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In a new book, an Indian Marxist looks back at the development of socialism through the twentieth century...

The crisis of socialism


Randhir Singh is the retired Professor of Political Theory at the University of Delhi, India. As a Marxist scholar who has been actively involved in political affairs, he has devoted this book to a full exposition of the nature and history of socialism from Marx and Engels to the present time,

He begins with Karl Marx himself. "At the core of Marxism, best illustrative of its scientific character and continuing relevance, lies Marx's critical analysis of capitalism, its structure and contradictions and the laws of its movement, which as he foresaw, almost inexorably led to its worldwide extension, a global domination of capital . . ."

In discussing the Bolsheviks and the October Revolution, Randhir Singh describes Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades as knowing their Marx and Engels well and, indeed, a lot better than their contemporary or later Marxist critics. As Lenin himself said, "We do not at all regard the theory of Marx as something complete and inviolable. We think that it is particularly necessary for socialists independently to analyse the theory of Marx, for this theory provides only general guiding propositions which must be applied differently in England from France, in France from Germany, in Germany from Russia."

Socialist transition
Lenin's project of socialist transition in Russia was beset with difficulties ĞRussia's history, peasant traditions and consciousness, the need for rapid industrialisation, the constant military, economic and political pressure of hostile capitalist encirclement. Randhir Singh discusses Lenin's commitment to democracy, with its role for the Communist Party resting on the vanguard of the proletariat whilst maintaining contact with the entire mass of the proletariat and peasantry.

He is critical of the Five Year Plans during the Stalin period but recognises the rapid industrialisation and the development of military power which enabled the Soviet Union to continue growth when the capitalist world was mired in the economic depression of 1929-39 and to achieve its epic victory against fascist Germany.

He emphasises the crucial role of democracy. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the years following Stalin's death he attributes to the failure of democracy under the various governments of Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The people were kept at a distance from political power and laws brought in encouraging the growth of private entrepreneurs. Capitalists wheeling and dealing turned Russia into an oligarchy.

Critical of China
Randhir Singh is also very critical of what he describes as China's "road to capitalism" following on changes initiated by Deng Xiaoping after Mao's death.

Under Mao there had been tremendous progress. "The socialist nature of the Mao era's economic progress had also enabled China to feed, clothe and house, educate and provide adequate health care to its vast masses, nearly a quarter of the world's population, in its first fifteen years." However the so-called economic reforms in the post-Mao period have meant an effective abandonment of socialism as Marxism understands it.

For Randhir Singh, Cuba is the "hopeful legacy". In the midst of the worldwide crisis of socialism, with the former communist regimes and parties succumbing one after another to the lure or power of the market, Cuba has stood almost alone and defiant, so far, against the global offensive of capitalism. This despite the continuous attempt made by the US government to destroy the Cuban revolution and the crippling embargo imposed since the Kennedy administration in 1959. "The hoped-for coup has not materialised and Cuba remains defiant in defence of its revolutionary project, a source of inspiration to the poor and oppressed everywhere, immediately and most importantly in Latin America."

Singh analyses globalisation not as something new or a major discontinuity in capitalism but as capitalism "coming to maturity, with capitalist imperative of accumulation and competition reaching into every corner of the world".

He sees globalisation as another phase of US hegemony over global economy and politics. He discusses the dependence of economic globalisation on US military power. "The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist."

Failure of capitalism
But US military hegemony is far from being absolute and the triumph of capitalism far from assured. Evidence given by Singh of the failure of capitalism, is that "poverty, mass unemployment, destitution, hopelessness, racism and violent crime, and an abnormally large number of people in jail seem to have become fixtures in the world's richest and most developed countries".

In a section on the world's growing ecological awareness, Randhir Singh points out the failure to recognise that capitalism is, "a system of production whose structural imperatives necessarily degrade the environment". Talk of sustainable development is nonsense unless it means a break with capitalism and a re-ordering of our socio-economic system so as to base production decisions on needs.

The book of a thousand pages is a profound analysis of socialism in our time, worth studying by all who are committed to the cause.

‡ Crisis of Socialism. Notes in Defence of a Commitment, by Randhir Singh is published by Ajanta Books, Delhi, India, UK publisher Amit Atwal, Birmingham, 2006