on Neoliberalism and Identity Politics:

Not only do I argue with neoliberals about antiracism and identity politics, I argue with neomarxists, people I think of as hyphenated marxists: feminist-marxists, antiracist-marxists, etc. I'm old school; I think if you hyphenate "marxist", you're probably being redundant (Marx was about as egalitarian as they come) or you're missing the point.

Mind you, I still dunno if I'm a marxist. Maybe I'm a hyphenate too, a christian-marxist, which certainly isn't what Marx or Engels were. I just like Marx's tools for analyzing power.

Anyway, after some discussion about Adolph Reed Jr. and Walter Benn Michaels, two of my favorite leftist critics of antiracism, at Lenin's Tomb and pink scare, I decided I needed to read David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism to discuss this more knowledgeably.

So far, I'm quite enjoying it. He's a good writer, and while I had a rough idea of the beginnings of neoliberalism, I hadn't connected it to US aid to Pinochet.

Much of the reason I'm enjoying it is Harvey's providing ammo for my side. This is from his second chapter:
Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multi-culturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power. It has long proved extremely difficult within the US left, for example, to forge the collective discipline required for political action to achieve social justice without offending the desire of political actors for individual freedom and for full recognition and expression of particular identities. Neoliberalism did not create these distinctions, but it could easily exploit, if not foment, them.
ETA, from the same chapter:
Civil rights were an issue, and questions of sexuality and of reproductive rights were very much in play. For almost everyone involved in the movement of '68, the intrusive state was the enemy and it had to be reformed. And on that, the neoliberals could easily agree. But capitalist corporations, business, and the market system were also seen as primary enemies requiring redress if not revolutionary transformation; hence the threat to capitalist class power. By capturing ideals of individual freedom and turning them against the interventionist and regulatory practices of the state, capitalist class interest could hope to protect and even restore their position. Neoliberalism was well suited to this ideological task. But it had to be backed up by a practical strategy that emphasized the liberty of consumer choice, not only with respect to particular products but also with respect to lifestyles, modes of expression, and a wide range of cultural practices. Neoliberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism. As such it proved more than a little compatible with that cultural impulse called 'post-modernism' which had long been lurking in the wings but could now emerge full-blown as a both a cultural and an intellectual dominant. This was the challenge that corporations and class elites set out to finesse in the 1980s.
We have been dealing with the fallout for decades - not only in the US, but in Europe, and all across vast swaths of the Global South. The language has changed, as well. One no longer speaks of solidarity or unity. Terms like "liberation" (one that I recall distinctly being important in the civil rights movements, among feminists, gay rights activists, etc. as late as the 1970s) have been replaced with "empowerment." We're good individual consumers, but we are so badly fragmented. A generation of Americans have sneered their way through life in the meantime.

The book by David Harvey that the author references is worth a read. Like a lot of leftists (and again, I use leftist strictly in the predominantly Marxian anticapitalist sense, as opposed to the pseudo-left/liberal/progressive capitalist partisan Democrat or Green sense), Harvey is short on solutions, but rather adept at describing the problems currently plaguing us. Then again, recognizing that there is, indeed, a problem or set of problems, is a necessary first step in rebuilding a left that is worthy of the name.

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