Our starting point is the idea that the crisis of our times is the crisis of neoliberalism. We understand neoliberalism not as an ideology or a kind of economics, but as a social totality that has structured every aspect of life around the globe for the last 40 years.
Our fundamental goals are to understand the crisis of this system and to develop a politics adequate to our historical moment. To this end, we are exploring these themes:
The economics of the crisis
Beneath the most obvious forms of appearance taken by the crisis—the credit meltdown, the real estate collapse, the eurozone debt crisis—lies paralysis in the neoliberal engine of growth. The characteristic features of neoliberalism once sustained accumulation in the US, but have now brought it to a crashing halt: stagnant wages, the growth of finance, slowing productivity growth rates, and broad social inequality. The European crisis is structured by the same forces. While the economy seems to have settled into a pattern of stagnation, beneath the surface tumultuous forces are barely kept under control.
The dominant intellectual and political responses to the crisis
Existing responses to the crisis can be roughly divided in four: simply submitting to the “new normal” and trying to adapt to it; a futile attempt to restore neoliberalism to its pre-crisis state; blaming the government and alien social elements while demanding austerity and a further deepening of neoliberal forms; and blaming inequality and corporate power, demanding stimulus spending and redistribution of wealth. Then there’s directionless violence. We have tried to explain all these responses by grounding them in current social conditions. And we have argued that each of these responses is grossly inadequate to the needs of our moment.
Neoliberal subjectivity and its reshaping under crisis conditions
The experience of neoliberalism has given rise to a distinctive understanding of ethics, of the social, and of time. Despite (or because of) the forms of opposition encouraged by neoliberalism, both the social imaginary and the political possibilities available to us have been rigidly constrained. But at long last, the horizons of consciousness may be expanding.
The culture of neoliberalism
As a social totality, neoliberalism has shaped both the hegemonic forms of culture that flourished over the last 40 years, as well as the characteristic forms of dissent against them. We are seeking to explain the logic behind such diverse phenomena as popular music, architecture, shooting sprees, local agriculture, and the mounting experience of being overwhelmed by time.
Effects of the crisis on the global system
We have begun to map out the contours of the transnational neoliberal order (and its Fordist predecessor), as well as the forms of consciousness it has produced. And we have followed with increasing trepidation the prospective disintegration of the global system.
The urgency of developing a global left
Neoliberalism is a global system, so confining our action within individual nation-states will not only be self-defeating, it could have very dangerous unintended consequences. Against the contemporary preference for localism, which indulges a fantasy of escape from an inescapable system, we have argued that our movement must be global. We have discussed how the last great transformative labor movement implies the need to break through all the old assumptions and forms of practice today. And we have examined what may prove to be the foundational efforts of this new movement.
The dystopian possibilities before us
The left remains fragmented by its fixation on the different symptoms of neoliberalism rather than on attacking the disease. Discrete problems like global warming, declining living standards, the privatization of education, and foreign intervention cannot be solved within the framework established by neoliberalism. As a result, we face the very real possibility of ceding a once-in-decades opportunity to mobilize the massive popular discontent all over the world to the forces of reaction.
Pathways out of the crisis—and beyond capitalism?
Our ultimate aim is the formulation of a politics capable of overcoming capitalist modernity. Our work on this issue has barely begun, and it is profoundly complicated by the intuition that neoliberalism has liquidated the capacity to even imagine such a transcendence. But could the resolution of the crisis of neoliberalism lay the foundations for this project? This possibility makes analyzing tentative movements toward a new regime of capitalist accumulation—and figuring out how to turn them toward progressive ends—an urgent priority. Yet the kind of politics, and the vision of the future, that we ought to support has been a matter of considerable debate.