In “This Is Our Neoliberal Nightmare: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Why the Market and the Wealthy Win Every Time” (Alternet, June 8, 2016), Asin Shivani sees four ideologies in the modern world: classical liberalism, communism, fascism, and neoliberalism. He speaks of them in a form suggesting that none of them is good for the human person, with the possible exception of classical liberalism. Classical liberalism, he maintains, elevates the individual; in contrast to fascism, which elevates the state, and communism, which elevates the collectivity. The new ideology of neoliberalism, which emerged in the 1970s, “has been more successful than most past ideologies in redefining subjectivity, in making people alter their sense of themselves, their personhood, their identities, their hopes and expectations and dreams and idealizations,” in accordance with the demands of the market. He appears to dislike classical liberalism because it did not practice what it preached, for capitalism under the sway of liberal ideology in practice elevated the market and not the individual.
The difficulty with this characterization of modern ideologies is that it implies that ideologies necessarily have negative consequences for humanity. This negative view of ideology is made possible by not seeing the alternative ideology that has been forged by Third World popular movements during the last 100 years. These Third World ideologies and movements were conceived during the first half of the twentieth century with the intention of constructing an alternative to the capitalism of the modern West and the communism led by the Soviet Union, rejecting both as different forms of materialism that debased the human person. In their more radical formulations, the Third World movements were anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial, seeking to establish the independence, equality, and full sovereignty of all nations; and they sought to protect the social and economic rights of all persons. After the setback caused by the global neoliberal project, they reemerged in the 1990s, with greater maturity, incorporating insights that had emerged in the West, such as the principle of equality between men and women and the need to protect and sustain the natural environment. When they took control of governments, they proceeded to take fundamental measures in defense of the nation and the people. The lists of steps that they have taken is impressive: literacy programs; free education; free health clinics; and the subsidizing of food, housing, utilities and transportation. Being countries that were underdeveloped, a legacy of colonialism and neocolonialism, they took necessary steps to fund their programs: nationalization, agrarian reform, and alliances with “outlaw” nations, thus provoking the hostility of the global powers. Finding themselves in a situation in which they had to fight both the legacy of poverty and the wrath of the global powers, they persisted, and they never ceased in proclaiming to the world the need for a more just and democratic world-system.
The significance of this global movement from below cannot be denied in an historic moment in which the world-system is experiencing a profound systemic crisis, increasingly demonstrating its unsustainability. But the theory and practice of the Third World movement does not appear in the characterization of modern ideologies presented in the Shivani article. Does this represent a subtle form of Eurocentrism?
Equally problematic is the list of bad guys that Shivani presents, each of which is associated with communism or fascism, but not liberalism, classic or neo: Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao and Franco. In the first place, we should maintain a distinction between fascism, which is based on the identification and repression of scapegoats, exploiting the fears and confusions of the people, in alliance with the capitalist class; and communism, which at least began as something more noble. Secondly, the cases of Stalin and Mao should be treated with more care. Stalin qualifies as an evil dictator, but we should make an effort to understand and explain the fall of the project of Lenin and the rise of Stalinism. The Trotskyites have done excellent work in this regard (see Grant 1997), but they have made an historic, strategic error in rigidly applying the lessons of the Soviet Union to other lands and times. The case of China and Mao is complicated and exceptional. It is an oversimplification to suggest that Mao is a bad guy, as a piece in the construction of a pejorative role of ideology.
But where are the good guys? In this list of persons who emerged as leaders who forged ideologies, where are Ho, Nasser, Fidel, Nyerere, Allende, Chávez, Evo, Correa, Lula, Dilma, and Cristina? I suppose that overlooking Third World charismatic leaders comes with overlooking Third World popular movements.
If we do not see the Third World movements and leaders and the ideology that they formed, how can we hope to construct an ideology that responds to the conditions of our own nations, thus participating in the making of a more just and democratic world-system? The characterization of modern ideology presented by Shavani contributes to the cynicism and pessimism of the North, consistent with the realism or pragmatism that is an adjustment to neoliberalism, as Shavani observes. To overcome cynicism, we must learn to listen to the voices from below, emerging in the Third World, for they are voices that educate and inspire.
Grant, Ted. 1997. Rusia—De la revolución a la contrarrevolución: Un análisis marxista. Prólogo de Alan Woods. Traducción de Jordi Martorell. Madrid: Fundación Federico Engels. [Originally published in English as Russia: From Revolution to Counterrevolution].
Key words: ideology, neoliberalism, liberalism, communism, fascism, Third World popular movements, Shivani