(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 08, 2013
Pope Francis on Capitalism
ON Tuesday, November
“Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills….As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”
The pamphlet asked
States to guarantee
“dignified work, education and healthcare” and attacked what
it called the
“idolatry of money”. Not surprisingly the pamphlet has caused
This marks a major
departure for the Catholic
church. Francis’ predecessor Benedict XVI had denounced
Marxism as a scourge of
modern times. And the
It is not difficult, though uncommon, to come across concern over poverty from such unlikely quarters, but such concern usually ends up advising governments to do something about it, the presumption being that if only the governments were attentive to the issue, and overcame the sloth and “corruption” in which they are usually steeped, then they could make poverty disappear. The Pope’s comments go beyond this. In criticising free markets and financial speculation, he sees the necessity for the State not just to “wake up” to the reality of poverty but to effect a change in the economic regime.
This of course is what the Left asks for. But the Left has always been aware that overcoming these essential features of contemporary capitalism is impossible without overcoming capitalism itself. Capitalism as a self-driven system, under the weight of its own “immanent tendencies”, has “developed” to a point where it has arrived, in the contemporary period, at these essential features. Financial speculation is contemporary capitalism, not some extraneous growth upon it but its very essence. Capitalism therefore would struggle furiously against any effort to remove this essential feature, because of which its negation can only be effected through a transition to socialism. While Pope Francis of course does not talk of overcoming capitalism, his critique of capitalism, at least of its essential features in the contemporary world, coinciding remarkably with that of the Left, is a significant development.
It is no accident
that Francis is the first Pope
from the third world. He comes from
A prominent figure
among the latter was Father
Miguel Brockman who joined the Sandinistas in
liberation theologian was
Father Gustavo Gutierrez of
The stirrings in
Latin America have now reached
In the post-war period when there was decolonisation and capitalism adopted Keynesian demand management measures to shore up employment, because of which there was high output growth, high labour productivity growth, and also high real wage growth in the advanced capitalist countries, it appeared that capitalism was not inherently poverty-engendering; and that even if inequalities happen to increase under it, these could be reversed through State intervention, and they certainly did not entail any increase in absolute poverty.
The fact that for long years in the era of colonialism the people of the third world had actually experienced an increase in absolute poverty (in “British India” for instance annual per capita foodgrain availability had gone down from around 200 kilogrammes at the beginning of the twentieth century to 136 kilogrammes at the time of independence), was forgotten in the post-war euphoria about “reformed capitalism”.
The ideological hangover of that period still persists, even though that period itself, a product of exceptional times when finance capital was in retreat; perched on the verge of a precipice, engulfed by the threat of a world socialist revolution; and hence forced to make concessions for its very survival; did not reflect the “normal” immanent tendencies of capitalism. With centralisation of capital and the emergence of “globalised finance”, which has rolled back Keynesian demand management (the current buzzword being fiscal “austerity”) and dirigiste third world regimes pursuing some form of national economic policy, and has wrapped the world in a web of neo-liberalism where the immanent tendencies of capitalism operate unchecked, its true nature once again stands revealed, as it had been in colonial times.
This consists, as Marx had noted, in the growth of wealth at one pole and of poverty, absolute poverty at that, at the other pole. Once more, we find a decline in per capita foodgrain availability for the world as a whole and an increase in the extent of world hunger, which is clear proof of the growth in absolute poverty.
The poverty-engendering nature of capitalism is an incontestable fact and it constitutes the bedrock of Left praxis. No matter how vociferously the demise of the Left is proclaimed, no matter loudly the triumph of capitalism and the collapse of socialism is celebrated, as long as this fact remains, the centrality of Left praxis for human freedom remains. Pope Francis’ pronouncement, though it comes from a very different and unusual quarter, is a recognition of the fact of the poverty-engendering nature of capitalism. It must therefore be welcomed by the Left.
The Pope is not a socialist, but his starting point and ours coincide. And that starting point is so different from what the apologists of neo-liberalism, and those pushing for growth at all costs, assert, that it is worth quoting what Pope Francis has to say on this:
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system”.
It is ironic that the opinion of the establishment in our country, a country proclaimed by its Constitution to be a socialist republic, is so far to the right of the head of the Roman Catholic church. But that only confirms Francis’ warning against having any trust in the “goodness of those wielding economic power.”