A slightly modified version of a talk delivered at the Conference on ‘Democracy, Socialism and Visions for the 21st Century’, 7-10 March, at Hyderabad
Today we stand at a moment of history that is very different from the conjuncture at the turn of the 1980s and onset of the 1990s, which marked the collapse of actually existing socialism and the eventual victory of neo-liberalism. ‘Capital’ looked victorious and invincible and everything that was associated with socialism stood discredited. This is no longer the case today. The struggle for a new kind of left imagination, for a re-signification of the idea of socialism, is now evident in large parts of the world. The neo-liberal emperor has been revealed to have no clothes. Many neoliberals, incidentally, still live in the 1990s, sincere in their belief that History had come to an end at that moment. Simply because twentieth century socialism stood discredited, it was assumed that that meant the end of popular struggles and challenges to capital’s domination over the world. Today, two and a half decades after the collapse of socialism and the victory of neoliberalism, the latter stands challenged as perhaps, never before.
The difficulty however, is that while the spirit of the Left animates struggles and movements, an actual programmatic vision is still not quite in sight. The weight of dead generations still weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. Revolutionaries have long conceded defeat and accepted that capitalism is the only salvation and that they too must build capitalism wherever they are in power, even if rhetorically, they still hold on to the idea of transcending capitalism. The problem has little to do with the intentions of the revolutionaries; it is fundamentally a matter of a vision that is predicated upon the productivist and ‘progressist’ imagination of the past three centuries or more. In our contemporary everyday language, we could even call it the growth-fetishist vision – a vision that fails to differentiate between cancerous growth of capital on the social body, and the all round improvement in the lives of ordinary people. The fact that twentieth century socialists too remained captive to that vision is perhaps the reason they could not pose any serious challenge to capital.
Productivism and Progress
This productivist imagination was put in place over a few centuries through the conjunction of a range of new bodies of knowledge – moral philosophy, Lockean political theory and political economy – later economics. At one level, the twentieth century socialist imagination too partook of the fundamental assumptions that lay behind this modernist vision and sought to defeat capitalism on its own ground. That was an impossible task. It was impossible for it never radically questioned the fundamentals of the new capitalist creed, namely economics. Economics was and remains a discipline constituted by capital and ‘socialist economics’ is, strictly speaking, an oxymoron. For, apart from the ecological imperative, to which I will turn in a moment, the discipline was fundamentally hostile to all but bourgeois forms of property and production. Continue reading Capital, Growth and Molecular Socialism