Capitalist Realism

I recently read a captivating book by Mark Fisher called Capitalist Realism, which seeks, I think, to synthesize ideas thoughts culture and technology in the “late-capitalist” era with a political economy understanding of the current state of capitalism. Essentially this means that Fisher looks closely at various cultural productions (films, advertising, TV, etc.) and uses them to help to analyze the broader state of the world today. The outcome of this synthesis/analysis is an elaboration of the concept of “capitalist realism”. “Realism” is a term that has many uses (e.g. socialist realism; realism in paining; philosophers use it in a unique way; etc.) but I think that the basic underpinning of the terms is that it realism is concerned with ‘how the world actually is’, as opposed to how the world could be in the future or might be in the present in less perceptible ways. So, ‘capitalist realism’ is an ideological or political position that sees capitalism as the the way the world is and cares not about understanding its historical development or its potential demise. Read the rest of this entry »

Edward Said’s Representations of the Intellectual

Representations of the Intellectual contains 6 essays, originally delivered  as the BBC’s Reith Lectures, on the role of the intellectual in society. Below are some thematic quotes, and a few of my thoughts.

Universals: “Freedom of expression can not be sought indiviously in one territory and ignored in another.” (89)

There need to be universals otherwise everyone would do what they think is right. ["In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes." (90) This sounds very unappealing and distopian to me.] Chomsky’s writing is a great example of this, because he holds all sides to account, where other so-called intellectuals decry the trampling of freedoms in other countries, but defend the USA’s own imperialist actions (e.g. Michael Ignatieff). Read the rest of this entry »

Jamie Peck and Adam Tickell “Neoliberalizing Space” (Antipode, 2002)

This article is in a similar vein with Brenner & Theodore’s, emphasizing the mutability of neoliberalism, and its ‘creative destruction’. The unique aspects of the article that stand out to me are: the question of neoliberalism as a regulatory regime; and the focus on extra- and inter-local rule systems.

So, the first question, is neoliberalism a system of social and economic regulation in the way that Keynesian-Fordist policies were, mediating and structuring relations between different classes and interests? Taking a historical perspective, the neoliberalism of Thatcher and Reagan was destructive and based on a ‘roll-back’ of prevailing policies, rather than being an alternative per se. Into the 90s, economic crises forced neoliberal policy makers to become more creative and to ‘roll-out’ policies designed to moderate and/or discipline social resistances to the system [e.g. Mike Harris' policies like workfare: an alternative to, not just a destruction of, previous welfare policies].

Contemporary politics revolve
around axes the very essences of which have been neoliberalized.
As such, neoliberalism is qualitatively different from “competing”
regulatory projects and experiments: it shapes the environments,
contexts, and frameworks within which political-economic and socio-
institutional restructuring takes place. Thus, neoliberal rule systems
are perplexingly elusive; they operate between as well as within
specific sites of incorporation and reproduction, such as national
and local states.

But describing the characteristics of the institutions of neoliberalism is difficult. In the Keynesian era there were various institutions like, for example, labour relations boards, policing services, hospitals, etc. Peck and Tickell propose that these sorts of institutions could be seen as ‘hardware’ and that, at least initially, neoliberalization changed the ’software’, the rules that determine the functioning of these institutions. ”Neoliberalism was playing a decisive role in constructing the “rules” of interlocal competition by shaping the very metrics by which regional competitiveness, public policy, corporate performance, or social productivity are measured—value for money, the bottom line, flexibility, shareholder value, performance rating, social capital, and so on. Neoliberalism therefore represented a form of regulation of sorts, but not a form commensurate with, say, the Keynesian-welfarism that preceded it in many (though not all) cases.” (387)  But eventually, more recently, the hardware is changing too, as neoliberalism becomes entrenched and the ’software’ becomes normalized. Ideas like, for example, ‘fiscal responsibility’are no longer debated, they are just assumed, and so whole new institutions can be created [e.g. department of homeland security, the G8 (vs. UN), others?] and destroyed or attacked [e.g. Canadian Wheat Board, others?].

The ultimate thrust of Peck and Tickell’s argument, and, I think, their answer to the question of whether or how neoliberalism regulates is that it regulates the spaces between. One thing about neoliberalism is that, like Brenner and Theodore’s ‘path-dependency’, neoliberalization manifests itself in different ways in every different location. Peck and Tickell call this ‘local neoliberalisms’. Neoliberalism gains its strength, its robustness, in controlling and ordering the rules that govern and create competition between these local neoliberalisms. Here’s an example that I think relates; the current obsession with insurance. Small-scale organizations, from community centres to public elementary schools, are worried sick about not being liable in the case that someone gets seriously injured on their property, and so they go to serious and bizarre ends to counter this, demanding waiver forms, limiting access, destroying/replacing perfectly good playgrounds, etc. How did this culture of paranoia develop? Perhaps it comes out of neoliberalism regulating not directly regulating these local organizations, but by existing in the space between these organizations in the creation of a the culture of fear and competition or at least isolation between these organizations as individual units, rather than part of a collective that gains strength from being mutually supportive–a community centre would not be so concerned about liability if all community groups were strong as a collective, besides which, more importantly, the risk of someone cracking their head open and also suing are very low but neoliberalism exaggerates this fear by valorizing financial liquidity and individual responsibility while at the same time removing support systems that would dissuade fears. I’m not sure that that ended up being a very coherent example. Here is what Peck and Tickell say about neoliberalism shaping contexts:

Contemporary politics revolve around axes the very essences of which have been neoliberalized. As such, neoliberalism is qualitatively different from “competing” regulatory projects and experiments: it shapes the environments, contexts, and frameworks within which political-economic and socio- institutional restructuring takes place. Thus, neoliberal rule systems are perplexingly elusive; they operate between as well as within specific sites of incorporation and reproduction, such as national and local states. (400)

If this is true about neoliberalism, that its rule systems are elusive because they shape environments, contexts, and frameworks, then resistance to neoliberalization must be properly focused not just on creating alternatives to manifestations of local neoliberalisms and their rule-structuring effects:

This is not to say that the hegemony of neoliberalism must necessarily remain completely impervious to targeted campaigns of disruption and “regime competition” from progressive alternatives, but rather to argue that the effectiveness of such counterstrategies will continue to be muted, absent a phase-shift in the constitution of extralocal relations. This means that the strategic objectives for opponents of neoliberalism must include the reform of macroinstitutional priorities and the remaking of extralocal rule systems in fields like trade, finance, environmental, antipoverty, education, and labor policy. These may lack the radical edge of more direct forms of resistance, but as intermediate and facilitative objectives they would certainly help to tip the macroenvironment in favor of progressive possibilities. In this context, the defeat (or failure) of local neoliberalisms—even strategically important ones—will not be enough to topple what we are still perhaps justified in calling “the system. (401)

Tommy Douglas quote

“Fascism begins the moment a ruling class,
fearing the people may use their political
democracy to gain economic democracy,
begins to destroy political democracy in order
to retain its power of exploitation and special
Tommy Douglas, 1942

“Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege.”

-Tommy Douglas, 1942

on ‘diversity of tactics’

After what happened in Toronto last weekend with the G20 meeting, I’ve been trying to figure out what I think of black bloc tactics. At a general level I suppose a good place to start is to consider the place of anarchism within the (global) movement for social justice. Anarchists1, very generally, believe that capitalism must be overcome in order to rid the world of great social injustices, like racism, poverty, homophobia, colonialism, and inequality in general. Also fundamental, is opposition to all forms of heirarchy and external control; this means opposition to all supra-local government, and support for local autonomous communities. As David McNally says in this interesting interview on the CBC last week, many anarchists are prominent and active community activists, starting and leading local activities that contribute to vibrant and strong communities. There are some anarchist that embrace ‘black bloc tactics’ which seek to radicalize people by provoking displays of violent force by the state, violence which is perpetrated in different less visible forms all the time (e.g. cutting support for the poor and unemployed, racial profiling (e.g. Maher Arar), breaking unions (e.g. USW in Sudbury)). Their tactic for provoking this display of violence by the state is often to the destroy property of the state and complicit corporations.

Leading up to the G20 protests, I had a sense that the organizers of the large protests that were to take place had managed to create a broad coalition of labour, socialist, and anarchist groups that respected each other’s ‘diversity of tactics’.2 At the big ‘Shout Out For Global Justice’ event on Friday night organized by the Council of Canadians, there was a, I thought, a noticeable tension between the labour speakers and the anti-poverty, indigenous rights, social justice speakers (e.g. difference b/w Leo Gerard, United Steel Workers president,and Naomi Klein). But I was hopeful that these differences were being broached by a shared commitment to justice and ending capitalism.

Regardless of the amount of destruction committed by police agents provocateurs, some anarchists embrace black block tactics, and it is worth thinking about whether their actions are helpful and strategically useful, or if they are individualistic and strategically poor.

I was going to write/think about this more, but this article called “In the Aftermath of the G20: Reflections on Strategy, Tactics and Militancy” does a better job.

  1. here’s an interesting article on anarchism by Noam Chomsky; qt: “The problem of ‘freeing man from the curse of economic exploitation and political and social enslavement’ remains the problem of our time. As long as this is so, the doctrines and the revolutionary practice of libertarian socialism [aka anarchism] will serve as an inspiration and guide.” []
  2. Toronto chief of police Bill Blair (shame!) at a press conference recently said “They embraced a euphemism they call the diversity of tactics. That is their diversity of tactics,” and pointed to a display of captured implements of destruction. []

Cities and the Geographies of “Actually Existing Neoliberalism” by Neil Brenner and Nik Theodore

This article (in Antipode 2002 34:3) is another one that theorizes about the development of neoliberalism in the last 3o years. The authors are both from geography backgrounds and so they inject a ’spatial’ focus into their analysis. The article, I think, presents at least three interesting concepts: the path-dependency of neoliberalism; the creative destruction of neoliberalism; and neoliberalism’s spatial focus on cities.

The first idea, of path-dependency, I think ties in with the the phrase “actually existing neoliberalism” that is in the title of the article. Descriptions of actually-existing neoliberalism are meant to contrast with the theoretical (or even utopian) descriptions of how neoliberalism is meant to work. The idea of actually-existing neoliberalism is also meant to counter two common pitfalls in thinking about neoliberalism:

First, neoliberal doctrine represents states and markets as if they were diametrically opposed principles of social organization, rather than recognizing the politically constructed character of all economic relations. Second, neoliberal doctrine is premised upon a “one size fits all” model of policy implementation that assumes that identical results will follow the imposition of market-oriented reforms, rather than recognizing the extraordinary variations that arise as neoliberal reform initiatives are imposed within contextually specific institutional landscapes and policy environments. (353)

Countering both of these pitfalls, the authors argue:

In contrast to neoliberal
ideology, in which market forces are assumed to operate according to immutable laws
no matter where they are “unleashed,” we emphasize the contextual embeddednessof
neoliberal restructuring projects insofar as they have been produced within national,
regional, and local contexts defined by the legacies of inherited institutional frame-
works, policy regimes, regulatory practices, and political struggles.

In contrast to neoliberal ideology, in which market forces are assumed to operate according to immutable laws no matter where they are “unleashed,” we emphasize the contextual embeddedness of neoliberal restructuring projects insofar as they have been produced within national, regional, and local contexts defined by the legacies of inherited institutional frame-works, policy regimes, regulatory practices, and political struggles. (349)

The ‘contextual embeddedness’ (i.e. the particular institutional context/history) of neoliberal projects inevitably influence the way that these projects are created, strategized, and implemented. And these contexts are always spatially-dependent, i.e. different places (usually states) have different “institutional frame-works, policy regimes,” etc. Thus, neoliberal projects are ‘path-dependent’:

As indicated, neoliberal programs of capitalist restructuring are rarely, if ever, imposed in a pure form, for they are always introduced within politico-institutional contexts that have been molded significantly by earlier regulatory arrangements, institutionalized practices, and political compromises. In this sense, the evolution of any politico-institutional configuration following the imposition of neoliberal policy reforms is likely to demonstrate strong properties of path-dependency, in which established institutional arrangements significantly constrain the scope and trajectory of reform. (361, italics mine)

This idea of path-dependency is one that is close to Harvey’s highlighting of the contradictions between neoliberalism in theory (a utopian project) and neoliberalism in theory, and I think also to Polanyi’s double movement because the neoliberal project wants to go in one direction but is constrained by the socio-political institutions of the particular spatial context it is working in. I don’t know if this really works though, because I see three movements or forces happening: the neoliberal move away from the Keynesian or Fordist values; the Keynesian resistance to it (a form of conservativism); and thirdly a resistance to neoliberalism’s social destructiveness that takes various forms ranging from anarchist to fascist backlashes. It is the first and third of these that would be a double movement, just like how in the 1930s it was the socialists and fascist surges reacting to increased capitalist power.  Anyhow, on to the next.

Brenner and Theodore’s second focus is the idea of neoliberalism as ‘creative destruction’. They acknowledge that their “emphasis on the tendentially creative capacities of neoliberalism is at odds with earlier studies that underscored its overridingly destructive character.” (362) But, they nonetheless present the idea that neoliberalism is creative in its destruction. My understanding of this, and it may be incorrect, is that in order to circumvent and elude path-dependencies, social resistance, and internal contradictions, neoliberal project are forced to be creative. Of course though, neoliberalism, like all theories of capitalist accumulation, are inherently destructive of all of the more meaningful aspects of human beings’ creations and potentials. Or as they say, “The point of this emphasis [on neoliberal creativity], however, is not to suggest that neoliberalism could somehow provide a basis for stabilized, reproducible capitalist growth, but rather to explore its wide-ranging, transformative impacts upon the inherited politico-institutional and geographical infrastructures of advanced capitalist states and economies.” (363) Indeed, neoliberal policies (like all capitalist strategies) generate their own crises, and thus must be constantly creative in order to continually generate capitalist accumulation while at the same time managing the backlash and crises that capitalist accumulation generates. And so, interestingly,

the neoliberal project of institutional creation is no longer oriented simply towards the promotion of market-driven capitalist growth; it is also oriented towards the establishment of new flanking mechanisms and modes of crisis displacement through which to insulate powerful economic actors from the manifold failures of the market, the state, and governance that are persistently generated within a neoliberal political framework. (374)

The third, and I think main, though for some reason less interesting to me, focus of the article is on cities as the location for neoliberal policies. Brenner and Theodor say that “cities have become strategically crucial arenas in which neoliberal forms of creative destruction have been unfolding during the last three decades,” (367) and that they have become

institutional laboratories for a variety of neoliberal policy experiments, from place-marketing, enterprise and empowerment zones, local tax abatements, urban development corporations, public–private partnerships, and new forms of local boosterism to workfare policies, property-redevelopment schemes, business-incubator projects, new strategies of social control, policing, and surveillance, and a host of other institutional modifications within the local and regional state apparatus. (368)

The authors provide two tables in the article that list examples of the ways in which neoliberalism has been destructive and creative. I think I’ll copy them here and that will be all.


table 1.2

Table 2.1table 2.2

table 2.3table 2.4

Stephen Gill’s “Globalisation, Market Civilisation, and Disciplinary Neoliberalism”

Despite the annoying use of American spellings (the epic z vs s struggle), Stephen Gill’s article “Globalisation, Market Civilisation, and Disciplinary Neoliberalism” is a remarkable essay on neoliberalism, especially given that it was written in 1995, a time when, I believe, not very many people on the left had yet been able to grasp the context, magnitude, and implications of the neoliberal shift that was well underway. Gill combines a Marxist historical materialist approach with Foucault’s ideas of discipline and panopticism. The place that these two approaches intersect is in Gill’s argument that the neoliberal system is an example not of hegemony (or, ideally, justice) in a Gramscian sense, but rather of supremacy. A situation of hegemony would seek to absorb, undermine, and corrupt opposition movements, while supremacy just dominates and seeks no compromise, because there is not a cohesive opposition:

“When we introduce the issues of power and justice into our examination of neoliberal forms of globalization, what is emerging is a politics of supremacy, rather than a politics of justice or hegemony. For example, a situation of bourgeois hegemony implies the construction of a historical bloc that transcends social classes and channels their direction into an active and largely legitimate system of rule. This implies a fusion of economic, political, and cultural elements of society (the state and civil society) into a political alliance or coalition that combines coercion and consent. That is, the creation of such a bloc presupposes opposition and a means for incorporating or defeating it in a process of struggle. Whilst there is no compromise by the leading class fraction on the fundamentals of the mode of production [i.e. capitalism], there is nevertheless an inclusion, politically, of a significant range of interests. Subordinate classes thus carry weight within the formulation of state policy. By a situation of supremacy, I mean rule by a non-hegemonic bloc of forces that exercises dominance for a period over apparently fragmented populations, until a coherent form of opposition emerges.” (400)

Another main argument of his, I think, is that the neoliberal dominance is temporary because it of its relying upon a politics of supremacy rather than on a longer term hegemonic strategy. I think that it is in this context that Gill brings up Polanyi’s idea of the ‘double movement’, which involves seeing capitalism as a ’stark utopia’: “as Polanyi pointed out, a pure market system is a utopian abstraction and any attempt to construct it fully would require an immensely authoritarian of political power through the state.”(420) Polanyi’s theory of the double movement is about, I think,  the idea that when social structures are threatened, (for example as they are by the imposition of market values upon things and concepts that they don’t fit (e.g. water), or in Polanyi’s terms when the market becomes disembedded in society and society becomes embedded in the market), there will be a backlash by social force against these dehumanizing changes. This backlash takes different forms, from the recent rise in the political success of fascist and authoritarian governments to the election of populist socialist governments across Latin America.

On the ‘market civilization’:

David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism

I just finished David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Penguin, 2007). I highlighted a lot of passages (incidentally, it was the first whole ebook I’ve read–which was fine except for the need for an internet connection), which I want to go back over and write about here, but the main argument that he makes, much like the Canadian authors I’ve been reading (see category->neoliberalism in Canada), is that neoliberalism is not fundamentally about monetarist economic policies: it is really about the restoration of elite class power. In Harvey’s words, neoliberalism can be interpreted “either as a utopian project to realize a theoretical design for the reorganization of international capitalism or as a political project to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites” (19). So, on the one hand neoliberalism could be about rejuvenating (international) capitalism in response to the crises that occurred in the 1970s, (which is how it is described in the mainstream, and sold to the masses), or on the other hand it could be seen as opportunism designed to counter the general progress that had been made between the end of the Second World War and the 1970s towards a more equitable distribution of wealth and power within a capitalist system (i.e. Keynesianism, or what Harvey calls ‘embedded liberalism’).

Harvey backs up his belief in neoliberalism as a project to restore class power mostly by analyzing the track record of neoliberalism during the last 30 years: has human well-being increased in general? has society become more equitable? has the distribution of wealth become more even? has the world become more democratic? A number of indicators show that by these standards the record of neoliberalism is abysmal, which does not necessarily mean that neoliberalism is an elite class project–it could just mean that neoliberals have failed in their utopian project (the goal of which is to bring freedom and prosperity to all via the free-market and extreme individualism). However, given the rapid transfer of wealth from the poor to the wealthy, and given the large gap between neoliberalism in theory and neoliberalism in practice, it seems that freedom and prosperity for all may not be the true goal of those who influence policy. This is, I think, where Harvey’s theory of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ comes in. Here is a long passage about it:

The main substantive achievement of neoliberalization, however, has been to redistribute, rather than to generate, wealth and income. I have elsewhere provided an account of the main mechanisms whereby this was achieved under the rubric of ‘accumulation by dispossession’. 9 By this I mean the continuation and proliferation of accumulation practices which Marx had treated of as ‘primitive’ or ‘original’ during the rise of capitalism. These include the commodification and privatization of land and the forceful expulsion of peasant populations (compare the cases, described above, of Mexico and of China, where 70 million peasants are thought to have been displaced in recent times); conversion of various forms of property rights (common, collective, state, etc.) into exclusive private property rights (most spectacularly represented by China); suppression of rights to the commons; commodification of labour power and the suppression of alternative (indigenous) forms of production and consumption; colonial, neocolonial, and imperial processes of appropriation of assets (including natural resources); monetization of exchange and taxation, particularly of land; the slave trade (which continues particularly in the sex industry); and usury, the national debt and, most devastating of all, the use of the credit system as a radical means of accumulation by dispossession. The state, with its monopoly of violence and definitions of legality, plays a crucial role in both backing and promoting these processes.
Harvey, David. Brief History of Neoliberalism.
Oxford, , GBR: Oxford University Press, UK, 2007. p 159.
Copyright © 2007. Oxford University Press, UK. All rights reserved.

“The main substantive achievement of neoliberalization, however, has been to redistribute, rather than to generate, wealth and income. I have elsewhere provided an account of the main mechanisms whereby this was achieved under the rubric of ‘accumulation by dispossession’. By this I mean the continuation and proliferation of accumulation practices which Marx had treated of as ‘primitive’ or ‘original’ during the rise of capitalism. These include the commodification and privatization of land and the forceful expulsion of peasant populations (compare the cases, described above, of Mexico and of China, where 70 million peasants are thought to have been displaced in recent times); conversion of various forms of property rights (common, collective, state, etc.) into exclusive private property rights (most spectacularly represented by China); suppression of rights to the commons; commodification of labour power and the suppression of alternative (indigenous) forms of production and consumption; colonial, neocolonial, and imperial processes of appropriation of assets (including natural resources); monetization of exchange and taxation, particularly of land; the slave trade (which continues particularly in the sex industry); and usury, the national debt and, most devastating of all, the use of the credit system as a radical means of accumulation by dispossession. The state, with its monopoly of violence and definitions of legality, plays a crucial role in both backing and promoting these processes” (159)

One of the earlier examples of accumulation by dispossession is the Mexican debt crisis in the early 1980s when Mexico declared that it could no longer pay off the massive debt that it had acquired to foreign banks:

“What the Mexico case demonstrated, however, was a key difference between liberal and neoliberal practice: under the former, lenders take the losses that arise from bad investment decisions, while under the latter the borrowers are forced by state and international powers to take on board the cost of debt repayment no matter what the consequences for the livelihood and well-being of the local population. If this required the surrender of assets to foreign companies at fire-sale prices, then so be it. This, it turns out, is not consistent with neoliberal theory.” (29)

Just who are the elite who are actively securing their own class power? Taking ‘accumulation by dispossession’ as a premise, the economic recovery during the neoliberal era is not based on the generation of (much) new wealth through the expansion of industry. Rather, new ‘wealth’ and accumulation are the result of finanzcialization (numbers games), enclosure of commons (e.g. the commodification and privatization of water), and the diminishment of the power of organized labour (e.g. the decline of wage rates in real terms). Thus, “one substantial core of rising class power under neoliberalism lies…with the CEOs, the key operators on corporate boards, and the leaders in the financial, legal, and technical apparatuses that surround this inner sanctum of capitalist activity” (33). Another group of highly influential elites are the owners of the massive corporations that have come to dominate the world economy, for example Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates, Carlos Slim in Mexico, perhaps Conrad Black in Canada, and the Walton family. “the incredible ability not only to amass large personal fortunes but to exercise a controlling power over large segments of the economy confers on these few individuals immense economic power to influence political processes. Small wonder that the net worth of the 358 richest people in 1996 was ‘equal to the combined income of the poorest 45 per cent of the world’s population––2.3 billion people’. Worse still, ‘the world’s 200 richest people more than doubled their net worth in the four years to 1998, to more than $1 trillion. The assets of the top three billionaires [were by then] more than the combined GNP of all least developed countries and their 600 million people’”(43).

“While this disparate group of individuals embedded in the corporate, financial, trading, and developer worlds do not necessarily conspire as a class, and while there may be frequent tensions between them, they nevertheless possess a certain accordance of interests that generally recognizes the advantages (and now some of the dangers) to be derived from neoliberalization. They also possess, through organizations like the World Economic Forum at Davos, means of exchanging ideas and of consorting and consulting with political leaders. They exercise immense influence over global affairs and possess a freedom of action that no ordinary citizen possesses” (45).

There are a lot of other interesting parts in this book, including the influence of neoliberalism on ethics and rights (e.g. the connections between negative rights, privatization, and individualism); on postmodernism as a symptom of neoliberalism (the idea that “postmodern intellectual currents…accord, without knowing it, with the White House line that truth is both socially constructed and a mere effect of discourse,”(198) or in other words that there are no absolute moral truths so we can/should do whatever we want or whatever best suits our interests or acquisition of power); on democratic processes (e.g. the rise of NGOs, which are essentially private sector (i.e. not democratically accountable) groups); on the current tendency towards neoconservativism, which has less interest than neoliberalism in disguising its embrace of authoritarianism; the contradictions caused by neoliberal policy (e.g. the tendency toward large monopolistic companies like walmart and google, rather than increased innovation through competition); on Polanyi and the value of alternative, collective rights (e.g.”the the right to life chances, to political association and ‘good’ governance, for control over production by the direct producers, to the inviolability and integrity of the human body, to engage in critique without fear of retaliation, to a decent and healthy living environment, to collective control of common property resources”(213)); and more.

I haven’t offered any critical comments on Harvey’s book here, possibly because I think that it is pretty much right on. I thought that the chapter on China was very dry and economistic, and I tend to twinge whenever I read sweeping condemnations of China, entirely as a result of the influence of SLE. This is a very unpopular stance though these days. It is interesting though that Harvey’s criticism of China and its ‘human rights record’ is not coming from the usual place of (hypocritical) outrage about how draconian China is compared to the free and liberal west. Harvey is critical of Deng’s neoliberal turn, and the whole idea of ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ which has involved the destruction of the iron rice bowl, the creation of an elite class, increased privatization of services, implementation of user fees, the dislocation of millions of peasants, and the destruction of the power and influence of organized labourers. Hmmm, it seems that I ended up being uncritical of Harvey again…

Lady Chatterly’s Lover by DH Lawrence

I recently listened to a recording of Lady Chatterly’s lover. Very enjoyable. Besides having many hot and spicy moments, with various people quivering in various places, there are subtle critiques of modernism’s effects on human sexuality and labour. Have we gone too far in elevating pleasures of the mind above pleasures of the body? Is this downplaying and degrading of the quality of the physical paralleled in the degraded quality of work of the modern industrial and post-industrial eras? Are we doomed to be unsatisfied in everything physical, engulfed in a fog of ideas, technology, efficiency, and stress?  I think Lawrence’s answer is clear; the toiling miners, the efficiency- and technology-obsessed mine owner, the bitter spouses are all victims of the drudgery and narrowness of the modern era.

Leo Panitch on what socialism is, and liberalism isn’t

The socialist ‘utopian goal’ is built around realizing our potential to be full human beings. What separates this ideal from its liberal roots is not only socialism’s commitment to extending this principle to all members of society, but also its insistence that the flowering of human capacities isn’t a liberation of the individual from the social, but is only achievable through the social. Ideals are always linked to some notion of justice and freedom. Notions of justice revolve around the egalitarianism of certain outcomes (like distribution of income or wealth) or the legitimacy of a process for reaching goals even if the ultimate results are unequal (equal access to opportunities). Notions of freedom generally divide into freedom from an external arbitrary authority (the state) or the freedom to participate in setting the broad parameters that frame the context of our lives (as in current liberal democracies). The socialist ideal does not exclude these other moral spaces, but locates them on the specific terrain of capacities: capitalism is unjust and undemocratic not because of this or that imperfection in relation to equality or freedom, but because at its core it involves the control by some of the use and development of the potential of others, and because the competition it fosters frustrates humanity’s capacity for liberation through the social.1

  1. ”Transcending Pessimism”, Socialist Register 2000 []