“The crisis of the old order did not result automatically in the rise of a progressive alternative.”
This was said by prominent sociologist and Marxist thinker from Norway, Prof. Alf Gunvald Nilsen, while delivering a talk on the topic of ‘Right-wing Populism and the Crisis of Neo-liberalism’ at ‘Janshakti’ premises owned by ‘Nav Chetan Samiti’. He said that present world scenario was similar to that of the time when Gramsci, Italian Marxist thinker and communist leader, lived, struggled and wrote. He drew extensively upon Gramsci’s theory of ‘morbid symptoms during times of interregnum’.
At Gramsci’s time, liberal capitalism which emerged in 19th century was collapsing without giving rise to a viable alternative. Similarly, in our time, the neo-liberal model of capitalism is collapsing with no viable alternative in sight. Neo-liberal economic model has further deepened the inequalities in terms of income and ownership of assets. However, instead of a decisive surge of popular movements against the policies of the ruling class, we witness right-wing populism gaining grounds. In this context, Prof. Nilsen drew attention to the process of Brexit, the Trump phenomenon in the USA and the emergence of likes of Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherland. According to Prof. Nilsen, right-wing populism is nothing but the morbid symptoms of the protracted crisis of neoliberalism. Even though ruling classes have tried to contain the damage done by this crisis, they have, in the opinion of Prof. Nilsen, failed to come up with any substantial alternative to neoliberalism. Nevertheless, ruling classes have succeeded in containing people’s discontent taking an anti-capitalist turn by fusing policies of protectionism and cultural nationalism. They are serving corporate interests wholeheartedly, and simultaneously they are trying to convince the mass of their noble intentions for them.
Prof. Nilsen, quoting a number of related data, said that Brexit and Trump phenomenon did not represent white working class revolt against neo-liberalism as many believes. According to him, racial feelings play a significant role in shaping the events that lead to Brexit and the Trump presidency in the USA. He said that, in modern USA and Europe, the working class is not just an economic structure as it was conceived in classical sense. Rather, class comes with social attributes such as gender and race, and these play an important role. As such, there was a need to look at the correlations of classes, gender, and race from a wider perspective, he said.
Drawing attention to recent protests taking place in Europe and the USA, Prof. Nilsen rejected the criticism of these movements as not being sufficiently radical. He pointed to the importance of the collective learning that takes place in social movements – especially the processes through which people become aware that the system they live in is rigged against them, and that it is necessary to build an alternative.
It is at this juncture that the role of the Left becomes decisive as a revolutionary force that can bring together and give direction to a wide range of social movements and using their potential energy in transforming the society radically in a progressive direction. Concluding his speech, Prof. Nilsen quoted Gramsci for the benefit of left activists: a political activist “is a creator, an initiator; but he neither creates from nothing nor does he move in the turbid void of his own desires and dreams. He bases himself on effective reality….. in order to dominate and transcend it.”
This talk was organized by ‘Kedar Das Institute of labour and Social Studies’ as part of series of such talks being organized on the occasion of centenary year of Great Russian Revolution.
One of the living legends of Bihar’s Hindi literary world and communist leader Com. Khagendra Thakur, in his presidential address, emphasized the need of organizing more of such talks in the context of changing world paradigm. He said that the Left must develop its own understanding of the changing world paradigm so as to counter and combat existing world order dominated by neo-liberal forces. Prominent figures who participated in the talk were Com. Satyanayrayan Singh, Secretary, Bihar State Council, CPI, Com. Chakradhar Singh, General Secretary of Bihar unit of AITUC, Com. Ram Babu Kumar, member of Bihar state secretariat of CPI, Com. Bijay Kumar Mishra, executive committee member of Bihar unit of CPI, Com. Akshay Kumar, renowned social thinker, Com. Anil Kumar Rai,prominent social activist, Com. Anish Ankur, versatile cultural activist and Mr. Arun Sinha, editor of an online journal. Besides them, many other activists and intellectuals of Patna participated in the talk. Com. Ajay Kumar, secretary of the Institute, introduced the guests and the subject at the beginning of the talk. Com. Vineet Tiwari helped Prof. Nilsen by translating his speech, given in English, into Hindi.