Susan George: Good Deal of Irony
In the second video interview for the launch of How to Win the Class War, Susan George says her new book will help readers understand how neoliberalism unexpectedly triumphed in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
Find part one of the interview here.
What could people learn from reading this book?
Susan George: "Well, I would think they would learn the difference between a neoliberal outlook on life and the economy, and what I call the Enlightenment Model.
"The Enlightenment occurred, as you know, at the late 17th and then throughout the 18th century. It was a push for freedom. It was an effort to express human needs in terms that were not dictated by any particular authority like the Church like the State. It was a movement towards democracy. It was a movement, which in France and the United States came to fruitions in the revolutions - which were bourgeois revolutions, yes, but it did liberate, it did emancipate people, and then gradually those emancipations were taken further and further forward with the abolition of slavery, with the vote for women, with a much different attitude towards immigration, with personal freedoms and collective freedoms. These are outlined in the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen in France and in the Bill of Rights in the United States and which I believe are important.
"There was a period where people who called themselves revolutionary said 'It did not matter that in the Soviet Union, there was no freedom of opinion or of expression'. I have never agreed with that. I have always believed that the ‘ideal society’ - which will never exist, but it should be something one should try to move towards - will be a combination of an economy which is managed in order to serve the needs of whatever society it happens to be, to serve those needs and serve the needs of everyone and not just a few people at the top, but combined with personal freedoms: Freedom of believe, of expression, of the press. Yes this is an ideal type. I do not believe this exists anywhere, but I believe this is the model towards which we should be moving.
This is not a crisis we are in. This is a chronic situation in which neoliberals have won.
"With a neoliberal system what happens is that one by one those freedoms and those things people fought for very hard including the freedom of workers to bargain collectively, to have decent working conditions, lower hours, higher pay, etc. , the equalisation of society's members, which did come to some kind of realisation in Europe, the United States; in Western capitalist societies in the 1960s and 1970s - I am not saying perfect, I am not saying we did not do horrible things in the West - I am just saying that in addition to being colonialist, and having the two greatest wars ever and killing millions of people and so on - we were not just that. Many, many people were struggling for greater freedoms and for a fairer, more just society.
"So this is the model, I would like to see perfected and I would like to see put in place. So of course my arguments in the book are all saying to the neoliberal commissioners: “Now this is what you must do, this is how you must dress up your arguments, this is the kind of propaganda you have to use, but this is what you are up against”. And then I outline the Enlightenment model on the other side, but I also tell them that - I do not tell them, the working group tells them - that they have already realised a great many victories because of what we can see after the crisis: the financial crisis, the ecological crisis and so on. Although, mostly the financial crisis which sets all of this off and in which we are still living after 6 years. So it is not a crisis.
"A crisis is a short period of decision and it goes either this way or that way. This is not a crisis we are in. This is a chronic situation in which neoliberals have won. And I think many people were astonished by this. Even I, and I am quite a realist, I think, thought, that after the failure of all these banks and these enormous bailouts and huge outpouring of people's money, your taxes and mine, to save the banks and to save this rotten system, you would think that either the banks would be socialized or that certain people would go to jail or there would be some kind of private-public partnership worked out, but not the total triumph of the banks with nobody in jail! Really a victory of huge proportions. So I try to explain to the Commissioners that they have had all of these victories. It is much better than it was. That is was unexpected and these were favorable outcomes for them.
"There is a good deal of irony in the book of course. I mean it would not be any fun to write such kind of things, but it is always tricky, because you see, I am not on the commissioners’ side except my working group is on the side of the commissioners, so they are writing for that audience and they also agree. I mean they all have been very well paid for this work and they are in complete agreement with the commissioners' aims. So the reader has to be a little bit attentive, too. It's to be taken as..., on the second degree, I mean, you don't take it as the gospel truth. In some ways it's more difficult but it's also more fun to write also. You can't just do facts, facts, facts your whole life, you know, occasionally a bit of recreation.
In the next editions Susan George will talk about: How it felt to be in the shoes of the commissioners (Part 3), What effect this book might have (Part 4).
In Part 1 she talked about the story behind her book.