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Neoliberalism and its Discontents

The Platypus Affiliated Society presents

Neo-liberalism and its Discontents

The opening plenary of the Platypus International Convention VII

- Walter Benn Michaels (University of Illinois, Chicago)
- Toby Chow (University of Chicago)
- Donald Parkinson (Communist League of Tampa)
- Margaret Power (Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago)

Moderator: Pam Nogales

Leftists today lament the strength of neoliberal hegemony. The use of “hegemony” underlines the ideological dimension of the neoliberal order; it suggests that mass ideological legitimacy — and not the triumph of pure force or of back-door machinations — has made neoliberalism politically possible. What were the ideological shifts in political and social consciousness that provided the grounds for contemporary neoliberal hegemony? What role did the Left play in this historical transformation of mass consciousness?

Freedom, the rallying cry of socialism, serves now as the stated ideology of the upward redistribution of wealth. The past decades have seen stagnating wages and a widening income disparity—although women, LGBT people, people of color, and others who once faced legally enforced, identity-based social exclusion now appear to be more “free” than they were during the pre-neoliberal period of high Fordism. These two aspects of neoliberalism, its identitarian inclusiveness and its anti-working class agenda, appear to go hand-in-hand. Despite the dubious, partial success of the politics of the New Left, we are probably farther than we have ever been from the goal of global socialism. In light of this history, how can we imagine a future for the Left? How could the Left move beyond organizing the expression of frustrated expectations within neoliberalism — beyond organizing the left wing of neoliberalism itself — to generate the kind of theory and practice required to politically overcome capitalism?

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