Goodbye Cruel Bird

the foulest legacy
Born: October 13, 1925, Grantham
Died: April 8, 2013, London

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vietnam_war CATHY-FUCK-OFFt he solution

After neoliberalism:
analysing the present
Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey
and Michael Rustin
The founding editors of
Soundings
set out the framing
analysis for our online manifesto.
W
ith the banking crisis and the credit crunch of 2007-8, and their
economic repercussions around the globe, the system of neoliberalism,
or global free-market capitalism, that has come to dominate the world
in the three decades since 1980, has imploded. As the scale of toxic debt became
evident, credit and inter-bank lending dried up, spending slowed, output declined
and unemployment rose. The system’s vastly inflated financial sectors, which
speculate in assets largely unrelated to the real economy of goods and services,
precipitated an economic crisis whose catastrophic consequences are still unfolding.
We believe that mainstream political debate simply does not recognise the
depth of this crisis, nor the consequent need for radical rethinking. The economic
model that has underpinned the social and political settlement of the last three
decades is unravelling, but the broader political and social consensus apparently
remains in place. We therefore offer this analysis as a contribution to the debate,
in the hope that it will help people on the left think more about how we can shift
the parameters of the debate, from one concerning small palliative and restorative
measures, to one which opens the way for moving towards a new political era and
new understandings of what constitutes the good society.
1
For three decades, the neoliberal system has been generating vast profits

9
After neoliberalism: analysing the present
for multi-nationals, investment institutions and venture capitalists, and huge
accumulations of wealth for the new global super-rich, while grossly increasing
the gap between rich and poor and deepening inequalities of income, health and
life chances within and between countries, on a scale not seen since before the
second world war. In North America and Western Europe – hitherto dynamos of
the global economic system – rates of
growth are now lower than during the early
post-war decades, when there was a more even balance of power between the social
classes. There has been a steep decline in manufacturing and a hot-house expansion
of financial services and the service economy; and a massive shift of power and
resources from public to private, from state to market. ‘The market’ has become the
model of social relations, exchange value the only value. Western governments have
shown themselves weak and indecisive in responding to the environmental crisis,
climate change and the threat to sustainable life on the planet, and have refused to
address the issues in other than their own – market – terms.
Likewise, the financial crisis has been used by many Western governments as a
means of further entrenching the neoliberal model. They have adopted swingeing
‘austerity measures’ which, they claim, is the only way of reducing the deficits
generated during the bonanza period of the 1980s and 1990s. They have launched
an assault on the incomes, living standards and conditions of life of the less well-
off members of society. In the UK, the cuts programme has frozen incomes, capped
benefits, savaged public sector employment and undermined local gover
nment.
It has encouraged private capital to hollow-out the welfare state and dismantle
the structures of health, welfare and education services. The burden of ‘solving’
the crisis has been disproportionately off-loaded on to working people, targeting
vulnerable, marginalised groups. These include low-income, single-parent families;
children in poverty; women juggling part-time employment with multiple domestic
responsibilities; pensioners, the disabled and the mentally ill; welfare-benefits and
low-cost public housing ‘dependants’; the young unemployed (especially black
youth); and students. Youth facilities have been closed; and citizens who depend
on public amenities for their social well-being find themselves ber
eft. Apart from its
punitive and regressive social effects, this is a strategy destined to fail even in its own
terms, since its main consequence will be a serious fall in demand and a collapse of
tax revenues, deepening the downward economic spiral, with little fall in the deficit.
In other words, the crisis itself has been used to reinforce the redistribution

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10
from poor to rich. Moreover, it has also provided the alibi for a far-reaching further
restructuring of state and society along market lines, with a raft of ideologically-
driven ‘reforms’ designed to advance privatisation and marketisation. It has
encouraged private, individualised solutions to social problems.
This makes it all the
more important for the left to make the argument that it is time for a new moral and
economic settlement.
Global dimensions of neoliberalism
This neoliberal hegemony, both in its pomp and in its crisis, has had global
implications. Dynamic, expanding capitalist systems have their own strategic and
geopolitical imperatives. Neoliberalism has sought a favourable climate towards
business across the globe. It demands low tax regimes, limited state interference,
and unimpeded access to markets and vital resources. It calls for internal
security, the capacity to contain external enemies, and strong rulers in control of
their populations, with whom bargains can be struck and influence exercised.
It engenders hostility to more democratic and alternative experiments. These
principles have guided the strategies and underpinned the network of alliances,
blocs and bases that the West – led by the US – has constructed. The Middle East
clearly demonstrates that maintaining generally favourable conditions of operation
– securing spheres of influence (the US/Israel alliance), dealing with military
challenges (Iran, Pakistan), repressing political instability (the Horn of Africa) and
defeating threats (the Taliban, al-Quaida, Afghanistan) – figures as much as do
specific resource ‘grabs’, such as for oil (Iraq, the Gulf States).
The particular global character of neoliberalism was part of its initiating
armoury – for instance through the Washington Consensus from the 1980s
onwards – and it is also an element of its historical specificity. It is a globalisation
in which a new form of financial imperialism is crucial (and Lon
don has been
central in its invention and dissemination), and in which a key dynamic has been
a planetary search for new assets in which to speculate (through, for example,
exported programmes of privatisation, spiralling markets in commodity futures,
the buying up of vast tracts of land).
But neoliberalism never conquered everything. It operated within, and created,
a world of great diversity and unevenness. Its early – classic – laboratory was Chile,

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After neoliberalism: analysing the present
but the rise of South East Asian tigers was, critically, a state-aided development (by
no means the official neoliberal recipe). And in spite of the Western triumphalism of
1989, Russia also retains its specificities – a hybrid of oligarchic and state capitalism
combined with authoritarianism. China, too, struggles to define a dif
ferent model;
it currently combines centralised party control with openness to foreign investment,
and acute internal geographical dislocations and widespread social conflict with
break-neck rates of growth and the lifting of hundreds of millions out of poverty.
Indeed, conflict has erupted in many parts of the world where the neoliberal
orthodoxy has been adopted. India, so frequently lauded for its embrace of the
market consensus, exhibits both extraordinary rifts between the new elites and
the impoverished, and multiple and persistent conflicts over its curr
ent economic
strategy. Other major sites of conflict have been the water and gas wars in Bolivia,
and the struggle of ‘the poors’ in Thailand. The emerging articulations of progressive
governments and grassroots social movements in Latin America are, in varying ways
and in varying degrees, responses to the impact of previous neoliberal policies. The
alter-globalisation movement has been vocal. This has not been a simple victory.
In fact, its very diversity and conflict has been an element in neoliberalism’s
current fracturing. The economic (im)balance between China and the USA has
been both a central mechanism of complementarity and, increasingly, a source of
instability. The crisis in the Eurozone has also been a critical weak link in the global
structure. Having failed to design a financial architecture that could address uneven
development between constituent countries, the Euro-elite powers (the troika
above all) now attempt to blame the inevitable disaster on the constituent countries
themselves (or some of them). They thus set peoples against peoples, pr
ovoking
dangerous nationalisms, while the culpability of the elite is effectively obscured. It
is a geographical conjuring trick that converts the political fr
ontier from being one
between conflicting economic and social interests into one between national peoples,
and moulds those peoples’ self-identifications along nationalist lines.
Meanwhile, and over the longer term, a tectonic shift of economic power is
taking place, to China and the other BRIC countries, bringing with it growing
confidence and increasing claims for voice on the world stage. Trade, and indeed
conversations and contacts more generally, increasingly bypasses the North Atlantic
region altogether. At the same time, while the number of millionaires increases
even in the poorest places, in many countries, most obviously in sub-Saharan

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12
Africa, there is rising impoverishment, widespread malnutrition (partly a product
of the speculation in food prices), ecological devastation and political instability.
There are battles over the control of energy and mineral resources. In the face of
overwhelmingly unfavourable external pressures and restraints, governments cannot
deal with poor schooling, hunger, malnutrition, disease and health pandemics or
resist western consumerism, the arms traders and freelance mercenaries.
The ‘squeeze’ has triggered an increase in local, tribal, inter-ethnic and religious
sectarian violence, civil wars, military coups, armed militias, child soldiers, ‘ethnic
cleansing’ and genocidal rape; and these in turn have precipitated cross-border
and international migration, as civilians flee war-zones, join refugee camps or seek
asylum abroad. The ‘failed (or failing) states’ which Western strategists proclaim
to be a major threat to security are themselves often the perverse consequences of
neoliberalism and western intervention. And the very concept of failed state is often
used as an ideological weapon.
Most recently, the response to the crisis by the North Atlantic elites has made
matters worse – for instance through its effects on prices and currency levels. The
fact of global instability and looming crisis has by no means modified the neoliberal
offensive. If Chile was the laboratory for the early phases, Greece has become the
laboratory for an even more fierce implementation, while the Arab Spring may yet
be recuperated to open up new fields for market forces. And in Latin America the
recent US-sanctioned coups in Honduras and Paraguay have been swiftly followed
by radical concessions to foreign capital.
Ideologies and conflicts
The present economic crisis is a moment of potential rupture. The welfare-state
‘settlement’ that preceded the neoliberal era in the North Atlantic world had
crumbled in the 1970s, and, with the end of the Cold War, Thatcherite and
Reaganite neoliberalism won the contest over which way forward would be taken.
This outcome was not inevitable.
Conflicts between social settlements and the
crafting of hegemonies are the product of contending social forces. During the
welfare state era, the working class did make economic gains. Wealth was modestly
redistributed, egalitarianism and social rights became more embedded. Capital’s
share of the surplus was significantly eroded. But this was a shift that could not be

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After neoliberalism: analysing the present
tolerated. The expanded globalisation of its operation was partly (among its many
determinants, and along with privatisation and financialisation) a means of r
estoring
the declining share of the surplus taken by capital. Resistance to Thatcherism’s
‘war on society’, conflicts over democratic government in London and other cities,
struggles in the global South, the rise of new social movements, opposition to the
poll tax, and contests over the rights of organised labour everywhere – all these
were critical moments in the struggle to determine what would follow
.
Social forces
locked in conflict across different areas of social life have always been at stake.
The current neoliberal settlement has also entailed the re-working of the
common-sense assumptions of the earlier, social democratic settlement. Every social
settlement, in order to establish itself, is crucially founded on embedding as common
sense a whole bundle of beliefs – ideas beyond question, assumptions so deep that
the very fact that they
are
assumptions is only rarely brought to light. In the case of
neoliberalism this bundle of ideas revolves around the supposed naturalness of ‘the
market’, the primacy of the competitive individual, the superiority of the private over
the public. It is as a result of the hegemony of this bundle of ideas – their being the
ruling common sense – that the settlement as a whole is commonly called ‘neoliberal’.
But while commitment to neoliberal economic theory is a key part of the overall
consensus, it is also the case that the theory itself plays a crucial role in legitimising the
restoration and reinvigoration of a regime of power, profit and privilege.
As we have seen, the rubrics of neoliberalism, embedded in a common sense that
has enrolled whole populations materially and imaginatively into a financialised and
marketised view of the world, are implemented when they serve those interests and
are blithely ignored when they do not (the bail-out of the banks being only the most
recent and egregious example). Likewise its attacks on the state and on notions of
the public are propelled not just out of a belief in an economic theory but from the
hope that they will lead to the reopening of areas for potential profit-making through
commodification. This drive to expand the sphere of accumulation has been crucial
to the restoration of the old powers.
Origins and explanations
Neoliberalism has its origins in eighteenth-century liberal political theory and
political economy, from where it derives its touchstones. It has been revamped

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14
and reworked to be appropriate to these times and geographies, and it is multiple
in form in reflection of these expanded geographies. But its core propositions, of
the free possessive individual engaging with others through market transactions,
remain the touchstone. From the very beginning these propositions were the
product of class interests – in the UK in the eighteenth century, of the rising agrarian,
commercial, and later manufacturing, bourgeoisies. The attempt has always been to
present them as eternal truths – concepts of markets and individuals being merely
descriptive of an ideal state of nature. That this was not so has been demonstrated
over centuries, as the ‘free market’ and the free-standing individual have had to be
actively produced and imposed. Whether through Acts of Enclosure, impositions
of ‘structural adjustment’, military interventions or attacks on public expenditure,
market societies are products of intervention (and often by states).
That market forces are imposed on some but not others has been true since the
colonial metropole’s ‘free-labour’ regimes were harnessed by the imperial system to
the ‘forced-labour’ of plantation slavery. This contradiction became more evident
when they collided in the slave revolts and the struggles over Abolition. Market
forces are never universally imposed. There is no such thing as a fully marketised
system. Capitalism relies on monopolies and ‘socialised’ risk, and on spheres that
exist outside the logic of its operations – including that of the reproduction of
people, and the natural world. Free wage-labour has always been augmented by
unfree forms of exploitation such as serfdom, slavery, bondage, indenture, peonage.
These mark the limits of ‘the market’s’ generalisability.
Indeed, much of what has gone on through globalisation over the last thirty
years resonates with events in late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century
England, when industrial and urbanised capitalism was first finding its form. The
expulsion from their land of millions in the global South recalls the enclosures
of the commons. The vast migrations to the ever-expanding cities are like the
migrations of earlier industrialisations (these within-nation migrations being just
as socially disruptive and potentially explosive as migrations between nations).
There is the creation of a vast new force of ‘free labourers’ with all the personal and
social wrenchings (as well as new freedoms) that that can entail, and the further
commodification of land and labour. International migration itself (in part a result of
all of these developments and their attendant geographically uneven ramifications)
represents the creation of a free global labour force – just as the age of the Swing

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After neoliberalism: analysing the present
rioters and of Peterloo saw the creation of a national labour market in Britain.
Meanwhile, looking as it were in the opposite direction, from the UK outwards,
while successive governments hang pathetically on to the coat-tails of a USA whose
economic hegemony is itself under challenge from China and the other BRIC
countries, the City of London – again building on its long assumption of supremacy,
but now thoroughly internationalised and one of the fountainheads of neoliberalism
– has found itself, at least for a while, a new imperial role.
Neoliberalism’s project, then, is a reassertion of capital’s historic imperative to
profit – through financialisation, globalisation and yet further commodification.
Causes and complexities
It is never easy to define what is cause and what is effect in conjunctures of this
kind. There are legitimate differences of view about the causal emphasis that should
be allotted to ideological, political and material factors, or the weight that should
be given to the conscious actions of social classes versus the dynamic attributes of
social structures. The picture is never simple. It is certainly true that class interests
have been active in imposing neoliberalism on the world, and now refuse to concede
the relative gains of the past three decades; and it is also the case that classes have
shared economic interests – both those that are particular to specific sectors (for
example, agriculture or manufacture), and those that are general – concerning the
maintenance of stability and a favourable climate in which to ‘do business’.
However, the shift in economic and social power over the decades since the
1970s was not driven by a single motor. The economic is critical; but it cannot
determine everything – even ‘in the last instance’, as Althusser famously argued.
Any given conjuncture represents, rather, the fusion ‘into a ruptural unity’ of an
ensemble of economic, social, political and ideological factors where ‘
dissimilar
currents … heterogeneous class interests … contrary political and social strivings’
fuse.
2
What has come together in the current neoliberal conjuncture includes
class
and other social interests, new institutional arrangements, the exercise of excessive
influence by private corporations over democratic processes, political developments
such as the recruitment of New Labour to the neoliberal consensus, the effects of
legitimising ideologies and a quasi-religious belief in the ‘hidden hand’, and the self-
propelling virtues of ‘the market’
.

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16
Classes are also formations with complex internal compositions that change
over historical time. Those among whom neoliberalism became the dominant
tendency now constitute a global class that includes – alongside older echelons
– the world’s leading industrialists and businesspeople, CEOs of the great
corporate firms, the new transnational, trans-ethnic speculators
, directors of large
financial institutions, hedge-fund operators, venture capitalists, as well as the
senior executives who manage the system and have a major stake
in its success.
We must add, too, the key but subaltern archipelago of consultants, marketing
experts, public relations people, lawyers, creative accountants and tax-avoidance
experts whose fortunes are tied to its success. No doubt the huge privileges and
immunities won by this formation explain why they seem so morally denuded,
impervious to any sense of a wider community or responsibility for their actions,
and completely lacking in any understanding of how ordinary people live.
Their resistance to reform has been obdurate, their greed brazen. They reward
themselves extravagantly, while insisting that ‘we are all in this together’, and
that their real purpose is ‘serving customers’ and ‘corporate responsibility’, not
protecting their own interests.
Of course, the term class interests does not imply that classes are monolithic,
that they appear on the political stage as unified actors, or are fully conscious
of their interests and pursue them rationally. There are important conflicts of
interest (for instance in the UK between, say, those of finance capital and those
of small businesses, northern manufacturing and small farmers). These real
contradictions may offer political opportunities. Furthermore, interests are
always open to conflicting ideological interpretations, and their redefinition can
have political effects.
Nor is economic class the only salient social division. Gender, racial, ethnic
and sexual divisions long predate the birth of capitalism, and still structure social
relations in distinctive ways. They have their own binary categories (male/female,
masculine/feminine, straight/gay, religious/secular, colonial/metropolitan, civilised/
barbarian), and they figure differently from class in the distribution of social and
symbolic goods (though they are articulated to class). They ‘manage’ their own
systems of reward and scarcity (paid/unpaid, legitimacy/illegitimacy, normal/
abnormal, saved/damned). They position the bodies of their subjects dif
ferently in
the Nature/Culture continuum. They ‘govern’ different moments of the life-cycle

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After neoliberalism: analysing the present
and attribute to people different subjective capacities (paternal/maternal, emotional/
cognitive, duty/pleasure).
These social divisions each have privileged sites of operation
(for example, home/
workplace, private/public) and distinct disciplinary regimes (patriarchal power,
property inheritance, unpaid domestic labour, control of sexuality, gendered and
racially-differentiated wage rates). They deploy different modes of oppression (religious
persecution, social and sexual discrimination, racialisation). They construct their own
hierarchies of ‘othering’ and belonging, via discrimination, stereotyping, prejudicial
speech, inferiorisation, marginalisation, abjection, projection, fantasying and
fetishisation. When these social divisions operate within a capitalist system, they are,
of course, profoundly shaped by it and articulated to it. But they retain their ‘relative
autonomy’. This requires us to rethink social relations from another perspective (for
instance reframing the exploitation of labour in production from the perspective of the
reproduction of social labour, which is heavily gendered). These divisions have been
reworked through the present settlement, sometimes being reinforced and sometimes
refashioned in ambiguous ways.
Thus, a general social and political heterogeneity is evident in the protest
movements against the austerity cuts. They have been spearheaded in Britain by
professional organisations as well as by the unions. New social movements like UK
Uncut, Feminist Fightback or Occupy are characterised by complex class, gender
and ethnic composition. The Green Party provides a bridge between environmental
movements and mainstream politics. Mobilising resistance thus requires alliances of
a sort which only a multi-focused political strategy can hope to construct.
Common sense, identity, and culture
Ideology plays a key role in disseminating, legitimising and re-invigorating a regime
of power, profit and privilege. Neoliberal ideas seem to have sedimented into the
western imaginary and become embedded in popular ‘common sense’. They set the
parameters – provide the ‘taken-for-granteds’ – of public discussion, media debate
and popular calculation.
Not all of this, though, is specific to the neoliberal settlement of r
ecent decades.
Even during the redistributivist welfare state, the basic tenets of free-market
capitalism were not fundamentally challenged. Redistribution transformed the lives

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18
of millions, but its project remained ameliorative. The very language of politics
revealed this: we ‘intervened’ (i.e. took conscious social action) into ‘markets’ (i.e.
the naturally pregiven state of affairs).
One key strand in neoliberalism’s ideological armoury is neoliberal economic
theory itself. So ‘naturalised’ have its nostrums become that policies can claim
to be implemented with popular consent, though they are manifestly partial and
limited. Opening public areas for potential profit-making is accepted because it
appears to be ‘just economic common sense’. The ethos of the ‘fr
ee market’ is taken
to licence an increasing disregard for moral standards, and even for the law itself.
Commercialisation has cultivated an ethos of corruption and evasiveness. Banks,
once beacons of probity, rig interest rates, mis-sell products, launder drug money,
flout international embargoes, hide away fortunes in safe havens. They settle their
‘misdemeanours’ for huge sums that hardly dent their balance sheets. Similarly,
when private firms that have been publicly contracted fail to meet tar
gets they are
allowed to continue. Graduates stacking supermarket shelves are told they don’t
need to be paid because they are ‘getting work experience’. Commercialisation
permeates everywhere, trumps everything. Once the imperatives of a ‘market
culture’ become entrenched, anything goes. Such is the power of the hegemonic
common sense.
But it is a common sense that has to be produced and maintained. The capture
of political influence by corporate wealth and power serves to maintain their hold
over the political process and state institutions (as in the phone-hacking/
News
International
scandals). Corporate ownership of dominant sectors of the media gives
capital sway over the means and strategies of representation: the retinue of CEOs,
public relations people and lobbyists who haunt the TV studios to reassure us that
‘things have been put in place to prevent it happening again’, have guaranteed
access, and function as the primary definers of reality. Contrary views have a more
fleeting visibility. A few intrepid journalists do an impressive job of unmasking,
but the media more generally seems to find itself thinking within the groove of
the prevailing neoliberal orthodoxies. Even where ‘balance’ is provided, this rarely
questions the prevailing terms of debate, and there is usually a reluctance to pursue
with any rigour the serious issues involved.
The ideology of competitive individualism has also been imposed via the
stigmatisation of the so-called ‘undeserving’ poor. ‘Welfare scroungers’, who cannot

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After neoliberalism: analysing the present
provide for themselves through their own efforts, are labelled morally deficient
– ‘idlers who prefer a lie-in to work’, ‘living on benefits as a “life-style” choice’.
Similarly, everyone – parents, students, clients, patients, taxpayers, citizens – is
expected to think of themselves as consumers of ‘products’ that will bring them
individual economic advantage, rather than as social beings satisfying a human
need, producing something of use, or participating in an experience of learning from
which others as well as themselves may benefit. In these ways, neoliberalism has
been engaged in constructing new entrepreneurial identities and re-engineering the
bourgeois subject.
Looking at the broader cultural picture, we detect similar tendencies: in
consumer and celebrity cultures, the drive for instant gratification, the fantasies of
success, the fetishisation of technology, the triumph of ‘life-style’ over substance, the
endless refashioning of the ‘self’, the commercialisation of ‘identity’ and the utopias
of self-sufficiency.
These ‘soft’ forms of power are as effective in changing social
attitudes as are ‘hard’ forms of power such as legislation to restrict strikes.
It is the reassertion of the powers of capital that has produced the neoliberal
world as we know it today, as its agents have taken command of the new circuits of
global capital. The widening of inequalities is the main launch-pad of this restoration
bid. And this has put into question the long-promised transfer of income, power and
responsibility from rich to poor, men to women, centre to margin. Countervailing
values – equality, democracy and citizenship – have been circumvented, and
dissenting social forces fragmented and dispersed. The reinvigorated finance sector
has been articulated with a new imperialism. These ‘victories’ ar
e flaunted in brash
material form – each new high-rise a middle finger raised.
The future of the crisis
This phase of free-market capitalism has now entered a serious economic crisis
from which it cannot easily engineer an exit. But the shape of the crisis remains
‘economic’. There are so far no major political fractures, no unsettlings of
ideological hegemony, no ruptures in popular discourse. The disastrous effects
of the crisis are clearly evident; but there is little understanding of how everyday
troubles connect to wider structures. There is no serious crisis of ideas. Indeed
the crisis has been exploited as a further opportunity to reinforce the very

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neoliberal narrative that has led to the system’s implosion, and to push its project
even further. Neoliberals dogmatically insist that it was the ‘restraints’ on, not
the excesses of, the market that bear the responsibility for its manifest failure.
Extensive work, backed by daunting resources, has gone into securing consent
to this version of events. There are forensically targeted attacks on groups like
Occupy London
,
the very unpretentiousness of whose tents, huddled between the
monumental edifices of Mammon and God, gave it symbolic power. Its questions
resonated. It had to go.
And yet, there is no hegemonic closure – hegemonies, even the neoliberal one,
are never totally secure. Materially, the cuts bite deep and hard, and there are more
to come. There is growing distress, discontent, de-politicisation, scepticism and
loss of confidence in the political class. The distress is palpable. But people feel
puzzled about where to go next. Polls suggest that the drive for privatisation has
not won the day: but are egalitarianism and social collectivism still alive and well?
There is a sense that something is wrong with a system which distributes wealth in
a 1%
– 99% way. Politicians feel obliged to reassure the public daily that the cuts
are ‘fair’. There are other such resonances in popular consciousness. But who is
nurturing them?
Farther afield, in Europe, there is popular dissent, opposition to austerity
strategies and support for ‘growth-and-jobs’ alternatives. There is the democratic
awakening of the ‘Arab Spring’ and, in Latin America, explicit challenges to
neoliberal hegemony. Hegemonies are never completed projects: they are always
in contention. There are always cracks and contradictions – and therefore
opportunities.
However, in the UK, Labour, the official opposition, is in serious difficulties. It
leads in the polls but it is not yet winning hearts and minds. It shuttles between
conflicting ways forward. It seems afraid of its own (left) shadow, in hock to
the old Blairite rump and a belief in the conservatism of the electorate, trapped
in parliamentary rituals, mesmerised by electoral politics. It has been rendered
speechless by the charge that it opened the door through which the Coalition is
triumphantly marching. It seems unable to draw a clear line in the sand: a political
frontier. It makes effective tactical interventions but appears tongue-tied when
invited to enunciate an alternative set of principles, to outline a strategic political
approach or to sketch out a compelling alternative vision.

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After neoliberalism: analysing the present
A ‘manifesto’ by instalments
Our purpose is to set out an agenda of ideas for a progressive political project which
transcends the limitations of conventional thinking as to what it is ‘reasonable’ to
propose or do. We will try to open a debate which goes beyond matters of electoral
feasibility, or of what ‘the markets’ will tolerate. Electoral change
is
urgent, critical
and necessary: but it will not change much if it means a continuation of the existing
assumptions under a different name. As to practicality – ‘what works affects lives’
– yes, but there must be a fundamental break with the pragmatic calculations
which disfigure current political thinking. It is the maps, not the facts, which have
disintegrated. The neoliberal order itself needs to be called into question, and radical
alternatives to its foundational assumptions put forward for discussion. Our analysis
suggests that this is a moment for changing the terms of debate, reformulating
positions, taking the longer view, making a leap.
For us, this is not a question of restoring the tried remedies of the post-war
welfare-state settlement. Of course, that would not be an altogether bad place to
start. But that compromise, for all its attempt to achieve a different balance of values
and power from that dictated by markets, nevertheless accepted that the market
sectors should still be left essentially free to generate profits, while a public system
managed by elected governments would merely be allowed to redistribute some
of the ensuing resources, and provide for some social needs which markets would
otherwise neglect. (And by the 1970s, as the left itself argued, some of the other
flaws of the welfare settlement, for example the state’s frequent paternalism and
lack of responsiveness, were contributing to the ebbing away of support.) The rise
and crisis of neoliberalism should have taught us that that historical solution was
not radical enough. In any case the political conditions of existence of the previous
social democratic settlement are no longer operative. Debating how and why the
terms of reference have changed is certainly worth doing. But such debate will
only be fruitful if new transitional demands, framed in the light of the analysis of
contemporary global realities, point us further ahead.
This is a slightly edited version of our
After Neoliberalism: the Kilburn Manifesto
.
The ‘manifesto’ will be developed in monthly instalments, freely available online at www.
lwbooks.co.uk/journals/soundings/manifesto.html. We hope to engage in this project not

Soundings
22
only friends and colleagues who have been closely associated with
Soundings
, but also
a much broader public. We invite comments and reflections on this whole idea and its
formulation. For more information (including on why Kilburn!), please go to the website.
Notes
1. Regular
Soundings
readers will recognise that this is a case we have been
developing for some time. For more background to these arguments see our
online book
The neoliberal crisis
: www.lwbooks.co.uk/ebooks/The_Neoliberal_
crisis.pdf.
2. Louis Althusser,
For Marx
, Verso 1969, Part 3, ‘Contradiction and
Overdetermination’, p99