-- By Surendra Mohan
The supremacy of the market in economic relations and the dominance of
consumerism in all other social relations prevail today all over the world.
They have seriously challenged not only the welfare state model of social
democracy but also the validity of the communist model as was put into
practice in the Soviet Union and China.
the other hand, the Southern Hemisphere where the evolution of productive
forces was suppressed by the rise of imperialism and capitalism continues
to wallow in poverty, backwardness and hunger. The former colonial world
of the Northern Hemisphere has made big strides in technology and in the
living standards of large sections of the population. However, during
the last two decades, disparities in incomes and wealth between the few
and the many have increased ever in the wealthiest countries of that hemisphere.
for the sharp division in the living standards in the two hemispheres,
it has, possibly, surpassed even the period of colonialism.
All sensitive minds and world over have rejected these conditions. The
urge for another kind of world order has grown with the turn of the century.
The absolute irrationality of a system in which the advance of technology
has given new boosts to productive forces while their fruits are cornered
by a very small segment of the population makes it totally unacceptable.
So is the destructive use of advanced technology in exploiting the natural
resources of the globe for gratifying the consumption needs of the present
generation. For, it denies to future generations those resources which
nature cannot replenish. The wastefulness of human knowledge, energies
of the people and the productive forces in order to build arsenals of
armaments which can eliminate scores of generations of human beings is
not only irrational but also defies all norms of human civilisation.
When it was argued in the early 1950s that ideologies had been made redundant
by the advances in technology, the assumption was that technology is value-neutral.
Also that the course its progress has adopted was the only one available.
That it was fully autonomous and human beings could not change it. This
was not just the liberals understanding of the phenomenon; scientific
socialism also agreed with it. The means of production were changing it
argued, and they would determine the relations of production as well.
It postulated that when the means of production, which had brought about
the capitalist relations of production, attain their maximum capacity,
a qualitative change would then occur in the relations of production and
capitalism would be replaced by socialism. It was not appreciated, however,
that the advance of technology in a particular direction would go on sustaining
the system, using up the surplus value of the vast masses of the less
developed countries. Nor where the disastrous consequences of that advance
in destroying the natural resources given full attention, even though
the description of the new order included as evocative vision of harmonious
relationship between man and the natural environment.
However, socialists of all hues would have to recognise that a technology
which led to the present situation, and the means of production which
were its authors as well as its product, cannot be the foundation of a
new, human system based on the expropriation of the expropriators. Sustainable
growth is incompatible with it; so is a socialist society in which consumerism
can have no place. The new social order in which "each will get according
to his needs" will clearly define the needs, and ostentation cannot
be part of the definition. It is not only a question of which class exercises
hold over power, but the choice that class will make about the technology
it desires to employ. In fact, most of the armament industry, and the
technology associated with it, will be totally redundant. Moreover, the
huge productive capacity of the present technology by which the United
States, for example, claims to be able to feed the entire human population,
may not be of much use.
its retention could deny to most human beings the opportunity to work
"according to their capacities"; and the enjoyment associated
with work, with creation and achievement, might be greatly restricted.
In this sense, a technology which enables the masses to engage in mass
production of goods would have to be evolved, in place of mass production
of goods by a few with the help of very sophisticated, modern technology.
The latter is based on extremely specialized knowledge and skills, thereby
creating alienation between the vast masses of the people and the means
of production. Its major tendency is centralization which, in respect
of power return to the people, in their Soviets or gram Sabhas. That is,
the parameters of a non-consumerist lifestyle, availability of work to
all and the need for all to engage in it, power and its distribution among
the people and the sustainability of the natural environment should help
in the formulation of the technology appropriate for a socialist social
While gender equality and equality among peoples of all races, nations,
regions and all other social formations and all economic relationships
were implicit in the socialist idea, some of these have not been fully
respected in practice. Hence, the rise of feminist groups or women's empowerment
movements. If one scans, for instance, the structures in communist parties
or their governments wherever they achieved power, to determine the proportion
of women, it would become obvious why leaders of women's movements are
dissatisfied. One finds an identical situation in the trade unions.
those societies where feudalism still defines gender relations, or where
the patriarchal social system has nor substantially weekend, and this
is the case in most societies in the east and the south, special efforts
are necessary to ensure that gender equality obtains. Yet, even in capitalist
systems in Germany and Sweden, women's representation in Governments and
parties is quite substantial. But this is not the case in the US and some
other Western societies.
Castes in India, tribes in Africa and races in South and North America
provide similar paradoxes. So do religious minorities wherever they have
some presence. Economic backwardness, illiteracy, feudal social relationships
and the legacies of colonial rule had created conditions of gross iniquities.
The kind of universalism and humanism which socialists have always espoused
will have to be brought about wherever such iniquities dominate. Unfortunately,
even in some post-literate societies of West Europe, racialism has become
a force. Socialists and communists have been active there since the 1850s.
Yet a different picture obtains now. In the Soviet Union too, these tendencies
had shown up, owing mainly to the centralist nature of authority wielded
there, in spite of significant improvements in the living standards in
various regions. In India, caste iniquities did not receive the necessary
attention in the beginning; and the credit for inscribing them on the
socialist agenda goes to Ram Manohar Lohia.
In the developing economies, significant disparities have appeared in
the unorganised and the organised sectors of the economy. These must be
removed by providing social security, education, and health on a priority
basis. Both the capitalist and the communist systems accumulated capital
for industrial growth from agriculture; the consequent imbalances have
to be corrected by deliberate planning, including dispersal of technology