LONG ROAD TO SOCIALISM (Lecture One)
The end of the crisis of capitalism or capitalism in crisis?
CAPITALISM, A PARENTHESIS IN HISTORY
The principle of endless accumulation that defines capitalism is synonymous with exponential growth and the latter, like cancer, leads to death. Marx, by giving proper importance to the new class struggle, could imagine the reversal of power of the capitalist class, concentrated nowadays in the hands of the ruling oligarchy. Accumulation expresses itself mainly in the growing contrast between the affluence of the societies in the centre (of the world system) who benefit from the imperialist rent and the misery of the societies at the dominated peripheries.
This conflict becomes therefore the central axis of the alternative between ‘socialism and barbarism’.
‘Atlantic’ capitalism sought to conquer the world and remake it on the basis of permanent dispossession of the conquered regions, which in this process became the dominated peripheries of the system. This ‘victorious’ globalisation has proved unable to impose itself in a durable manner. Just about half a century after its triumph this model was questioned by the revolution of the Russian semi-periphery and the victorious liberation struggles in Asia and Africa which constitute the history of the twentieth century – the first wave of struggles in favour of the emancipation of the workers and the peoples.
Accumulation by dispossession continues before our very eyes in the recent modern capitalism of the contemporary ‘oligopolies’. I situate the ‘new agrarian question’ at the heart of the challenge for the twenty-first century. The dispossession of the peasantry (in Asia, Africa and Latin America) is the major contemporary form in the tendency towards pauperization. Its implementation cannot be dissociated from the strategies of imperialist rent-seeking and rent-capturing by the ‘oligopolies’, with or without bio-fuels. I deduce from this that the development of the struggles on the ground, the responses that will emerge through these struggles to the future of the peasant societies in the South (almost half of mankind) will largely determine the capacity or otherwise of the workers and the peoples to produce progress on the road to constructing an authentic civilisation, liberated from the domination of capital, for which I do not see any name other than ‘socialism’.
The plundering of the South’s natural resources, which is demanded by the pursuit of the model of wasteful consumption to the exclusive benefit of the North’s affluent societies, destroys any prospect of development worthy of the name for the peoples in question and therefore constitutes the other face of pauperisation on a worldwide scale. The ‘energy crisis’ is the product of the will of oligopolies and a collective imperialism to secure a monopoly of access to the planet’s natural resources. I deduce from this that the pursuit of the expansionist strategy of the late capitalism of oligopolies will inevitably clash with the growing resistance of the nations of the South.
The current crisis is therefore neither a financial crisis nor the sum of multiple systemic crises but the crisis of the imperialist capitalism of oligopolies whose exclusive and supreme power risks being questioned once more by the struggles of the entire popular classes and the nations in the dominated peripheries, even if they are apparently ‘emerging markets’. This crisis is also at the same time a crisis of US hegemony. Taken together, the following phenomena are inextricably linked to one another: the capitalism of oligopolies, the political power of oligarchies, barbarous globalisation, financialisation, US hegemony, the militarisation of the way globalisation is operated in the service of oligopolies, the decline of democracy, the plundering of the planet’s resources, and the abandoning of development for the South.
FROM ONE LONG CRISIS TO ANOTHER
The financial meltdown in September 2008 is part of the long unfolding of the crisis of an ageing capitalism, begun in the 1970s. Industrial capitalism, which was triumphant in the nineteenth century, entered a crisis from 1873 onwards. Profit rates dropped and led to a period of globalised domination of the capital owned by the financialised monopolies. The dominant discourses of that time praised colonisation (‘civilising mission’) and described globalisation as synonymous with peace, earning the support of the workers’ social democracy.
The period following and lasting beyond the Second World War was the period of ‘wars and revolutions’. In 1920, the Russian Revolution had been isolated following the defeat of the hopes of revolution in central Europe. The ‘long twentieth century’, 1873-1990, is therefore both the century of the deployment of the first systemic and profound crisis of ageing capitalism and that of the first triumphant wave of anti-capitalist revolutions (Russia, China) and the anti-imperialist movements of Asia and Africa. The second systemic crisis of capitalism began in 1971. It started with the abandonment of the gold convertibility of the dollar, and was followed by the collapse of profit rates, investment levels and growth rates. Capital responded to the challenge as in the previous crisis, by a double movement of concentration and globalisation. This new ‘belle epoque’ was from the onset accompanied by war, the war of the North versus the South, started in 1990. Just as the first financialised globalisation had led to 1929, so the second produced 2008. Today we have reached this crucial moment, which announces the probability of a new wave of ‘wars and revolutions’. This is even more so since the ruling powers do not envisage anything other than the restoration of the system as it was before the financial meltdown.
CRISIS OF CAPITALISM OR CAPITALISM IN CRISIS?
Contemporary capitalism is first and foremost a capitalism of oligopolies in the full sense of the term. This globalised financialisation expresses itself by a
transformation of the ruling bourgeois class, which has become
a rent-capturing plutocracy. The oligarchs are not only Russian, as is too often presumed, but rather and much more so American, European and Japanese. The decline of democracy is the inevitable product of this concentration of power for the exclusive benefit of the ‘oligopolies’.
The new form of capitalist globalization is the passage from imperialisms (those of the imperialist powers in permanent conflict with each other) to the collective imperialism of the triad (the USA, Europe and Japan). The first crisis of profit rates led to the armed conflict begun in 1914, which continued through the peace of Versailles and then the Second World War until 1945.
In contrast, the second wave of oligopolistic concentration, begun in the 1970s, constituted itself on totally different bases, within the framework of a system, which I have described as the ‘collective imperialism?’ of the triad. In this new imperialist globalisation, the domination of the centres is no longer exercised through the monopoly of industrial production (as had been the case hitherto) but by other means (the control of technologies, financial markets, access to the planet’s natural resources, information and communication, weapons of mass destruction, etc.)
The real battle is fought on this decisive ground between the oligopolies who seek to produce and reproduce the conditions that allow them to appropriate the imperialist rent and all their victims – the workers of all the countries in the North and the South, the peoples of the dominated peripheries condemned to give up any perspective of development worthy of the name. I have described the new globalisation which is being built as an ‘apartheid at the global level’, covering as it does the militarised management of the planet which perpetuates in new conditions the polarisation which cannot be dissociated from the expansion of the ‘really existing capitalism’.
THE SECOND WAVE OF EMANCIPATION BY THE PEOPLE: A ‘REMAKE’ OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY OR BETTER?
There is no alternative to a socialist perspective. Is the reinstatement of the capitalism of financialised and globalised oligopolies possible? This model of total and exclusive domination by capital had been imposed ruthlessly by the ruling classes throughout the previous long crisis until 1945. Only the triple victory of democracy, socialism and the national liberation of the people allowed, from 1945 to 1980, a replacement of this permanent model of the capitalist ideal with the conflictual coexistence of three social regulated models – the welfare state of Western social democracy, the ‘really existing’ socialism in the East and the popular nationalisms in the South. The demise and collapse of these three models made the return of the exclusive domination by capital possible, this time described as the neo-liberal phase of capitalism.
Today the powers that be, those who did not foresee anything, are busy restoring the same system. No less serious is the fact that economists on the ‘left’ have long since embraced the essential tenets of vulgar economics and accepted the erroneous idea that markets are rational. Instead of looking for exits from capitalism in crisis, they think they can simply exit the crisis of capitalism. US hegemony in crisis restoring the system, which is not impossible, will not solve any problem but will in fact exacerbate the gravity of the crisis, the G20. Chinese President Hu Jintao, observed that it would be necessary to envisage the creation of a global financial system that is not based on the US dollar. This ‘remark’ rudely awakens us to the fact that the crisis of the capitalist system of oligopolies is inextricably linked to the crisis of US hegemony, which is on the ropes. China? This ‘threat’, which the media undoubtedly repeat ad nauseam (a new ‘Yellow peril’) in order to justify the Atlantic alignment, has no foundation in reality. The Chinese leadership knows that the country does not have such means and they do not have the will. China’s strategy is confined to promoting a new globalisation without hegemony – something which neither the USA nor Europe deem acceptable.
For its part, China has begun to build – in a gradual and controlled manner – alternative regional financial systems devoid of the US Dollar. What is lost sight of in all this is the perspective of a humanist and superior rationality, the basis for the socialist project. The gigantic potential which the application of science and technology offers to the whole of humanity and which would enable the real flourishing of individuals and societies in the North and the South is wasted by the requirements of its subordination to the logics of the unlimited pursuit of the accumulation of capital. Embracing the ideological alienation caused by capitalism does not adversely affect only the affluent societies of the imperialist centres. The peoples of the peripheries, who generally do not have access to acceptable levels of consumption and are blinded by aspirations to consume like the opulent North, are losing consciousness of the fact that the logic of historical capitalism makes the extension of this model to the entire globe impossible.
We can therefore understand why the 2008 financial collapse was the exclusive result of a sharpening of the internal contradictions peculiar to the accumulation of capital. Only the intervention of forces that embody a positive alternative can offer a way of imagining an exit from the chaos caused by the sharpening of the internal contradictions of the system. From this point of view, the current situation is markedly different from that which prevailed in the 1930s, when the forces of socialism clashed with fascist parties, producing Nazism, the New Deal and the Popular Fronts. In the best possible scenario, the advances produced in these conditions could force imperialism to retreat and renounce its demented and criminal project of controlling the world militarily. Historical capitalism is all things to everyone; but the one thing it is not is durable. It is but a short parenthesis in history.
The fundamental questioning of capitalism – which our contemporary thinkers in their overwhelming majority deem neither ‘possible’ nor ‘desirable’ – is nonetheless the inescapable condition for the emancipation of the dominated workers and the peoples (those of the peripheries, i.e. 80%) of mankind). And the two dimensions of the challenges are inextricably linked with one another. There will be no exit from capitalism by way of the sole struggle of the people of the North, or by the sole struggle of the dominated people of the South. There will only be an exit from capitalism if and when these two dimensions of the challenge combine with one another. The challenge is that which confronts the permanent construction/reconstruction of the internationalism of the workers and the peoples in the face of the cosmopolitanism of oligarchic capital. Constructing this internationalism can only be envisaged by successful, new, revolutionary advances (like those begun in Latin America and Nepal) which offer the perspective of capitalism being overcome. In the countries of the South, the battle of the States and the nations for a negotiated globalisation without hegemonies – the contemporary form of de-linking – supported by the organisation of the demands of the popular classes, can circumscribe and limit the powers of the oligopolies of the imperialist triad. The democratic forces in the countries of the North must support this battle. The ‘democratic’ discourse that is proposed – and accepted by a majority on the left as it stands – and the ‘humanitarian’ interventions conducted in its name, just like the miserable practices of giving ‘aid’, eschew real engagement with this challenge.
LONG ROAD TO SOCIALISM (Lecture Two)
The north/south conflict remains central in the socialist perspective
The obsolete character of the system as it has reached the present stage of its evolution is itself inseparable from changes in the structures of the governing classes (‘bourgeoisies’), political practice, ideology and political culture. The historical bourgeoisie is disappearing from the scene and is now being replaced by the plutocracy of the ‘bosses’ of the oligopolies. The drift in the practice of a democracy emptied of all content and the emergence of ideological expressions that are ultra-reactionary are the necessary accompaniments of the obsolete character of contemporary capitalism.
Not only do the oligopolies dominate the economic life of the countries of the Triad, they also monopolise political power for their own advantage, the electoral political parties (right and left) having become their debtors. There are also oligopolies in the countries of the South. These were the large public bodies in the former systems of actually existing socialism (in China, of course as in the Soviet Union, but also at a more modest level in Cuba and Vietnam). Such was also the case in India, Brazil and other parts of the ‘capitalist South’; some of these oligopolies had a public or semi-public status, while others were private. The oligopolies of the South have not captured the political power in their respective countries for their own exclusive profit. This is why defeating the Triad’s armed forces, forcing the United States to abandon its bases deployed on all continents, and dismantling NATO must become the primary strategic objective of democratic progressive forces in both the North and the South.
DEMOCRACY ASSOCIATED WITH SOCIAL PROGRESS
The ruling classes of the imperialist Triad have decided to pursue the strategy of centre-staging the debate on ‘democracy’. China has not been criticised for opening up its economy, but for the fact that its political management has been monopolised by the communist party. Cuba’s achievements, which have no match across South America, have been ignored, putting the focus instead, time and again, on its one-party-system. Has this strategy been really aimed at making democracy prevail? The answer is clearly ‘no’, unless one is naive. The single and only objective is to force resisting countries to accept a ‘market economy’ open and integrated in the so-called liberal but actually imperialist global system and to reduce them to the state of dominated peripheries in the system. Once achieved, this objective prevents the advancement of democracy in the victimised countries. Incidentally, the ‘democracy’ theme has been invoked only against countries resisting globalised liberal overture. The others have been less criticised for their clearly autocratic political management, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are perfect illustrations. But Georgia (pro-Atlantic Alliance) can also be cited, among many others. At best, the proposed ‘democratic’ formula is no more than a caricature of an ‘electoral multiparty system’ deprived of concerns for social progress but again and always – or almost always – associated with the type of social regression required and produced by the dominant, really existing capitalism (oligopolistic capitalism). The formula has already done a lot of damage to the credibility of democracy because people have given up in disarray and prefer instead to place their faith in backward-looking religious and ethnic illusions. It appears that it is now more necessary than ever to step up radical criticism. There can be no socialism without democracy and neither can there be democratic progress outside a socialist prospect. Combining liberty and equality is the essence of the challenge facing contemporary peoples.
I am not among the people who abstain from severely criticising the authoritarian if not bloody drifts that accompanied the revolutionary periods of history. Explaining the reasons underlying them does not justify them and does not reduce their destructive dimension as regards the socialist future they conveyed. Still, is it necessary to remind ourselves that the bloodiest violence has always been the one exercised by counter revolutions? The bloody drifts of Stalinism are not the product of the logic of socialism but the will to stop its progression and substitute it with state control which I qualify as ‘capitalism without capitalists’. Still, need we remind ourselves of the permanent crimes of actually existing capitalism/imperialism, the colonial massacres, the ones associated with ‘preventive wars’ waged in the present day by the United States and its allies? Under such conditions, ‘democracy’ when it is not simply barred from the agenda, is no more than a masquerade, as we see in Iraq.
Democracy, today in regression around the world, can only make progress provided it takes an institutionalised form associated with social progress, not dissociated from it. [To counter that, some dangerous propositions accepted today are]:
(i) The discourse on ‘civil society’
(ii) The communitarian discourse
(iii) [Alignment to the thesis of picking the ‘less bad choice’ to avoid the ‘worse’.]
In counterpoint, I will make the following propositions:
(i) Organising the convergence within diversity
(ii) Rejection of a-politicism
(iii) [Giving priority to the logic of struggle over that of organization.]
‘THE ENVIRONMENT’ OR THE SOCIALIST PERSPECTIVE OF USE VALUE?
THE ECOLOGICAL QUESTION AND SO-CALLED SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Here again, one has to begin with the real problem: continuous capitalist accumulation would lead to the destruction of our natural environment and ultimately life on the planet. Socialism is a higher stage of civilisation. But construction of the future, however distant, begins today. In conclusion, then, two points should be made. First, capitalism per se is unable to respond to the challenge simply because it is based on the exclusive logics of shortsighted profit. Second, the noise made around the need for a ‘global’ response to the challenge is simply aiming at preventing the nations of the South to make any use – good or bad – of the resources of the planet in order to allow the North to continue its wasting pattern of production and consumption.
‘AID’, AN ADDITIONAL TOOL FOR CONTROLLING VULNERABLE COUNTRIES
The real objective of aid, which is destined for the most vulnerable of the peripheral countries, is to erect an additional obstacle to their joining an alternative South front. ‘Governance’ is an invention substituted for ‘power’. The opposition between the two adjectives – good or bad governance – is reminiscent of moralism substituted for an analysis of the reality, as scientific as possible.
CONVENTIONAL ECONOMICS: AN IDEOLOGICAL INSTRUMENT THAT IS CENTRAL TO CAPITALIST REPRODUCTION
The theory of the ‘market economy’ … eliminates the essential reality, i.e. the social relations of production.
THE NORTH-SOUTH CONFLICT IN GLOBALISATION IN CRISIS
Contemporary capitalism has entered into a long structural crisis since the 1970s: growth rates in the countries of the Triad declined to half the levels of the ‘Glorious Thirty’ (1945-1975) and have never returned to those levels since then. Capital reacted to this crisis with centralisation and financialisation, which are non-dissociable: the flight into finance has been the sole means for oligopolies to find a market for their increasing surpluses. Liberal globalisation crowned it all. The success of this response has created the conditions for a marked blooming from 1990 to 2008 (which I qualified as the ‘Belle Epoque’). The emerging countries’ strategies of growth acceleration through prioritisation of their exports coincided with that era, which ensured their immediate success. The pursuit of this globalised capitalist option is unsustainable for many reasons. The main one is that it will not be possible, through this option, to absorb the gigantic mass of peasantries (nearly half humanity still, located almost entirely in the three continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America) in the development of modern industries and services. The historical capitalist way, based on private ownership of agrarian soil and its reduction to the status of merchandise was possible only for Europe, thanks to the massive emigration permitted by the conquest of the Americas (the ‘Europeans’ accounted for 18% of the world population in 1500; in 1900, Europeans from Europe and migrants outside of Europe represented 36%). The people of Asia and Africa, who have no such opportunity, cannot follow the same development path. In other words, while historical capitalism did solve the agrarian issue for Europe, it remains unable to do so in the peripheries. Imperialist powers only see in these countries ‘emerging markets’ whose development will necessarily fall within this deplorable perspective. But the countries concerned see themselves as ‘emerging nations’. The difference is significant. The nations in the South, therefore, must lose their illusions relating to the accelerated development in and through globalisation.
AFRICA, A PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE REGION IN GLOBALISATION IN CRISIS
Africa had been plunged in the dark night of colonisation, a brutal form of globalisation imposed by the capitalism of the monopolies in response to its first great depression in the late 19th century, taking over from the slave trade, itself at the root of its historical regression, as Walter Rodney showed. The national liberation movements, which finally succeeded in imposing the independence of the continent’s states, then conceived a big project of African Renaissance: an ambitious project as was required, associating accelerated development,
both agricultural and industrial, from the universalisation of education to the construction of regional integrations falling within a pan-African perspective. During the 1960s and 1970s, Africa thereby made giant progress, to the extent that the new image of the continent made us forget the image of desolation inherited from colonisation.
But this social progress was gradually bogged down under the combined effect of the internal contradictions whose emergence it developed, and the hostility of imperialism. The peasantries have been gradually marginalised in the historical blocks in power, to the benefit of the ruling classes – and sometimes new middle classes – whose desire is to become the absolute masters of local power, thereby having to make the degenerate forms of the State fulfil the functions of a comprador State.
A major constraint to the first achievements of independent Africa is at the origin of this drift. This has to do with the insignificance of the results in the unavoidable industrialisation, stemming from the illusions that foreign capital was able to help resolve the issue of its financing. On the other hand, one has to understand that industrialisation in Africa, as part of the South, cannot restrict itself to ‘reproducing’ patterns of historical capitalism. Industrialisation here has to be associated with the guaranteeing of access to land for peasantries, and not
with their accelerated expropriation. That process is necessarily not easy. The failures have created the conditions that enabled imperialism to resume the offensive in view of the recolonisation of Africa during the 1980s/90s, through the structural adjustment programmes, privatisation, the destruction of States, and their submission to the diktats of ‘aid donor clubs’, accompanied by the insipid discourses in fashion on ‘poverty’, ‘good governance’ and ‘civil society’. The tragedy is that African intellectuals on the whole were duped by these discourses. In this perspective, Africa only exists for the natural resources it offers to plunder: the resources of its subsoil (hydrocarbons, gold, diamonds and even more important, rare minerals), her lands now offered to the expansion of agribusiness for new export productions (agro-fuels and others).
Our project is to bring together a critical mass of intellectuals capable, beyond the analysis of the disastrous politics underway, of outlining an authentic renaissance of thinking that is audacious, independent and up to the challenge.
(Readers are encouraged to read the full article which is available in a booklet titled Samir Amin – Long Road to Socialism published by Mkuki Na Nyota.) [This is currently out of stock – see https://www.mkukinanyota.com/product/the-long-road-to-socialism/]