Technopopulism and the Left

Yanis Iqbal

August 27, 2022

The neoliberal counterrevolution resulted in a reorganization of the system of nation-states, whereby “[the state accepts] responsibility for managing its domestic capitalist order in [a] way that contributes to managing the international capitalist order.”[1] This reconstitution of states as structurally subordinated units of global capitalism was fundamentally carried out through the relatively free cross-border movement of finance capital. Prabhat Patnaik writes:

If any state’s policy differs from what finance capital considers appropriate, then it leaves the shores of that state en masse precipitating a financial crisis. Nation-states in other words have always got to make sure that they “retain the confidence of the investors,” namely are on the right side of globally-mobile finance capital, by pursuing policies that are palatable to finance.

Neoliberal globalization’s abridgment of national sovereignty translated into the conversion of the state into a purely administrative structure, serving as a facilitator for international legal and policy harmony, which requires negotiations, conditionalities, and treaties. In other words, neoliberalism transformed the state into an arena where regulatory and transnational agencies bureaucratically pursue the objectives of capital. As the state became wholly beholden to the agenda of global finance capital, liberal democracy’s ability to maintain ruling class hegemony declined. With little latitude left for the arbitration of class concessions, political parties adopted pro-neoliberal economic policies, unwilling to challenge the dominance of the financial oligarchy.

The inter-party consensus on neoliberal orthodoxy reduced electoral competition to a process through which people could choose slightly varying promissory propagandas, all geared towards imposing austerity packages. Aijaz Ahmad called this phenomenon the emergence of “mature liberal democracy in the neoliberal age” in which competing parties “function as mere factions in a managing committee of the bourgeoisie as a whole.” Since parties no longer harbored any substantive economic vision, they started focusing on their capacity to govern “responsibly”; they pursued a new technocratic rationality. In this way, conflicts over distribution and production were replaced by “a technocratic search for the economically necessary and uniquely possible.”

Wolfgang Streeck notes that technocratic politics is “eventist”: “responding to particular events rather than taking an ideological position, oriented to the present instead of a hoped-for future, dealing with one crisis at a time, unencumbered by principle or precedent… No large plan, no holistic approach can be of help in such a world, only fast and flexible responses to dangers as they may arise.” Such decontextualized and event-driven politics is “legitimized by expert opinion rather than agreed through public debate and negotiation, with deep structural problems treated as superficial political ones.” This kind of politics is concretely expressed through a model of transactional welfarism, consisting of a depoliticized arrangement of service-delivery-based governance. In this way, the project of the state of rendering society dependent upon it was substantively overhauled under neoliberalism.

The entrenchment of such a model as the central mode of economic appeasement corresponded to a transformed and heightened process of serialization, in which a passive collectivity is forged whose members’ situational interaction is defined solely by the orientation of diverse existences and actions around a common set of material objects and forces. With