Book Review: A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey

Neoliberalism is the intensification of the influence and dominance of capital; it seeks to transfer power in the workplace from the forces of labour to the holders of capital, trying to strengthen, and restore the power of economic elites. As David Harvey notes: neoliberalism and the neoliberal state have been able to reverse the various political and economic gains made under welfare state policies and institutions. Progressively, the neoliberal regimes will erode institutions of political democracy since “the freedom of the masses would be restricted in favour of the freedom of the few“. Nicos Poulantzas believed that neoliberals do not support the return to laissez-faire capitalism, since the state continues to play a major role in the reproduction of capital. What they want to achieve is the collapse of welfare state which was the most important people’s victory in the 20th century.

The first historical instance of this “revolution from above“, according to Harvey, is Pinochet’s Chile. The infamous general overthrew Salvador Allende’s socialist Chilean government in a coup d’état in 1973 with CIA involvement and US government officials’ support. As Henry Kissinger remarked: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” The coup was followed by a massive neoliberalism of the state. Chilean economy was deregulated and privatized including the breakdown of state-controlled pension systems, state industries, and state banks. Even though Inflation was reduced and GDP growth spiked, massive inequalities emerged.

Noam Chomsky supports that the crucial principle of neoliberalism is the undermining mechanisms of social solidarity, mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy. As aforementioned, in the 1970s, welfare state, an achievement of the working class in the post war world, was becoming the target of economic elites, who were trying to re-establish the conditions of capital accumulation and to restore their power. According to Harvey, this revolution from above required a change in the political culture and social landscape that would spawn a widespread support for the new political project. Individual rights, property rights, a culture of individualism and consumerism arose first in Thatcher’s UK. Thatcher success in the, as Harvey notes “construction of consent“, turned her aphorism “there is no society, only individuals” into a reality.

His book is one of the best efforts for unmasking the rhetoric of neoliberalism and trying to spawn criticism against this barbarism. Harvey hopes that social movements will form a “broad-based oppositional program” that would gain political support and move society toward a social and economic change.

Book Review: Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian

Let’s mention some facts:

In 1598 Juan de Onate and his troops killed over eight hundred Acoma in what is now New Mexico. By 1630 the Puritan settlers were launching attacks against the Pequot tribe in 1637, massacring six to seven hundred men, women and children. For two hundred years, merciless wars frequently broke out throughout North America. In 1832 one hundred and fifty Sauk and Meskwaki (Fox tribe) in Wisconsin were killed. In 1863 there was the Bear River massacre where two hundred and fifty Shoshoni were killed. In 1864 there was the Sand Creek massacre and in 1890 the infamous Wounded Knee, where over two hundred Lakota were slaughtered.

Michael Parenti, in his book Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies, describes the sobering devastation: “Estimates of the native population of America prior to the European conquest vary from 12 million to 18 million… but after four centuries of warfare, massacre, disease and dispossession, the original population was reduced by over 90 percent…whole tribes were completely exterminated or whittled down to scattered numbers.”

Why did this unmatched and largely unrecognized holocaust happen? Thomas King is clear: “Native history in North America as writ has never really been about Native people. It’s about Whites and their needs and desires… the Lakota didn’t want Europeans in the Black Hill, but Whites wanted the gold that was there. The Cherokee didn’t want to move from Georgia to Oklahoma, but Whites wanted the land. The Cree of Quebec weren’t at all keen on vacating their homes to make way for the Great Whale project, but there’s excellent money in hydroelectric power”. Native people were in the way of what the Whites coveted, and so the Whites needed them to disappear. In other words, the native peoples were slaughtered with merciless deliberation so that their land might be taken for the use of Whites.

Colonialism and its consequences in the lives of North America’s native peoples is the core of this astonishing book. Policies, treaties, agreements, government’s decisions and tribal reactions comprise the rest. The Inconvenient Indian is a book we all must read.   

Book Review: William A. Pelz, A People’s History of Modern Europe

The People’s History of Modern Europe is a book that provides an alternative reading in European history focusing on the struggles of common people as well their conflict with those in power. “A People’s History of Modern Europe offers a concise, readable alternative to mainstream textbooks and surveys while suggesting a different understanding of the development and trajectory of European history. That
is, history is presented as moving through conflicts between contending groups rather than as the result of brilliant insights by upper-class rulers and thinkers” (p.viii).

In his introduction, William A. Peltz refers to a famous experiment conducted in 1999. Participants were shown a video presenting two teams of three persons each, one team in black and the other in white, as they moved around and passed basketballs to each other. The viewers were asked to count the number of passes made by the team dressed in white. During the video, a person in a gorilla suit walked across the screen pounding her chest for 5 seconds. In test after test, around 50 percent did not notice the gorilla. In fact, many participants insisted that there had been no gorilla even when told and shown the video a second time. For his purposes, Peltz argues that the common people are the “gorilla” that scholars and students often fail to see (p.x), one of the problems that the writer tries to address.

Another one is class bias (p.xi), “…most history has been written as if only kings, queens, generals and later big businessmen—in brief, the rich and powerful—are the only fit subjects for history” and sexist bias (p.xi), “…women [are] dismissed or trivialized in particular. This is not because there is any body of evidence to support the thesis that women are unimportant, but rather because it suits the ruling-class males who dominate the status quo”.

That’s what Pelz’s History is for, an easy to read history book that provides and insight on the great numbers of political revolutions that took place in Europe from the Middle Ages on-wards in an effort to intercept the expansion of capitalism and modern industrialism in what it turned the atrocious system that we live in today.

https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/P/bo23469121.html