Equality, Solidarity, and Sustainability, Part 1

In this interview, forthcoming in Dollars & Sense magazine, regular Triple Crisis contributor Jayati Ghosh summarizes some major themes in her work and thought, including the prospects for the transformation and revival of socialist movements, the transfiguration of the world capitalist economy and the reproduction of structures like the core-periphery division and landlord domination, new challenges of international labor solidarity and environmental sustainability, and the way forward towards egalitarian societies. This is part one of a four-part series.

Jayati Ghosh

Prospects and Barriers for a New Socialism

D&S: We are scarcely two decades removed from the supposed global triumph of capitalism, the death of socialism, and (maximum hubris) proclamations of the “end of history.” And yet we’re seeing a revival of socialist movements—what you have called the “emerging left in the emerging world.” What are the key factors explaining this revival?

JG: I think it is now becoming more evident to most people across the world that global capitalism—especially in its current neoliberal manifestation—is not likely to deliver genuinely better material conditions, security, and justice. This is generally still a largely inchoate and diffuse sense of unhappiness with the state of things in many parts of the world. It is true that in some regions, like Latin America, there is a more developed sense of how neoliberal policies pushed the advance of aggressive and extremely unequal capitalist forces.

This emerging left has many features that distinguish it from the earlier, more centralizing and in some ways less socially sensitive left that characterized the second half of the 20th century in particular. For example, there is some rejection of top-down models of party organization which often distorted the idea of the Leninist vanguard, and greater respect for a plurality of opinions, even as many of these movements are more actively engaged in processes of electoral democracy. The language of human rights is explicitly used in these political formations, which in turn demands the recognition of a greater variety of identities that go beyond the class identities that were the standard form of division. So the rights of women, of indigenous communities, of marginalized groups within society in general, are more explicitly recognized. A specific concern regarding human interaction with nature is also an important element, tempering the earlier somewhat simplistic celebration of technology and human ingenuity, which was seen as trumping the requirements and rights of nature.

It is interesting that these features are to be found in new social and political movements in many parts of the world. They are found not just in Latin America, where they also were associated with some amount of political transformation and shifts in economic strategies, but also among movements in countries as far apart as Thailand, Spain, and South Africa.

D&S: The same does not seem to be true to nearly the same extent in the so-called “core” countries of Western Europe or North America. Why is that? And if the current crisis can’t spark a profound questioning of capitalism, and discussion of alternatives to it, what can?

JG: It seems to me that in the core capitalist countries the left in every shape or form has taken a long time to recover from the existential blows delivered by the collapse of “socialism” in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and the very market-oriented moves of Communist regimes in East Asia, including China and Vietnam. Interestingly, this blow has affected even those Leftists who had rejected these models as not reflecting true socialism at all.

The social and political ascendancy of capitalism, despite its major recent crises and continuing inability to deliver either inclusive growth or social justice, is largely because of this sense that the alternative proved to be so apparently unpleasant and so different from original expectation. So there is some questioning of capitalism, but no real belief in a viable socialist alternative. This may be why the anger and resistance to the effects of the way capitalism functions is now finding expression in more right-wing responses, which are superficially anti-capitalist but essentially focused on symptoms of the problem and on blaming perceived “others,” like immigrants.

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