Against the Current, No. 25, March/April 1990
THE DEMISE OF the Soviet empire will force the left to reassess its analysis and goals as the twentieth century becomes the twenty-first More than any other fact, and linked to the new wheelings and dealings in China, the end of the Soviet empire could result in a capitalism that is more stable and stronger than ever, leaving the left to see that the major contradiction in a competitive, market economy is the collision with the natural world.
While it is still too soon to predict the fates of the nations formerly of the Russian bloc, and while movements there differ from each other and contain many tendencies, from monarchy to fascism to anarchy, a main impulse in throwing off Soviet hegemony has been the establishment of some form of capitalism. Sick to death of shoddy goods, endless queues, shortages and mean lives of little comfort the citizens of the Eastern countries rightfully have thrown off the state socialism that promised the world, gave little and bureaucratized and regulated every inch of their existences.
To their credit, however, few see the adoption of Western capitalism as the object of their desires. Knowing the homelessness, drugs, poverty, alienation, shims and despair of the free-market alternative, citizens from Poland and Romania hope somehow for a compromise between the two systems, state or monopoly capitalism, or the best of both worlds, freedom and security.
The West doesn’t see it that way. Reducing the breadth of the demands in the East to consumerism and shopping, the United States, Japan and others see the fall of the borders of the Soviet empire as the fall of the barriers against capitalist penetration. The search for new markets, resources and cheap labor is on.
That capitalist push is not only underway in the old imperialist powers. A new, united Europe with Germany at its financial head could compete with the United States, especially in the less developed areas of Eastern and Southern Europe. A renewed Balkanization of countries such as Bulgaria with its problems with a Turkish minority, or Yugoslavia with its warring nationalities, could again, as in the early twentieth century, create a soft underbelly of warring, weak nations, ripe for the rapacious penetration of stronger economies.
If this scenario plays itself out to the final, hideous conclusion of the triumph of capitalism, what is the left to do? Are we to throw up our hands and, in a final denial of politics, limp off to self-improvement, health clubs, shrinks and self-obsession, as many Americans did with the victory of the Reagan revolution?
Or are we going to change our thinking and admit that capitalism will not fall because of a working class whose demands can be co-opted or ignored; that it will not fall because of injustices toward minorities, who in the end can get a little more of the pie, or be avoided or even destroyed, as the U.S. government is doing to Blacks in the inner city; and that it will not even fall by inherent problems within itself, either in the form of Third World debt, or in the boom and bust of economic cycles?
The final and only real limit to a grow-or-die market is nature itself, which in the process of an ever-expanding, profit-hungry, heated-up economy can only transform humans into commodities, communities into consumers, life’s habitat into wasteland and indeed all organic matter into inorganic trash heaps.
While a new stabilized capitalism can rape and pillage more, especially in the Third World, and probably with increased impunity as the Soviets and a stronger Europe seek their places in the sun, it can only continue to grow as a malignant tumor, which will destroy all of us, the environment, even its own parasitical self, as it devastates life, the host on which it depends.
At heart, citizens already sense the truth of this analysis. You can see it in neighborhood meetings organized against toxic dumps, nuclear power plants, urban sprawl or sheer ugliness. You can see it in the faces of native peoples thrown off their lands for mineral rights and hamburger ranches. You can see it in the fledgling environmental movements everywhere.
Where you don’t see it yet is in the left, which for whatever reasons, continues to see environmentalism as a single issue, and a middle class one at that.
The 1990s and the opening years of the twenty-first century will see the left revising its own reformist demands, its hopes in a “god that failed,” its now-disproved analysis that capitalism will fall of its own weight or with a push from an allegedly opposed system that is not radically different, nor capable any longer of mounting opposition or competition to it.
A new left will hopefully be built on the understanding that capitalism will fall when we and an educated, informed, independent grassroots and democratic movement see that unless it ends everywhere and in all its forms, whether in our backyards, in rain forests or in Chernobyl, we all will fall and with us all of life as we know and love it.
© 2020 Against the Current
March-April 1990, ATC 25