Following up on last month’s interview with Vijay Prashad, Carlos Martinez interviews Radhika Desai about some of the key concepts in Capital. Radhika is a professor at the University of Manitoba, director of the Geopolitical Economy Research Group, and author of several books including ‘Geopolitical Economy – After US Hegemony, Globalization and Empire’ (Pluto, 2013).
Invent the Future editor Carlos Martinez interviews Vijay Prashad, executive director of the Tricontinental Institute and editor-in-chief of LeftWord Books, on the enduring relevance and importance of Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’.
The series of articles about why the Soviet Union no longer exists has been compiled into a book and published by LeftWord books.
Andrew Murray has reviewed it for the Morning Star.
This is a slightly expanded version of an article that appeared in the Morning Star on 4 January 2017.
In this short book, the renowned Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin presents an overview of the world’s first large-scale experiment building socialism – the Soviet Union – and contextualises it within what he describes as the “long transition”: the extended, overlapping processes of capitalism’s death and socialism’s birth. The idea of the long transition is essentially a response to the end-of-history narrative prevailing in mainstream politics, ie that socialism has failed and that capitalist liberal democracy is permanently established as the pinnacle of social and economic organisation. Amin writes:
“In the same way that capitalism first developed within feudalism before breaking out of it, the long transition of world capitalism to world socialism is defined by the internal conflict of all the societies in the system between the trends and forces of the reproduction of capitalist relations and the (anti-systemic) trends and forces, whose logic has other aspirations – those, precisely, that can be defined as socialism.”
In this framework, the retreats suffered by the socialist world – particularly the collapse of the European socialist states between 1989 and 1991 – should not be considered as the death of the socialist project, but rather as part of the inevitable ebb and flow of a complex historical trajectory that could take hundreds of years but which nonetheless has an inexorable tide.
If we accept the idea of an ongoing global struggle between capitalism and socialism, then we must also consider the need to create conditions in which socialist ideas can take root; and furthermore to create a geopolitical space in which socialism could conceivably succeed. Therefore the idea of “building up a multipolar world that makes possible the maximum development of anti-systemic forces” assumes critical importance in the struggle for socialism. A unipolar world in which US is the uncontested economic, military and cultural leader (ie in which the Project for a New American Century has succeeded) is a disastrous situation for the masses of every region. The great promise of multipolarity, on the other hand, is that it frees countries and regional blocs to experiment with economic and political forms that suit them, rather than having to submit to the diktat of what Amin refers to as the Triad – US, European and Japanese imperialism.
One example of multipolarity in action is the emergence over the last 16 years of a wave of progressive states in Latin America; although our side has suffered defeats recently in Brazil and Argentina, there are still more-or-less socialist-oriented governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, El Salvador and Chile. Without the existence of powerful allies (most importantly China, but also Russia and Iran) this situation would have been frankly unthinkable; it would have been impossible to break the grip of US neoliberal domination. Another pertinent example is the imminent defeat by Syria of the imperialist-coordinated regime change operation being pursued against it – a victory which would at least have been much more difficult without the support of a Russia that has, in the Putin era, shaken off its assigned role at the fringes of US global hegemony.
Hence Amin’s important thesis that multipolarity is a key component of the ongoing global struggle for socialism.
Amin also reiterates his longstanding critique of the Soviet Union and puts forward a vision for an alternative socialism that is less autocratic, more democratic, less bureaucratic and more egalitarian. This critique (which Amin has put forward for the best part of half a century, and which owes a little too much to the Chinese Communist Party’s Cultural Revolution-era evaluation of the Soviet Union) should, in my opinion, be taken with a pinch of salt. It is comprehensively and effectively answered by studies such as Al Szymanski’s “Is The Red Flag Flying?” (Zed Books, 1979).
Nonetheless, the book’s flaws shouldn’t detract from its overall valuable contribution, and indeed its urgency in a situation where the capitalist ruling classes are increasingly turning to far-right political forces in the face of a profound economic crisis.
“In an age such as ours – when there are enough weapons to destroy the whole Earth, when the media can tame the crowds with frightening efficiency, when short-term egoism or anti-humanist individualism is a fundamental value threatening Earth’s ecological survival – barbarism may be fatal. More than ever, the choice we face is not capitalism or socialism, but socialism or barbarism.”
An important book.
This article was originally published on Telesur English
Militarism is the default imperialist response to crisis
Imperialism is going through a most profound crisis; a crisis which could well mark the beginning of a terminal decline. For reasons of simple self-preservation, the main imperialist blocs (North America, the EU, Japan) are working desperately to prevent that decline. That is their major political project right now, around which they are more-or-less united (in spite of any number of divisions and contradictions among themselves).
The key geostrategic components of that project are:
- Encircling China, limiting its influence, slowing its rise, and preferably dismembering it and ending Communist Party rule.
- Weakening and isolating Russia, and turning it into a dependency.
- Re-establishing economic and political control in Latin America and Africa.
- Removing the main obstructions to imperialist domination in the Middle East (particularly Syria, Iran and Hezbollah).
There is room for variation in terms of tactics and relative priorities, but these aims are, in the long term, non-negotiable.
A long-overdue emergence of the left
Also related to the crisis is the fairly sudden surge in popularity for political movements to the left of traditional social democracy, most prominently in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Britain, Ireland and the US. Although these movements don’t promote a revolutionary socialist agenda – their programmes are by-and-large based on pro-worker reforms within a capitalist economic context – the ruling classes have reacted to their rise with intense hostility, manifested in a variety of ways (for example the Troika’s flagrantly antidemocratic treatment of the Syriza government; the media disinformation campaign against Jeremy Corbyn; or the DNC’s machinations against Bernie Sanders).
There are two major reasons for this hostility. First, the imperialist ruling classes are unanimous in their view that the working class must be made to shoulder the economic burden of the crisis – the neoliberal vision leaves precious little space for pro-worker reforms. Second, these various socialist-oriented movements and their trade union supporters have little-to-no enthusiasm for the geostrategic aims outline above. They simply don’t have the will or the ability to unite their populations around an aggressive, militaristic project which – morality and ideology aside – is hugely expensive and doesn’t leave sufficient resources to prioritise welfare state spending and public investment.
Fascism rears its ugly head
Meanwhile, another key development in recent years has been the rise of far-right movements in various guises. They don’t call themselves fascist (at least not in public), but they represent the familiar tenets of fascism: capitalist conservatism, authoritarianism, shameless racism, crass demagogy, militarism, showy patriotism and violent repression. These movements seek to influence the working class (in particular the ‘white’ working class), but in reality they are faithful and reliable agents of capitalist class interests – hence they receive significant financial backing from that class.
While the emerging leftist movements work to unite all sections of the working class and oppressed people in pursuit of their common interests, the far-right movements promote maximum division and distrust, spreading racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia. The ‘unity’ they seek to deliver means universal submission to the ruling class’s political and economic project (certainly in a Trump-era USA, it’s not hard to imagine this submission being enforced by ‘alt-right’ paramilitaries). No more anti-war movements, no more diversity of opinion, no more second-guessing within the ruling class’s own ranks; in short, a very dangerous situation for anyone who doesn’t go along with the capitalist status quo. This is precisely the promise of the far-right for today’s ruling classes: turning whole nations into monolithic forces for the pursuance of imperialist aims.
Of course, many of these far-right elements – Donald Trump included – talk in populist terms about taking on the financial elite, about creating a fairer deal for ordinary people, or indeed of wanting to focus their attention on domestic matters and stop interfering in the rest of the world. But talk is cheap. Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar made similar noises; in power, they were the most consistent, ruthless and violent defenders of the interests of their respective elites. Given the known political positions of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen et al; given their support base, the people around them, and their reliance on monopoly capital, it would be naive in the extreme to expect any government they head to go against the interests of imperialism. “Make America Great Again” is nothing but a concise restating of the Project for a New American Century – the goal to re-establish uncontested US dominance.
Breathing space for Russia and Syria?
Russia has established itself as a clear enemy of imperialism, simply by refusing to accept the role of a peripheral pawn in a global hierarchy with the US at its head; by asserting its political and economic independence; by opposing NATO encirclement. So it’s interesting that Trump, Le Pen and Nigel Farage have all spoken in terms of improved relations with Russia; Trump has spoken about coordinating with the Syrian government to defeat Isis. This has given some people within the anti-imperialist movement hope that a Trump presidency would be a boon for peace, a step away from the proven militarism of Hillary Clinton.
Such an idea is ahistorical. Imperialism, to paraphrase one of its most cynical defenders, has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests. Far-right elements have always represented the interests of capital, and the interests of western capital at this point in time demand hostility to Russia. Donald Trump might have some quirky personal admiration for Vladimir Putin, but does anybody seriously think that the US deep state will allow presidential idiosyncrasies to stand in the way of its global strategy? This is wishful thinking, and reflects a misunderstanding of the very nature of the state under capitalism.
Indeed, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad gave a much more realistic assessment of the possibility for improvement under Trump: “We don’t have a lot of expectations because the American administration is not only about the President; it’s about different powers within this administration, the different lobbies that they are going to influence any President.”
What’s true is that there’s a particularly optimistic section of the US ruling class that feels it might be able to tempt Russia into a tactical alliance against China. And Trump himself understands the tension in existing US policy between pushing intense islamophobia at home whilst providing extensive support to Wahhabi terrorists abroad. These factors combined could possibly result in a temporary improvement of tensions with Russia and of reduced support for regime change in Syria. On that basis it would be sensible for the Syrian government to try and open lines of communication with the incoming US administration. What would not be sensible is for anti-imperialists to paint the Trump presidency as some kind of step-back from US neocolonialism.
The chances of a Trump government actually following through with a better line on Syria and Russia are slight. Meanwhile, Trump and his team have already indicated that they will deepen US hostility towards China, reverse the bilateral normalisation with Cuba, increase support for Israel, and continue to support reactionary neoliberal elements in Latin America. Several notorious ‘hawks’ have been appointed to the incoming cabinet.
In short, there is no anti-imperialist basis for being soft on the far-right, anywhere in the world. It is a myth that these reactionary elements would be ‘isolationist’, because the class interests they represent have no use for such a policy. The crisis is driving imperialism to interventionism, not isolationism. History shows all too clearly that far-right governments pursue their class interests in a more hawkish, more aggressive, more expansionist way, combined with more internal repression, more racism, more xenophobia.
Pushing a socialist and anti-imperialist agenda
The immediate, urgent task facing us is to build up a broad, powerful alliance against imperialism, against neoliberalism and against fascism. We certainly don’t further that aim by allowing ourselves to be hoodwinked by quasi-fascist (or “alt-right”) lies.
The left in Europe and North America has a unique opportunity to re-establish itself; to mobilise and engage the working classes and oppressed; and, furthermore, to do so on an internationalist basis. That’s the project to pursue. It’s anti-neoliberal, anti-austerity, anti-war, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-xenophobic. It promotes public investment, job creation, environmental protection, trade union rights, welfare spending, appreciation of diversity, and a commitment to high-quality public education, healthcare and housing.
This new wave of socialist-oriented mass movements is hugely significant, and the opportunity it represents mustn’t be sacrificed at the alter of purism and dogmatism. We don’t get to choose the reality that history hands down to us. These movements have different origins, traditions and trajectories; many of them are vulnerable to mainstream social-democratic ideas and capitulatory tendencies; many of them have a “labour aristocratic” element and are inconsistent in their anti-imperialism. This doesn’t mean they should be dismissed; it simply indicates the clear and urgent need for experienced socialists and anti-imperialists to support, shape and engage with them.
Oppressed people are increasingly fed up with the neoliberal status quo; more than ever, they are open to alternatives. If the left can’t develop sufficient unity, imagination, courage and strategy to win over the masses, then the field is wide open for every nasty strand of fascism, racism and xenophobia. There’s a lot at stake.
This is an expanded version of a speech given by Carlos Martinez at the event ‘STRIKE THE EMPIRE BACK: legacies and examples of liberation from neo-colonialism and white supremacy’
As far as most people are concerned, ‘ideology’ is a term of abuse, an insult you fling around: we accuse people of being “too ideological”, of being bookworms, of dividing people with “isms and schisms”, of “thinking too much” (I have to say I’ve never in my life met anyone who actually thinks too much, but I’ve met plenty of people who don’t think enough!).
The Cult of Activism
There is this view that ideology divides us, that it gets in the way of working together, that it’s not really relevant, and that we need to focus purely on ‘action’, on practical activity, on campaigning. We don’t have need to inform our activism with analysis and understanding, we need to do like Nike: just do it. Pickets are good, placards are good, campaigns are good, petitions are good, demonstrations are good, fundraising is good, concerts are good; debate, books, history, study, analysis: not so much. Inasmuch as we need to occasionally need to spread ideas, we do it in cute 140-character slogans on Twitter, or Lord of the Rings memes on Instagram.
In part, this is a reaction to what’s called “ivory tower syndrome” – academics and intellectuals, sitting up in their ivory towers, writing beautiful words but having neither the intention nor the ability to put theory into practice. And even the beautiful ideas the generate are very flawed because they’re so divorced from reality and from the masses.
That is a genuine problem. However, as the saying goes, you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If I bite into an over-ripe strawberry and it tastes rotten, I don’t conclude from that experience that I’ll never eat a strawberry again. If there are ivory tower ideologues who are over-ripe and rotten, let’s ignore them and develop the ideology we need, the ideology that serves us.
The state of the movement
As it stands, we as a movement (inasmuch as there is a ‘movement’ – here I am using it as a general label for the various individuals and groups who oppose the status quo and who want to build an alternative) are quite active. There’s quite of lot of activism around, and yet, if we’re honest, we’re getting nowhere.
We’re no more united than we ever were – in fact we’re less united. We’re no more effective than we ever were – in fact we’re less effective. We have meetings, demonstrations, campaigns, pickets and so on, but almost never win anything, and we don’t really play to win; we’re just out there flying the flag.
And yet oppressed and working class people are under attack. In the course of the last three decades, the ruling class have managed to smash the majority of the unions and the community organisations. They’ve privatised everything. They’ve gone to war, killing our brothers and sisters in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya in the hundreds of thousands. Benefits are cut, jobs disappear, wages are reduced, zero-hour contracts are introduced, bedroom taxes are introduced, banks are bailed out, student fees keep on rising, people are thrown in prison for protesting. Racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia are still prevalent with the dominant culture.
Meanwhile our political representation gets worse and worse, as the whole mainstream spectrum shifts to the right – as evidenced by UKIP’s success at the European election, and by the increasingly blurred lines between Tory and Labour politics.
As for the ruling class, the elite, the government, the police, the corporations, the 1% – they know what situation we’re in and therefore they know they can get away with pretty much anything they want. They know we are not in a position to fight the fight. That’s one of the main reasons we have whatever democratic rights we do have; that’s one of the main reasons they let us have the vote; that’s one of the main reasons they allow some level of freedom of speech: because they know full well we won’t use it to achieve anything meaningful.
Our ‘activism’ hasn’t prevented any of this. In some situations it’s even made it worse. To give a (thankfully) extreme example: when NATO was gearing up for its regime change operation against Libya, a sovereign African state, quite a few well-known activists thought the best thing to do would be to occupy Saif Gaddafi’s house in London, thereby totally playing into the mainstream agenda of demonising a state that the west was about to bomb into the stone age. What a situation, where you have courageous, passionate, righteous people – activists, people who are supposed to be on our side – and the media is able to play them like puppets!
Ideology is nothing to be scared of
If we don’t want to be played like puppets, we need ideology, we need understanding. It’s nothing to be afraid of. An ideology is simply a system of ideas – a set of beliefs, goals and strategies in relation to society. I think this scary word, ideology, can be summed up by three simple questions:
What is the current situation of society?
What changes do we want to achieve?
How do we go about creating those changes?
If you look around the world, and you look into history, you see that every movement that ever achieved anything meaningful is or was built on some kind of ideology. For example:
Malcolm X had an ideology, which one could argue was a mix of black nationalism, anti-imperialism, global south unity, socialism and pan-africanism, with Islam providing a moral-spiritual basis.
The Black Panthers had an ideology, based in Marxism, Maoism, black nationalism.
Closer to home, Sinn Fein and the IRA – who fought the British state to a stalemate (I wish we could do that!) – have an ideology, grounded in Irish nationalism, anti-imperialism and socialism.
The leaders of the Iranian revolution had and have an ideology, based in radical Islam, anti-imperialism, anti-zionism and orientation towards the poor. You can say something similar about Hezbollah, the only fighting force in the world to have defeated the Israeli army in battle (#JustSayin).
The liberation struggles in Vietnam, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe, Palestine, Namibia, Algeria, Korea; the revolutions in Cuba, China, Russia, Grenada, Nicaragua: they all had/have an ideology, a system of ideas/beliefs/goals/strategies that people unite around.
These ideologies have plenty in common, particularly in terms of opposition to imperialism, opposition to colonialism, opposition to racism, and a general orientation in favour of the poor and marginalised. However, none of them are identical, and each reflects to some degree the history, traditions, culture and conditions of the people involved.
The President of the Cuban Parliament made an interesting self-criticism recently, when discussing the variations within the revolutionary process in Latin America:
“What characterises Latin America at the present moment is the fact that a number of countries, each in its own way, are constructing their own versions of socialism. For a long while now, one of the fundamental errors of socialist and revolutionary movements has been the belief that a socialist model exists. In reality, we should not be talking about socialism, but rather about socialisms in the plural. There is no socialism that is similar to another. As Mariátegui said, socialism is a ‘heroic creation’. If socialism is to be created, it must respond to realities, motivations, cultures, situations, contexts, all of which are objectives that are different from each other, not identical.”
There are theories that can point us in the right direction; there is history to learn from; but there’s no cookie-cutter that we can pick up to get rid of capitalism and imperialism.
What about us?
We too need an ideology. We need to work out a shared belief system, an agreed set of goals, an agreed set of strategies, that we can unite around and work together to create meaningful change. We need to answer those three questions: where are we at? Where do we need to be? How do we get there?
We will not agree on everything. There are a whole host of important issues that we have to be willing to agree to differ on. But I am convinced that there is space for a common platform.
Just look at the other side. The enemy has ideology. The elite, the rulers of society, the ultra-rich, the government, the state – they have an ideology. It’s imperialism and neoliberalism: the most brutal, the most harsh, the most ruthless form of capitalism, promoting nothing less than ‘freedom’ – total freedom for the rich to get ever richer.
Plus they’re so generous, they realise that the masses need an ideology too, so they create a ready-made ideology for us! The ideology they give us is: consumerism, individualism, diversions, divisions, racism, sexism, homophobia, selfies, twerking, porn, Call of Duty…
And we congratulate ourselves on all this freedom and democracy we’ve got! “It’s a free country”, we say. No! It’s not freedom, it’s not democracy. It’s bread and circuses. Give the masses cheap food and cheap entertainment, keep them divided, and you’ve got them under your control.
What type of ideology do we need? Good question :-)
That’s the long conversation that we need to continue, in a spirit of inclusiveness, openness, comradeship, creativity and generosity. It’s going to take a while.
To me, in today’s world, perhaps the most relevant examples to look at can be found in Latin America, in particular in terms of the legacy of Hugo Chávez, may he rest in peace.
What does Chávez represent? The essence of ‘Chavismo’, I believe, is: 1) creative, non-dogmatic, up-to-date socialism; 2) consistent, militant anti-imperialism.
Socialism – there’s another scary word that isn’t really that scary. What is the socialism that is being pursued in Venezuela (and Cuba, and Nicaragua, and elsewhere)?
- Adopting policies that favour the poor: pursuing redistributive economics and social programmes that aim to permanently raise the status and living conditions of those at the bottom of society.
- Promoting the interests of the indigenous, the African, the worker, the woman. Protecting freedom of worship. Addressing discrimination on every dimension, in the interests of building unity and justice.
- Attempting to break the power of the old elite, the rich, the right, who have held society in their grip for so many centuries.
- Constructing a popular democracy, a state that is “for us, by us”.
As for Chávez’s legacy of anti-imperialism, that means consistently uniting with the widest possible forces against the main enemy. Chávez built solid, meaningful alliances with a very diverse range of states and movements, from Cuba to Brazil to China to Russia, Syria, Iran, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Belarus, Gaddafi’s Libya, Angola, DPR Korea, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, and so on.
He wasn’t a gullible liberal or a radical fashionista; he didn’t disown his allies just because the western press was demonising them. He kept his eye on the prize of ending imperialist domination for once and for all and constructing a new, multipolar world where countries can develop in peace.
He always said that one should unite with anyone who had even the slightest chance of joining the fight against imperialism. I think that idea gives as a decent clue as to how we should move forward.
Let’s talk about the C-word: Comm**ism. So much more shocking than the other C-word. What is it, and why is everybody so afraid of it?
You’d think it’d actually be pretty popular. I mean… it makes quite a lot of sense. What does it mean? It means a classless society, built on common ownership of the means of production, that by definition works to overcome the worst inheritance of human history: poverty, starvation, war, racism, sexism, national oppression, social alienation, inequality, exploitation. A collaborative, participatory society that seeks to elevate the oppressed to the highest levels of happiness, education and culture; that builds upon all advances in human understanding in order to create a qualitatively new way of being. This isn’t the place to dive into the theory, but let’s face it, it sounds great.
And yet, in the collective mind, ‘communism’ is a dirty word. When we think of communism, we don’t think of progress, literacy, economic uplift, culture, national reconciliation, peace, creativity, diversity. Rather we think of secret services, prisons, indoctrination, brainwashing, stale uniformity, dictatorship, militarism, bread queues, ration books. We think of the world described by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. We think pretty much exactly what senator Joseph McCarthy wanted us to think about communism: that it is the enemy of freedom.
This image is of course unfair, and represents a massive propaganda victory for the real enemy of peace and freedom: the imperialists. Ever since the Bolsheviks took power in 1917 – almost a century ago – the media and education systems in the ‘free world’ have made anti-communist propaganda one of their most central tasks. The wretched of the earth rising up and expropriating the oppressors? That’s the sort of contagious idea that has to be nipped in the bud. Hence the endless and intense slander campaign against any socialist country that ever existed, from the Soviet Union to Cuba, from Vietnam to Venezuela, from China to Albania, from People’s Korea to Yugoslavia. Any progress made by these countries is totally ignored; any problems and failures are magnified out of all proportion; issues are distorted and lies are spread.
Am I saying that these socialist countries, led by communist parties, were/are perfect models of this new type of society? Clearly not. There were, and are, massive problems in the building of socialism and laying the foundation for a future communism. However:
1) All of these problems are exaggerated by a well-funded western media and academia, and all too often the ‘statistics’ about socialist history are based on the claims of highly dubious McCarthyite ‘scholars’.
2) Issues regarding repression must be seen in the context of socialist states having to protect themselves within a hostile international atmosphere where the enemy spares no effort to destabilise and attack them (just look at the 600+ attempts by the CIA to kill Fidel Castro).
3) Building a new society and getting over the inheritance of feudalism and capitalism is never going to be easy.
4) Most accusations pointed at the socialist countries generally speaking apply in much greater measure to the capitalist countries. For example, no socialist country in history ever had anything like the incarceration rate of the modern day USA.
5) Whilst it’s popular to talk about the “crimes of communism”, what about the “crimes of capitalism”? Such as, for example:
- The transatlantic slave trade
- The genocide of the native populations of the Americas and Australia
- The numerous famines in India and Ireland brought about by British colonial policy
- The dispossession of the Palestinians
- The killing of 10 million Congolese by Belgian colonialism
- The 13 million that die every year due to malnutrition (wholly preventable but for capitalist greed)
- The rape of Africa
- The wanton destruction of Vietnam and Korea
- The Opium Wars
- The Nazi holocaust
- Systemic racism
- The cult of the individual and the breakdown of community
- The destruction of cultures across the globe
- The monopolisation of wealth by a small handful of implausibly rich people
It’s quite obvious to any thinking person that, even if we accept the extremely dodgy and dubious claims of CIA-payroll historians like Robert Conquest, the “crimes of capitalism” far outweigh any “crimes of communism”.
6) Meanwhile, in the face of great difficulties, socialist countries have achieved some pretty extraordinary things.
Let’s take China for example. Pre-revolution life expectancy was around 35; now it’s around 74. Literacy was under 20%; now it’s 93%. It has witnessed the most rapid poverty alleviation in history. Its people were looked down upon as the scum of the earth. As WEB DuBois said in a broadcast on Radio Peking:
“What people have been despised as you have? Who more than you have been rejected of men? Recall when lordly Britishers threw the rickshaw money on the ground to avoid touching a filthy hand. Forget not the time when in Shanghai no Chinese man dare set foot in a park which he paid for.”
And who doesn’t know that Cuba provides by far the highest standard of living for ordinary people anywhere in South America and the Caribbean; that it has a life expectancy of 79 and literacy rate of 99.8%, in spite of a cruel economic blockade; that it has done more to eradicate the scourge of racism than any other country in the western hemisphere?
And who doesn’t know that the Soviet Union brought about a profound improvement in the living standards of the vast majority of its people; that it defeated Nazi Germany and saved Europe; that it provided crucial support to the liberation movements in Africa, to Cuba, to Nicaragua, to Vietnam, to Korea; that it brought about a transformation of the republics of Central Asia, ground down for centuries by competing colonial interests? When we think of communism, why isn’t it all this that we think of?
Certainly, many individuals have suffered unfairly in socialist countries. But why is the blame always assigned to ‘communism’? If I want to see oppression and repression, I can take the briefest of walks down Tottenham High Street. If I want to see corruption, bureaucracy and the centralisation of power, I can observe the proceedings at Westminster. But these things don’t get attributed to ‘capitalism’. Most people who walk past dozens of homeless people each day don’t turn into zealous anti-capitalists (more’s the pity). Anti-communism is the dominant narrative, and so it’s easy to adapt to. Anti-capitalism is not at all the dominant narrative, and to adapt to it is to face isolation and abuse.
The question is: can the C-word be re-claimed, or has the propaganda war already been lost? Are sensible, progressive people so put off by any mention of communism that they immediately disregard anything associated with it? Do we need new terminology for the basic principles of equality, people’s power and social justice? I have come across quite a few very decent and principled people putting forward such an argument – that the C-word is beyond the pale. I’m not convinced. Imperialist cultural hegemony isn’t going to broken unless people who oppose it stand up confidently and loudly for what they believe in. Are we simply going to allow free reign to slander and disinformation? Should we leave prejudices intact? To use a parallel from the world of religion: could Muslims get rid of islamophobia by changing the name of their religion to, say, Democratic Mohammedanism?
Prejudices need to be attacked. Disinformation needs to be exposed. People’s psychological/ideological/cultural reliance on imperialism needs to be broken. That won’t happen if we keep playing by the enemy’s rules.
Like Malcolm said:
“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”