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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The liberal soul of "neoliberalism"

Today Portside carried a link to an article by Kean Birch published earlier in The Conversation titled "What Exactly is Neoliberalism?" and since I must admit to my own share of confusion about what people are talking about when they use this very popular term, that title was "click bait."

Kean Birch aims to set us straight as to the true meaning of the term neoliberalism and in the first sentence he calls it "a problematic economic system we might want to change." Gee, I always called that something else, but when he says "I struggle with neoliberalism" he means the definition of the term not class struggle:
As a result of its growing popularity in academia, media and popular discussions, it’s crucial to understand neoliberalism as a concept. We need to know its origins and its definition in order to understand our current political and economic mess, including the rise of nativism that played a part in Brexit and Donald Trump’s election a year ago.

Neoliberalism is regularly used in popular debate around the world to define the last 40 years. It’s used to refer to an economic system in which the “free” market is extended to every part of our public and personal worlds. The transformation of the state from a provider of public welfare to a promoter of markets and competition helps to enable this shift.
When was the capitalist state "a provider of public welfare?" Is that when America was great before? Neoliberalism as a concept, as a reference to an economic system, and as a term that has been popularized over the last 40 years, is an intentionally vague term used by those who don't see our current problems as a result of overripe capitalism, which must be overthrown. They see it as something else, a deviation from acceptable capitalism to something they call neoliberalism which, presumably can be gotten rid of without revolution.

Sometimes the distribution of words can reveal a lot about a piece. For example, since Birch sets out to define "neoliberalism," it's not surprising that the term is used 34 times in his article, with "neoliberal" used another 9. What is surprising is that the term "capitalism" shows up only once, and even then it is "neoliberal capitalism." All the world's troubles flow from "neoliberalism," whatever that is, so we can pay capitalism, with its distinct property and class relationships, history and course of development, no nevermind.

He traces the origins of the word all the way back to a Monthly Review article in 1884. This means there were "neoliberals" even before there were Nazis, let alone neo-Nazis. How old can something be before "neo" no longer applies? This definition of "neoliberalism" covers the entire span of the imperialist development of capitalism. It's pretty clear that "neoliberalism" is alt-speak for capitalism.

Nativism is another alternative word that is often matched with "neoliberalism." Birch speaks of "the rise of nativism that played a part in Brexit and Donald Trump’s election a year ago." Terms like "racism", "white nationalism", and "white supremacy" are foreign to his narrative. They are being replaced by more opaque language, alternative words like "nativism" and "tribalism," except "separate but equal" was never the true goal of white supremacy. "Nativism" and "tribalism" are cover stories. They are terms the white supremacists are comfortable with.

This a real shame because the fight against white supremacy is the defining struggle of our time. Just look at Dotard Trump's morning Twitter feed. All this was before 5AM. This hateful obsession bodes very bad things for black people, and "neoliberals" trying to rebrand it as "nativism" are most unhelpful.

The confusion around the term "neoliberalism" is so profound that it rightly belongs in the dustbin of alternative terms along with "nativism" and "tribalism." [as they are being popularized by white supremacists.] We have a president that hates black people and so-called leftists who think neoliberalism is a plague on capitalism and prettify white supremacy as "nativism." Let's hope 2018 brings in a better crop.

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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