Viewed retrospectively, the significance of the Reagan-Thatcher counter-revolutionary offensive of the 1980s has been seen primarily as a political project aimed at the overturning of the post-WW2 political and social settlement; an undertaking in which it has largely succeeded. However, perhaps of equal importance was the political assimilation of centre-left, liberal class, into this emerging neo-liberal, neo-conservative movement. I would argue that its unseemly kow-towing to the new right was a largely fortuitous development; moreover, not just in the US/UK but everywhere in Europe where the centre-left/social-democracy (CL/SD) simply crumbled in the face of this concerted political onslaught. The right could hardly believe its luck as the mainstream CL/SD proved to be such an ideological push-over.
One important advocate of this abject surrender, Tony Blair, with his creations, ’New’ Labour and the ‘Third Way’ were the epitome of late CL/SD; he was the Talleyrand to Mrs Thatcher’s Danton. The same political shift was evident in the US with the rise of Bill Clinton and his handiwork, namely NAFTA, the expansion both organizationally and geographically of NATO, the abolition of the Glass-Steagall Act, the bombing of Yugoslavia, the gutting of welfare, expansion of the drug war and institutionalized the federal death penalty. Blatantly regressive policies were carried out and justified in the name of triangulation and electability. The progressive era of the Democratic party, the party of the New Deal and FDR, was to all intents and purposes, over.
Thus, a new dominant and regressive political alignment arose consisting of an extreme, centrist ideological mish-mash which had its roots, mainly though not exclusively, in the liberal/professional/middle, classes (call them what you will) based in London and the Home Counties and in the East and West coasts of the USA. These social strata provided the crucial political and ideological infrastructure for underpinning the New World Order. These professional classes were,
…the people with the jobs that every parent would like their children to grow up and get. In addition to doctors, lawyers, the clergy, architects and engineers – the core of the professional groups – the category includes, economists, experts in international development, political scientists, financial planners, computer programmers, aerospace designers, and even people who write books like this one.”Listen Liberal – Thomas Frank
Blair of course, was an archetypal member of this group. Young Blair boarded at Fettes College, a prestigious independent school in Edinburgh, after which he spent a year in London, where he attempted to find fame as a rock music promoter before reading Jurisprudence at St John’s College, at the University of Oxford, and then on to a career in politics.
Like most others of his ilk, Blair’s view of politics was managerial and administrative. There was no notion of paradigm shifts, no vision, no intellectual depth, no history, no personal hinterland, no question of what is and what ought to be. Just an approval craving narcissist, and unprincipled opportunists and careerists let loose upon the world – with disastrous effects.
In strictly ideological terms the liberal worldview was based upon the rejection of class politics (including most importantly, class solidarity) a pseudo-meritocracy, and the elevation of identity politics. We had it from Blair that the class struggle was over – when it fact it was moving into a new phase – and that the genesis of the new liberal-capitalist order – globalization – was a force of nature that no rational person could or should oppose. Globalization was in fact neo-liberalism writ large, and the former piggy-backed into history on the latter. The process was described by the UK Marxist writer (unfortunately now deceased) Peter Gowan as follows:
Anglo American journalists and politicians, insist that globalization is a mighty beast which savages all who fail to respect its needs. They assure us that its gaze ‘blank and pitiless as the sun’ (W.B.Yeats) had turned upon the Soviet bloc, the European Social Model, the East Asian Development Model bringing them all to their knees. For these pundits, globalization, is the bearer of a new planetary order, a single market place, a risk society, a world beyond the security of states, an unstoppable quasi-natural of global transformation.” The Global Gamble
This emergent economic/political phenomenon was initially formulated and presaged by Francis Fukuyama with his Hegelian ‘End-Of-History’ thesis in his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992), in which he argued that the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free market capitalism of the West and its lifestyle may signal the end point of humanity’s sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government. Although he subsequently modified this view, the thesis was that liberal-capitalism represented a sort of telos, an end goal of human development. This notion became all the rage among influential circles in the US academia, the political establishment, the media and various DC think-tanks. Having been incubated in the US, the theory then, like toxic mortgage derivatives before, crossed the Atlantic to become de rigueur in European elite circles.
This hypothesis was, ironically enough, almost a right-wing caricature of the cruder Marxist versions of Historical Materialism: namely the notion of history being a class struggle which would eventuate in the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie and the ultimate establishment of the telos, a communist society. In this respect, it is interesting to note that the origins of neo-conservatism were to be found among a group of leftist intellectuals based in New York in the early 1960s, including Irving Kristol, Sydney Hook, Seymour Lipset, Irving Howe et al. who were at the time members of the Young Peoples’ Socialist League, and unabashed admirers of Leon Trotsky. Yet again, another familiar story of one totalitarian mindset moving with consummate ease to another. Neo-conservatism, the geopolitical flip side of neoliberalism, makes a quite unapologetic claim of being a ‘benign imperialism’ (can’t think of an oxymoron to match that one!) which of necessity meant a Unipolar word order based upon US dominance, possible, including of course regime change.
It is in this toxic pool of post-modernism, identity politics, neo-liberalism, and neo-conservatism that the liberal class and their 1% corporate masters swim. They represent the dregs of a terminal reactionary order and are at present having what can only be described as an apoplectic seizure to see their regime challenged.
How very different contemporary CL/SD is from its forebears of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and what a distance modern CL/SD has travelled since the social-democracy of the British Fabians, Eduard Bernstein, and Jean Jaures. Will the social-democratic tradition revive? Some think it will, given the ascent of Jeremy Corbyn backed by a large influx of new members and a revitalization of the Labour party. This excludes the PLP (of course) where Corbyn can only count on the loyalty of some 30 of 256 Labour MPs. In addition, already there is a back-tracking on the issues of Trident renewal and NATO membership, and Corbyn himself inexplicably surrendered his right to formulate EU policy within hours of his election as Labour’s leader, bowing to pressure from the Remain campaign. Not only would Corbyn not get his preferred policies – e.g. rail nationalisation – past the EU Commission, but in attempting to placate the PLP by advocating Remain in a possible rerun of the Referendum (which cannot be ruled out) such a move might well cost him dear if Labour supporters switch to the UKIP in Labour’s traditional northern heartlands which was where the Brexit Leave vote was strongest.
Personally, I think Labour, even under Corbyn, and even if it wins the 2020 election, will be forced into the usual compromised position by the US/EU power structures; a common pattern already established. But I might be wrong. A lot is going to happen in the next few years, and it is not going to be business as usual. So, who knows?