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Crisis of Neoliberalism

The Left has for over a generation—for more than 40 years, since the crisis of 1973—placed its hopes in the Democratic and Labour Parties to reverse or slow neoliberal capitalism—the move to transnational trade agreements, the movement of capital and labor, and austerity. The post-2008 crisis of neoliberalism, despite phenomena such as SYRIZA, Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, anti-austerity protests more generally, Bernie Sanders's candidacy, and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership, has found expression on the avowed Right, through UKIP, Brexit, the U.K. Conservatives’ move to “Red Toryism,” and now Donald Trump's election. The old neoliberal consensus is falling apart, and change is palpably in the air. Margaret Thatcher's infamous phrase, “There Is No Alternative,” has been proven wrong. What can the Left do to advance the struggle for socialism under such circumstances?

In the 1960s, the Left faced political and social crises in an era of full employment and economic growth. Departing from official Communism, which had largely supported the development of the welfare state in industrialized capitalist countries, many on the Left challenged the existing political order, of Keynesian-Fordism, through community organizing on the principle of expanding individual and collective freedom from the state. Against Keynesian economic demands, many of these leftists supported the Right’s efforts to integrate formerly oppressed identity groups into the corporate professional-managerial class. Since the 1970s, the significance of the fact that all these aims were taken up politically by the Right—in the name of “freedom,” in the form of neoliberalism—is still ambiguous today.

Some on the Left have understood this phase of “neo-liberalism” to be continuous with the post-war Fordist state, for example in Ernest Mandel’s conception of “late capitalism” and David Harvey’s idea of “post-Fordism.” The movement of labor and capital was still administered by the Fordist state. Distinctively, others on the Left have opposed neoliberalism for over a generation through a defense of the post-war welfare state, through appeals to anti-austerity and anti-globalization.

How does this distinction within the Left between the defense of the welfare state and the defense of individual freedom affect the Left’s response to the crisis of neo-liberalism? Why has the Left recently supported attempts to politically manage the economic crisis post-2008, against attempts at political change? How can the Left struggle for political power, with the aim of overcoming capitalism and achieving socialism, when the political expression of the crisis of neoliberalism has largely come from the Right, and Trump won the election in November?