We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up
Thursday, July 23, 2015
The problem with center-left critiques of neoliberalism
I initially was put-off by the condensed writing style of Konings article which, I think, caused me to go to the first link to Steve Lambert’s art installation, Capitalism works for me! I found the material on the latter site most fascinating because it featured what is for me a most puzzling absence in the milieu that I circulate in--discussion about capitalism. The latter is most dramatically illustrated by my discovery of the lack of interest in my website by people I come in contact with. When I mention that I'm working on a blog and give them the name of it, they express very little interest in it, and the few that follow up by perusing the site, never re-visit it or comment on it directly with me. (Here I need to explain a little bit about my "milieu". I live near, but some distance from Seattle in a middle sized city. I think the people here offer a representative sample of people living across the US.) I was sidetracked quite a while by Lambert's work and really enjoyed what is starkly missing from my life and social contacts.
Then I returned to Konings' essay to try to make sense out of it. It finally dawned on me that he is addressing a phenomenon that is related to my puzzling experiences that I've briefly described above, and more to the point, the many "left" critics among intellectuals in countries aligned with the US-led capitalist Empire that I've frequently criticized in my blog--people like Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, and even Richard D. Wolff. I think the latter kind of critics are what Konings is also targeting in this piece. These are critics who refuse, or are afraid for various reasons, to attack the system of capitalism as a system. They always qualify their criticisms by referring to "unregulated capitalism". Such critics take the "democratic" components of capitalism seriously, and think that they can be restored if only capitalists are more regulated. And they look to state institutions as a countervailing force to keep capitalists in check. The only problem is that the capitalists essentially own the state as well as everything else of value.
The "democracy", the freedoms, and the "human rights" which capitalist leaders love to go on about have always been an ideological prop to convince ordinary people that capitalism was concerned about these values. What they really represent is a legacy of the capitalist revolutions that occurred all over Europe several hundred years ago when the rising capitalist class desperately needed the working class in their struggle with monarchies and aristocracies.
To gain the allegiance of ordinary people to overthrow the rule of feudal authorities, they came up with the ideology of "liberalism" which proclaimed that they were concerned about freedoms from the arbitrary rule of their feudal masters. What they were really only concerned about were their freedoms to function as "owners" of economic property to do what they wanted with workers and the environment regardless of the effects on society or the environment.
Since then there has been a kind of dialectic dynamic between the real interests of this new ruling class of capitalists and these so-called freedoms in relation to the people they employed (or enslaved), the workers, in their various economic enterprises. The problem was that the dialectic was between two very unevenly matched antagonists. And there's the rub, as Shakespeare would say.
Since their successful revolutions, capitalist ruling classes have gradually been accumulating wealth and power to where we are today with highly concentrated wealth and power by a capitalist few with the rest of humanity in debt to them. Since then they have reinforced this ideology, now called "neoliberalism", via education, media, and even entertainment. From experience they have found such indoctrination and management of consent/dissent much more cost-effective than outright police state rule (although they are well prepared to use that also). Many academics have been subject to this indoctrination and many academics on the left have been affected likewise. These limited critics of capitalism are what Konings is targeting in his essay. He sees such critics as having been influenced by the writings of Karl Polanyi.