A specter is badly needed today, the specter of communism. It is not enough to expose the evils of capitalism; we must offer and revive a leftwing alternative. To borrow a few words from a philosopher, we have already interpreted capitalism in various ways – the point however is to change it.
True, Marxism is still the sharpest theoretical tool to understand the internal logic of capitalism. It is through Marxist political economy that we are able to analyze the dynamics between the recurring financial crisis, the boom and bust cycle of the modern economy, the expanding free trade regimes, and the ever worsening preventable miseries across the world. But alas, “walking dead” capitalism is still the dominant mode of production of our time.
The Soviet model has collapsed and the remaining so-called socialist states are either closet capitalists or burdened by the economic sanctions imposed by the West. They have little political and economic clout to disrupt the capitalist-dominated global relations. In the 1990s, free market doctrinaires even triumphantly proclaimed the “end of history” following the demise of Soviet Russia.
But is there really no alternative? Capitalist globalization imploded during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, 2008 Global Financial Crisis, the European Debt Crisis, and the current “bubble with no name.” Unless we consider precarious living as our fate, we must discard the defeatist and narrow thinking that our only choice is to embrace the dogma of capitalism.
Then there are those who peddle some fancy but dangerous illusions that modern capitalism is benign and that it is capable of reforming. They seek to mask the absolute horrors created by the system through sophisticated but disempowering academic discourse. Aside from refusing to name the system for what it really is, they mislead the public by misrepresenting the enactment of some petty reforms as the equivalent of overhauling the exploitative economic system.
Indeed, there were great variations between classical capitalism and “really existing capitalism” in the 20th century. After the Thirty-Years War (1914-1945), the Great Depression (1930), and the rise of Soviet Russia (1917), capitalism needed to become relevant by junking some of its core doctrines like absence of state intervention in the economic affairs. It has to embrace some neo-mercantilist (economic nationalism) policies in response to the Marxist-inspired command economy.
For today’s millennials, it is difficult for them to think of communism as a viable alternative. For them, it is a theoretical failure and tragic political experiment that caused massive casualties. This is where the value of studying history becomes very crucial to teach the young that communism was actually an attractive ideology that gave hope to millions and changed the way we live in the past century. Communism inspired and supported anti-colonial movements, social uprisings, and radical scholarship especially after World War II. Was Ho Chi Minh nationalist or communist? Whatever his ideological mooring, he viewed communism as the path that would lead to the liberation of his people.
The age of free trade (1870-1914) created an interdependent global economy which concentrated wealth in the hands of few corporations and powerful states led by Great Britain. Poverty, inequality, injustice, and wars became the new normal of the capitalist world order. When the United States entered the Great Depression era, there was already a massive disenchantment with free trade policies. Many sought alternatives and they found socialist planning as appealing and necessary.
To prevent communism from overpowering the world, capitalism had to prove that it offers a superior way of life. And it succeeded not by clinging to the main tenets of economic liberalism but by adopting Marxist-inspired policies such as providing the welfare needs of the poor, distribution of free social services, and pursuing state-led economic planning. The visible hand of the state was used to create the right conditions for the realization of the theory of invisible hand. It is capitalism with socialist characteristics. Even East Asian dragon economies studied and implemented Marxist economic models (industry protection, promotion of infant industries) although they chose to remain under the US-led global alliance.
There was incentive to reform or to innovate because there was competition, a very formidable competition represented by the communist bloc. But after 1991, capitalism’s main rival has already disbanded. From this point on, capitalism could now resume its free trade evangelization which was reflected through the neoliberal prescriptions of liberalization, privatization, and deregulation.
After two decades, the world has become more globalized than ever but power and wealth are still retained by a tiny elite or more notoriously known as the 1 percent of the global population. Meanwhile, poverty and deprivation has increased everywhere. The so-called Washington Consensus facilitated a methodical cash transfer from poor to rich nations. The drafting of the UN Millennium Development Goals was an indirect admission that neoliberal globalization has failed to deliver its promise of remaking the world for the better.
Despite the bank bailouts, the financial oligarchy continues to behave irresponsibly and “casino capitalism” is still creating economic bubbles in various parts of the world. Despite the irrationality of commodifying everything that we hold precious in our lives, governments continue to treat neoliberalism as a natural economic law. Why? Capitalism survives even if it is ruthless and oppressive because there is no existing alternative system that could challenge its supremacy. Marxism remains a respectable intellectual discipline but we lack concrete and functioning examples of applied Marxism. Are we then doomed to suffer the consequences of the boom and bust cycle of the economy for the rest of our lives?
Not necessarily. Marxist revolutions often take place in the unlikeliest of places. Russia and China were not industrial powers but a proletarian revolution succeeded in these countries. Vietnamese guerrillas defeated the military hardware of the U.S. Leftwing parties across the world have survived and remained relevant despite two decades of intense capitalist indoctrination.
Capitalism is wounded, weakened, but it remains on war footing. It is naïve to assume that it will self-correct its errors. On the contrary, it will be more ferocious against those who dare to subvert its world domination. The problem today is not the threat of revolution reversing the gains of globalization but the lack of revolutions challenging globalization. Our task therefore is to fight and to fight relentlessly for the communist idea. After all, to paraphrase a philosopher again, we have nothing to lose but a bleak future.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: email@example.com