Links 19: Editor's introduction

The future of revolution

Only a decade after “the end of communism” and even “the end of history”—the capitalist vision of an eternal neo-liberal utopia for the wealthy—capitalist globalisation has given rise to a new movement challenging capital’s prerogatives, its privileges and even its right to exist. Revolution—the remaking of history by the masses of working people—clearly has more life in it than its enemies imagined. Eternal utopias have seldom been so short-lived as this recent capitalist version.

This is not to deny the defeat involved in the collapse of the post-capitalist states in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, nor the necessity to learn as much as can be learned from that defeat. But it does indicate that those on the left who concluded that capitalism is invincible drew entirely the wrong conclusion. In this issue of Links, three writers take up different aspects of the continued relevance of revolution.

James Petras, the noted Marxist writer on Latin America, directly confronts the pessimistic interpretation of Perry Anderson, the editor of New Left Review, who proclaimed the definitive triumph of US imperialism and the total defeat of the left. At least in part, Petras argues, views such as Anderson’s are based on an oversimplification of post-World War ii socialist history: “… the leftist past is much more complex and contradictory than the picture of 1950s conformity, 1960s-1970s revolutionary upsurge and 1980-2000 defeat and dissolution”.

Petras goes on to outline the interactions between a range of struggles in both the underdeveloped world and the imperialist countries throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, to demonstrate the fallacies of the “all is lost” school. He also points out factors undermining the present us ascendancy and the growth of class polarisation within the imperialist countries as well as between First World and Third World. The situation justifies revolutionary optimism rather than pessimism: “Struggles for reforms … are linked to structural challenges to empire and in some cases to the property regime. Multiple collective agencies of greater or lesser strength have emerged to call into question the new imperial order, in a few instances struggling for state power.”

Dipankar Bhattacharya calls attention to the new movements’ need for Marxism in order to analyse and understand globalisation: “We need Marxism today not just as a doctrine of resistance. More importantly, we have to rediscover the depth and breadth of Marx’s analysis of capitalism. We need Marxism as a guide to action as well as comprehension.” Without a Marxist analysis of social relations to challenge it, he argues, capitalist ideology can easily portray globalisation as essentially a matter of technology: “… the discourse of globalisation is used to camouflage capitalism and to nurture illusions about a democratic capitalism, equating globalisation with democratisation”.

Boris Kagarlitsky analyses globalisation from the standpoint of changing relations between financial and industrial capital, changes conditioned by a long-term crisis of profitability. At a time when the us boom of the 1990s is coming to an end, he writes, even sections of capital will reject neo-liberalism, which is unable to defend their interests adequately in the new circumstances. This will contribute to a situation of political instability whose approach is already visible in the beginnings of a new mass movement. He calls for socialists to seize the opportunity to revitalise the idea of democratically controlled public property and social control of investment.

A key element of a revolutionary strategy, of course, is the defence of existing revolutions. “The Cuban Revolution in the epoch of neoliberal globalisation”, adopted by the Democratic Socialist Party in Australia, emphasises the importance of the example of the Cuban Revolution for the worldwide struggle for socialism: “The question posed is: if the Cuban people, beset by difficulties for 40 years and target of unremitting US hostility, can set the foundations for a humane and fair society, what could be achieved in richer, bigger countries and—by implication—on a world scale?”

As imperialism increases the gap between the First and Third Worlds, women are “the most oppressed, the most illiterate, the most underpaid, the least likely to have or exercise citizenship rights”, writes Pat Brewer. This has led some strands of feminism to regard women as a colonised people analogous to a Third World nation colonised by imperialism. Brewer investigates this argument and concludes that it does not help the struggle for liberation because it “distorts and diverts the reality of women’s oppression”.

Two other articles deal with the ongoing Links theme of international left collaboration. Murray Smith of the Scottish Socialist Party contributes to the continuing discussion of the forms of international collaboration. Sundaram, from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), reports on the Indonesian police raid on the Asia-Pacific People’s Solidarity Conference being held near Jakarta in June. While the police prevented the conference from continuing, the political battle by the organisers and participants, supported by progressive organisations around the world, turned the event into a severe embarrassment for the forces seeking to re-establish military domination of the country.