In and Out of Crisis
The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives
Throughout the counter-globalization movement and into the era of the Bush Administration, I tried to wrap my head around a way to simply explain what is meant by the term “Neoliberalism”. I would say to classes, friends, and fellow activists that my take was that “Neoliberalism is characterized by privatization, deregulation of labor and trade and the commodification of more intimate and complex aspects of life than previous eras of capitalism had produced.” But then there was the hassle of explaining the “Neo” part, the confused definitions of “liberal” popularly used in the U.S.,the difference between its theory and its practice (often involving a much deeper and more integral role for government than my simple summary could capture). And then comes the “Great Recession”, also known as the financial crisis of 2007-2010, and everything changes.
It is no longer difficult to plainly see the contradictions of the Neoliberal policies of the last thirty years. Especially the role of the United States government in facilitating the maintenance and consolidation of industrial and financial power despite rhetoric of “deregulation and privatization.” The bail-out plan alone makes it hard to deny and easy to understand that the U.S. State is integral and necessary to the recovery and perpetuation of this global financial mess. Canadian political economists Leo Panitch, Sam Gindin, and Greg Albo explain this in wonderfully clear terms in their latest book In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives out last spring on PM Press/Spectre Imprint (the imprint is coordinated by Sasha Lilley of the wonderfully insightful podcast Against the Grain).
This short book compiles several essays, many of which were developed for or inspired by the work of the Socialist Project, an independent socialist network based in Ontario. It is easy to tell that all three authors are educators (they all teach at York University in Toronto) because of their methodical approach to communicating their ideas. Key passages from the book are broken down in the final chapter as “Ten Thesis on the Crisis” which reviews and simplifies the history and analysis presented in chapters like “Surveying the Crisis: Is Neoliberalism Over?”; “Crisis Management from Bush to Obama”; and “Labor’s Impasse and the Left” to name a few. It was written as an educational and organizing tool.
What makes this book stand out besides it’s post-crisis analysis of Neoliberalism is its belief in the renewal of the Left and its deep connection to actually existing social movements. So many Marxist historians and philosophers write as if there is no social movement worth engaging or if there is a shout-out to an organizing effort, it reads as if it was pulled from a hat. These authors have put time and energy through the years in supporting organized labor throughout North America, particularly with the Canadian Auto Workers Union where Gindin was research director. The book presents the clearest explanation of the “Defeat of Labor” which has occurred in recent decades, going beyond simplistic descriptions of deindustrialization to elaborate on the interconnectedness between off-shoring, automation, free-trade policies like NAFTA, stagnant wages, and the integration of workers into the financial sector through pensions and real-estate investments. The trio’s focus is not limited to an exclusively Union way forward, and they repeatedly call for the need to connect organized labor to other social movements to renew working class culture and politics as a step towards creating Left political alternatives to capitalism.
The short 129 pages of In and Out of the Crisis make it a useful tool that could be directed towards busy organizers and activists who literally don’t have the time to dig into anything else. And it’s clearly articulated descriptions of the crisis and possible ways forward make it the most generally useful book to come out of this economic crisis. I hope that it can get used to its fullest potential.