People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 47

November 22, 2009

 International Communist Movement in the 21st Century

 

Sitaram Yechury

 

FOLLOWING the demise of the Soviet Union when the international communist movement was thrown into disarray, many contingents attempted to understand and draw the correct lessons from this experience. We in the CPI(M) had done so in our 14th Congress in January 1992.

 

In the then prevailing situation, when some parties were abandoning the communist ideal and the Red flag, efforts were made to regroup the international communist movement. The CPI(M) had made one such effort in May 1993 where 25 communist parties attended a seminar on the ‘Contemporary Relevance and Validity of Marxism – Leninism’ at Kolkata.

 

Subsequently after a series of discussions amongst fraternal parties, an international working group was established to consider the possibilities of holding regular annual meetings on specific themes. Thus began the current process, at the initiative of the Communist Party of Greece to hold annual meetings. After seven annual meetings held in Athens it was decided to locate these meetings in other continents as well. Accordingly, the 8th meeting took place in Portugal, the 9th in Belarus and Russia marking the 90th anniversary of the October revolution, the 10th in Brazil and now the 11th in India.

From a group of 25 parties that met at Kolkata in 1993, now to this 11th international meeting are invited 111 parties from 87 countries.

 

The consolidation of this process leading to the strengthening of the communist movement in the 21st century will however depend on how we draw the correct lessons from the experience of socialism in the 20th century and upon a correct estimation and assessment of the working of imperialism in the current phase of global capitalism.

SOCIALISM IN THE

TWENTIETH CENTURY

The creation of the Soviet Union marked the first advance in human history of the establishment of a society free from class exploitation. The rapid strides made by socialism, the transformation of a once backward economy into a mighty economic and military bulwark confronting imperialism had confirmed the superiority of the socialist system. The building of socialism in the Soviet Union is an epic saga of human endeavour.

This remains a source of inspiration to all peoples of the world who are in the midst of struggle for social emancipation. The decisive role played by the USSR in the defeat of fascism and the consequent emergence of the East European socialist countries had a profound impact on world developments. The victory over fascism provided the decisive impetus to the process of decolonialisation that saw the liberation of countries from colonial exploitation. The historical triumph of the Chinese revolution, the heroic Vietnamese people's struggle, the Korean people's struggle and the triumph of the Cuban revolution made a tremendous influence on world developments.

The achievements of the socialist countries -- the eradication of poverty and illiteracy, the elimination of unemployment, the vast network of social security in the fields of education, health, housing, etc. -- provided a powerful impetus to the working people all over the world in their struggles.

World capitalism met this challenge to its order, partly by adopting welfare measures and granting rights that it never conceded to the working people before. The entire conception of a welfare state and the social security network created in the post-second world war capitalist countries was a result of the struggles of the working people in these countries inspired by the achievements of socialism. The democratic rights that are today considered as inalienable from human civilisation are also the product of the people's struggle for social transformation and not the charity of bourgeois class rule.

These revolutionary transformations brought about qualitative leaps in human civilisation and left an indelible imprint on modern civilisation. This was reflected in all fields of culture, aesthetics, science, etc. While Eisenstein revolutionised cinematography, the Sputnik expanded the frontiers of modern science to outer space.

Yet, despite such tremendous advances, that too under the most exacting of circumstances and hostile environment, why is it that the mighty USSR could not consolidate and sustain the socialist order?

There were, generally speaking, two areas where wrong understanding and consequent errors were committed. The first pertains to the nature of assessments of contemporary world realities and about the very concept of socialism. The second concerns the practical problems confronted during the period of socialist construction.
 

INCORRECT

ESTIMATIONS

Despite the unprecedented and path-breaking advances made by socialism in the 20th  century, it must be borne in mind that all socialist revolutions barring a few (not all)  in East Europe took place in relatively backward capitalistically developed countries. While this vindicated the Leninist understanding of breaking the imperialist chain at its weakest link, it nevertheless permitted world capitalism to retain its hold over the developed productive forces and, hence, also the potential for its future development. The socialist countries removed one-third of the world market from capitalism. This, however, did not directly affect either the levels of advances already made by world capitalism in developing the productive forces, or in capitalism's capacity to further develop the productive forces on the basis of scientific and technological advances. This permitted world capitalism to overcome the setbacks caused by socialist revolutions to develop the productive forces and further expand the capitalist market.  Given the existing correlation of class forces internationally, imperialism achieved the expansion of the capitalist market through neo-colonialism.

On the other hand, given the pace and qualitatively higher advances made by socialism in a relatively short span (recall that the Soviet Union came to match the might of the fascist military machine in less than a decade -- what took capitalism 300 years was accomplished by socialism in 30!) led to a belief that such advances were irreversible. The Leninist warning that the vanquished bourgeoisie will hit back with a force a hundred times stronger was not fully taken into account.

Further, socialism was perceived as a linear progression. Once socialism was achieved, it was erroneously thought that the future course was a straight line without any obstacles till the attainment of a classless, Communist society. Experience has also confirmed that socialism is the period of transition or, as Marx said, the first stage of the Communism -- the period between a class-divided exploitative capitalist order and the classless Communist order. This period of transition, therefore, by definition implies, not the elimination of class conflicts but its intensification, with world capitalism trying to regain its lost territory. This period, therefore, was bound to be a protracted and complex one with many a twist and turn and many a zigzag.  This was particularly so in these countries which were capitalistically backward at the time of the revolution.

The success or failure of the forces of world socialism in this struggle, at any point of time, is determined both by the success achieved in socialist construction and the international and internal correlation of class forces and their correct estimation. Incorrect estimations leading to an underestimation of the enemy both without and within the socialist countries and the overestimation of socialism had created a situation where the problems confronting the socialist countries were ignored as well as the advances and consolidation of world capitalism.

Lenin had always reminded us that the living essence of dialectics is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions. If the analysis falters or the true appreciation of the actual situation is faulty, then erroneous understandings and distortions surface.

It is such distortions and, importantly, deviations from the revolutionary content of Marxism-Leninism in later years of the USSR, particularly after the 20th Congress of the CPSU alongwith the unresolved problems in the process of socialist construction that led to these reverses.

 

In the process of socialist construction, major errors were committed in four areas viz the character of the state under socialism; deepening and enriching socialist democracy; economic construction under socialism and weaknesses in the task of strengthening the ideological consciousness of the people.

 

In other words the experience of socialism in the 20th century and its reverses do not constitute either a negation of the revolutionary tenets of Marxism-Leninism as a creative science or a negation of the socialist ideal.

 

The international communist movement in the 21st century will to a large extent be strengthened by overcoming these shortcomings in evolving the strategy and tactics for the establishment of socialism in individual countries.

 

Additionally, the degree of success of the advance of the international communist movement will be determined by a correct estimation of the correlation of class forces internationally and the dynamics of how contemporary imperialism is unfolding in a period when such a correlation is in its favour, albeit temporarily.

 

COMMON

MISCONCEPTIONS

 

Before we proceed to discuss the manner in which  imperialism has embarked on the process of strengthening its overall hegemony through globalisation and militarism, it is necessary to clear certain common misconceptions.

 

Lenin had defined imperialism as the highest and last stage of capitalism - “Eve of the Socialist Revolution”. Many have mechanically sought to interpret this to mean the imminency of the collapse of capitalism and the rise of socialism.  However, within a stage in the historical framework, there are and can be many phases through which imperialism or, for that matter, any social order can develop.  Therefore, there are different phases of imperialism while it  continues to remain the last stage of capitalism.  These phases are determined by the unfolding of the  fundamental laws of capitalist  development and the attendant levels of capital accumulation and importantly within the political conjuncture where this is happening. 

 

For instance, in the immediate post-Second World War period, when the balance of class forces in the world favoured socialism, imperialism moved into a different phase to meet that specific political conjuncture.  Within the capitalist world, in France and Italy, the Communists emerged as, by far, the most significant political force.  In several other countries, the social democrats came to power on working class support, including in Britain where Winston Churchill, a wartime hero, was  defeated in the post-war elections.  Apart from the Soviet role in the defeat of fascism, the growth of socialism in Eastern Europe, the imminent Chinese revolution and the rise of third world nationalism following decolonisation meant that in order to maintain its dominance, imperialism had to meet this threat.  This resulted in the Keynesian  demand management, the rise of the welfare State as measures to defend capitalism from the socialist threat.  State intervention to manage capitalism and thereby meet the threat of socialism was the specific phase  of immediate post-war capitalism.  This, however, allowed  capitalism to go through an unprecedented boom which led to massive levels of capital accumulation eventually through the internationalisation of finance capital  which set the stage for the emergence of a new – the current – phase of imperialism.

 

Given the fact that the political correlation of forces  internationally has shifted in its favour,  imperialism has been permitted circumstances whereby the quest of profit maximisation can proceed unhindered aided by colossal levels of capital accumulation leading to the emergence of international finance capital (IFC).  This is one of the  salient features of the post-Cold War world capitalism.  Lenin in Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalis had defined finance capital as capital “controlled by banks and employed by industrialists”.  Further, unlike in Lenin's time, IFC  operates not in the pursuit of specific strategic interests of specific nations but internationally.  It also operates in a world not riven by intense inter-imperialist rivalry but in a world where such rivalry is muted by the very emergence of this international finance capital which seeks to operate over the entire undivided world.  This does not suggest the cessation of inter-imperialist contradictions.  These not merely exist but  are bound to intensify in the future given the basic capitalist law of uneven development.  This leads to conflicts of interests between capitalist centres given their relative future strengths. 

 

This  international finance capital is  no longer separate or detached from the world of production.  The financial structure  is a superstructure of capitalist production,  but it is not detached, but it is enmeshed with industrial capital in its pursuit of profit maximisation.  The IFC now leads the commonality of purpose  to unleash fresh attacks to vastly increase levels of capital accumulation and profit maximisation, further. 

 

ATTACK OF

NEO-LIBERALISM

 

It is the new attacks and the reordering of world for profit maximisation, under dictates of IFC, that defines neo-liberalism.  It operates, firstly, through policies that remove restrictions on the  movement of goods and capital across borders.  Trade liberalisation  displaces domestic producers engendering domestic deindustrialisation. So also liberalisation of capital flows allows multinational corporations to acquire domestic productive assets vastly enlarging capital accumulation. 

 

The second way of consolidating capital accumulation is through the imposition of  deflationary policies, to which we shall return shortly, like restrictions  on government expenses in the name of fiscal  discipline which leads to the lowering of the level of aggregate demand in the world economy, a shift in terms of trade against the peasantry in the third world and a rolling back of the State sector globally, more pronounced in the third world, which increasingly becomes  privatised and the opening up of huge new areas for private accumulation.  Thus, the new feature of current imperialism is the prising open of new and hitherto non-existent avenues for profit maximisation.

 

The imposition of such neo-liberal policies by browbeating the developing countries is achieved by imperialism through the agencies of IMF, World Bank and WTO – globalisation's trimoorti.  The structural conditionalities imposed by the IMF and separately by the  World Bank while disbursing loans to the developing countries ensured compliance to neo-liberal reforms.  The WTO similarly, especially in the  current Doha round negotiations is used for further prising open the markets of the developing world for imperialist profit maximisation.

 

This new phase of imperialism turns large segments of the third world bourgeoisie into collaborators. In several of these countries, the struggle for decolonisation had been fought under the leadership of the domestic bourgeoisie which, after independence, had tried to pursue a path of relatively autonomous capitalist development.  While allying itself  with domestic landlordism, while compromising with the big capitalist powers, it had nonetheless retained a degree of autonomy,  pursuing non-alignment in foreign policy which enabled it to use the Soviet Union to keep imperialist pressures in check.  But the internal contradictions of such regimes, combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of international finance capital keen to prise open third world economies, altered the perspective of the third world bourgeoisie.  From a position of relative autonomy, it moved towards greater collaboration with imperialism to embrace neo-liberalism.

 

All through the history of capitalism, accumulation takes place in two ways: one is through the normal dynamics of capital expansion (appropriation) through the unfolding of its production process and the other is through coercion (expropriation) whose brutality Marx defines as primary accumulation of capital.  Historically, these two processes continue to coexist.  The process of primary accumulation has taken various forms, including direct colonisation. In the current phase, the hallmark of contemporary imperialism is the intensification of such brutal primary accumulation assaulting a vast majority of the people of the world's population, both in the developed as well and all other countries. 

 

It is the unfolding of such neo-liberal offensive under globalisation that has precipitated the current global economic crisis.

 

All over the capitalist world, especially in the third world, disinvestment and privatisation of the State sector is nothing else but the private accumulation through the expropriation of State assets. Public  utilities like  water and energy, public services like education and health have increasingly become  domains of private accumulation  of capital. Control over mineral resources are increasingly becoming private, agriculture is increasingly being opened up to multinational seed and marketing companies leading to the virtual  destruction of traditional agriculture in the third world throwing the peasantry into  acute distress.  The removal of trade tariffs and Free Trade Agreements is leading to deindustrialisation in many third world countries.  Common  resources like forests, water etc are increasingly being taken over as private property.  This “accumulation through encroachment” (expropriation) as opposed to “accumulation through expansion” (appropriation) is the hallmark of contemporary imperialism.(Based on analysis by Professor Prabhat Patnaik.)

 

No capitalist economy can function without a stable medium of  holding wealth.  This role is performed by money backed by the State.  In the concrete capitalist world, the money  of one particular economy, typically the most powerful economy of the time, is chosen to constitute this medium. Its de jure stability used to be assured, though not any longer, by linking it to  gold which historically has been the most favoured medium of wealth holding but its de facto stability is assured by ensuring that commodity prices do not rise abnormally in its terms.  This requires, in the first place, that the working class in this leading economy must not be strong enough to precipitate a wage price spiral.  Further, primary commodity prices must be kept in check, so that no inflation can occur on this score.  This, however, requires not merely control over raw material sources in the third world but additional  control over world demand which should not be  allowed to raise to levels that lead to inflation.  This explains the neo-liberal prescription for deflation. In the period of hegemony of international finance capital, the maximisation of profits through such deflation encompasses the entire world, except the leading economy, i.e., USA whose currency being “as good as  gold” places it under no obligation to pursue deflationary policies.   Therefore, inflation control is essential for the stability of the wealth holding medium and, hence, for the stability of the  capitalist system. If, in the process of achieving price stability, much higher levels of unemployment are  generated due to deflation, then so be it.   This is the logic of profit maximisation.  It is precisely this feature that explains the sharply widening economic inequalities and the global decline in aggregate demand due to the shrinkage of purchasing power amongst the majority of people.

 

IMPENDING

SYSTEMIC CRISIS

 

However, quite apart from the periodical crisis that will continuously erupt under neo-liberal globalisation, a much graver systemic crisis is impending.  The USA, with its currency being the stipulated medium of wealth holding for the capitalist world as a whole occupies this superior position not only through its economic  might but through its superior military and political dominance in the world.  While we shall return to this aspect shortly, it must be noted that irrespective of such might, a crisis  will, necessarily, follow because in order to maintain the stability of its  currency, the USA accumulates a massive current account deficit vis-a-vis other major capitalist economies.  This is because the dollar is the stable medium of wealth holding.    This  also happens because the USA, in order to maintain its leading position, necessarily, has to accommodate the products of other major capitalist economies within its own market.  However, when it seeks to reduce this deficit, this would effect the exports other capitalist economies leading to counter intensified protectionism  and disruption of the international monetary stability.  As of October 16, 2009, the total deficit of the US economy reached $ 1.42 trillion. Its current account deficit was $ 726.6 billion in 2007 and $ 706 billion in 2008. 

 

However, this is not an inherently stable situation because those  holding the dollar  would sooner than later wish to trade them for more lucrative  US assets. This will, surely, invoke passions of patriotism that will oppose such foreign ownership of its assets. However, if the  holders of dollars decide then to shift some other currency, then the plunge in the dollar's standing and  consequently of the US economy would send the entire capitalist  system into a profound crisis. 

 

 

The indications of this are already unfolding with the dollar having lost over 11 per cent in recent months. In order to stabilise itself and the global capitalist economy, USA will now increase the pressures on countries which hold  huge amounts of its currency like China and other Asian  economies to revalue their currencies upwards in order to  cushion its own  burgeoning current account deficits.  This, in turn, if it were to happen, would lead to a slump in the latter economies.  Even if the USA were to insulate itself from such a slump, it would still bring the global capitalist system to the brink of a major  crisis because of sharp deflation in the emerging economies  whose currencies the USA is today seeking to revalue.

 

Therefore, irrespective of how the current crisis is overcome, a major systemic crisis for world capitalism is in the offing.  USA would, however, seek to thwart such a crisis by transferring the burdens, that is, intensifying exploitation through its accompanying political and military might.

 

Marx had once remarked that the stability of a ruling class is ensured only by the extent to which it presses the best minds of the subordinate and exploited classes in its service.  As both Marx and Engels have pointed out, the ruling ideas of any epoch are the ideas of the ruling classes.  The ideological war to establish the intellectual hegemony of imperialism and neo-liberalism has been on the offensive during this period.  Aided by this very process of globalisation and the vastly elevated levels of  technologies, there is convergence of information, communications and entertainment (ICE)  into mega corporations.  For instance, the mega publishing corporation Time  had earlier merged with  the entertainment  giant Warner Bros.  The information giant American Online Ltd (AOL) has now acquired Time-Warner at  a cost of $ 164 billion  to become the largest ICE conglomerate in the world.  Rupert Murdoch now commands a combined news, entertainment and internet enterprise  which is valued at $ 68 billion.   Likewise, Walt Disney has now acquired Marvel  (of Spiderman fame). The cultural products that are universally created are bombarded across the world garnering phenomenal profits. This  monopolisation of the sphere of human intellectual activity and the control over dissemination of information through the corporate media is a salient feature of this period that seeks to continuously mount an ideological offensive against any critique or alternative to capitalism.

 

Viewed in terms of class  hegemony, the culture of globalisation seeks to divorce people from their actual realities of day to day life.  Culture here acts not as an appeal to the aesthetic, but as a distraction, diversion from pressing problems of poverty and misery.

 

Though imperialism has strengthened its hegemony and heightened its multifaceted  offensive all across the globe, as we have discussed earlier, it is on the brink of a systemic crisis which could prove far graver and more encompassing than the current global recession.

 

However, irrespective of the intensity of the crisis, capitalism does not automatically collapse. It needs to be overthrown. An erroneous understanding only blunts the need to constantly sharpen and strengthen the revolutionary ideological struggle of the working class and its decisive intervention under the leadership of a party wedded to Marxism-Leninism -- the subjective factor without which no revolutionary transformation is possible.

This period has also seen the rising resistance to such growing imperialist hegemonic efforts. But it must be noted that much of the struggles launched by the working class and the exploited sections have essentially been defensive in  nature, i.e., defending their existing rights from  greater encroachment by neo-liberalism.  Resistance in the nature of mounting the assault on the rule of capital is yet to take a decisive shape.

 

In Latin America, the sharp rise in the distress caused by neo-liberalism has led to big movements of resistance  that have resulted in electoral victories of the anti-neo-liberal  forces in at least eleven countries. Some like Venezuela and Bolivia have adopted radical Leftwing programmes.  In Cyprus, Europe, for the first time in that country a communist was elected as a president.

 

It is the strengthening of the parties wedded to Marxism-Leninism along with the sharpening of class struggles through the mobilisation of popular masses under the leadership of the working class that the strength and success of the International Communist movement in the 21st century will be determined.