In an interview recently, and in several published papers before (1), Wendy Brown, the American political theorist, said she blames neoliberalism for the destruction of liberal democratic institutions and practices across the world including America. It seems surprising to me that an educated person like her should claim by implication that there were functioning liberal democratic institutions in the USA before neoliberalism. The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s race, colour, or previous condition of servitude was passed on February 3, 1870, but black Americans only started voting in larger numbers after the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
So what were those liberal democratic institutions that were functioning from at the earliest 1965 onwards in America according to Brown? Apparently they are the law, elections, the police and the public sphere. Brown’s argument is that <<Neoliberal governmentality undermines the relative autonomy of certain institutions—law, elections, the police, the public sphere—from one another and from the market, an independence that formerly sustained an interval and a tension between a capitalist political economy and a liberal democratic political system.>>
But it seems to me that in America the law, elections, the police and the public sphere became even more aggressively white, Anglo Saxon and imperialist in whatever time period she is taking about not because of neoliberalism but because after 1965 black Americans started voting. So obviously they had to be more aggressively controlled. Today African-Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but compose 40 percent of all prison inmates and 42 percent of those sentenced to death. Though Michele and Barack Obama are black, they could not prevent public black outrage over the fact that the police officer who killed Michael Brown was not charged, nor could they get the officer charged. It was not neoliberalism that undermined the autonomy of the police but rather it was the participation of black people in public life that revealed the autonomy of the police and other liberal democratic institutions as a white illusion. As for the autonomy of the public sphere -the opera, the libraries, the education system, the public health system and so on, these things were and are the illusions of whites in their Fortress Europe and Fortress America that could not be sustained once black people within America and black people in the ex-colonies generally started to become active citizens. Actually neoliberalism is capitalism and imperialism as it always was, and it is built and maintained through the oppression of the mass of the lower castes and classes of women and children and black races and gay men of the world. The world population has been growing at such a rapid rate that there are billions more oppressed than ever before. In India the population has doubled in the 43 years since 1975. A better theoretician of why we are suffering than Wendy Brown is Samir Amin.
Unlike Wendy Brown he has no time for the idea of the relative autonomy of liberal democratic institutions and such like, and instead calls a spade a spade: “For the last thirty years the world system has undergone an extreme centralisation of power in all its dimensions, local and international, economic and military, social and cultural. Some thousand giant corporations and some hundreds of financial institutions that have formed cartels among themselves, have reduced national and globalised production systems to the status of sub-contractors. In this way the financial oligarchies appropriate a growing share of the profits from labour and from companies that have been transformed into rent producers for their exclusive benefit.” The whole article can be read here (2) Whereas Wendy Brown’s prescription to the Left to overcome neoliberalism is very generalised, namely: “ to challenge emerging neoliberal governmentality in Euro-Atlantic states with an alternative vision of the good, …a left vision of justice (that) would focus on practices and institutions of popular power” Samir Amin proposes that the Left reconstruct the Internationale of workers and peoples.
<<Creating a new Internationale of workers and peoples must be the main objective for the genuine militants who are convinced of the odious nature of the world imperialist capitalist system that we have at present. It is a heavy responsibility and the task requires several years before giving any tangible results. As for myself, I put forward the following proposals: i) The aim should be to establish an Organisation (the new Internationale) and not just a ‘movement’. This involves moving beyond the concept of a discussion forum. It also involves analysing the inadequacies of the notion, still prevalent, that the ‘movements’ claim to be horizontal and are hostile to so-called vertical organisations on the pretext that the latter are by their very nature anti-democratic: that the organisation is, in fact, the result of action which by itself generates ‘leaders’. The latter can aspire to dominate, even manipulate the movements. But it is also possible to avoid this danger through appropriate statutes. This should be discussed. ii) The experience of the worker Internationales should be seriously studied, even if they belong to the past. This should be done, not in order to ‘choose’ a model among them, but to invent the most suitable form for contemporary conditions. iii) Such an invitation should be addressed to a good number of combative parties and organisations. A committee should first be set up to get the project started.>>
Indian agricultural workers unions for example are one group of unions whose heroic struggles are in dire need of strengthening through a new Internationale. Samir Amin’s call should be taken seriously by the communist parties and all militants of the world.
(1) Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy, http://lchc.ucsd.edu/cogn_150/Readings/brown.pdf
(2) http://www.networkideas.org/featured-articles/2018/07/it-is-imperative-to-reconstruct-the-internationale-of-workers-and-peoples/ .
Anandi Sharan was born in Switzerland, lives in Bangalore and last year worked in Araria District Bihar, India. She works on trying to find the best money system to help people adapt to climate change especially in India.