A profound crisis is threatening humanity. Democratic politics is being driven out by authoritarian populism in country after country. The planet’s fragile ecosystem is under unprecedented assault as a result of profit-seeking overproduction. International conflict looms more threateningly than at any time since the 1930s. Last, but not least, the global economic system has been undermined by financial speculation and slowing growth, says the introduction to Time’s Up for Neoliberalism.
At the heart of this concerted threat is the theory and practice of neoliberalism, a naked, rampant form of capitalism. In the last 40 years, neoliberalism has remade society in its image, not unlike laissez-faire capitalism did in the first part of the 19th century, when Karl Marx noted:
“All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
Neoliberalism has triggered economic crises that penalise workers and the poor disproportionately and has intensified the exploitation of those in employment. In the UK, the share of wages out of gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen from a post-war high of 75% in 1975 to around 63%. In this period of capitalism, collective bargaining has become a rarity, trade union membership has plummeted and the welfare regime in countries like the UK has been torn to ribbons.
Yet it is a mistake to view neoliberalism as some form of conspiracy put together by the right-wing media and the forces of capital. That would be to give the system a coherence, logic and viability it neither deserves nor possesses. Neoliberal capitalism is just as chaotic, unpredictable and subject to crisis as previous forms of capitalism.
In the wake of the collapse of the post-war economic and political consensus in the early 1970s, capital required new ways to sustain its system of private ownership and exploitation of human labour. Naturally, neoliberal thinkers – who had been ignored until then – turned their attention to the state, significant political figures and elite policymakers.
They did this for a reason. Ultimately, the power of the state to create frameworks for capitalism both to function and advance is indispensable. Capital on its own is not a collective unity with administrative capacity in relation to society. The capitalist type of state has fulfilled this role in various ways for over 200 years.
As the turbulent 1970s unravelled, ideas promoted by neoliberal theoreticians began to penetrate the state at all levels, first in the UK and then in the US. A brutal experiment in Chile following the 1973 military coup against the elected socialist government of Salvador Allende had proved a valuable testing ground for monetarist Milton Friedman and his so-called Chicago Boys. As noted geographer and author David Harvey says:
”To me this is what neoliberalism was about: it was that political project, and I think the bourgeoisie or the corporate capitalist class put it into motion bit by bit. I don’t think they started out by reading Hayek or anything, I think they just intuitively said, ‘We gotta crush labour, how do we do it?’ And they found that there was a legitimising theory out there, which would support that.”
Neoliberal rule has gone through several phases under both Tory and Labour governments, under Republican and Democrat presidents and has endured periodic crises along the way, culminating in the 2008 global crash. Characteristically, its public face is about freedom, individuality and choice made possible by ‘liberation’ from the forces of the state. These Orwellian constructions cannot disguise the destructive nature of neoliberalism.
Time’s Up for Neoliberalism is written by supporters of the Real Democracy Movement to demonstrate the intimate relationship between state and capital, their coming together to promote market ‘solutions’ for every conceivable issue in a kind of universal social experiment. We try to bring out the hidden role of the state because that is where actual power over society is located.
Neoliberalism is not simply corporate power that has somehow ‘captured’ a supposedly neutral state. They are actually in it together! We need to understand where it came from and what it represents before coming on to consider how to overthrow neoliberalism in all its forms.
That is what we do in Part 1 of Time’s Up for Neoliberalism. We make no apologies for drawing on academics and researchers who have studied the phenomenon of neoliberalism. Let us pay tribute to the work of David Harvey, William Davies, Bob Jessop, William Robinson, Benjamin Noys, William K. Carroll, Colin Carson, Alison Ayers, Alfredo Saad-Filho, Ben Fine and many others who have dug below the surface to bring out the essence of neoliberalism.
In Part 2 we propose some revolutionary solutions that can lead to a transition beyond neoliberal capitalism to a real democracy, where the alienated and dispossessed majority actively engage in power in their communities, workplaces, towns, regions and countries.
Please buy or download a copy and plan together to make neoliberal capitalism history.