Reader’s Letter, February 2010

Dear Editors

I have been sent a copy of Turbulence with my latest issue of Red Pepper. I think it’s really great – so many interesting ideas and reports. I would like just to comment on two pieces, if I may. The first is the editorial. I agree very much with the argument here that ‘the neoliberal project relied a lot less on ideology than its critics tended to think’ and the explanation that follows of how we are disciplined by the neoliberal state – what Foucault called ‘governmentality’. But I am unable to reconcile this Foucauldian position with the later statement that neoliberalism is dead. Surely, all the governmental systems that the editorial mentions – the market, the school, etc – are continuing more or less the same as ever? If so, then what is called embedded neoliberalism is still very much alive. As Mark Twain might say, reports of neoliberalism’s death would appear to be grossly exaggerated.

The second piece I would like to mention is that by Massimo De Angelis. This piece is full of amazing insights but I would like to make a couple of points. First, he appears to use the term ‘distorted commons’ in two senses: one, a commons that is subjugated to a capitalist project (I would simply call this a capitalist commons); and two, a commons that is based on some form of social injustice, which seems to mean (from his example of enforced loss of livelihoods) a commons in which the majority oppresses the minority (I would call this an illiberal commons). I think it is important not to confuse these two senses. My second point is related to the first one. Because Massimo does not distinguish the second sense of distorted commons from the first one, he identifies only the problem of social injustice arising from capitalism and misses the problem of social injustice arising from illiberal forms of communism (or common-ism). I find that this kind of engineered absence or sleight of hand is quite common (!) in left-wing publications, though difficult to spot.

Peter Somerville

[Note: Links inserted by Turbulence for reference]

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