Magazine article Monthly Review

Du Bois vs. Neoliberalism

Magazine article Monthly Review

Du Bois vs. Neoliberalism

Article excerpt

The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line--the relation of the darker races to the lighter races of men [and women] in Asia and in Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.

--W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks

What is today viewed as globalization is not in fact a new phenomenon as the writing of W. E. B. Du Bois attests. Dr. Du Bois understood the impacts of what today we call neoliberalism, its damages, its causes, the interests it serves, and the way it divides the working class and undercuts the progressive movements with horrible consequences at home and abroad. These remain our themes today, though we would add "and women" in brackets where Dr. Du Bois wrote only "men," and we would include ethnicity and religion as part of the discussion of the color line.

The color line is present today in the racial profiling of African-American motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike. It is present in the treatment of Los Alamos National Laboratory's Wen Ho Lee, falsely, outrageously, and dishonestly prosecuted for allegedly selling nuclear secrets to China. These charges were found to be false only after humiliating Dr. Lee and treating him most abominably. We have racial profiling in the jailing of Pastor Rabih Haddad, assistant imam and well-known ecumenical leader in the Detroit area, who is today being held in solitary confinement, in a six-by-nine-foot cell, with a camera constantly on him, and is allowed only one fifteen-minute call to his family every thirty days. We know about him because the ACLU and Congressman John Conyers have taken up his case. They are now suing to force Attorney General Ashcroft to open dosed hearings that bar his family as well as the press. His crime is to be co-founder of the Global Relief Foundation, which without any evidence is listed as a terrorist organization. We do not know the names of thousands and thousands of other Muslims and Arabs who have been jailed for no greater offense than seeming suspicious to agents of the state. The consequences of racist policies at home and around the world set the terms of capitalist control and make neoliberal austerity against the working class easier to impose by playing on racial fears and divisions.


Neoliberalism is an accumulation strategy, a specific growth model that comes complete with its extra-economic preconditions. It is a return to the liberalism of the free market that was the reigning orthodoxy until the Great Depression, when the ideas of John Maynard Keynes and the policies of the welfare state were accepted by a weakened capitalist class to save the system from its then obvious failings and serf-destructive tendencies. Keynesianism, and the domestic agendas that accompanied it, were partly a reflection of the strength of the working class after the defeat of fascism. They reflected, as weft, the capitalist's need for collaborative class relations in the immediate post-Second World War period, during which many of the leading capitalist states were struggling to recover from wartime devastation.

Globalization has undermined the strength of nation-based social formations, as permeable borders have been encouraged by transnational capital and international finance has set about reorganizing the world economy. Mobile capital is now able to minimize the taxes it pays everywhere, bringing on fiscal crisis for individual states. It uses its leverage to impose general austerity, cut public services to finance tax cuts to the rich, and demand privatization--which involves selling state assets to transnational capital, and contracting with for-profit companies for services once provided by the state. As a result, services are reduced, as are the wages and benefits paid to the workers involved. At the global level, debtor nations are required to repay foreign banks for loans made to local elites. Other aspects of neoliberalism include: the World Trade Organization (WTO) forcing open the markets of developing countries for transnationals while allowing the rich countries to create barriers excluding agricultural and labor-intensive manufactured goods where the poorer countries have the comparative advantage; and the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) insistence on financial liberalization which has resulted in financial crises in most countries of the third world. …

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