New corporate enclosures, looting and monopolies are springing up all over the place these days. Watching the news is a lot like watching Robocop or Blade Runner, what with stuff like Detroit’s “Emergency Manager” auctioning off local assets to corporate cronies the same way Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority did in Iraq. Given all that, it takes a lot to surprise me. I wasn’t expecting corporate capitalists to acquire a monopoly on dislike for the government though. Nevertheless that’s what scholar Andrew Hoberek suggests (Noah Berlatsky, “Watchmen and Neoliberalism: An Interview with Andrew Hoberek,” The Hooded Utilitarian, January 15).
Hoberek argues that comic artist Alan Moore, in Watchmen, was motivated by a distrust of institutions in general that was, more than anything else, in the ’60s anti-establishment spirit. That spirit was strong on much of the left back then, dating at least to the Port Huron Statement. But, Hoberek maintains, it has since “become totally the property of the neoliberal right.” His interviewer, Noah Berlatsky, remarks that general distrust of institutions “has gone from being a shared feature of both the left and the right in the cold war period to a hallmark of neoliberalism.”
Wow! I’m a left-winger and an anarchist, and I really distrust government as well as hierarchical institutions in general. I had no idea I’d signed over the rights to it. Maybe Hoberek and Berlatsky think the right acquired property in the “anti-government” label by adverse possession. But I’ve expressed such ideas pretty actively, on a continuous basis, for a long time, so I don’t think I could have relinquished them through constructive abandonment.
Further, Hoberek considers Obama’s alleged “dislike of organization” (huh? in what universe?) “problematic” because, although it has roots in his community organizing background, in the days since then “anti-government sentiment has become a major tool of those in power.”
The most important point Hoberek ignores is that neoliberals like Reagan and Thatcher don’t really dislike government, any more than bureaucratic oligarchs like Stalin really favored socialism (in the sense of genuine working class power and control of the means of production). In fact the activist state is central to the model of neoliberalism that Thatcher and Reagan promoted. Corporate capitalism depends heavily on the state to guarantee extractive industries’ access to oil and mineral resources overseas, to protect agribusiness interests’ control over stolen land, and to enforce “intellectual property” — the protectionist monopoly most central to corporate profits in this era. It depends on the state to subsidize its distribution costs and the processing of “human resources” to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars a year, and spend hundreds of billions more to employ idle industrial capacity or soak up surplus investment capital in the form of government debt. Reaganite capitalism arguably requires bigger government than even the New Deal model.
“Anti-government sentiment” may be a major propaganda tool of neoliberalism, to the extent that a major segment of the public takes it at face value and supports the neoliberal agenda under the misconception that they’re genuinely fighting to defend “free enterprise” and “get the government off our backs.” But the effectiveness of this ideological smokescreen depends heavily on critics of corporate capitalism buying in to the neoliberals’ professed “anti-government” pose.
Taking the “anti-government” label at face value is incredibly foolish from a strategic point of view. To repeat, the state is not only central to the survival of corporate power, but serving the interest of capitalist elites has been the main function of the American state — like all other states — since its beginning. Removing the state’s structural supports to corporate capitalism is the one thing capable of destroying it. So unilaterally depriving ourselves of opposition to the state, just because neoliberal capitalists have falsely appropriated the “anti-government” label for themselves, amounts to taking our enemy’s single greatest vulnerability off the table.
Letting your enemy define your conceptual categories for you is the same as losing the war before it’s ever been fought.