In 2015, billionaire Bill Gates criticised capitalism and blamed it for the existing ecological crisis. His argument was fundamentally centred around the fact that environmental regulations are anti-profit and hence not very popular with businesses. His solution was in the form of a call to other ‘progressive’ industrialists to do their part in making industries more eco-friendly.
In another interesting narrative, the former president of the US, Barack Obama had stated ‘income inequality’ as the prime focus of the DNC in the then-upcoming presidential elections. The backlash was quite strong, and people accused Mr Obama of trying to instigate ‘class warfare’. Obama subsequently dropped the idea of making the all-too-apparent and ever-widening wealth gap the focus of Democrat Party’s agenda.
What the second example illustrates is the fact that capitalism has reached an advanced stage where any direct criticism of the system itself elicits backlash and panic from the elitist lobbies – and (as shown by the first example) it’s only capitalists themselves who get a pass at criticism, and the solutions they offer are charity. The fear tactics used against Bernie Sanders in the 2016 US presidential elections, the current media witch-hunt of UK Labour party’s Jeremy Corbyn, and the panic that many in the world experienced over Syriza in Greece are indicative of the fact that there are sections of the political elite that are scared of the Left and its politics.
The fears are not unfounded, but the fact remains that we desperately need an alternative that goes beyond the standard choices we have been offered till now. Fascism, or whatever term you prefer for its reincarnation, can no longer be characterised as being ‘on the rise’ as it effectively penetrates vast patches of the world.
A new form of the Left has to emerge at this point – a Left that has gone beyond the old dreams of proletariat revolution or engrossing itself in identifying the right ‘principal contradictions’ in society, and instead equips itself to address the new and emerging issues. Ecology, the threat of nuclear crisis, the crisis of intellectual property rights, the effective muzzling of the media, the threat of overpopulation and its consequent problems (in India, reports of people with PhDs lining up in the thousands for job offers open to high school graduates have now become routine), the exponential increase of communal and racial tensions, the crisis of natural resources and the wars that are, and will be, fought over them, the refugee numbers clocking in at all-time highs, the rise of cyberattacks, the emergence of surveillance states, the massive data leaks (a mega corporation with a billionaire CEO is involved), the explicit dismissal of international guidelines over the usage of chemical weapons, etc. are problems that we can no longer deal with in the current system.
The Left has its own issues – its track record has been poor and historically, it has led to widespread tyranny and massacres in the millions. But the emancipatory potential of the Left is basically the only solution to the crises we are faced with.
How long can we applaud a billionaire for being kind-hearted while we essentially sleep over our own persisting issues? While Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk might have huge cult followings, we need to remember that Amazon has a significant portion of its workers living on food stamps, and Tesla has notoriously bad working conditions and an underpaid workforce that has even complained of frequent fainting during working hours. This is drastic in itself, even keeping aside the fact that Musk’s employees are not allowed to unionise. That would’t be good for profits, would it?
A re-energised Left would have to confront the questions head-on. It would have to shift its priorities from ‘equality in outcome’ to ‘equality of opportunity’, it would have to learn to distance itself from its problematic past by presenting a new emancipatory ideal and not old Marxism/Leninism or Stalinism repackaged. A definitive vision is required, and the Left can be the only right stakeholder of the solution.
Sitaram Yechury, in a recent interview, said that his party would now be focusing on social oppression along with its traditional overemphasis on material conditions, apart from people’s mass movements which are their standard methodology. If that is what it takes for the Left to rise into relevance and possibly to power again, then so be it. The greatest tragedy today is that the ultra-right wing fascist forces across the globe have managed to convince the working class that they are the voice of their aspirations and the solution to their problems.
If left unattended, this will be the death-knell for emancipatory politics.