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New Left Review I/226, November-December 1997

Boris Frankel

Confronting Neoliberal Regimes: The Post-Marxist Embrace of Populism and Realpolitik

The dominance of neoliberal policies in Anglo-American countries during the past two decades has not only had a profound impact on the character and programmes of major parties, but has also led to dramatic changes within the ranks of former Marxists and critical theorists. [1] I would like to thank Peter Christoff and Julie Stephens for their valuable help in improving this paper. These former radicals now either believe that the old categories of Left and Right are irrelevant, or argue that the political concepts used by these historical movements have been largely rendered obsolete by contemporary conditions. [2] I am not referring here to ‘beyond Left and Right’ theorists such as Norberto Bobbio and Anthony Giddens. See A. Giddens, Beyond Left and Right The Future of Radical Politics, Cambridge 1994, and N. Bobbio, Left and Right: The Significance of a Political Distinction, Cambridge 1996. The latter fit into a body of liberal-left academic analysis that still believes in universal values and, in Gidden’s case, is publicly identified with Blair’s ‘radical centre’ version of neoliberalism. Nor am I referring to New Age movements and theorists who reject conventional political divisions. Post-industrial theorists such as Alvin Toffler have also long prophesied the emergence of a totally new type of politics based upon ‘post-materialist’ cybernetic fusions of the local and the global. See his The Third Wave, London 1980. Here, I would like to specifically focus upon the quite different, contextually driven responses to neoliberal regimes by two post-Marxist schools of thought that are expressed in the American journal Telos and British journals, especially Economy and Society. These new exponents of an anti-Marxist Realpolitik not only oppose the universal values of the radical Left, but draw upon a mixture of traditions and theories that continue to be associated with anti-class and anti-Marxist elite theory. Moreover, the recent upsurge of right-wing populist movements in oecd countries has been complemented by Telos’ theoretical cultivation of ‘postmodern populism’. These anti-socialist analyses should not be ignored for they raise a number of pertinent questions to do with the possibility and the form of a viable alternative politics given the impact of neoliberalism, globalization and postmodern cultural processes on contemporary societies.

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Boris Frankel, ‘Confronting Neoliberal Regimes: The Post-Marxist Embrace of Populism and Realipolitik’, NLR I/226: £3

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