Is Neoliberalism Finally Running out of Tricks?

Neoliberalism, the privatization and commoditization of everything that moves, has experienced a great run over the past three decades, jump-started in the 1980s by PM Thatcher and President Reagan, christened in 1951 by Milton Friedman.

Decidedly, “austerity of governmental social programs” is the kissing cousin to “privatization of public assets” as part and parcel of neoliberal principles; for example, Troika (European Central Bank, European Commission, and International Monetary Fund) and austerity “the dismantling and privatization of public health and education systems” (Pablo Iglesias).

Throughout Europe, Troika’s influence, or “neoliberalism on steroids,” has been hand-feeding kernels of dissent to popular uprisings. The imposition of draconian austerity measures inflicted upon Greece and the Mediterranean nation-states is rapidly, very rapidly, nursing a badly bruised European Left back to robust health.

It’s not only Greece where the Left resonates. Thanks to neoliberal dictates amongst the European financial ruling elite, the Left has become fashionably acceptable to everybody in the street, off the street, and across the street. And of even more significance, on a practical basis amongst the aggrieved, the Left appeals more so than ever in recent history, and therein exist a source of strength the Left has sorely missed for decades. “On a practical basis” is meaningful to lots and lots and lots of people whenever social welfare cuts serve to undercut meager livelihoods.

By now, the whole world knows the Greece story, kind of, meaning that Greece has been seized by leftists, but putting that into a proper context not readily recognized, nor reported, by the international financial press, the Left is increasingly embraced by the 99%. Finally, the 99% has a home!

Not only that, but with neoliberal policy in Greece stripped of its thick veneer of austere outerwear, it’s more than ever exposed in-the-raw all across the continent:

The indisputable failure of austerity policies in Spain has helped trigger a regime crisis, which has opened – for how long, we don’t know – an unprecedented set of political opportunities.1

Pablo Iglesias, age 36, a former political science instructor, leads Spain’s left wing anti-austerity Podemos party. He’s “the guy with the pony tail” on television with huge political impact.

The ‘People of the Television’—el pueblo de la television, or the TV nation, so to speak— didn’t know about a new political party called Podemos, but they knew about the guy with the pony tail.2

The latest polls show Podemos in a virtual tie with the governing People’s party. A general election is due in Spain by year end. Maybe, Podemos inserts the dagger yet deeper into the heart of neoliberalism.

Now that Troika has hindered Europe’s southern ailing nation-states’ dignity of servicing their constituents because of deep cuts in social programs, the Left is filling a vast socio-politico-economics sinkhole:

The emergency policies to ‘save the euro’ imposed — and soon normalized — by the German-led block have had disastrous effects in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain, where millions have lost their jobs, tens of thousands have been evicted from their homes and the dismantling and privatization of public health and education systems has sharply accelerated, as the debt burden was shifted from banks to citizens.3

Frankly, nothing more needs to be said about reinvigorating the Left beyond that paragraph, explaining the groundswell whereby Europe turns left, defiantly rebuffing rightward digressions into a deepening pit of stringency. Greece has already added an exclamation point. After all, people can only be pushed so far into the gutter before they have nothing more to lose. That’s when they fight.

As for Podemos’ fight against Spain’s entrenched dynasties:

The unceasing offensive against Podemos, conducted with a virulence unprecedented for Spain, reveals the extent to which we are seen as a real threat to the dynastic parties’ system.4

But it’s not just the south of Europe. Nowadays, the soft underbelly of neoliberalism is exposed all across the continent.  For example:

Germany: Violence Flares at Anti-Austerity Protest Against New ECB Headquarters… The main reason for the protest is that the ECB is in the troika and the troika is responsible for the austerity policies that have pushed so many into poverty.5

Protestors were bussed in from all across Europe.

And, in the UK:

Between 70,000 and 150,00 estimated to have marched in central London with demonstrations in Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol” protesting government plans for five more years of austerity… denounced public sector cuts, the treatment of the disabled and the vulnerable through welfare cuts, and the privatization of the NHS.6

And, there’s more, including shades of the French Revolution’s reversion to the guillotine in the late 18th century, “The anarchist group Class War marched with a banner that read: ‘We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live’.”

And more, as thousands protested in a show of anti-austerity solidarity in Athens, Brussels, Amsterdam and other European cities all across the continent on the eve of an emergency summit regarding Greece. “Demonstrators said the financial sector should take responsibility for the damage it caused.”7

The Troika may be on the verge of riding General Custer’s horse into battle. Forces beyond the Parthenon are mounting. For example:

The people of Greece have now voted twice to reject austerity. This will inspire millions across Europe that we can do the same. We vow to create a movement so big it stops any austerity in its tracks.8

Is neoliberalism at its “last stand”?

  1. Pablo Iglesias, “Understanding Podemos”, New Left Review, May/June 2015. []
  2. Ibid-1 []
  3. Ibid-2 []
  4. Ibid-3 []
  5. Euronews, March 18th, 2015 []
  6. “Anti-Austerity Protests: Tens of Thousands Rally Across UK,” The Guardian, June 20, 2015 []
  7. “Anti-Austerity Protests Grip Europe Ahead of Key Summit”, Voice of America, June 21, 2015. []
  8. Yannis Behrakis, “Anti-Austerity Protestors Plan ‘Oxi to Osborne’ Protests, Oppose Tory Budget”, Reuters, July 7, 2015. []
Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.