Kemal Sayar

There is another better world - Kemal Sayar


There is another better world

A need for utopia There is a need for dreamers who can think and thinkers who can dream. The answer will not be a neatly-packaged, custom-built project. It will be a new way of looking at things. 
By Ignacio Ramonet
Last January, the corridors of a number of European airports were adorned with a poster in the style of the Chinese cultural revolution. It showed a row of demonstrators at the head of a march, their faces shining, their colourful banners blowing in the wind. The slogan they were chanting was "Capitalists of the world, unite!" For Forbes, America’s magazine for millionaires, this was more than a jibe at the 150th anniversary of the publication of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto.
It was a way of making two things clear. Apparently without fear of contradiction, as the posters were not torn down or defaced. The first is that nobody is afraid of communism any longer. The second is that capitalism has gone over to the attack.
This year marks not only the anniversary of the famous Manifesto, written by two young people (Marx was thirty at the time and Engels only twenty-eight). It is also 150 years since the 1848 revolution, which imposed universal male suffrage and abolished slavery; and thirty years since the revolt of May 1968. More than one reason to meditate on capitalism’s new-found arrogance.
The triumphal tone became apparent after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Soviet Union collapsed in a welter of political obtuseness reflecting the emptiness of shattered illusions. The sudden revelation of the full consequences of decades of state control in the countries of the former Eastern bloc produced a sort of mental upheaval. The tragic absurdity of a system lacking basic freedoms and a market economy was starkly exposed, as were all the injustices that had followed in its wake. Socialist thinking seemed to subside, along with the belief in progress and a future subject to rational planning.
On the left, four new convictions arose that threatened to undermine all hope of a radical transformation of society. First, no country can develop properly without a market economy. Second, systematic state control of the means of production and exchange leads to waste and shortages. Third, the pursuit of equality through austerity is not in itself a programme of government. Fourth, freedom of thought and expression necessarily requires a degree of economic freedom.
The sole ideological basis of the traditional right had been its anti-communism. The collapse of the Soviet system and the implosion of socialism cut the ground from under its feet. Neoliberalism, which had been flagging since the beginning of the century, was left alone in the field, the sole victor of the East-West confrontation. With its main rivals removed, it has re-emerged on all sides, stronger than ever. Its supporters dream of imposing their vision - a neoliberal utopia admitting of no alternative - on the whole world.
This campaign of conquest goes by the name of globalisation. It is the outcome of the increasing interdependence of all countries, brought about by the lifting of all controls on the movement of capital, the removal of customs barriers and administrative restrictions, and the intensification of international commerce and free trade; all this under the auspices of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the World Trade Organisation.
The financial economy has become entirely divorced from the real economy. The sum total of daily financial transactions throughout the world is about $1,500 billion, but a mere 1 % involves the creation of new wealth.
Even in the most developed countries, the dramatic advance of neoliberalism has significantly reduced the role of parliaments and other public players. It has been accompanied by an assault on the environment, an explosive growth in inequality and a return of mass poverty and unemployment. The very opposite of everything which the modern state and modern citizenship is supposed to stand for.
At the same time, the growth of new information technologies is proceeding without any reference to the idea of social progress. The enormous strides in molecular biology since the early 1960s, coupled with the immense calculating power provided by computer science, have shattered the stability of the technological matrix which public authorities are finding it harder and harder to control. Politicians can no longer assess the risks involved in the acceleration of science and technology (1). Here too, they are increasingly dependent on unelected experts, who direct the government decision-making process behind the scenes.
The information revolution has torn our society apart. It has overturned the established pattern of trade, opening the way for the expansion of the global and information economy. Not all the countries of the world have yet been forced into one unit. But the global economy is imposing a single economic model by networking the entire planet. In this new system of liberal social relations, humankind has been reduced to a collection of isolated individuals stranded in a universe of hypertechnology.
The net result is a massive growth in inequality. The United States, which is the richest country in the world, has more than 60 million poor. The world’s foremost trading power, the European Union, has over 50 million. In the United States, 1% of the population owns 39% of the country’s wealth. Taking the planet as a whole, the combined wealth of the 358 richest people (all of them dollar billionaires) is greater than the total annual income of 45% of the world’s poorest inhabitants, that is, 2.6 billion people.
Competition has been raised to the rank of a law of nature. It is destroying the sense of community and the common good. Meanwhile, gains in productivity are being redistributed to the benefit of capital and the detriment of labour. The cost of social solidarity is considered an insufferable burden, and the welfare state is being laid waste (2).
These brutal changes are causing us to lose our bearings; there is ever-growing uncertainty, the world appears unintelligible and history seems to defy rational interpretation. The crisis we are experiencing is what Gramsci had in mind when he spoke of the old order dying while the new hesitates to be born. We are reminded of Tocqueville’s phrase: "When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness."
To many people the extreme liberal notion that the West can now live in conditions of absolute freedom appears as utopian - and as dogmatic - as the revolutionary’s goal of absolute equality. Such people are trying to imagine a different sort of future. They are looking for a new concept, a utopian project or political prophecy that will restore the vision of a society that has recovered its inner harmony.
But is there any space for utopia amid the ruins of the Soviet Union and the remnants of social structures ravaged by neoliberalism? The almost universal suspicion of grand political schemes, and the total lack of faith in politicians, the technocracy and the media, give ample reason for doubt.
All elections produce smaller and smaller turnouts and ever larger numbers of blank ballot papers. More and more people no longer even register to vote. Here in France, one in three under-25s is not on the electoral roll, no more than 2 % of voters are active members of political parties and only 8 % of paid employees belong to trade unions. (These last two figures are the lowest for any Western country.) On the left, the Socialist Party has practically no leaders with working-class backgrounds. The Communist Party lacks all political identity and has almost completely lost its social base.
And yet, many people are trying to inject some measure of humanity into the relentless machinery of neoliberalism. They feel the need for responsible involvement and collective action. In an age when power has become abstract, invisible, distant and impersonal, they want to confront those responsible face to face, to direct their anger, fears and frustration at clearly identified adversaries of flesh and blood. They would still be prepared to believe that politics has an answer to everything, even though politicians find it increasingly difficult to propose straightforward solutions to the complex problems of society. And they all feel the need to erect a barrier against the tidal wave of neoliberalism in the form of a coherent ideology that can be opposed to the currently dominant model.
To formulate that ideology is no easy matter. There is practically nothing left to build on. Previous utopias based on the idea of progress have all too often sunk into authoritarian rule and oppression.
Once again, there is a need for dreamers who can think and thinkers who can dream. The answer will not be a neatly packaged, custom-built project. It will be a way of looking at things, of analysing society, leading gradually to the development of a new ideology that will break the stranglehold of anarcho-liberalism.
Neoliberal ideology is busily building a society of selfishness based on fragmentation. To preserve the future, we have to strengthen the collective dimension (3). And collective action is now as much a matter of single-issue campaigns as of parties and unions. France has seen a proliferation of campaigning groups in recent years. The issues range from food for the homeless (les Restos du Coeur) and the fight against AIDS (Act Up), to unemployment (Action contre le Chômage - AC!) and housing rights (Droit au Logement - DAL). There has also been considerable growth in local branches of large NGOs like Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Médecins du Monde and Transparency.
Political parties have two particular attributes which detract from their credibility. First, they are all-embracing, claiming to be able to solve all society’s problems. Second, they are geographically restricted, i.e. they can act only within the frontiers of a single country. Campaigning groups have exactly the opposite properties. On the one hand they are thematic, i.e. concerned with single issues such as unemployment, housing and the environment. On the other, they are international, i.e. their field of action is the whole planet (4).
For many years the supporters of these two different approaches have been at odds with each other, but recently there have been signs of convergence. It is vital that they join forces. This is one of the key problems of political renewal. Campaigning groups are grass-roots organisations, testifying to the richness of social initiative. They often make up for the inadequacies of trade unionism and political parties. But they still remain pressure groups, and they suffer from the lack of the democratic legitimacy conferred on elected representatives. Sooner or later, politics has to take over. It is therefore essential to build strong links between campaigning organisations and political parties.
Campaigning organisations have preserved the belief in the possibility of changing the world, a belief based on a radical conception of democracy. They are the probable source of a renewal of political activity in Europe. "Today’s utopia is tomorrow’s reality", as Victor Hugo said. Lamartine agreed that utopias are simply "realities whose time is not yet ripe." It is the committed activists of campaigning organisations who are likely to prove them right. They will resurface tomorrow under other banners.
They will be involved in struggles to restore the United Nations’ role as the central instrument of international law, to turn it into an organisation that can take real decisions, act decisively and impose lasting peace; to establish international tribunals that can judge crimes against humanity, democracy and the common good; to prevent manipulation of the masses and to end discrimination against women. They will be present in campaigns to secure new legislation on protection of the environment and to establish the principle of sustainable development. In the fight to ban tax havens and promote an economic system based on solidarity. And in many others.
In May 1968 the walls of the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris bore the following message: "Dare to go where none have gone before you. Dare to think what none have ever thought." It is that kind of courage we shall need if we are to create the ethics of the future. 
Görüntüleme Sayısı : 2021
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