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The tree of liberty...dies with the Tea Party, and Obama. The increasing case for radical alternatives.

The near total incompetence of the Obama administration reached its apex this week with the dismissal of Shirley Sherrod after a barrage from the right-wing smear machine, spearheaded by Fox News and propagandist Andrew Breitbart. As most people now know, a video was leaked of Mrs. Sherrod claiming that she did not want to give aid to a white farmer, especially considering the pain of black farmers who were being systemically ignored by the US government. As this trickled through the echo-chamber, everyone denounced her as a ‘reverse-racist’; so much so that even the NAACP wrote a communique denouncing her statements. Of course, this video was edited, and with even the White House jumping to conclusions, Mrs. Sherrod was fired. Why? One of the reasons, according to Mrs. Sherrod, was that Glenn Beck would ramp the story up. Thus, the POTUS was essentially bullied by Glenn Beck! She was told to pull over to the side of the road by the White House, and to resign right there.
Eventually, the whole video came out, and the moral of her story was the exact opposite of what the overreaction was premised on. Later on, she argued that she helped the white farmer, because this was not an issue of race, but one of inequality that transcends race, viz. class. Of course, this was de-emphasized even in the aftermath by all sides. Mrs. Sherrod was offered her job back by the spineless Obama administration, and was offered an apology for having her name dragged through the mud.
Now we know that the Obama administration does not look kindly on the left-wing of the Democratic Party, with Rahm Emanuel calling them and their policies ‘fucking retarded’; and he is right, the progressive wing of the party are ‘retarded’. Their continued adherence to an obvious corporatist shill, who cowers at the feet of Glenn Beck and Fox News is awe inspiring. The whole list of ersatz reform packages that he has championed, be it health-care, financial-reform, climate-change, etc., has amounted to a give away for corporate America in terms of subsidies, perpetual bail-outs, weak regulatory reform and the lack of any substantive ‘public options’ to create some sense of competition with monopoly capital. So why hasn’t the left been rising up against Obama en masse? N.B. this is not to say that some elements of the left aren't riled up against Obama, a cursory look at the blogs and MSNBC's head commentators suggest a contradictory relationship with Obama.
One reason, so I figure, is the post-modern, post-class, identity-politics fascination with a mixed president in the office, representing the realization of MLK’s dream; but the reality is that MLK’s dream is only half fulfilled by Obama. Obama is still very much within the ‘modernist’ mould of class politics, he still caters to the rich and their interests. In a sense, he has to, if he did not do so, Democrats and his re-election would face a barrage of corporate financed opposition. Again, we are witnessing the total failure of liberal-democracy, a hole that I fear it has no chance of resurrecting itself from.
Like Mrs.Sherrod, MLK’s dream is only half spoken about, the other half is obfuscated and ignored. Both argued that the country has to see a radical reduction in inequality, redistribution of wealth and income to make the principles of liberalism: equality, freedom, egalitarianism, and mobility, a reality. The right will not engage in such a programme, its reason d’etre is to solidify and expand hierarchal inequality, and to expand as much as possible the process of reification throughout society, subordinating everything to the logic of the impersonal market system. The left’s alternative has to be the expansion of the state in order to safeguard more and more into a democratic mechanism to distribute goods and services; but, this alternative has all but died among the contemporary left with Clinton’s abandonment of this project with ‘triangulation’, or the ‘Third Way’ in the UK. We are in a serious crisis and the left  has to fearlessly signal an enemy to rile up populist forces in a positive manner, because if the masses are not articulated in a positive, progressive manner they will be, and are, being articulated in a reactionary mode.
The reality is that populist rage is growing in the United States, more and more demands are currently being unmet by the state or civil society--principal among them: employment. The Obama team has totally failed to transform these into a progressive base, like FDR did. Therefore, these normally ‘democratic demands’ are beginning to transform into ‘populist demands’ that can no longer easily be institutionally absorbed into the current hegemonic symbolic order. We see this manifested in the ‘Tea Party’ movement, and its increasing antagonistic view of its relation to the state.
A good example is Sharon Angle’s so-called ‘Second Amendment remedies’, or Sarah Palin’s references to ‘pro and anti America’--it is interesting to note that the post-modern fascination with ‘identity’ goes both ways, since the superstars of the right are now women. This is a purely populist operation, cf. Ernesto Laclau.

What may be occurring in the United States is that there is a serious bifurcation of what Althusser would call the ISA’s (Ideological State Apparatuses), with Fox News, and the blog-sphere spearheading a new set of ISA’s that is interpellating subjects in a way that is increasingly radically counter-hegemonic/populist. Indeed, the constant references to ‘real America’ suggests just that.
Of course, these people are being interpellated by dominant capital to fight for the deregulation of the markets, to cut taxes, and a whole slew of other policies that would make millions of lives, including their own, materially worse, deepen inequality, and strangle social mobility. Interestingly, the deeper the inequality grows, these individual’s will continue to blame the state as the portent of their discontent--a feedback loop--, instead of channeling their energies against capital and its total capture of the state ideologically and materially.
The left is so used to fight its political battles through the courts and other mechanisms, since the presumption is that the American public is inalterably conservative. This naturalization of American subjectivity is essentially a cop-out on the side of the left, a left that is unwilling to engage in a ‘war of position’ against the ‘nodal points’ that the right has successfully planted in the American body politic. It is a remnant of empiricism, by assuming what is seen today was and always will be. Therefore, anytime you hear a reference to God, human nature, or other forms of abstraction as a basis of argument for inaction/action, you should immediately remember Althusser’s  words: “The function of the concept of origin, as in original sin, is to summarize in one word what has not to be thought in order to be able to think what one wants to think.” Hence, the left can change the political terrain in the United States to be more congenial to its interests, especially during a time of systemic crisis; however, one of the problem the left faces is its inability, or unwillingness, to signify a clear enemy who stands against the unity of ‘the people’, and thus help change the ‘frames’ that people interpret the world with.
So what does the left, whatever is left of it, to do? It has to begin to agitate for a new left party--my preferred option--, or a strong coup within the Democratic party to use the party as a means to change the political landscape, if that all fails, more drastic action may have to be taken. This battle is one that the left could very well lose, but it is not a time to be timid. As Gramsci notes, one of the most important ‘organic intellectuals’ are party members, and the institution of the party is the best way to get the message across. Do not forget, about 50-40 percent of the American population does not vote, therefore, the left has to bring these people into politics. However, this will necessitate populism, and antagonism, things that the left has foolishly forsaken. Indeed, so debased has the notion of revolution become that now Glenn Beck describes himself as one!


"Baby, it was raining outside." The G20 and you...

    The fetishism of the violence at the G20 summit has done its job, it has totally hidden the progressive agenda of the protesters from sight. The actions of hooligans, anarchists and probably agent provocateurs--police agitators--, coupled with sensationalist media coverage--with menacing music and replaying the same window being broken again and again--have done its job. I personally went to protest against the exploitation of human labour, and the Earth that is inherent within the current system, and the displacement of its debts on us from corporate bailouts--a cost in the United States that might top $24 trillion, or $80,000 per citizen--, the increasingly precarious effects of global warming, and the associated costs by the accumulation of massive sovereign debt. These debts will be paid by high regressive sales taxes, HST anyone?  Spending cuts, and thus a reduction of access to social services like healthcare, education, etc., and making our labour more ‘flexible’, viz. a reduction in labour rights. All of this, plus the reduction of corporate tax rates, is being done in a vain attempt to attract capital investment, based on a failed supply-side, neoliberal model.

    To put it in terms that many erstwhile citizens, now consumers, would better understand: this means less Starbucks fraps, LCD TV’s, and Puma shoes for you--unless you are wiling to pay for it in perpetuity with usurious interest rates, and secret fees; being only able to pay the minimum payment on your credit card, as per the intention of the credit card companies--, but more hours at work, stagnant real wages, and credit card debt just to get by with the benefit of that exploitation going to the very top. Do not let the veneer of name brand clothing that people wear obfuscate, as it’s supposed to do, their actual socio-economic position. Just because you own an expensive (insert inane product here) doesn’t mean you are rich, or even middle class. Chances are very likely that the person with the newest Michael Koors bag is living at home with their parents, because their jobs and wages cannot actually allow them actually live independently, and they probably bought the bag on credit and cannot afford to pay for it for months, years, if ever.

    The reason why poverty is so obvious in third world countries and not here, to a large degree, is our access to credit that allows us to hide our true poverty. If you don’t believe me that our entire economy is increasingly premised on credit, read this from The Economist:

Like alcohol, a debt boom tends to induce euphoria. Traders and investors saw the asset-price rises it brought with it as proof of their brilliance; central banks and governments thought that rising markets and higher tax revenues attested to the soundness of their policies. The answer to all problems seemed to be more debt. Depressed? Use your credit card for a shopping spree “because you’re worth it”. Want to get rich quick? Work for a private-equity or hedge-fund firm, using borrowed money to enhance returns. Looking for faster growth for your company? Borrow money and make an acquisition

Sadly, this debt, in the long-run, makes us worse off. The effective poverty rate is higher than reported, because we do not take away from people’s income their credit payments, which reduces their effective, net income; consider the interest you pay as another, privatized tax. Thus, that expensive bag you bought will cost you a lot more than you’d ever imagine down the line--opportunity cost--, and that bag would, generally, not garner ANY return on investment!

    In addition, inequality is still increasing, which supposedly is a good thing because it creates ‘incentives’ for people to work harder and rewards those who ‘deserve’ what they earn. But, as Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz argues,

Neoclassical economic theory, which has dominated in the West for a century, holds that each individual’s compensation reflects his marginal social contribution...But Borlaug [inventor of the Green Revolution] and our bankers refute that theory. If neoclassical theory were correct, Borlaug would have been among the wealthiest men in the world, while our bankers would have been lining up at soup kitchens

Indeed, if the neoclassical mode was right, crisis would not exist because resources would go, efficiently, to where it should go. Instead, we are now living in a world that has the highest level of inequality in history, and the economic system collapsed. Why? As inequality increases, aggregate demand decreases, which increases savings by capitalists, due to an associated lack of profitable investment opportunities--overaccumulation--that leads to higher unemployment that leads to lower real wages and a weakening of the labour movement with the creation of a “reserve army” of the unemployed. Sound too abstract? I will quote Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman:

Every year that goes by with extremely high unemployment increases the chance that many of the long-term unemployed will never come back to the work force, and become a permanent underclass. Every year that there are five times as many people seeking work as there are job openings means that hundreds of thousands of Americans graduating from school are denied the chance to get started on their working lives. And with each passing month we drift closer to a Japanese-style deflationary trap.

I know, “well that’s not me” syndrome is hitting, but you must realize you are replaceable, don’t you?

    Therefore, congealed into a whole, this creates a feedback loop creating the same demand destruction that created the crisis in the first place. Thus, the ‘free market’ is a pro-cyclical institution, meaning that “rational” economic decisions, taken by individuals, may make sense to them (micro-level), but on a social level (macro-level) it is contradictory. The only way to effectively stop the cycle is for the state to come in and stop it, as it did in the Great Depression. How did we do it in the 1930s? Social movements, unions, and the spectre of a different world.

    So, all of this directly affects you, this is not some abstract thing I am talking about, you are living through this and you know as well as I do that this is a shitty system. But you must retain hope that if you do follow the rules and work hard you can get ahead. However, to hold this belief you have to willfully ignore structures that prevent that from happening, en masse. Let me put it like this, the United States claims to adhere to the notion of the ‘American Dream’, which means that your children will be better off than you, they can move up the social latter if they just work hard enough.

Unfortunately, the reality is that Americans are among the most industrious people on Earth, but they face a cycle of poverty and debt, due to low wages that forces them to work more; massive inequality, due to the inability of their incomes to pay for their schooling, latent racism, and the accumulation of debt--credit, student, housing--that forces individuals to work at any job to avoid bankruptcy. Thus, the US is actually the country with the lowest level of social mobility among the OECD nations, viz. the ‘rich’ world. Which countries have the highest, well of course, the socialistic Nordic states.

    These are only some of the reasons, and the most selfish of them at that, that you should have been protesting with us on Saturday. I saw elderly women on canes struggling to make it all the way back to Queen’s Park, I saw families, I saw recent immigrants, professors, professionals, hipsters, etc., all standing up for their rights as democratic citizens. So, what excuse did you have for not defending YOUR OWN RIGHTS? Slavoj Zizek seems to be right:

if as a consequence of our cynical pragmatism, we have lost the capacity to recognise the promise of emancipation, we in the West will have entered a post-democratic era, ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi



First as a tragedy, then Obama...

    The recent debacle of the Gulf spill, coupled with the impotent response to the financial crisis and the underwhelming healthcare and financial reform bills that President Obama signed into law seems to prove Marx’s claim that pivotal historical characters repeat and that they come “the first time as a tragedy, the second as a farce.” Why is this so? The objective conditions were all there for Obama to become the second-FDR: the speed that the stock market declined, the furious pace at which unemployment rose, the precipitous decline in industrial production and the truly scary decline in international trade were as bad, or worse, than they were in the beginning phases of the depression ( With  much of the traditional forces of ‘laissez-faire’ capital being in state hands, or bailed out by the state, Obama had greater leverage than FDR ever did to structurally change the makeup of American capitalism. Thus, not unreasonably, many people had hopes that Obama would become the second FDR, in that he would challenge not only the ideological, but the material base of dominant capital’s stranglehold over the economy and the state.

    Like FDR, Obama won a land-slide election on a wave of proto-populist resentment and ‘hope’--it helped that the opponent, McCain, like Hoover, was seen as incompotent--; however, that wave, although intense, lacked a true leader and quickly fizzled out. Obama certainly inspired a nation, if not a planet, that not only could a African-American of mixed lineage could make it to the presidency--fulfilling part of MLK’s American dream--, but it was seen as a time for America’s renewal from the dark recesses of the Bush administration that had put the United States on a veritable ‘Road to Serfdom’ in an Orwellian journey proclaiming that ‘slavery is freedom’.

    Obama, however, as I stated earlier, is not a ‘true leader’, in a populist sense. The mass movement that Obama nurtured throughout his campaign seemed to have disappeared, being replaced by the ‘Tea Party’--astroturf-- movement. Obama certainly played lip-service to the hopes of the American people. For instance, in his inauguration speech, for example, Obama reiterated one of the key tenants of American progressivism,

    Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth     and expand freedom is unmatched. But this crisis has reminded us that     without a watchful eye, the market     can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

In a technocratic, de-politicized way, this makes sense; but it fundamentally lacks the necessary component of a clear antagonist, viz. an agent who stands in the way of the total ‘suturation’ of the ‘people’ from the calamity of crisis that undermined the entire symbolic and economic order, which the antagonist caused. Obama’s use of the term ‘prosperous’ is an ambiguous one; certainly considering that a) ‘prosperous’ has a positive connotation, suggesting some chance of future reconciliation and, b) Obama was lauding the ability of American’s to become ‘prosperous’, via the ‘American Dream’, that it effectively means nothing. Obama ceded the ground to the banks and other corporations by not calling them out, by name, for their wrong-doings.

    The same could not be said of FDR during his inauguration speech in 1933:

    Finally, in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils     of the old order; there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be     an end to speculation with other people’s money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound     currency.

Here FDR clearly states two things, first, the taint in the body politic is not external, but internal: American finance capital. Second, FDR makes it clear that there are exploiters and ‘underdogs’ in a structurally unfair system, or as he calls it, in the heart of the “evils of the old order.” Therefore, FDR, unlike Obama, was then able to articulate a clear demarcation between good/evil, between the people and the tyrants and by doing so, FDR was able to radically re-found American society by creating a genuine popular movement.

    And this leads us to the abject failure of ‘consensus’ politics in the post-Cold War era, where antagonism and ideology has supposedly died and the search for ‘technocratic’ solutions dominate. This hegemonic form of politics, otherwise known as ‘triangulation’, has undermined the ability of citizens to change their society through politics proper and has accepted the logic and arguments of capital; indeed, if technocratic, ‘pragmatic’ solutions are sought, the answer, by definition, resides with existing powers and their ideological biases. FDR realized that politics is not meant to be pragmatic, but transformative and interventionist; Obama clearly has not, and does not intend to.

    The limits of Obama’s progressivism is that of a corporate progressivist, which is to say that Obama funnels public money, via ersatz Keynesianism, into the hands of corporations in an attempt to ‘stimulate’ the macro-economy, without fundamentally changing the structure of power relations in the economy that created the mess in the first place. Thus, in order to bring about growth, Obama cannot ‘rock the boat’ too much, because ultimately he is at the mercy of capital’s volunteerism in terms of investment--a strategy that, so far, is not working very well. FDR did not wait for capital to invest, but rather, went ahead and directly hired millions of Americans in the WPA and sought to, through the NRA, to stimulate industrial production through direct state intervention in the price and labour markets. Thus, Obama has accumulated a huge deficit, growing debt  and unemployment is still lingering at 10%, that is excluding the millions of long-run unemployed and discouraged workers that could push the real unemployment rate upwards of 18%. Therefore, has neoliberalism really died? No, Obama still depends on the market to do all the work, he just engages in some ‘lemon socialism’ bailing out the rich in hopes they will invest and bring growth; isn’t that what trickle-down economics is all about?

    Thus, in my opinion, the greatest damage Obama has done is two-fold, first, he has used a genuine populist movement and its tactics to do exactly what they did not want, i.e., support for corporations via bailouts, off-shore drilling concessions, supporting ‘clean coal’, allowing insurance and big pharma to help write the healthcare reform bill and taking off the table, from the very beginning, the ‘public option’. And secondly, he used the passions of the people to effectively strengthen the hold of corporations over the economy and the state, and now supported by explicit and implicit government largesse--bailouts, subsidies, etc.--to secure their profits at the cost of future public investments in 'use value', i.e. education, healthcare, etc. To sum up, quoting Robert Reich:

    The interesting question is why the president, who says he wants to get “tough” on banks, has also turned     his back on changing the structure of American banks — opting for a regulatory approach instead...It’s     almost exactly like health care reform. Ideas for changing the structure of the health-care industry — a     single payer, Medicare for all, even a so-called “public option” — were all jettisoned by the White House     in favor of a complex set of regulations that left the old system of private for-profit health insurers in place.     The final     health care act doesn’t even remove the exemption of private insurers from the nation’s antitrust     laws...Regulations don’t work if the underlying structure of an industry — be it banking or health care —     got us into trouble in the first place. Wall Street’s big banks are just too big, and their ability to draw on     commercial deposits for investment banking activities, including derivatives, will make them even bigger.     It will also subject the economy to greater and greater risks in the future. No amount of regulation can cure     that...A regulatory rather than structural approach to deep-seated problems in complex industries like     banking and health care is also vulnerable to the inevitable erosion that occurs when industry lobbyists     insert themselves into the regulatory process. Tiny loopholes get larger. Delays get longer. Legislative     words are warped and distorted to mean what industry wants them to mean.


Let the farce continue...


The Democratic Revolution and Neoliberalism

    Again, I am trying to finish Hayek’s, The Road to Serfdom, (R2S) in order to better understand the political logic of the political right. Certainly, this work is a seminal tome in the history of the liberal-right and offers the most provocative defense of the existing system; it is not unlike the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx, in that it stakes the claim most important to the intellectuals and practitioners of this ideology. Though having read both, albeit R2S is still a work in progress, one can sense that there is a serious ontological disconnect between the two authors, which makes a debate between them difficult.

    Reading Hayek’s work, it becomes obvious that Hayek associates ‘liberty’ with consumerism, not citizenship.  What is citizenship? Citizenship is the ability of every individual, who is formally equal in their possession of political power, to dictate the terms of society’s political and ideological teleology. Citizenship purposefully negates the differences of wealth and income between individuals in order to better get the ‘general will’ of the people. This equalization in the political sphere, or the so-called ‘public sphere’, has a knock-on effects in that it forces the question of equalization in other parts of society--’the private sphere’; this ideological effect is known as the ‘democratic revolution’. It is no coincidence that with the extension of the franchise, the inequality in society decreased dramatically, and public services increased significantly, in tandem. And it is not a coincidence that in the early-1970s, when the ‘democratic revolution’ reached its apogee, coup d’etat’s against democratically elected regimes became the norm and reactionary organizations like the Trilateral Commission commissioned the anti-democratic diatribe, ‘Too Much Democracy’.

    What is the neoliberal alternative? The consumer, as Wendy Brown argues:
 with the hollowing out of a democratic political culture and the production of the undemocratic citizen. This is the citizen who loves and wants neither freedom nor equality, even of a liberal sort; the citizen who expects neither truth nor accountability in governance and state actions; the citizen who is not distressed by exorbitant concentrations of political and economic power, routine abrogations of the rule of law, or distinctly undemocratic formulations of national purpose at home and abroad.

The neoliberal citizen is merely interested in its ability to consume, which is actually their condition of freedom. The point is to take substantive questions of power relations, democracy, justice, etc., off the table and to subsume everyone to the same commodity fetishism, which creates a false allure of equality. The ideological belief is, as E.K. Hunt notes, “all human actions and interactions are reduced to a simple, rational, utility-maximizing exchanges. The world is, by the definitions and assumptions of their [neoliberals] theory, always in a state of Pareto optimum bliss. Everything is always rational and efficient”, of course, until the government and mal-informed people interfere. There must be a hedge against this interference of the misinformed masses, and there is, the elite.

    Therefore, there is an appeal to the ruling classes--yes, they exist--to protect ‘civilization’ from the hordes of the uneducated who do not know what is 'right' in this world, but merely their animal desires and needs. This line of argumentation has been with us since the times of the Greeks, the inherent class-antagonism embedded in all propertied systems has meant that this robust notion of citizenship could lead to some form of socialism or totalitarianism, depending where you stand on the ideological fault-line. There have been two main lines of attack against the ‘democratic revolution’: the first, technocratic rule and the second, debasing citizenship and democracy as the ‘nodal point’--structuring principle--of society. Indeed, according to Hillary Wainwright that is the conscious effort of the neoliberals like Hayek to reverse the ‘democratic revolution’: “In historical terms, the intellectual project of Mises and Hayek was self-consciously to re-Iay, in the disarray of the twentieth century, the intellectual tracks that would guide society back to the civilized order which ignorant, primitive social forces had disturbed.”

    In ancient Athens, this threat was headed off, ideologically, with the belief in the superiority of the propertied and the inferiority of the working masses. As Geoffrey Ernest Maurice De Ste. Croix in his work, The class struggle in the ancient Greek world, notes:

 The most common form of the type of propaganda [interpellation] we are considering is that which seeks to     persuade the poor that they are not really fitted to rule and this is much better left to their     ‘betters’ (‘the best     people’, hoi beltstoi, as Greek gentlemen liked to call themselves): those who have been trained for     the job and have the leisure to devote themselves thoroughly to it...In fact Plato would have     entrusted all political power to those men who were in his     opinion intellectually qualified for ruling     and had received a full philosophical education--and such men would     necessarily have to belong     to the propertied class. (411-412)

This argument serves as the first layer against socialism, it basically argues that only the already existing ruling classes are best able to govern the existing state of affairs, and, if defined in this sense, they are right. If one takes the idealist notion of Plato or of liberals--that there is a transcendent state of right and there is a true form--and the current state of affairs best approximates that--’civilization’--; then, as a consequence, the rich--who have benefitted within the existing order are the closest to the ideal--should govern and raise the bottom layers of society to their level of enlightenment, read J.S. Mill’s insistence on the poor getting a proper ‘education’ before being able to vote. This all assumes some level of ‘truth’, or in liberal speak, ‘universality’ and ‘inalienability’, which exists independent of social relations and is pre-political. Hayek has his own version, with a proto-Philosopher King methodology, as Wainwright notes:

According to Hayek's constitutional prescription there would be a higher body made up of male     citizens     of mature and expert judgement, preferably over 40 years of age, to guard the products of     social evolution.     They should be up for election every 15 years, so that they would not be     susceptible to the kind of     political pressures which might lead to tampering in the particular     interest of a vociferous group. A     military junta or well-protected Prime Ministerial government     have, it seems, been the nearest actual     equivalents to this ideal arrangement. 

    However, if one takes the opposite tack, the anti-humanist/materialist route, then once can clearly see that this is hubris and the very height of the ideological by denying its own ideological character. For instance, J.S. Mill’s insistence of achieving some high level of education that would enable individuals to have the ‘proper’ requisite knowledge prior to being fully integrated into the political system is actually the most important ideological operation, what some may call ‘re-education camps’, of infusing the working class with what Gramsci calls ‘contradictory consciousness’. The implication here being that, once persons are educated in the virtue of the Enlightenment, rational, liberal, private property system they will not be so easily duped into the populist diatribes of atavistic or utopian socialists. Even in Rawls you have, in my opinion, the damning qualification of ‘general facts’ in his ‘original position’; ironically, he assumes the persons under the ‘veil of ignorance’ aren’t so ignorant:  “It is taken for granted, however, that they know the general facts about human society. They understand political affairs and the principles of economic theory; they know the basis of social organization and the laws of human psychology” (137).

    However, these positions are only cogent if you assume that the education that individuals receive in schools, or the ‘general facts’ are not their own form of ideological indoctrination, but are the ‘truth. Indeed, neither Mill or Rawls question what is being taught in those schools, or what is assumed in the ‘original position’ is actually itself an ideological operation to eliminate the socialist alternative; which is the critique of Althusser in his work, Ideological State Apparatuses. The role of the ISAs--like schools, or the ‘general facts’--is to interpellate individuals subjectivity in such a way to fit the hegemonic order’s interest. Their operation of denying the stench of ideology and placing the onus on the ‘other’ as the ideological one, is the essence of a hegemonic operation. As Zizek argues:

 ...ideology is always, by definition, ‘ideology of ideology’. Suffice it to recall the disintegration of real     Socialism: Socialism was perceived as the rule of ‘ideological’ oppression and indoctrination, whereas the     passage into democracy--capitalism was experienced as deliverance from teh constraints of ideology--    however, was not this very experience of ‘deliverance’ in the course of which political parties and     teh market economy were perceived as ‘non-ideological’, as the ‘natural state of things’, ideological par     excellence? Our point is that this feature is universal: there is no ideology that does not assert itself by     means of delimiting itself from another ‘mere ideology’. An individual subjected to ideology can never say for     himself ‘I am in ideology’, he always requires another corpus of doxa in order to distinguish his own ‘true’     position form it.

    Therefore, the interest of liberals, analytical philosophers and other status quo types is the propagation of idealism and natural-ness, as the basis of society and the denial of contingency. Socialists reject this and insist on the structuring principles of historical materialism, which argues that the material basis--the economy--structures the horizon of the debate, which sets-up the basis for  hegemonic operations between two antagonistic camps--with a Post-Marxist twist, this does not necessarily mean the bourgeoisie/proletarian dialectic--that determine the outcome of social conflict. As Alex Callinicos states,

Reduced to its rational kernel, historical materialism is a theory of possible production relations, an account     of what     can be placed on the historical agenda, in view of the level of development of productive forces...[It]       will     not by itself explain historical change; nor will it predict the outcomes of class struggles. But it does give     an account of the     conditions for the possibility of change and of the options available to classes in struggle.

    What is the consequence, well let us take Rawls’s Theory of Justice; if we accept the precepts of historical materialism, we can say that the outcome of the ‘original position’, with different ideological assumptions embedded in the ‘general facts’, could lead to very different conclusions, since reason is itself structured via the filter of ideology. Some may find the use of term ‘ideology’ as a negative, however, ideology is actually the positive condition of existence, it cannot be transcended, in Gramscian terms it serves as the ‘cementing’ subject positions of individuals in society into a coherent totality.

    The lesson here for the first, and most ancient, critique of democracy and citizenship is that there is nothing natural or ‘real’ about the existing state of affairs, rather the current state of affairs is very much a political/hegemonic operation to sustain the existing power relations. Thus, the denial of citizenship rights to the majority is an unjust denial of rights and artificially presupposes the ‘unnaturalness’ of their rule. It also questions the idea that those who are currently in charge are inherently better to rule; rather it contends that their position is due to contingent factors like property ownership, that do not bequeath upon them any special attributes, other than an interest in the propagation of the existing order, which they erroneously call ‘civilization’. Lastly, it rejects idealist notion that there exists a humanist/Enlightenment notion of a ‘rational’ reality that is immutable and structures human relations throughout all time and we just have to discover it, or implement it--technocracy.

Hayek: A Totalitarian in Sheep's Clothing.

    Although, for Hayek, the critique goes beyond this, he cleverly changes the very nature of the debate itself. Hayek focuses, not on the citizenship-centric notion of freedom, but the consumerist notion and creates an alternative to socialism and liberalism: catallaxy, or the rule of instrumental reason and market exchanges in all of our lives, secured by a strong constitutional order that is safe from the ‘irrationalities’ of the masses and their ‘atavistic’ notions of social justice so that the ‘invisible hand’ may distribute according to merit not need. For Hayek, it is the commodity form, money, and the free market, which gives us the ability to ‘choose’ within the economic sphere and this becomes the definition of liberty. As Hayek argues: “It would be much truer to say that money is one of the greatest instruments of freedom ever invented by man.” Deprived of this ‘economic freedom’, we are thus denied liberty itself and are lead on a R2S. Again, as Hayek states,
This is really the crux of the matter. Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends. And whoever has sole control of the means must also determine which ends are to be served, which values are to be rated higher and which lower, in short, what men should believe and strive for. Central planning means that the economic problem is to be solved by the community instead of by the individual; but this involves that it must also be the community, or rather its representatives, who must decide the relative importance of the different needs...Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes we can turn to another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his mercy. And an authority directing the whole economic system would be the most powerful monopolist conceivable.

Here is the fundamental flaw of Hayek’s argument. His entire argument, or ‘the crux of the matter’, rests on the assumption of a classical liberal, neoclassical model of a ‘competitive market’ society, which means that no single firm has market power and the economy is at full employment. As Adam James Tebble notes,

    In the market decisions about what needs to be done are ‘taken’ by the price     mechanism     under a     regime where people enjoy freedom of contract but where,     due to what Hayek calls the     ‘impersonal compulsion’ of the market process, they     have an infinitesimally small degree of     control     over the economic context in which     they must act (1978, p. 189). By contrast, in the     case of the state     individuals are freed from the impositions of the price mechanism but at the cost of being directly told     what to do so that a socially just outcome may be achieved...For Hayek, of course, the choice is easy:     that being commanded what to do is indeed worse than having the economic nexus at large act as the     constraining context upon one’s opportunities and decisions.

The absurdity of that statement cannot be overemphasized in the context of monopoly capitalism.

    The capitalist system inherently tends towards concentration, even before the ‘government’ intervention of the corporation. How? If one firms gains enough of a differential advantage--be it through innovation, branding, etc.--it  is in its interest to merge and acquire other firms or, drive other firms out of the market and take over more market-share, and thus, have pricing power. As capital aggregates, our scope of effective choice decreases and the ‘totalitarian’ concentration of power rests with corporations, not the state. The existence of monopolies/oligopolies creates a condition described by Nobel-Prize winning, neoclassical economist, Paul Samuelson: “In appraising oligopoly we must not that the desire of corporations to earn a fair return on their past investments can at times be at variance with the well being of the consumer”. One need only to look at the creation of monopolies during the mid-to-late 1800s in America, the era of the ‘Robber Barons’, to see that it is possible to have a stable monopoly without a massive, interventionist state propping up that monopoly. The response from the state to this was the creation of anti-trust legislation to break-up these monopolies, most famously applied to Standard Oil. Paul Samuelson sums up the rationale, “We cannot expect competition to become everywhere ‘perfectly perfect’...But we must strive for is what the late J.M. Clark years ago called ‘workable competition’...But laissez-faire cannot be counted on to do this. Public vigilance and support for antitrust will be required.” However, Hayek would not allow such a mechanism, why? Well, we have to refer to his notion of the Rule of Law (RofL)--no pun intended.

    In his chapter on the Rule of Law, he declares that a ‘free’ society can only exist where the laws are universal, generalizable, stable and, most importantly, devoid of democratic demagoguery. These laws find their basis in the Constitution, or equivalent documents, of the nation-state that effectively restrict the scope of political choice from the outset. Before I go on, this part is really an indication of the ‘real totalitarianism’ embedded in Hayek’s thought. He does not care, it seems, whether or not the Constitution is setup by a undemocratic dictator--like Pinochet, or the Honduran military junta--just that it was established and it respects the basic liberal principle of property rights. Hayek is delimiting the possibility of citizens to change the unfair imposition of the RofL on them by largely unelected, plutocratic elites, who are effectively living under a residual dictatorship of Constitutionalism. It is to the great credit of Chavez, Morales, and other neo-leftists that they are attempting to correct this historic injustice by creating popular constitutional assemblies to democratically and legitimately base the RofL on the will of the citizens.    

Regardless, once these laws have been established it is imperative  that “whatever form it [the Rule of Law] takes, any such recognised limitations of the powers of legislation imply the recognition of the inalienable right of the individual, inviolable rights of man.”--note, how Hayek is forced to use the idealist, liberal notion of this pre-political concept of “invioable rights” to defend this anti-democratic position. In order for the RofL to work, the individuals in the society must know what the laws are and that they are unchanging so that “the individual can foresee the action of the state and make use of this knowledge as a datum in forming his own plans”. 

    The problem for Hayek emerges when he states,
 The Rule of Law thus implies limits to the scope of legislation: it restricts it to the kind of general     rules  known as formal law, and excludes legislation either directly aimed at particular people,     or at enabling     anybody to use the coercive power of the state for the purpose of such     discrimination. It means, not that     everything is regulated by law, but, on the contrary, that the     coercive power of the state can be used only     in cases defined in advance by the law and in such a     way that it can be foreseen how it will be used.

If this is the definition of the RofL, then there is no hedge against monopoly capital and thus, corporate totalitarianism. Hayek can maintain this position on the, disproven, belief that capital does not automatically aggregate and that ‘free market’ pressures are strong-enough to counteract that aggregation of capital. Antitrust legislation is directly “aimed at particular people” and the victims are chosen, arbitrarily out of the value-judgments of the state, to coercively break-up a firm. There is no way a firm could know it is going to be victim of antitrust, because there is no way to define ‘in advance’ the specific criteria for the enactment of antitrust. Ultimately, Hayek’s entire work rests on the kernel of anti-government, he ultimately does not care about totalitarianism, as long as its privatized.


Has Third Way Politics Failed?

    The Economist is currently having a debate on whether or not 'New Labour', or Third-Way (3W) politics, has failed. Certainly, if you read my blog enough, you would know that I think 3W politics is doomed to failure, because it has accepted the ideological terrain of 'the enemy', by leaving capitalism outside of contention. The politics of the 3W basically articulated a discourse that sought to satisfy everyone and in the end satisfied no one. As one of the debaters argued:

    New Labour was a centrist project, once charged with trying to be all things to    all people. Ironically, 13 years on, it often lacks advocates, as it is challenged    from the right for increasing spending and tax and from the left for not doing     more on inequality.

    This is exactly what the left has been warning about, the 'consensus politics' of the 3W alienates everyone, because it ignores what politics is supposed to be about: change, conflict and values, viz. antagonism. There is no such thing as consensus, there is only conflict and when a 'hegemonic bloc' has gained the upper-hand it institutionalizes its values through ideological hegemony--ISA's--or when that fails, institutionalized force--RSA's. The 3W tried to avoid all three, it tried to have Thactherism, which Zizek correctly argues became hegemonic only when Blair appropriated and accepted her logics, with social progressivism. It sought to tame the wild excesses of finance capitalism in the interests of progressive distribution of income, through an increase in the availability of public services, but not changing a thing about the actual structure of the economy; therefore, in reality the basis of a stable economy was eroding as demand was being constantly crunched by the flows of capital to the top percentage of the population, which lead to the current crisis by undermining the basis of a debt-economy: sound fundamentals. Finally, the push forth the 'cultural' card to replace the emancipatory project with one centred on formal recognition of reified social categories, i.e. gay, black, etc. As Wendy Brown argues:

    The retreat from more substantive visions of justice heralded by the promulgation of     tolerance today is part of a more general depoliticization of citizenship and power and     retreat     from political life itself. The cultivation of tolerance as a political end implicitly     constitutes a     rejection of politics as a domain in which conflict can be productively     articulated and addressed, a     domain in which citizens can be transformed by their     participation, a domain in which differences     are understood as created and negotiated politically,     indeed a domain in which “difference” makes up     much of the subject matter. To the contrary,     as it casts the political and the social as places where     individuals with fixed     identities, interests, and ideas chafe and bargain, tolerance discourse attempts     to remove from the political table as much of our putatively “natural” enmity as it can.

    New Labour has certainly increased the standard of living for many Britons over the last 13 years, "Real incomes in Britain rose just under 2% per year from 1996/97 to 2007/08, with not dissimilar growth to that of the Thatcher and Major years. The difference was that Labour's choices saw the gains distributed much more evenly across society: the bottom half did proportionately best under Labour; the top third under the Conservatives ". So what? It doesn't make 3W politics any less alienating; rather it may make it more-so, consider if the lowest rungs of the income latter are getting progressively better, without actually changing their state of alienation or the politics of nihilism that the 3W represents, it doesn't mean much to these voters apart from greater pessimism that is manifested in new forms of politics that have no chance for hegemony and this impossibility manifests into frustration and violence--i.e., radical Islam, which is rampant in England.
    Politics is not merely about mere pecuniary conditions, it fundamentally means a desire to change the very relations of power/subordination in a society. The greatest err of The Economist's debaters and the debate itself is its 'vulgarity', focusing only on the effects not the causes of the failure, confusing the effects for the causes. The great myth of 3W politics is the end of alternatives, that power exists as it does today and should not change, because it is the best alternative out there; this hubris was best manifested by PM Gordon Brown's statement that 3W had create the conditions to end the era of "boom and bust"--the UK's economy last year shrank by, at least, 5%.
    The reality is that alternatives are emerging but in the guise of proto-fascist, racist movements like the BNP in England. As this short clip from Al Jazeera shows, the rise of the BNP is directly tied to the end of emancipatory politics of the left:

    The far-right critically misinterprets the problem away from capitalism proper towards the 'insider/outsider' distinction, best manifested with the nativist reaction against 'the other'. This is a result of the end of the Enlightenment project of internationalism, best exemplified by socialism, and the re-emphasis on the nation with 'tolerant multiculturalism' embedded in liberalism. This emphasis on 'culture' is the problem in many respects, because it leads to the kind of politics of the past that sought to obfuscate the tensions within capitalism to present them instead as tensions immanent in human civilization--the 'clash of civilizations'. Habermas describes this situation well:

    The neoconservative does not uncover the economic and social causes for the altered    attitudes towards work, consumption, achievement and leisure...The mood which feeds     neoconservativism today in no way originate from discontent     about the antinomian     consequences of a culture breaking from the museums into the     street of ordinary life. This     discontent has not been called into life by modernist     intellectuals. It is rooted in deep-seated     reactions against the process of societal     modernization. Under the pressures of the     dynamics of economic growth and the     organizational accomplishments of the state, the social     modernization penetrates     deeper and deeper into previous forms of human existence. I would     describe this     subordination of the life-worlds under the system's imperatives as a matter of     disturbing     the communicative infrastructure of everyday life. (Modernity--An Incomplete Project, p.      7-8)

Capitalism is a system characterized by deep and sharp social changes an inherent instability in symbolic representation and material security. When liberals, like the 3W and now even the Conservatives, trumpet the multicultural/progressive ethos of social liberalism they are only making this situation worse by not tying these evolution into an wider project--the Jewish Question redux. Without being tied to a greater project for full emancipation, even if that project is impossible, makes the rise of reactionary movements stronger and even more dangerous.
    The multiculturalist 3W politics has another dangerous aspect. The ossification of cultural difference as something that can never be superseded, but something that is to nurtured--another signal of abandonment of the Enlightenment project. This assumes that people cannot be changed by praxis of struggle, as Zizek notes:

        Perhaps, nothing expresses better the inconsistency of the post-political liberal project than its implicit paradoxical identification of culture and nature, the two traditional opposites: culture itself is naturalized, posited as something given...Actual universality is not the »deep« feeling that, above all differences, different civilizations share the same basic values, etc.; actual universality »appears« (actualizes itself) as the experience of negativity, of the inadequacy-to-itself, of a particular identity. The formula of revolutionary solidarity is not »let us tolerate our differences,« it is not a pact of civilizations, but a pact of struggles which cut across civilizations, a pact between what, in each civilization, undermines its identity from  within, fights against its oppressive kernel. What unites us is the same struggle...In other words, in the emancipatory struggle, it is not the cultures in their identity which join hands, it is the repressed, the exploited and suffering, the 'parts of no-part' of every culture which come together in a shared struggle.
    The 3W's strength, and greatest threat, comes in by 'transforming' demands in a hyper-institutionalized way that makes existing inequalities in power, alienation, subordination and hopelessness even greater. As exploitation, unemployment, stagnating wages, massive inequalities in income grow, the population's demands are institutionally absorbed, denying them the possibility of creating 'equivalencies' with other demands that could turn into a veritable struggle for emancipation--Laclau's populism thesis. With the resistance against capitalism dead--indeed the very term capitalism has been replaced with 'the economy' making anti-capitalism seem anti-economy--the encroaching of capitalist subjectivity that Habermas and the entire socialist project warns about is reaching epic proportions. The unending commodification, bureaucratization, de-democraticization and depoliticalization of our lives is the true success of the 3W, by preventing people from coming together to see each other's individual struggles as a meta-struggle against a system that has no end to its exploitative effects.
    This is the lost message of the left, that it doesn't matter if the economy functions better, it doesn't matter if we have expansive social programs, because none of this is making people's lives any more tolerable it merely alienates them further. As this crisis shows, the means by which the economy grows and profits are accrued are at the direct cost of the average citizen through unemployment, increasing productivity without commensurate income growth, the increase in debt bondage all leading to the erosion  or social mobility, the amplification of hopelessness, social marginalization...essentially proletarianism. The task of the modern left is to move beyond the growth fetishism, to fight for an end to growth--indeed, the earth cannot sustain more growth--and with the end of this fetishism, we should then fight for the democraticization of our lives.



Hayek would have supported Obamacare

If you are angered by the recent passage of the US health-care bill as an undue expansion of the government into the market system, turning American into a socialist state then you must not know what socialism is, what liberalism is, or what capitalism is. Indeed, it was F.A. Hayek, the arch-defender of the free market that actually supported the logic of the bill fifty years before its passage:

"Furthermore, Hayek (1960, p. 287) is careful to distinguish between ‘compulsory insurance’ and ‘compulsory membership in a unitary organization controlled by the state’, and at least one of the drawbacks of such an organization, he contends, would be that it would thwart the process by which ever more effective insurance regimes could be devised. ‘If we commit ourselves to a single comprehensive organization because its immediate coverage is greater’, Hayek writes, ‘we may well prevent the evolution of other organizations whose eventual contribution to welfare might have been greater’ (1960, pp. 288, 291–292). Indeed, in The constitution of liberty (1960, chapter 19, pp. 287–305) he is at pains to reject a direct role for the state in provision of welfare services in general. Rather, and in order to secure the epistemological benefits of the market mechanism, he defends a system ‘under which individuals pay for benefits offered by competing institutions’ (Hayek, 1960, p. 304, emphasis added) with the role of the state being merely to temporarily expend public monies to stimulate the growth of a market for this kind of insurance (1960, p. 287). " (Tebble, 597)

First thing is first, the last sentence of the aforementioned quote is basically the US health-care in a nutshell.

Secondly, the health-care bill does not nationalize any private insurance company--lemon socialism--, and it does not subordinate the profit-motive to humanitarian motives--socialism. Rather the health-care bill is subordinate to the profit-motive by shaping the contours of the bill in such a way that would guarantee super-profits for the health-care companies, mostly by adding 35 million  young and healthy customers, often supported by government subsidizes--which, in my opinion is another government bail-out to corporate America. So the first hurdle has been passed according Hayek, the private market remains.

Thirdly, Hayek supports the notion of 'compulsory insurance', he certainly does not see this as an infringement on an individual's freedom, but as a condition of it.  To Hayek, the infringement would be if the consumer did not have a choice buy to use a government insurance plan--the horror! Indeed, the current health-care bill includes a mandate in order to allow all Americans to be covered since, if you expand the base of clients to include the young and healthy, individual costs go down--or the rate of inflation decreases--and profits can be retained as those with illnesses can still be covered. There is no compulsion, since one can still choose where to buy insurance.

Fourthly, this jives with the 'American as apple pie' notion that competition works. The bill does not rid the system of private insurance, and implicitly assumes some form of competition; indeed, the logic of the bill is that competition would increase from these regulations in terms of better terms of insurance contracts or cost reductions for individuals. Thus,  private insurance in health-care is better than state owned insurance, because "competition" leads to better results, as Hayek argues. In order to believe this you have to ignore the tendency of capital to aggregate, thereby rendering the free market inherently unable to remain a "free market" system and thus destroying its own through its own "rationality"--that is to say, as one firm gains differential advantage over others, it uses its leverage in the credit markets to gain the capital necessary to merge and acquire other firms increasing its market power and undermining the whole framework. Secondly, you have to ignore that branding, advertising, goodwill create mini-monopolies--Sraffa, Nitzan, etc.--that undermine the whole notion of easy substitution, the inability of firms to determine prices--they clearly do and can--, and thus, equilibrium.

But all in all, Hayek supports Obama...


Debunking Inequality as a Social Good

    This post is a continuation of the 'war of position' against the neoclassical/neoliberal ideology that still retains a lot, but certainly declining, sway among the general public. One of the most important arguments they have to retain capitalist power relations is through the defense of the indefensible: very high inequality is a sure means to boost economic growth and therefore is a ethical thing to do. They argue that having egalitarian distributions of income inevitability leads to lower growth since economic agents would not be sufficiently rewarded for the efforts they put in and lower economic growth leads to lower standards of living for everyone. While, in countries that have higher levels of inequality, rewards more "productive" people and therefore have more innovation and are more dynamic. Therefore, via the notion that a 'rising tide lifts all boats', they are normatively unconcerned with inequality, because as long as there is a pareto optimal outcome, things are just--something to be criticized later.
    However, as per usual, the facts aren't in favour of this 'idealist absurdity'. As usual, Sweden disproves the entire neoclassical paradigm; if any country on earth would be on the "Road to Serfdom", it would be Sweden. Throughout the Cold War and beyond, Sweden had the world's most egalitarian distribution of income; so egalitarian that Sweden was more egalitarian than the USSR:

Thus, does Sweden have an utterly uncompetitive economy with a fascist/socialist--since they are the same thing in a Hayekian framework--dictatorship? No, Sweden is internationally recognized as not only one of the most open liberal democracies in the world, but it is also a  country where the population leads amongst the best lives in the world, measured by the HDI. Thirdly, Sweden has a per capita income of $52,180 ($37,333 PPP), while Britain, which engaged in radical neoliberal reform has a per capita income of $43,733 ($36,357 PPP) in 2008. Finally, its exports as a percentage of GDP is also higher, suggesting a much more competitive economy. Importantly, it also has a  more innovative economy than those with higher rates of inequality, according to The Spirit Level:

    Rather than stimulating innovation and progress, great inequality wastes the talents of a     large proportion of the population.  The evidence shows that it reduces children’s     educational performance as well as reducing social mobility.  Economic studies of the     relationship between the extent of inequality and economic growth rates have mixed     results: most suggest that greater equality is beneficial to growth but a few suggest the     opposite...There is a weak but statistically significant tendency for more equal societies to     gain more patents per head than less equal ones. (    evidence/frequently-asked-questions#innovation)

    I realize that the economy does not determine all, something that eludes the neoliberals. Reasons why country a does not grow, or descends into a dictatorship is due  a overdetermination of causes that cannot be easily reduced to the economic problematic. As Althusser states:

    If, as in this situation, a vast accumulation of ‘contradictions’ come into play in the    same court, some of which are radically heterogeneous—of different origins, different    sense, different levels and points of application—but which nevertheless ‘group    themselves’ into a ruptural unity, we can no longer talk of the sole, unique power of   the general ‘contradiction’ [the economy]   

Hayek's rather simplistic and wrong thesis needs to expunged from the social body in order to bring a more just society ( On Pareto optimality, because it deals only with absolute measures it is certainly a normatively inappropriate means to determine what is ethically and even economically sensible. As Tony Smith states:

    Critics of neoliberalism also note that the very notion of Pareto optimality     is deeply flawed from a normative standpoint with respect to     distributional issues. A society in which a small handful of individuals     appropriates almost all the income and wealth of a society, leaving the     vast majority in hopeless poverty, can count as ‘optimal’ according to this     notion.


Idealist Absurdities, the Paradox of Victory

Is capitalism going to collapse via a proletarian revolution? Unlikely, it isn’t impossible, but in the past two hundred years we have not had a truly proletarian revolution anywhere in the world. The major revolutions that occurred all occurred in countries with large peasant populations, with encroaching industrialization and increasing commodification of the average person’s life, the reaction was strong—as it was in Europe during the 19th century, i.e., Chartism, 1848, etc. In addition, many of the revolutions were ersatz in the sense they played a double role; certainly, they all played lip service to socialist internationalism, but the Thing they were really striving for was the anti-imperialist/nationalist bias of revolutionary movements.
In all the countries where revolution occurred, capitalism clearly was incomplete and the state was unable to adequately address new demands that were emerging from the new social relations that capitalism brought with it. In these countries, all lacking liberal-democratic forms of governance, the state could be defeated rather easily in what Gramsci called a ‘war of maneuver’, because the ‘state’—as conceived by Gramsci—was clearly not hegemonic, but rather depended on repression and pre-modern notions of statecraft—as Foucault notes, pre-modern states were primarily concerned with ‘sovereignty’ of the rulers leaving the unknown notion of the ‘population’ largely to its own devices, leaving them unarticulated by the state; the modern state was concerned with ‘governmentality’, or the organization of society to make it more productive with the wellbeing of the newly conceived notion of the ‘population’ as the new loci of state-craft, creating institutions to articulate and to discipline individuals.
Thus, in order to challenge liberal-democratic regimes, Gramsci noted that the proletariat and its allies must engage in a ‘war of position’ to ideologically disaggregate and replace the ‘nodal points’ that keep capitalist hegemony intact.  Thus, according to Gramsci, the counter-hegemonic force, prior to taking power, must first achieve hegemony. Thus, the Marxist notion that the proletariat, being the universal class, would—inevitably—overthrow capitalism, due to the contradictions embedded in capitalism has been, hitherto, been proven false. The way to revolution, or radical change, is partly through political/ideological intermediation and then, in the last instance, material force; however, these two things are not mutually exclusive. As Marx states, “The weapon of criticism obviously cannot replace the criticism of weapons. Material force must be overthrown by material force. But theory also becomes a material force once it has gripped the masses”. 
However, capitalism has shown its adaptability, because it has been able to grow enough to satisfy demands through institutions and has been able, via liberal democratic mechanisms, been able to give the concessions necessary to retain its hegemony. This ‘condition of impossibility’ is what makes capitalism possible, according to Zizek:
...what Marx overlooked is that, to put it in standard Derridean terms, this inherent obstacle/antagonism as the "condition of impossibility" of the full deployment of the productive forces is simultaneously its "condition of possibility": if we abolish the obstacle, the inherent contradiction of capitalism, we do not get the fully unleashed drive finally freed from its shackles, but rather we lose precisely this very productivity that seemed to be simultaneously generated and stifled by capitalism, for it simply dissipates . . . And it is as if this logic of the "obstacle as a positive condition" which underlay the failure of socialist attempts to overcome capitalism, is now returning with a vengeance in capitalism itself: capitalism can fully thrive not in the unencumbered reign of the market, but only when an obstacle (from minimal welfare-state intervention, up to and including the direct political rule of the Communist Party, as in the case of China) constrains its unimpeded rampage (190).

However, the ‘common sense’ economics that sprouts from neoliberal economists suggests the opposite is true. The market, if encumbered by the government’s intervention, distorts the market by creating disincentives for worker to work; it artificially raises prices and lowers quality of services that could be better rendered by the for profit private sector; counter-cyclical economic policies do not help, but make matters worse by not allowing the market to correct, automatically, the causes of the crisis. Basically, the ethos is, the market does everything better, democracy is a false god and leads eventually to totalitarianism—Hayek’s thesis in The Road to Serfdom. Therefore, citizens should no longer conceive themselves as citizens in the sense they can use that power to change things politically, but rather they should be market agents who’s only aim is the maximization of their utility, with a given distribution of income, and the outcomes are inherently just because the responsibility for success or failure rests squarely on your shoulders.
However, as Jean Baudrillard notes, as interpreted by Sylvere Lotringer:
This is what Baudrillard meant by a total revolution: a strategy geared to escalate the system and push it to its breaking point. Then, giving up on every pretence of rationality, it would start revolving and achieve in the process a circularity of its own: "We know the potential of tautology when it reinforces the system's claim to perfect sphericity (Ubu Roi's belly)" (SE, p. 4)... After all, wasn't capitalism itself a pataphysical proposition? It was endlessly cutting the branch on which it sits, devastating the planet and endangering the human species while claiming to improve its lot. Capital didn't care a fig for the fate of humanity. The real wasn't its business. It had cancelled the principle of reality and substituted a codification of a higher order, a hyper-reality that made the real obsolete. Its dirge-like flows were self-referential, leaving everything else in a state of self-induced simulation. The flows of capital were posthumous, post-human. In their nihilistic energy, they carried the seeds of their own destruction.
Thus, is the lesson for the left still Lenin’s quip that ‘worse is better’? Leaving the market to its own devices will create the conditions for a revolution? As Baudrillard states:
"Every system that approaches perfect operativity simultaneously approaches its downfall. . .  it approaches absolute power and total absurdity; that is, immediate and probable subversion. A gentle push in the right place is enough to bring it crashing down" (5E, p. 4).
Leaving the market to operate as close to the ideal as possible would, fundamentally undermine the operation of the market itself. Total capitalist victory, the neoliberal world-order would, in essence take away the “condition of impossibility" that simultaneously creates the “condition of possibility”. Arguably, the most successful capitalist states are those where a balance between the market and the social has been created where capital has little option but to invest in investments that increase the well-being of the population, examples can go from Sweden to China; whilst, countries that have gone to the opposite extremes are facing severe crisis, e,g., Argentina in 2001, the United States, the United Kingdom, etc.
Therefore, neoliberalism has created the seeds of its own downfall for engaging in what Baidou calls ‘idealist absurdies’ that abstract away the social and pretend that the models in neoclassical economics can actually exist, which presupposes that ‘there is no society, just individual men and women’ engaged in a marketplace. It has also created the conditions of unending hubris, leading to a form of intellectual laziness, or worse, ideological blindness that lead to the current crisis. Therefore, the rush towards the triumph of capitalism has lead to its greatest crisis. Thus, as Baudrillard argues, maybe we should be triumphing the capitalist market economy; maybe the ultimate agent of capitalism’s demise is capital itself.


The Resiude of Shock

The common refrain from the left in the post-9/11 era has been to link the emergence of radical Islam, terrorism, etc., as a result of the end of the emancipatory, universal project of socialism. The popular interpretation from liberals is to point to the “irrationality”, the “particularity”, “immoral” and even “evil” nature of their “ideological” convictions, which run counter to the universal agent, embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the logic of the ‘end of history’. However, contrary to the ‘popular religion’ in the West, communism was not destroyed via the mechanism of ideas; the defeat of the left in many parts of the world was a result of a coordinated effort by the United States and its allies to suppress communist movements throughout the world and install highly repressive, authoritarian regimes to create the conditions for capitalist accumulation and to undermine the ‘organic’ basis of anti-capitalist struggle—peasantry, unionization, intellectuals, etc. This repression, this destruction of emancipatory alternatives, has led to frustration and nihilism—a nihilism that can either be expressed with resignation; ‘fetishist disavowal’, like the belief that Sarah Palin is capable of enacting change, whilst knowing she can’t and won’t; or, in the case of many ‘terrorists’, suicide. This is has given rise to proto-fascistic forces of cynical, racist, disparate, intellectually inconsistent—if not blatantly and proudly dishonest—, right wing, reactionary populism and outrage worldwide. It suggests that Walter Benjamin’s famous argument that “Every fascism is an index of a failed revolution”, couldn’t be starker. 

Famous examples of this suppression include: the Red Scare, 1919; McCarthyism, 1950’s; Iran, 1953; Guatemala, 1954; Cuba, 1961; Brazil, 1964; Indonesia, 1965; Vietnam 1945-1975; Chile, 1973; Operation Condor, post-1976; the Contras, 1980s; Grenada, 1983; etc. If aggregated, the anti-communist struggle in the Cold War had victims, easily, in excess of 4 million. Throughout the world, the material and thus, intellectual basis for anti-capitalist struggle was undermined. For example, in Latin America, many of the states that had enacted ISI forms of industrialization, under the subsequent dictatorships, undermined industrial development, via liberalization, to undermine the organizational power of unions and the labour-force. Also, the countryside saw increasing forms of dispossession for peasants, who were among the most dangerous anti-capitalist forces, forcing them into the slums surrounding decaying cities. For many in Latin America, this experience of torture, death, totalitarianism and primitive accumulation ‘shocked’ alternatives out of the system. A good example is the future President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, who was a Tupamaro (communist revolutionary). He was tortured and locked in a hole for 12 years; he is now pleading with capital to invest in Uruguay and expressly defends private property as inviolable and sacred. It is no coincidence that the Latin American states that today have proto-revolutionary socialist governments, like Venezuela, or Bolivia, were largely immune from the ‘shocks’ of Operation Condor. 

However, the greatest err in the Cold War for the vantage point of the United States was to materially support the Islamic mujahedeen in the mountains of Afghanistan against the USSR in the 1980s. This support for Islamic fundamentalism created the basis for a truly transnational organization, with highly efficient and secretive means of money transfers, arms trade, and ideological proliferation—all of which was supported by billions of US aid. The support for these rebels, who expressly rejected the Enlightenment, served America’s anti-communist cause and with the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan both sides felt that they had won the war with the elan of God on their side. For the United States, the Islamic radicals were an after-thought, especially with the ‘end of history’ and the emergence of its hyperpower status. However, the battle for the radicals was just beginning, the real battle would be for the heart and soul of the entire Islamic world and that would put it in conflict with the other power, the United States.

The spread of this Islamic ideology of salafism—to go back to the ways and means of the first virtuous generations of Islam—and wahhabism—the extremely orthodox application of Hadith and Qu’ranic jurisprudence, emerging from the Hanafi school—was enabled by the United States and her allies to undermine progressive movements in the region, i.e., Israel funded Hamas to undermine the power of the P.A. In the zeal of the Western powers to undermine communism, they created a new enemy, one that the West finds it impossible to communicate with in a ‘deliberative’ manner. One reason is that the Islamic radicals reject the liberal notions of humanism and rationalism as the basis for social relations, but rather emphasize a pre-Enlightenment ideal of hierarchical relations—Allah→man→woman—and a cosmological order ordained by God, embodied in Shari’a. Equality only exists within Islam and under Shari’a, under the notion of Dar-al-Islam (House of Peace); whilst the rest of the world is characterized by its rebellion and ignorance of the universal laws, or Jahiliyyah—this part of the world is known as the Dar-al-Harb (the House of War), which is fundamentally inferior—albeit, not inalterably so, giving the ideology a sense of justice. The very notion of unconditional universal human rights is foreign and “evil”, because not all are equal in Islam and it undermines the divine authority and world-order as ordained by Allah. Therefore, the purpose of the radicals is to take back the Islamic world from the Jahiliyyah brought forth by European and American imperialism and the virus of the Enlightenment. Therefore, there is no basis for discussion, since the terms themselves are contested; there is no basis for a “rational” discourse, along the lines prescribed by the liberals to solve conflict, because there is a total lack of a hegemonic base from which one can start that discussion. 

This ideology spread, because within many of these countries, there were no convincing alternatives to counter American liberal-capitalist hegemony. The critiques that the radicals state are not that far-off from the critiques of the left, but they have been articulated in a reactionary manner. The physical elimination of many of the left’s prominent intellectuals, their censorship and marginalization has denied the ability of these frustrations to be articulated in a progressive manner. Therefore, with the left-option closed and with a total absence of liberal-democratic methods of representation, a residue of the anti-communist struggle of the Cold War, in the Middle East, we saw the emergence of modern terrorism. As Chantal Mouffe argues:

Terrorism has always existed, and it is due to a multiplicity of factors. But it undeniably tends to flourish in circumstances in which there are no legitimate political channels for the expression of grievances. It is therefore not a coincidence that since the end of the Cold War, with the untrammeled imposition of a neoliberal model of globalization under the dominance of the United States, we have witnessed a significant increase in terrorist attacks. Indeed, the possibilities of maintaining sociopolitical models different from the Western one have been drastically reduced...


Rand is a Marxist, and Hayek is a totalitarian

Before I engage in a  polemic against Hayek, I just want to do deal with his hypocrisy that is characteristic of many neoliberal theorists. I will start with Ayn Rand, the anti-altruist, the one who believes that doing things selfishly is the best thing for the individual and for society at large, especially within capitalism, which she termed “the unknown ideal”. I call it ‘Adam Smith on crack’. However, Rand did not live the life she claimed was optimal, she once went against her rational, objectivist mores. A glaring example comes from Anne C. Heller:
When Bennett Cerf, a head of Random House, begged her to cut Galt’s speech, Rand replied with what Heller calls “a comment that became publishing legend”: “Would you cut the Bible?” One can imagine what Cerf thought — he had already told Rand plainly, “I find your political philosophy abhorrent” — but the strange thing is that Rand’s grandiosity turned out to be perfectly justified. In fact, any editor certainly would cut the Bible, if an agent submitted it as a new work of fiction. But Cerf offered Rand an alternative: if she gave up 7 cents per copy in royalties, she could have the extra paper needed to print Galt’s oration. That she agreed is a sign of the great contradiction that haunts her writing and especially her life.*
A sign of a true philosopher is one that isn’t hypocritical, one who would rather die than contradict their own message; that is what is supposed to separate those have “examined” life and those who haven’t. Socrates died, willingly, at the hands of the state for a law that he knew was unjust, but accepted the punishment of the polis because it was the law in which he lived under and accepted; Che died while fighting for the cause of communism in the mountains of Bolivia, fully knowing that he could be killed; and the list goes on.
All this begs the question for Rand, what was her excuse; it was not like the choice was between life and death. She was being totally unselfish—in this context, this is a bad thing—by accepting an ‘irrational’ choice. It was in her instrumental rational, material interest that she accepted the offer presented by Cerf, instead she chose what was in her irrational, emotional interest. Therefore, not only did she make her life worse, she made everyone’s life worse by not accepting more money.--according to Randian logics. Rather ironically, Rand’s ACT proves Marx right: unalienated labour is an expression of the self that becomes part of ones own identity and therefore, is defended more than anything else. It also proves that it is a priori wrong, indeed even if Rand didn’t accept this, to have someone determine—alienate—your labour from yourself, because they have some power that is denied to you, viz., capital. Whether one would like to admit it or not, Rand’s act is an authentically Marxist one.
The contradictions among neoliberal theorists do not end there. Another arch-neoliberal theorist, Fredrich von Hayek, the greatest defender of classical liberal values, actually materially supported the Pinochet regime in Chile. The significance of this cannot be understated. As Frank Cunningham wrote on neoliberal theorists complicity with the Pinochet regime:
Like Friedman and Hayek, they journeyed to Chile after the 1973 coup there to give economic advice to the military government. Indeed, General Pinochet held a personal meeting with Hayek, and Buchanan gave a talk at the headquarters of the Admiralty in Vena del Mar where the coup (proximately) originated. 
No one can deny that the Pinochet regime was totalitarian with a level of repression that surpassed that of any socialist state at the time. Hayek aruges in ‘The Road to Serfdom’ that in an economy characterized by economic planning, it is inevitable that dictatorship arises:
The cry for an economic dictator is a characteristic stage in the movement towards planning, not unfamiliar in this country...I think you would find this common feature - you would find them all agreeing to say: 'We are living i n economic chaos and we cannot get out of it except under some kind of dictatorial leadership'.
This is exactly what economic liberals, the infamous Chicago Boys, were demanding in Chile, and throughout Latin America, during the 1960s and 1970s. It was they who were calling for dictatorship to stop the form of planning they didn’t like. Indeed, it is a myth that the ‘free market’ capitalist system is not planned, as if it were some spontaneous system that is inherent in human relations. Polanyi’s famous rebuke to Hayek was proven in Chile, “[The] lassiez-faire economy was the product of deliberate State action...lassiez-faire was planned.” (147). In order to plan for the free market, they had to overthrow democracy, which had definitively moved against the free-market in that era. What occurred in Chile was an authentic 'counter-revolution' and like all revolutions it requires violence. Hayek's work warns about the inherent violence and terror embedded in socialism, but the reality is that in order to establish liberalism, 'democracy has to be liberalized', as C.B. Macpherson wrote, and that takes foundational violence, dispossession and the destruction of the alternative orders. The purpose of the regime was simple to Hayek, to re-establish liberal hegemony, and what does liberal hegemony mean? Hayek provides an answer:

...and it is the great merit of the liberal creed that it reduced the range of subjects on which agreement was necessary to one which it was likely to exist in a society of free men.

This is hegemony, and here Hayek is making clear that liberalism is a hegemonic order, meaning it is a contingent one. A hegemonic order also determines the limits of discourse, and Hayek argues that first liberalism must be established before democracy can function as a 'utilitarian' system of governmetn that is should be. The result, a ‘democratic’-neoliberal Chile where its government essentially became a rubber-stamp for the policies enacted by Pinochet and forced in the democratic era, via Pinochetismo. Which accords with Hayek’s criticism against planning:

Parliamentary discussion maybe retained as a useful safety valve, and even more as a convenient medium through which the official answers to complaints are disseminated. It may even prevent some flagrant abuses and successfully insist on particular shortcomings being remedied. But it cannot direct. It will at best be reduced to choosing t he persons who are to have practically absolute power.

Ironically, Hayek became the same sort of person he was warning against. This is the irony of history and the hypocrisy of liberal theory.


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