Colin Leys Total Capitalism: Market Politics, Market State, Merlin Press: London, 2008; 144 pp.: 9780850365900, 10.95 [pounds sterling] (pbk)
The three essays in this volume are drawn from Colin Leys's important contributions to socialist theory and analysis over the last 15 years. Although the essays address development, democracy and the state respectively, the common threads running through them amount to a critique of the neoliberal form of capitalism that Leys characterises in his introduction as 'total capitalism'.
The first essay, 'The rise and fall of development theory', occupies nearly half the book, and is reprinted from his 1996 volume of the same title. In it, he charts how modern development theory stands in a historical lineage going back to the Enlightenment via Marx and Hegel, linking the solution of pressing contemporary problems to the broad historical currents of human progress. However, from its beginnings in the 1950s, mainstream development theory eschewed a historical approach in favour of an apparent focus on practice, which concealed the political thrust of postcolonial intervention; while Marxist and other responses from the left, while reinstating lost historical perspectives, typically 'offered no plausible line of immediate political action to improve matters' (p. 25). Global trends from the 1970s on destroyed the illusion that less developed countries could simply follow in the path of countries deemed to have become developed, with dramatic increases in indebtedness, poverty and vulnerability to disasters both natural and manmade. As neoliberalism took hold, Leys identifies five types of response (p. 36): theoretical reflection, eclectic muddling-through, updated restatements of the dependency critique, the new institutionalism, and retreat from intervention to observation. These responses are then each dispassionately reviewed in turn with admirable elegance and incisiveness. Leys concludes with a plea for a return to a coherent and all-embracing--therefore global--historical approach, within which different development theories can be elaborated that are appropriate to particular regions and periods. Above all, he writes, 'the goals of development envisaged by these theories will depend on the actors for whom they are formulated and the scope for change that the theorist's preferred theory of world capitalism suggests exists for them' (p. 59).
The second essay, 'Neoliberal democracy', is drawn from Leys'...