Friday, December 14, 2007

George Bush, Lenin and Neoliberalism

On 1st November 2007, speaking to an audience in Washington, George W Bush had likened Lenin to Osama bin Laden and Hitler. Understandably that drew sharp reactions from CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat. While both Osama bin Laden and Hitler have used religion for political mobilisation, Lenin suppressed religion in Russia in accordance with Marx’s maxim that “religion is the opium of the masses”.
“…Fascism virtually identified itself with an important element of Christianity. It considered religion as the manifestation of the deepest in man. It sought to defend and protect it. This view largely explains the cordial relations Mussolini had with the Pope. Extreme Nazism tried to create a state church but did not succeed much”
It is no secret that Osama is (or was!) profoundly anti-communist. So was Hitler. Then why did Bush care to liken Vladimir Lenin to Osama? Let us explore the possible justifications for such a remark by Bush:-
(1) One of the possible justifications for an analogy between Lenin and Osama is that both used violence to achieve political ends. However, such a justification is flawed because political movements (embodied in the personalities of Osama and Lenin) ought to be classified according to their respective ideologies rather than the means they adopt to realise their goals. Use of violence or of terrorism is just a means to achieve the ends, something that has been used not only by Osama and Lenin but also by many other political movements as well as nation states. Prof. Achin Vanaik, Head of Dept., Political Science, University of Delhi, in a lecture delivered in our college seminar hall on 7th November urged students to acknowledge the menace of ‘state-terrorism’ and categorically referred to USA, Israel and India being guilty of state terrorism. Also, while studying Lenin’s use of violence, it would be pertinent to bear in mind that the communist Russian state that Lenin created was rocked with the Civil War (1918-1920) and the intervention of Allied forces (of the First World War) in Russia against the Bolshevik government.
(2) Another possible justification for the likening of Lenin to Osama and Hitler is the alleged suppression of civil liberties in Soviet Union. However, suppression of civil liberties was also very visible during the McCarthy era (1940s to 1950s) of American politics in the name of anti-communism. Thus, the remarks of President Bush follow from more covert reasons rather than from any genuine historical/political reasoning.
Actually, since the end of the Second World War, there has been propaganda to portray communism and fascism (or Nazism) as similar and allies. The Non Aggression Pact (1939) between Germany and USSR is used as proof of covert alliance between communism and fascism, while the numerous pacts signed by Britain and France with Hitler in the 1930s are conveniently forgotten. Unfortunately, such kind of history writing is also gaining ground in India, especially since Hindu nationalists made an attempt to communalise school textbooks. The NCERT history textbook for class 12 that was introduced in 2003 and later removed by 2005 contained a chapter titled ‘Communism, totalitarianism and the Road to World War II’ which tried to convey that communism was as much responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War as was fascism! Such portrayal of communism and fascism as similar holds little water; fascism sought to promote and protect the interests of the middle class and supported institutions like the church, whereas communism has been very much against the middle class interests and religion. In the context of Bush’s remarks and also because we in India are much fed by the Western media, therefore a review of Lenin can be worth the effort.
Lenin remains one of the most influential thinkers in modern times. He added new dimensions to the existing Marxist thought. The pamphlet “What is to be Done” (1902) still remains one of the key treatises on mobilisation of workers. He made an important observation:
“…We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness…” [Lenin, ‘What is to be Done’ (1902) ]
Thus, Lenin doubted Marx’s claim that capitalism would inevitably lead to socialism through class action of the workers. Therefore, Lenin emphasised the need for a party that would educate the workers and guide them for their emancipation. Today almost all communist parties in different countries justify their very existence by Lenin’s ideas of the party.
In his day, Lenin was one of the most outstanding critics of the prevailing world economy dominated by monopoly capital and finance capital. Domination of ‘finance capital’ implied the transformation of bank capital into industrial capital, thereby transforming the bankers into capitalists. According to Lenin, “…The concentration of production; the monopolies arising therefrom; the merging or coalescence of the banks with industry—such is the history of the rise of finance capital and such is the content of that concept…” [‘Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism’ (1916), Marxists Internet Archive ] He explored the economics behind imperialism. For Lenin, the ‘social-chauvinism’, present in the advanced capitalist countries, which glorified colonisation, was not the main reason behind imperialism, but it was capitalism. And even the social-chauvinism that justified imperialism was not something exogenous, but actually a product of capitalism. Lenin, on analyzing Britain, detected the presence of ‘opportunism’ in the working class movement which led to increasing acceptance of imperialism. [refer to ‘Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism’ (1916), Marxists Internet Archive ] This also explained as to why socialist movements were not successful in the highly industrialised countries, as against the predictions of Marx. Lenin provided five basic features of capitalism as follows:
“(1) the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life; (2) the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy; (3) the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance; (4) the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves, and (5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed. Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance…” [‘Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism’ (1916)]
Lenin concluded in the final chapter of ‘Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism’ “We have seen that in its economic essence imperialism is monopoly capitalism”. The following passage from a paper by Amiya Bagchi testifies the importance and influence of Lenin’s theory of imperialism:
“V.I. Lenin’s theory has so far been the most authoritative of all the theories put forward to explain the phenomenon of imperialism. For the same reason, it has been subjected to the greatest amount of sniping…” [Amiya K. Bagchi, Towards a Correct Reading of Lenin’s Theory, in ‘Lenin and Imperialism’ (edited by Prabhat Patnaik) (1986, Orient Longman)]
Also, Amiya Bagchi asserts that Lenin’s theory has as yet not lost its relevance, especially in the backdrop of rise of neoliberalism since 1970s. Neoliberalism basically refers to the revival of the faith in the efficiency and benignity of markets. Today’s neoliberalism promotes as much exploitation as imperialism did in Lenin’s times. Much similarity exists between the era of monopoly capital and today’s era of globalisation; the presence of finance capital has only got strengthened in world economy over the years. Therefore maligning Lenin can become quite handy for Bush (who may be considered to be an icon of neoliberalism), because a negative public image of Lenin can contribute towards a greater acceptance of neoliberalism.
Now let us briefly see how neoliberalism is akin to imperialism. The neo-liberal ideology today seeks to create a different king of imperialism through globalisation; the neo-liberal state is increasingly protecting only the interests of the bourgeois.
“…The so called “unipolar” world where all nation states “adjust” to the leading role of the US is in fact the coming into being of a surrogate global state to protect the interests of international finance capital…” [Prabhat Patnaik (2007), The State Under Neo-Liberalism, Social Scientist (Jan-Feb 2007)]
Also, the globalisation envisaged by neoliberalism does nothing to reduce the labour reserves of India and China. [Refer to Prabhat Patnaik (2007), Contemporary Imperialism and World's Labour Reserves, Social Scientist (May-June, 2007)]. Labour reserves or ‘the reserve army of the unemployed’ is an important prerequisite for capitalist exploitation. In India and china, growth has been largely export-oriented. While it is feasible for small countries to rely on exports for growth and for depletion of labour reserves, such a dependence on exports would yield little results in large countries like India and China. Because, reliance on export oriented growth requires constant upgradation of technology to retain international competitiveness. Thus increase in exports does not guarantee increase in employment, because upgradation in technology means more of labour saving techniques. Therefore, the need is to strengthen domestic demands since we cannot rely on exports totally. However neo-liberal ideology has a strong apathy for Govt. intervention.
Thus, we students need to unlearn the neo-liberal propaganda and frame our perceptions more objectively by studying different and conflicting viewpoints.