By: Raúl Zibechi
The crisis of critical thinking; in other words, our way of comprehending the world so we can act to transform it, has led analysts to multiply not very precise concepts that tend to be more descriptive than analytical, thus they induce confusion. Neoliberalism is one of the concepts that are being used less rigorously.
An idea has been disseminated among many professionals in politics and thought that associates neoliberalism with a type of “market fundamentalist” government, when its meaning ought to point in a structural direction: it’s capitalism in the period in which accumulation by dispossession has become hegemonic.
The Marxist geographer David Harvey, who coined the concept of accumulation by dispossession/robbery, associates this modality of capital with the neoliberal policies promoted by the Washington Consensus: privatizations, domination of financial capital, regressive distribution of income and the generation of crisis to accelerate the three previous processes.
In Latin America neoliberalism had a first privatizing period in which a good part of the state-owned companies were scrapped, transferred at very low prices to multinationals in the north. The privatizations faced a broad alliance of popular sectors and the middle classes, thereby generating a wave of mobilizations that resulted in the fall of a dozen right-wing governments, from the Caracazo of 1989 to the second Bolivian gas war in 2005.
The privatizations and the political leaders that promoted them delegitimized, neoliberalism moved the nucleus of accumulation by dispossession to other lands that we now call extractivism: agribusiness, open pit mining, infrastructure works and urban real estate speculation. We are faced with what the sociologist Maristella Svampa called “commodity consensus,” although I usually opt for a definition from below that names it the “fourth world war.”
The problem that I observe is that many analysts maintain a much more restrictive definition of neoliberalism, which they associate with the greater or lesser participation of the State in the economy and in society. In that way, it’s often maintained that when it assumes a “statist government,” real or discursive, we would already enter into a “post neoliberal period.”
I believe that defining things in this way induces confusions. Changes of government do not affect the neoliberal model, but rather hardly touch lateral aspects of the same. For example, it’s often mentioned that the compensatory social policies are part of the new post-neoliberal period. However, two central facts are ignored.
One: the progressive or post-neoliberal governments did not invent those policies, but rather the World Bank, in order to disarticulate the anti-systemic movements. Two: social policies benefit the financial sector by promoting banking from the beneficiaries. In both cases, they reinforce neoliberalism: they weaken those who can confront it and strengthen financial capital.
But what’s most important is that neoliberalism, being the current phase of capitalism, cannot be defeated by voting, electing new rulers, but rather by disarticulating the bases on which it is seated: the concentrated power of financial capital that utilizes the state apparatus as a shield and sword, beyond the rotating rulers.
I maintain that leaving neoliberalism implies a phenomenal crisis, because the power constructed by capital is so solid that it can only by defeated in a long period of self-organization of the peoples, recuperating the means of production and instituting non-capitalist ways of life, with non-state powers that defend them.
One of the most nefarious consequences of neoliberalism is that it has consolidated the power of the one percent. This power is walled in state institutions like the armed forces, which has subjected its interests to drug trafficking and other forms of accumulation by dispossession, and cannot be disarticulated without a radical change in the correlation of forces, something that was never achieved through voting, or in the short term.
Capital in the neoliberal period has been armored, learning from the lessons of triumphant revolutions. That’s why it won’t be easy to dislodge them from power, a task in which both electoral and armed options have failed. Are China and Vietnam not neoliberal?
An additional problem is the one that Darío Aranda denounces in a brilliant note. Extractivism and neoliberalism are State policies. The conservative governments reach agreements with multinational companies for the delivery of the commons. The progressives do the same thing.
The primary exporting extractive model is the continuity between them. Although the progressives assure that when they arrive in government there is no longer neoliberalism, let them ask the peoples.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Friday, September 27, 2019
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee