People's Democracy

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


No. 17

April  24, 2011




Fight Imperialist Neo-liberalism


Sukomal Sen


THE working class all over the world cannot in any way forget the revolutionary achievements of the heroic May Day struggles of 1886 in Chicago. May Day struggles resulted in realising the right of the workers for 8-hour working day and the rest 16 hours of the day for rest, cultural activities and enjoying their family life. 


But today, the picture is rapidly changing except in some public institutionalised activities. Private capital has been given the virtual liberty of trampling underfoot the laws of 8-hour day.


The rule of 8 hours workday and the rest 16 hours for rest, recreation sand family enjoyment and other activities, no longer rules the social life of the society.  


According to the ILO and other estimates by international agencies, about 50 million workers all over the world lost their jobs because of neo-liberal globalisation and the catastrophic world capitalist crisis. 




In the neo-liberal regime, the doctrine of profit has changed the entire profile of human society. That is why there is no care for 8-hour day and no job.


Neo-liberalism, put crudely, refers to the doctrine that profits should rule as much of social life as possible and anything that gets in the way of profit making is suspected if not condemned. Business good; governments bad. Big business very good; big government very bad. Taxes on the rich, bad; social spending aimed at the poor and the working class, even worse. Take care of num­ber one, and let everyone fend for oneself. There is no such thing as “society;” only individuals in fierce competition with one another, and their immediate families --- the only permissible freeloaders. (In fact, family freeloading is the occupation of choice for those of great wealth. No ruthless market for those who can afford to opt out. Nice work, if you can get it.) Extreme and growing inequality is not only acceptable, it is the carrot necessary to give the wealthy an incentive to get even richer, so that they invest and spur growth, and it is also the stick necessary for the poor to be willing to work harder and be more productive. Markets are infallible, the unquestionably superior way to regu­late human existence and the basis for all other freedoms. Human interfer­ence through governments or labour unions, no matter how well intentioned, will only make matters worse in the long run, because it will lead away from a pure market solution. In a free society the state should only enhance and extend the power of the market; it should never interfere with the pursuit of profit except in the rarest of cases, like child pornography or hard drugs. You are free to increase your property by any means, fair or foul. Put this way, neo-liberalism is simply capitalism with the gloves off.


Neo-liberalism became ascendant in the 1980s and is associated with Reagan and Thatcher. It seemed to be cemented with the setback of com­munist regimes by the early 1990s and the notion that we had reached the “end of history.” There Is No Alternative --- Margaret Thatcher famously intoned. In this environment the political economy of media was thrown for a loop. What was its purpose, if all societies were best run by the market? What was the point of studying and criticising commercial media if that was the only plausible system, and the system toward which all nations were rap­idly and inexorably moving?


Neo-liberalism was the guiding principle behind capitalist globalisation, the notion that free markets could bring prosperity and peace to the world if established on a global basis with minimal national government interference. In such a context, the traditional emphasis of political economy of media upon national policymaking seemed antiquated, if not reactionary. The best possible media principle for nations and the world is one that let media cor­porations charge across the world, seeking to maximise profit while ostensi­bly “giving  the people what they want.” There is no need for people to study the political economy of media unless it was to cheer-lead this process.




Neo-liberalism was always an ideological argument to justify a further shift of power to the wealthy and away from the poor; it was never an accurate description of what was taking place in the economy. Contrary to neo-liberal dogma, governments were not shrinking; they were simply working assidu­ously to assist capital and providing far fewer services for everyone else, especially the poor and the working class. The prison system was growing as schools were in decline. This was especially true in the realm of media where the entire system was based upon government-granted monopoly privileges, extraordinary direct and indirect subsidies and also upon permission to indulge in corrupt practices. There was hardly a free-market media system where the governments intervened after the free market created the system.


The end of the 1990s exposed the bankruptcy and contradictions of neo-liberalism. The anti-globalisation movement, combined with the wide­spread rejection of neo-liberal policies in democratic elections across the planet, and most dramatically in Latin America, demolished the aura of “the end of history.” It is now far better understood that capitalism in general and media systems in particular rely as much as ever upon the state playing a very large role. Neo-liberalism was not an effort to eliminate the state; rather it was an effort to have the state work purely in the interest of capital or large media corporations. Armed with this insight, the political economy of media has been rejuvenated. Accordingly, there has been a massive increase in popular activism to shape media policies in the United States and worldwide over including India in the past decade. For citizens, activists and media scholars, it is one of the striking devel­opments of our times.




Perhaps the greatest damage done by neo-liberalism, not only to the political economy of media but to critical scholarship and democratic activism in general, was its attempt to destroy the long-standing human desire that social change for the better ---- that would transcend the status quo of the really existing capitalism --- was possible, not to mention desirable. Corporate media in the neo-liberal society make the people believe that it will be impossible to replace capitalism with something better. Demoralisation and depoliticisation are the necessary conditions for a “healthy” neo-liberal society. That is why they mark as a radical one who just stands for elementary demo­cratic practices and principles.


Few people doubt the importance of media, of journalism, of entertainment culture, of communication in general for shaping the world we live in. Moreover, media are a central part of the capitalist political economy, the centre of the marketing system, and a source of tremendous profit in their own right.


With the knee-jerk of neo-liberalism and the onset of a world economic crisis, scholars and activists have begun to revisit the idea of imagining a more humane and democratic social order, one where profits for the few are no longer the highest social priority, even if there is still a very long way to go. Combined with a re-examination of the old communist model as the “alternative” to con­temporary capitalism, humanity is now beginning a process of experimenta­tion in democratic social structures with the aim of achieving a society on scientific socialism, especially in Latin America. The importance of this work cannot be exaggerated.


Another emerging dilemma for the political economy of media has been the digital communication revolution, exemplified by the Internet and wire­less communication systems. These technologies are in the process of blasting open the media system in a manner that is highly unusual, if not unprece­dented. Much of the traditional thinking about communication --- who says what to whom with what effect --- has to be recalculated in an era in which communication and information are dramatically more accessible than ever before, and in which time and space have collapsed. These technologies, too, are central to the emergence of a diabolical role of the corporate media to vitiate section of the masses in the rightist and reactionary direction and to oppose the ideology of the Left.


There is no doubt that the digital revolution has radically transformed media, communication and society. Our media environment today is dra­matically different from the one four decades ago, and one suspects it will again be unrecognisable four decades from now. But one thing is certain --- the entire direction of the corporate global media is anti-revolutionary, anti-democratic and to opiate the masses directed to serve the interest of the status-quoist, rightist, capitalist super-exploitation.


The media system in the United States has always been the beneficiary of tremendous subsidies, going back to the enormous printing and postal subsi­dies of the early republic. Today the largest media firms receive extraordinary subsidies ranging from monopoly licenses to TV and radio frequencies, monopoly cable TV and satellite TV systems, copyright, and· much more. The Internet is affected by both these policies and subsidies, and much like the way the United States was affected by the institution of slavery long after 1863, they will have a long-lasting influence. The dominant Internet service providers are a handful of telephone and cable companies, businesses whose success was predicated not on serving the public in a free market competition but upon receiving lucrative monopoly licenses from the government. These firms’ “comparative advantage” comes in their unparalleled ability to buy off politicians and regulators; in the market they are generally disliked by con­sumers, and they give used car dealers a good name. These firms wish to translate their government-granted market power to the Internet era. This is what much of the battle over the principle of Network Neutrality addresses. It is, in effect, an effort by the telephone and cable TV companies to use their immense power over politicians to privatise the Internet and to have control over which websites users can access quickly and easily. Today, it is not just confined to the USA, it has spread out worldwide. India is an example of extreme media corruption and bribery.    


In short, the neo-liberalists are set to recklessly bribe the explosive media technology to the service of international capital.




Neo-liberalism is inseparable from financialisation of capital accumulation. When the May Day incidence took place in Chicago in the 1880s, it was a different world of capitalism. World capitalism has changed substantially since then and, in the present era, neo-liberal globalism has assumed the fiercest form so far seen.


This analysis of how financialisation has heightened the disparities in income, wealth, and power helps us to put into perspective the view, now common on the Left, that neo-liberalism, or the advent of extreme free-market ideology, is the chief source of today’s economic and social problems. Instead, neo-liberalism is best seen as the political expression of capital’s response to the stagnation-financialisation trap. So extreme has the dominant pro-market or neo-liberal orientation of monopoly finance capital now become that, even in the context of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, the state is unable to respond effectively. Hence, the total government-spending stimulus in the United States in the last couple of years has been almost nil, with the meagre federal stimulus under Obama negated by deep cuts in state and local spending. The state at every level seems to have been stopped in its tracks by pro-market ideology, attacks on government deficits, and irrational fears of inflation. None of this makes any sense in the context of “what,” to quote Paul Krugman, “looks increasingly like a permanent state of stagnation and high unemployment.” The same basic problem is evident in other advanced capitalist countries. 


At the world level, what can be called a “new phase of financial imperialism,” in the context of sluggish growth at the centre of the system, constitutes the dominant reality of today’s globalisation. Extremely high rates of exploitation, rooted in low wages in the export-oriented periphery, including “emerging economies,” have given rise al surpluses that can nowhere be profitably absorbed within production. The exports of such economies are dependent on the consumption of wealthy economies, particularly the United States, with its massive current account deficit. At the same time, the vast export surpluses generated in these “emerging” export economies are attracted to the highly leveraged capital markets of the global North, where such global surpluses serve to reinforce the financialisation of the accumulation process centred in the rich economies. Hence, bubble-led growth, associated with financialisation, hides the root problem of accumulation at the world level: “a rise in income inequalities across the globe” and a global “tendency of surplus to rise.”  


Despite “flat world” notions propagated by establishment figures like Thomas Friedman, imperialist divisions are becoming, in many ways, more severe, exacerbating inequalities within countries, as well as sharpening the contradictions between the richest and poorest regions/countries. If the disparity in per capita GDP between the richest and poorest regions of the world decreased from 15:1 to 13:1 in the “golden age” of monopoly capitalism from 1950-1973, this trend was reversed in the era of monopoly finance capital, with the gap growing again to 19:1 by the century’s close.


And that is why the working class, today the world over, is a highly cheated and deprived lot and this worse victim of compulsion is to labour for more and more profit of the rich, thus widening the chasm between the two segments of class society ---- the rich and the poor. The poor workers are thus losing jobs and being compelled to work for a longer period, as was seen in the pre-May Day era.         


The financialisation of accumulation in the centre of the system, backed by neo-liberal policy, has more and more generated a global regime of “shock therapy.” Rather than Keynes’s “euthanasia of the rentier,” we are seeing the threatened euthanasia of almost everything else in society and nature. The consequences of this, as Naomi Klein suggested in her book, The Shock Doctrine, extend far beyond the underlying financialised accumulation associated with the neo-liberal era, to a much broader set of consequences that can be described as “disaster capitalism,” evident in the widening social and economic inequality, deepening instability, expanding militarism and war, and seemingly unstoppable planetary environmental destruction.   


Never before has the conflict between private appropriation and the social needs (even survival) of humanity been so stark. Consequently, never before has the need for revolution been so great. In place of a global system given over ­entirely to monetary gain, we need to create a new society directed at substantive equality and sustainable human development: a socialism suited to the present century.




This situation of systematic and structural crisis with explosion of media and polluting the minds and thinking faculty of the people has another central component --- the corrosion of labour. After the worsening of the crisis in the United States and other leading capitalist countries, we have seen deep repercussions on a global scale in the sphere of labour. Amid the hurricane now battering the heart of the capitalist system, we see the erosion of relatively regulated and contracted labour, heir to the Taylorist and Fordist eras, which was the norm in the twentieth century --- the result of a century of workers’ struggles for social rights. This is now being replaced by several forms of “entrepreneurship,” “cooperativism,” “voluntary work,” and “atypical labour.” These formulae range from the super-exploitation of labour to self-exploitation, always in the direction of a structurally greater precarisation of the labour force on a global scale. And, of course, there is an explosion of unemployment affecting enormous numbers of workers, be they men or women, permanent or precarised, formal or informal, native-born or immigrant, the latter being the first to be harshly penalised.


The more difficult problem the May Day celebration of today is of facing the logical consequence of corrosion of labour, with massive unemployment, job losses, longer working hours, absence of security of jobs, contract system in appointment and violation of labour laws achieved by the workers through years of heroic struggles and sacrifices. 




In the conditions of crisis the radicalism that develops not only comes up against state violence and ideological intimidation; it also comes up against the systematic dissemination of reformist and opportunist views which cloud, weaken, fragment and assimilate consciousness.


What is obvious today, and constitutes a relatively new element, is that the capitalist system at a national, regional and international level has very limited room for manoeuvre in the management of the crisis compared to the past, due to the competition, the even greater anarchy under the conditions of the liberation of the movement of capital, the increase in the number of the imperialist centres which fight for redivision of the markets etc.


The historic limits of the capitalist system have become more visible today than during the crisis of 1929-33 or even during the 1970s.


The struggles which are limited to certain fragmented demands, which aim at blunting the consequences of the crisis, are not effective. The governments show endurance, they take risks; however they cannot make the concessions that they made in the past.


This does not mean that there is a pre-determined limit of the class struggle; the contrary is true. Reality demonstrates that a movement can tire out easily, that it can be assimilated or broken, when it is limited strategically to a struggle for some defensive demands, in a period when whatever gains that had been won or conceded are being abolished. In this way the trade union movement is either in danger of being led to being scorned and discredited or of eventually losing its fighting character and becoming completely degenerate, as has happened unfortunately in the USA. It is in danger of becoming fully assimilated and disarmed as in a series of European countries. The issue of political power for the working class and its allies must be taken up by the labour movement itself, not casually or by slogans only, but in a planned way, taking into account the experience of the masses. It is true today that the working class must be convinced, as large a part of it as possible, from its own experience. For this experience to be transformed into political maturity, however, it needs the correct revolutionary strategy and tactics, otherwise the experience of the masses will be shaped not on the basis of their problems but on the trashes of bourgeois ideology, reformism and opportunism. The capitalist system cannot be reformed or modernised in favour of the workers. No alternative version of the management of the system can negate the barbarity of the class exploitation. The capitalist system possesses certain reserves to form governments of alliances with reformist and opportunist forces, ecological formations, etc, but this does not change the fact that the people face a bourgeois government that supports the capitalist system firmly and consistently.


An exceptionally serious issue is the stance of the labour movement in relation to imperialist war and any form of intervention.


So, widest enlightenment of the peoples must be conducted more daringly and openly, along with practical actions, so as to strengthen the political position that no people should line up alongside the bourgeois class of its country in the inter-imperialist competition, in the attempt to win a portion of the loot derived from class exploitation and imperialist oppression. 


May Day celebration will do justice only if the working class takes this entire situation into account and comes to the conclusion that there is no alternative to the revolutionary struggle for socialism and ultimately achieves it. That will be the only befitting task of the working class to commemorate the martyrdom of the May Day heroes and translate their vision into reality.