Socialism or Reformism?

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We live at a time when resistance to the inequities that exist in this world and the struggle for a better world are almost totally detached from any striving for socialism. Climate change, imperialist aggression, forcible dispossession of peasants in the name of “development”, oppression of the tribal population, gender discrimination, and ecological degradation, bring forth passionate protests, but these protests, even when they trace the root of the problem to capitalism, do not invoke as its solution any vision of a world beyond capitalism, the vision of an alternative world of socialism. The most serious threat to the existing system of course comes at present from the Islamic fundamentalists, whose utopia has nothing to do with socialism; but even the “radical” opponents of capitalism, whether feminists, or environmentalists, or defenders of civil rights, or “civil society activists”, do not visualize any transcendence of the system. The capitalism-socialism distinction is largely irrelevant for them; they see socialism as constituting neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for overcoming the specific injustice they happen to be concerned about.

This is also true, paradoxically, of many who formally swear by socialism, that is, of sizeable segments within the Left. While they may still believe in a vague and distant vision of socialism, this vision is so vague and distant that it makes no material difference to their conception of political praxis, which in their view should be concerned at best with survival as a distinct political force within the existing system, making whatever compromises are deemed necessary for such survival.

There is in short a remarkable consensus at present about the durability of capitalism, a consensus that apparently vindicates Mr.Fukuyama. It is widely perceived as a permanent mode of production, the last in human history. All struggles, it follows, must be oriented towards removing its defects and making it more perfect. This presumes of course that these defects are removable, a presumption that expresses itself in a myriad different ways, including in the substitution of the concept of “the empire” for the concept of “imperialism”. “Imperialism” being rooted in the system, can be overcome only by transcending the system; but “the empire” being the outcome of “evil” policies of people like George Bush, can be overcome within the system itself by replacing its proponents by a “better” set of rulers. “Reformism” in short has replaced socialism; and paradoxically, the most militant, radical and intransigent protests of today are fought for the cause of “reformism” rather than of socialism.

Even the preoccupation of the Maoist movement in India is with the removal of injustice to the tribal population, not the overcoming of imperialism or the ushering in of socialism, as one would have expected in view of the lineage it claims from Marxism-Leninism. And its sympathizers within the intelligentsia defend it quite explicitly by recalling the gross injustice suffered by the tribal population. The movement’s lack of concern over India’s becoming a strategic ally of US imperialism, or over the agrarian crisis that has pushed millions of peasants into destitution, or over the spectre of communal fascism, which is evident from the fact that on none of these issues has it sought to mobilize the people at large or to make common cause with others that have taken up positions of resistance, is symptomatic of the distance it has travelled from Marxism-Leninism. This distance also separates its extreme radical “reformism”, backed even by armed insurrection, from socialism. I use the term “reformism” in its case because the concern with the oppression of the tribal population within the system, which is invoked to justify its violent methods, cannot possibly provide the basis for system- transcendence, since the tribal population, being too small in its relative size, cannot alone overthrow the capitalist order that is consolidating itself in India. To take the Maoist movement’s engagement in armed struggle as proof of its commitment to socialism, as many tend to do, is not only to subscribe to a facile notion of socialist praxis, but also, additionally, to confuse form with content.

To contrast socialism with “reformism” is not to run down the reforms in which the “reformists” are interested. Socialists too are in most cases interested in struggling for those very “reforms”. The point is not the “reforms” as such but the perspective within which the struggle for them is carried out. And here the contrast between socialists and “reformists” could not be sharper.

The fact that protests or struggles today are informed not by socialism but by “reformism” makes the contemporary period rather unique in the history of capitalism, since from the days of the “Utopian Socialists” right until late into the last century, capitalism had always been haunted by the spectre of socialism. And this sense of being haunted had been particularly intense after the Bolshevik Revolution, which was predicated upon the presumption that mankind had entered a period of world revolutionary transition, through canadian online casino stages, from capitalism to socialism. The sudden vanishing of this spectre therefore makes the contemporary period quite unprecedented.

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