This, the first issue of Fightback magazine for 2016, is based around the concept of neoliberalism. This is a term bandied about by political activists a lot in recent years — often, it seems, without a clear idea of what it means. Some even deny that it is a real thing, that it is simply “capitalism as usual”.
We agree with many Left activists and thinkers that the neoliberal era — beginning in the mid-1970s and still going on — is a decisive shift from previous “articulations” of global capitalism. We use the basic definition that neoliberalism is characterised by privatization, financialization and globalization, and takes the form of, as David Harvey puts it, “accumulation by dispossession” of previously State-owned, community-owned or common assets.
What’s more, the “traditional Left” has never found successful ways of combatting it. The Stalinized “Communist” countries have mostly collapsed in the face of neoliberalism (the old Soviet bloc) or enthusiastically combined neoliberal economics with a one-party dictatorship (China or Vietnam). Similarly, the old Labour and Social Democratic parties in the Western countries — and large portions of the Green movement — responded to the neoliberal onslaught with surrender. In New Zealand, neither Labour nor the Greens challenge the basic principles of neoliberalism such privatization, financialization, and open borders for money but not for people. They simply lay “caring/sharing” or nationalist rhetoric on top of that, or perhaps promote some trickle-down handouts for the worst affected — a combination which can be called “social liberalism”.
Fightback believes that we need new, radical-left responses to neoliberalism, and this issue is an attempt to get debate going on the wider left on the subject. The major article in this issue — “Against Conservative Leftism” — suggests that the activist Left are generally getting it wrong, trying to turn the clock back instead of looking forward to the future. The word has changed, irrevocably, since the early 1970s.
The old Keynesian welfare states — based on solid borders, expropriation of indigenous peoples, union-capitalist co-operation and State protection of “traditional” family structures — are not coming back, nor should they. Instead, we argue, it is the new forces thrown up by neoliberal changes — immigrant and refugee populations in our large cities, over-educated but under-employed precarious white-collar workers, feminist, queer and Tino Rangatiratanga movements — which are making the boldest challenges to neoliberalism at the moment. We still believe as Marxists that only the activity of the working classes can provide a permanent alternative to capitalism. But the “traditional” working classes represented by the union movement have been battered and decimated by neoliberal changes and will have to work as part of a new popular coalition seeking to transcend neo-liberal globalization rather than reverse it. The activist Left must be listening to these new forces and learning from them, not simply trying to impose the organisational and political methods of the past on them.
Individual articles are posted free of charge on the website.