Chapter 3: Beyond Neoliberalism, by Perry Anderson
Following his argument, Mr. Perry Anderson tells us why the domination of the neo-libera power is not fatal if its opponents are really determined.
1. Three lessons given by neoliberalism
Deliberately, I have emphasised the intellectual as well as the political force of neoliberalism, in other words, its energy and its theoretical intransigence, its dynamism that at the moment is not exhausted. I believe that it is necessary to bring out these lines if we want to reply efficiently to them in a short term. It is dangerous to have the illusion that neoliberalism is an anachronistic or fragile phenomenon. It is a formidable adversary that has obtained many victories in the course of the last years, even if it is not invincible. If we try to draw the perspectives that could emerge beyond the current neoliberalism, if we try to have an orientation in the ideological political, cultural struggle against neoliberalism, we do not have to forget three essential lessons that neoliberalism itself offers us.
Do not be afraid of opposing the political dominating current in a certain period. Vo Hayek, Friedman and their friends have had the merit – merit for all intelligent bourgeois today – to do a radical critique of the socio-institutional and economic dominant situation in a moment where doing this critique was absolutely unpopular. They have nevertheless persevered in a position of marginal opposition during a long period while the recognised ‘wisdom’ and “science” treated them as eccentrics, not to say lunatics. They have done it until the moment when the historical conditions have changed and when the historical possibilities to implement their program have appeared.
Do not make compromises concerning ideas. Do not accept to sweeten principles. The neo-liberal theories have been extreme and characterised by their lack of moderation. They were iconoclastic for good thinkers of that time. Nevertheless, they have not lost their efficiency. On the contrary, the radicalism and the intellectual firmness of the neo-liberal program are precisely what have guaranteed it such a vigorous life and such an overpowering influence. Neoliberalism is the opposite of a weak thought, using a terminology in fashion invented by some post-modern currents ready to swallow eclectic theories.
The fact that no political regime has implemented in its totality the neo-liberal program is not a proof of its practical inefficiency. On the contrary it is precisely because the neo-liberal theory is so intransigent that the governments of the right could implement such drastic policies. The neo-liberal theory provides, in its own foundations, a kind of master program in which the governments can choose the most adapted elements to their circumstances and to their institutional context. The neo-liberal maximalism in this sense is highly functional. It provides a very large repertory of radical measures, possible to be implemented and shaped by the circumstances. At the same time, it shows the very large reach of its ideology, its capacity to cover all aspects of society and to work as a vector of a hegemonic vision of the world.
Do not accept as immutable any established institution. When neoliberalism was a marginal and depreciated current, in the course of the ‘50s and 60s, it appeared inconceivable in the dominant bourgeois circle of this period, to create an amount of unemployment of 40 million people in the rich countries without provoking social explosions. It appeared unthinkable to be able to say openly that the redistribution of the poor people income of the rich had to be made in the name of the positive value that the inequality carries for the dynamics of corporations. It appeared as inconceivable to privatise not only the oil, but also the water, the post office, the hospitals, the schools and even prisons.
Nevertheless, as we know, all this became achievable when the social and political correlation of forces changed in the course of a long period of recession. The message of the neo-liberals has shocked in a certain way the capitalist societies. No institution, no matter how holy and familiar it can be, is in principle untouchable. The institutional landscape is much more malleable than one could believe.
2. Beyond neoliberalism
Once the lessons that one can extract from the neo-liberal experience have been drawn, how can one contemplate its overcoming ? The theme is huge. I will indicate here only three elements of a possible post neoliberalism.
It is necessary to lead an aggressive and solid attack on the terrain of values by bringing out the principle of equality as a central criterion for every society truly free. Equality does not mean uniformity as the neo-liberals maintain, but on the contrary, the only authentic diversity.
The formula of Marx preserves all its pluralistic force “…when, with the universal development of all the individuals, the productive forces will grow and all sources of the cooperative richness will gush forth, only then we will be able to escape from the narrow-minded horizon of the bourgeois law, and the society will be able to write on its banners :from each one according to his capacities, to each one according to his needs!” The difference of demands, characters and talents of persons are expressly inscribed in this idea of a fair and egalitarian society.
What can this mean today ? It means a real equalisation of possibilities of each citizen to live a life according to the chosen model, without deficiencies and disadvantages provoked by the privileges of others. This equalisation begins of course with the equal access to medical care, to education, to housing and to work. In each of these areas, there is no possibility that the market could insure even a minimum of the demand for universal access to these indispensable goods. Only a public authority can guarantee the universal access to a medical care of quality, the development of knowledge and the certainty of a job as well as social protection for all.
In this sense, it is absolutely necessary to defend the principle of the Welfare State. Nevertheless, it is not only necessary to defend the achievements but also to spread the social protection system, not necessarily entrusting its management to a centralized State. To reach this objective, it is necessary to implement a different fiscal system than the one existing today in the developed countries as well as in countries “in process of development’. The moral and financial scandal of the fiscal system in countries as Brazil, Argentina or Mexico is known. But the tax evasion practised by fortunate social sectors is not an exclusive phenomenon of Third World countries. It is also -and more and more -a fact in the privileged layers of the so-called First World countries. If it is not always wise to attribute the supply of services to a centralized State, the obtaining of the necessary resources for these services has to remain a function of this State. In that order it is necessary to have a State capable to break the resistance of the privileged and to block the evasion of capital that will provoke the fiscal reform. An anti-State speech that ignores this necessity is demagogic.
The main historical feat of neoliberalism is certainly grounded in the privatisation of the industries and of the service of the State. On this terrain, the anti-socialist crusade has reached its objective. Paradoxically, while launching such ambitious privatisation projects, it has been necessary to invent new types of private property. One can quote, for example, the gratuitous good distribution to the citizens in the Czech Republic of Russia, giving them the right to obtain shares of the new private enterprises. These operations have been and will be a joke. The shares distributed m an equitable way are in fact acquired by foreign speculators or by the local mafia. Nevertheless, these operations show that there exists no such immutability in the traditional form of bourgeois property as it exists in our countries. Then, new forms of popular property can be invented, forms that separate the functions linked to the rigid concentration of power in the typical capitalistic enterprise.
There exists currently, in the left, a discussion within the western countries about the theme of new forms of popular property. But this theme is not limited to the developed countries, it also exists in countries like China or in countries of the Third World.
Neoliberalism has the audacity to assert openly the representative democracy that we have is not the supreme value; on the contrary, intrinsically it is an inadequate instrument that can easily become excessive (and in fact becomes it.) The provocative neo-liberal message is we need less democracy. From there, for instance, comes their insistence on the importance of a central bank legally and totally independent of all governments or again on the inscription in the constitution of the prohibition of any budgetary deficit.
Here, we have also to take and invert this “liberating” lesson. The democracy that we have – as far as we have it – is not an idol to adore as if it would represent the ultimate perfection of human liberty. It is a defective and provisional form that can be reshaped. The direction of the change should be the opposite one of that indicated by neoliberalism. We need more democracy. That does not mean – and this has to be clear – a supposed simplification of the electoral system, by abolishing the proportional system in favour of majority mechanisms. Similarly, more democracy does not mean to preserve or strengthen presidentialism.
A deepened democracy demands a certain elaboration in the different areas of the direct and semi-direct democracy. It demands a democratisation of the communication means whose concentration in hands of very powerful capitalist groups is incompatible with any electoral justice or real democratic sovereignty. In other words, these three themes can be translated in a classic vocabulary. These are the three modern necessary forms of liberty, equality – we will not say fraternity because the term has a sexist connotation – and solidarity. To implement these options, we need a sure and aggressive attitude, we could say not less cheerfully fierce than neoliberalism was in its origins. One day perhaps one will call it neosocialism.