Rebuilding the Left


Wells begins with, “The first problem is that there is no such thing as neoliberalism. It exists entirely as a critique by the left. … Nobody ever describes themselves as “neoliberal”. The phrase is only ever an accusation.”

That’s a relief because no one ever self-identifies as a racist or misogynist, either, so it is good to know that there is no such thing as racism or misogyny.

Going further, Wells claims that the term is a flexible straw man that means whatever the critic wants to attack. The American Heritage definition, though, is fairly concise:

ne·o·lib·er·al·ism (nē′ō-lĭb′ər-ə-lĭz′əm, -lĭb′rə-)
A political theory of the late 1900s holding that personal liberty is maximized by limiting government interference in the operation of free markets.

And Encyclopaedia Brittanica’s description is fairly precise:

By the 1970s, however, economic stagnation and increasing public debt prompted some economists to advocate a return to classical liberalism, which in its revived form came to be known as neoliberalism. The intellectual foundations of that revival were primarily the work of the Austrian-born British economist Friedrich von Hayek, who argued that interventionist measures aimed at the redistribution of wealth lead inevitably to totalitarianism, and of the American economist Milton Friedman, who rejected government fiscal policy as a means of influencing the business cycle (see also monetarism). Their views were enthusiastically embraced by the major conservative political parties in Britain and the United States, which achieved power with the lengthy administrations of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979–90) and U.S. Pres. Ronald Reagan (1981–89).

Neoliberal ideology and policies became increasingly influential, as illustrated by the British Labour Party’s official abandonment of its commitment to the “common ownership of the means of production” in 1995 and by the cautiously pragmatic policies of the Labour Party and the U.S. Democratic Party from the 1990s. As national economies became more interdependent in the new era of economic globalization, neoliberals also promoted free-trade policies and the free movement of international capital. …

I suspect that what Wells is actually concerned about is the replacement of neoliberal globalism, the status quo, which has benefited his class, with something else. He raises the spectre of Trumpism, but I don’t think left-wing critics are advocating that we succumb to the alt-right, anti-immigrant, anti-global fervor that is sweeping the First World. What critics are pointing out is that neoliberal, free-market policies have been applied to mostly benefit an upper class of what Thomas Frank calls technocrats, and what others call a meritocracy, while the people that do, “most of the working and paying and living and dying,” have been pushed into the arms of the alt-right. The people in the upper class are literally being paid to not believe that anything is wrong with the current incarnation of liberalism.

I don’t agree with pundits that are trying to foment anger against the upper class, but I don’t think the meritocracy is at all sustainable, either. Especially if we engage in denial. But deciding on the way forward will not be easy.

In that vein, I ran across this podcast by Debbie Lusignan, who posts on Youtube and Facebook as The Sane Progressive. She is a social media version of that passionate neighbor that buttonholes you about politics while you are trying to trim your hedges.

Lusignan cited Lee Camp’s interview of Nick Brana on RT’s Redacted Tonight. Brana served as national political outreach coordinator for the Bernie Sanders campaign, and was a founding member of Our Revolution  – very much an offshoot of that campaign. Brana and seven others left Our Revolution after the election of Jeff Weaver as its President. Brana was hoping to draft Bernie Sanders to lead his new People’s Party, which would be independent of, and a replacement for, the Democratic Party. Citing a Gallup poll, he claims that over 14 million people have left the Democratic Party to become Independents. Looking at that poll historically, however, it seems that the percentages of identification with Republicans, Independents or Democrats have fluctuated up and down for years without any significant trend. At the moment, Democrats are one percentage point lower than they had been going back to 2004, but in the leaning chart, they are behind only 44 % to 43 %.

Lusignan noted that Sanders had already refused to lead the Green Party, and predicted that he would also refuse this offer, which he did the next day. She also felt that Sanders is being used as a sort of post-election sheepdog – outreach manager – to attract young voters back to the Democratic fold. He wasn’t given any real power or positions in the party – those went to Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Donna Brazile – but they have him out there making speeches, debating with Cruz over the ACA, and endorsing establishment Dems like Schumer.

There will be a lot of this Judean People’s Front sort of thing going on in the liberal/progressive wing, and eventually one movement will shake itself out. The more we participate, the more likely that we will see the type of movement we want.


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