04 September 2016

Defeating Neoliberalism

I used to think that Monty Python's Life of Brian was a comedy with a vaguely religious theme. Then I moved to Britain and it dawned on me that Life of Brian is a political satire on the political left-wing in Britain (and generally) that has nothing to do with religion. We "the Left" as though it is meaningful, but in fact there is no such entity as "the Left". The so-called left-wing is a fractured and fractious collection of factions with almost no common agenda. They may well hate the "Romans" (we can all guess who the Romans represent in a British political satire), but when it comes down to it they hate the other lefties more.

So yes, fuck Neoliberalism. But fuck those on the left as well. Until they stop hating each other and unite to over-throw Neoliberalism, we are stuck with it.

It's interesting when you watch the video of Simon Springer delivering the lecture that sparked off #fuckneoliberalism; at the end a young man asks with some emotion why Springer talks about society based on reciprocity and mutual aid, but "you don't want to use revolution to get there... you cast aspersions on the idea of the proletariat...so what the hell, dude, why are you leading us down this road that's against Marx?"

Springer's response is to remind the young man that the ideas he's in favour of are socialist rather than communist and that Marx was only one of many theorists of socialism. But he also points out that he [Springer] is not a Marxist, he's an anarchist with no commitment to Marxist ideology. Springer says that he has been writing against the Marxist orthodoxy in his discipline for many years. Then he says:
"Think of [revolution] as an everyday process, rather than something that is an ideal somewhere in the future; something that we can embrace here and now."
Coming back to comedy I was reminded me of a particular response when Russell Brand called for a revolution in Britain in 2013. Simon Evans is older than many comedians you'll see on the BBC, and more to the right than most of them too. Here's his routine, it's a bit under 5 minutes.

Evans hits on something crucial in this routine. His take home message is,
"There was never a generation in any country in the world, ever in the history of mankind, less close to revolution than the British people are right now." 
In other words, if you are on the political left and you are waiting for the revolution, then you will be waiting a long time.

We have a common enemy in the form of Neoliberalism. Very often a common enemy is enough to draw a divided community together. So why is the political left so divided? One of the reasons is that they think they have to be "in power" to make a difference. It is true that the government of the day make the laws. But I think Springer is right. Revolution is an attitude we can adopt here and now.

Before the last election I tried to get all of my friends to visit their MP and spell out the issues that most concerned them and what they would like to see happen. I suggested we visit as a delegation of our local Buddhist group. The result was that one friend told me he was already regularly writing to our MP and had visited him. No one else responded. I visited my MP alone and told him I thought levels of private debt were disastrous and that the government need to help us clear that debt by giving money to the people with the stipulation that they pay down debt before spending. This idea is called a modern debt jubilee and comes from heterodox economist Professor Steve Keen. One person saying this kind of stuff is a nut. If my whole community got involved, maybe we could have made a difference. I know from social media that my friends sign loads of petitions, but I can't think of the last time a petition made any difference. We have to get out from behind our keyboards and do stuff. 

One of the clues to the way forward is in the numbers 1% and 99%. The 99% outnumber the 1% 100:1 (more or less). But then, Britain, where I live, is a nation deeply divided within itself. There are divisions of class, ethnicity, geography, culture, sexuality, gender , etc. And these are ruthlessly exploited by Neoliberals. The recent referendum highlighted that we live in a "post-fact" world where outright lies don't really matter if you can communicate to people that you feel as they do.

There is a lot we could say about this. But for now let's just say that those who are opposed to Neoliberalism are losing the battle at the level of language. We allow the right to frame the public discourse on politics and economics and we use their language to try to defeat them. That will never work. Look at how very weak Neoliberalism was in 2008 when the scale of corruption and malfeasance was exposed in the quintessential Neoliberal enterprise: banking. But this did not result in any revolutionary changes. The solutions tried all drew on Neoliberal ideology! Which leaves us where we are now, with the world's economy teetering and waiting for the trigger of the next financial crisis.

We are also losing the battle on account of not sharing a common vision. The opponents of Neoliberalism comprise capitalists, socialists, Marxists, and anarchists (and presumably adherents to all kinds of -isms). Neoliberalism depends on us arguing amongst ourselves in order to disrupt effective opposition. Neoliberalism depends on us dreaming of revolution rather than embracing it. Rather than waiting for the revolution to sweep Neoliberalism away we need to start living revolutionary lives based on reciprocity and mutual aide. To reconnect with local communities. To get involved in local organisations, particularly political organisations.

We can blame them as much as we like, but they presently have no incentive to change. It's up to us to give them that incentive.

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