Date: Wed Oct 26 2005 - 10:14:25 EDT
From EPW. / In solidarity, Jerry FOURTH WORLD: Marxian, Gandhian, Environmental... Rajinder Chaudhary, Economic & Political Weekly, Oct 15, 2005 <http://www.epw.org.in/showArticles.phproot=2005&leaf=10&filename=9239&filetype=html> In February 2004, M P Parameswaran was expelled from the CPI(M). Widely known as MP, without ever having been a member of Parliament, Parameswaran, about four decades ago, quit his job as a nuclear scientist in the nuclear establishment of India soon after coming back from USSR after a three-year stay. Since then, he has been full time into various movements for social change. He has played a leading role in number of movements and organisations, at least two of which have received international recognition in the form of UNESCO awards Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) and Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS) and in All India People's Science Network (AIPSN). Parameswaran was expelled from the party for propounding an "unmarxist" concept of the "Fourth World". The concept, first put forth in 1998, caused a controversy in Kerala in 2003. There was a massive debate in the media and subsequently he was expelled. Post-expulsion, he has elaborated and expanded his views and published a booklet in Malayalam, which has gone into number of reprints. Now, an English translation of this document, more than 40,000 words long, "Thoughts about A Fourth World", is circulating on the net. An Alternate Vision In the aftermath of the breakdown of the USSR, "Thoughts" is a major alternative vision document to come from within the Indian mainstream Left. The Fourth World aims to provide an "ideological document which evaluate(s) the failure of the socialist experiments and provide(s) a sound foundation of economics, politics and ethics for a new society". It identifies "three important reasons for (the break-up of the USSR): economic centralisation, political centralisation and a distorted view of progress". Its vision of the future world is based on the "necessity of: participatory democracy, an alternative view of progress, and an alternative approach towards the progress of productive forces, technology". A need for "participatory democracy" is often recognised, but even theories promoting "rectified socialism" have not been "able to get out of technology fetishism and unlimited growth syndrome". Taking "an alternative view of progress, and an alternative approach towards the progress of productive forces" is a distinctive feature of the concept of the Fourth World. It notes that "under communism, at least as conceived by the 20th century experimenters, the productive forces would have developed to such high levels that there is an abundance of each and every commodity, that everybody can have everything they want and hence, there is no necessity for competition. The state can, consequently wither away." The Fourth World rejects this possibility and visualises future society "without such abundance". The sketch of future society, particularly the economy, is nearer the Gandhian vision. The Fourth World is to "be a network of hundreds of thousands local communities which are increasingly becoming self-sufficient". It seeks to localise material production as far as possible and to decentralise the economy. This, it is argued, is essential because only by having a "human scale of polity and economy" can participatory democracy flourish. To this end, it makes a case for harnessing modern technology to make "small powerful too". In the Fourth World, material progress is to be reflected in a "continuous reduction in working hours and increase in leisure". Structure of the Fourth World However, Parameswaran's discussion of "economic structure" is quite weak. It focuses on "characteristics" and not on "structures". The section on economic structure extensively cites Michael Albert's Parecon: Life after Capitalism wherein for managing large-scale industries, "Representatives of Workers' Councils and Consumers' Councils" reminiscent of the Yugoslav system are suggested. Some of the other propositions cited are: "Means of production will not be owned by anybody. It will not come into the picture of the value of the product"; "The remuneration will be calculated not on the basis of production, but on the basis of effort and sacrifice." The discussion of economic aspects of the Fourth World has many such aspects, which do not make economic sense. It is the weakest part of the whole argument. Moreover, the discussion often implies an absolute deprivation/worsening of situation for majority of people within the present/capitalist system and not just an increased relative inequality for majority and an absolute worsening for some. Can one say that the majority of Kerala population (or dalits) have not experienced any improvement in their life? Fortunately, these formulations are not essential ingredients of the Fourth World, which can stand without these. The political structure of the Fourth World is premised on "citizens' ability and willingness to participate in socio-political activities". It views politics to be "too important to be left alone with career politicians". So, the political structure goes deeper than even panchayats. It is based on the "neighbourhood groups consisting of 20-30 proximate households of 60-80 citizens (voters). Beyond the size of 60-80 direct, democracy is viewed to be unwieldy. Formations of larger number of citizens can be only representative". The inversion of a power pyramid where only delegated functions move up and residual powers rest with the grassroots has often been suggested. But, the Fourth World has two innovative provisions. One, "in all representative formations, representation will be always done by a pair of one woman and one man". Secondly, electors shall make all higher-level nominations not "from among themselves but from citizens" residing in that area. Future Action Plan The document does not stop with sketching an outline of the Fourth World. It also suggests a programme of action. The future action plan consists of two components, direct and indirect struggles. The direct component includes economic boycott of not only MNC products, but the "reactionary strength of national large-scale manufacturers will [also] be checked using the same techniques used against foreign transnationals boycott and local substitutes". It goes on to describe a strategy to handle three main obstacles in promotion of local products: "Paucity of good quality alternatives, weakness of marketing mechanism for alternative products and entrenched consumerism brought about by the media". But it does not stop at struggle from the outside and, in the Gandhian mode, it also suggests indirect mode of struggle, wherein those "who are employed in state institutions from panchayat to national government can use their own office files as a weapon to fight the class enemies. Each issue, each file, will have a class content in it This is the meaning of a united front of all the exploited". Loose Ends However, as an analytical concept, the Fourth World has a number of loose ends. While it is open to "enrichment" of Marxism, which may involve criticism and correction, the terms are not used in this document. While it critiques "official interpretations of Marxism", it does not explore if these official interpretations have some basis in Marxism. It asks, "Where did the Russian and other Communist Parties go wrong? In interpreting Marxism? Or in the practice of Marxism?" It does not even recognise the possibility that Marxism itself could be wrong/inadequate. Overall, the explanation for the breakdown of USSR in terms of neglect of cultural development of the Soviet citizen and a "distorted view of progress" is quite inadequate. Moreover, while the vision of the "Fourth World" is called "pre-socialist" the term "socialism" has nowhere been defined. It is amply clear that for the Fourth World "socialism" does not mean state ownership of the means of production. So, what is meant by socialism, particularly in terms of economic structure and, not just in terms of achievements/results needs to be explained. This has not been done. It is important as in the light of distinction made by Engels between "utopian" and "scientific" socialism, unqualified, "socialism" usually stands for the so-called "scientific socialism". Next, there seems to be a search for a perfect system. In the Fourth World the "interest of the individual and of the community become harmonised and the necessity of the State vanishes", there is a "transition from competition to cooperation" and "each member of the society has enough wisdom for self-control". Rather than seek a conflictless ideal society, shouldn't we be satisfied with a society where basic needs of all are met in a sustainable manner, conflicts are minimised, and a functional system exists to see that these conflicts do not go out of hand? An uncritical application of Marxism is reflected in the understanding of "capitalism". This fairly detailed monograph has no word of appreciation for any aspect of capitalism and market forces. It blandly says that, "Sanitised or human-faced capitalism" is "a semantic absurdity, to say the least. Capitalism per se cannot have a human face". Why the welfare state is considered to be an exception incompatible with capitalism is not elaborated. The capitalist societies are not devoid of fellow-feeling as is often made out to be. Perhaps, capitalism was/is the victim of a similar "distorted view of progress", that plagued socialism. The ideology of capitalism is not indifferent to poverty and deprivation; it suggests a different strategy (which does not seem to work is another matter) to handle this. The problem is serious and deep rooted. The Fourth World reproduces the following quotation form Che Guevera: It is not at all possible to speak about expanding trade [between USSR and third world countries] as for "mutual benefit" when the trade is based on values dictated by uneven development of productive forces. The world market price is dictated by the mechanised factory production. To ascribe the same value for the labour of underdeveloped nations is not for mutual benefit. If socialist countries establish such relations with underdeveloped countries, it will have to be accepted that they too are partners in imperialist exploitation. What else can be the basis of trade? Else, it will be aid and not trade. But in a way Che Guevera cannot be faulted because Marxist analysis otherwise calls it exploitation. This contradiction can be resolved by recognising inadequacy/errors of Marxism. Further, the question of inefficiency of the public sector is not considered and no suggestions are made in this regard. Visions and Ideologies However, it is quite a comprehensive document and discusses a wide range of issues, though not with uniform rigour. While it does have misplaced arguments like the "Sexual relationship is purely a biological act", it also has a number of valuable insights, or at least beautifully put ideas. To wit: "There have been arguments within almost all communist parties about the concept of an "ideal communist" and of a "pragmatic communist". In the struggle, the ideal communists lose, perhaps not because of their idealism, but because of a degeneration into formalism and organisationalism and often fundamentalism. The pragmatists survive, but in the process become more and more pragmatic and in the end become one with the public not like fish in the water, but water itself." Propensity for cooperation too is a genetically inherited quality. "This was an essential element of human evolution. The species could not have survived without cooperation. Variants with less ability for cooperation became extinct. Collectivity is an evolutionary feature." It has suggested a number of alternative and innovative indices to measure the physical and spiritual quality of life. These include wastage index, dehumanisation index, participation index, emancipation index and recycling index. The construction of these indices is discussed in detail and hence, these can be debated. For example, it suggests that "If we divide the total expenditure on police, jail, courts, military, and administration by the total expenditure on education and health care, we get a quantity which can be termed as `dehumanisation index'." While this may be all right for the time being, but eventually health expenditure like the expenditure on pollution control should go down. So, health and education cannot be equated. Anyway, visions and ideologies can neither be discarded nor developed in one go. But with the Fourth World, the post-Soviet gestation period within the Indian Left is perhaps coming to an end. It has brought out into the open and given a theoretical form to what was perhaps already changing in praxis of the mainstream Indian Left. (Even the party programme of the CPI(M) does not call for an abolition of private property.) This has been done without disowning as well as without defending the Marxist/Soviet path all the way. The Fourth World is offered as "one concept of a post-capitalist society" with the recognition that "there could be many others too". So, it can form the basis for Marxists, Gandhians, environmentalists, feminists, socialists, dalits and peace activists to come closer, if not together. This is possible because the Fourth World has a theoretical space for all these movements and not just a desire for the broadest possible unity. A comparison of the ideological documents of National Alliance of People's Movement (NAPM) and Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP) earlier led by the late Kishan Patnaik, Bharat Nirman Abhiyan led by B D Sharma and Gandhian fortnightly Sarvodya Jagat with the Fourth World, would give a feeling that there is lot of shared ground. A commonality is perhaps being increasingly realised as reflected in the coming together of various shades of opinion against the hegemony of the US and American vision in the World Social Forum, as campaigns for the right to information, right to food, for employment guarantee act and for peace. The Fourth World, coming from within the mainstream Left bridges this gap further and can form the basis of further fine tuning.
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