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Breaking away from neoliberal globalization – A view from CPI (ML) Liberation in India
By S. Balasubramanian
December 7, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières — Let me begin by thanking you for this opportunity to speak and express my views in this important session. I speak as a activist from India, as an activist from a country currently being ruled by openly pro-corporate and communal forces. The Bhartiya Janata party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched a massive multi-pronged assault on the poor in India. Farmers, workers and women are bearing the brunt of the disastrous economic policies of the government. The social fabric of the country is also being systematically ripped apart through calculated and well-orchestrated campaigns of hate and violence against the most disadvantaged groups in the country – Muslims, Dalits and adivasis. This situation, as we know all too well, is unfortunately no aberration. The world over we are witnessing the rise of right-wing politics, nationalist jingoism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, racism and majoritarianism, as is evident from the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as the President of the US. In this scenario, it is surely important for us to reflect on how to take forward the battle against neo-liberalism. And this battle can be waged only if we understand the complex manner in which neo-liberalism actually functions in the world, the manner in which the ‘social’ and the ‘economic’ is interlinked in the implementation of policies.
Neo-liberal globalization operates primarily by creating and enforcing a neo-liberal policy consensus. It operates by suggesting that there is no alternative, that the only ‘logical’, rationale and possible economic system is neo-liberal globalization. This policy consensus, this ideological hegemony, is crucial to the continuation of neo-liberalism as it provides a ‘justification’ to the massive inequality and injustice that neo-liberalism wrecks on lives the world over. It is also important to understand exactly how this consensus is built up and sustained. Is it really possible for this consensus to sustain simply by its propagation by the World Bank and the IMF, for instance? The answer, as we know, is No. Until and unless neo-liberal policies receive local support, ideological support at the level of individual countries, this consensus would possibly not survive. The ruling class in almost all countries, those in power, are therefore part of this consensus. Capital now has a global nature, and has an institutional architecture to enforce and monitor individual country compliance. Therefore, each and every country needs governments willing to listen to comply, willing to implement the policies, willing to be the local ‘agents’ of global capital. This understanding should inform out strategy of fighting neo-liberalism. The consensus has to break, and the sites of this battle will be local.
Moreover, we need to understand the dangerous social forces that are being harnessed by global capital in its efforts to reinforce its hegemony. In order to justify the widespread distress that neo-liberalism causes, global capital has been happily drawing on dangerous latent social sentiments and utilizing them in its project of spreading its hegemony and to divert attention from the real damage being caused by neo-liberalism. The politico-military and ideological environment created in the name of the 'War on terror' protects and reinforces corporate globalization. Islamophobia, anti-immigrant xenophobia and racism are being skillfully used by the arch-defenders of capital to harness the palpable public anger and conveniently divert it away from the economic policies of neo-liberalism. People are being convinced that the real enemy is out there in the form of the Muslim, the immigrant, the outsider, rather than in disastrous economic policy. Thus our battle has to be two-pronged: it has to be against these dangerous feelings of Islamophobia and xenophobia, even as we campaign against existing economic policy. The election of Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK has proved beyond doubt that the struggle against xenophobia and racism has to be a crucial and integral component of our battles. Not realizing this, and not putting this at the center of our campaigns will only jeopardize our battles against neo-liberal policies - because it will not prevent the likes of Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen or Modi from channeling mass anger against poverty and destitution and into fascist, white supremacist, xenophobic campaigns. In the process, these arch- defenders of capital will tragically appear as champions of the working class.
In order to work out our strategies for fighting neo-liberalism, we need to have some sense of the histories of imperialism and colonialism. The 20th century witnessed successive attempts to break the imperialist/colonialist chain of power. The Russian revolution marked the first successful snapping of the imperialist chain at what Lenin said was one of its weakest links. The victory of the revolution in China, Cuba and Vietnam and the rise of the socialist camp had created a major rupture in the global capitalist order. The second major factor was the rise of the newly-liberated former colonies and the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement as a third camp. The defeat of fascism and the spread and consolidation of socialism created a counter pressure on advanced capitalist countries and forced many of them to accept a welfare state framework with extensive social security network and state support in a social or liberal democratic environment. Thus even in developed capitalist countries, the idea of state–supported public health or education stubbornly remained, with governments having to acknowledge the necessity of such measures. This situation has however changed. The change, and the repercussions of the change have to be recognized if we seek to develop proper strategies in our collective battles against neo-liberal policies.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the retreat and virtual disappearance of the socialist bloc (with all its problems and distortions) has enabled global capitalism to spread its tentacles far and wide. Thus, the global political situation, which in the 20th century provided some opportunities for launching a collective assault against capitalism and neo-liberalism now faces fresh challenges, since there is no socialist ‘bloc’ to act as a counter hegemonic balancing power against the spread of capital. Capitalism is arguably now at its most aggressive in the former socialist bloc countries and in the Third World countries where the assertion of the working class/people remains weak and capital has the advantage of utilizing all kinds of pre-capitalist relations and institutions to suppress this assertion. The retreat of the state, or to be more accurate, abdication of basic state responsibilities towards people’s welfare and assured and dignified survival, has emerged as a universal feature or tendency of global capitalism and taken the shape of an austerity offensive together with liberalization and privatization.
The attempt to break away from and/or weaken the vicious global grip of neo-liberalism must be multidimensional. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the former socialist/Soviet bloc and obvious setback to the socialist process or prospects in existing socialist countries, country specific revolutionary projects still continue and constitute a key component or contingent of the global quest for socialism. The clarion call of the Communist Manifesto to workers of different countries not just to unite on a worldwide scale but also to defeat capital in their respective nations by emerging as the new ruling class and declaring/establishing themselves as the nations remains the cornerstone of the revolutionary orientation of the working class/people. The challenge of beating capital on the national terrain of course presupposes a firm rejection of and resistance to the usually chauvinistic and often jingoistic plank of bourgeois nationalism and the framework of narrow and sectarian national rivalries. It is also crucial to reject and combat the rampant Islamophobia, racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia that have emerged as common features of aggressive bourgeois nationalism in today’s globalized capitalist world. In a vast and diverse country like India, it also means rejecting the divisive and oppressive framework of casteism and communalism. The political-ideological struggle against the dominant and disastrous policies of neo-liberalism must of course go hand in hand with the everyday tasks of waging physical/material resistance to all kinds of oppression and intensifying the economic struggle against capital and its pre-capitalist allies by all means necessary.
With the operation of capital becoming increasingly global, it is important that the resistance to capital also grows global, combining the local, national and international or global in a vibrant and expanding network. Anti-austerity protests have been gaining ground across the world, such as the #Occupy movement in the US. The US-backed, WTO-IMF-World Bank dictated economic policies are facing a massive crisis of credibility, and are being challenged by mass resistance of students and workers in Greece, Spain, Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia as well as other parts of Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere. From Canada to Greece to Chile, students and youth in particular have been at the forefront of the resistance to funding cuts in education and other social sectors. Indeed, ‘austerity’ and state withdrawal from the social welfare is possibly facing one of its greatest challenges. Chile in particular has been seeing massive protest against commercialization and privatization of education, and the Left has registered a victory in the Presidential elections.
The experience of the Soviet Union, the political trajectory in Venezuela, and the recent setbacks in Greece and Latin America clearly show that breaking away from imperialism/neo-liberal globalization is a protracted and persistent process. As Mao put it famously in the context of China, the contention between capitalism and socialism is an open and ongoing affair and can only be settled in the course of a prolonged and relentless battle. Take Greece. A resounding rejection of austerity and state withdrawal from social welfare was witnessed twice in Greece in 2015, first when the people of Greece gave a powerful anti- austerity mandate by voting Syriza to power, and then when in the face of tremendous economic hardships they once again said a loud 'No' to the austerity commandments of the Troika of IMF, European commission and European Central Bank in the referendum. However the revolutionary potential of this resistance has not been channeled to present a consistent threat to big capital and to neo-liberal policies. The Greek experience in particular should alert us to the difficulties and enormous complexities of the struggle against neo-liberalism. It points to the difficulties faced by individual elected governments in countering the dominant hegemony; it points to the need for more thought into how we can use electoral and people’s power in our battles.
In these times, when the specter of fascism, racism, xenophobia and white supremacy is no longer a mere specter, when Trump is the President–elect of the US, when forces such as UKIP as well as various neo-Nazi parties are on the rise in Europe, the Left needs to provide a genuine resistance. We need to collectively channel people’s anger away from such forces, towards a global movement for equality and dignity. We need to ensure that anger against the damage wrecked by neo-liberalism need not show up as anger against the vulnerable Black worker, against Muslims, immigrants and Latin Americans. We need to think of better ways to consolidate our victories such as opportunities to actually shape state policy. The challenge is to provide an alternative. Let us share our experiences, let us learn from each other, let us face this formidable challenge together.
S.Balasubramanian is a Central Committee Member of the Community Party of India (Marxist - Leninist) Liberation
Contribution presented at the forum: “Exit Capitalism – Build The Left”. Socialism International 2016. 25-27 November 2016. KL Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.