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/ History / General Perspectives /

Whose century? Whose millennium?
A reflection on our times




These essays were originally published as a series in Frontline, Vol. 17 issues 02, 04, 13, 17, 20 (Year 2000) and Vol. 18 issues 05, 10 (Year 2001). These are separately accessible in the Frontline archives. They have been put together here for convenience. We are grateful for author's permission to put them here.

 

A century of revolutions
A reflection on our times-I

There are many features of modern civilisation, positive as well as destructive, which are specific to the 20th century, either because such features did not exist in the past or, more commonly, because they have been transformed beyond recognition. Most narratives would probably foreground the question of science and technology, neither of which originated in this century but which have cumulatively changed the whole pattern of human existence in ways that were unimaginable at the end of the previous century. It has been estimated, for example, that the 20th century has witnessed greater development of the productive forces, and thus of the human capacity to produce wealth, than all the centuries and millennia previous to it. This rapid technological change is obvious in industrial production and information technology; even in agriculture changes have been so dramatic that the peasantry in the old sense, of subsistence farming and production for local use through non-industrial means, is now in most parts of the world a vanishing category. At the other end of this achievement, the destructive aspects of this technology pose such threats to the natural environment that, for the first time in human history, it is not clear whether the species, indeed the planet itself, can survive such destructiveness.

Anecdotally, in other words, one can isolate this feature or that, according to one's taste or preoccupation, or one may simply draw up a random list of such isolated features. A great many of such features are, in any case, of crucial significance. It i s very important, however, first to try and form a coherent picture of our times, even as the century ends in the midst of loud pronouncements of so many other endings: the end of ideology, the end of history, the end of modernity, the end of socialism, the end of nations and nation-states, and so on. I have elsewhere used the term "The Post Condition" for this temper of postmodern thought which seems to wallow in a permanent twilight. Yet, in order to form a coherent picture of the century that now is fading into the past, it is best to recall what has been its central aspirations and struggles; all the rest, including the issues of science or technology, can then be seen in a proper perspective. Here, then, I will comment in a very general way on what seems to be the defining feature of this century. (Later essays in this series will focus on more specific issues.)

As one begins to reflect upon the 20th century, it takes little acumen to realise that what makes this century unique in all the centuries of the millennium that too is now drawing to a close, and indeed all the millennia that went before it, is that socialism emerged as the central fact around which most aspirations and conflicts on the global scale were shaped: struggles for and against socialism, achievements in its pursuit, failures and defeats, alignments and adversaries, wars (hot and cold), the bloodletting but also the glories.

That is one way of saying it. Equally plausibly, one could say that this century was triangulated by imperialist domination on the one hand, and the struggles against this dominance on the other, which were waged, centrally, by forces of socialism and national liberation. None of these forces originated in the 20th century. The history of colonialist capitalism is spread over roughly half a millennium, and none of the peoples who were vanquished by colonialism went down without a struggle; in that sense anti-colonialism is as old as colonialism itself. And, some rudimentary idea of socialism emerged toward the end of the 18th century, in the crucible of the French Revolution. The idea of socialism is thus as old as the idea of revolution itself, in the modern sense; and, already by the middle of the 19th century, Marx and Engels had begun to formulate that theory of the proletarian revolution which the 20th century inherited. However, all these forces - of capitalism and colonialism, as well as social ism and anti-colonial national liberation - underwent profound changes in the course of the 20th century. Recalling some details should give us a proper perspective on these momentous changes.

Thus, mass parties of the working class had indeed emerged in Europe during the last quarter of the 19th century, and by the 1920s such parties had come to occupy key positions in Parliaments, often winning a plurality of votes, in such countries as Germ any, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Italy and the Netherlands. The Bolshevik Revolution was, however, the key event that put the question of revolutionary change on the agenda in a host of countries. This combination of the mass parties of the working class and the possibility of revolution across the continent produced the phenomenon of fascism. It is no wonder that fascism was the most ferocious precisely in the four countries - Spain, Germany, Italy and Austria - where the workers' movement was the strongest. Nor is it surprising that fascistic tendencies of the Far Right have remained a punctual tendency in the age of imperialism throughout the century and on the global scale.

But the Bolshevik Revolution also transformed socialist politics from a European phenomenon into an international, indeed global, one. This transformation was owed to five factors. That the revolutionary break had come first in the predominantly agrarian society of Russia produced a sea-change in revolutionary theory, positing the worker-peasant alliance as the precondition for proletarian politics, thus opening the way for the peasantry to emerge as a revolutionary force; all subsequent revolutions were to occur in predominantly peasant societies.

Second, Bolshevik theory, as articulated by Lenin and his associates, and in opposition to every strand of European bourgeois thought, recognised the legitimacy of the national and colonial questions, hence the necessity of wars of national liberation throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America and within corners of Europe itself. All subsequent socialist revolutions were to have an intrinsic relationship with revolutionary nationalism and anti-imperialism, and communist politics were to have a profound impact on a host of other nationalist movements, from India to South Africa. Third, the Communist International (Comintern, for short) served for two decades or more both as the nursery in which large numbers of revolutionaries learned the theory and practice of socialist revolution and as the forum where militants from around the world could learn from one another directly, with little hindrance of language, race, region, or religious origin.

Fourth, the theory and practice of socialism upheld the idea that revolutionary change was required not only by classes formed on the terrain of property and production - in other words, workers and peasants - but also by a whole host of social groups which faced a variety of oppressions: women as women, minorities as minorities, the craftspeople ruined by the capitalist market, linguistic groups, cultural entities, and so on; that women across national or religious boundaries had certain common interests - the idea of a Women's International, so to speak - first grew on socialist soil, well before modern feminism was even a glint in anyone's eye. Socialist unity was thus conceived of as a dialectical play between the whole host of particular, sectional interests and the common, universal interest - whence came Gramsci's famous conception of the Communist party as "the collective intellectual."

Finally, all this was translated into a powerful universalist culture. This culture was comprised both of institutions - political parties, trade unions, mass organisations of women and students, theatre groups, writers' associations, anti-fascist commit tees, and the like - and of values. In sharp contrast to capitalist globalisation which was intrinsically racist, the primary value upheld in socialist internationalism was that of radical, universal equality. In this sense, then, the socialist movement became the chief exponent of the rational and egalitarian values of 18th century Enlightenment. Hence, Eric Hobsbawm's felicitous characterisation of the cumulative socialist current as "the Enlightenment Left." Hence also the fact that the postmodernist attacks on Marxism have gone hand in hand with attacks on the Enlightenment as well.

Because all the socialist revolutions were 20th century revolutions, and because it was in this century that socialism ceased to be a European phenomenon and spread to the whole world, thus becoming a common patrimony for all humanity and an aspiration f or universal emancipation, we can justifiably say that the practical struggle for socialism has been a uniquely 20th century phenomenon.

Some analogous transformations took place within anti-colonial struggles as well. The outstanding feature of all anti-colonial struggles prior to this century was that they were led and waged by traditional strata, in defence of traditional systems and values. The outstanding feature of the anti-colonial movements of the 20th century, by contrast, has been that the leadership shifted in most places, and increasingly so, to classes and social groups of the modern type, which fought in pursuit of a future that was envisioned as being new and different. Not that such movements were without attachment to traditional cultural values, but at the heart of most such visions was the making of a new society on the debris of colonial oppression. In many areas, therefore, anti-colonial movements tended to converge with movements of social reform, with varying degrees of democratising spirit.

The Bolshevik Revolution had an immense impact on the fortunes of anti-colonial movements in several ways. Since Czarist Russia was itself at the centre of a huge colonial empire, which had recently fought a war against an Asian adversary (Japan), a revolution there naturally inspired many of the anti-colonial militants. Then there was the declared policy of the Bolsheviks in favour of national liberation. Third, there was the immensely popular idea of the mass mobilisation of workers and peasants in pursuit of freedom: a revolution not from above, by the elites, but from below, by the masses. A key contribution of socialism to anti-colonial movements - and to a whole host of movements for radical change - was that the process of emancipation could only be a process of self-emancipation by the oppressed themselves.

Fourth, there was the direct involvement of communists in a host of anti-colonial movements. Fifth, the fact that the major colonial powers were also the main enemies of socialism created among numerous anti-colonial militants a natural affinity with the cause of socialism. If all the socialist revolutions of Asia and Africa took the form of national liberation movements, it was also the case that all the communist and socialist movements in our continents which became mass movements did so in the perspective and environment of nationalism. Yet, because this was a revolutionary nationalism, it thought of nationalism not as something that closes in upon itself and excludes others, as ethnic nationalisms of today do, but as part of an international movement against the common colonial enemy. Thus, socialism had a deeply civilising influence upon nationalism itself, rescuing it from chauvinism and bigotry, and giving to it a universalist content.

This vision of nationalism as part of the project for universal emancipation was greatly strengthened by the immense support that anti-colonial movements punctually received from socialist countries and the world-wide communist movement. Amilcar Cabral, the great revolutionary leader of Guinnea-Bissau, once reminded everyone that every gun that was ever fired in anti-colonial revolutions on the African continent had originally come from a socialist country. Thus it is that a wide variety of nationalist leaders around the world, from Nelson Mandela to Yasser Arafat, who were by no means communists themselves, nevertheless refused to become a part of the anti-communist crusades. And a whole host of radical nationalist regimes, from Nasser's Egypt to FLN' s Algeria, which suppressed communists within their own territories, nevertheless carried out reforms inspired by the socialist project and relied heavily on the Soviet Union in their struggle for independence from imperialism. The Non-Aligned Movement - more accurately, the Bandung project - would have been unthinkable without implicit support from the socialist countries; indeed, Zhou En-lai and Marshal Tito were among its key authors. In short, then, the fortunes of radical nationalism were deeply tied to the fortunes of the socialist project, and the one could not survive without the other. It is at least arguable that the collapse of the Soviet Union has been as much a setback for a nti-imperialist nationalisms as for the worker's movements. Nor is it a wonder that the ethnic and religious nationalisms of today, which do not have the benefit of inspiration from socialism, tend to be so overwhelmingly right-wing and murderous.

But what about the great adversary: imperialism. As we said earlier, the history of colonialism is spread over roughly half a millennium. Then, with the division of Africa, the colonial conquest of the world was completed toward the end of the 19th centu ry. At the dawn of the 20th century, the spread of workers' parties in Europe was overshadowed by a ferocious rivalry among the colonial powers which eventually led to two world wars for a re-division of the world, culminating in fascism as well as the invention of weapons of mass destruction, thus threatening the survival of the human civilisation itself. If fascism exterminated millions of its hapless victims methodically and in cold blood, the American use of the atomic bomb against Japan dramatised the degree of barbarity that 'liberal democracies' were capable of. Through such means was it finally decided whether the Nazis or the Americans would dominate the planet. From this perspective, then, the story of the 20th century can also be told as the emergence of the U.S. as the single dominant power in the whole world. This had three phases.

The United States had already emerged as the leading capitalist power by the end of the 19th century, outflanking Britain. Then, its role was decisive in both the World Wars. By the end of the First World War, New York had eclipsed London as the financial nerve centre of the world, and it was the U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson, who supervised the postwar settlement. However, it was only after the Second World War, with the dissolution of the colonial empires in a context where the respective European powers had destroyed large parts of each other's resources, that the U.S. emerged to unchallenged global supremacy within the capitalist world. Until about the middle of the century, the division of the world into competing colonial empires had obstructed the emergence of a perfect global market which required that capital have unfettered and equal access to all the territories under its dominion, and there be a single, or at least a united, power to guarantee that access. The dissolution of the colonial empires facilitated the emergence of the U.S. precisely to that position of hegemonic pre-eminence.

For the next roughly half a century, the U.S. reorganised the world market under its own hegemony and united the capitalist world under its military and political leadership against the socialist challenge and the forces unleashed by wars of national liberation. Thanks to the unprecedented accumulation made possible by this extraordinary unity of the capitalist world, the U.S. also played the leading role in carrying out an enormous revolution in the whole range of sciences and technologies, superbly aided by its allies in Europe and Japan.

There was a complication, however. The same crisis of the Second World War which had dissolved the colonial power and brought to the U.S. its hegemonic position within the capitalist world had also broken the isolation of the Soviet Union as the only socialist country in the world, with strong gains being made both in southeastern Europe and East Asia, and eventually in corners of Latin America/Caribbean and Africa as well. If the Bolshevik Revolution was the principal event of the first quarter of the century, the Chinese Revolution was so in the second quarter, and the Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions in the third. (That the revolution did not happen in India was at least as significant as the fact that it did in China; this Indian failure was to have decisive significance in the subsequent history of Asia. But that requires a separate explanation.) And if the revolutionary movements that arose in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution were smashed with relatively little effort, such was not to be the case immediately for the revolutions that occurred and the revolutionary movements that arose in the wake of the Chinese Revolution. It was only after the defeat in Chile, in 1973, that the tide began to turn in favour of imperialism.

"Cold War" was one of the most perverse euphemisms ever invented by the media. The 45 years between the end of the Second World War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union were years of an unremitting, ferocious, historically unprecedented civil war on t he global scale. It is true that there was no shooting war between the U.S. and the USSR and that northwestern Europe witnessed the longest spell of peace in its modern history, but close to 200 wars were fought in the Third World, most of them for rolling back communism, defeating anti-colonial nationalisms and arresting the other nascent anti-imperialist movements in the already decolonised countries. The 40-year economic embargo and military intimidation against Cuba merely illustrates the brute fact that none of the little places where great revolutions had taken place was ever permitted the conditions of peace and autonomy where anything resembling socialism could be built. The human and material destruction of Vietnam before the Americans withdrew was of such a scale that Noam Chomsky has plausibly argued that the war was won not by the Vietnamese but by the Americans. The same story was to be repeated in such far-flung places as Angola, Mozambique and Nicaragua. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, was bled white by the stupendous expenditure of resources required to maintain some modicum of safety for itself in the face of the combined military machine of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries. Most post-revolutionary regimes were doubtless riddled with problems and anachronisms of their own. However, considering the sheer scale of the military and economic pressure that imperialism was able to exercise against them, it is simply indecent to suggest that there was some peaceful competition in which those regimes collapsed under their own weight.

The first three quarters of this century were a period of immense expansion in the socialist forces, despite all odds. The reversals began - and then proceeded with a rapidity not foreseen even by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - only during the fourth quarter. This is not the place to summarise the complexities of that reversal. Suffice it to say that it was only after 1989-90 that the U.S. entered into the third and still continuing phase of its dominance, for, it was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that it could truly claim to be unrivalled and unchallengeable in its power: "the sole superpower" as the phrase goes. It is in this capacity that it has been able to impose a neo-liberalist regime of capital accumulation across the globe, including Western Europe itself where the American model, which combines high employment (frequently at cut-rate wages) with high incidence of poverty, has already been imposed on Britain and is now being urged upon a Europe that is currently ruled almost wholly by social democrats and where a unified "banker's Europe" is emerging under the guise of the European Union. And, it is in this capacity that the U.S. has so wholly turned both NATO and the United Nations as instruments of its own policy, as exemplified in the Gulf War and the brutal bombings of Kosovo. Not the least aspect of the multilateral agencies such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is to universalise the corporate practices, legal norms and management models utilised by and in the U.S. It is through the imposition of this neoliberal regime that the "third-worldisation" of what once was a socialist bloc is proceeding apace and the crises of stagnation in the First World are softened by exporting some of its worst consequences t o the peripheral economies, including the celebrated "tigers" of South and Southeast Asia. Indeed, the recent crisis of the "tigers" is being used to buy up assets there for a song and to soften those regimes for greater inroads by neoliberalism.

At the close of the century, when no real rival is left, the U.S. spends more on self-armament than the combined military expenditure of the next six countries, which accounts for the fact that it is the only power in the world with a global reach which enables it to destroy any home on this planet with precision-bombing, and with impunity. All its allies, including the European and the Japanese, depend on it to safeguard their interests in zones far from their own shores - which explains their supine conduct in relation to the U.S. For all the decay in many branches of productive enterprise, the U.S. remains the global centre for higher education and training for the more privileged techno-managerial strata. And, for all the advances made by its allies, notably Japan, in information technology, the U.S. remains the leading corporate power in the actually existing information industry, with enormous powers of ideological control, especially over the Third World, to which satellites and subsidiaries an d stooges spread all over the world telecast the news manufactured in the U.S.

This combination of virtual monopoly over higher education of Third World elites and over the most far-reaching ideological production of information industries has had devastating consequences for the political climate in Third world countries. In India, for example, there is not a single television channel or a national newspaper which registers even a modicum of dissent from the economic and political world-view of the Americans; what the U.S. preaches has become just the common sense of these native informants. Nor is it a matter of direct, coerced intervention. More than manufacturing the news, the U.S. manufactures the newscasters themselves, in their style and sensibility and allegiance, through a dense network of interlocked institutions, from school syllabi to the highest levels of specialised professional training, regardless of geographical location.

While most of this century, from its second decade to the penultimate one, was dominated by struggles for and against socialism, the end of the 20th century bears a remarkable resemblance to the end of the 19th. That was a time in the history of Asia and Africa, after the decisive defeat of earlier waves of anti-colonial struggles and before the emergence of the more modern and mass movements of the 20th century, when colonialism was the strongest and anti-colonialism the most dormant.

Today we are in the process of a re-colonisation which has no historical precedent; it involves no territorial conquest of the colonial type but takes control of production systems, local resources, labour regimes and ideological apparatuses, in the most invasive and comprehensive manner that history has known. The time-honoured distinction between the national bourgeois and comprador is itself evaporating; more often than not, the 'national' of yesteryear has himself become the comprador of today. It is in this larger framework that the stupendous power of "the sole superpower", so recently freed from great challenges, has acquired an air of invincibility, even eternity. Underneath all the philosophical hockum of the 'End-of-History' ideology, all that is being preached is that this power shall now never be dislodged.

Merely 13 years after the end of the 19th century, when colonialist capitalism had appeared so invincible, the Bolshevik Revolution broke the spell, and then, over the next five years, massive anti-colonial movements emerged, for the first time in history, in diverse countries, from India to Egypt. Another few years into the century, and the initial battles of the Chinese Revolution were being fought, in Shanghai and elsewhere. The century of revolutions, the 20th century, had by then fully begun. In that sense, we are still mired in the reversal of the fundamental logic of the 20th century, which was the logic of socialist aspiration, democratic demand, and anti-imperialist masses on the move across continents. In historical terms, then, the 21st century has not quite begun, is not yet likely to begin very soon, and cannot begin until the reversal itself has been reversed.


 


Balance sheet of the Left
A reflection on our times-II

A Hungarian historian coined the phrase "The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1989", which the British historian Eric Hobsbawm then made famous, to indicate that the real dynamic of the 20th century is the one that was set in motion by the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution, and that the dynamic then ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. To grasp this dynamic, then, we need something resembling a balance sheet of the Left. Such a narrative would take into account the lasting achievements o f socialism in this century as well as some of the key problems and failures, but above all it will spell out the material and historical conditions in which the whole dynamic unfolded.

First, then, the historical conditions! The great success of the Bolshevik Revolution has obscured from later memory the fact that the years 1917-1921 were a period of general upsurge in several countries: Germany, Hungary, Italy and so on. Lenin had assumed that Moscow would be a temporary headquarter which would then move to Berlin; German was adopted, and remained, as the main language of the communist International. In this perspective, then, the fact that the revolution was beaten back across Europe, in countries economically and socially much more advanced, proved to be as decisive a fact as that it succeeded in Russia, which had been a serf society only two generations earlier, had no prior structures of democratic governance, and only a rudimentary knowledge of industrial or bourgeois culture, in a couple of cities. For comparison, one could recall that the Iran which Ayatollah Khomeini took over was socially, culturally, educationally, industrially and in its level of urbanisation much more advanced, with a modern proletariat comprising a much larger proportion of the population, than was the case of the Russia of 1917. As late as 1926, only 7.6 per cent of the population was employed outside agriculture. This same historic condition was to be repeated in China where at the time of the 1949 Revolution, an average Chinese survived on half a kilogram of rice per day, bought one pair of footwear every five years, and had a life expectancy of 35 years.

Second, a country already ravaged by the First World War was then devastated by a massive Civil War (1918-1920) and a foreign intervention that witnessed the introduction of British, French, American, Japanese, Polish, Serb, Greek and Romanian troops on Soviet soil. A majority of the Bolsheviks died in battle, so that, as Charles Battleheim, the French economist, has estimated, some three-fourths of the state personnel that was subsequently directed to start building socialism in the USSR was comprised of former members of the Czarist bureaucracy - hardly the human raw material to build a revolutionary society. By then, the Soviet economy had fallen to 10 per cent of its pre-war size. Thanks to this hardship, two million people emigrated from Russia, including most of the educated people, who were able to re-make their lives elsewhere.

Third, there was great isolation symbolised by the fact that the United States did not even recognise the USSR until 1933, just as it has forced Cuba to live under an economic embargo for over 40 years. No more socialist revolutions occurred until after the Second World War. When social democratic governments or coalition governments were formed - Sweden, Finland, Germany, Belgium during 1917-1919; somewhat later in Britain, Denmark and Norway - they were deeply hostile to the Bolshevik Revolution and w ere quick to shed whatever Marxist heritage some of them had heretofore claimed. When Lenin promulgated the New Economic Policy after the Civil War, planning a mixed economy and inviting foreign investments, none of the capitalist countries, including the social democratic ones, responded, and the denial of technologies, investments and materials continued. As late as 1933, Churchill was praising Mussolini as a bulwark against bolshevism, and even though Stalin incessantly offered a pact of "Collective Security" against fascism after 1934, the West kept open its option of alignment with fascism against the USSR up to 1938-39. After the Second World War, Soviet policy advocated the formation of states throughout Europe, west as well as east, not on the model of the USSR but multi-party parliamentary democracies. Only after the promulgation in 1947 of the Truman doctrine, calling for a "roll-back" of communism, did the policy change in Eastern Europe.

Fourth, at no point in its history until about 1970 was the Soviet Union free of the fear of imminent military destruction. Ten weeks after the end of the Second World War, the U.S. chiefs of staff made a covert plan to prepare the United States to drop atomic bombs on 20 key Soviet cities, in sharp contrast to the USSR which reduced the size of the Red Army from 12 million persons in 1945 to three million in 1948. Soviet re-armament and the race for atomic and nuclear technologies were reactive strategies, against a declared policy of encirclement, symbolized by the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan of 1947 and the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949, not to speak of the American threat, on the eve of the Italian elections of 1948, of military intervention if the communists, with two million members, won the elections. Even after the USSR had developed its nuclear deterrence and delivery system, some of the fear remained, because there persisted an opinion at the highest levels of the U.S. policy establishment, including such illustrious figures as Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who seriously considered a nuclear option in which much more of the USSR but much less of the U.S. would be destroyed.

Fifth, there was the fact of war itself. During the 1930s the Soviet economy grew faster than that of any country except Japan, but then a quarter of the Soviet industrial assets were destroyed during the Second World War, while during that same War the U.S. economy grew at the rate of 10 per cent per annum - faster than ever before or since. Out of 5.7 million Russian prisoners of war in Germany, 3.3 million died. In all, the Soviet Union lost 20 million lives, in addition to 50 million injured - by far the greatest single catastrophe any country has suffered in human history. Even the demographic result was such that as late as 1959 the USSR had seven women between the age of 35 and 40 for every four men of the same age. Nor was the human toll limited to the USSR alone. In the three regions where the issue of socialism was most sharply posed after 1950 - Korea, Indochina and Portugal's African colonies - death toll was estimated at close to eight million. This does not include scores of wars around the globe, from Malaya to El Salvador, that the West fought for the containment of communism - for example, the Greek Civil War which took 80,000 lives.

Sixth, this combination of extreme initial backwardness, unremitting subsequent carnage and unbearable defence expenditures left behind lasting effects, restricting the overall significance even of the stupendous rates of growth that the socialist countries actually achieved. According to Angus Maddison, the distinguished economic historian, Soviet per capita economic growth in the half century up to 1965 was the fastest in the world, faster than Japan; during the 20 years after 1950, Soviet food consumption doubled, disposable incomes rose by 400 per cent and purchase of consumer durables by 1200 per cent. Between 1950 and 1980, the rate of growth in East Germany was as fast as in West Germany while economies in virtually the whole of Eastern Europe grew faster during this period than did that of the United Kingdom. Even so, per capita gross national product (GNP) in the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s was only equal to that of Spain and half of West Germany. At no point did the annual aggregate product of the countries of the Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, the economic association of east European countries) equal one-fourth of the NATO countries, and if one includes Japan the ratio declines further. In such circumstances, even a semblance of parity with NATO's war machine absorbed much higher proportions of the resources in these much poorer economies, and yet NATO's military technology remained so superior that every one of the innovations in nuclear technology and most in conventional warfare originated there.

We shall come now to the immensely impressive achievements of socialism. It needs to be said, however, that the cumulative effects of factors that we have summarised above produced enormous distortions. It is virtually impossible to build a socialist democracy superior to the liberal democracy that was already evolving in parts of the capitalist world with a political party whose best rank-and-file cadres have been killed in war, which has always lived under siege and never in an environment of democratic constraint and civility, which has set out to build a socialist society with a state apparatus comprised largely of the remains of the Czarist bureaucracy, and which continues to live under threat of annihilation. An extreme centralisation of authority, which then has a disastrous logic of its own, would seem to flow from the circumstance itself. And, if break-neck industrial development is quite accurately seen as the only guarantee of survival when there are no resources available for such a development, would there not be a temptation to break the worker-peasant alliance, subjecting the working class itself to maximisation of industrial production and the peasantry to a collection of tribute that for some years came to be called 'primitive socialist accumulation', recalling the brutality that Marx had described in his famous chapters on primitive accumulation of capital? And, since all the states of the world had openly adopted the objective of annihilating the Soviet state, it seemed logical an d sensible to organise society not on lines of socialist democracy, as theoretical Marxism had always envisioned, but on a war footing, on the single criterion of efficiency and productivity.

In the realm of theory, then, almost the worst consequence was that methods and models that were adopted under sheer historical compulsion were then internalised and presented as the very essence of socialism, so that alternative models from the socialist perspective became very scarce, especially inside the socialist countries, which were the only countries where these alternative models could have been tested concretely. Meanwhile, complete identification of party and state, which was itself a result of an objective circumstance, resulted in the disappearance of the distinction between the political realm and the executive function.

Similar distortions occurred in the ideological realm as well, two of which we might mention for illustrative purposes. When standards of living in the Soviet bloc remained far inferior to those of the core countries of advanced capital, despite Herculean efforts to increase production and highly impressive gains in per capita GNP, a sense grew that this disparity after some 50 years or more of revolution was indicative of the superiority of the capitalist system. Bulgaria was not compared with Turkey, or Russia with Greece and Spain; nor did it matter that East Germany had inherited a far inferior economic base than West Germany; nor that the socialist countries did not plunder Third World resources as advanced capitalism did. What mattered was that the average Soviet or East European citizen did not live as well as the American or the Japanese. In this condition, then, Soviet military and economic aid to national liberation movements and some countries of the Third World became increasingly unpopular as a very great but unnecessary drain on scarce national resources, reinforcing trends of xenophobia and political conservatism that were rising owing to other causes as well. Indeed, chauvinistic Russian nationalism grew on this soil as well as with t he resentment that East European allies themselves were receiving very considerable economic aid and subsidies from the Soviet Union.

One needs to keep in view this whole range of problems in assessing the achievements of socialism. From the world-historical perspective, one of the central achievements of the USSR was that it saved the world from fascism. As Eric Hobsbawm, hardly an admirer of the Soviet Union, has put it: "The institutions of liberal democracy virtually disappeared from all but a fringe of Europe between 1922 and 1942 as fascism and its satellite authoritarian movements and regimes rose. But for the sacrifices of the USSR and its peoples, Western liberal capitalism would probably have succumbed to this threat and the contemporary Western world (outside an isolated USA) would now consist of a set of variations on authoritarian and fascist regimes rather than a set of liberal ones. Without the Red Army the chances of defeating the Axis powers were invisible."

From the world-historical perspective, one of the central achievements of the Soviet Union was that it saved the world from fascism. It is a very cruel irony of history that the liberal capitalism that had been thus saved by the Soviet Union then turned against that same saviour the mightiest military machine and economic power that the world has ever known.

Socialism created the world's first state system based on the most extensive collective and re-distributive economic rights, namely the "social state", against the state of liberal capitalism based on possessive individualism. It demonstrated how such fundamental human rights as free universal education at all levels and free universal health, not to speak of full employment, could be achieved at relatively low levels of economic prosperity. It was the first system ever to set out on the premise that, far from leaving personal well-being to the vagaries of the market and its endless competitions, socio-economic systems could be planned for the common good. Socialist societies were also the modern world's first relatively egalitarian economies, based on modern industrial production, until the bureaucratic corruptions of the 1970s set in. On gender issues, the record of socialist societies was at best ambiguous. It is worth recalling, however, that legislation on women's issues in the first years of the Bolshevik Revolution, before the later deformations began, was more advanced than in any of the most advanced of the capitalist countries of that time; that Muslim women always had more rights in the Asian republics of the Soviet Union than in any other Muslim country, Turkey and Tunisia included; and that, after the collapse of communism, people like Jurgen Habermas, the German philosopher whose anti-communist sentiments are well-known, opposed the unification of Germany on the ground, among others, t hat legislation for East German women was far superior to the West and that those women were likely to lose security and status as a result of the unification.

The demonstration effects of the socialist experience, combined with the threat of socialist revolution elsewhere, had a deeply civilising influence on capitalism itself. In response to the Depression, capitalism was already imbibing from the Soviet Five Year Plans a tendency to nationalise, municipalise and otherwise regulate economies in the direction of greater state responsibility for planning and social provision. In mobilising the peasantry as a revolutionary class across continents, socialism pus hed the agrarian question to the heart of the democratic question. The most far-reaching land reforms were undertaken in Asia and Africa either by communists themselves or by anti-communists out of their fear of communism: in South Korea because of North Korea, in Taiwan under pressure from China, in Malaysia thanks to the great (eventually defeated) communist insurgency. In other countries, notably India, some partial agrarian reforms were attempted thanks to a combination of communist pressure and a radical nationalism that was inspired by socialist example. Where communist movements were very weak or non-existent, such as Pakistan or pre-1978 Afghanistan, no land reforms took place.

What we have said here about the more radical agrarian reforms from which the Asian peasantries have benefited can be said equally for the gains the working classes made in the capitalist zones of Europe. One now forgets that in Europe the line against communist revolution was drawn in the Greek Civil War, with 80,000 people dead; that in both France and Italy, the communist parties had emerged from the War and anti-fascist Resistance as the largest parties in their respective countries; and that the question of communism was not settled in southern Europe until after the containment of the Portuguese Revolution of 1974 and the decisive electoral defeat of the Italian communists in 1976. The West European welfare state arose within this perspective, facilitated undoubtedly by Keynesian economics and American financing of West European reconstruction through the Marshall Plan, but with the express objective of immunising the working classes there against communist ideas. This type of state arose under social democratic management of the state in Scandinavia, under conservative government in Germany, and under Christian democrats with communist pressure in Italy, but the social democratisation of the working class was everywhere seen as an imperative i n the containment of communism.

It was under this imperative that the bourgeoisies there accepted far-reaching increases in social spending and equally far-reaching cuts in their own share of the value-added, in the shape of higher workers' wages and higher taxes to underwrite the welfare state. One can plausibly argue, I think, that in economic terms and social rights the West European working class perhaps gained more from communism, indirectly, than did the working classes of Eastern Europe - precisely because Western Europe was so much richer and could pay much more. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with the exception of Britain where attacks came earlier, that settlement remained intact throughout the northwestern parts of the Continent and was extended to Spain and Portugal as well, both of which had considerable communist parties. Now that the communist threat has been removed, and as Keynesianism becomes less and less possible, that compact can be repudiated under the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility, restructuring and the like. Or to put it differently: now that the Third International has been defeated, the Second International itself can supervise the emergence of what I have called a 'banker's Europe'. And yet I believe that the great experience that the European working classes have gained during that whole period will mean that any big attacks on them will necessarily radicalise at least some sections of them. Across the Atlantic, a 5 per cent increase in unionisation in the U.S. last year after two decades of dormancy, in response to the more radical stance of the new AFL-CIO leadership, is hopefully a small sign of the times yet to come.

The international socialist current has also gained a whole range of experiences that are likely to remain a part of our legacy. The very fact that roughly a third of humanity passed through this experience, memory and critical assessment of that experience - the best and the worst of it - shall remain an integral part of the emancipatory politics of the future; there are said to have been some 200,000 workers' actions in China over the past couple of years, and one can safely surmise that these actions were in memory of the revolution that once was, and in defence of what little of it still remains. Once the dust of the present conflagrations settles in parts of eastern Europe, it will again be remembered that an advanced full-employment welfare state, with low levels of crime or industrial accident or work-related psychological derangements, and with little of the pathologies of American mass culture, was achieved there at levels of economic development much lower than in western Europe; movements w ill undoubtedly grow to revive that experience, at a higher level of development than before. The workers' self-management experience in Yugoslavia has much to teach us about how to conceive of democracy at the point of production, how to fight against alienation in the belly of industrial work, and how to struggle for a workers' state where the power of the working class may actually be greater than that of the bureaucracy that may yet be needed, provisionally, for some executive functions. From Cuba t o Kerala, we have gained much experience in how to produce and maintain literate, healthy, politically participating citizenries despite great resource crises - and in Kerala, of course, this experience has been gained within the belly of the Republic of the bourgeoisie.

In numerous countries, Marxism has learned the tough lessons as to how not to concede the power of religion entirely to the Right. Liberation theology is inconceivable except in the perspective of the global outbreak of socialist and national liberation movements across the globe, in which the Catholic nuns and priests who were working on the ground had to choose sides. Across the Catholic world, from remote barrios in Latin America to the jungles and shantytowns of Philippines, this is a glorious chapter of resistance against dictatorship, fascism and the rule of property which was shared by socialists with religious personnel. One now forgets that key Ministries in the Sandinista Cabinet were held by Jesuit priests, including the great poet Ernesto Cardenal. Nor is it peculiar to Catholicism. Numerous people associated with both the Protestant and Catholic churches in the U.S. played a key role in the movement against the war in Vietnam, in a far-reaching alliance in which communists, former Communists and independent Marxists were the other main element. We may briefly refer to some other conceptual features which were specific to socialist theory but which have now become common features in a broad range of emancipatory movements. There was, first, the culture built around a specific identity, that of t he 'working class', which then was expanded to broader categories of 'the oppressed' or the 'the people'.

Second, there was an explanation of inequality and injustice in relation to the capitalist system, property relations, exploitation and the like. Third, it located the possibility of revolutionary change within capitalism itself and, further, the agency of change in the capacities of the oppressed themselves. Fourth, it assigned enormous importance to ideology and consciousness, arguing that ideological domination was as important as political or economic domination, and that no collective social change was possible without a fundamental change in structures of collective consciousness; hence the great emphasis on 'proletarian consciousness', 'study group', 'party school' and so on.

The striking feature of modern struggles for justice is that these ideas, which are of classical Marxist vintage, are now deeply permeated in all those struggles, be it for racial justice, gender justice, defence of the human environment against blind profiteering, or other 'social movement'. Feminist 'consciousness raising' was modelled on the communist 'study group', and when radical feminism speaks of women's oppression it speaks of unequal wages, unpaid domestic labour, the cost of reproduction, unequal property rights, alienation of the body through sexual exploitation and the like.

Finally, an attribute that is peculiar to Marxism is the attempt to combine a politics that is based squarely within the working class with the greatest achievements of 'high culture'. Hence comes Marxism's distinctive contributions to scientific thought, economic science, social and political philosophies, cultural theory and the arts. Marx was so formidable a philosopher that even The New Yorker, the magazine par excellence of the American bourgeois literati, was constrained to nominate him as the likely philosopher of the 21st century. Similarly, no roster of the great decisive poets of the 20th century would be possible without the commanding presence of Vladimir Mayakovsky, Aime-Fernand Cesaire, Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Ernesto Cardenal, Nazim Hikmet and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. With the exception of Cardenal and Vallejo, they were all members of communist parties; Vallejo himself went off to fight in the Spanish Civil War, and Cardenal was an illustrious Minister in Sandanista's Nicaragua. Coming from Latin America, the Arab world, the Caribbean, Europe, Central America and South Asia, these are a small number of the great figures in what one may call 'Poetry International'. Indeed, it is a fundamental feature of the Marxist intelligentsia that every member of it, anywhere in the world, has always considered him/herself as part of a global fabric. I could equally well give the example of modern cultural theory where most of the commanding figures also turn out to be something of a debating society within the broad parameters of Marxism: V.N. Voloshinov, Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Walter Benjamin, Louis Althusser, E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams. One could offer many such examples. The point nevertheless is that it is this combination of a working class politics and the most advanced thought of the age which accounts for socialism's reach far, far beyond its distinctive precincts.


 


The century of democratic demand
A reflection on our times-III

In two previous essays in a series of reflections on the 20th century ("A Century of Revolutions" and "Balance Sheet of the Left" Frontline, February 4 and March 3), Professor Aijaz Ahmad proposed that the struggle between forces of socialism and national liberation on the one side, and of imperialism on the other has been the defining feature of this century, and then offer ed a synoptic view of the achievements and failures of the Left in the course of this struggle. He views these struggles for socialism and national liberation as part of a much broader offensive by the masses of people around the globe for democratisation of all aspects of life, economic and social as well as political. Here, he summarises what the word 'democracy' has meant for different classes of people and how battles over it have been fought in the course of the century. Forthcoming essays in the series shall first take stock of the nature of the imperialist offensive and will then return to the question of the future of the revolutionary project and the probable shape of insurgencies yet to come.

I want to start with five propositions:

1. That the actually existing democracy, even of the formal/ bourgeois kind, is in reality very much a matter of the 20th century;

2. That this too has been achieved not by the bourgeoisie but by those workers, peasants, women, colonised peoples, subordinated castes and ethnic groups, the non-white victims of European racism whom the bourgeoisie has sought to exclude from the democratic project;

3. That in taking the project of democracy out of the hands of the bourgeoisie, these victims of capitalism have given to 'democracy' a historically different meaning and have pressed it in a revolutionary direction;

4. That the defeat of the struggles for socialism and national liberation, which had dominated the 20th century, has thrown the democratic project itself into a crisis because democratic freedom is not a reflection of the illusory "freedom" of the market, as the bourgeoisie claims, but a point of struggle for radical and real equality on the part of the oppressed, which cannot survive without its intrinsic link with struggles for socialism and national liberation; and, therefore,

5. The task of the Left in the coming century shall be to recover that vision of Marx which conceives of socialism itself, in his own words, as a "perfection" of democracy.

These are controversial ideas and therefore require some explanation. The bourgeois project itself claims the right to vote as the fundamental democratic right. One statistic alone should suffice to make the point that even in this narrow sense democracy is a matter really of the 20th century: this century began with women having the right to vote only in New Zealand and in the American State of Wyoming - nowhere else - but by 1960 women had gained this right in all the countries where elections were al lowed (except a couple of Islamic countries and Switzerland). It takes an enormous leap of imagination to grasp the distance this one right alone has traversed during this century.

The emphasis on the idea of actually existing democracy means, meanwhile, that the rights and practices which in fact exist are always more important than pronouncements of principle. That the founding document of the republic in the United States resoundingly declared that "All men are created equal" in the last quarter of the 18th century is less significant than the fact that the U.S. Constitution allowed slavery of millions of Black Americans for the next 80 years. In fact, the legal segregation of the white and non-white races which persisted in large parts of the United States well into the 1950s means that even formal, juridic equality of all American citizens came some years after the founding of the Republic in India.

The bourgeois democratic project, which dates itself from the American and French Revolutions, has had three notable features. One, even in principle it offers a vision of democracy far more limited than the one that had been available in more radical strands of political thought, from Aristotle to Rousseau. Second, even in its moment of origin it separated economy from politics, defined equality in purely legal terms, and sought to keep most people disenfranchised for as long as possible. ("We, the People," in whose name the American Declaration of Independence was promulgated, was a hollow phrase; it included neither women nor the non-white indigenous populations and the slaves of African origin.) Third, the bourgeoisie has always vastly exaggerated its own achievements. That even the revolutionary bourgeoisie was more interested in confining than expanding the conception of democracy can be illustrated, on the theoretical plane, not only with a reference to Rousseau who had already posed the famous questions - can you reconcile liberty with inequality? and, can people be equal in law when they are unequal in their access to material goods? - but even by going much further back, to Aristotle's distinction between democracy and oligarchy. For him, democracy was a type of constitutional arrangement in which, as he put it in Politics, "the free-born and poor control the government - being at the same time a majority" whereas oligarchy was one in which "the rich and better-born control the government - being at the same time a minority." He greatly emphasised the crucial importance of the labouring multitude directly participating in the exercise of political power, and he thought that a constitution which required a vast majority of the citizenry to abstain from direct lawmaking and to delegate legislative powers to a select minority for many years at a time was not democratic but a combination of democracy and oligarchy; such a constitution, he thought, would benefit the rich. He did recognise that some legislative power would have to be delegated to others under certain circumstances - but he thought that the poor should delegate power only to others of their own kind, only temporarily, and on condition that the delegate would be subject to instant recall. This definition recalls for us not the French or American Revolutions but the Paris Commune.

As Ellen Wood has pointed out, the political system which the Americans were the first to call "representative democracy" and which came universally to be seen as the quintessential democratic form, corresponded almost exactly to what Aristotle had called 'oligarchy'. A majority of the labouring multitude was not allowed to vote. All kinds of restrictions - of race, gender, education, property, nationality - were imposed before you could even qualify as a voter. Private property was constitutionally guaranteed and laws could only be made to implement this guarantee. A system was devised in which a very large number of voters elected a handful of legislators who were then at liberty to legislate as they pleased, with no direct consultation with the citizenry on specific pieces of legislation; the poor were then periodically invited to choose between one professional politician and the other.

Until the end of the 19th century, even that much democracy was exceptional. In no European state was bourgeois democracy completed as a form until after the War of 1914. The monarchical form remained the order of the day: imperial monarchies in Russia, Germany and Austria; a precarious royal order in Italy; a constitutional monarchy in Britain; less than constitutional monarchies in Spain and Portugal. The Russian monarchy was to be overthrown by the Bolshevik Revolution in the aftermath of that War, b ut the traditional orders in Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain and Portugal gave way not to stable democracies but to fascism and military dictatorship. Only after the Second World War did Germany and Italy gain stable bourgeois-democratic regimes, just a c ouple of years before this form fully emerged in India, but such was not to be the case in Spain and Portugal, where military dictatorships were overthrown much later, in the 1970s. Even in the states of the great imperial and colonial powers, bourgeois democracy is not nearly as old as its ideologues claim. While monarchs, fascists, military dictators and liberal democrats were busy settling accounts among themselves, something of historic proportions had begun to happen - behind their backs, as it were. Challenges to this ruling order were emerging in all kinds of ways, four of which proved in the long run to be decisive: workers' and peasants' movements against the rule of property; the anti-colonial movements against the rule of the European bourgeoisie over the rest of the globe; women's struggles for equality and emancipation against male power and privilege; and a global struggle, centred in the white settler colonies of North America and the Caribbean, against slavery and racism. None of these struggles were new. Glimmerings of it all date back to the closing years of the 18th century and even earlier, but all these gained fresh momentum and underwent a qualitative change in the later decades of the 19th century and then, with explosive force, in the 20th.

It was really with the leftist tendency in the French Revolution that 'socialism' and 'communism' had emerged as terms for a new kind of society that would abolish individualism and the privilege of property. And, Marx and Engels had of course given to t his current a comprehensive theoretical form in the middle of the 19th century. It was only in the 1880s, however, that mass working class parties emerged even in some countries of Europe. Yet, even those parties remained too small actually to contemplate the formation of governments. It was only in the 20th century that state power became a practical possibility for communists in one way, for social democrats in another. In a parallel development, the revolutionary rhetoric of "We, the People" in the United States and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in France had already prompted Mary Wollstonecroft to ask: what, then, is the gender of the Citizen, and does Woman have the same rights as Man? It was only in the latter half o f the 19th century, however, that sizable women's organisations arose in some parts of Europe and North America, mainly on the issue of suffrage. Even so, none was strong enough to gain for women the right to vote; all that was to come in the 20th century.

At no point in history did any Asian or African people go down without fighting against colonialism, and the 19th century had its own vast history of anti-colonial uprisings. Most of them were marked by certain characteristics, however. Autonomous peasant uprisings remained localised and uncoordinated. Most of the larger and better organised uprisings were led by traditional property-holders and/or men of learning, in defence of traditional systems of power and frequently using religious sanction or communal/tribal affiliation for solidaristic purposes. The reformers who arose out of the emergent modern strata were typically not anti-colonial in any insurgent sense, and the ones who were, commanded influence only in elite groupings but had no mass base. Even this began to change toward the end of the 19th century, as was testified by the Filipino patriots, for example, when they tried to found a bourgeois republic at the turn of the century, in 1898. However, mass movements of national liberation from colonialism that were led by strata drawn from the modern classes and the professions, which then implicitly assumed the making of a new type of state different both from the traditional and the colonial ones, were to emerge almost entirely during the p resent century.

It was only in the 20th century, in short, that the whole range of democratic demands that had emerged, so falteringly and in so small a corner of Europe, became a hurricane from below and came to envelope increasingly larger parts of the globe. In this context, then, let us recall the original meaning of the word 'democracy' and see how the emergence of these new mass movements - of class, gender and nation, which then heralded many others - returned, in some sense, to that original meaning after the bourgeoisie of 18th and 19th century liberal capitalism had sought to restrict that meaning. As the name of one of humanity's oldest aspirations, 'democracy' is actually an ancient word, already fully there in classical Greek thought, as demokratia, which is itself a composite of two words: demos, for 'people', and kratos, meaning 'rule'. Aristotle's definition, which I cited earlier and which invokes demos against the oligarch, is based squarely on this literal meaning, as is Marx's - himself a sensitive scholar of classical theory - when he defines socialism as a perfection of democracy. In both cases, what is envisioned is a mode of governance in which there is no separation between economics and politics, the ruler and th e ruled, state and civil society - indeed, civil society, as a multitude of producers and politically participating citizen who legislate collectively, is the state.

This is the meaning of 'democracy' against which the liberal bourgeoisie of the 19th century used to rage and rebel. Daniel Defoe, one of the architects of the English novel, fumed against it because it violated what he called "the Great Law of Subordination" and Disraeli, the British politician, described the coming of democracy as "a leap into the dark" because it would incite the mob to mutiny, with unforeseeable consequences. It was safest to restrict the arena of politics to the parliament of the propertied, and all politics that went outside these confines were to be suppressed or at least dismissed as a deviation from the real business of politics - that sense of danger and subversion still hangs over the term "extra-parliamentary."

In the matter of granting democratic rights to women, the record of socialism was incomparably superior to that of imperial capitalism. In the mass movements for emancipation and liberation which came to fruition in the 20th century, the practice of democracy was returned to the multitude and the word itself now came to imply a much broader politics of all kinds of entitlement. Movements for socialism and communism, which brought forth the proletariat and the peasantry as the central agents of history, returned to 'democracy', in a radically modern form, its Aristotelian meaning of rule by the poor so as to safeguard their own interests against the rich. If the vision of a universal humanity beyond race or nationality had once been upheld by the radical side of European Enlightenment and then destroyed by capitalism and colonialism, it was in the anti-colonial movements that the vision was resurrected by the non-European freedom fighters against their own European masters; Europe was being told to renew its own Enlightenment and be worthy of it. The movements for women's emancipation demonstrated how false were the claims of the liberal bourgeoisie that it had created even juridic equality of all citizens, that political rights had no substantive meaning without social emancipation, and that social oppression was not merely superstructural but deeply connected with economic exploitation and settled historical forms of inequality.

What was striking about these mass movements of democratic demand in the 20th century was that they produced countless points of intersection and cross-fertilization whereas in the 19th century they had remained largely separate and discrete. Few suffragists who fought for women's emancipation during the 19th century had anything to do with socialism. In the 20th century, on the other hand, not only have communist parties and socialist regimes played a key role in the extension of women's rights but socialist ideas have had an influence far beyond such parties and regimes, far beyond socialist feminism itself, into many strands of feminism which would otherwise be hostile to Marxism. Something analogous would be true of the struggles against racism. The slave rebellions of the 19th century of course had nothing to do with socialist theories, but the keenest writers on the issue of race in the 20th century - Du Bois and Nkrumah, Cesaire and Fanon, and many others - have been deeply marked by their encounter with socialism.

Similarly, there was practically no anti-colonial movement of the 19th century that connected itself with socialism; there was hardly any such sizable movement in the 20th century that did not include a good number that were inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution - and, indeed, several of the most important such movements were led by socialists. It needs to be said, however, that Marxism's encounter with and involvement in movements of cross-class liberation and emancipation in the 20th century - of nation, gender, race, caste, ethnicity and so on - has transformed the body of Marxist knowledge, as well as its practical sense of strategy and tactics, far beyond anything it inherited from the 19th century. For any understanding of the questions of nation and nationalism, for example, the socialists of today would go not so much to Marx and Engels as to Lenin or Rosa Luxemburg or half a dozen other Marxists of the first quarter of the 19th century who were suddenly forced to think of it all anew thanks to the outbreak of nationalisms on both sides of the divide, among the imperialists as well as the colonised.

That revolutionary struggle has involved the peasantry as much as the working class, gender as much as nation, has meant that when we speak of the 20th century as a century of revolutions, we speak of the overlapping dynamics of great many struggles, in which class is central but not exclusive as the organising principle of the historical dynamic as a whole. This is what defines the place of class struggle in the whole complex sweep of democratic demand, but also the sheer scale and multiplicity of form s this demand has taken.

Some dates and magnitudes should give us a sense of that scale. We have noted, for example, that only in New Zealand and the little statelet of Wyoming in the U.S. did women have the right to vote when the 20th century began. Women in Norway, Finland an d Australia then won the right in the early 1900s. In the U.S., the great imperial power of the 20th century which prides itself for having pioneered bourgeois constitutional governance, women got this right only in 1919, while women in Britain, the greatest colonial power of all times, had to wait until 1928. Perhaps the more curious case is that of France, the country par excellence of the classic bourgeois revolution where the revolution itself was inaugurated by the women of Paris with their famous bread riots, and where women gained the right to vote only in 1945 - but that too thanks only to the ascendancy of the Left after the anti-fascist Resistance. We now forget that the communist parties had emerged from the Second World War as the largest political parties in France and Italy, and that both played the key role in obtaining sweeping reforms on gender issues, including the right to vote, in these two major Catholic countries of Europe.

This record of women's democratic rights in the core capitalist countries does not compare much too favourably with a number of the subordinated countries in Latin America where women gained that right roughly at the same time, for example Ecuador (1929) , Brazil, Uruguay and Cuba (early 1930s), or Argentina, Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Colombia (1940s and 1950s). Even in India, universal suffrage came with the founding of the Republic itself; in no European country did women gain voting rights at such low levels of literacy and economic development, and never at the very inception of the nation-state. The record of socialism, in its founding moments, was incomparably superior to that of imperial capitalism. Soon after the Bolshevik Revolution, a broad range of laws were enacted - pertaining to political representation, education, employment and profession, marriage and inheritance, and so on - which gave women rights far greater than anywhere, in "advanced" Europe. The Chinese Communist Party recognised women's legal equality at the moment of its inception, in 1921. When socialist regimes emerged in eastern Europe after the Second World War, women in countries such as Bulgaria and Yugoslavia had infinitely greater legal protection and social status than in comparable countries of the capitalist West, such as Spain, Portugal or Greece, and the legal status of East German women remained superior to those of West German women till virtually the end.

If the opening decades of this century were a time of great upsurge in women's emancipation, so were they for the expansion of labour movements, anti-colonial mass agitations and revolutions of all kinds - those that succeeded and those that failed, the communist and the reformist, and even neo-traditionalist. These movements were of diverse inspirations and were spread across continents. In Europe, labour movements dominated this new kind of democratic demand; outside Europe, they tended to take a nationalist form and made a gradual transition from neo-traditionalism to modern reform and even revolution. Some dates and magnitudes can be given for these developments as well.

The rate of expansion of the social democratic parties is a good indicator for Europe. Germany of course had the largest such party but the trend was visible across the continent. Thus, the Belgian party's electoral strength grew from 13.2 per cent in 18 94 to 39.4 per cent in 1925; the party in the Netherlands grew from 3 per cent in 1896 to 18.5 per cent in 1913; the Norwegian party rose from a paltry 0.6 in 1897 to 32.1 in 1915; the Swedish party went from 3.5 in 1902 to 36.4 in 1914; in Finland, Social Democrats had already won a plurality in 1907, getting 37 per cent; the Austrian party gained 27 per cent in 1907 and then a plurality of 40.8 per cent in 1919. This, combined with the crisis provoked by the First World War, was the context in which t he Bolshevik Revolution broke out in Russia, leading to a wave of revolutionary insurrections across several countries - notably Germany, Italy and Hungary - during the "Red Years" of 1918-20. The hope was that the Russian October would be followed by revolutions in other countries where labour movements had grown so spectacularly. That was of course not to be, though this is not the place to go into the causes of that failure.

Outside Europe, this same period begins with the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 in Iran, which coincided perfectly with the aborted Russian Revolution of the same year, and included the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the Chinese Revolution of 1911, the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, the rise of Amanullah Khan's nationalist and anti-imperialist regime in Afghanistan (also 1919), the May 4 Movement and the founding of the Communist Party in China (1919 and 1921, respectively), the Khilafat Movement and the Rowlatt Satyagraha as well as a massive strike wave in India between 1919 and 1923, and the Turkish Revolution of 1923. The list could go on and on. The second decade of this century can be regarded as having begun that wave of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements that began to recede only after the end of the Vietnam war and some of which remained even in the closing quarter of the century, as in South Africa and Nicaragua. Those nationalist movements had their revolutionary wings as well as the reformist and conservative ones, and the latter often dominated; Eric Hobsbawm is not entirely wrong when he says that after the outbreak of mass uprisings from 1919 onwards the British relied for the continuation of their rule much more on Gandhi's moderation than on their own army and police. What is much more surprising, however, is that so many of those movements came under the hegemony of the Left, from Indochina to southern Africa, and that many of the anti-communist but radical nationalists, such as Nehru and Nasser, took from socialism itself what they safely could.

These explosions of the democratic demand were at the heart of the Short Twentieth Century (1914-89). Imperialism fought hard, suffered innumerable defeats, seemed for a time - between the Cuban Revolution of 1958 and the Vietnamese victory in 1975, let us say - to be on the retreat. Instead, the last quarter of the 20th century witnessed three historic reversals: the unravelling of the socialist project in countries that had for a time escaped from capitalism, the exhaustion of the nationalism of the national bourgeoisie in the former colonies of Asia and Africa, and the demise of the social democratic reformist project in western Europe. In the Third World at least, radical nationalism seemed unable to sustain itself without the aid and inspiration it had historically received from powerful communist parties and states.

These later crises of the democratic project have made credible the idea that there really is no alternative to this latest phase of imperialism which goes under the euphemism of 'globalisation'. And these crises have also given rise to a whole array of political pathologies: religious revivalism across the globe, from the United States to West Asia to India itself; racist and fascist movements across Europe, including eastern Europe and Russia; fundamentalism and majoritarianism; a global revolt of the privileged against any project of redistributive justice; the rise of something resembling a 'world government' comprising the U.S., NATO and multilateral agencies such as the IMF and the WTO which polices the world militarily and economically..


 


Colonialism, Fascism and 'Uncle Shylock'
A reflection on our times-IV

Previous instalments of this series of essays argued that struggles for socialism, national liberation and democratisation of all aspects of human life constitute the fundamental story of the 20th century. Equally fundamental have been the immensely murderous (and frequently successful) offensives against these forces of revolution and emancipation. Seen from this latter perspective, the story of the 20th century can also be told as the story of a transition from a world divided among competing colonial and imperialist nation-states to a world empire united by the rule of capital itself.

The hallmark of the 19th century was that it completed the process of creating a world economy based on the nation-states of advanced capital and their colonies. The hallmark of the 20th century was that it witnessed the dissolution of that system of colonial empires and a mortal contest between socialism and capitalism over how this new post-colonial world was to be organised economically, socially, politically, ideologically, aesthetically. "Globalisation" is the loose term designating the system that emerged at the end of that contest, with the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

The beginning of the colonial era can be dated from the end of the 15th century. Until the beginning of the 19th century, however, most of Asia and (especially) Africa had remained outside colonial sovereignty. Then the pace quickened. In the first 75 years of the 19th century, colonial powers added an average of 210,000 square kilometres of non-European territory to their possessions annually. Between the mid-1870s and the First World War (1914-18), then, the average annual conquest jumped to 620,000 s q km. By the latter date (1914), 85 per cent of the globe's surface comprised colonial powers, their colonies and former colonies. The 20th century thus begins at the point where the colonial division of the world was already complete. This accelerated pace of colonisation was partly facilitated by the technologies that we associate with the Second Industrial Revolution in the latte r decades of the 19th century: mass-produced steel, industrial chemistry, the internal-combustion engine, electric power and oil as sources of energy, the spread of the railways and the telegraph as standard forms of long-distance travel and communicatio n, and so on. Two features of that unprecedented industrial transformation were to have lasting consequences. The scales of investment in these new types of industry required concentrations of capital so stupendous that the way was paved for a new kind o f separation between finance capital and industrial capital, and for periods when the former has been dominant over the latter. Second, these new types of industry spread over much of Western Europe, the United States and even Japan, so that some of these other countries - the U.S., Germany, Italy and Belgium, for example - also now entered into much more intensified inter-colonial rivalry.

With the world already divided among major colonial powers, new wars could only be wars for the re-division of the world. The competition now was not just for unoccupied territory but for export markets, sources of raw materials and the investment opportunities already cornered by the established colonial powers. Numerous local wars of colonial expansion and inter-colonial rivalry at the dawn of the 20th century thus gained a new kind of ferocious edge, leading inexorably to a general conflagration. Never in history had there been a war involving so many countries, and fought over such vast global stakes, that it could be regarded as a 'World War'. The 20th century had the distinction of being the one that more or less began with precisely such a war.

But that very period, 1870-1914, which had witnessed such new forms and scales of industrialisation across the core capitalist countries, as well as such an accelerated pace of colonisation in Asia and Africa, also witnessed the rise of the first mass parties of the working class in Europe and the first anti-colonial movements of the modern type in the colonised continents. The First World War, and the consequent breakdown of the European system, then had momentous consequences, within Europe and on the global scale.

That breakdown helped pave the way for a successful revolution in Russia, in territorial terms the largest country straddling the Euro-Asian land mass. It also led to great revolutionary upheavals in several European countries, such as Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Spain. Communist parties were at the same time founded in many countries outside Europe, notably in India, China and other countries of East and South-East Asia. That same breakdown of the European system also opened up the space in which the growing anti-colonial movements started becoming mass movements. And, when the system broke down again two decades later, leading to the Second World War (1939-45), the next 30 years (1945-75) witnessed the dissolution of colonial empires across Asia and Africa and the rise of socialist regimes in a dozen countries, from East Asia to East and Central Europe to Latin America.

The emergence of socialism and national liberation out of the crisis of the European colonial system, which produced the two World Wars, has been commented upon in previous essays in this series (especially "The Century of Democratic Demand", Frontline, July 7, 2000). But two other consequences were equally momentous: the rise of fascism to global prominence and state power in some countries, and the more enduring rise of the U.S. to world hegemony, superseding the European system and eventually laying the foundation for a historically new phase of imperialism, that of "globalisation".

As for fascism, it really depends on how one looks at it. In its most pristine form, fascism was a specific Italian phenomenon between the two World Wars, punctuated by the rise and fall of Mussolini. Even the National Socialism of the Nazis in Germany, not to speak of Franco's dictatorship in Spain, was in some fundamental ways quite different. In the broadest sense, however, what we now know as fascism has been a permanent tendency in the age of imperialism, from late nineteenth century onwards- latent in one time and place, more manifest in another, and sometimes even rising to local dominance in one country or another, always taking specific forms corresponding to the history and political economy of the country concerned. Before the Italians bestowed upon it the term "fascism", this ideological form used to be called "integral nationalism" and arose in the latter part of the 19th century as an ideology of the Far Right, in opposition to the class ideology of the Socialist Left which had then for the first time acquired mass working class bases in a number of European phenomena. Strongest in Germany and France, it was even then a trans-European project and was to grow into a truly global phenomenon in the course of the 20th century. Here, we shall comment on the phenomenon in the latter, broader sense.

In its basic formation, fascist ideology arose as an anti-materialist, anti-rationalist response to Marxism and drew heavily from racialistic theories of the 19th century. Against the materialist Marxist proposition that class conflict was the real motor of history, fascism proposed a radically spiritualised kind of nationalism whereby each nation had its own unique racial stock and cultural ethos, so that civilisational conflicts were the primary conflicts in history. Against the Marxist idea that the state was a product of class conflict and represented the interests of the dominant class (of the bourgeoisie under capitalism), fascism preached the idea that the state was the supreme point of the unity of the National Spirit as a whole and that anyone who spoke of class conflict was an enemy of the Nation. Even liberal democracy with its electoral contests, changes of government and guaranteed constitutional rights of individuals and minorities was seen as a danger to unity of the Nation. And, if Mar x had denounced colonialism and Lenin had explicitly associated the idea of socialism with that of national liberation, fascism, drawing upon its racialistic theories, demanded not the liberation of the colonised peoples (who were considered racially inferior) but a re-division of the world so that those of the "civilised" countries which had fallen behind in the race for colonies may get their 'fair' share.

This kind of ideology was attractive to bourgeoisies in general but especially to bourgeoisies in the countries where there were powerful working class movements which they sought to crush with the help of this hysterical kind of militarised right-wing nationalism. Fully-fledged fascism which came to such prominence in Europe after the First World War was, in this first instance, the ideology of a bourgeoisie that was at once advanced and beleaguered. No wonder that fascism was the most ferocious in precisely the countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain where the working class movements were the strongest. Nor is it a wonder that the communist parties became so central a force in organising anti-fascist resistance throughout the Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War, or that the Soviet Union played so pivotal a role in the defeat of fascism, suffering in the process by far the largest number of casualties that any country has ever suffered in the entire history of warfare. (Never in the history of warfare was a victorious country as thoroughly devastated as was the Soviet Union by the Nazis and Vietnam by the Americans.)

But this ideology was also very attractive for bourgeoisies in those countries which had become major industrial powers only during the Second Industrial Revolution, in the latter part of the 19th century, and had not acquired colonies while Britain, for example, had been conquering much of the globe. Germany particularly and also Italy were again prominent in this category as well. It is also significant that Japan, the one Asian country that had industrialised itself on the European scale, also proved to be the one Asian country that launched a full-scale colonising project and where fascist ideology became such a powerful force. In this second instance, then, fascism was the ideology of those countries that had (a) acquired sufficient industrial mea ns to genuinely to start competing with the old colonial powers economically and militarily but (b) had entered the competition for colonial possessions much too late. So strong has been the imprint of the Second World War that we now associate the phenomenon of fascism almost exclusively with Germany and Italy, where it triumphed in its most naked forms.

We forget now that fascism was even then a generalised European phenomenon, stronger in some places than others. In France, for example, it was a mass movement of menacing proportions. Even after they were prevented from taking power, French fascists were prominent in supporting the Nazis when the latter occupied their country and then played a considerable role in whipping up support for the French colonial army during the Algerian War of Independence. Today, French neo-fascists command almost a fifth of the national vote and train their guns at the poorest and also the racially differentiated section of the working class, that is, the immigrants from the former colonies. They blame the North African Muslims in France for high unemployment rates among the 'real' Frenchmen in exactly the way the Nazis once used to blame Jews for the economic ills of Germany, and they blame the immigrant for defiling the purity of French culture much in the same terms as the Nazis once used in designating the Jew as a threat to the German ('Aryan') racial purity.

Nor was fascism at any point in the 20th century a purely European phenomenon. Ranging from Japan to Argentina, and from South Africa to Northern Europe, it has had a remarkable global reach. The Lebanese fascists simply took over the name of the Spanish fascists and called themselves the Phalange. In Iraq, which in the 1940s had a mass communist party, those who were inspired by Mussolini and Hitler called themselves "the Party of Arab National Resurgence" and then added the word "Socialist" to their name, echoing the official name of the Nazis: "National-Socialist."

In India, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded directly in response to the anti-colonial struggle becoming a mass movement with the Rowlatt Satyagrah, and to the first outbreak of organised working class militancy in the early 1920s. Several luminaries of both the RSS and the All India Hindu Mahasabha were inspired directly by European fascism (B.S. Munje went so far as to seek, and receive, audience with Mussolini), while they breezily spoke of a Hindu 'race' and happily suggested a German -style 'solution' to the 'Muslim problem'. As Hindu Mahasabha president V.D. Savarkar famously put it, "Germany has also shown us how well nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one unit ed whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by." Such were the grounds on which the multi-denominational, secular anti-colonialism was rejected. Gandhi, for example, was said to be guilty of betraying Hindus because he sought precisely that "assimilation into a united whole" of those denominational communities whom Savarkar regarded as separate and antithetical "races and cultures". Jawaharlal Nehru, for his part, was a passionate anti-fascist. He repeatedly warned during the 1940s against the Nazi agents' activities in India and continued until the end of his life against the danger of 'majority communalism' becoming a 'fascism'.

We shall return to the fascist nature of Hindutva nationalism some other day. For purposes of the present argument, we may note four major mutations that came after the Second World War. First, the word 'fascism' fell into such terrible disrepute that the kind of people who would have proudly called themselves fascists or would have happily regarded Nazi Germany as an exemplary nation so long as fascism was ascendant, before Hitler's defeat, now abandoned that designation and began presenting themselves simply as nationalists: the National Front in France, the National Alliance in Italy, an assortment of murderous nationalisms and purifying projects in the former USSR and Yugoslavia, the proponents of Hindu nationalism and Hindu Rashtra in India, and so on.

Second, overt kinds of racism also now became impossible to sustain as an open policy or respectable discourse, as it had been through much of the history of capital - for two quite different reasons. One was that the sheer success of the anti-colonial movements made it impossible for European-style racism to declare itself so very openly. Secondly, the machineries of racist violence that colonialism had so cruelly perfected in Latin America, Asia and Africa over roughly half a millennium were brought back by fascism to the very heart of Europe, with all the splendours of industrial efficiency at the service of Nazi irrationalism, as it flung millions of Jews into gas ovens. Racial supremacy could no longer be preached, and violences of racial purification could no longer be practised, in their own name - not on a very large scale, at any rate. So, just as fascism had re-surfaced under the guise of 'nationalism', racism too now re-surfaced in a more mystified form, as 'Culture' and even 'national culture'.

The third mutation, stronger and more brazen in some places than others, was the increasing identification of 'nation' and 'culture' with religion. This was not a 'return' to 'tradition'. The triad of nation/culture/religious community can be as sacrosanct in ultra-modern Israel as in 'fundamentalist' Iran. In its Hindutva variant, this same triad can appeal as much to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's arcane mahants as to the Saffron yuppies and hipsters of Mumbai. In its most violent forms, this triad has taken countless lives in the statelets that have arisen on the ruins of former Yugoslavia. In more subtle ways, even the most worldly-wise of the American intellectuals implicitly assume that 'the West' is Judaeo-Christian. In numerous Third World countries, 'religion' functions now within right-wing ideologies of nationalism as 'race' functioned in the Nazi discourse of nationhood.

And 'culture' now is where biology used to be in the days when overt racism was respectable. The respectable racism of the British middle classes no longer expresses its dismay at the presence of the South Asian or West Indian immigrant inside Britain in racial terms but in the language of cultural difference and threat to the 'British way of life'. The cultural discourse of the French National Front is of course loftier; the anti-Turkish culturalist racism of the neo-fascist gangs in Germany is more vulgar. Living under the living shadow of Hitler, Savarkar could cheerfully speak of the 'Hindu race'; the Malkanis and the Sudarshans of today would rather speak of 'Hindu culture' which is said to be the same thing as the 'national mainstream'.

The fourth mutation is in relation to class ideology and imperialism. The classical fascisms of the revolutionary period, which arose explicitly in the face of the socialist project and in the era of anti-colonial nationalism in the colonies, cultivated for themselves some patriotic ambitions and took from the aspirations of the working classes, the disaffected petty bourgeois and the small capitalist a certain type of class radicalism, as was indicated in the name the Nazis gave themselves: national socialists. Mussolini himself had gone from being an illustrious leader of the Socialist Party to becoming the founder of Italian fascism and head of the fascist state. Much of that 'nationalism' itself was imperialistic in its own right while most of that class radicalism was demagogic and was then abandoned altogether as fascism accommodated itself to monopoly capital. We can justifiably think of those fascisms of the inter-war period as the centre of gravity in a global counter-revolution. They thought of themselves, however, as revolutions - of the radical Right!

Fascisms of our own time are different. In post-War Europe the broad cultural and intellectual legacy of fascism has in fact had a much wider circulation than most European intellectuals would grant. However, the actual fascist movements there have been so marked by their defeat and so caught in the anti-communist and anti-immigrant crusades that they have merely become the far-Right auxiliaries of their own bourgeoisies, without any independent projects of their own. In an important sense, the centre o f gravity for fascistic politics has now shifted to either the former socialist countries of eastern and central Europe, where these political forces have always being nurtured by imperialism, or to countries of the Third World where the bourgeoisies can not even imagine competing with the dominant imperialist powers, as the Nazis for instance credibly did. The notable feature of Hindutva fascism is that at no point in its entire history has it been either anti-colonial or anti-imperialist. Before Independence, it colluded with the British against leaders of secular anti-colonialism. During the decades immediately after Independence, when the Indian state was attempting to build a relatively autonomous national economy, the Hindutva brigade always aligned itself with the most pro-imperialist wing of the Indian bourgeoisie. It of course always denounced the "socialistic" regulation of the Indian economy during the Nehru period, but it also does not have any use for the fascistic kind of regulation of the national economy that the Nazis had instituted or even the authoritarian kind that has facilitated the industrialisation of East Asia. Jaswant Singh, the current Hindutva Foreign Minister, contemptuously dismisses as "the lost decades" that earlier phase of post-Independence India when it had sought to shelter its economy from undue pressures of metropolitan capital.

Instead what we have is a majoritarian cultural nationalism for whom national redemption consists not in the ambition to challenge the foreign powers but in hallucinatory culture wars - against the minorities and the Left - that symbolically compensate f or impotence in the real world of political economy.

Classical fascisms of the inter-War years were movements (and regimes) of developed bourgeoisies in the period of inter-imperialist rivalry, in which even a Mussolini could dream of becoming an independent imperialist in his own right and a rival of Belgium or even France. The Hindutva-type fascisms of our own time are movements (and regimes) of backward bourgeoisies who have grown prematurely senile and can conceive of no historical mission for themselves, in the age of globalisation. Third World fascism is what comes after the collapse of the national bourgeois project. None of these bourgeoisies dreamed of becoming genuinely independent on their own. So long as the USSR was there, some of these bourgeoisies, notably the Indian one, sought to use Soviet aid and guarantees for winning some margin of independence from imperialism. That half-hearted will to resist collapsed even before the Soviet Union was dissolved. U.S. hegemony was accepted, deep in the soul, even before it was complete in objective reality.

And that brings us to the fourth, final and that most enduring consequence of the War of 1914 which is still with us: the rise of the U.S. to world power: first as the most powerful among the competing imperialist rivals (1914-1945), then as the hegemonic power in the capitalist bloc in ferocious battle against the Soviet bloc and socialism generally (1945-1989), and finally, with the collapse of the USSR and the consequent final collapse of the national bourgeois project in the Third World, as sole super power and supreme commander of the forces of neo-liberal 'globalisation'.

The next essay in this series would address the question of this 'globalisation' which is the very shape of the world in our time, whether or not we accept the term itself. Here one can merely list some preconditions without which this 'globalisation'- t his latest and most ferocious phase of imperialism - could not have come about. The first is the fact that the U.S. had already become the dominant economic and military power in the capitalist world while the old colonial empires of its inferior competitors were still largely intact. Thanks to the ferocity with which it collected its debts from Europe after the First World War, much of the European press had even then changed the designation of the U.S. from 'Uncle Sam' to 'Uncle Shylock'.

Second, the actual process of 'globalisation' could not get going until after the dissolution of the colonial empires. Colonialism had created something resembling a world economy but it was a system, really, of interlocking economies, in which different colonial powers controlled different segments. Decolonisation was now necessary for the further development of capitalism as a wholly integrated global economy in this new phase, as much as colonialism had long been the very premise on which the capitalist world system was born in the first place. And, the U.S. could not have emerged as a hegemonic power until after its rivals had lost their empires and imperial projects.

Third, the era of classical colonialism had also divided the world into a core of industrialised countries and a vast hinterland of non-industrialised zones. For capitalism really to take off as a universal system, an altogether new kind of division of t he world was necessary, between the advanced and the backward capitalist countries. The dissolution of the colonial empires made possible the national bourgeois project of some degree of industrialisation in the Third World and thus vastly altered the very scope of capitalism as such. As the pre-eminent financial, technological and military power of the world, the U.S. was uniquely endowed to shape the whole of this new system in a way no colonial power ever had been.

Fourth, the immense technological innovations of the post-War period have been as necessary for the launching of this new, globalised imperialism as the technologies of the Second Industrial Revolution had been necessary for completion of the colonial conquest. A later essay could discuss this crucial matter of the technologies of globalism and their economic and social effects. Suffice it to say here that an integrated global financial market could not have emerged without a technology which makes it possible to conduct in a matter of seconds multiple transactions involving the movement of billions of dollars across the globe.

Finally, the existence of the Soviet bloc and the East Asian socialist states had obstructed 'globalisation' in three ways. They constituted roughly a third of the world, and this one-third was simply not available for capitalist globalisation. They held out the possibility of a challenge to the capitalist system as such, on the global scale. And, they served as alternative sources of technology, training, finance and military supplies for countries of the Third World. Only with the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the full assimilation of China into the world market could capitalism become a truly global system.


 


Globalisation: a society of aliens?
A reflection on our times-V

'Globalisation' is only a word, in some key respects a misleading word. We could simply say 'Empire'. That might even be more accurate. Perhaps 'American Empire'. Perhaps even more exact - but in other ways again somewhat misleading! Because what we actually have is, finally, for the first time in history, a globalised empire of capital itself, in all its nakedness, in which the United States imperium plays the dominant role, financially, militarily, institutionally, ideologically. We shall continue to use the word 'globalisation', however, because it is more familiar and serves the purpose. But we shall have to explain what it means and how it came about.

In a previous essay in this series ("Colonialism, Fascism and 'Uncle Shylock'," Frontline, September 1, 2000) I made a few points that are relevant to the present discussion. First, the drive toward an integrated world market has been inherent in the logic of capitalism from the beginning, and colonisation of the world was therefore not an incidental aspect but an integral basis for this system. Second, between the end of the 15th century, when it all began, until the end of the 18th, the process of real colonisation was mostly centred on the Americas and it was only in the 19th century that Asia and Africa were intensively colonised, dividing the world into a set of core industrialised countries of the advanced West and a vast hinterland of non -industrialised colonies and dependencies, many of them formally independent. The story of the 20th century is essentially the story of the crisis and dissolution of that system, brought about by wars of national liberation in the colonies and for social ism world-wide; but also the story, equally, of the rise of a new kind of non-territorial world empire and consequently a new kind of postcolonial, imperial sovereignty.

The full American domination of the world as it stands now is, in other words, a novel phenomenon in the history of capital and empire. We shall later comment briefly on the uniqueness of this new imperial arrangement. But how did it all begin? As in previous reflections in this series, the story begins again with the War of 1914 which had four major consequences germane to the present discussion.

That war propelled the process which finally led to the final dissolution of the colonial system, even though the main wave of decolonisation came only after the Second World War and continued for some more years. Second, the U.S. which was already the world's leading industrial power now emerged as the pre-eminent power in all spheres - industrial production, financial concentration, military strength, and so on. Third, the Bolshevik Revolution created the first socialist state, which had the effect of vastly energising anti-colonial movements and turning socialism into a world-wide challenge to capitalism even though the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) remained isolated and further socialist revolutions only came after the Second World War.

Finally, Germany, which too had emerged, alongside the U.S. as a more powerful industrial power than either Britain or France, lost the First World War, rose again under the Nazis with global ambitions, and was again defeated in the Second World War. That German defeat ensured that the tottering British and French empires would be inherited by the U.S. instead. The U.S. was never again to vacate that pre-eminent position in the world system. Gore Vidal, an American novelist and hardly a man of leftist persuasions (a cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, actually), tells us that the U.S. has spent $7.1 trillion on military strength since 1946 to maintain that position. The position itself was essential if the U.S. was to keep Japan and western Europe dependent on its own power as it fought an unremitting war, both hot and cold, against national liberation in the imperialised zones and against communism world-wide, which cost the peoples of the Third World some 20 million lives.

It was in this larger context that the most implacable conflict of this century, between the U.S. and the USSR, was joined. Just a couple of things about the condition of the USSR, compared to the statistics of U.S. power given above, should prove how unequal the terms of conflict were. The losses and economic disintegration in consequence of the First World War, the civil war immediately after the Revolution and the invasion of the USSR by a coalition of Western powers which came quick on the heels of the civil war meant that by 1921 the economy had been cut to mere 10 per cent of its pre-war size. Between the two wars, the Soviet economy grew faster than any other on the planet but the Second World War again cost it 25 per cent of its material assets and 20 million of its citizens. The U.S. economy grew by some 10 per cent annually during both wars, and neither was fought on its soil. One might add that since the Second World War the resources of the rest of advanced capitalism have also been at the disposal of the U.S. so far as that War was concerned.

There were a few preconditions for the emergence for a full-scale globalisation in more recent years that can be summarised. 1. The divisions of the old colonial empires had to be overcome if the whole capitalist world was to be united under a single hegemony. 2. There had to be a pre-eminent power equipped to accomplish this. 3. The socialist states had to be dissolved and brought back into the capitalist market so as to make it truly global. 4. A degree of industrialisation of the former colonies was necessary if the reach of the capitalist market was to be deepened. 5. New kinds of technology were required to integrate the world financial markets and make productive capital itself more mobile. 6. Similarly, new types of military technologies, the famous 'automated battlefields' for example, were required which could deliver imperial power effectively and swiftly against various and largely elusive little enemies that were perceived to be proliferating all over the world. 7. Finally, a complex netwo rk was required for moral pressure, ideological legitimisation and cultural acceptance, ranging from all kinds of non-governmental organisation (NGOs) to high-minded postmodernism to the 'End of History' ideology.

Globally integrated finance is the central agent for the unification of this Empire. The problem with most discussions of globalisation, however, is that they give one the sense that it was a matter mostly of the velocity at which financial information and virtual monies now travel through cyberspace. As a fully-fledged imperialism, globalisation is an integrated system of economic, political, military and ideological powers and geopolitical arrangements supervised by real people in real boardrooms. The geopolitical aspect, for example, comes through very well in a recent formulation of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as the National Security Advisor in the Carter administration, supervised the beginning of the Afghan war and credits himself for having bought down the Soviet system. He begins by observing that "for the first time ever, a non-European power has emerged not only as the key arbiter of Eurasian power relations but also as the world's paramount power." Then, in the true spirit of the son o f a Polish aristocrat that he is, he starts speaking of "vassals and tributaries" of "the first and only truly global superpower" which seem to include states of Western Europe itself. Brzezinski then recommends: "The three great imperatives of geopolitical strategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant, and to keep the barbarians from coming together." [Z. Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard, New York, Basic Books, 1997]

The "barbarians" are of course the people of the Third World, but two other aspects of this formulation are worth emphasising. One is that far from representing it as the outbreak of equality, liberty and opportunity that many soft sellers of globalisation would portray it as being, Brzezinski is a tough-minded professional, with aristocratic disdain for the weak, and describes globalisation as a three-tiered hierarchy, with barbarians at the bottom and a single superpower at the top, but one in which Europe and Japan, although dominant inside what he calls "Eurasia," are merely straggling in the middle.

Since it is in the nature of "vassals and tributaries" to connive and conspire against the feudal lord, the European Union and Japan must be prevented from colluding against the U.S. which can keep them "pliant" by keeping them dependent upon itself for their military security - as, for example, by ensuring access to petroleum from the Gulf region which the U.S. had done for decades now. Germany is of course the leading power in Europe, so in order to keep Germany "pliant" the U.S. may even help it achieve its aims in Yugoslavia.

This pretty much sums up the geopolitical thinking that President Clinton has inherited and is now exercising through his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, whom Brzezinski had once tutored. This geopolitical vision at the end of the 20th century is consistent with President Teddy Roosevelt's statement at the beginning of this century that the U.S. has no choice but to take up the task of an "international police power." With this clarification of how the chief architects of U.S. policy themselves understand the geopolitical architecture, we can turn to a basic description of the system and then comment on some of its key aspects. TERRITORIALLY, the empire covers the entire globe, thanks to the dissolution of the Soviet bloc and the full integration of China into the world market, so that there are no significant spaces left which are outside the direct domination of capital. This extensive expansion of the market is then combined with an intensive deepening, so that the partial industrialization of the former colonies, the assimilation of most agriculture around the world into money economy, and the rapid world-wide decline of non-monetised peasant production mean that almost the whole world has been brought effectively under the same law of value. This law is of course administered diffrentially around the world as wages and prices are set locally and nationally.

Washington D.C. serves as the capital city of this empire because it is, together with New York, the headquarter not only of the U.S. government, but also of most key institutions of this new imperial sovereignty: Wall Street, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation, the United Nations, and so on. The financial integration of this world takes the form not of an imperfect integration of autonomous and interlocking national markets, but that of a single organism functioning through a technology that has brought effectively to zero the time required to transmit from one end of the world to another the information incorporating key financial decisions of the world.

This whole edifice is upheld in a complex system of law and regulation which has two overlapping aspects. There are first of all the regulatory regimes of the IMF, the World Bank, the International Financial Institutions (IFIs), and so on, which are, tog ether, fast emerging as a new world government for imposing uniform policies, obligations, and conditionalities around the world, especially the imperialised world. The debt crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, for example, was used by these agencies to establish a global regime of disciplinary neoliberalism which has defined the Third World side of globalisation ever since. International agencies such as the IMF have been central in perfecting this system, and they of course have their own very complex legal frameworks and regulatory regimes that individual nation-states are to abide by. But an equally crucial aspect of this globalisation of law and sovereignty is that national legal systems are being constantly pressed into altering their own laws to make them more compatible with - often mere facsimiles of - American law. The non-territorial empire that has its capital i n Washington D.C. thus takes over the actual internal functioning of far-flung nation-states three times over: under the lure and power of private transnational capital, under the regulatory regimes of the supra-national institutions (the IMF and so on), and by turning the laws of various nations into replicas of American law.

In a parallel move within this new, evolving law of empire, all kinds of moral philosophers and jurists, mainly from the U.S., are being mobilised to expound theories of 'just war' and laws pertaining to the 'right of intervention'. The use of the U.N. t o legitimise American military designs is as old as the Korean War of the 1950s. Then, in the period of revolutionary upsurge of the next 20 years, this unholy alliance receded. For a transitory moment in the mid-1970s, just about the time of the liberation of Vietnam, the U.N. had even tried to patch up with the revolutionary temper of the times. Thus, in 1974 it enacted a Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States which proclaimed that members-nations had the right to "regulate and exercise authority over foreign investment" and to "regulate and supervise the activities of multinational corporations"... even to "nationalise, expropriate or transfer ownership of foreign property."

Those were the old days, before the defeat of socialism and national liberation. By the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union the U.N. had again become a tool of American policy and legitimising American interventions became one of its major responsibilities. The Gulf war, which began the systematic destruction of Iraq with full connivance of the U.N. Security Council, was a turning point in this regard and served as a test case both in the military sphere and in the moral claims of empire. The use o f military force was preceded and later legitimised by the mobilisation of moral force. The media, sections of the Church and prominent NGOs such as the Amnesty International actively collaborated in the demonising of Saddam Hussein on the issue of 'human rights' and 'minority rights'. Rarely was it said that the record of the Kuwaiti monarchy, which the U.S. had set out to restore, was hardly better on this score; you only have to ask the immigrant labour which has in fact produced Kuwait's fabulous wealth and served its masters.

Then came the high-minded moral philosophers from the elite U.S. universities speaking of "just war" - a concept, interestingly enough, first developed in imperial Rome - and the 'right of intervention' on the side of human rights. This had a remarkable effect globally, starting with the imperial centres but spreading among the empire's clients in the Third World. If Saddam Hussein was indeed a demon, then the whole rhetoric of the "Evil Empire" from the days of the Cold War could now be remobilised and the death of tens of thousands of Iraqis, from soldiers to children, could then be represented as a regrettable aspect of a just war.

Meanwhile, the new military technology was fused into this new moral economy of the imperial mission. The basic fact is that only those whom Brzezinski calls "the barbarians" were dying. No one among the "civilised" who had gone to exorcise the demons was dying. Civilisation was safe from barbarism, indeed triumphing over it. In the high visibility of television screens, tables were turned. The victims were made invisible, and the evils of empire were represented as 'the right of intervention' against t he evil that lurks in all corners of the world occupied by "the barbarians". By the time Kosovo came along, no one cared any longer. It is the nation-state, or coalitions of them, that make war; and it is the nation-states that are the objects of war. Yet, the mythology of globalisation includes the sizeable myth that the nation-state is on the way out. We hear of 'the global village' and of 'world citizens', mostly from people who carry passports and citizenships of advanced capitalist countries. When the socialist countries were still there, Western ideologues used to talk a lot about "free movements of people." Now, in the days of global neo-liberalism, we only hear of free movement of capital and commodities, even as the advanced countries themselves have high tariff walls wherever such walls are to their advantage. As for 'free movement of peoples', all they have to do is to abolish the system of passports. Then all the Western capital can come to India and all the Indian labour can go to the imperialist countries.

In reality, imperialism itself needs not the abolition of nation-states in the Third World but the strengthening of them for its own purposes. What has happened is that with the defeat of the socialist countries and the retreat of workers' movements gene rally, the bourgeoisies no longer feel compelled to retain a strong role of the state in ensuring at least a minimum degree of citizens' welfare. In deed, this role is being cut back systematically across the globe and people are being left to the discipline of the market more and more brutally ever since the new offensives of the Right began in the mid-1970s. However, it is the state that is dismantling welfare and implementing liberalisation in all the countries across the globe. In other words, the nation-state has become weaker in relation to capital, whose will it must implement most savagely, and weak in relation to labour, whom it treats with hateful contempt. In other words, the state is now not even pretending to be anything but the managing committee of the whole bourgeoisie - and this time, not only the whole but also the transnational bourgeoisie. In the Third World, the state no longer even pretends to represent the people against imperialism. It represents imperial interest to the people.

One of the side-effects of this 'retreat of the state' from the realm of popular entitlements, health, education, employment, preservation of natural resources, and so on is that it leaves a vast vacuum which is to be filled, more or less fitfully, by diverse NGOs and 'social movements', always narrow and local in focus and frequently dependent on foreign funding agencies. As these NGOs lay claim to what had been conceived of as the social responsibility of the nation-state, they seek also to occupy the space previously claimed by such historic forms of mass organisation as the trade union and the political party, which then disorients large sections of the well-meaning and idealist youth. Great many of these NGOs are funded from the imperial centres and have channels to such things as the World Bank; their opposition to the nation-state combined with the myth of the 'disinterested' nature of their funding - an interest in 'disinterest' that the donor and the recipient share equally - then greatly strengthens the claim of the imperial centres that they represent a higher morality than that of the local 'barbarians'. For the participants themselves, it becomes difficult to tell the difference between the politics of moral force and the politics of opportunism. This phenomenon is a major component in the moral economy of empire and a major source of corruption among activists in an age of the imperial management of protest.

In the advanced countries, meanwhile, the neo-liberal cry of 'too much government' and celebration of 'the retreat of the state' has come at the time when the information technology upon which globalisation rests has come wholly out of state-funded programmes, and it is the state that oversees monetary stability in the face of wild speculations, channelises investments into the military-industrial complexes and systematically redistributes incomes from the poor to the rich through sweeping legislation.

American capital is the most mobile and aggressive in the world because only the U.S. has the military power to guarantee its safety in all corners of the globe. Japanese capital is both transnational and aggressively Japanese. Germany has achieved its expanded national unification only recently, and it is the combined determination of the German state and German capital that is pushing the frontiers of German power eastward and southward, into the territories left to its mercies by the defeat of the socialist states in those regions.

Moreover, even as capital internationalises itself, labour regimes are enforced by nation-states. Capitalism makes labour relatively mobile, but capital is always immeasurably more mobile than labour. In this equation, labour always remains relatively very immobile. So, the control of labour is always local and national, even where immigrants are involved. In the new imperial sovereignty, it is the laws of the nation-state that are made to conform to the imperial law. Inside India, it is the Indian stat e that guarantees the conditions in which foreign capital makes money in India and exploits Indian workers. Why would multinational capital undermine a state in which Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee can represent, in chaste Hindi, the illicit embrace of liberalisation and Hindutva?

Much could be said about the social, cultural and ideological aspects of this imperial system. In this realm, globalisation today is where internationalism once was. Globalisation, as the form of the world market in our time, is a system of infinite competition. Internationalism, in revolutionary ideology, was a system of solidarities transcending race, religion, nation and so on, in the pursuit of a common humanity. Globalisation is said to be, above all, the effect of a technology which facilitates the velocity of financial transactions which, in turn, transform the world. Internationalism was a human compact, face-to-face here, nation-to-nation there, universal above all.

Universal equality was the fundamental social and cultural value of internationalism. Globalisation's only commitment to something universal is that in perfecting the market it turns everything, including all cultural products, into commodities, universally, and sells locally produced cultural goods both locally and on the global market. It is the selling that is universal, while production is always local. In social relations, meanwhile, the basic ideology of globalisation is not - cannot be - Equality; it is Difference. Not cooperation for common ends and common dreams, but individual or group competition for separate ends - resulting in countless nightmares.

Religion, region, language, caste - and in the international frame, nationality and ethnicity - anything and everything has been used to break working class solidarities, or to prevent such solidarities from emerging, at the work place and in the residential communities alike. In all the former socialist countries, a re-discovery of religious and communal hatreds is considered a fundamental necessity for a transition from socialism to capitalism. Irrationality is the order of the day, because irrationality of human beings must correspond to the irrationality of the market. Meanwhile, globalisation unites the market and divides human beings, because human beings can be best used for purposes of the global marketing if they act as individual consumers an d not as a people in solidarity with each other. Postmodernism on a global scale, and postcolonial theory in relation to the Third World, are the main instruments in this battle to replace the politics of Equality with the politics of Difference, the society of Cupertino by the society of infinite competition.

None of it would eventually work if people still believed in the possibility of revolution. Globalist ideology must destroy that belief. Postmodernism accomplishes part of that mission. If every little group can be sundered away from every other, on the pretext of identity, then there is no collective humanity to make the revolution. Only international finance capital is then united and its victims can then be infinitely divided and subdivided. But the other part is played by a twin ideology, that of the 'End of History'; revolution is impossible, socialism has been defeated, the triumph of capitalism is final. Names of famous Americans are attached to the authorship of that ideology. But none of it would matter if that was not brought to us daily by our own leaders. When External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh refers to the period of non-alignment in our past history as 'wasted decades' he means precisely that any idea of independent national development is an illusion and we must all accept the supremacy of the global market. The subjection of the whole nation to imperialism through liberalisation is the other face of dividing the nation on the axis of religion and community.

We could in fact say of globalisation what Saint Augustine once said in a somewhat different context: "While this Heavenly City is on pilgrimage on earth, it calls out all peoples and so collects a society of aliens, speaking all languages." Turning this "society of aliens" into a solidarity of common, forward-looking people is the real task.


 


India in the politics of the 20th century
A reflection on our times-VI

In previous instalments of this series (Frontline, February 4, March 3, July 7, September 1 and October 13, all in 2000), the author attempted to summarise in the broadest terms what strikes him as the fundamental motions of world history during t he 20th century. Here he reflects in similarly broad terms on the place of India in this wider history.

As was previously suggested in this series, it was really in the second decade of the 20th century, notably with the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution, that the century took its specific, unique form, so that by the 1960s, roughly a third of humanity was for some years freed from the capitalist system. The second momentous aspect of the century was the outbreak of national liberation movements across the Third World, leading to the dissolution of the great colonial empires of the 19th century and a crisis, right into the 1970s, which threatened to undo even the new imperialism led by the United States. Alongside these struggles for socialism and national liberation, there was also immense expansion of all kinds of democratic demand. It was only in the 20th century that mass struggles for the dissolution of monarchical and autocratic regimes, and similar struggles for constitutional governance, representative democracy and fundamental rights, gender equality, protection of the minorities and so on, became universal, erupting in all parts of the globe. Historic forms of organisation well known to 19th century Europe, such as the trade union and the peasant league, got gradually universalised throughout the Third World and now exist on an unprecedented, global scale.

On the other side of the ledger is the capitalist offensive, which has gone through different phases. Latin American countries had been decolonised and then assimilated into the imperialist system as dependencies in the early decades of the 19th century. Colonial empires in Asia and Africa nevertheless remained key pillars of the system, well into the first half of the 20th century, when those empires were liquidated in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Far from weakening the system, however, the dissolution of the colonial empires created an unprecedented unity among the advanced capitalist countries, under the leadership of the U.S. This unity put an end to the inter-imperialist rivalries that had led to the two World Wars. Advanced capitalism then experienced its longest wave of prosperity during the quarter century after the Second World War. By the time growth rates began to slow down in the early 1970s, the material superiority of the core capita list countries over the socialist countries as well as the Third World had been established decisively.

This power of the new imperialism was demonstrated in several spheres. The combined output of all the socialist countries never reached even a quarter of that of the core capitalist countries, which then reinforced the latter's technological superiority. The military power of countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was such that even modest attempts to match it broke the back of the Soviet economy while the U.S. felt free to invade or otherwise intervene in dozens of Third World countries. A handful of countries outside the Western bloc achieved relatively high standards of industrial production and prosperity, and in many other countries there arose new bourgeoisies which commanded much higher levels of accumulation than ever before. This meant that the gap increased not only between the core countries and the Third World as a whole but also between the newly industrialised countries and the rest, as well as between classes in individual industrialising countries. This increased differentiation accounts for a structural disunity in the Third World. India was also a part of this world system and could not escape those wider trends, even though each of the trends took a specific form here. It was the largest of the colonies, and one of the oldest. The colonial enterprise began here roughly at the same time as in the Americas and the decisive battle, that at Plassey, had been fought in the mid-18th century. The last great anti-colonial uprising of the traditional kind had been broken in 1857, when most of the African mainland and the Arab world still lay unoccupied. Local resistances continued and some economic nationalism had surfaced toward the end of the 19th century in a small section of the newly emergent professional strata.

On the whole, however, India entered the 20th century with extensive experience of colonisation but with hardly any organised anti-imperialist movement of the modern type; the Congress, which had been founded in 1885, was a deliberative body of individuals who registered limited dissent against specific colonial policies but virtually no opposition to colonialism per se. It was really in the aftermath of the First World War that a mass movement of anti-colonial resistance emerged. Until then, different parts of India had rather tenuous social and political links. As late as 1911, less than 1 per cent of Indians worked in what came to be called 'organised industry', 40 per cent of which comprised employment as indentured labour on tea plantations. In the same year, literacy figures were 1 per cent for English and 6 per cent for the vernacular languages. There was, in other words, neither an industrial bourgeoisie outside such enclaves as Bombay's textile industry, nor much of a proletariat or a widespread educated middle class. So, as colonial modernity began taking roots without even creating classes of a modern type, protest organisations emerged typically along the poles and fissures of caste, community and denominational loyalty. This was fully reflected in the reform movements which preceded the mass anti-colonial movement. These were of several types. There was a westernising elite which sought to adopt some superficial aspects of European society but was too deeply entrenched in the very system of colonial patronage and property to be able to change radically the system a s such. Other reform movements tended to be led by those sections of the traditional strata which were losing their positions in the new system and for whom reform was deeply connected with revivalism and social conservatism.

Most initiatives for reform and development tended to be rooted in particular castes, communities and religious collectivities. Muslim reform movements were distinguished by their distance from comparable movements among non-Muslims. Numerous caste societies came into being with little cross-caste sympathies and affiliations. Linguistic assertion tended to solidify the positions of the literate minority against the rest. Development of vernacular literatures tended to take a competitive edge, as was notoriously the case between Hindi and Urdu. All this greatly reinforced the colonial policies of divide and rule. The result was that national, sectoral and communal ideologies were frequently propagated from the same platforms, often by the same groups an d even individuals.

All this bequeathed to Indian anti-colonial nationalism, when it emerged as a mass movement toward the end of the First World War, very special flavours and ambivalences. First, the leadership remained in the hands of essentially the same so-called "educated middle class", with its deep roots in property and privilege, which had founded the Congress in the first place. The national movement certainly included some very radical, even revolutionary, trends and it mobilised an immense mass of peasants. "The educated middle class", ultimately representing not the peasant but the bourgeois interest, nevertheless remained dominant. Equally notable was the fact that although the Congress had been established in 1885, it remained for some 40 years a mere deliberative body and an umbrella organisation for competing regional, communal and class interests. Even after 1919, nationalism remained for it something of a corporate idea that was held together by the powerful personal role of Gandhi himself who presided over an amorphous body of pressure groups. Colonial rule had obstructed the emergence of a nation held together by the unity of modern equal citizenship. The class character of the Congress, the central organisation in the national movement, precluded t he unity of the working classes as the driving force of Indian nationalism.

In this context, then, a vicarious kind of fictive national unity emerged through a policy of ideological accommodation, communal compromise and efforts to reconcile the irreconcilable conflicts of caste and class, not to speak of instrumental use of women who were mobilised and restrained at the same time. Secularism became not a creed of radical separation between religion and politics but of spiritualising politics itself, which often took the form of mutual accommodation of orthodoxies.

Thus it was that Indian nationalism failed in some of its key undertakings. It had succeeded in mobilising a large part of the peasantry, essentially on the promise of radical redistribution of agrarian property and power. The most oppressed sections of the peasantry also occupy the lowest positions of the caste hierarchy, so they saw the promise of liberation from landlordist exploitation as a promise of freedom from caste oppression. In reality, the bourgeois-landlordist state that the custodians of t he national movement created was capable of only such half-hearted land reforms that it led not to the liberation of the landless and the poor peasant but to the rise of a new bloc of landowners and rich peasants, while retaining the old quasi-feudal set -up in considerable parts of the country.

For all the policies of accommodating the Hindu Mahasabha within the Congress and all the rhetoric of Hindu reform, sanatan dharm and ram rajya, the Congress leadership failed to prevent the emergence of far-Right Hindu communalism outside its ranks and the great permeation of those ideas within its own ranks. It was by no means responsible for Partition but its intransigence on possible constitutional frameworks undoubtedly contributed to it. The only answer it offered to the demands of justice and equality on the part of the oppressed castes was a paternalistic one; it urged the upper castes to include the oppressed ones into the Brahminical fold, at appropriately lower rungs, of course!

Such have been some of the failures. What have been the achievements? The most important was the mass mobilisation itself, for political ends. For the first time in India's history, the downtrodden became active historical actors in struggles over power, even though they were shackled by bourgeois dominance. Second, it did inculcate the ideology of national independence, even to some degree an anti-imperialist consciousness, among wide sections of society. The first generation of communists included an impressive number of individuals who were drawn into politics initially by the anti-colonial movement and who graduated to communism only when they understood the class limitations of the Congress. The great anti-caste movements of the 20th century arose not only out of their own autonomous histories but also in a dialectical relationship with the anti-colonial movement, where they were energised by the promise of liberation and then disillusioned by the politics of caste compromise.

India was one of the few countries in Asia and Africa which adopted the politics of constitutional governance, universal suffrage, representative democracy and civic freedoms on the morrow of Independence, despite its unwieldy size, its internal diversities and tensions. In bourgeois social science this is portrayed as a special gift of the great enlightened leaders such as Gandhi and Nehru. But good intentions of enlightened leaders can always be undone if structural conditions do not allow their fulfilment. It is better to think of Indian democracy as a very special kind of class compromise, mainly between the peasantry and leaders of the national-bourgeois project, on the morrow of Independence. In this the popular masses (mainly peasants), who had made the anti-colonial movement the great force that it became, received not much land, not much protection against exploitation by the landlord and bourgeois classes, but did gain juridic equality and at least formal rights of equal citizenship.

To the extent that the democratic state was created by the success of the anticolonial movement, to that same extent this democracy is an achievement mainly of the masses who ensured that success. Marx's famous dictum that "socialism is the most complete form of democracy" should be read to mean not only that liberal democracy is so very much less than socialism, which is of course true, but also that the achievement of democratic freedoms is itself a step in the more tenacious struggle for full emancipation from the rule of property.

What about the periodisation we have established previously for the century as a whole? The first thing to be said here is that, as in most other parts of the globe it is really with the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution that politics of the 2 0th century here begins. The brief period of 1919-1922 in which the Indian national movement came into its own was an extraordinary period in large parts of the world. Coming in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, this period witnessed a number of proletarian uprisings in Europe, notably in Italy, Hungary and Germany. capitalist country in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. Closer to home, it witnessed the May 4th movement in China, the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, and the emergence of the three regimes of Amanullah Khan in Afghanistan, of Reza Shah in Iran and of Ataturk in Turkey which even Lenin hailed as progressive and to a degree nationalist.

The founding of the Communist Party in India in 1925 was similarly not only a part of a new militancy in the working class movement in the country or the move of a certain section of anti-imperialist intelligentsia toward communism but also a part of the rise of a large number of communist parties around the world, making the Communist International (Comintern) something that was much more than a European phenomenon.

The founding of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) during the same year was surely a domestic response to the emergence of a militant working class movement and the transformation of secular anti-colonialism into a mass movement. It was also part of a powerful international trend. Because fascism was able to capture state power only in a couple of European countries, notably Italy and Germany, one thinks of it now as a very special kind of phenomenon restricted to those countries, and one forgets that fascism was at that time a generalised phenomenon enveloping, to a lesser or greater degree, virtually every European country and numerous countries around the world, from Japan to Argentina, and from South Africa to Lebanon and Syria. The RSS was part of this global trend.

Key figures in the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, such as K.B. Hedgewar and Moonje, are known to have been inspired by Mussolini personally and by the Nazi phenomenon more generally. As elsewhere, this fascist Right never participated in the anti-colonial movement and actively opposed both secular nationalism and communism; as elsewhere, the communists were an integral part of the anti-colonial movement and were more consistent than the bourgeois nationalists on the question of the fascist current within Indian politics. Gandhi and Nehru, themselves incapable of a communal thought or action, kept the Hindu Mahasabha in their own counsels as long as they could, in the vain hope of taming it; no less a figure than Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was a member of Nehru's own Cabinet. Sardar Patel did what he could to ease things for the RSS after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, and it was during his watch as Home Minister that idols of Ram were mysteriously installed in - and never removed from - Mir Baqi's antique little mosque in Ayodhya, otherwise known as the Babri Masjid.

They were the best of their kind. We need not recount how, in the last two decades, the pragmatic communalism of the Congress has, inadvertently or not, facilitated the programmatic communalism of the RSS. We need merely note that it was Indira Gandhi who first played the "Hindu card" in Jammu and Kashmir; that it was Rajiv Gandhi who opened his electoral campaign from Ayodhya with slogans of ram rajya; that it was P.V. Narasimha Rao who colluded with the RSS to make possible the destruction of t he Babri Masjid, in defiance of the Supreme Court. As for the more illustrious figures among those who left the ranks of the Congress, one need only recall Jayaprakash Narayan who did so much to bestow respectability and democratic credentials upon the R SS during the Emergency, relying on it for organisational skills for his rag-tag following. Or Morarji Desai who became Prime Minister at the head of a parliamentary majority in which the RSS constituted the largest bloc. Today a whole host of regional p arties with all kinds of anti-communal claims find it perfectly possible to be part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government.

No fascism ever took power anywhere in the world without the active support of a part of the liberal establishment. Mussolini became Prime Minister with his party occupying roughly 10 per cent of the seats in Parliament; Hitler first came to power commanding roughly a third of the Reichstag. India has been no exception to this rule. The BJP commands less than a quarter of the national vote. Even so, the RSS continues to make significant inroads into state structures thanks to the past and present collusion of the liberal establishment, which is itself divided in such a way that different sections of it make deals with the RSS on tactical grounds, with little regard for the consequences.

A right-wing politics which seeks sanction in religious or racialistic claims and pursues a politics of violence and hysteria is by no means specific to India in the global politics of our time. Already in the early 1970s a Gallup Poll had shown that the Evangelical Far Right accounts for some 27 per cent of the U.S. electorate. Powerful fascist movements exist now in such advanced countries as Austria, France, Italy and Germany, utilising race much as the RSS uses religion, and similar movements are integrally a part of the kind of capitalist orders that have arisen in Russia and the former Yugoslavia. Fundamentalist politics of various kinds have arisen during this same period all over the Islamic world, ranging from Sudan and Algeria to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan and India are fast becoming, in this respect, two faces of the same coin, though their modes of travel to that same destination have been very different. This too can be put in the perspective of the periodisation we have suggested for the post-War world as a whole.

The 30 years between the end of the Second World War and the revolutionary victory in Indochina were years of a general anti-imperialist upsurge around the world, and that upsurge had important consequences in India. In 1957, Kerala became the first place in the world to elect a communist government within a republic of the bourgeoisie; roughly a decade later, West Bengal became the first place where communists participated in a United Front government, which in turn became the prelude to the Left Front government which is still in power there after almost a quarter century of unbroken rule. During that same period, India emerged as one of the key leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement and an active supporter of wars of national liberation around the world, from Algeria to South Africa to Indochina. The policy of non-alignment was used to gain great favour with the socialist bloc and help from there was used, in the economic sphere, to drive more advantageous bargains with imperialism as well as for development in key areas such as oil, steel, petrochemicals and military hardware.

Domestically, India carried out the largest and most complex experiment of planned development within predicates of backward capitalism. A policy of relatively independent capitalist development was pursued under the heading of 'socialistic development', which used protectionism and public sector investments to nurture ("hothouse-fashion", as Marx once put it) a powerful Indian bourgeoisie while also implementing some land reforms. In the political sphere, too, India had a singular achievement to its credit: nowhere in Europe or North America was a stable constitutional republic, based on universal franchise, established with such dire levels of illiteracy and poverty as we managed to do in India. This created pressures for democratisation in many other spheres: a political culture with a prominent place for communist and socialist currents, protections for the religious minorities, language-based reorganisation of States and the making of a multi-lingual polity, anti-caste movements and reservation schemes based on right of historical redress, and so on.

The global trends began to change, then, during the 1970s. Schematically speaking, we could say that if the victory of the Vietnamese revolution in 1975 heralded the great victory of the forces of socialism and national liberation, the Central Intelligence Agency-inspired coup of 1973 in Chile, which overthrew the great experiment in democratic socialism there, had already heralded the beginning of the defeat of the Left. Not that no more victories were then possible; the revolution in Nicaragua and the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa were shining examples of the tenacity of the Left. But, as the subsequent defeat in Nicaragua and the full assimilation of the new South Africa into global corporate capitalism was to demonstrate, the ti de had turned.

In India, too, where the older system had already entered into a crisis phase some 20 years after Independence, the real shifts came during the 1970s, and the declaration of the Emergency then introduced distortions and pathologies in the state and civil society in India from which institutions of liberal democracy are yet to recover. The fact that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) fought against the Emergency while the CPI supported it meant that the Left was irreparably fissured, and it was the RSS which emerged as the main beneficiary of the anti-Emergency agitation. Having remained aloof from the anti-colonial movement, complicit in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and opposed to the Left/liberal majority in the country, the RSS had until then remained a marginal and largely despised force. It was in that crucible of the anti-Indira agitation that the RSS first obtained its democratic credentials, thanks to its alliance with Jayaprakash Narayan and others.  The founding of the Communist Party in India in 1925 was not only a part of a new militancy in the working class movement in the country or the move of a certain section of anti-imperialist intelligentsia toward communism but also a part of the rise o f a large number of communist parties around the world, making the Communist International something much more than a European phenomenon.

By the late 1980s, when the Soviet system began to unravel and conditions were obtaining for a new phase of imperialism, many things in India had already changed. India no longer had a governing coalition with even a shred of economic nationalism. Thanks to the extensive protectionism and various forms of state subsidy to the private sector in previous decades, India now had a full-fledged bourgeoisie, headed by its monopolistic fraction, which had reached a level of accumulation where it felt secure enough to forego much of that protection and strive to become, instead, one of the local and junior partners in the system of global capital. This was backed by a techno-managerial class, with the state bureaucracy itself at its epicentre, and which too ha d been a major beneficiary of the Nehruvian model but had been trained entirely in the ways of the imperialist knowledge systems. No longer having to serve a governing caste which once forced it to uphold non-alignment and relatively independent economic development, this fraction too was ready to implement the most extreme kind of neo-liberal policy.

"Globalisation" was the name given to this new offensive for re-colonisation, and there is no credible opposition to it outside the Left because all sections of the liberal bourgeoisie are agreed on it; Yashwant Sinha is only taking forward what Manmohan Singh began. The time had come also to redefine the meaning of nationalism itself. Democracy and secularism in India had been deeply tied to issues of internal social reform and anti-imperialist economic nationalism. The forces that were now ready to abandon fully anti-imperialist nationalism were also forced to define a new kind of nationalism: irrationalist, market-friendly, quasi-fascistic, religiously defined, aggressively majoritarian and therefore highly divisive. Political parties that were opposed to that majoritarianism had no ideology they could pose against it because they had abandoned the alternative of anti-imperialist unity and therefore had no ideology but that of the pragmatics of power. Communal fascism is thus logically what we get when we give up anti-imperialism. If globalisation produces a society of mere aliens, it was logical that, having surrendered to it, we too would become communalised aliens to each other, immersed now not in a fight for equality but in the savage war of identity.

Thus it is that the century ended for us well before it ended on any calendar, in 1997, when, on the 50th anniversary of Independence it was a veteran of the RSS who addressed the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort as its Prime Minister.


 


Resources of hope
A reflection on our times-VII

Earlier essays in this series attempted a synoptic view of the essential trends in the political history of the 20th century. It would be hazardous to conclude these reflections on the past with predictions regarding the long future. It should be possible, though, to summarise a sense of where the international Left stands now.

As we look back upon the history of revolutions and mass uprisings in the 20th century, four patterns seem to have been persistent:

1. There seem to have been cyclical alternations between periods of calm and storm - or, more precisely, what Antonio Gramsci called "the revolution/restoration dynamic". Thus, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was followed by the defeat of the revolutionary wave across Europe, paving the way for two decades of fascism while the Soviet Union remained isolated and besieged. That isolation was broken only after the Second World War in which the USSR sacrificed 20 million lives. But then the Chinese Revolution of 1949 was also followed by a period of global counter-revolutionary warfare which raged from Indonesia to Chile, while only little corners, such as North Korea and Cuba escaped, until the pace quickened again in the 1970s when countries of Indochina and the Portuguese colonies were liberated.

2. The counterrevolution uses the period between one revolutionary outbreak and another - periods of 'restoration', in other words - to bestow upon that period an air of finality, as if the restoration would now last forever. The revolutions that broke out across Europe in the wave of the Bolshevik victory - notably in Italy, Germany and Hungary - were beaten back so decisively, and USSR was itself so deeply injured, that Nazi triumphalism knew no bounds and the founding of the Third Reich was declared to be an 'End of History'. Then, yet another 'End of History' was announced more recently, in the moment of American triumphalism after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even during the 1950s, soon after the Chinese Revolution and as revolutionary wars were raging in numerous places such as Algeria and Indochina, the power of counterrevolution seemed so impregnable from inside the United States that American economists took to announcing the outbreak of 'The Golden Age of Capital' and eminent American sociologists formulated the 'End of Ideology' thesis - that is, the passing of all ideologies of social change in the face of the power of capital. That theme was picked up again by postmodernists like Lyotard who have been announcing the end of all 'metanarratives of emancipation' over the past two decades or so.

3. For forces of resistance, this period of 'restoration' tends often to be one not only of defeat and contraction but also of doubt, defence, dispersal, experimentation and what Gramsci called 'molecular' movement - as if it occurs underneath the surface, in small, roundabout strides. Resistance persists, in its dispersed and local forms, everywhere; but in its concentrated form, nowhere. Meanwhile, defeat raises practical questions about previous forms of ideology and action. Triumphs of resistance occur even during such times but they are forgotten quickly; the 1990s are now remembered for the dissolution of the Soviet Union but not for the final demise of the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. What is remembered most vividly about even the successful revolutions is their failures, not only because the dominant ideological apparatuses never tire of keeping that memory alive, like an open wound, but also because it is from the failures, not the victories, that one has to learn the most. The Chinese failed when they tried to repeat the Bolshevik form and succeeded only when they discovered their own originality; Cuba neither repeated China nor was ever again repeated elsewhere in Latin America, despite countless attempts. The difficulty with successful revolutions is that they are unrepeatable. In periods of 'restoration', therefore, resistance does not disappear but becomes fragmented and largely invisible, as if caught in an infinity of off-stage rehearsals.

4. Periods of 'restoration' have had the appearance of lasting forever, until they enter a time of crisis. Revolutions, by contrast, whether of the Left or the Right, have tended to break out with surprising suddenness. But for Lenin's audacity, no one could have predicted the October Revolution of 1917 in April that year; Castro's guerillas burst upon the Cuban coast and then moved inexorably toward and into Havana with the ferocity of a tempest, as if out of nowhere. Even in the case of revolutions that unfold over decades, as in China or Vietnam, the same law applies: there comes a point, after a long gestation, when quantity turns into quality and the citadels of power crumble astonishingly fast. The same unpredictability seems to be there when not revolutions but simply some form of mass resistance is involved: the eminent American intellectuals who announced the 'End of Ideology' at the end of the 1950s could not have anticipated that less than a decade later their country would be engulfed by the largest anti-imperialist movement that any imperialist country has ever known.

The world is at present clearly passing through what I have called, following Gramsci, a period of 'restoration'. The power of capital is today more pervasive, in all the corners of the globe, than ever before. For the first time in at least a hundred years, there is no labour movement in the world that appears capable of overthrowing the rule of capital, not even in a single country. The nationalism of the national bourgeoisie seems to have passed away, and it is difficult today to find - even in a host of such countries as India or Egypt with formidable past traditions of bourgeois anti-colonialism - even a segment of the bourgeois that might be firmly opposed to the new forms of imperialism imposed by the so-called 'globalisation'. It is possible that the present period of restoration may last as long as the one that prevailed between the Paris Commune (1871) and the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) - almost half a century. All oppositional forces, including the communists worldwide, seem reconciled now to working for changes within the capitalist system as such, at least in the present historical period. In such periods, it is prudent to balance every 'optimism of the will' with a certain 'pessimism of the intellect'.

Where, then, are the resources of hope? First of all, in remembrance. It is best to keep in view the synoptic account of the century that this series has tried to capture, especially in the first three instalments ('A century of revolutions', Frontline, January 22, 2000; 'Balance sheet of the Left', February 19, 2000; and 'The century of democratic demand', June 24, 2000). Two things would then become clear. One is that the present period is just that, a period, of a kind that has also come and gone in the past (1871-1917, for example, as mentioned above) and which in their own day seemed interminable; it is in such periods that resistance reflects upon its own past, experiments with new forms, accumulates new experiences, works toward historically new forms for a fresh breakthrough.

Second, any sober reflection upon the century as a whole would help us recall the achievements. At the beginning of the century, virtually the whole of Asia and Africa were under colonial and semi-colonial domination; today Palestine/Israel is one of the few remaining outposts of a sturdy colonisation. Socialism was, when the century dawned, a certain local tendency in a little corner of Europe, based among a proletariat far less numerous than what we have today in India alone; in the course of the century, roughly a third of humanity passed through various experiments toward building socialist societies, and no corner of the globe remained immune to its impact. Colonial rule in our two continents, various kinds of autocracy in Latin America, monarchical rule in most of Europe were the norm when the century began; today, the whole world is enveloped in a whirlwind of democratic demand, while our collective understanding of democracy itself has become more complex, more radical, more far-reaching than ever before, well beyond the issue of parliamentary rule alone.

Thanks to these revolutionary struggles, more peasants have greater control over more land than ever before, worldwide; women have more political and social rights than was imaginable at the beginning of the century; larger cross-sections of workers are better organised, better-fed, better educated; many of the gains, in other words, have remained even though the states and movements which helped bring them about have been defeated or even swept away. There is no absolute failure. The Left seems to have failed - and in substantial measure it indeed has failed - because it achieved so much less than what had been envisioned and had at various times seemed possible.

That, then, is the first resource of hope: memory itself. The second is the immense growth of the proletariat in the global class structure. The World Bank in 1995 put at 2.5 billion the number of those who are forced to sell their labour power, directly or indirectly, so as to reproduce themselves. This expansion of the proletariat as a proportion of the world population is such that the number has doubled in barely a quarter century since 1975, and the brisk ongoing transformation of agriculture in the Third World makes it likely that the number shall grow at spectacular rates in the foreseeable future. This is reflected then in the statistics of world income: as of 1990, 60 per cent of the world's population got 5.3 per cent of that income, while the top 20 per cent received 83.4 per cent. It is thus patently nonsensical to assert, as so many of the eminent Western social scientists have been asserting since the 1950s, that the proletariat as a proportion of the population has reached its optimal plateau and what is expanding is the so-called 'middle class'. The principle contradiction remains where it was in Marx's time - that is to say between labour and capital - except that it is no longer a Euro-American phenomenon but a global phenomenon, indeed primarily (and increasingly) a Third World phenomenon where the exploitation is the most acute and the contradiction therefore the most irreconcilable.

Ironically, this virtually unimaginable numerical strength of the proletariat makes the task of organising and building proletarian unity not less but infinitely more difficult. In Marx's time, proletariats were small, concentrated in a handful of countries and in a handful of cities within those countries, hence largely homogeneous, a great majority of them performing analogous forms of work, living in relatively similar circumstances. Today's global proletariat is, even in many of the individual countries, far more geographically dispersed, culturally heterogeneous, ethnically and religiously diverse, linguistically fragmented, stratified in terms of race and caste, performing very many different kinds of work in a far more complicated division of labour, and with far greater numbers of women participating in the modern workforce. Differentials in wages, social provision, and webs of social prejudice within and around this global working class are infinitely greater. Lenin once emphasised that the spontaneous logic of capitalist exploitation and trade union organising takes the proletariat not toward revolution but reform. In that same spirit, one might say that the spontaneous logic inherent in this immense expansion and internal diversity of the proletariat takes it not towards automatic unity but great fragmentation.

This, then, is connected with another phenomenon which is at once a great resource of hope but also, in the immediate present, a source of difficulty. The demise of revolutionary agency ('Farewell to the Working Class' and so on) has been announced ad nauseam since the 1950s and most vociferously over the past decade or so. Contrary to this ideological hogwash, what we have witnessed is in fact an immense proliferation of revolutionary agents. Working class strikes and job actions of all kinds persist throughout the world, though they are made invisible in the dominant media; from China alone, there have been reports of tens of thousands of job actions and peasant revolts over the past couple of years, in opposition to the remorseless market reforms. There have been in recent years pitched battles fought across the globe, from workers in South Korea to the landless in Southern Brazil. In pockets within advanced capitalist countries, as in Germany, currents are growing in some trade unions which demand not only securities of employment and wage but also a partnership in management and share in industrial equity. Meanwhile, proletarian and peasant women are now much more aware of their superexploitation as women as well as workers, at home and at the point of production, in waged work and in non-waged domestic labour; indeed, the consciousness is becoming quickly very widespread that there are particular forms of superexploitation even at the point of production which are reserved specifically for women.

India itself is gripped by a veritable revolution of the oppressed castes which the upper castes as well as the middling ones are trying to contain; and, like any revolution, it is neither a pretty sight nor an inevitably rising curve ('not a tea party', as it were). Hundreds of millions in Latin America are discovering, for the first time, that they are 'indigenous people', not descended from the Portuguese or the Hispanics, and that their economic and social subordination has to do with this whole history of colonisation and capitalism. Although labour is not nearly as mobile under 'globalisation' as capital, relatively greater mobility of labour over the past half a century has concentrated tens of million of workers and petty bourgeois strata from the Third World in Western Europe and North America whose struggles are deeply marked by their sense of ethnic origin and the racial prejudice they face as much in the workplace as in society at large. Pressures for devolution of power to region, locality and even to communities of caste or gender are gaining momentum all over the world.

A consciousness is arising, unevenly but inexorably, leading to very diverse kinds of local as well as international resistances, that production for profit is irreconcilable with a natural environment fit for habitation; that in the realm of ecological disasters the socialism of the USSR was simply a 'capitalism without capitalists'; and that the planet itself may not survive such destructiveness.

In a parallel move, resistance to globalisation is no longer an activity special to Third World progressives. Within the advanced capitalist countries, a new kind of activism is getting organised on the recognition that globalisation is bad for everyone except the corporate elite; hence the sudden and surprising congregations of large numbers of people in Seattle, Washington, Davos, Prague, Porto Allegro in a historically unique wave of transnational solidarity. These defensive resistances against capitalist destructiveness and the corporate elite then have an analogue in other struggles which are designed to augment the capacities and cultural capital of the labouring masses, by providing, with or without cooperation from the state, means of education, vocational training, health and sanitation, instruction in simple sciences and technologies for local use, recovery of local traditions and thus of an alternate history. These hosts of practices give rise to what one might call a 'social Left' alongside the older, more recognisable institutions of the 'political Left' such as the trade union, the peasant league, the political party. In Pakistan, for example, where there is virtually no 'political Left' to speak of, much energy and innovation comes from the 'social Left'; elsewhere, the social and the political Lefts sometimes collide and at other times cooperate, experimenting with a variety of possible relationships.

How, then, to conceptualise this whole complex movement? One needs to reiterate, first, that even in this period of 'restoration', resistances have been punctual and widespread, involving more people around the globe than ever before. Second, however, it needs to be added immediately that precisely at the time when capital has gained unprecedented global unity, resistances have tended to become local and issue-based, with no shared focus or (as Gramsci called the communist party) a 'collective intellectual'. There is a certain disjunction, in other words, between globalist triumph of capital on the macro level and the mushrooming of numerous, and highly differentiated, resistances at the micro level. Third, virtually the whole range of these resistances work to reform capitalism but not to destroy it; one can no longer speak of a fundamental clash of systems as the essential dynamic behind these resistances, as we could say when struggle for socialism was the overarching focal point. Fourth, however, we are also witnessing, within this overall dynamic of reform, two different and parallel movements: those which seek the more traditional kinds of reform that strengthen the system, and others which seek what Andre Gorz once called 'non-reformist reforms' that undermine the system. Instances of these non-reformist reforms can be witnessed in such initiatives as the people's planning campaign in Kerala or a remarkably similar process, undertaken by the more Marxist wing of the Brazilian Workers Party (PT), in the city of Porto Allegro, and more recently in the whole state of the Rio Grande do Sul which is also the hub of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) that represents perhaps the most innovative mass struggle of the landless anywhere today.

That last reference, to Kerala and Rio Grande do Sul, then brings up the question of Marxism and the workers' parties within this whole matrix. One hardly needs comment on the size of the defeat and the scope of the retreat. It needs to be said, however, that India, South Africa and Brazil - the three largest countries in their respective continents (except China, which is still ruled by a communist party) - have within them very sizable presence of the organised Left which, in each case, commands much greater influence and authority than even their numerical strength would indicate; the defeat of apartheid would have been inconceivable without the South African Communist Party, and both instances of 'non-reformist reforms' cited above are the work of these parties - in the case of PT, the more radical, more squarely Marxist wing of it. 'Reformed' communist parties, under various names, have a substantial presence in Eastern Europe, Germany, Italy and Portugal. Cuba and Vietnam still survive, despite all the pressures and consequent distortions, as does China where the market is ascendant but far from victorious.

What is equally, if not more, striking is that Marxism no longer has an exclusive purchase on its own vision and the themes it introduced into the politics of resistance now have become part of a universal language. At the beginning of the century only socialists spoke of 'exploitation', as distinct from 'oppression', that happens at the point of production; today, all kinds of activists - in the feminist movements, anti-racist struggles, movements of the 'indigenous peoples, anti-globalisation activists, exponents of 'liberation theology' - speak constantly of a differential wage rate, non-waged labour at home, stratification within the working class based on gender or race or ethnicity, transfer of resources and values from the Third World to the First, and so on. Every populist, every social democrat, every 'green' speaks a part of this language because the language itself has taken hold of the popular imagination; the same is true of a good number of Dalit writers who would otherwise be deeply opposed to the organised Left.

Then there is the case of the dominant knowledge systems in the Western human sciences. Cultural theory is today the most influential discipline, but virtually all the commanding figures whom the discipline invokes were Marxists or at least very deeply involved in Marxism: Lukacs, Gramsci, Voloshinov, Benjamin, Goldmann, Althusser, Raymond Williams, E.P. Thompson, Stuart Hall and several others. Poststructuralism, which is the other pole within cultural theory, is dominated by Derrida, a student of Althusser whose professed affiliation with Marxism is so pronounced that he claims that his Deconstruction itself is nothing but a further 'radicalisation' of Marxism, and Foucault, another student of Althusser who maintains a much more ambivalent relationship with Marxism but is on record saying, in a published interview, that entire passages in his work have been lifted straight out of Marx but his readers do not realise it because he does not put them in quotation marks. It is thanks to this very complex and powerful place of Marxism in the upper reaches of Western human sciences that The New Yorker, the famed journal of the American bourgeois intelligentsia, felt constrained to nominate Marx, in 1999, as "the most likely philosopher of the 21st century". Closer to home, subalternist historians deliver copious disparagements of the organised Left and the Marxist historians in India, but punctually in a language borrowed from Marxism itself.

There are undoubtedly elements of cooptation and distortion in this exercise, and what one often gets is that same thing which Lenin once called 'official Marxism' - a sanitised, intellectualised version from which the idea of socialism itself, not to speak of revolution, has been taken out. But this bid to make an overarching official Marxism itself testifies to the power of the unofficial one. Marx is a spectre that haunts the whole of the bourgeois world, from its capitalists to its intellectuals, and must therefore be exorcised through rituals of constant invocation. Nor is this whole process a matter merely of cooptation and distortion. Much of the power of Marxism in academic life itself is owed to its magisterial explanatory power; even for the collapse of the Soviet Union there are no better, more reliable explanations than some of the Marxist ones. The life of the mind in the 20th century, even the bourgeois mind, has had a peculiar fascination with Marxism because its explanatory power overwhelms even those who live in constant dread of the politics which follows from those explanations.

Such then are some of the resources of hope. The most striking is the fact that even at this time of the most comprehensive defeat that the Left has had to face in a whole century, resistances are mushrooming all across the globe and the themes that Marxism initially introduced for strictly class-based politics have seeped into a whole variety of militancies which are objectively revolutionary. Some of these other forms of militancy will have to learn from their own experiences that there are absolute limits to what can be achieved within the system.

The ecological destructiveness of profit-based production, for example, can be neither reversed not stopped without abolishing the profit motive itself and replacing it with collective rational planning, across national boundaries. Real environmentalism will have to be socialist and internationalist; the Red, meanwhile, will have to learn to be Green in a way that it has never been. Similarly, there are numerous forms of the subordination of women which are additional to their exploitation in the Marxist sense; in our own time, however, capitalism and patriarchy are so deeply intermeshed that one cannot be abolished without the other; this much Marxism itself will have to learn from socialist feminism. The Left, meanwhile, will also have to innovate newer forms of politics that correspond to the present life-process of the proletariat which is at once far more numerous but also internally much more socially differentiated; caste, religion, ethnicity, nationality are not merely epiphenomenal but tend to determine the structures of practical consciousness through which the worker comprehends his or her own place in the material world. It is by addressing problems of this kind, and resolving them in practice that new revolutionary forms shall emerge. Those new forms will undoubtedly build upon the achievements of the revolutions of the 20th century but will also be substantially different, since it is a law of history that every revolution must discover its poetry from its own present.