Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Socialism of the New Century


[Sunil is the national vice-president of Samajwadi Jan Parishad. This
article was written for a special issue of Janata weekly. The essay is
an important statement from one of the leading activist-theorists of
the socialist movement (i.e. non-Marxist socialism) which does not
simply disavow the marxist legacy but engages with that experience as
an essential component of socialist practice. AN]

The tussle between capitalism and socialism as alternative visions of
human society is not yet over. It is like the old fable of the race
between a hare and a tortoise. At times one seems to be the winner. At
other times the other seems to be leading. Capitalism is like the hare
of the story. It looks fast, impressive and dynamic but after some
time it is tired and resting with its own contradictions. In the end,
we know it is the tortoise of socialism which will prevail. But that
end is yet to be arrived at.

Capitalism looked supreme and unchallengeable in the later decades of
the past century. With the disintegration of USSR, reverting of China,
Vietnam and many other communist countries to the path of capitalism,
and downfall of social democracy in Europe, there was no challenge to
capitalism. Thus ‘end of history’ was arrogantly announced. Market
fundamentalism of Reagan and Thatcher varieties started ruling over
the world. But soon many crises arrived. Ecological crisis with the
dangers of climate change and global warming on the one hand, and the
global financial crisis with the worst recession since the thirties on
the other, shook the faith in the supremacy and immortality of
capitalist civilization. Added to these were the growing crises of
hunger, malnutrition, homelessness, violence and war. The number of
hungry people in the world kept growing and crossed the figure of 100
cores in the first decade of the twenty first century i.e. every sixth
person on the earth today remains underfed and starved. This is
perhaps the biggest and the most glaring failure of capitalism. Even
after more than two centuries of the industrial revolution and
miraculous progress of science and technology, it is unable to fulfill
even the most basic need of the humankind.

The twenty first century therefore started with new doubts about the
supremacy, desirability and invincibility of capitalism. Search of
alternatives began with new vigor. The word ‘Socialism’ once again
gained currency and became a talking point. But what kind of
socialism? What does it mean? How is it different from what was
experimented with in the last century which apparently failed ? There
seems to be a lot of confusion.

In a way, we who want to change the world for a better tomorrow, are
more fortunate than our predecessors in the last century. We have a
longer history of capitalism before us to understand its functioning
better. We also have the experiences of communist–socialist
experiments of the last century to learn from them. What are the main
lessons? How do we look at them and analyze them ? Are we wiser and
more clear now ? Do we have better insights now?

Observations and Lessons from the Twentieth Century

We may note certain developments and lessons of the last century.

1. Capitalism did not transform the whole world in the way its
supporters claimed and even Marx expected. Rather, it transformed the
different parts of the world in different ways. To some, it brought
prosperity, luxuries and high levels of consumption. To others, it has
brought misery, hunger, poverty and unemployment. Capitalism has been
kind and benevolent to one set of people but discriminating and
destructive to another. The adverse effects of capitalism in large
parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America did not prove to be
transitional as expected, but have persisted, continued and deepened.
The industrial revolution that took place in Western Europe and later
in North America and Japan could not be repeated in other parts of the
world. Even where the state actively helped and planned,
industrialization could not take place to the extent of involving and
employing a significant proportion of the population. That is true for
USSR, China and India also. Even Marx was wrong when he saw in Western
Europe the future mirror image of the rest of the world.

2. Revolution took place not in the most industrialized and
capitalistically most developed countries of western Europe as was
predicted by Marx, but in the countries that were relatively backward
( in the capitalist sense ) and less industrialized. In countries
like China, there was almost no industrial working class and it was
totally a peasant revolution. This put a question mark on Marx’s
expectation and prediction that industrial workers will be the
‘proletariat’ and the vanguard of the revolution.

3. Trade Unions of organized / industrial workers everywhere
developed a kind of economism and lost revolutionary zeal and urge for
radical change. In the setting of most of the developing countries,
their wages and salaries were much more than the rest of the
population. They felt privileged and did not identify themselves with
the poor masses. A kind of ‘labour aristocracy’ gradually developed
in both rich and poor countries. The call of Marx and Engels for the
workers of the world to unite did not materialize. It has to be
redefined and reformulated in the new context.

4. Dictatorship of proletariat proved to be a misleading and
dangerous concept that ultimately helped anti-socialist and
opportunist elements. It arose from the mistaken belief that only
industrial workers are capable of leading the revolution. Other
sections of population such as peasants and artisans, not fully
separated from their means of production, may have anti-revolutionary
tendencies and at times may need to be disciplined to fall in line.
This led to the enormous atrocities and repression on Russian
peasantry in Stalin era. Such dictatorship and centralization of power
was also necessary for the kind of industrialization (and military
build up) the Soviet and Chinese rulers wanted to achieve requiring
enormous level of capital accumulation and mobilization of resources.
Another point to be noted is that violent revolutions have always led
to some kind of dictatorship. Democracy could not be established after

5. Private ownership of property was considered to be at the root
of the evils of capitalism. But abolition of private property in
communist countries did not do the (expected) trick. It was not
sufficient for establishment of an egalitarian socialist society. One,
there remained an attraction in the minds of the rulers for the kind
of development achieved in western capitalist societies, and an
attraction in the minds of the people for its consumerist life style.
This proved to be a major source of weakness of communist regimes. The
institution of property was abolished, but not the ‘Moha’ or
attachment to the property and consumerism. Two, new hierarchies
developed and the old ones (such as patriarchy) persisted. A
surprising level of ethnic conflicts also emerged.

6. The various experiments of social democracy in Europe, or mixed
economy in countries like India, did not prove sustainable and
suffered from many contradictions. A ‘welfare state’ without radically
altering the basic structure of society and economy may not solve the
problems and may not sustain for a long time.

7. The so-called ‘free trade’, attempts of industrialization and
‘export led growth’ in what are called ‘emerging economies’ such as
China and India have brought new conflicts and crises. Many of them,
at local, national and international level, relate to
‘Jal-Jungle-Jamin’ or minerals. In fact, for some time, natural
resources have come to the centre stage. Major conflicts of the world
relate to them. The impasse at WTO, for example, is mainly related to
agriculture, a nature linked economic activity. Oil and natural gas
are behind the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and threat to Iran. Peasant
movements, movements against displacements, conflicts over land,
water, oil and minerals etc. today make more news than workers’
strikes. Ecological problems of global warming and pollution are only
one dimension of this crisis. Another equally important dimension (but
ignored in the West-dominated discourse) is the continuous aggression
against the people whose lives are still intimately linked to nature.

8. Imperialism did not come to an end with the independence of
colonies after the Second World War. Rather it continued in
neo-colonial forms through trade, aid and MNCs. International Monetary
Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank (and similar banks for
different continents), World Trade Organization etc. actively promote,
help and sustain this imperialist unequal world order. It is also
effectively helped by the military power of USA and its allied
countries. The USSR and China also tried, though not very
successfully, to imitate the imperialist military ways of USA.

9. Globalization is another phase of this imperialism. It is another
name for removing all restrictions, and enhancing command of capital
over resources of the world. Capitalism has an unending and
ever-increasing lust for exploiting labour and extracting natural
resources at world level. It cannot survive without that. The
globalization of finance is just another mechanism of fulfilling their
lust. The latest financial crisis of capitalism should be seen in this
perspective. It is wrong to regard it essentially an internal crisis
of USA and industrial capitalist camp, as some Marxist scholars have
tried to do. (See for example, John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff,
‘The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences’, Monthly Review
Press, 2009).

10. The latest experiments of socialism are from Latin America which
do not fit orthodox framework of the left. They have not abolished
private property nor have they driven out MNCs. But they have
attempted redistribution of land, tried to cut MNCs and big business
to size, and increased state control of national resources and
strategic industries. These regimes have come in conflict with
organized sector workers and established trade unions, and have relied
more on the support of poor people belonging to the informal sector.
They have focused on providing social services (education, health,
ration etc.) to poor people and increased state budget significantly
for them. They have opted for democracy and have successfully
mobilized popular support for their reforms. Important experiments of
local councils and workers’ management are also going on there. They
have tense relations with USA. Natural resources, again, are at the
root of this conflict and a rich endowment of oil, natural gas or
minerals has proved a source of strength for them. An important
development to note is about Cuba which has been forced, after the
disintegration of USSR, to change its approach to modern technology
and development. It has gone back from chemical to organic cultivation
and from tractors to bullocks. This change has helped it in reducing
its dependency and achieving self-sufficiency in food.

Analytical Implications and Insights

The purpose of outlining these events, developments, tendencies and
lessons is not just to prepare a list of them. It will be a futile
exercise if we do not link, interconnect and integrate them in order
to analyse them and enhance our theoretical understanding of
capitalism and its possible alternatives. We have to see how they
reflect on the existing theories and assumptions and what corrections
are needed. Some of them were already hinted by various thinkers such
as Gandhi, Lohia, Rosa Luxemburg, Andre Gunder Frank etc. and lately
re-emphasized by Indian socialist thinkers like Sachchidanand Sinha,
Kishen Pattanayak and Bagaram Tulpule. They are further confirmed by
later developments. A new vision of socialism in the twenty first
century can only be based on such an analysis and updating of our

One: One important source of misunderstanding has been the single
minded focus on exploitation of workers in factories by their
capitalist owners and regarding it as the main (or the only) source of
surplus value. It was like Arjuna of Mahabharat who focussed only on
the target of bird’s eye and did not see anything else. But the real
dynamics of capitalism was never so simple. Another major source of
surplus value, as pointed out by Lohia, has been the exploitation of
colonial workers and peasants. Because of this exploitation, the
workers of industrialized countries could get a share of it, albeit a
small one and it became possible to postpone the conflict between
workers and capitalists there indefinitely. Hence revolution did not
take place there. This is also the factor behind labour aristocracy.
Of course, Marx did take note of colonial plunder and loot and dwelt
upon it in detail, but he did not integrate it into his analysis. It
was like an after-effect of capitalism for him and not an integral and
necessary element of it. One of his followers, Rosa Luxemburg, tried
to draw attention towards this lacuna, but she remained mostly
neglected and sidelined in the Marxist circles. Many of the Marx’s
followers (like Paul Sweezy) still stick to this position that the
main dynamic of capitalism is exploitation of workers within the
capitalist society. But some Marxist economists from periphery like
Andre Gunder Frank have, of course, challenged this orthodoxy.

Two: Another important source of surplus value and capital
accumulation is nature, again noted by Marx but not given importance.
From the beginning, the edifice of capitalism has been built on large
scale loot and destruction of nature and natural resources.
Displacement and deprivation of people whose life are linked with
nature has accompanied it from the beginning. Marx noted it, but,
alas, called it ‘primitive accumulation of capital’. But the adjective
‘primitive’ is misleading. The process has been continuously going out
throughout the history of capitalism, in one form or the other, in one
or the other parts of the world. It is not primitive or preliminary.
It is still going on. Capitalism has fed on it. It cannot grow or
survive without it. Some scholars have also pointed out that various
forms of rent, and not profit, have been the main forms of surplus
extraction in the history of capitalism (See Pranab Kanti Basu
‘Political Economy of Land Grab’. EPW, vol. XLII, no. 14, 2007).
Elements of force, barbarism, domination and state supported monopoly
have always been present behind the façade of the market.

The role of nature has also been neglected in the ‘labour theory of
value’ propounded by Marx. While this theory rightly emphasized the
role of labour in creation of value and wealth, it does not account
for the contribution of nature. In fact, the present ecological crisis
cannot be explained by sticking to labour theory of value.

Three: There are other forms of exploitation and hegemony such as
patriarchy, race, Indian caste system, which jointly work with class
and colonial exploitation. It was expected by both liberals and
Marxists that Indian caste system, being a feudal institution, would
gradually decline and die with the growth of capitalism,
industrialization and modernization. It did not. Caste, class and
patriarchy are interwoven and strengthen each other. It is erroneous
to regard one of them as primary contradiction and others as
‘superstructure’. All have to be fought jointly and simultaneously.
Moreover, blindly applying categories of European history (such as
feudalism) to the rest of the world may lead to misplaced assumptions,
expectations and conclusions.

Four: Imperialism is not the last and the highest stage of capitalism
as professed by Lenin. It is rather the first stage and an essential
ingredient for the development of capitalism. Modern capitalist
industrialization did not and cannot take place at any significant
level without colonial or neo-colonial exploitation. Therefore, the
option of modern industrialization is closed today for poor countries,
unless one tries to build its own empire as China is currently trying
to do.

It is futile to follow a similar path of industrialization and
development in the non-industrial world. It will bring its own
contradictions and crises. Colonial exploitation is so fundamental to
modern industrialization that attempts to bring it about without
external colonies have landed up creating internal colonies. But even
they are not sufficient for it. It requires colonial or neo-colonial
exploitation at global level, or at least a share of it. Internal
colonies could sustain only a limited industrialization creating a few
islands of development and prosperity in the vast ocean of poverty,
misery and unemployment.

Industrial colonies can be of various kinds and are not necessarily
geographical – backward and tribal regions, the countryside,
agricultural sector, other primary sectors, the informal sector etc.
Their relationship to the modern-urban-industrial sector of the
economy is essentially a colonial one. The fact and concept of
internal colony is also helpful in understanding many regional, ethnic
and tribal conflicts of today.

This mutually reinforcing relationship between capitalism and
colonialism-imperialism also implies that capitalism cannot grow (and
cannot be looked at) in isolation within the boundaries of a single
country. To use the phrase of Gunder Frank, ‘development’ in one part
of the world is necessarily linked to the ‘underdevelopment’ in large
parts of the world. No underdeveloped country at the periphery can
really develop unless it breaks away and frees itself from this
capitalist-imperialist relationship.

Five: Modern economics teaches us that what is required for
industrialization is capital and technology. Sometimes
entrepreneurship is also added as a factor. It is argued that poor
countries are lacking them and therefore they remain backward.
Invitation to foreign capital and technology transfer will remove this
lacuna. But the actual history showed that even that could not help
many countries in transforming into industrial societies. Now, with
growing conflicts, we get to know the industrialization also requires
land, water, minerals and energy on a large scale. Such requirements
and conflicts were earlier unnoticed because the adverse effects were
outside the industrializing countries. The link was remote and not

Actually, modern industrialization requires several things – (1)
supply of raw materials at cheap rates, (2) large scale natural
resources (land, water, minerals, energy etc), free or at throw away
price,(3) cheap food grain to keep the wages low, (4) cheap labour,
(5) huge capital created by earlier exploitation and transfer of
resources and (6) a large and growing market for its products. Many of
these requirements go beyond the borders of a country. They are never
fully met through pure market mechanism, though keeping terms of trade
in favor of industries can be regarded as one. They are actually
facilitated, subsidized and supported by the state, at times even
police and military power. Displacing peasantry or other primary
producers, as noted by Marx in the context of Enclosure movement in
England of 16th and 17th century, serves two functions in the interest
of industries. It makes land and raw material available on one hand,
and provides cheap labour by creating reserve army of unemployed
labour on the other. It is for these reasons that modern
industrialization is necessarily linked to colonial (or neo-colonial
or internal colonial) domination and exploitation.

Six: Modern industries are often justified, supported and promoted in
the name of generating employment and removing unemployment. Followers
of various political and ideological streams (except Gandhians and a
few Lohiaites) have been holding this faith in modern
industrialization. A model presented half a century ago by a western
economist Arthur W. Lewis still dominates the economic discourse,
which assumed that modern industrial sector will develop and absorb
the surplus labour in agriculture. But this model ignores the
historical fact that this surplus labour (i.e. unemployment) was
precisely created by de-industrialization and destruction of
traditional livelihood to support modern industries in other parts of
the country or the world. Net effect of modern industries is not to
create, but to destroy employment. It is more visible now with
increasing mechanization, automation and modernization of industries.

It should also be noted that even industrial revolution did not solve
the employment problem in Western Europe of those days. It was
basically solved by large scale migration to the ‘new world’ and the
other colonies. In India also, more than five decades of
industrialization has been able to provide formal employment to not
more than six percent of workforce of the country. How long will it
take to provide respectable employment in industries to any
significant proportion of the population? Isn’t it a mirage? Isn’t it
a case of modern superstition?

Seven: A similar kind of blind faith is exhibited in case of
technology. It is assumed that the technologies developed in western
capitalist countries are suitable for the whole world, and everyone
has to necessarily imitate and adopt them. Some kind of divineness and
universality seems to be attached to modern technology and
industrialization. Every country has to first go through capitalism
and western kind of development. That will develop ‘productive forces’
and then only, it is argued, a transition to socialism can take place.
(In this sense, development of capitalism was seen as a progressive
event taking the country forward in the history). No one can bypass
this stage. Even if countries like Russia and China have opted for
communism, they have to go through the similar kind of
industrialization. History of the rest of the world has to necessarily
go the European way. A kind of historical determinism is behind this
absurd, but persisting, faith. It is high time that it is reviewed,
re-examined and corrected.

Eight: It is this kind of obsession with modern (western) technology,
modern industrialization and modern development and its contradictions
with equality and other socialist ideals that is mainly responsible
for the failure of soviet and Chinese experiments of socialism. Most
of the commentators have focused on and highlighted the fact of
dictatorship, regimentation, development of ‘new class’ of
bureaucrats, managers and party bosses etc. But these were not the
fundamental reasons. They were only symptoms and by-product of a
deeper disease that is, obsession with modern development and modern
life style. But that could not be achieved without depressing and
exploiting large sections of the population. Hence came Stalinism.
Lakhs of Russian peasants – the partners of revolution till the
previous day – were killed, evicted, tortured and sent to Siberia or
forced work in mines, railways or factories because they resisted
forced levy of their products at low prices. Such tragedies are
inherent in modern development, whether it is a capitalist or
communist system. Alienation of workers, hierarchy and centralization
of power are also inherent in modern industrial society. Any attempt
to remove these evils has to look for alternative kind of
industrialization and development.

Nine: Democracy and socialism are inseparable and complimentary to
each other. One is incomplete without the other. The phrase
‘democratic socialism” is a bit odd and the adjective is redundant,
because there can not be an undemocratic socialism. Democracy is
implied and necessary for any real socialism and vice versa. Perhaps
it is used to differentiate and distance oneself from the communist
regimes of USSR and China. But, as is clear now, they turned out to be
neither socialist nor democratic.

Ten: An important element to make democracy and socialism real is
decentralization of power, both in economic and political spheres.
Small is not only beautiful, it is the only equitable, feasible and
sustainable form of economic activity for a socialist society. To make
democracy meaningful, it has to be brought to the grassroot, closer to
the people, facilitating their active participation and empowerment.
It should not be confused with the present Panchayati Raj in India,
which is actually an extension of bureaucracy raj without curtailing
the power of those at the top in any significant way.

It is also necessary to stress on self – reliance and localization for
breaking away from the chains of imperial – colonial process at
various levels. A respect for diversity (diverse cultures, languages,
traditions and religions as well as bio–diversity ) is also a must for
building a better world.

Eleven: Unlimited growth, unending wants, high level of consumption
and labour-less luxurious life style are some of the goals that have
been idealized, glamorized and glorified by modern civilization.
Private capitalists and corporations have promoted them through
consumerist culture to boost their sales and profits. But even the
communist rulers and intellectuals did not question these goals. There
are at least three problems with them. One, This high consumption
level cannot be available to the whole humanity. Rather it has been
accompanied by growing disparity and deprivation of the masses. Two,
even where available and achievable , it has not made the life and
society happier and healthier. It has brought its own distortions and
social crises. Three, it has brought the ecology and environment of
the earth to the brink of disaster . The whole earth, for the first
time, has become vulnerable for the luxuries of a few. It is estimated
that if the whole population of the world is to achieve the US
standard of life, we shall need at least five earths.

Twelve: While the debate of violence v/s non violence is never-ending
(it has become more a matter of faith than logic based on actual
experience), it is a historical fact that long armed struggles, if
successful, lead to centralized dictatorial regimes. It is natural
because they have to organize themselves on military pattern where
there is no scope for debate and differences. They are always amidst a
war where obeying the commander without questioning is necessary. As
Gandhi pointed out, means start influencing and determining the ends.
Thus, democratic and broadly non-violent means suit the goal of
socialism, although one should guard against co-option and dilution.
The worlds of ‘radical’ and ‘violent’ should not be confused.
Non-violent movements can also be quite radical and revolutionary.

New Face of Socialism

With these observations and lessons from history, we can be now surer
and confident about how Socialism will look like in the new century.
It will certainly be not like state capitalism of USSR. No one would
like to repeat the mistakes and horrors of the Stalin era. Nor will it
be like ‘market socialism’ of Chinese variety, where socialist
principles have disappeared and what has remained is a total
subservience to world market added by one of the worst dictatorships
of modern times. It will also not be the social democracy of Europe
that has little relevance for the poor underdeveloped part of the
world. Socialism cannot also be equated to mere nationalization and
establishment of public sector in an otherwise capitalist setup, as we
have seen its limitation and failure in India.

Most of the leftists today reject all these past models of socialism,
but they are not sure of what really ailed them? They are also not
sure of what is the alternative path. There is a lot of discussion on
forms of ownership and management. It is indeed important. But little
attention is paid to the question of scale, technology, life style and
development model, which have emerged as crucial factors. (See, for
example , the recent took by Michael A. Lebowitz, ‘Build it Now :
Socialism for the 21st Century’, Monthly Review Press, 2006 or a
background note by Abhay Shukla prepared for a meeting on ‘Socialism
in the 21st Century’, at Nagpur, in the last week of July 2010). The
colonial question (with neo-colonial and internal colonial forms) also
remains neglected and under-emphasized, and its full implications are
not recognized.

It is clear now that socialism can be built only on an alternative
model of development. We need radically different and alternative kind
of industries, technology, life style and values than what have
historically developed under capitalism. Small units, labor-intensive
techniques, alternative energy, local management, respect for
diversity and harmony with nature will be important elements of this

The state of neglect and exploitation of agriculture and other primary
sector activities should be reversed. Assisted by nature, they are the
activities that really produce and create values. Industries only
reshape and reform them. Services only circulate and redistribute the
values created by agriculture and industry. But, while giving prime
place to primary activities, we need vibrant industries too. The
present state of total dominance of (and dependence on) agriculture in
village life is, in fact, a distortion. It is a colonial legacy,
continued after independence and intensified further. A significant
part of the village population has to be diverted to industries. But
those industries will be small units, labour-intensive and mainly
village based. Villages and small towns have to be again made centre
of development. Mega-cities with large slums are unmanageable and
unsustainable. Some of the highly developed urban civilizations like
Indus Valley and Maya could not sustain themselves and disappeared. If
we want to avoid the same fate, a kind of de-urbanisation has to be
planned and promoted by providing employment, prosperity and basic
facilities to villages.

Dalit and women activists may not agree. They have a legitimate fear
that they will never find an equal and respectable place in
traditional village life. But then what is the option? Even after six
decades of independence and planned development, large member of
Dalits live in villages. In the cities, they are confined to slums. If
we leave out reservations in jobs, which in any case can lift only a
very small proportion of Dalit population and which are also now
shrinking due to privatization, the place for Dalits in cities is only
in slums and ill-paid informal jobs. At the time of independence,
there were a number of factories in cities employing tens of thousands
of workers such as textile mills of Mumbai. There was a hope that they
would grow in number and Dalits and Shudras would get jobs in them and
also a more egalitarian space. But even those hopes are shattered now.
With growing mechanization, now there is no hope for providing
respectable employment to Dalits and OBCs in any significant number.
There is no alternative but to struggle to transform the village
society. Had Ambedkar been alive today, he would have perhaps
reconsidered his call to Dalits to leave village. He would have
certainly opposed the modern development and globalization which has
destroyed village industry, handicrafts and traditional livelihoods
affecting Dalits and Shudras the most.

Moreover, villages in a socialist society will not be the same
traditional village. Struggle to build a new society may get it
transformed with less hierarchy, more equality and more freedom.

Each village and its Gram Sabha should be given autonomy and full
powers to run the village administration and decide about their daily
life matters including ‘Jal-Jungle-Jamin’, but adequate legal
protection of civil liberties and fundamental rights of every resident
including those belonging to weaker sections should be ensured. Most
of the powers of central and state governments should be transferred
to a district level elected government along with village and town
councils. State will perhaps never wither away, but it can be
radically decentralized, democratized, cut to size, and brought closer
to people. Direct democracy should replace present indirect and
incomplete democracy in India whose failures are too apparent to be

The dilemma of public vs. private sector cannot be resolved without
reference to the question of model of development. There is a third
alternative of ‘people’s sector’ meaning ownership and management by
community, but that is possible only when the structure of economy is
decentralized and the forces of consumerism (promoting greed and
individualism) are effectively banned. (1) If there are very few large
units and the economy is mostly dominated by cottage, mini and small
units of industries and services, they can be allowed to remain in
private hands with strict discouragement to the tendencies of
concentration and monopoly. An upper limit can be fixed to income,
salaries, wealth and property as is done in India in case of
agricultural landholding. There will be certainly no place for MNCs
and big corporations and their harmful advertisements in a new
society. Large units, if unavoidable, can be managed by workers with
society retaining overall control. We can learn a lot in this matter
from ongoing experiments of co-management and co-operation in Latin
America. (2) In case of agriculture, collective farms and state
ownership of land is not advisable but cooperation in various forms
is. Collective use and ownership of natural resources (other than
land) should be promoted, and we can learn from already existing (but
now threatened) traditional forms of them. Absentee land ownership
should be banned and ‘land to the tiller’ should be the norm. It
should be noted that equal distribution of agricultural land among all
rural families in India would be a foolish act making landholdings
very small and uneconomic. (It may be a different case in other
countries where population density is low and there are big landlords
owning thousands of acres of land). Existing inequality in Indian
countryside, conflicts over land, and the problem of high attachment
to land can be removed and resolved only by industrializing the
countryside and diverting a significant part of rural population to
non-agricultural occupations.

After the experience of communism, we may not completely do away with
market. It is also not necessary. Market may remain, but its powers
should be taken away. It should serve as a servant of the society, and
not the master. It should be controlled and guided in the interest of
society. Markets should be more localized, competitive and equal. The
poor countries of the world have to certainly break away from the
present chain of intentional trade, investment and finance which is
unequal, dominating, exploiting, crises-creating and a tool of
imperialism. Trade and cooperation among the poor countries is
preferable. ‘Exchange among the equals’ should be the guideline.

But there should be no market and no business of certain things like
water, education and health. Allowing market for them means limiting
access to them to the rich and denying the poor. It is inhuman and
barbaric. Even if we allow a limited inequality of income (Lohia
suggested that the ratio of maximum to minimum income should not be
more than 10:1), there should be no discrimination in case of
education, health, food, nutrition etc. A minimum of basic necessities
should be ensured for everyone. Society and the state (including local
governments) have to take up that responsibility. Cuba can be a model
for this. It has the best health service in the world, completely
funded by the state. If a low-income, tiny island nation can do it,
why not other countries?

If there are multiple sources of domination and exploitation in a
capitalist system, the struggle against it also has to be fought by
heterogeneous and diverse forces jointly. Unorganized and informal
workers, peasants, artisans, fisherman, cattle growers, tribals,
Dalits coloured people, women, hawkers, displaced communities and such
other victims of the system have to combine and fight together. It is
not easy, but there is no other way. Because of this diversity and
heterogeneity also, the struggle has to be democratic, participatory,
non-dominating, broadly non-violent and with a collective leadership.

These are some of the broad principles, guidelines and hints for
building a socialist society in the new century which emerge from the
past experience. All details need not be chalked out in advance and
should be left to the people to decide in the course of the struggle
and construction.

‘Liberty, equality and fraternity’ were the ideals of French
Revolution which inspired revolutionaries for last two centuries. Now
in the twenty first century, other principles of decentralization,
diversity, self-reliance, simple life and non-violence have to be
added to them. And that will define the socialism of the new century.


Sunil can be contacted at:

Postal address: Village & Post Kesla, Via: Itarsi, Dist: Hoshangabad,
MP 461 111.

Phone: 094250 40452.


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