Lucien van der Walt: counterpower to neo-liberalism

In neo-liberalism the expansion of the market has become an end in itself. The market must engulf all areas of society. Neo-liberalism is therefore much more of an all-embracing life philosophy than classic liberalism. The economic crisis of the early eighties, the collapse of the communist bloc, and the succession of right-wing governments throughout Europe and elsewhere helped entrench a belief in neo-liberalism as a universal remedy. This belief was epitomized by Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” theory and is only slowly beginning to crumble as people throughout the world slowly come to understand that neo-liberalism and neo-liberal policies have only brought inequality, waste, financial and political instability, and a potential imminent ecological disaster.

But as anyone who has ever tried to change anything in the real world knows only too well, there is a long way from knowing something is wrong to being able to change it. And as anyone who has tried to apply a rigid idea or theory also knows, one must allow for certain contextual differences when applying any theory.

Lucien van der Walt, a lecturer at the Sociology department of the University of Witwatersrand, and Michael Schmidt discuss the problems of achieving such change in “Black Flame.” According to them, any attempt at moderate reforms of neo-liberalism is doomed to fail. Change must be widespread, all-encompassing, and lasting.

In communicating with the author of this blog, Lucien van der Walt also insists that strategies for countering the excesses of neo-liberalism must necessarily vary from country to country – especially when seen in a North-South context. This is because the effects of neo-liberalism are much graver and more easily felt and explained in South Africa than Denmark. “The precise forms of counterpower – and the programmes that they should embody – vary by context.  If I had to compare Denmark and South Africa, obviously there are some key differences to consider: demands would differ e.g. in South Africa, mass job creation would be critical, given 35% unemployment; racial inequality would need to be dealt with as well; the country is also semi-industrial, so it would be necessary to grow the economy (I do not mean capitalist growth, but growth in the sense of expanded output of appropriate goods and services in a anarchist communist economy) to be able to produce, inter alia, more bricks and other construction materials; better infrastructure; more electricity etc. In Denmark, I would imagine the attack on the welfare state by the ruling class would loom large; we don’t really have anything comparable for the rulers to attack, for example.”

Unfortunately, the struggles against neo-liberalism have so far been “primarily defensive, directed against the effects of neoliberalism, rather than addressing its causes and developing an effective, lasting solution,” according to van der Walt and Schmidt. There is an upside to the pervasive spread and dominance of neo-liberalism and its rollback of the state, however: That continuous and over-whelming discontent and clear-cut injustice always tends to lead to resistance. “The global rollback of welfare has given rise to significant popular resistance, playing a crucial role in the rise of the antiglobalisation movement.”

One Response to Lucien van der Walt: counterpower to neo-liberalism

  1. Pingback: Lucien van der Walt: counterpower to neo-liberalism, by Peter Kenworthy (Denmark, 2011) « Lucien van der Walt: writings + PDFS on labour/ left history, political economy, unions + class struggles

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