Not fit for purpose? By William Bowles

25 April 20008

The word Socialism is unfortunately, much-discredited yet and still the idea lives on regardless, as events in the Southern Americas reveal. But what of us in the so-called developed world?

Revolution I hear you cry? In the West? Not likely is it? In fact, both Marx and Lenin, when asked about revolution in the UK were a little more than disparaging about the idea. And what goes for the UK probably goes for the rest of the West.

Then what hope is there for the future? Well of course neither Marx nor Lenin were soothsayers and the times they have changed. Late in his life Marx looked to the German working class who were the most developed, the most educated and organized of all the European countries. But it was not to be.

So what’s the deal here? Marx accurately unpacked the workings of capitalism, so much so that one hundred and fifty years later his analysis holds true: boom and bust, crisis, war and barbarism are as fundamental to capitalism today as they were then.

So why did Marx see socialism emerging in the so-called advanced capitalist states? Industrial capitalism had socialized production and in so doing, it had created the pre-conditions for the development of a socialist society led by the organized working class through their political parties. Marx saw it as the inevitable result of capitalism, just exactly how or when, he had no idea.

But it was not to be. Instead, revolution has occurred not in the developed, industrialized economies but in the ‘backward’ ones instead, those countries that when all is said and done are the least likely to succeed given the economic and military power of capitalist states to block, reverse and overthrow any attempt to break free from the chains that bind them.

Lenin went one step further, stating that revolution in one country was bound to fail and he pinned the success of the Bolshevik Revolution on the rest of Europe following suit. But it too was not to be and eventually seventy years later the Soviet experiment ran out of road.

Yet the idea of socialism, far from dying after the demise of the USSR and all but one of the other socialist states, Cuba, is seeing a rebirth in the Southern Americas and for precisely the same reasons as all previous revolutions, the desire to be free and in charge of their own destiny.

One can go further and state quite categorically that the ideas embodied within socialism are firmly embedded in virtually every country on the planet; from health care to universal education, all of which are socialist innovations copied by the capitalist states in order to forestall revolution (we called it social democracy).

But beginning in the 1970s, Big Capital was determined to reverse the gains made by working people over the previous thirty years as it saw its grip on the planet and its resources being steadily eroded. Enter the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda, or to put it plainly, the return to the ‘good old days’ of rape and pillage of the planet, when Capital reigned supreme.

As a result we seem to be further from revolution now than at any time in the previous century, at least in the ‘developed’ world. This is what the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda is about: erasing every trace of the idea of socialism, even social democracy, perhaps best expressed in Fukiyama’s ‘End of History’. According to Fukiyama, capitalism was the pinnacle of human development, there was nowhere left to go, there could be nothing better than capitalism.

Well so much for Fukiyama’s ‘End of History’, which itself is history as they say, yet the current crisis of capitalism, now global in its impact and even more vicious and desperate than ever, has not created the conditions for socialism in the ‘advanced’ countries. Far from it, instead, we are witnessing the recreation of Mussolini’s Corporate, Security state or Fascism as he called it, only now the ‘threat’ is not from Bolshevism but allegedly from ‘Islamo-Fascist Fundamentalists’ of various flavours and a pretty motley bunch they are, with even less chance of overthrowing Western capitalism than we on the Left have (I assume they have the same distaste for socialism given their origins and their reactionary, feudal take on Islam and on society).

Moreover, these ‘IFFs’ are themselves the creation of capitalism in the first place, created under the tutelage of the CIA to fight the ‘Evil Empire’ in Afghanistan. Ah, what a tangled web we weave eh.

The problem as I see it is that the countries that strike out on the path of an alternative to capitalism are in the worst possible position to undertake such a task and for a whole host of reasons.

Most, if not all are dependent on the world capitalist trading system which makes them vulnerable to all manner of economic arm-twisting via Western institutions (eg, the World Bank and the IMF) created to protect and extend the economic interests of the leading capitalist states.

Moreover most poor countries have only raw materials and commodities to sell on the international market, markets controlled by the US and the UK (eg, sugar, wheat, coffee, tea, oil and such like).

“A study published Apr. 21 by the World Development Movement (WDM) argues that the blueprint [Global Europe] is “about as close as it is possible to get to a plan for entrenching European economic dominance without using the military.” — ‘EU: Trade Policy Backs Western Firms

All are militarily too weak to confront the leading capitalist state, the USA, head-on and are hard-pressed to counter when the usual tactics of intervention and subversion are used against them (examples are legion but Nicaragua and Grenada come to mind).

But perhaps most importantly from the perspective of us in the advanced countries, the world’s media system is controlled by a handful of giant media/communications conglomerates, whose primary objective is maintaining the current unequal relationship between rich and poor countries and keeping us in the dark about the causes of the real relationship between rich and poor.

Thus those struggling to free themselves from the clutches of Capital cannot rely on us to assist them in any meaningful way, this in spite (or perhaps because of?) our knowledge and resources.

So there’s a paradox involved here for those countries that dare to defy the power of international capital, for on the one hand they are at the forefront of the resistance and on the other, they operate from a position of relative weakness and depend on the resolution and courage of their citizens to resist the ravages of the empire, but for how long?

In order to survive, they have to tread a fine line between resistance and compromise, between independence and accomodation. So for example, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela proclaims that it is building ‘21st century socialism’ but the reality is somewhat different for it would be foolhardy for Venezuela to take on the power of international capital head-on. But what they can do is is make sure that every step they take moves them one step closer to their goal.

So where does that leave us lefties in the rich world aside from our bleats of solidarity? Could it be that unless we too become as materially impoverished as our poor cousins ( we are already spiritually poorer), there can be no possibility of revolution, for without real change here, the poor of the planet face the possibility of endless struggles, which even when successful, forever hover on the edge of collapse under the constant pressure from the imperium.

Worse even, the constant threat of destruction warps the nature of these new societies struggling to emerge. A siege mentality takes hold and itself threatens to undermine the objectives of the newly emerging society.

There is also another important factor involved here that I think is worth bringing into the mix and that’s the nature of social relations in so-called under-developed societies versus those we ‘enjoy’ in the developed world which is I think central to the reason why, rather than connecting ourselves to the lives of others we live in a ‘bubble’ created by capitalist economic and ultimately social relations, what Marx called alienation.

We lack any sense of belonging to anything larger than our immediate surroundings, family comes first (even as it disintegrates under the pressure of a changing capitalism), or, we pursue so-called single issues, disconnected from their common, root cause.

As things stand there would seem to be only two alternatives for us: either a fully-fledged fascist state (courtesy one final ‘Reichstag Fire’?) or the entire house of cards collapses under its own contradictions. Either way, things don’t look too promising given that the ruling elites have virtually no opposition from their own citizens.

Increasingly, the situation looks like the one described in the prescient novel ‘The Iron Heel’ by Jack London, written shortly before the outbreak WWI, where we read in the final chapter ‘The Terrorists’, the following description of events under ‘The Iron Heel’,

‘Many of the comrades were disheartened, and they retaliated with terroristic tactics. The setback to their hopes made them despairing and desperate. Many terrorist organizations sprang into existence and caused us much trouble. These misguided people sacrificed their own lives wantonly, very often made our own plans go astray, and retarded our organization.

‘And through it all moved the Iron Heel, impassive and deliberate, shaking up the whole fabric of the social structure in its search for the comrades, combing out the Mercenaries, the labor castes, and all its secret services, punishing without mercy and without malice, suffering in silence all retaliations that were made upon it and filling the gaps in its fighting line as fast as they appeared.’ (p.287)

Sound familar? For those of us not old enough to remember the 1930s, the idea that in the ‘democratic’ UK or the US we could see a Fascist state unfold might seem fantastic, yet Fascism is merely the maintenance of capitalism by force, whether by jackboot or ‘anti-terror’ laws (or both).

But unlike the 1930s when at least there existed a real opposition, by contrast, today we have a population almost entirely removed from the political process and locked into the system via crippling debt burdens and a propaganda system that ensures that no connection is made between the actions of the state/big business and the events that are tearing the world apart.

With the dominant capitalist states promising us “endless war” and with the means to carry it out, what hope is there for us? It would seem that as in the past, the brunt of the struggle is being borne by the poor of the planet, who devoid of any meaningful support from us, are forced to confront the ‘Iron Heel’ virtually alone.

Even the left-leaning governments of Southern America (with Paraguay being the latest ‘recruit’) face an uncertain future given the dire straights of the global economy and the increasingly desperate situation that capitalism has created for us and itself.

Am I painting a pessimistic portrait? Let’s face it, without real opposition from us, things can only get worse especially as the world slides into a slump.

With revolts over the cost of food spreading, the entire global trading system threatens to unravel, for sooner or later the ‘rules’ of the WTO governing trade will be ignored. It’s this or see insurrections spreading as the increasingly desperate situation forces people to take extreme measures.

The question is, how will the most powerful capitalist states respond to this the latest crisis given that it is for the most part beyond their control, for once unleashed, the chaotic forces of capital take on a life of their own.

“On Saturday, the head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, warned of mass starvation and other dire consequences if food prices continued to rise sharply.

“As we know, learning from the past, those kind of questions sometimes end in war,” he said.”” — ‘ World Bank tackles food emergency’, BBC News Website, 14 April, 2008 [1]

The BBC, as ever of course, prefers to view the activities of the World Bank as being nothing but benign but the real relationship between Big Capital and starvation is plain to see,

‘An increasing proportion of food crops is being produced by large multinational corporations whose power and reach has ballooned under the World Trade Organization and spin-offs like NAFTA even as small family-run farms have lost the protection of parity pricing and been priced out of business. But the data suggest that a) the output of agribusiness has failed to match the older, more diversified systems of farming; and b) as nations lose their ability to feed themselves, agricultural pricing becomes more subject to monopolization.’ — ‘Crisis in Food Prices Threatens Worldwide Starvation: Is it Genocide?’ By Richard C. Cook

The same article also explores the role of speculation in driving up food prices (as it has driven up the price of oil and other key commodities). Thus it’s the workings of the capitalist ‘market’ that is the root cause of the current situation.

Learning from the past is the last thing these managers of Capital are capable of doing, for without a radical restructuring of the relationship between rich and poor countries, increasing loans and the other measures being put forward by these institutions can do nothing to fundamentally alter the situation. If they were capable of learning from history they would have never allowed this situation to develop in the first place!

One thought on “Not fit for purpose? By William Bowles

  1. rd says:

    More on the issue of food:

    “The nature of American power projection in the world today rests on the development of key strategic advantages which no other combination of nations can challenge, what the Pentagon planners term, ‘full spectrum dominance.’ This includes global military dominance. It includes dominance of the world’s limited, and rapidly depleting petroleum supplies. It includes control of the world’s reserve currency, the dollar. And today it most definitely includes future control of world agriculture through control of GM patents and GM crops. Before the end of the decade, if present trends continue, US global dominance will be based on control of the food supply of most of this planet, far more than military or even energy control. The geopolitical dimension of this prospect bears careful examination.”

    Seeds of Destruction: The Geopolitics of GM Food


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