Sudhir Joshi 


In our contemporary world, capitalism has emerged as the only economic order left standing. It is sad but  true that the attempts to create an alternate economic model, a socialist economic order, in early 20th century  (Soviet Union) and in mid 20th century (China), has either failed or has been abandoned. The evolution of the  “Socialist” economies of the Soviet Union, and China, were characterized by massive collectivization in its  industrial and agricultural sectors, centralized planning, and a huge bureaucratic, repressive and stifling state  apparatus, which exercised control over every aspect of life of its citizens.  


The Soviet system simply imploded. By the time it ended, the CPSU could not muster even a decent level of  agitation. Even the people who benefited from the old system, the party bureaucrats, saw no merit in trying to  save it. In Russia today, the capitalist economy is well entrenched in a political system, which is nominally  democratic, but in reality, somewhat autocratic. This transformation was accompanied by a massive sell off  of state owned assets at bargain basement prices thus making the opportunist and careerist former communist  party leaders instant millionaires and in some cases billionaires. The Russian economy, a hybrid of private  and state ownership, is not thriving but the capitalist mode of production is now entrenched and sits at the  heart of the Russian economic system.


In China, the communist party, CPC, also abandoned its attempt to build its own version of a Socialist  economy. In fact, it will be a travesty to call the current economic system in China anything but full-fledged  capitalism. It has not formally transformed the nature of the government of Peoples Republic of China (the  “dictatorship of the proletariat”), but instead is nurturing capitalism in the framework of a slightly modified,  post-Zhou Enlai, socialist state.


Given all of the above, we socialists in 2007, having struggled ideologically since the 1850’s, are, where we  are. We must reassess what we stand for and decide which are worthy objectives for our struggle. The  Vietnam era protest song, “one two three four, what we are fighting for, we don’t give a damn, next stop is  Vietnam … etc” was written to mock mindless fighting in the name of right wing ideology.  Now it is  important for us to decide what we are fighting for. We must ask, “what does it mean to be a socialist  today?”


One line of enquiry could be to examine what went wrong in the past and why? We cannot simply pretend  that the demise of socialist societies was caused by “mistakes” or a series of betrayals. We must analyze the  past by using some fundamental concepts. For example:


Historical Materialism may still be useful as a methodology for analyzing historical trends. However, the  application of this methodology by socialists in the past led them to incorrectly believe that the demise of  capitalism was inevitable and that socialism was a higher order economic system which will supersede  Capitalism. The analysis of capitalism, which ignored its ability to adopt, evolve and transform itself to  survive and thrive must be re-examined.


There are many such important topics in need of analysis but for the purpose of this discussion one question  that stands out is “what is the role of capitalism in the contemporary world?”


All socialist societies, of the past and present (with an arguable exception of Cuba), and the state  governments in India of Kerala and West Bengal now have adopted a mixed public-private ownership model.  This model keeps the ownership of infrastructure primarily in the public sector while leaving the wealth  producing growth engine to Privately-Owned-for-Profit enterprises.  In the case of China (and to a lesser  extent Vietnam), this model has brought about spectacular economic growth. However, it has also created  problems such as disparity of wealth distribution, environmental devastation etc. The Chinese GDP rise of  9%, consistently over a decade, induces envy in the developed world. The smell of profits creates euphoria in  corporate boardrooms and the pension fund managers (who manage vast sums of capital on behalf of the  industrial workers in the western world). 


The problem is that I have not seen credible alternatives offered to the above mixed economic growth model.  To be sure, there are some-small scale experiments for alternative economic development projects in rural  areas. However the feasibility of scaling up such efforts remain doubtful. These small-scale projects thus  remain in the periphery of the economy.   


It appears to me that there are a lot of confused lefties when one reads their criticism of the Left-front  government, led by CPM, in the state of West Bengal. It seems that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is doing what a  Chief Minister of a state government is expected to do, i.e, attract large scale industrial manufacturing and  service sector investments to the state in order to increase employment and grow its tax base. In other words,  West Bengal government is no different from any other provincial or state jurisdictions anywhere else in  world. For attracting such investments, the Buddhadeb (CPM) government has to deal with one of the largest  capitalist conglomerates, Tata Industries. This potential partnership between Communist Party of India  (Marxist) led state government and large global enterprises, is for some activists from the “old-left”, simply  galling, appalling and scandalous. They just cannot accept that in this contemporary world, coexistence with  capitalism is necessary and inevitable. Unless they can come up with a theoretical framework for a realistic  alternate economic developmental model, their criticism remains confused at best and dishonest at worst.  On the other hand, the “new-left”, consisting of the environmentalists, human rights and anti-globalization  activists, etc. have issues with the proposed deals between the government of West Bengal and Tata  Industries and Salim Chemicals: urban industrial development at the expense of the rural agriculture;  economic dislocation of small farmers/peasants; the environmental devastation caused by the conversion by  Tata Motors, of a large parcel of prime agricultural land in to a car factory parking lot.   


These are all very valid concerns and must be addressed. That is to say one must not do what the Chinese  continue to do while developing their economy, wanton disregard for the environment – massive polarization  between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, expropriation of rural land, suppression of the poor people when  they protest this expropriation.


Not withstanding these considerations, the central question still remains, “what is the role of Capitalism in its  many Avatars (or renditions) in the modern world?” Are we to embrace it, tame it, in the hope that it can be  instrumental in bringing prosperity and social justice to a vast number of people? Or do we completely  abandon Capitalism as an evil moribund system and find a new utopia?  SAFFRON BRIGADE INCHING AHEAD – IS DELHI NEXT?   Daya Varma The Shiv Sena-Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) combine captured the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation  elections while the secular parties were busy sharpening their mutual petty antagonisms. The Congress and  the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the only forces that could have prevented a Hindutva takeover of  Mumbai, failed to arrive at a pre-poll seat-sharing arrangement. While the secular vote was badly fractured  between these two major players, significant votes were taken away by Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra  Navanirman Sena, the Samajwadi Party, the various factions of the Republican Party of India (RPI), and  rebel candidates from all parties.


The results from Mumbai and the nine other municipal corporations in Maharashtra may be a preview of  what the 2009 Assembly elections in the state will bring. The Hindu (February 3, 2007) commented that:  “While Maharashtra does tend to vote differently at the civic and the State levels, the ruling Congress-NCP  coalition will be fooling itself if it made light of its defeat at the grassroots.”


In the just concluded elections in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur, Congress lost in Punjab and  Uttarakhand and is barely in a position to form the government in Manipur, although it did increase its share  of seats in the Manipur assembly. It has been voted out of power by the Akali Dal-BJP combine in Punjab,  and by the saffron party in Uttarakhand. The Akali Dal-BJP alliance won a clear majority in the 117-member  Punjab assembly, securing 67 seats. CPI and  CPI(M), Bahujan Samaj Party and others drew a blank. In the  hill State of Uttarakhand, BJP with 34 seats fell short of majority in the 70-member assembly by just one  seat. In the northeastern state of Manipur, the ruling Congress won 30 seats in the 60-member Assembly.


In the Punjab elections five years ago when the Congress annexed power from the SAD-BJP alliance, the  party had, under the leadership of Amarinder Singh, won 62 seats. SAD had won 41 and its alliance partner  BJP got just three seats. Two seats had gone to CPI and remaining nine seats were won by Independents.  This time the BJP increased its tally to 19 seats while the SAD obtained 48 seats.


So with BJP ruling Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand on its own and Punjab  in alliance with the reactionary Akali Dal and Bihar with Nitish Kumar’s Samata Party, who will rule India  remains uncertain. The upcoming elections in UP, where communal riots against Muslims are being  engineered by BJP while the Samajwadi Party does not know which side to take, may perhaps give a clearer  picture of where the political future of India lies.


While the reasons for the relative setback to the Congress and other secular parties differ from state to state,  one constant factor is the political in fighting within Congress and between Congress and its electoral  ‘partners’. The Hindu newspaper of February 27 attributes Congress’s defeat in Uttarakhand primarily to  factionalism in the party. The persistence of this kind of political culture with its concomitant lack of any  principle is probably the most important obstacle to a long-term program of isolating and defeating Hindutva,  the biggest threat to the survival of India as a democratic and secular country. The unexpected defeat of the  BJP-led NDA government in 2004, despite all poll predictions, delivered a salutary and healthy shock to  India’s political system and showed how out of touch the Indian media, assorted commentators, pollsters, etc.  were with the mood of the masses. For a while, the saffron brigade, taken aback by its unexpected defeat,  showed some initial signs of disorganization. But that period appears to have passed. Instead, a certain  complacency appears to have set in among the non-left secular parties who are now back to business-as-usual  with games of power, influence, and money in the political arena. Meanwhile, sections of the radical left and  assorted NGOs are more preoccupied with attacking CPM over industrialization in West Bengal and seem to  have forgotten Hindutva, Gujarat, Mody, and the saffron brigade in their endeavor to preserve small farmers  in Singur.  

Top - Home