Capitalism, Neoliberalism, and the relevance of Marx
Posted May 6th, 2012 at 10:49 AM by Solidaire
The emerging markets had no experience in Capitalism within liberal societies, like the West had. Either heirs to autocratic, totalitarian regimes, or colonial ones, they haven't got the chance to smooth their capitalist models through decades of social struggles and respective legislation. They represent the Eldorado of wild Capitalism, its Wild West, and a very profitable and convenient flashback to 19th century Capitalism of the West. In a sense, the past of the West has come back to haunt it.
The Corporatism of the West and the State Capitalism of the emerging markets, are two facets of the same coin. They both seek to minimise labour costs and working rights, claim for themselves unlimited rights and privileges, and offer as little social benefits as possible. The only real difference is that in the West there are established social structures and rights achieved through bitter struggles, and that there is a living memory of centuries of Capitalist experience.
One could argue that in the West we have our democratic laws and Constitutions too, but these are being changed according to the whims of the Neoliberal mantras, and are being compromised by the toxic Friedmani(a)c ideas of absolute market liberty. The greatest fallacy of the 20th century, Milton Friedman's notion that an extreme market economy would lead to an extreme democratic society, is one of the most dangerous scams ever to be played out in the West: Corporatism is a threat to democracy, just as totalitarianism is. And the struggle between the West and the emerging markets has become, in fact, a race to the bottom.
Now, how this came to be? What was the key element that allowed those countries to threaten Western type capitalism? The answer is globalisation, and the real enemy of the West is not those markets, but a foe from within: their own, greedy and unrestrained corporations, and the political elite that pursues Neoliberalism with a religious fervour.
Take a closer look at well-known Western brands, from cars to clothes. In most cases, they are "made in China" (or RC), Turkey, India, or in other developing countries. The economic success of those countries is, to a large extent, a result of the investment of Western firms moving their factories and businesses there, weakening the productive base back home. The success of those countries is the failure of the Western ones to hold onto their industrial and financial resources. The failure of the West to keep its Capital at home and breathe life to its domestic capitalism (that's what the model is all about, right?) has culminated in rising unemployment, dropping purchasing parity, poverty, and rising debt to cover the failing of local growth.
And of course, it is our corporations, our banks, and the emerging countries' elite (one could consider even the Chinese government as one, massive corporation) that benefit the most from this. It is a model that suits them immensely, not the people of Earth, and a model that they have vigorously pushed through and strive to make all-encompassing and global. To them, Marx is "anachronistic", even Keynes is a dangerous ideological counter-balance which they try to discredit.
We are asked to become more 'Chinese', in order to survive global competition. If we do, the world will step back at least a century. We will then start climbing the mountain anew, back from where we started, this time globally, Chinese and Europeans, Americans and Indians alike. Because climb again we will, by blood and fire, there is no way humanity can accept serfdom conditions indefinitely, as history has demonstrated. One might argue that there is some perverted sense of historical, poetic justice that the West will be finally equated with the people it looked down upon for centuries: that's the only equilibrium that Neoliberalism will ever achieve, however.
Or, we can reverse the tide of laissez-faire Capitalism, protect our progress so far, and help the emerging countries advance to our social level, not the other way around. And the only way to do that is restrain Capital, regulate markets, protect the weaker, and 'teach' Corporations that it's people who write the rules of the game, not their greedy need for unlimited profits.
Simple mathematics: the world is a vastly wealthy place, with the potential to feed and nurture all of us. Only that the greatest amount of wealth is gathered in increasingly fewer and fewer hands, leaving too little to the rest of us to compete for. The more those few gather, the less for the rest of us, and the greatest the struggle between people they relish in creating. They found their perfect students in the developing countries, and demand from us to imitate their toddler's knowledge of Capitalism and forget our centuries' experience with it. What the West did to Eastern European and to Latin American countries, under the banner of IMF-World Bank neoliberal religious zeal, is appalling. Instead of creating a socially viable Capitalist model, under the model of European Capitalism, they applied the wildest theories of unregulated Capitalism to people too dazzled to react, and too inexperienced to question if there could have been another form of Capitalism to elevate them to Western standards. Shock treatments, in shock circumstances. Eastern Europeans in particular, are quite unlucky, as they have been made the victims of two great socio-economic experiments. Twice in a century.
As for the Chinese, the Indians, and the other developing nations, it is not them that are our foes; it is the elite that exploits all of us alike. It is 19th century Capitalism, returning in great voracity under the 'enlightened' mandras of the Chicago School of Economics, Milton Friedman's neoliberal doctrines, and the momentum they have gained from the 80's and onward, with the help of Reagan and Thatcher in the West, and various dictators (like Pinochet) in developing parts of the world. It is this exact capitalist model, that has been so efficiently portrayed as 'liberal' and 'progressive' (when in fact it is exactly the opposite) that has influenced the Chinese model of State Capitalism too. The Chinese leaders have found the writings of Friedman quite interesting.
We must resist this, and as an answer to financial globalisation, globalise our social models too, our union traditions, our smooth-edged, regulated Capitalism. But in order to do this, we must maintain our social bastions in the West, to begin with. And lock away forever the fallacies of the Chicago boys, in a vault alongside other criminally devastating theories. The war is on, and it is Capitalism for the masses against Capitalism for the few. In this war, Marx is a champion for the social Capitalism side. Not what he intended, but a valuable ally nevertheless.
The only real hope for the world is not the toxic liberty of Capital that Neoliberalism advocates; the only real hope is the harness that Marxist thinking applied to 19th century Capitalism. A great paradox, but Capitalism, in order to be salvaged as a socially accepted and applicable model, desperately needs Marx.
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