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Do you speak neoliberalism?

Kilburn1The latest installment of the hugely ambitious After Neoliberalism Manifesto from the politics and culture journal Soundings has just been published.

Geographer Doreen Massey is the author. In her contribution she makes a key argument that has an increasing currency on the Outside Left, that to construct a radical politics a vital starting point is to find a new language. Newspapers, radio phone-ins and TV news programmes are full of the vocabulary of the necessity of austerity, the inevitability of a marketed version of globalisation, the monetisation of the public good. It is this more than anything else that creates an everyday commonsense of despair. ‘We are all customers now’ – the rubric of contemporary non-citizenship.

Contrast this with Marx’s wonderful observation many years ago: ‘All that is solid melts into air; all that is holy is profaned.’ Evocative and at the same time resistant. Doreen Massey cites the keywords that construct a popular understanding of today’s world and frame a debate which excludes this kind of critique, in the process ruling out of order the prospect for any kind of alternative.

Choice, growth, work, expenditure have all come to be defined in a particular way which then narrows the political options to only what the mainstream offer. She suggests that for any kind of Left revival we need to start by challenging these definitions, explore, illustrate and articulate different ways of understanding. And that such a politics is rooted in the shaping of a new commonsense.

Such an approach fundamentally challenges much of traditional Left practice, rooted as it is in its own jargon, a culture that is pre-existing and thus often unchanging, where the sharpness of the slogan will often miss out any opportunity to engage and attract. Mind your Language? Not bad for a watchword towards the next left.

  • The full version of Vocabularies of the Economy by Doreen Massey can be downloaded here free of charge. Mark Perryman is co-founder of Philosophy Football.

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