Thursday, November 28, 2019

Memorials to Socialism in Washington, DC

I was invited to Warsaw to give a talk on memorials to socialism in Washington, DC: "The Other Washington Consensus: Remembering Socialism in Washington, DC."

More great videos here on the conference on memories of the 1989 economic transformations.

Washington, DC, is known as the major center and exporter of neoliberal capitalism and as the center of the Washington Consensus. In 1990, economist John Williamson invented the term the “Washington Consensus” because he understood that Washington had agreed on a set of economic policies that it “urges on the rest of the world.” This set of 10 policies reflected a free-market capitalism with an export orientation. By “Washington,” Williamson meant “both the political Washington of Congress and senior members of the administration and the technocratic Washington of the international financial institutions, the economic agencies of the US government, the Federal Reserve Board, and the think tanks.” According to this view, Washington, DC, has been the force that has successfully spread free markets, free trade, and capitalism around the world. This is an Americanization story.

Many people, including myself, have questioned such Americanization stories, and we have been inspired by post-socialist studies. In this talk, I wish to apply post-socialist studies to the center of neoliberal capitalism, Washington, DC. How might Washington, DC, itself be post-socialist? Post-socialism may seem irrelevant to DC, which is after all a major center of capitalism. However, Zsuzsa Gille (2010) has argued that everyone, and especially major actors in the Cold War, have experienced “the global post-socialist condition” in some form or other. Furthermore, there are many DCs, some of which are, or were, socialist. For example, in the late 1970s, the city of Black Power forged DC into a democratic socialist space, connecting many parts of the city to the socialist and Third Worlds. After 1989, within DC, the city of the IMF and the World Bank implemented the same shock of post-socialist neoliberalism that Black Power fought against.

How might memorials help us to understand this post-socialism? Are there, in fact, memorials to socialism in DC? I am not a scholar of memorials, but rather I conduct research on Eastern European socialisms, multiple globalizations, and the history of DC. I am venturing into a new area, for myself, of memory studies. To answer these questions, I informally asked many DC residents: where are the memorials to socialism in DC? I also walked around town, searching for memorials to socialism. Today, I want to report on what I have found. I argue that these memorials to socialism in DC capture the history of battles between socialism and capitalism in DC itself, a history that is often hidden or forgotten. Thus, attention to the memorials to socialism reveals this battlefield that continues today.