Authoritarianism, Class Warfare and the Advance of Neoliberal Austerity Policies
By Henry A. Giroux, Truth-Out Right-wing calls for austerity suggest more than a market-driven desire to punish the poor, working class and middle class by distributing wealth upwards to the 1%. They also point to a politics of disposability in which the social provisions, public spheres and institutions that nourish democratic values and social relations are being dismantled, including public and higher education. Neoliberal austerity policies embody an ideology that produces both zones of abandonment and forms of social and civil death while also infusing society with a culture of increasing hardship. It also makes clear that the weapons of class warfare do not reside only in oppressive modes of state terrorism such as the militarization of the police, but also in policies that inflict misery, immiseration and suffering on the vast majority of the population.
Capitalism has learned to create host organisms and in the current historical conjuncture one of those organisms is young people, who are forced to live under the burden of crushing debt. (1) Moreover in the midst of a widening inequality in wealth, income and power, workers, single mothers, youth, immigrants and poor people of color are being plunged into either low-paying jobs or a future without decent employment. (2) For the sick and elderly, it means choosing between food and medicine. Austerity now drives an exchange relationship in which the only value that matters is exchange value and for students that means paying increased tuition that generates profits for credit companies while allowing the state to lower taxes on the rich and mega corporations. (3)
Under this regime of widening inequality that imposes enormous constraints on the choices that people can make, austerity measures function as a set of hyper-punitive policies and practices that produce massive amounts of suffering, rob people of their dignity and then humiliate them by suggesting that they bear sole responsibility for their plight. This is more than the scandal of a perverted form of neoliberal rationality; it is the precondition for an emerging authoritarian state with its proliferating extremist ideologies and its growing militarization and criminalization of all aspects of everyday life and social behavior. (4) Richard D. Wolff has argued that “Austerity is yet another extreme burden imposed on the global economy by the capitalist crisis (in addition to the millions suffering unemployment, reduced global trade, etc.).” (5) He is certainly right, but it is more than a burden imposed on the 99%; it is the latest stage of market warfare, class consolidation and a ruthless grab for power waged on the part of the neoliberal, global, financial elite who are both heartless and indifferent to the mad violence and unchecked misery they impose on much of humanity.
The stories that now dominate the European and North American landscape are not about economic reform; instead, they embody what stands for common sense among market and religious fundamentalists in a number of mainstream political parties: shock-and-awe austerity measures; tax cuts that serve the rich and powerful, and destroy government programs that help the disadvantaged, elderly and sick; attacks on women’s reproductive rights; attempts to suppress voter ID laws and rig electoral college votes; full-fledged assaults on the environment; the militarization of everyday life; the destruction of public education, if not critical thought itself; and an ongoing attack on unions, social provisions, and the expansion of Medicaid and meaningful health care reform. These stories are endlessly repeated by the neoliberal and neoconservative walking dead who roam the planet sucking the blood and life out of everyone and everything they touch – from the millions killed in foreign wars to the millions at home forced into underemployment, foreclosure, poverty or prison. (8) Right-wing appeals to austerity provide the rationale for slash-and-burn policies intended to deprive government-financed social and educational programs of the funds needed to enable them to work, if not survive. This is particularly obvious in the United States, though it is even worse in countries such as Portugal, Ireland and Greece. Along with health care, public transportation, Medicare, food stamp programs for low-income children, and a host of other social protections, public goods and social provisions are being defunded or slashed as part of a larger scheme to dismantle and privatize all public services, goods and spheres. The passion for public values has given way to the ruthless quest for profits and the elevation of self-interests over the common good. The educational goal of expanding the capacity for critical thought and the outer limits of the imagination has given way to the instrumental desert of a mind-deadening audit culture. We cannot forget that the deficit arguments and austerity policies advocated in its name are a form of class warfare designed largely for the state to be able to redirect revenue in support of the commanding institutions of the corporate-military-industrial complex and away from funding higher education, health care, a jobs program, a social wage, workers’ pensions and other crucial public services. Of course, the larger goal is to maintain the ongoing consolidation of class power in the hands of the 1%. I also want to argue that austerity measures serve another purpose conducive to the interests of the financial elite. Such measures also produce ideologies, policies and practices that depoliticize large portions of the population, particularly those who are unemployed, cast out, homeless, tied to low-paying jobs, experiencing devastating poverty, suffering under the weight of strangulating debt and struggling just to survive. For example, in Greece, where austerity policies have aggressively been put into place, belt-tightening measures have left millions in misery while leaving the resources and lifestyles of the rich untouched. The unemployment rate in Greece hovers around 27 percent. “Suicides have shot up. Cars sit abandoned in the streets. People sift garbage looking for food [and] about 900,000 of the more than 1.3 million who are out of work have not had a paycheck in more than two years, experts say.” (9) Similar problems face the rest of Europe as well as the United States. Politically paralyzed under the ideological fog of a hyper-individualism that insists that all problems are the responsibility of the very individuals who are victimized by larger systemic and structural forces, it is difficult for individuals to embrace any understanding of the common good or social contract, or recognize that the private troubles that plague their lives are connected to larger social issues, and that nothing will change without the necessity of engaging in collective action with others to dismantle the neoliberal system of violence and cruelty. Continue Reading>>>