Autumn Number 2019

Back To Basics

Whither Communist International?

Sankar Ray

Four years ago when Paul Mason wrote that the process of collapse of Capitalism kicked off, sadly true, the official Left—rather the official Marxist parties (rather Leninist variants)- were too frail to seize the opportunity. For, actually their ideological appeal the world over began falling through since the early 1960s. The global response to Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was proved to be ephemeral. The media hype (especially the major capitalist newspapers, their admirable openness notwithstanding) was due to the fanatic anti-Sovietism that too with distortion of history. The retaliation from Moscow when the powerful Communist Party of Soviet Union was kicking (albeit defunct in less than four decades thereafter) was almost equally pungent. The inimical polemics between Beijing and Moscow (Seeds of which were sown in the ostensibly historic Letter from the Central Committee of CP of China to the CC of CPSU on 14 June 1963), whose acronym was '25 points'. It was promptly greeted by the Trotskyist Fourth International- "They call it 25 points. We call it Trotskyism") created an indecent burial to the proletarian international.

Some Communist veterans including this writer are of the view that it is unrealistic to expect the official Left to rise again from the ashes. The probability of resurrection of the official Left is very little despite new reality penned by Mason. "The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse", he wrote. The symptomatic manifestation of the catastrophic phenomenon was the 'Sub-Prime Crisis' in 2008—a mini-financial tsunami that demolished the hitherto unassailable authority of the Chicago School of monetary economics, whose founding priest was a Nobel laureate in economics, Milton Friedman. With bombarding of the myth of panacea in the Keynesian, neo-Keynesian, classical or neo-classical prescriptions, the relevance of Das Kapital of Karl Heinrich Marx—Capital: Critique of Political Economy was regenerated. Even apologists of neo-liberal finance capital looked up to the magnum opus, but not to endorse Marxian theories. They were in search of causes for the mega-financial crisis. Their inebriation about the Chicago School blinded their logic of inquisitiveness, In the very early 1970s, John Kenneth Galbraith in his speech as president of the American Economic Association warned against the reliance on neo-Keynesian and neo-classical economics. "The capacity for erroneous belief is very great, especially where it coincides with convenience." His words were ignored.

Mason was disillusioned with the Left and said, "over the past 25 years it has been the left's project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a 'proletariat', but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did." However, his perception 'individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity' was misconceived'. His conception is at the most Leninist, not Marxian.

But Mason did not envision an anti-capitalist transformation. "Capitalism", he noted, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. This may be called post-capitalism" whose motive factor would be 'information technology' but through 'new ways of working and the sharing economy. The old ways will take a long while to disappear, but it's time to be utopian', he explained.

The Left was to seize the opportunity of collapse of grand experiment of neo-liberal finance capital in the post-USSR era in 2008. But it has been incapable of ideology-centric 'Marxism', not to speak of freeing itself from its hangover. Marx was stubbornly opposed to all ideologies and ideologues, in direct contrast to Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao and all who endorsed experimenting socialism under a totalitarian state. In German Ideology, Marx (and Engels) stated, "In all ideology, the human beings and their relations appear to their head." Precisely out of this unequivocal rejection of the very concept of ideology, Marx opposed the term 'Marxist' (coined by his first biographer Franz Mehring in 1981) and hence Marxism. After a session of the International Working Men's Association ( First International) in 1981 Marx wrote to Paul Lafargue, "Ce qu'il y a de certain c'est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste." (If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist). At the IWMA session, Marx's supporters were branded as 'Marxists 'and Marx felt irritated silent endorsement by Lafargue and Jules Guesde, two top French socialist leaders. To have endorsed 'Marxism' was to accept an ideology which Marx and Engels would have never approved of.

The state of the official Left including the official Marxist parties in India is pathetically weak. About the socialist stream, the less said, the better. Habituated to frequent and opportunistic combination of its split entities, they do not hesitate to collaborate with the rightwing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Hindu comprador right' (characterised by Samir Amin) and even formed governments at the Centre and the states. But Socialists had no dearth of talented thinkers such as Jaya Prakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia. Months before the stunning victory of BJP ( thanks to Narendra Modi's hypnotising oratory) in the parliamentary elections in 2014, this writer stated in an article in Lahore-based English morninger, Express Tribune, "For a student of political theory, the more interesting references are to Dr R M Lohia, eminent social thinker of the Gandhi-Nehru era and the ideological mentor socialists who comprised the think tank of Jaya Prakash Narain and his battle for ousting Indira Gandhi before and during the Emergency (1975-77). Lohia had built the basis for ending the Nehruvian political economy and polity through an opportunist slogan of anti-Congressism after the demise of Nehru in 1964 to bring the socialists and the BJS together. Modi's political shrewdness to club Lohia and Upadhyay is a polemical offensive against Lohiaites like the Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav whose party has a strong influence in UP and will elect 80-odd MPs to the 542-member lower house of parliament and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose success stories include challenging the urban-corporate hoopla of the BJP's prime-ministerial candidate. The saffron nominee's oratory is full of such verbiage that confuses the masses following his adversaries. But he knows well that ideas of Gandhi or Lohia are not in his agenda. "My apprehension proved true, although I wished it would be the opposite?"

Lohia's brilliance in erudition and originality in thinking was dwarfed by his pathological dislike towards Jawaharlal Nehru. He openly collaborated with the Jana Sangh president Deen Dayal Upadhyay, a hardcore functionary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh . The latter filed his nomination for the bye-election from Jaunpur (UP) in 1963. Lohia emerged as his principal campaigner and Upadhyay won.

A few months later, another bye-election was due at Farukkabad, also in UP. Lohia came in and Upadhyay reciprocated as a campaigner. He too was victorious. The two cashed in on India's humiliating military defeat by China in 1962 and targeted Nehru.

The situation in the West is no optimistic either. John Harriss in a lengthy discourse on the ailing Western Left stated, "The western left faces three grave challenges, which strike at the heart of its historic sense of what it is and who it speaks for. First, traditional work—and the left's sacred notion of 'the worker'—is fading, as people struggle through a new era of temporary jobs and rising self-employment, which may soon be succeeded by a drastic new age of automation. Second, there is a new wave of opposition to globalisation, led by forces on the right, which emphasises place and belonging, and a mistrust of outsiders. And all the time, politics rapidly fragments, which leaves the idea that one single party or ideology can represent a majority of people looking like a relic. The 20th century, in other words, really is over. Whether the left can return to meaningful power in the 21st is a question currently surrounded by a profound sense of doubt." (John Harriss: Has the Left a future? Guardian-London- 6 September,2016).

A more theoretically sound analysis was narrated by Wolfgang Streek, German economic sociologist and emeritus director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in his Max Weber lecture at the European University Institute, Florence in 2011: 'The Crises of Democratic Capitalism'—meaning the post-World War II capitalism.. The post-2008 crisis is fully understandable "in terms of the ongoing, inherently conflictual transformation of the social formation we call 'democratic capitalism' " instead of looking at it beyond the tradition of mainstream economics that conceives 'society as governed by a general tendency toward equilibrium, where crises and change are no more than temporary deviations from the steady state of a normally well-integrated system. ' As a sociologist, he identified 'a one-off disturbance to a fundamental condition of stability' as an ingredient of 'Great Recession'. The near-collapse of public finances thereafter was 'a manifestation of a basic underlying tension in the political-economic configuration of advanced-capitalist societies; a tension which makes disequilibrium and instability the rule rather than the exception, and which has found expression in a historical succession of disturbances within the socio-economic order'

Streek is of the view that democratic capitalism 'functioned extraordinarily well for the next two decades-so well, in fact, that this period of uninterrupted economic growth still dominates our ideas and expectations of what modern capitalism is, or could and should be.' And it had a cushion for turbulence for the quarter century. What then befell the hitherto stable capitalism? The German economic sociologist thinks, 'it is not the trente glorieuses but the series of crises which followed that represents the normal condition of democratic capitalism-a condition ruled by an endemic conflict between capitalist markets and democratic politics, which forcefully reasserted itself when high economic growth came to an end in the 1970s.. He reminded us of the famed Austrian economist Friedrich August von Hayek, strong defender of classical liberalism, who in his last years 'advocated abolishing democracy', obviously the economic freedom and civil liberty. "The cantus firmus of current neo-institutionalist economic theory is thoroughly Hayekian. To work properly, capitalism requires a rule-bound economic policy, with protection of markets and property rights constitutionally enshrined against discretionary political interference; independent regulatory authorities; central banks, firmly protected from electoral pressures; and international institutions, such as the European Commission or the European Court of Justice, that do not have to worry about popular re-election. Such theories studiously avoid the crucial question of how to get there from here, however; very likely because they have no answer, or at least none that can be made public', Streek explained in trying to conceptualise the underlying causes of the friction between capitalism and democracy.

The post-2008 years democratic capitalism confronted a distributional conflict between global financial investors and sovereign nation-states with the failure of structural reforms that the IMF perceived as a pamacea. The tradition of struggle between the workers and management was pushed aside as financial institutions unprece-dentedly had to wrestle 'with the very states that they had only recently, more so when the underlying configuration of power and interests turned far more complex awaiting systematic exploration.

None of the official Marxist parties came up with any original perception about the post-2008 global capitalist order and thus failed miserably to take on the multiple disorders like inflation, public deficits and excessive private or public debt, let alone realising the insufficient knowledge of the laws governing the economy as a wealth-creation machine of selfish pursuit-driven political power. They are no longer capable of making political appeals for redistributive 'solidarity', organisationally.

The desperate neo-liberal finance capital embraced rightist populism that escalated globally with varying oppressive strategies including fascistic fangs. "They do not all look the same, but group them together and they clearly form a political family: Orbán, Erdogan, Kaczynski, Trump, Modi, perhaps Netanyahu, Bolsonaro for sure. It would be a mistake to homogenise what are, after all, fundamentally different national trajectories: the causes of the rise of right-wing populism are not identical in every case. But there is a trend which it is important to understand: right-wing populists have developed a common strategy and what might even be called a shared authoritarian-populist art of governance—it's this that produces the family resemblance.The populist art of governance is based on nationalism (often with racist overtones), on hijacking the state for the ends of partisan loyalists and, less obviously, on weaponising the economy to secure political power: a combination of culture war, patronage and mass clientelism. The specificity of these characteristics tends to be missed by those who equate contemporary right-wing populism with fascism, or see populism as a new ideology, or assume that 'ordinary people' brought all this on themselves with their craving for authoritarianism." These words—poignant to those who keep battling for rationalism and human values in a hostile world around—are of Jan-Werner Müller, professor of politics at the Princeton University.

The task to keep track and fathom into the ailing capitalism that seeks survival in reactionary populism is historically bestowed on the posterity. The groundwork is built by an entirely new breed of Marx scholars who hyphenate themselves from official Marxists and the latter's Marxism obsessed with ldeology-fetishism. The new optimism is scripted by the grand project—'historical critical edition of Complete Works of Marx and Engels (Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe- MEGA) that began in 1991, under the International Marx Engels Foundation (IMES) in Amsterdam.

Back to Home Page

Autumn Number 2019
Vol. 52, No. 13 - 16, Sep 29 - October 26, 2019