People's Democracy

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


No. 14

April  03, 2011

 Only Left is Capable of

Transcending Capitalism: Yechury


THE Heyman Center for the Humanities of the Columbia University, New York organised a two day international symposium on ‘What Does Imperialism Mean in an Age of Global Finance?’ on March 28-29, 2011. Sitaram Yechury, Polit Bureau member, Head of the International Department of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was invited to deliver the inaugural lecture at the symposium. This symposium began minutes after Barack Obama, the president of the US, addressed the world justifying the attack of NATO forces on Libya. He tried to 'explain the attack' by differentiating it with the earlier US-led occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.


Inaugurating the two-day symposium, Yechury started by drawing the attention of the audience to the double standards of imperialism. He said, “His (Obama's) justification of the attack on Libya once again exposes the double-speak of the imperialist forces on regime change. Imperialism's double standards become clear with the US-inspired Saudi Arabian military intervention in Bahrain to prop up the Khalifa, intensely opposed by the people who are seeking better standards of livelihood along with human rights and democracy. In Libya, imperialism seeks a regime change and in Bahrain it seeks to sustain the autocratic rule of the Khalifa family that has lorded over the country since 1783. Both interventions are ironically in the name of protecting the people. The reason for such a double standard is not far to seek. Bahrain is home to the US navy's fifth fleet and has been its steadfast ally. Libya on the other hand, is not such a firm ally. Further, Libyan oil reserves and importantly the ocean of fossil water reserves on which its deserts lie today have the potential of more lucrative profits than oil. A regime change here could well be to imperialism's advantage, while in Bahrain it is not”.


Stating that many eminent economists are to follow him, Yechury said, he would not enter into 'their terrain' of talking about the economic aspects of imperialism in today's world. He began his address by talking about imperialism and its affects on India and reminded the audience that last year, speaking at a similar symposium organised by the same center, he spoke about the dollar billionaires in India, whose number had increased from 26 to 52. This year, he pointed out that their numbers had further increased to 69. Quoting from the Financial Times, he said that their asset values are now more than 30 per cent of the country's GDP. This, he contrasted with the nearly 80 per cent of the Indians who are surviving on less than 50 cents a day and said that the  hallmark of globalisation under global finance is this exponential growth of inequality. This growth of inequalities has now become a universal phenomenon, with growing inequalities witnessed both between the countries and within the countries, he said.


Yechury observed that imperialism today is betraying a predatory character not often seen in the recent past. He quoted from Marx's Das Capital, “With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent will produce eagerness; 50 per cent, positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged”.


Continuing, Yechury said, “All through the history of capitalism, accumulation took 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 primitive accumulation of capital. Historically, these two processes continue to coexist. The process of primitive accumulation has taken various forms, including direct colonisation”. He reminded that in Marxist conceptualisation, primitive is not meant in the historic frame of 'primitive and modern' but in an analytical frame, where being primitive means being brutal. “In the current phase, the hallmark of contemporary imperialism is the intensification of such brutal primitive accumulation assaulting a vast majority of the people of the world's population, both in the developed as well as in all other countries. Imperialism in this current era is the process of accumulation through expropriation rather appropriation. This naked urge for profit maximisation explains the genesis and nature of the present crisis and also the manner in which it is seeking solution,” he said.


Sitaram Yechury, explaining the current economic crisis observed, “The world so far was familiar with bailout packages for resurrecting financial giants that collapsed in the wake of their own making. The reckless creation of new financial animals and mind boggling intermeshing of these to generate higher profits led to large scale bankruptcies. As is the logic of capitalism, the governments rescued the corporate giants by building up a mounting debt of their own. The governments that bailed out these corporates are now caught in the vortex of mounting debt. If corporate insolvency heralded the global meltdown and recession in 2008, it is this sovereign insolvency that is threatening to snowball a deeper crisis. Thus, what had started as the crisis due to the insolvency of some corporates has now emerged as full fledged sovereign insolvency.”


“Instead of undertaking poverty alleviation measures and increasing the purchasing power of people, the governments are trying to manage their finances and prevent insolvencies by drastically cutting down on expenditures and significantly increasing their revenues. The former means that the livelihood standards of the majority of the working people are bound to deteriorate because there will be more cuts in the social benefit expenditures. The IMF sponsored 'austerity' packages introduced in many of the European countries are part of these efforts and these have resulted in drastic cuts to the social welfare budgets. IMF, which has given loans to many countries, imposed several conditions and had directed the governments to rein in their fiscal deficit. It had urged the governments not to succumb to the protests demanding the reversal of austerity measures. Moreover, it had asked them to get the annual budget approved by it before introducing in their respective parliaments. This is nothing but a brazen attack on the sovereignty of the respective countries”.


He also said that the dominant imperialist powers are seeking their way out of the economic crisis not only by putting greater burdens on the working people of their countries but also by seeking to penetrate and dominate the markets of developing countries. “Efforts are on to coerce the developing countries to accept the various conditions and agreements that are detrimental to their interests”.


Yechury reasoned that one of the characters of imperialism in this era of global finance is, thus, to launch an all-out attack on the democratic advances made by human civilisation and “this, in today's context means an out and out attack on the welfare State, as we are witnessing in Europe. The thousands of people coming out on the streets in various parts of the world – the workers demonstrations in the US, the huge march organised in London two days ago and many similar protests – testify to the rising discontent among the people. However, one important aspect that needs to be remembered is that most of these struggles are defensive in nature, in the sense that they aim to safeguard their hard won benefits”. Tracing the reasons for the protests in Middle East, he said, “It is this attack on the livelihoods of the people of Middle East that had led, amongst other factors, to the present unrest and mobilised people in such huge numbers. Apart from being subjected to authoritarian rule for decades, the people of these countries have suffered severely during the last two years of the global economic crisis”.


Yechury further mentioned that this economic onslaught of imperialism is accompanied by an intense ideological onslaught that essentially argues that it only economics that determines politics and not politics that determines economics. “In this manner, they try to separate politics from economics and hence try to ensure the economic power of imperialism to hegemonise the entire humanity goes unhindered. They argue, for this reason, 'do not politicise economic reforms', 'let there be unanimity', in what essentially is the implementation of a neo-liberal economic order. In this way, they try to de-politicise the society in order to ensure that the popular urge of the people and their striking power is muted. Also, in this process, these campaigns try to suck into its vortex all the hitherto known third world nationalism and seek to negate any relevance to Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).”


Concluding his inaugural address, Yechury said, “While understanding the economic power of imperialism, it is necessary for us to know that it is not possible to realise universal human values and human rights in their real sense under the current system. No amount of reform or tinkering can prevent or stop capital's irresistible urge for global domination, which in real terms means trampling upon human rights and values. Thus, for achieving human rights and realising universal values of humaneness, we need to seek transcendence of the capitalist system. This can be achieved only by strengthening the Left forces, because, it is the Left and Left alone that has the agenda of transcending the system and build a system bereft of all kinds of exploitation”.


In the following days, Professors C P Chandrashekhar, K S Jomo, Prabhat Patnaik, David Harvey, Duncan K Foley, and Jayati Ghosh presented their papers on other aspects of the theme.