Neoliberalism, socialism and the parallax view

ibarzabalpic.jpgThe Subaltern Studies collective is going hot red. It seems also that its general outlook is taking a slightly ‘terrorist’ turn, perhaps under the spell of Slavoj Žižek’s latest book ‘Violence’. Of late three articles have prompted me into arranging an interview with J. Ibarzabal, a renown Basque pro-independence and socialist lawyer and economist. In the articles that I mentioned earlier, Kishore Budha in “The ‘other’ India and end of imagination” brings about the notion by Žižek of the Parallax View. He also tells us of Žižek’s classic Marxist argument (and critique of ideology) according to which “certain features, attitudes, and norms of life are no longer perceived as ideologically marked but appear as neutral, natural, commonsensical”. Such is the case in India where success of the market economy is perceived by wide sections of the newly urbanised youth as the only natural path of integration within the all-encompassing realms of global neo-liberal capitalism. In “Insights into illiberal democracy” Sohini Mookherjea informs us of how the state has become more organised in India in its attempts to curtail civil liberties, of how, more concretely Maoist and Naxalite — seemingly merciless — armed struggle or “onslaught has given the government an excuse to meddle with the fundamental rights of the citizens”. Finally, in “We need a million mutinies now”, Daiapayan Halder interviews Naxalite underground leader Varavara Rao. Plain and straightforward, he denounces that “the State has become the biggest terrorist”. He also informs us that in the summer of 2005 “the peace talks between the government and the Naxalites broke down and the ban against them was re-imposed”.

Somewhere else in this site I already pointed towards the possibility of “stereographic writing” (Kobena Mercer, 2000). This refers to how ideas and issues from one problematic (may) reverberate with others put forward in seemingly incommensurate contexts. This is what I attempted once in trying to apply Ranajit Guha’s models developed in “On some aspects of the historiography of colonial India” (1982) and “The prose of counterinsurgency” (1983) to the Basque case (Subaltern Nomadologies, Pamiela, 2005). This is also what comes to my mind when I read the three articles mentioned above. Too many similarities echoing across contexts! (struggles against neo-liberalism, political violence, state terrorism, failed peace processes, indiscriminate imprisonment of dissenters, torture, slackening of civil liberties, banning of political and social movements, closing down of newspapers…)

Yet, of course, I am also all too aware that the ‘stereographic’ appropriation of the conceptual apparatus provided by Gramsci via Guha’s approach to the subaltern offers no ready-made solution. No, there is no possible short-circuit, no apparent common denominator between the engagement with the struggles that constitute the main geopolitical Indian (or South-Asian) focus of the Subaltern Studies collective and the reading of political antagonisms and oppositional politics in the Basque case. Yes, as Žižek often puts it, the two contexts should be read as being irretrievably “out of sync”. Not even the same perspective and common language of subaltern theory could possibly enable us to translate one context into the other. Therefore, all I can ultimately do is to remain faithful to this split, to record it and clearly state that there is no point in beginning any discussion without displaying awareness of the main Parallax gaps that inform any engagement with subalternity in general and the struggles against neo-liberalism taking place globally from a particular European perspective.

According to Žižek, the parallax way / view is defined by the insurmountable / irreparable gap / split that takes place in the confrontation of two closely linked perspectives between which no neutral common ground is possible. The following quote could help grasping the structure of the parallax split informing my interventions in this site:

Every exclusive focus on the First World topics of late-capitalist alienation and commodification, of ecological crisis, of the new racisms and intolerances, and so on, cannot but appear cynical in the face of raw Third World poverty, hunger and violence; on the other hand, attempts to dismiss First World problems as trivial in comparison with “real” permanent Third World catastrophes are no less a fake – focussing on the “real problems” of the Third World is the ultimate form of escapism, of avoiding confrontation with the antagonisms of one’s own society.(The Parallax View, 2006, p. 129).

A (realtively short) while ago Dipesh Chakrabarty (Princeton, PUP, 2000) gave us strong hints and tips for “provincializing Europe” from a postcolonial perspective. He did not only reminded us, for instance, that the discipline of history must be constantly interrogated and is only one way among many of approaching the past. By attempting to provincialise history and democratise historiography, he also accounted for both the inadequacy yet indispensability of the European intellectual tradition. More recently, Žižek (The Universal Exception, Continuum, 2006) made “A leftist plea for ‘Eurocentrism'” and claimed that the European legacy could “open the way for a return of the political proper, that is, the reassertion of the dimension of antagonism that, far from denying universality, is consubstantial with it” (p.198).

I hope that the reader of this interview is also able to grasp this Parallax split: while many Eurocentric paradigms must be shaken from that sense of superiority that informs their intellectual practice there are clear instances, nevertheless, key intellectual players and political movements etc of the European tradition that cannot be entirely discarded. At stake here is an overall insistence on the irreparable character of the many splits we have to explore, but also, perhaps, an understanding that while I shift between two perspectives (South Asian-Basque; Global-Eurocentric) I also try to discern in each the echoes of its opposite. In this sense J. Ibarzabal’s ‘narrow’ focus ‘limited’ to “the constant construction of Basque socialism” also provides an insight into the totality of the liberation struggles that are taking place in today’s world constellation.

Q: Is there anything new in neo-liberalism?

J. Ibarzabal: Everything, or almost everything has been already said about neoliberalism. It is a social plague, a Black Death constantly undermining the standards of living of the working class. The political class has surrendered into a cult of the market, privatisations, regressive fiscal policies, the liberalisation of the labour market, a cult of wealth and capital accumulation. The degeneration of the European social democracy at present is a showcase of neo-liberalism’s overwhelming presence.

Q: How can neo-liberalism be contested?

political and economic sovereignty are basic requirements for promoting Basque socialism

J. Ibarzabal: Neoliberalism, as liberalism in its own time, is neither the outcome of a natural order of things nor a product of Western culture. It is rather the consequence of an economic doctrine, of a fiercely conservative and rightwing ideology now acting freely without opposition. There is only one possible way to confront neoliberalism: to build a strong political doctrine from the Left able to combat the monster. A renewed ideology inspired in the principles of Marxism. A new Marxism adapted to the new realities and particularities of the Left collectives and groups still existing in the world. This adaptation should take into account the philosophical elements of Marxism (humanising dialectical materialism and leaving historical determinism aside), the sociological aspects (the emancipation of the working class and class struggle remain basic, fundamental elements), the economic aspects (making economic determinism more flexible, placing more emphasis on class consciousness and underlining the importance of surplus value as a main instance of working class exploitation), and the political aspects (political freedom understood not as an end of a process but as something immanent to the process itself and the construction of socialism – to each according one’s own work- and communism – to each according to one’s own capacities and needs).

Q: What is the contribution of the Basque pro-independence left to this process?

J. Ibarzabal: In addition to taking part in the general outlining of this new Marxism, we must also bring to the fore the contribution throughout the history of the pro-independence movement to the construction of socialism. First of all, political and economic sovereignty are basic requirements for promoting Basque socialism. As a point of departure of the economic process it is necessary to shape a strong, efficient and honest public sector able to control the basic sectors of the economy (finances, transport, health, energy, environment). This requires placing special emphasis on the financial sector, the privatisation of which is a must both at the theoretical and practical level since the sole justification of the oligarchy and the high-business class is their thirst for pillage. The role of the market must also be taken into account. According to the principle of “inverted subsidiarity” the market must be subordinated to the interests of the community and must function only when it plays in favour of popular interests. The central planning of the economy must be all-encompassing for the public sector and should offer guidelines to the private sector. We are talking about a notion of central planning, therefore, which makes sustainable, social and ecological development possible in contrast to the irrational consumption promoted by capitalism. In addition, a fiscal policy must be established which is progressive and tackles fraud head on whilst it is also necessary to take account of the objective indicators that must be fully executed in regards of social welfare (universal wages, housing, control of unemployment rates, employment benefits, pensions).

Q: How does this approach to local politics fit at a global level?

J. Ibarzabal: First of all, international solidarity should be articulated around the demands of Third World countries and the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD). It should develop totally outside the existing international organisations (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation) which are at the service of hegemonic, imperialist and neocolonialist countries as well as multinationals. To put an example we have a good laboratory in the Basque country, the co-operatives where socialism (collective ownership of the means of production) is already a fact. This co-operative movement can serve as a guideline in order to give shape to Basque socialism. To sum up, maybe is time at the international level that the three main branches of Marxism (social-democracy, orthodox Marxism and Trotskyism- should unite forces with identit(ar)y socialism. As the avant-garde among the stateless nations in the struggle for national and social liberation, the Basque country could be a driving force in this movement of coordination. Finally, I would like to dedicate this interview to the many friends and comrades imprisoned recently following the collapse of the peace process, an example of commitment to, and unremitting work in favour of Basque socialism.

One thought on “Neoliberalism, socialism and the parallax view

  1. This is interesting because Ibarzabal’s ideas of central planning resemble a lot like India’s mixed economy. Now here is the interesting bit. Research clearly shows that economic liberalisation did not happen in the 90s but was initiated right at the beginning of the country’s birth. Each decade the controls were loosened and India’s balance of payments crisis in the 90s became the excuse to totally open the floodgates! Every year India’s financial managers struggle to reconcile the irreconcilable in the budget: stimulate economic growth and investment, alleviate endemic poverty, and feed a ravenous military appetite. The government must be seen to care about “aam aadmi,” the common man (who votes), while satisfying the needs of businessmen (who keep the economy humming). This is driven by parameters defined by international fiscal and political bodies.

    Indeed, the new budget is a pre-election bonanza for key constituencies: tax cuts for the middle class and perks for the country’s big corporations. There’s a little something for everyone, including a stunning $15bn in loan waivers for small farmers.

    For all the attention that India’s retail revolution, information technology prowess, and booming manufacturing sectors have garnered in recent years, agriculture, on which 70% of the population still directly depends, is in crisis. Growth in India’s agricultural sector declined from a lacklustre 3.8% to an even more anaemic 2.6% last year.

    For more see:

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