What happens next after the great neoliberal unraveling?

Do you also have the impression that we are witnessing the great unraveling of the neoliberal period, and that we are entering a period that is akin to the long crisis period that came after the Great Depression in the 20’s and 30’s of the last century?

If this would be true, then a further analogy would be what happened then, i.e. a great bifurcation between on the one hand the forces of even greater evil, social regression and permanent war, then exemplified by fascism and Stalinist Russia, and on the other side a reforming capitalism that would eventually lead to a more fair redistribution of wealth, and would lead to the long boom and the post-war welfare state? (the problem then of course is that it took a world war to achieve the latter, an option which is no longer open to us)

I believe we are indeed facing such a bifurcation. On the other hand, the forces of further dislocation, the Al Qaeda’s, other fundamentalist forces and the current American administration. On the other hand, there is the potential of great reforms towards a new and sustainable global system based on much greater equity.

I have touched upon this scenario in my review of David Laibman’s book.

In this review, I conclude that the promise of peer to peer civilization is not achievable in the short term, but that we can expect, in the scenario of the positive bifurcation, a ‘green capitalist’ reform which would necessarily make more place for participatory and commons-oriented movements and practices.

So I have been extremely happy to read a much more ‘professional’ and elaborate analysis by Alex Foti, which is an absolute must-read and also has a remarkable summary graphic on the evolution of world society before and after the ascendancy of neoliberalism.

For the positive bifurcation to occur, tWo changes are needed. On the one hand, sections of the ruling elite must have enough enlightened self-interest to understand that it must make concessions, rather than continue to increase the amount of surplus value it claims for itself. It was indeed the failure of the Roman ruling class to be able to envision such reforms, which led to its downfall, and it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see this psychology at work in the current US administration. It seems to me that Obama represents such a countervailing force, capable of being a pole of attraction to the enlightened parts of the establishment, much as Franklin Roosevelt was in the thirties. But to be effective, they need a lot of pressure from below.

Change must therefore also come from below, from the grassroots levels, presenting the necessary pressure so that reforms can benefit the wider population.

This issue is also addressed by Alex Foti, who contrasts two possible approaches, demoliberal, currently attempted in Europe, vs. demoradical regulation, which would be imposed from below. (I’m not sure whether Foti sees Berlusconi/Sarkozi as demoliberals or as forces of Bushist regression?)

My own approach, which is complementary, is not to just demand changes, but to actually realize them in new life forms and institutions. The labour movement of the 19th and 20th century, did not just arose out of intermittent social struggles and electioneering, but because the workers had created a great variety of alternative lifeforms and institutions, which would eventually be integrated into the state system, and stabilized the welfare state until the 1970’s.

Here to conclude, is an extended quote on the demoradical option by Alex Foti:

Europe is today facing a fundamental bifurcation for the future of its political economy. The crisis of the neoliberal agenda, unpopular in Europe everywhere, is evident also to European elites. They have responded by tracing what I call a DEMOLIBERAL regulation. Basically it’s neoliberalism lite: it is a bit less pro-American, because US-EU interests are no longer coinciding in geoeconomic and geopolitical terms (for instance, Europeans have only to lose from clashing head-front with Islam) but retains a strong commitment to NATO; it invests a little more in public infrastructure and possibly spends on welfare to cushion workers from the vagaries of the labor market, but only as long as people remain under the control of workfare provisions aiming at increasing the productivity of so-called human capital and guarantee social obedience among welfare recipients. This top-down project, to which social movements and radical subjectivities must respond with a grassroots mobilization to shape political Europe as they see fit, has one only, but crucial, merit. It would constitute antibushist counterbalancing for Europe, and would put Atlantic relations on a more equal footing, should bushism be electorally defeated. And muted European neoliberalism could be still preferable to returning to the nation-state with its nationalist and militarist pretensions. Demoliberal regulation not only seeks a new business-friendly social consensus, it opposes the dangerous xenophobic forces that have become a major factor in European politics.

A political answer to European moderates which would take an explicitly multiethnic, egalitarian and ecological road is what I call DEMORADICAL regulation, i.e. a dramatic change in socioeconomic policy thanks to a progressive social bargain imposed from the bottom up (rather than top-down, as in demoliberal regulation) through labor protest, social conflict, participatory democracy. A progressive front that would link leftist/democratic organizations, unions, movements in their common opposition to technocrats, corporations, financial markets and the liberal regulation these would like to re-assert, in order to protect the unequal economic status quo they have gained so much from. But most of all, demoradicalism would be a clarion call to all emancipatory forces in Europe to mobilize against populist xenophobia, anti-immigration hysteria, clerical interference.”

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