[A fire burns in Brazil's Amazon. AP Photo/Eraldo Peres]
Neoliberalism is a ruling class strategy to reverse the revolutionary victories of the 20th century. This strategy is to the benefit of the titans of capitalist imperialism, both within the United States and at the scale of the world. It is not just an economic structure, but both a political strategy & a social catastrophe. I believe this strategy (and its resultant catastrophes) has led to a massive dispossession of the majority of the people of the world. I also believe the neoliberal consensus is broken. Neoliberalism is not the end of history, and in fact the future holds the potential for either complete social oblivion in the short term or long term revolutionary transformation.
Neoliberalism was a response to two historic realities:
In the Global South, the emergence of a genuine challenge (African decolonization, the socialist revolutions in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam & Cuba; the progressive advances in West / SE Asia & Latin America) to global capitalism & colonialism. These advances slowed the imperial onslaught of the United States and its allies, and set humanity on a fundamentally new and greater path.
In the Global North, the emergence of transformative freedom movements that challenged capitalism and colonialism. (This essay uses examples from the Black freedom movement in the United States in particular).
The goal of neoliberalism was to massively centralize ownership of the 5 major aspects of global power (technology, international finance, the natural resources of the Earth, the media, and weapons of mass destruction) under the control of the United States and its allies in order to crush all opposition to its hegemony forever. In order to secure its total control of these forms of power, the neoliberal consensus used three strategies: financialization, privatization, and militarization.
By financialization, I mean the dictatorial control of the economies of the world through the investment banks and the agricultural & investment groups associated with them. This total control has effectively abolished the ‘free market’ and is a direct enemy of democracy. The neo-colonization of the Global South through US controlled institutions like the World Bank & the IMF, the economies of the global North being buoyed up by unprecedented quantitative easing, the bailout of Wall Street, the subordination of small businesses to the financial decrees and the domination of the US dollar all represent the particulars of neoliberal financialization.
By privatization, I mean the open looting of social services, the eradication of social life and the destruction of the natural commons of the Earth. This approach is reminiscent of the enclosures of the Middle Ages of Europe. The open attack against the welfare programs of the West, the open theft and destruction of the land, water, minerals, habitats and species of the world, the collapse of social life into social media, the defunding of public education all represent the particulars of neoliberal privatization.
By militarization, I mean the massive infusion of wealth and resources into the last line of defense of the capitalist classes: the military & the police. Militarization is, in practice, an open and unmitigated war against the majority of humanity, and therefore is defended by the further militarization of police, the restructuring of police as a domestic occupation force, an internal military. The militarization of the police in the US in particular was both a response to the victories of the Black freedom movement & the collapse of the morale of the United States Armed Forces given its historic defeat in Vietnam. The wars on West Asia, the coups in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the explosion of police / incarceration & military budgets in the United States are all particulars of neoliberal militarization.
These strategies reveal that neoliberalism does not make the nation-state obsolete, it in fact transforms the state into an instrument used to further the privatization of social life, to completely abandon the regulation of finance and to invest the bulk of its resources into the armed defense of the ruling classes and the occupation of peoples mostly likely to resist their rule.
And by almost all accounts, the strategy of neoliberalism has been a resounding success for the capitalist classes. So much so, that as of January 2022, “the top 1% have captured nearly 20 times more global wealth than the bottom 50% of humanity.” To further illustrate the point: “if the 10 richest men lost 99.999% of their combined wealth, each of them would still be richer than 99% of the world."
Neoliberalism was created and deployed by the right wing of the capitalist classes, and soon became the dominant approach of both the reactionary right and the political centrists. Its domination of the global world order seemed so complete that many declared the ‘End of History’ (in essence, they were declaring total victory in the colonial and class struggle that makes up the content of modern history).
However- history is not over. Not just neoliberal strategy, but capitalism itself is a system of infinite growth on a finite planet. The only parallel we have is cancer: an equally insidious evil that prioritizes its growth over all else, including the life of the body it destroys. For capitalism, that body is the planet itself. And neoliberalism has revealed itself to be nothing more than the latest stage of capitals ongoing catastrophe:
The 2008 global financial crisis revealed the inherent contradiction of neoliberal finance; infinite growth was not only impossible but destructive.
The global pandemic of the 2020’s revealed the inherent contradiction of neoliberal privatization; the destruction of a social safety net and the erasure of social life leads to social chaos.
And the War on Terrorism (really the US led-War on West Asia & Africa using covert operations, open invasion, private military contractors and its own publicly funded terrorism) revealed the inherent contradiction of neoliberal militarization; there is no imperialist solution to the imperialist chaos wrought by an inherently unjust system of colonial domination.
The future holds two possibilities: complete social oblivion or revolutionary transformation.
The reactionary right has completely moved beyond any mirage of upholding even the thinnest forms of constitutional democracy. In the United States, this right-authoritarian movement is a New Confederacy, which openly calls for the suspension of what remains of democracy, openly calls for the destruction of the Reconstruction Amendments and is openly advocating for a war against the world and a war against freedom movements within the United States. The right wing of the capitalist classes, the Christian theocrats, the patriarchal warriors (through open violence against women and genocidal attack against trans and queer peoples) and the white nationalist movements are striving for a complete collapse of society in order to hasten our march into social oblivion.
Yet there are glimmers of hope. The imperialist control of the 5 monopolies is not complete. The control by corporate finance of the US political system is being called into question. Neoliberal privatization is being directly challenged given the chokehold of COVID. And the Black freedom movement is leading the charge against the militarization of the police.
Much remains to be done: in the United States, the forces for democracy must build united fronts that recognize the target (the New Confederacy), the tool (independent political organizations), and the terrain (inside and outside of both elections & the Democratic Party at the scale of the county and state). We must take seriously the threat of the New Confederacy and be prepared to defend and transform our communities and democratic institutions. Only then will we begin to take hold of the weak links of the US political system, and put our people on a long march to freedom.
Only then will we evade the worst of the ongoing implosion of neoliberalism.