Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Draft Manifesto of New Socialist Initiative [Part - II]

Nature for Profit and Accumulation
Humanity is a part of Nature but it is crucially different from all the other parts. It is the only part that can consciously and deliberately intervene in Nature. Such interventions have been, from times immemorial, the primal basis for emergence and growth of human civilization. Human interventions in Nature are necessarily mediated through the social modes of production and reproduction. In producing the conditions of their life humans also ‘produce’ Nature. A part of the whole assumes agency for reconstituting the whole, at least on the planetary scale.

Capitalism has taken this process to unprecedented and extreme heights. Immense development of productive forces, in the form of science and technology as well as in the form of colossal and enormously complex means, mechanisms and structures for organizing human activities, has given it extraordinary, almost magical, powers of command and control over Nature. It can harness natural forces, appropriate natural resources, alter natural processes and reclaim functions and territories from Nature in ways and on scales never before witnessed in human history. More importantly, and dangerously, with all these powers at its command it has harnessed Nature in its relentless pursuit of profits and accumulation. The system that has such powers of control over Nature and over humanity has no control over its own compulsive logic of maximizing profits at any cost. The tamer of all forces cannot tame its own rapacity. The controller of all humans cannot control its own drives. It is this irony that resides at the root of the emerging threat to the planet. It is this tragedy that imperils the sustainability of human life on this planet.

A key ideological move necessary for making the capitalist pattern of production and consumption entrenched in the world is to externalize and objectify Nature. It is taken as something external to humanity—something that humans can blithely feast on. No one, then, has to count the environmental cost of the capitalist pattern of production and consumption. Capital earns enormous profits through this pattern while it does not have to pay for the environmental cost. But if it is challenged on this count, it finds escape routes ushering into equally lucrative territories. It makes money while it destroys the environment, but it also makes money when it tries to mend it. When movements arise and policies are formulated that force it to reckon environmental costs, it finds ways to transfer these costs to the people and rakes in further profits in the process. Capitalists make money when environmental considerations drive commodity prices to higher levels, when new technologies and processes are to be fabricated and new production methods instituted for controlling environmental damage, when governments and public institutions outsource the work of cleaning up the environmental mess to the same system of private firms and markets that created the mess in the first place.

Today’s capitalism has gone even further. There are ecological commodities and related financial instruments on the market. Global corporations and rich nations can buy ‘carbon credits’ and continue to dump carbon into the atmosphere. Poor nations and communities can preserve their own forests and wildlife and plant trees for the rich of the world. They can earn ‘carbon credits’ and make some money if they refrain from adding carbon to the atmosphere themselves and toil to absorb some of the carbon spewed up by the rich. They can earn ‘wetland credits’ and make some money if they can preserve their own wetlands, so that the planet can have sufficient acreage of it as required by sustainability conditions, even as the developmental projects for the rich continue to swallow large chunks of it. Such examples are beginning to proliferate. Even a new kind of ‘futures market’ has emerged where financial instruments based on anticipated future prices of ecological commodities get traded. The poor are being paid to remain poor so that the rich can continue with their opulent ways of life. And, in the process, capital is creating new markets and finding new avenues of making further profits.
Even that is not all. Today’s capitalism does not stop at appropriating and despoiling Nature and burdening the poor with the task of redemption. It has proceeded to harness and alter natural processes and, more importantly, claim monopoly over the rights to do so. It commands science and technology to create genetically modified foods, design wonder drugs, fabricate self-reproducing molecules for industrial as well as therapeutic purposes and harvest organs with the help of cloning. An increasingly strict and rapidly escalating regime of Intellectual Property Rights ensures that capitalist corporations possess a secure monopoly over these technologies and over the markets that emerge there from. Private ownership is the most sacrosanct principle of capitalism and capital is not content with owning natural objects and resources. It must own the natural laws and the natural processes themselves. The wonder molecules cannot move out of the proprietors’ laboratories and start getting fabricated in someone else’s lab or start curing diseases on a mass level. The GM seeds cannot spill and start reproducing into the fields whose owners have not purchased the rights to sow them. The risks involved in the new technologies are to be borne by the entire society, but the gains must be the exclusive monopoly of those who own them.
There is no doubt about the fact that the threat of an all-out ecological disaster looms large over the planet. In the long-term, the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. In the short term, it is already paying a heavy price. There should also be no doubt about the fact that capitalism has become the principal reason behind this threat. Its mode of running the affairs of the world is at the root of this impending catastrophe.
Those who think that ecological balance can be regained and long-term sustainability can be ensured without fighting capitalism are avoiding the first and the foremost step in the long march towards this goal. Those who think that it is possible to get rid of the capitalist pattern of production and consumption without getting rid of capitalism are proposing to remove the ever-proliferating consequences without removing their root cause. Those who think that humanity will turn back to the ancient modes and adopt preservation of a pristine Nature as its supreme goal are nothing but romantics pining for an imaginary world. They too, in their own way, end up externalizing and objectifying Nature. Humanity cannot be imagined without Nature, but Nature too can no longer be imagined without humanity and its interventions. The real question is: what kinds of interventions can ensure sustainability as well as progress worthy of a humanity that is prosperous, emancipated and free, and what kind of system can ensure such a future for humanity?
On the other hand, those who think that capitalism has inbuilt mechanisms for correcting its practices that create ecological imbalances have, at best, a naïve faith in the supposed rationality of capitalism. They forget that capitalism’s rationality is a captive of capitalism’s logic. It cannot transcend the limits set by this logic. If capitalism does appear to correct some of its environmental misconducts, it also forces humanity to pay a very heavy and a very unjustly distributed price.
However, fighting capitalism cannot be the beginning and the end of the struggle for ecological sustainability. Those who think that socialism would automatically ensure ecologically sustainable practices are afflicted with another kind of naïve faith. They forget that socialism would arise out of the conditions created by capitalism and men and women who would themselves be products of capitalist societies would build it. It is hard enough to get rid of capitalism, but it would be even harder to get rid of all its creations and consequences. It is not in the interest of capitalism that men and women become conscious of the effects of their interventions in Nature. Indeed, unreflective instrumentalism is such a deep affliction of capitalism that it begins to corrupt even the natural self-reflexivity of science. It becomes more and more difficult to incorporate into the knowledge of Nature the impact of the human interventions into Nature, much of it driven by science and technology. Society grows accustomed to a Promethean ideology that seeks mastery over Nature without reckoning the consequences of all it does to establish and exercise such mastery. It will not be an easy task to undo all this in the immediate aftermath of capitalism. The creators of the new system would have to be aware of this challenge.
The struggle for ecological balance and sustainability starts with the fight against capitalism but it does not end with it. Humanity, in particular the working class, would have to put in place a system that achieves this goal and makes these concerns an integral part of human progress. Humanity cannot do without interventions in Nature and it cannot do without coming up with ever-newer forms of such interventions. But, these interventions must incorporate wisdom and self-reflexivity necessary for preservation and reproduction of ecological balance and sustainability. There is no canonical model of socialism that can automatically ensure this. Instead, socialism would have to be freshly envisioned and designed to incorporate these concerns and achieve this goal.
The New Empire of Capital
If capital is at the root of all that is wrong with the world, why does the world, even after half a millennium of enduring its wrongs, continue to put up with it? If it exploits workers, deprives all toilers of much of the fruits of their toil, preserves and reproduces the social relations that keep women, dalits, people of colour, and other excluded and marginalized communities under subjugation and oppression, if it is responsible for putting the planet in peril, and if it prevents humanity from realizing its full potential, why after all this does the humanity continue to tolerate it? What is the secret behind this unreasonable longevity of capital?
Such questions have been asked right from the time the true nature of capital began to be recognized. And even as the core of the answer has been available for as long as the questions themselves, the answer has also changed over the course of time. Struggles against capital have gone through various phases, new realities have emerged, fresh facts have come to light and further insights have been gained. The apparent longevity of capital is to be understood in the historical context and fresh strategies to fight it must be designed in this light.
Capital emerged in a “little corner of the world” but its logic had a much wider potential and its ambitions knew no boundaries. Its unfolding also gave rise to new forces that would oppose it from the very beginning. Soon after bourgeois revolutions overthrew the old order in parts of Europe—the little corner of the world—revolutions against capital appeared on the horizon. But it was going to be a long and difficult struggle. Could capital be defeated in its original home when it had the whole world to spread out to? Capital usually has much easier time overcoming its structural crises and defending itself against its own logic when it has pre-capitalist systems and life-worlds to feed on—a situation that lasted for centuries and still continues in some measures.
Furthermore, the global spread of capital was not going to be a one-time process. It did not proceed uniformly and it was never going to culminate in a flat and a homogeneously capitalist world. Unevenness of growth and hierarchy of structures were encoded in the genetic make-up of capital. All through its history the global expansion of capital has moved in fits and starts with periods of rapid expansions interrupted by sudden crises, and at every stage capitalist development has been extremely uneven across the globe. This spasmodic movement of capital has taken it to the far corners of the world but it has also created conditions for massive upheavals and great revolutions. Capitalism has lived long because the world is a big place, but it has always lived a troubled life.
The first global empire of capital was created under the conditions of colonialism. By the end of the nineteenth century the world had been divided among the imperialist powers. The colonial phase of imperialism was a combined outcome of the logic of capital as well as of the historically given conditions. Early capitalist powers of Europe had begun the process of colonization in the sixteenth century itself and the resources plundered from colonies had played a pivotal role in the initial accumulation for European capitalism. But it was only after the maturation of capitalism into the monopoly stage that colonies became structural necessities for the survival of capital. Colonialism became integrally woven into capital’s global-imperial structure. Henceforth the unevenness of further growth created destabilizing pressures within this structure and brought the imperialist powers into irreconcilable conflict with each other, giving rise to the global wars of the twentieth century for re-dividing the world.
The same course of history also created conditions for a new wave of revolutions. These revolutions were very different from the ones that had potentially threatened European capitalism during much of the nineteenth century. Globally the revolutions of the twentieth century threatened the imperial structure of capital, but locally—in the societies where they actually occurred—they were not so much against capital as they were against monarchy, feudalism and colonialism. They were led by communist parties but, with the sole exception of October Revolution, working class was not the main force behind them. These revolutions broke the imperialist chain at its weaker links but internally they were invariably saddled with tasks bequeathed by undeveloped or underdeveloped capitalism.
During the twentieth century capital faced challenges on three interconnected fronts. First, it was challenged by the emergence of a socialist bloc. Twentieth century socialism had its own weaknesses and it was an internally divided bloc, but it nevertheless interrupted the capitalist order from becoming a unified global system. This challenge could have been met only by defeating socialism and by dissolving the socialist bloc. Second, the colonial structure of capitalist imperialism was challenged by the anti-colonial national struggles. This was not necessarily a challenge to capitalism itself but it definitely challenged the structure through which capital at the time operated on the global scale. This challenge could have been met either by defeating the anti-colonial struggles and maintaining the status quo or by creating a new global structure for capitalism that did not depend on colonialism. Third, capital was challenged by crises emanating from its own internal logic. This was not a new phenomenon but, during the twentieth century and in the monopoly stage of capitalism, it assumed menacing proportions. There was no permanent solution to this problem within the capitalist system but it became possible to get over these crises through a series of intensive restructurings of capitalism and through significant changes in the modus operandi of capital.
Together these three factors brought about major transformations within the capitalist system. The basic nature of capital remained unaltered but capitalism of the late twentieth century looked very different from what it had been a century earlier. It had gone through both extensive and intensive changes.
Changes of the extensive type are most clearly visible in the postcolonial order of global capitalism. In the colonial phase of imperialism colonies were appended to the respective imperialist countries that ruled over them. Such a segmented world of colonialism afforded a global arena to the imperialist capital but, in the long run, it also acted as a barrier to the global spread of capitalism. Colonial plunder resulted in a massive accumulation of capital in the metropolitan centres, but very little capital was ploughed back into the colonies. Furthermore, the segmented structure of the colonial world severely obstructed the movement of goods and capital across the segments attached to different imperialist powers. From today’s vantage point it looks like a case of self-inflicted double injury on capital. On the one hand, the colonial world order acted as a barrier to capitalist development in the colonies and made capital blind to the golden opportunity for augmenting itself in a less hazardous manner through investments in its own captive backyard. On the other hand, the over-accumulation in the metropolitan centres and the constricted avenues for global investments aggravated the capitalist crises and further heightened the inter-imperialist contradictions.
Imperialism did not willingly relinquish its hold over colonies. It did all it could to suppress and defeat the anti-colonial struggles. However, with the end of the colonial era, it has drawn necessary lessons and prepared itself for the postcolonial realities. During the closing decades of the twentieth century it fashioned a new global structure for itself and adjusted its modus operandi in accordance with the new realities.
In the postcolonial world order there is a significant movement of capital into the erstwhile colonies. Of course, this influx remains highly uneven, with only a few of the ‘emerging economies’ absorbing the lion’s share while a large part of the third world remains ‘capital-starved’. But, compared to the colonial times, the imperialist strategy has undergone a sea-change. Instead of acting as a barrier to capitalist development, as it did during the colonial times, it is now geared towards promoting such a development in the erstwhile colonies.
Also, the postcolonial world is much less segmented. A given country of the third world, or a given group of them, is no longer tied exclusively to a given imperialist country. There is a much greater realization among the imperialist powers that an unhindered movement of goods and capital across the globe enlarges the arena for capital in general, which is very helpful in softening its structural limits that would otherwise become incomparably more threatening. This is the main reason behind the recent spurt in the globalization of capital—a new strategy and a changed modus operandi of imperialism for the postcolonial times.
Effects of the new changes are unmistakable. Measured in quantitative terms the long term economic growth in the colonial world during the first half of the twentieth century was non-existent if not negative. In contrast it has been substantial during the second half, and in many of the countries, including the largest ones such as China and India, it has been extraordinarily rapid. Capitalists from the ‘emergent economies’ are joining the ranks of the world’s richest and buying some of the largest corporations in the global metropolis. Subjects and compradors of an earlier era are now being welcomed as partners, even if in a junior status, into the new world order and the rulers of a selected few among the third world countries are finding a place on the high table of imperialists. Such a situation would have been unthinkable not only in the colonial era but even in the typically neocolonial decades of 50s, 60s and 70s in the previous century.
Changes of the intensive type have been equally remarkable. Capital has not only refashioned its global empire, it has also changed its ways of working within each country and each economy. This internal restructuring was forced by the great crises of the twentieth century such as the two world wars and the great depression. It was also forced by the challenge that socialism posed especially in the first half of the century. One of the most important developments that came out of this restructuring was the emergence of the ‘welfare state’. The pretense that an unfettered operation of capital was the best way to run capitalism and that the economy should be left entirely to the free play of market forces was dropped in practice even if it kept making appearance in the ideological stance. The state began massive interventions in the economy through the command and deployment of resources on a large scale and through regulation of capital and of markets in significant ways.
The economy has undergone other kinds of changes as well. New sectors of economy have emerged and these account for a large share of all economic activities. New goods have come into existence, new kinds of consumption habits and patterns have emerged, new markets have been created and new technologies have appeared in waves to be deployed in the new as well as the old sectors. Relative weights of the old sectors, such as manufacturing and agriculture, have been drastically altered and the new sectors have been articulated into the old ones in intricate ways.
The immense changes—both extensive and intensive—in the structure and dynamics of capital during the twentieth century helped it get over an unending series of crises and gave it new leases of life. But it has been a life afflicted with grave ailments and the future holds even greater risks. It is already clear that the new century isn’t going to be a century of bliss. If the dying years of the twentieth century saw a financial meltdown and an enormous economic crisis in the South-east Asia, the first decade of the new century is ending with a much greater crisis on a global scale. If the former required an injection of hundreds of billions of dollars to avert disaster, the latter threatens to devour thousands of billions. Capital seems to drag itself out of one crisis only to walk into another of even greater proportions. And it never seems to be able to strike a balance, never able to find the elusive equilibrium. Risks of the market place force it into the lap of the state, but the costs of the state-driven strategies pull it back towards the market, only to be pushed back again by the threats of looming disasters.
And yet, it will be unwise for the adversaries of capital to expect that it is going to walk to its grave on its own. It will be erroneous to anticipate an absolute structural limit that is imminent and against which capital is about to crash—a predetermined point at which it will explode and beyond which socialism will unstoppably unfold and have a smooth sail. Undoubtedly, capital’s rounding of the globe has greatly diminished its options to further displace its structural limits to the outer boundaries, but such options are far from completely exhausted. In addition it has found new ways to soften these limits by adding further layers in its internal structure. A century ago it looked moribund and great revolutions succeeded in defeating it at its weak points. It was not unreasonable to expect at the time that further links in the imperialist chain could be broken and a crisis-ridden and besieged capitalism could be defeated even in its heartland. A century later the situation is markedly different. Capital hasn’t discovered an elixir of immortality, nor has it found a solution to the problem of recurrent crises emanating from its own logic. But it will be a mistake to think that it hasn’t learned any lessons. It will be a greater mistake to imagine that the strategies forged a century ago will still be effective in the fight against capital today.
More than ever before capital now is a global entity—a global mode of production and a global organism for social metabolic reproduction. It lives in and breathes through a global structure. In the final reckoning, it can be defeated and transcended only at the global level. Battles will surely be won at the local levels and revolutionary ruptures will necessarily be taking place at the level of nation-states, but these can succeed only as a part of a global strategy. Another organism can find a place and reside within this global organism but only to overcome it finally or be overcome by it.
This was true even a century ago when the previous wave of revolutions had begun. But it was not true in the same way and with the same intensity as it is today. Back then it was much easier to break the chain at its weak links. Now capitalism is much more integrated globally and the chain analogy does not work very well. It was relatively easier then for a socialist or proto-socialist economy to break itself away from the rest of the world and survive in a state of encirclement and embargo. The present economic and political structure of the world makes such a task incomparably more difficult. Back then revolutions took place in societies where capital was not yet entrenched and it was relatively easy to arouse the masses against the blatantly unjust and oppressive pre-capitalist and proto-capitalist social relations. Now revolutions are on agenda in societies where capital is already entrenched and capitalist relations have become much more firmly rooted among the people. This will require an entirely new strategy.
The global nature of capital today does not mean, however, that revolution against capitalism will be at once global. In spite of the rapid globalization of capital during the recent decades, the political structure of the world remains firmly rooted in the system of nation-states. Globalization has not brought the world any closer to having a global state, and such a thing is never going to happen under capitalism. The system of nation-states eminently serves the interest of global capital. The fences of the nation-states are no hindrance to the movement of capital whereas they are formidable barriers to the movement of people. They work very effectively in managing contradictions that arise continuously from capital’s operations. Most importantly, nation-states are the best arrangements for acquiring popular legitimacy for the bourgeois rule. Defeat of colonialism has further strengthened the idea that sovereignty of nation-state is inviolable. A century ago it was possible for one imperialist power from a small island nation to keep half of the world under colonial subjugation. Today it is such an impossible task for the most powerful imperialist mammoth on the planet to establish a long-term military-colonial rule over just one country in the Middle East.
Nation-states, therefore, are not an unadulterated blessing for capital. The factors that make them inviolable in the eyes of people also promise significant protection from outside interference when they turn into arenas of revolution. The political structure based on nation-states makes it certain that the coming revolutions will still start out as revolutions within the nation-states. Capital can be finally defeated only at the global level but the fight will start at the level of nation-states.
Political revolutions, however, are only the first acts that inaugurate the long course of social revolutions. The revolution against capital too will begin in political revolutions, but the long struggle to go beyond capital will succeed only through a thoroughgoing social revolution. Political revolutions result in complete ruptures in the political arena—a complete dismantling of the existing state and creation of a new state on a new class basis. Those who think that political revolutions can be achieved through gradual transitions in which the existing state itself can be claimed and used for the purpose of creating a new society have been correctly denounced in the history of revolutions. Without a complete rupture in the political arena and without a complete replacement of the existing bourgeois state by a revolutionary state the social revolution against capital cannot even begin.
On the other hand, those who think that the social revolution too can be achieved through a complete and immediate rupture as necessarily is the case in the political domain are nothing but daydreamers. A whole society cannot be replaced by a new society at one go just as a ship on the high sea cannot be rebuilt at once into a whole new ship. It has to be replaced plank by plank while keeping the ship afloat. Social systems go through radical transformations while their reproduction continues. The task is further complicated by the fact that human beings who bring about these radical transformations are themselves a product of the societies they wish to change. Social revolutions require the revolutionary agents themselves to be revolutionized and transformed. The processes necessary for such a transformation are incomparably more complex and its time scale is necessarily long. The processes of social transformations feed into transformation of humans and the processes of transforming humans feed back into the structural transformations of the society.
The fact that revolutions against capital can begin only in political revolutions that will inevitably take place within nation-states, and the fact that social revolutions necessary for going beyond capital will go through a long process and the final victory against capital will be achieved only at the global scale, together place very challenging tasks before socialist revolutions. The complexities of social revolutions within nation states, immense as they are in themselves, are further compounded by the global environment in which these revolutions will have to proceed. More than ever before socialist revolutions will have to find ways to survive as alien organisms within the organism of global capital in such a manner that they are finally able to overcome this much larger organism. The strategy that dwells on refusing to deal with world capital and focuses exclusively on protecting socialism within a national boundary or else decides to march on to defeat capital globally before taking up the tasks of social revolution, as well as the strategy that begins to imitate capitalism within the boundaries of the socialist society, will both lead to the same result—being overcome by the organism of capital. Among many challenges that confront the adversaries of capital and take them into uncharted waters, this one is perhaps the most formidable one. And this perhaps is the most pressing reason among all that call upon the revolutionaries to re-evaluate the lessons of the rise and fall of twentieth century socialism and to re-envision socialism for the future.
[Continued in next post]


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