The Nasty Little Neoliberal Myth
LUSAKA, May 17 - Historically, those who stand to benefit the most from any exploitative, oppressive system have always sought to present such a system as natural, God-given, unchangeable, immutable, and permanent. They have sought to present such a social and economic system essentially as the end of history, as the best that humans can have.
Thus it was that our African Kings and Queens claimed to rule us, to govern, to have received the authority and mandate to govern, from some superior power outside human society, from God or gods, whichever may have been the form of religion practiced then.
When slavery reigned supreme, the rulers and rich people of the day happily participated in this evil system and preached that it was the natural order of things.
They saw nothing wrong in treating other human beings as animals and mere tools of production, in the same way that animals were regarded then.
During the slave days, it was a religious belief that slavery was a God-ordained form of society, that it was natural for the supposedly 'superior races' to enslave the so-called 'inferior races'.
Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe in one of his writings, for example, reminds us how a Pope, blessed a consignment of slaves that were given to him as a gift.
Colonialism was hailed as inevitable and natural, because one of its human missions was said to be to civilise and tame the savage residents in colonial lands.
A certain form of Christianity blasted and blazed a path into the innermost parts of Africa for colonial conquest, domination and exploitation.
Today, capitalism, neoliberal capitalism, is presented as a natural, logical, most democratic form of organising society. In so many ways, we are everywhere everyday bombarded with information, signals and hegemonic cultural practices that constantly burn into our minds the nasty myth that neoliberal capitalism is democratic, natural and some God-ordained order of things.
We are told there is no alternative to the current neoliberal ordering of society. Western liberal values, now mutated into neoliberalism, we are told, are the ones we must embrace, if we must qualify to be given the honorific label of being a democratic society.
African countries, for example, because in the past fifteen or so years have seen the dismantling of the one party state, and its replacement by multipartism and a supposedly liberal political practice, are becoming liberal democracies once more, apparently, just as they were immediately after attaining independence.
A liberal constitution with entrenched legal and political rights, multipartism, a free press, regular elections, an independent judiciary, a functioning parliament, an accountable executive, a constellation of watchdog bodies, an active civil society with a plethora of NGOs; all these and many more such entrapments are hailed as important aspects of today's modern neoliberal state.
Western liberalism itself is sweetly variously described as being open minded, tolerant, moderate, broadminded, freedom loving, interference abhorring and so on and so forth.
It is also said to be a human rights respecting system. At the heart of this system is respect for private property.
Essentially, liberalism is presented as the most desirable natural order of things, as a social, political, economic and cultural state of affairs all human societies must strive towards.
Liberalism, or now neoliberalism, is presented as freedom. All other possible alternative ways of ordering and organising society are systematically and ruthlessly demonised.
What is common, what thread neatly weaves an unbroken chain through feudalism, slavery, imperialism, colonialism, and neoliberalism? It is the fact that, despite the sweet sounding political philosophies and mind-numbing religious beliefs which lubricated these systems, they are all systems based on the exploitation of the majority of people by a tiny minority - kings and queens, slave owners, and capitalists.
In the neoliberal tradition, basic economic concepts such as competition, inflation, growth, interest rates, exchange rates, employment, and trade inso on are more important than the gender, race, class, societal and national violence, poverty, inequality, disadvantage, exploitation and mass alienation and exclusion upon which this neoliberal system thrives.
While condemning billions of human beings on Earth to live the cheap lives of labourers, as employees, as mere commodities who have to sell themselves to the highest bidder, neoliberalism preaches the hollow empty virtues of free choice and free trade. We all must know that this condition of existence is man made.
Neoliberal capitalist society, based as it is on the organisation of society for private profit, constantly throws society into violent crises.
What liberals and neoliberals do not readily talk about and explain to society is the fact that what nestles at the heart of the neoliberal system is the property relation of unequal exchange: the worker, the labourer, is always paid a tiny fraction of what their labour produces.
The capitalist greedily takes for himself a lion's share of this produce and what is known as surplus value of labour.
The workers, the labourers, are only employed because they produce more value than they themselves receive in wages.
The remainder of what workers produce, surplus value, is distributed as profits through competitive exchange, and in the competition to receive profits, capitalists enterprises have to be ever more efficient, and the commodities produced ever more cheaper than their rivals in the market place.
As efficiency of work increases, the least efficient firms become bankrupt, more and more people are unemployed, the supply of labour looking for work increases, wages fall, and there is more exploitation of workers, poverty, violence, disadvantage and inequality in society. Increasingly as many people come to be exploited in this way, they begin to recognise that they actually constitute a class, a group of people who occupy and perform a similar function under capitalism and providers of labour in the system.
You do not have to be a political scientist to recognise the other class - the class of exploiters - the capitalist class.
This tiny class commands, controls and owns the means by which society produces the things needed in life. The search for profits drives this class.
This class also commands, controls and owns the means by which society produces and reproduces itself. It controls education, knowledge and cultural production.
It always attempts to create and preserve society in its own image.
The dominant ideas in the books we read, the major themes (love and violence) in the music we buy, the most common themes (sex, violence, crime and private greed) in the movies we watch, the soulless spirituality (commercial religion) we consume from the capitalist religious markets and so on, and all these forms of capitalist culture produce a certain form of consciousness in us which tends to make us believe that there is no other possible, better, freer, and safer and genuinely democratic ways of organising society.
That there is a judiciary which is not accessible to the majority of the people, a parliament which has no real meaning to the masses, an executive that merely serves as a corrupt state management board of a tiny capitalist class is not what liberals and neoliberals want us to talk about.
They would rather preach a form of democracy which has no real relevance to the majority of people; save only during election times when their vote is bought.
It is time to shake off the more than five hundred years of imbibing false forms of liberal and neoliberal consciousness that we have here in Africa. Demonising and trashing other forms of political thought and practice, as an automatic response of alienated minds, will not do.
We must examine, and critically think about all the best theories and political practices humankind has ever produced, here in Africa and elsewhere, in order to craft the best path for ourselves.
Above all, we must always strive to unearth the real gender, race and class interests any idea or social, economic and political practice serves.
By Azwell Banda
The Post / allAfrica Global Media
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