Sunday, June 20, 2010

neoliberalism as cargo cult

Part of what elevated Robert Harris's bestselling novel, The Ghost, from routine airport thriller to literature proper, was Harris's playing about with a sort of joke that ran through popular culture, that Tony Blair was working for the American secret service. It wouldn't be surprising if a few of the current Labour party apparatus read Harris, who is right out of their milieu, and they might like the joke too, because they seem compelled to replace Gordon Brown with some sort of approximation of Tony Blair. The right wing canditates: David Miliband, Edward Miliband and Edward Balls, are really standing as inheritors of Tony Blair's programme, as if the disasterous consequences of that programme were not immediately apparent. They are apparently unable to understand that the picture of reality drawn by neoliberal economics was completely false, that the policies that it validated created an unproductive boom, a financial crisis, and finally a large scale privatisation of the treasury in order to save an unproductive finance sector. More importantly, they are the same spiders who supported the war in Iraq.

Suppose we admit that there's a contradiction between the Labour Party's members' idea of what they're about, and the quite unreal rightism of their prospective leaders. What is the basis of this contradiction?

Marxists talk about the bourgeoisie as the ruling class of capitalist society, but this is only half right. The bourgeoisie, to which must be added the higher strata of capitalist management, exist in a society in which economic power between capitalist firms is relatively diffuse. The real seizure of power by a section of the bourgeoisie, such as occured in Kuomintang China, for instance, inevitably leads to a dictatorship of bourgeois special interests and the suppression of bourgeois capitalism. The normal functioning of bourgeois capitalism requires a separate political apparatus to rule according to the general interests of the bourgeoisie. This is achieved by an overdetermined political system. The electorate really vote for politicians to rule the country, but of necessity have to vote, in aggregate, for acceptable parties. Capitalists merely sustain a political culture which is amenable to the capitalist general interest, through exercising their special interests: through assimilation with politicians, and through the media, a special capitalist interest. Academia and public sector broadcasting are only partly autonomous, and don't really distort the dominant political culture. And everyone's actions are somewhat affected by living and working under capitalism.


1. "normal" bourgeois capitalism can be thought of as the rule of politicians, or the hegemony of an autonomous political culture.

2. "normal" bourgeois capitalism requires the partial coincidence of aggregate capitalist special interests with the capitalist general interest, and the partial coincidence of the interests of the electorate, in a rigged game, with the same capitalist general interest.

So, while we might think it would be more rational for the Labour Party to appoint Diane Abbott, the parliamentary party are likely to have problems moving out of the mainstream of an unpopular and irrational political culture that is nevertheless hegemonic, and also offers lavish pensions. It is unfair to describe neoliberalism as a cargo cult, because it does reward certain special interests, even if in its autonomy it fails to serve the capitalist general interest, or the public interest, even.

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