Electoral Politics and the Contemporary Crisis of Neoliberalism

By SARAH RAYMUNDO
Blood Rush

How come some people still get away with mouthing the big lie about elections being the great equalizer? It is mainly because pundits refuse to see electoral politics in its proper context: the contemporary crisis of neoliberalism. Instead of anaylzing political figures, events, dispositions, track record, and platforms within two contending frames: 1) the neoliberal path and 2) alternative to neoliberalism, analysts prefer to fixate on the micro and ride the wave of postmodern-neoliberal fragmented analysis as though politicians’ individual track records and platforms exist in a vacuum.

Down with euphemisms for neolib!

The one big lie about neoliberalism is simply associating it with austerity measures. Austerity measures involve significant cuts on if not total abandonment of social services such as health, education, housing, water, etc. State abandonment of social services comes with the attack on labor rights— contractualization of labor, union busting, violation of the minimum wage law, no strike policy, labor outsourcing, labor export policy, suspension and outright violations of collective bargaining or negotiation agreements in both private and public sectors, etc.

The precarious characteristic of work and absence of social services are neoliberal conditions in which people’s productive activity go unpaid and the capacity of labor grow unused. People’s lives are impoverished. Many sink deeper into debt and go completely bankrupt. Meanwhile, neoliberal politicians continue to impose neoliberal solutions. In times of terrible crises, neoliberal policies are imposed to reconcentrate income and surplus to the 1%. This is done through corrupt state budgeting, state transfer of public property to the hands of private business, and in cases such as VAT and low to zero tariffs, we see how state subsidies painfully shift from domestic consumers to foreign big business importers.

There is a process to this neoliberal cycle. What is stated above as an illustration of the reconcentration of wealth in a crisis-ridden situation is where it begins. It then enters into another process of consolidation of foreign investments, which the state attracts so well. Foreign capital flows work hand in hand with the electoral process. Politicians who enable the reign of the free market are guaranteed a long and lasting political career, which extends to the sons and daughters of their sons and daughters, and so on. And in many cases, even to their extra-marital affairs.

The Philippine structure of elite governance rests on the US imperial formula that seeks to consolidate a polarized class structure—with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer every day—through free market policies, a docile, loyal and intact military, and free elections. This picture demonstrates how the reference to austerity measures to describe neoliberalism is a euphemism for the precise function of neoliberalism in our age: the legitimate perpetuation of human rights violations. Our rights to health service, education, housing, water are all violated. Yet government manages to make its subjects believe that this is all for the national agenda. Tough love can only be abusive. Neoliberal policies are human rights violations.

Neoliberal crisis

The 1970s ended with global ruling elite imposing its ‘new-found’ liberal solutions for the old crises of capitalism. The use of state terror for the purpose of implementing neoliberal reforms in economy characterizes Pinochet’s Chile. Neoliberalism can only thrive in conditions of repression because the transfer of resources from bottom to top in a condition of severe crisis can only breed popular discontent, which the state must contain at all costs. Yet, we need to note as well how in Latin America, a region where the consolidation of neoliberalism has taken place in varying degrees within different nations, the largest and most powerful mass movements took place soon after electoral victories clinched for neoliberalism. This is true for the great general strikes in Paraguay in 1994 and Bolivia in 1995.

The closest Philippine society got to this picture of dictatorship being toppled by people power was in 1986. Analysts tend to turn to the personality cult of Cory, the things she had done and failed to do. The same experts make a discontinuous reference to the national democratic movement, not minding the gap they themselves create between Cory’s strengths and weaknesses and the disposition of class conscious forces, especially the Left in a neocolonial formation. So they end up enumerating fragmented pros and cons, and a commonsensical, amateurish, micro-fixated SWOT analysis—a favorite among NGOs and finance institutions.

But there can be no denial of the fact that there was indeed an opportunity for rupture. But then again, what do we mean by rupture? The Philippines was not alone in undergoing a US-sponsored “democratic transition” from dictatorship to “democratic restoration.” There can be no democratic restoration in a social field where oligarchy or the rule of the few is perpetuated through US imperialist-sponsored free elections. The transition from Marcos to Cory involved none other than the US imperial formula, with Cory clinching military consolidation after proving herself to be a puppet of US imperialism. The rupture can only be in terms of ending the reign of a faction of the elite for another’s reign.

The neoliberal socioeconomic model was at work in the “transition to democracy” framed within free elections and free market policies. This is true for other neocolonies beyond the region. The Cory years were a significant moment in the consolidation of the neoliberal socioeconomic order that would pave the way for Ramos, Erap, Arroyo, and Aquino to embrace the Philippines and the world like any neoliberal lover. To recall it as a time for what could have been a “social renewal” is naive.

Alternative Frames

The social, political, and economic interests of the majority do not align with electoral processes and the interests of its players—the oligarchs. That the electoral process is the great equalizer is a big lie. In all US imperialist dominated nations throughout the world and in contemporary history, the great equalizer is none other than the people’s participation in national liberation movements. This is the struggle of the popular classes of farmers and workers, with patriotic church people, and professionals against the fatal consequences of neoliberal policies imposed by US imperialism and its allies in the local ruling elite.

Given this frame in which we are expected to fight, there is no compelling reason to vote for politicians who will bring change in our lives. But there is good reason to seriously consider politicians who are open to a dynamic engagement with the political program of the Left. But what does it mean to be Left in the era of neoliberal crisis? Think of the Aquino regime. Think of its apologists and reinforcers who have been caught in the drama of ‘working through’ the dilemmas of pragmatism, those whose failing historical memory can only accommodate reforms and clinch compromises with neoliberal elites. They are the best counter-examples for Left praxis. Think of how the radical mass movement can advance and not be weighed down or crushed given the election of another set of political elites. And more than casting our vote, let us all get organized. ()

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