Saturday, July 04, 2009

Being A Socialist

It is fashionable to be a socialist these days. Even in America, that is. In Europe, various socialist parties have always existed, though past their prime after 1970s, but in America, being called a Socialist was an abuse. That remains unchanged indeed - last week we have seen various schemes being labelled socialism - but there is a new openness to the new socialism.

The family tree of new socialism, as presented by Kevin Kelly in WIRED, traces its roots to Utopia and the high point in Paris Commune, but connect up Linux, Twitter and Blogger in the same family. Indeed, the biographies and a new film about Che Guevara has made a comeback in Europe even when we thought we have seen the last of Fidel Castro. And, the universal acceptance of capitalist way of life is suddenly looking challenged in the face of a global recession brought about by the wisdom of the markets.

But, then, what about socialism's blemishes? The state socialism is dying. Theocracy and autocracy has taken over socialist cravings in various Middle Eastern and Central Asian states. The prevailing socialist orthodoxies in North Korea and Burma look as degenerate as ever. The Chinese is following a more successful transition from Socialism to Fascism than Russia, but nonetheless they are destined to fascism indeed. And, indeed, the whole idea of the state dictating what you can eat for breakfast appears a sure road to hell in every part of the world.

The point, of course, is that whether you will have two stale pieces of bread for breakfast every day rather than not having something to eat some of the days. It also depends whether you see the world in terms of abundance - there is enough if you care to work for it - or scarcity, where resources must be shared to survive. The issue with the reigning capitalist thinking is that it does not really care whether the world has enough for everyone, as long as it has enough for the raider / entrepreneur to take. And, we know the trouble with that idea - it can collapse any time and, if you have no money, you have no choice by implication.

One curious thing about the socialist philosophy is that it flourished more or less in Continental Europe, but while this was supposed to make its journey westward, in the Anglo-Saxon world, it never gained that foothold. Marx assumed that socialism will be a more advanced stage of civilization and will therefore, come to countries which has reached an advance stage of capitalism. But he was proved wrong and socialism actually came into being more as a parallel route to capitalism, a new way of distributing wealth, and took hold in the backward, more collective cultures eastward of Western Europe, in Russia, in China and in Asia. In fact, it is interesting to note the spread of institutional socialism in Asia, Latin America and Southern Europe, and see that in contrast with the Western, Anglo-Saxon sphere, and one can get a view of a different clash of civilization and two parallel answers to question of how to build a better society.

In that sense, the socialism of Kevin Kelly is a curious invention, which connects the most individualistic tools of our civilization into a collectivist paradigm. The twitter socialism is more akin to early robber capitalism than the North Korean model of state capitalism. But then the fact is (a) we are currently in the middle of a severe recession brought about by the independent pursuit of individual well-being; (b) the world's resources are looking decidedly scarce at this time, and those who say that the world's climate problem does not exist or that this could be solved by few geniuses pursuing individual fame and fortune are looking completely out of tune.

Not that bragging of individual wealth is going to stop anytime soon, but what looked like an unchecked expansion of capitalist individualism has been suddenly stopped and even reversed, and have been alternatively replaced/ pushed back by (a) Theocratic communalism [as in Iran, and the war is on in Afghanisthan, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and the like]; (b) Outright autocratism [as in Saudi, Egypt, Syria and the like]; (c) Corporatist fascism [as in Russia and increasingly in China]; and (d) a mixture of chaos and confusion [as in Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines etc]. I have not included Burma and North Korea as they seem to belong to different era altogether. And, if life has to go on and civilization has to progress, we must find a better answer than pro-western selfishness which can maintain the social harmony, recognize the natural limits of progress and allow everyone the basic rights to live, which it will indeed come down to when we hit the ceiling with our climate. I am sure there will be different ways - some of us will look to religion and some of us will look to technology - but being an individualist socialist certainly seems to be an IN thing for the time.

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