Monday, September 29, 2014

An exchange with the leading thinker of the day: The regimes in USSR and China were far from communism

(This brief exchange took place between myself and ... through email on March 28 and 29, 2013. This appeared as the conversation with an anonymous thinker in the New Year 2070 issue of South Asia and Beyond. Since this is highly relevant for the theme of the current Dashain issue of the same blog, I carry it again. Having given the person the word not to reveal his identity for fear of him being unnecessarily dragged into internet debates, I am not doing so. Hope the readers understand my difficulty)

Question: Dear sir, I am aware of volume and scope of your work. Even though many people add the tag of 'controversial' to your description, I see no relevance of that tag. I am also well aware of your position in Palestinian issue and I have nothing more to add.

I perfectly agree with the assessment that what Israel sees as its 'legitimate right to survive' and the behavior it shows is state terror, pure and simple, imposed on the Palestinian people. The attention drawn to Palestinian issue by respectable people like you is commendable. My nagging realization is that, if the suffering of Palestinians is to work as a standard, there are thousands of 'Mini-Palestine's in world: from slums of India to villages in China where poverty strangles people, and from the flashpoints of international conflicts to lands of endless ethnic wars. To name some people victimized by ruthless butchery of powerful people and/or institutions in recent past: the Tamils in Srilanks, the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, the tribal people in Central India and so on. 

My observation is that the traditional ways of fighting oppression and exploitation through one form of organization have suffered a severe setback with disastrous performance of communist regimes in many parts of the world; and other forms of viable organization are yet to evolve. Meanwhile, the capitalist world order is increasingly adapting to the evolving scenario and every thug, warlord, religious fanatic or any criminal is now able to buy security as well as dignity with wealth and is in a better position to exploit more people (not based on any ideology as such); particularly in developing world where law and order situation is worsening.

As the monopoly capitalism sweeps the world at macro-level, a parallel and little-noticed but potentially more troubling monopoly of rich and powerful individuals is increasingly taking helms in societies and states (South Asia is where most of my observations are based). Either way, while the people with modest financial status complain the inability to move up the prosperity ladder, an increasing no. of underprivileged people are literally downwardly mobile. 

How do you see this phenomenon of increasing pauperization, misery and conflict in today's world? Can there be an overarching theory to explain this the way Marx once did? Do you think activism against many vices like class, race, region or gender, religion-based oppression  and exploitation coalesce as envisioned by some people? Can justice and liberty be expected in future if today's form of world capitalism persists? 

Answer: There’s been some discussion of the fact that the world is dividing into a “plutonomy” (the very rich) and a “precariat” (a great mass living a precarious existence), in addition to the particularly awful suffering of marginalized groups such as those you mention.  And the reasons for it.  I’ve written about it a lot, others too.  There’s no “overarching theory,” but Marx didn’t really have one either for the capitalism of his day; only substantial insights.  But I don’t think things look quite as gloomy as you say.  There’s also been substantial progress in the struggles for human rights and justice, and no reason why it cannot continue.

Q. Thanks a lot. I was talking about emerging trends in South Asia and elsewhere. Besides the concentration of wealth in few hands, the other problems apparently unrelated to capitalism's legacy like ethnic strife are also quite troubling. Could there be any indirect link between the current politico-economic systems and the upsurge in violence, say in Srilanka and Burma?  

A. Each case has to be looked at on its own, but neoliberalism in general tends to spur ethnic violence: Yugoslavia, Rwanda, many other cases.  There’s a good article on it by Prabhat Patnaik in a recent issue of Frontline. 

Q. Thanks again. Sorry if it looks like an interview, but I cannot resist this query. There seems to be a near-total consensus among thinkers across spectrum that the status quo in Middle East is untenable and many think it could well jeopardize the survival of Israel in the long term. Even Obama piously emphasized importance of peace in Middle East  during his recent trip to Israel. But the episode of new government formation in Israel again under Netanyahu and acquiescence of apparently centrist Lapid to the right wing coalition shows that there is little scope of politics of sanity in Israel. How can the tendency  of ordinary people to condone/follow apparently destructive and illogical activities of their governments be explained? Can this be compared with the pervasive sense of apathy and passivity that
prevailed in US during Iraq war?

A: Mostly based on confusion.  Israel's current policies (backed by the US) are sustainable well into the future.  It's true that their policies raise longer-term security risks, but that's been true since 1971, when they set a definite course on preferring expansion to security.
Have been writing about it extensively since then, and recently too.

Q. Thanks. Do you think the so called US pivot to Asia will lead to another equilibrium with larger presence of US in East Asia? Alternatively, will it lead to higher level of conflict with China and instability in the region?

A. It's very likely, unfortunately, to lead to more conflict, perhaps dangerous conflict.

Q. Thanks again. You have written pretty much about media. Do you think the non-corporation funded so called alternative media can make a dent in media empire in foreseeable future? Is there any chance mainstream media will increase objectivity in its coverage given the lessons of a disastrous coverage of developments like Iraq war?

A. No sign of it.

Q. Thanks. Do you think the relationship between the ordinary people and the media (in which most people imbibe information without questions of skepticism) will change in future somehow? How much is the behavior of people to be blamed for the sorry state of today's mainstream media in world in terms of extreme pro-corporate position and lack of
objectivity in true sense?

A. Whether it will change is up to those who think it ought to change.  People are responsible only insofar as they don't mount powerful protests, not easy.

Q. How do you view the successful communist movements in the past (in Russia and China)
and their subsequent degeneration into one-man-supremacy? Did they serve the cause of humanity as claimed? What points are today's communists missing from the fallacy of the past?

A. They were not successful Communist revolutions.  There was a substantial radical revolutionary movement in Russia in 1917.  With considerable violence and repression, it was stamped out when the Bolsheviks took power.  A complicated story, can't be captured in a sentence.  In China there was a mass peasant uprising, in part war against Japanese aggression and then civil war against the US-backed Nationalists, in part a revolution in the countryside, but with substantial and final almost total central control. Far from communism.

On costs and benefits, a long complex story.

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