(The following is the text of a speech delivered at a Seminar at Ramjas College, Delhi on 'Is Socialism the only other world possible?')
T HE WSF SLOGAN or motto ‘another world is possible’ has quite understandably given rise to widespread political debates. For one, the slogan says nothing about the nature of another world, and for another, it also does not address the important question of how that possibility of another world is to be realised. Socialists of the world are more or less convinced and agreed that the only meaningful another world we can talk about is a socialist world and that the path to socialism proceeds through revolutions and not reforms. But the WSF is not a World Socialist Forum, it is merely a world social forum and it is futile to expect sharp and crisp statements and definite calls to action from a body which calls itself a context, a process, a space, virtually anything and everything but an organisation or a movement.
When the WSF was born, the word ‘social’ was apparently stressed as a counterpoint to ‘economic’. If the annual World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland were a jamboree of the big MNCs, and policymakers of capitalist states, the WSF was projected to be a global counter-gathering of activists, an international rainbow of protests against the oppressive Fund-Bank-WTO order. But the world has undergone major changes since January 2001when the WSF was born in Brazil. In the wake of America’s Afghan war and the subsequent Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq, the whole world has been forced to sit up and confront the brutal and barbaric reality of imperialism and militarisation. And over the last two years we have seen a huge worldwide anti-war movement come up in almost every corner of the globe. But the WSF has been completely aloof from the anti-war movement and remained busy only with ‘social concerns’ that refuse to lead to any commensurate political action. The ‘social’ in the WSF thus increasingly seems to be building bridges with the ‘economic’ in WEF while moving further away from the developing leftwing political trends of socialism and anti-imperialism.
Coming in the wake of the series of anti-globalisation demonstrations that began with Seattle, the WSF initially seemed really huge and promised to bring a new impetus and a lot of fresh inputs to the anti-globalisation campaign. But now that the anti-globalisation campaign has already acquired a strong anti-war anti-imperialist thrust, now that we have already seen millions of men and women marching across the globe demanding an end to war and racism, to all the accumulated debt burden imposed on the third world and to the entire ‘multilateral’ framework of domination and plunder, the WSF has started paling into insignificance. A world solidarity forum aiding and encouraging all the live and vibrant anti-globalisation anti-imperialist movements of the world would of course be relevant, but an exclusively social and avowedly non-party forum does indeed look like a forum too many. With its present orientation, the social forum does indeed run the risk of being rendered superfluous by the onward march of events.
The word ‘possibility’ has been vulgarised a lot in bourgeois politics. When bourgeois politicians and ideologues define politics as the art of the possible, we know we are being asked to prepare for the worst. Every opportunist alliance, every marriage of convenience, every act of betrayal to the cause of independence and democracy has been sought to be legitimised in the name of the art of the possible. Yet when the people seek to bring about a revolution and push beyond the capitalist frontier, it is sought to be dismissed as a futile exercise in utopia, something that is outright impossible and undesirable. In the framework of bourgeois politics, the ‘desirable’ is always sought to be defined in terms of the ‘possible’ and the possible is then reduced to the existing. In other words, politics, the art of the possible, is reduced to a worship of the status quo, the worst kind of conformism. The point of departure in socialist or communist politics, on the contrary, is transformation of what is existing into what is not just possible but also desirable and necessary.
History continues to reveal before us a range of possibilities. During the last one hundred years two world wars have been shown to be possible, revolution in backward Russia and China has been shown to be possible, fascism and nazism have been shown to be possible, the collapse and disappearance of the Soviet Union has been shown to be possible, recolonisation of Iraq has been shown to be possible. Indeed, world history evolves through a constant battle between conflicting possibilities. The point is to choose the kind of possibility that one finds most appealing and fight for its realisation and development. The fight for socialism began long before the first socialist republic was born – as many as seven decades elapsed between the initial articulation of the Marxist vision of socialism and its first realisation in the form of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The fight continues today even after the collapse of the USSR and even in the midst of continuing retreat of the existing socialism in a few republics like China, Vietnam and Cuba.
Marxism however considers socialism to be not just desirable and necessary but also inevitable. Like the world possibility, the word inevitability too has often been interpreted in a very mechanical manner. The ‘inevitable’ in Marxism is not automatic or spontaneous, but very much an outcome of conscious historical action. This inevitability is a projection into future of the laws of motion that have determined the trajectory of human history since the beginning of the written phase. Capitalism seeks to portray the present as the ultimate or eternal, and the laws governing capitalist market economy are sought to be passed off as natural laws. But if history has evolved through successive modes of production from the era of primitive communism through the age of slavery to the days of feudalism and capitalism, why should the process of change suddenly come to a standstill with the present phase of domination of capital? Why cannot there be social life beyond the frontiers of capitalism? Why cannot the small changes daily taking place in the capitalist context add up to a qualitative leap heralding the onset of a post-capitalist or socialist order? This quest found its answer in the analysis of the dynamics of the processes of capitalism, and the vision of socialism provided a real solution to the contradiction between the growing socialisation of production and private appropriation and concentration of wealth by matching socialised production with socialised ownership and control over the means of production and the output.
The term scientific socialism has also been a matter of great controversy. The term scientific was used as opposed to utopian notions of socialism which were rich in imagination but had little roots in social action or the history of social progress. And in today’s technologically driven times, the distinction between scientific and technological must also be underscored. Scientific socialism did not provide any technological blueprint for building socialism, it only provided broad general guidelines for organising a socialist revolution. And these broad guidelines have been proved to be essentially correct even in considerably different circumstances. More importantly, the applied science of socialism has not remained static. Initially, it was considered scientific to expect socialism to arrive in developed capitalist countries where possibilities of further development of productive forces would have been exhausted under capitalist production relations. Also socialism was expected to announce its arrival simultaneously in a number of countries. In real life, the break however came in a single backward country. Uneven development of world capitalism made it virtually impossible for socialism to win simultaneously in several countries and forced socialists to go about building socialism in a single country.
It is true that following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the retreat of socialism in China and other existing socialist countries, there is now not much practical evidence or display of the inherent superiority of actually existing socialism over capitalism. There are plenty of analyses about the degeneration and eventual collapse of socialism in the former Soviet Union, but a more superior model is yet to emerge. Yet if socialism remains a dream, the reality of capitalism is becoming increasingly nightmarish and the notion of a truly and universally peaceful, prosperous and democratic capitalism has been proved to be completely fictitious and illusory. Indeed, the model of post-war welfare capitalism seemed to work only so long as countering the socialist model of social security and employment for all remained a priority for advanced capitalism. It is no wonder therefore that the collapse of the Soviet system also signalled a rapid ‘retreat’ of the welfare state and return of predatory capitalism with all its ugly features of imperialist plunder and aggression.
On the eve of the revolution in 1917 when Lenin began to talk about the impossibility of simultaneous socialist revolution, he also started stressing the importance of anti-imperialist wars of national liberation. Massive economic plunder and brutal national oppression have been the two basic characteristic features of both colonialism and post-colonial or neo-colonial imperialism. The ‘clashes of civilisation’ argument is nothing but a theory of racist national oppression. From Palestine to Iraq, there has been no let-up in the imperialist campaign of national oppression. Along with socialist class wars, the battle for national liberation and independence from the clutches of the imperialist machine of plunder and humiliation therefore continues to remain central to any international vision of anti-imperialist resistance.
The two wars of anti-imperialist resistance – we can loosely call them class war and national war – are of course dialectically inter-related. During large parts of the twentieth century the two surged in tandem, each encouraging and strengthening the other. The leadership of the national wars of liberation, however, passed on in most cases into the hands of a vacillating bourgeoisie which in turn did everything to throttle the internal class war. As we approach yet another combined wave of class war and national awakening and assertion in large parts of Latin America, Asia and Africa, the forces of socialism must try to gain the upper hand both on the internal and external fronts of the war against imperialism.
A lot has been said about the disintegration of the organised working class and even the dismantling of the organised economy. We have heard any number of stories about the miraculous rise of the new economy, about computers replacing human hands all along the chain of production and human beings having little more to do than to press the occasional button of sophisticated electronic machines. Well, if capitalism has succeeded in partially doing away with the concentration of thousands of workers in a single production point, it is because production centres have been considerably relocated and the production chain or net has been cast much wider. For every automated production plant, there are sweatshops proliferating all over the third world. Socialisation of production has not been reversed, it continues to grow and in the process it has crossed national boundaries. If we keep the big picture in mind we will see that what is happening is not disintegration of the working class but dispersal and expansion of the class. From highly educated and skilled groups working with state-of-the-art computers and sophisticated machines and electronic equipments to vast masses of unorganised and informal sector workers, the working class today occupies a much bigger social turf than any time before. Of course the class remains to be welded with a new consciousness and spirit, the transition from being a class-in-itself to a class-for-itself is certainly a very big challenge. But on this score too, there are a lot of new inputs. Apart from local trade union and other struggles, the anti-globalisation anti-war movement is also shaping up as an excellent international training school for the working class. The communication revolution especially the rise of satellite television and the arrival of the internet has opened up whole new avenues for not just dissemination of information but also networking for actual struggle. The vibrant two-way traffic between networking in the cyberspace and actual demonstration of solidarity and unity on the street is indeed an exciting development of our times.
A socialist world still remains a dream. Even during the heyday of the Soviet Union and China, the world was very much a capitalist world even though there was a powerful socialist challenge. The conflict between the two worlds – the dominant capitalist world and the socialist challenger – has proved to be more intense, with more ups and downs, and twists and turns, than was possibly imagined in the early days. But the historical and material foundation of socialism, developed and democratic socialism if you will, continues to mature within the womb of global capitalism. And the forces of socialism are also gaining in maturity and strength. With the structural crisis of capitalism spreading deeper and wider and inter-imperialist rivalry intensifying all over again, socialism is sure to bounce back with new strength and vitality. A socialist world is possible. It is necessary. It is the future of humankind.
(In the middle of the First World War, some sections of socialists opposed to the social-chauvinist lies about “defence of the fatherland” in the imperialist war, raised their voices in favour of replacing the old Social-Democratic minimum-programme demand for a “militia”, or “the armed nation,” by a new demand: “disarmament.” Here is Lenin’s response to this demand and his views on war and revolution formulated on the eve of the Great November Revolution. We are reproducing this from Lenin’s Military Programme of Proletarian Revolution. – ed.)
THEIR (the disarmament advocates’ - ed) principal argument is that the disarmament demand is the clearest, most decisive, most consistent expression of the struggle against all militarism and against all war.But in this principal argument lies the disarmament advocates’ principal error. Socialists cannot, without ceasing to be socialists, be opposed to all war.
Firstly, socialists have never been, nor can they ever be, opposed to revolutionary wars. The bourgeoisie of the imperialist “Great” Powers has become thoroughly reactionary, and the war this bourgeoisie is now waging we regard as a reactionary, slave-owners’ and criminal war. But what about a war against this bourgeoisie? A war, for instance, waged by peoples oppressed by and dependent upon this bourgeoisie, or by colonial peoples, for liberation? In Section 5 of the Internationale* group we read: “National wars are no longer possible in the era of this unbridled imperialism.”
That is obviously wrong.
The history of the 20th century, this century of “unbridled imperialism,” is replete with colonial wars. But what we Europeans, the imperialist oppressors of the majority of the world’s peoples, with our habitual, despicable European chauvinism, call “colonial wars” are often national wars, or national rebellions of these oppressed peoples. One of the main features of imperialism is that it accelerates capitalist development in the most backward countries, and thereby extends and intensifies the struggle against national oppression. That is a fact, and from it inevitably follows that imperialism must often give rise to national wars. Junius (Rosa Luxemburg – ed.), who defends the above-quoted “theses” in her pamphlet, says that in the imperialist era every national war against an imperialist Great Power leads to intervention of a rival imperialist Great Power. Every national war is thus turned into an imperialist war. But that argument is wrong, too. This can happen, but does not always happen. Many colonial wars between 1900 and 1914 did not follow that course. And it would be simply ridiculous to declare, for instance, that after the present war, if it ends in the utter exhaustion of all the belligerents, “there can be no” national, progress, revolutionary wars “of any kind”, wages, say, by China in alliance with India, Persia, Siam, etc., against the Great Powers. To deny all possibility of national wars under imperialism is wrong in theory, obviously mistaken historically, and tantamount to European chauvinism in practice: we who belong to nations that oppress hundreds of millions in Europe, Africa, Asia, etc., are invited to tell the oppressed peoples that it is “impossible” for them to wage war against “our” nations! Secondly, civil war is just as much a war as any other. He who accepts the class struggle cannot fail to accept civil wars, which in every class society are the natural, and under certain conditions inevitable, continuation, development and intensification of the class struggle. That has been confirmed by every great revolution. To repudiate civil war, or to forget about it, is to fall into extreme opportunism and renounce the socialist revolution. …
Only after we have overthrown, finally vanquished and expropriated the bourgeoisie of the whole world, and not merely in one country, will wars become impossible. And from a scientific point of view it would be utterly wrong — and utterly unrevolutionary — for us to evade or gloss over the most important things: crushing the resistance of the bourgeoisie — the most difficult task, and one demanding the greatest amount of fighting, in the transition to socialism. The “social” parsons and opportunists are always ready to build dreams of future peaceful socialism. But the very thing that distinguishes them from revolutionary Social-Democrats is that they refuse to think about and reflect on the fierce class struggle and class wars needed to achieve that beautiful future.
Theoretically, it would be absolutely wrong to forget that every war is but the continuation of policy by other means. The present imperialist war is the continuation of the imperialist policies of two groups of Great Powers, and these policies were engendered and fostered by the sum total of the relationships of the imperialist era. But this very era must also necessarily engender and foster policies of struggle against national oppression and of proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie and, consequently, also the possibility and inevitability; first, of revolutionary national rebellions and wars; second, of proletarian wars and rebellions against the bourgeoisie; and, third, of a combination of both kinds of revolutionary war, etc.
*Jugend-Internationale (The Youth International) — Organ of the International League of Socialist Youth Organizations, which was associated with the Zimmerwald Left. It was published from Sep. 1915 to May 1918 in Zurich.