Yuba Nath Lamsal
Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite: John Kenneth Galbraith.
Civilisation is the history of human evolution. Human species or Homo Sapiens have existed on earth for over 2, 00,000 years. Human being has arrived at the present stage crisscrossing a long trajectory and different stages of evolution. From primitive age, agricultural civilisation and industrial civilisation, humanity has arrived at the knowledge civilisation.
Now we are in the age of fourth industrial revolution. This is because of humankind’s cognitive power and inquisitive behaviour. The invention of steam engine was the first industrial revolution, electricity marked the second industrial revolution, invention of computer was the third and digitalisation is the fourth industrial revolution. The world is entering into fifth industrial revolution or the age of artificial intelligence in which, according to Yuval Noah Harari, technology will be smarter than human being.
The cognitive power made human being superior from other creatures on earth. Inventions and innovations were made in the process of struggle for survival and better life out of cognition power. In the long and chequered history, human being has traversed different social and economic phases — hunting age, tribal stage, agricultural period, slavery era, feudal era, and capitalist period. During the hunting-gathering age and also in the early agricultural period, all used to live in a group and there was equality. Private property didn’t exist. This period is called primitive socialism.
With the development of agriculture, stronger ones started owning and controlling land and they forced the weaker ones to work on the land. Classes were then created. The produces belonged to the owners whereas real producers had to survive on meagre fief. Society was divided markedly into two classes based on birth or family lineage. Social and economic inequality began. Feudal monarchies were dominant everywhere in the world during the medieval period. Feudalism, thus, thrived under state protection. However, its development was at the expense of serfs and tenants.
Change is the law of nature and is continuous process. Society and production process changed. With urbanisation and commerce, agricultural labourers slowly shifted to urban areas to work in the factories. This caused labour shortage in the rural areas and agriculture slowly declined. Charm in agriculture faded with the growth of industries, which gave rise to mercantile activities in the cities. The march of industrial revolution also changed the mode of production and nature of economy. This marked the demise of feudalism and birth of capitalism in Europe.
French socialist Louis Blanc coined the word ‘capitalism’ in 1850. In the beginning, capitalism was agrarian, then it grew as mercantile capitalism and slowly turned into colonial capitalism. From 17th to mid-19th century, European capitalist countries colonised almost entire world one way or the other. Wars were waged over colonial control that bled Europe severely and the colonial powers miserably weakened. After the Second Word War, national liberation movements took place worldwide and colonised countries attained independence.
Europe was the bastion and leader of capitalism. After World War II, financial and political power shifted to America and US emerged as the leader of capitalist world. Then came the age of industrial capitalism which soon mutated into fiscal capitalism. Now it has taken the shape of globalised capitalism. With the change of time and circumstances, capitalism continues to mutate and now we are in the age of mutated capitalism. Harvard professor and author of “In the Age of Surveillance Capitalism”, Shoshana Zuboff calls the present state of capitalism as ‘Surveillance Capitalism’.
According to Zuboff, surveillance capitalism is ‘a rouge mutation of capitalism marked by concentration of wealth, knowledge, and power unpreceded in human history’ and is ‘significant threat to human nature in the twenty-first century as industrial capitalism was to the natural world in the nineteenth and twentieth’. French economist Thomas Piketty prefers to call the capitalism of twenty-first century as ‘hyper capitalism’ and is of the view that hyper capitalism ‘is more and more fragile’ and may collapse for an alternative while Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis calls 21st century’s capitalism as ‘techno-feudalism’.
Capitalism is a system in which private individuals own capital and goods. Business owners employ workers on wage-basis and determine the prices of the good to be sold in the market on competitive way. Pure capitalism is a laissez-faire capitalism in which market determines everything. Investors make profit and also have the risk of incurring loss, while workers get wages and have nothing to do with profit and loss. Karl Marx describes land, capital and labour as the means production and says capitalism is profit-based system that exploits the workers for profit and creates two classes — bourgeoisie and proletariat classes.
Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848 and proposed an alternative political and economic system — communism. Marx says “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” According to Marx, class struggles between capitalists and proletariats (workers) will topple the capitalist regimes and establish the ‘dictatorship of the proletariats’ where there will be equality among all and the dictum ‘from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs’ will be maintained. Marx, however, adds societies cannot reach communism directly from capitalism and there will be a transitional period between capitalism and communism. That transition is socialism. In other words, socialism is a preparatory period to switch over to communism.
Clock of history
Influenced by Marx, Vladimir Lenin led the October Revolution in Russia and ended feudal imperial regime and experimented socialism. Since Stalin’s time, it is called ‘Marxism-Leninism’. Lenin did not follow exactly what Marx professed: displacing capitalism by proletariats’ revolution. Lenin, instead, did through peasantry’s revolt. Similar case is with China where Mao led peasants’ revolution and toppled Kuomintang regime. Different countries have, thus, different and unique experiences of revolution.
But clock of history turned back when socialism was replaced by capitalism in Russia and some other countries. Capitalism is still dominant in the world. Even socialist countries have reverted to capitalist system. This begs question: Has socialism failed or Marxism itself is flawed? Is communism possible or communism is mere philosophical utopia only for academic discourse?
(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. email@example.com)
This article was published in The Rising Nepal daily.