Opinion

    The End of Neoliberal Hegemony

    by | Feb 11, 2013
    Bakar Berekashvili

    Bakar Berekashvili is a lecturer at Georgian-American University in Tbilisi.

    The new ruling political class needs to make more effort to emancipate their minds from market oriented stereotypes, writes Bakar Berekashvili.

    20 years of post-communist transition cultivated and produced lots of troubles, dramas and traumas in many post-communist societies. Politics, culture and economy was shaped with new paradigms, old regimes collapsed and new regimes and new elites emerged on refreshed ideological strata and thus new values and approaches arrived in the socio-cultural, political and economic space. The main trouble with post-communist transition was that there were almost no discussions in society and in deliberative space on essence of new values that were supposed to be substitutive for old values and if such values were progressive compared to those of the past.

    There are several cultural, political and economic ideas that are considered purely in a dogmatic way in post-communist reality and sort of existing taboos around those ideas make apocalyptic reality in intellectual life of some post-communist societies. The ideas which operate in economy, culture/society and politics are represented as hegemonic without allowing different critical interpretations. For example the ideas of free market economy, rugged individualism and the inevitable necessity of liberal discourse are understood as holy ideals and critique around these principles is deeply stigmatized.

    However, in so-called western intellectual life, this is even very popular and actually rational discourse, to criticize exactly the ideas of free market economy, that creates strong basis for social Darwinism. Also the hegemony of liberal discourse is widely criticized by various groups of intellectuals. Let us simply observe left intellectual life in West and some key figures there and one may simply conclude that European left intellectuals are even not moderate but radical in comprehensive critique of liberal discourses (for example French Marxist structuralists).

    So, what happened with post-communist reality where the west is so much glorified? Why is liberal discourse hegemonic, while pluralism is encouraged? The answer for this question is that liberal ideology was introduced and realized by elites. Politics was organized from above and not from below.

    Democracy was a word and a process or phenomena that was missed in the Soviet Union and that consequently became the main idea in post-communist countries. There was a freedom with democracy, which took an important place on the political agenda, but the degeneration of post-communist transition was that there was only unconscious thoughts about the need for freedom and democracy without raising two simple questions: What kind of freedom? Which democracy?

    Polish sociologist Adam Przeworski, while analyzing the changing political regimes in the 1990s, raised the question not only about how new democracies may survive, but also what kind of economic results were going to produce new changes and new paradigms in politics and economy. And Przeworski was absolutely right when he was interested in the economic results, because at the end we saw that economic processes in Eastern Europe attacked the idea of democracy.

    How did this happen? There were two dimensions to how economy was linked with the crisis of democracy, both dimensions are divided into two classes: upper and lower. Upper class (new capitalists, industrialists and so on) rapidly aggregated the new economic logic of the post-communist reality and linked free market economy with democracy, so as Chomsky notes while criticizing neoliberal elites “the enemy of the market is the enemy of democracy”. This logic was dominant in the upper class, and such an approach was also legitimized for years and intellectualized by the neoliberal political and expert community. The second dimension of interrelation between economy and democracy is originated from the lower class, who see democracy as a situation where social justice, equality and solidarity takes on an important role in public life. To simply summarize, the upper class became propagandists of liberal democracy while the lower class became sympathetic to social democracy or let’s say with left discourses. The upper class realized their ideological functions, while the voice of the lower class remained unheard.

    The tragedy of the post-communist reality is that the Soviet system was replaced with so-called jungle capitalism, where the phenomena of looser and winner took main place in the minds of people and where the liberal economy became the only game in town. Georgia is the best example of how the hegemony of radical liberal discourse in economic life cultivated a high level of injustice and inequality in society. Georgia started the transformation to a capitalist system after the end of the USSR, but the so-called Rose Revolution of 2003 was a triumphal milestone for the neoliberalization of Georgia.

    It is, by the way, hard to call it a revolution, because it was fundamentally opposed to the basic essence of revolution. The Rose Revolution did not cultivate any fundamental changes in the political, economic and socio-cultural area, but on the contrary further strengthened, encouraged and developed the politics once initiated by Eduard Shevardnadze in the early 1990s, and this was a form of politics dedicated to a harsh process of privatization, atomization of society and monopolization of the political space with manipulative liberal discourses. So, after 2003, the country started another phase of neoliberalization or neoliberal proselytism.

    From 2003 to 2012, the political regime in Georgia may be assessed as post-communist neoliberal autocracy. Georgia became an oasis of neoliberal experiments and neoliberal logic of apathy and cynicism transformed from the economic sphere into the socio-cultural sphere, where social Darwinism and the existence of a deep divide between the rich and the poor was legitimized by referring to the inescapable destiny of the human race, while equality and social justice was understood as anachronistic and utopian discourses without any real perspectives.

    During this neoliberal hegemony, Georgia became poor country with a typical class society where people lived in separate realities. The reality of the poor class had nothing to do with the reality of the rich one, and there was a neoliberal government which advocated and protected the interests of the upper class and thus oppressed the lower one.

    The economic inequality and social injustice was also accompanied by a strengthening of the state’s repressive apparatus in Georgia, and Saakashvili actually repeated the game of Pinochet, attacked critical opinions, and opponents of his politics were declared enemies of the people. He played the game of all the dictators who always love to realize the idea of the icon of the enemy, in order to legitimize an oppressive order and thus promote escapism for society. And the results of Saakashvili’s post-communist neoliberal autocracy were: a poor country with few rich families, high rate of unemployment, social depression, alienation, atomized society, war, repression, manipulation, apathy and a hopeless landscape.

    But suddenly on 1. of October last year, everything changed and parliamentary elections brought a new political reality and thus new political forces in power. The Ivanishvili-led political coalition celebrated a fascinating victory and thus ended 9 years of neoliberal experiments. But the fundamental question which arises in our minds here is the following: Did people vote for a new political force or did they vote against neoliberal autocracy?

    I think the citizens of Georgia voted against neoliberal autocracy and its radical reflections, which are social Darwinism, rugged individualism and segmented society, social injustice and economic inequality, and therefore, by taking this into consideration, they voted for a new political coalition with the hope that the neoliberal agenda and neoliberal theories of social and political organization of our life will finally end.

    The regime change in Georgia after the parliamentary elections has a sort of revolutionary character, as a new political reality, and Ivanishvili himself attempts to change the political agenda and the political language which has operated in the Georgian public sphere during the last 20 years.

    There are some signs in Georgian politics today of calls to end the neoliberal hegemony in Georgia: The decline of the neoliberal jungle type free market economy, humanization of society, promotion of the idea of welfare state, encouragement of discourses on equality and social justice, steps towards socio-economic emancipation and other efforts show that Georgia is one of the first countries in the former USSR has that rejected the politics of manipulation, neoliberal games and hegemony of liberal discourse in economic life. And this is not even new political elites, but rather the people of Georgia, who realized the legacy of 20 years of experience and destroyed the regime of Saakashvili.

    Today, Georgia portrays a new history, a history of emancipation of oppressed people and a history of revival of freedom and dignity. The task of the new political power is to facilitate the collapse of Saakashvili’s neoliberal paradigms, and furthermore, that the new ruling political class needs to make more effort to emancipate their minds from market oriented stereotypes and thus to crystallize their minds with the introduction of new discourses and paradigms oriented at the formation of social justice, equality and solidarity in society. This must be the fundamental task of the new government, as this task was assigned to them by the Georgian people, who rejected the neoliberal autocratic regime in Georgia.

    And last but not at least, the Georgian people must realize that the right to make revolution is their fundamental right, and even they are not only eligible but actually obliged to revolt when authority becomes a monstrosity. This is what enlightenment taught us.

     

    Bakar Berekashvili, born in 1983, is a lecturer at Georgian-American University in Tbilisi. He has a Master’s degree in society and politics from Lancaster University, United Kingdom.


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    One Comment, Leave a comment

    1. Anuki Gelashvili

      1

      Dear Bakar Berekashvili,

      Sadly for you there are no known welfare states in history that have supported revolution, Chomsky, Russian oligarchs and the French structural Marxists from the 60s.

      The governments of the welfare states haves have since the Russian revolution fought very hard against any kind of revolutionary tendencies or utopian sentiments be it socialistic or fascist. The ideology of the builders of the welfare states is in essence towards pragmatism, dialogue, compromise, liberalism and market economy and great respect for parliamentarian political opponents. On every level of these societies there is liberalism. The last Swedish social democratic agenda was this year even proposed as a “business proposal to the Swedish people”. There is no talk of utopia, revolution, nationalisations or anti-business. It’s the opposite. More or less every proposal from left to the right is to strengthen the business climate and the competitiveness of the companies. Everyone understands the private companies huge importance.

      It is not only Georgia, Switzerland and Singapore that fight to be on the top of the lists of where it easy to do business or where the companies and business climate are best. This is part of the ordinary government business in all welfare states. For this reason Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark are almost always on the top of these lists. As you might have noticed the correlation between with the development of welfare states and business climate, market economy, women’s rights, and liberalism, education level is striking. For sure they now all have high taxes but they started with very low taxes for people and companies so that there could grow a middle class that could be taxed. By the way, the taxes for companies profit are among the lowest in Europe because they want the companies to prosper and invest.

      I can clearly see why all you, Beka Natsvlishvili and Irakli Kakabadze and the likes have hope for Ivanishvils Chorvila socialism since the only hope for socialism here is that a man that stole his billons from poor uneducated Russians should hand out money to all of the Georgians like he have done with his friends and relatives in Chorvila. Arguing for this and pretend to be intellectual is really a shame.

      To raise the tax in Georgia to the Scandinavian level at 60 % would mean annihilation of the poor since they almost cannot survive today. To have a tax that only is paid by the rich in Georgia would bring in almost no money at all since there are so very few as you all managed to have understand. Even if you took all of your favourite Ivanishvilis billions there would not be for more than a couple of years. Then what? Finding Oil? Or become so desperate poor that you agree to become a Russian client state? With low gas and oil prices of course.

      Without a boring, calm, compassionate, anti-utopian, liberal, progressive, pragmatic enlightened middle class there can absolutely exist no welfare state. So why don’t you just stop being silly and clearly explain how the there should be created a middle class in Georgia. Revolution, utopianism, confrontation and high taxes have no role to play at all.

      Or why don’t you tell me about a welfare state who has found any kind of inspiration from Chomsky. Chomsky is a bigger enemy of the enemy of the existing welfare states in the world than any kind of liberalism. The support for him and the politics he represents have luckily never been higher than these who support fascism.

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