The left is preparing for the next crisis
The recession of 2008–2009 presented the left with a rare opportunity to fundamentally alter the foundation of our societies. It was a time when the dominant neoliberal ideology was more vulnerable than it’s been in decades, but it survived the crisis. Yes, there were critiques and protest movements, but there was no coordinated agenda to present as an alternative to neoliberalism, and as a result, its dominance was allowed to continue.
Neoliberalism’s ability to survive the crisis is setting the stage for an even deeper crash. We don’t know when it will occur, yet it remains inevitable. The banks that gambled with the global economy have largely escaped further regulation, particularly in the United States, and have returned to the same risky practices as before. The next time the economy crashes, we won’t have the same tools to revive it.
Interest rates remain at record lows, and have even gone negative in a few countries. Austerity programmes have decimated public services without reviving public finances because the savings were funnelled into tax cuts for the wealthy. Where job growth has occurred, a much greater percentage of jobs are part-time, temporary, or precarious, leaving workers with little economic security and employers with an easy way to quickly shed a lot of employees. The media says there’s been a recovery, but average people still don’t feel it, because all of the income gains have gone to those at the top, while the middle class is increasingly hollow and a growing mass of people are finding themselves among the ranks of the poor.
The desperation of the masses has driven them away from the political centre, or the neoliberal consensus, to look for alternative political solutions. The far-right has risen to be that solution for many, blaming immigrants and establishment politicians for their nations’ problems, while for others a number of Keynesian social democrats promising to reinvest in or expand the welfare state have captured the public consciousness. But these ideologies are, at their core, just a revival of narratives whose popularity waned as neoliberalism ascended to prominence. A third option is developing, and its message to the dispossessed has a much greater chance of reinventing mainstream political thought.
The emergence of postcapitalism
After neoliberalism survived the recession, and movements like Occupy were unable to make much of an impact on its dominance, it became clear that the left needed something of a reinvention. It continued to suffer from the corporate media’s characterization of the Soviet Union, while even social democratic parties gave in to neoliberalism.
A renewed narrative is emerging that’s fuelling a lot of discussion, and it goes by the name of postcapitalism. While its core ideas aren’t necessarily counter to the socialist project, it takes some positions that are quite different from those which we’ve come to expect from socialist and communist parties. Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism, and Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future have arguably made the greatest contribution to the development of postcapitalism thus far, as well as helping to introduce it to a wider audience.
The main point of differentiation from the socialist narratives that have previously dominated is its approach to work. Where in the past we saw a focus on worker ownership, full employment, and unionization; postcapitalism takes a very different approach. It instead advocates an embrace of automative technologies and a universal basic income to free workers from the need to have a job, instead allowing them to dedicate their time to the activities they really want to be performing.
It’s important that these ideas for a renewal of the left’s vision are presented now because it gives us enough time to debate and to develop a consensus around them. A big reason why neoliberalism survived the recession was that there was no coherent vision prepared to challenge it. Its dominance was such that popular opposition had, in a sense, stagnated, but the pain of the recession has fuelled a beautiful flourishing of political activity and a mass reengagement with the political system.
By fleshing out the core of postcapitalism now, we ensure a viable alternative is ready to be presented to the masses once the next economic crash hits and the disillusioned masses won’t accept another neoliberal prescription that places the pain on their shoulders and gives all the gains the rich.
Paris Marx is the author of A Music Industry for the 99% and Dystopia or Utopia?. He writes about the growing divide within the capitalist system, movements for alternative forms of economic organization, and ways of living that challenge traditional narratives.