Early November, American citizens will rush to the polling booths on the Tuesday following the first Monday of the month to choose, for the coming four years, their president, automatically the prime defender of global capitalism. Next time the occasion arises, it would be most proximate to the centenary of the great Bolshevik Revolution, the cause of such headache for capitalism. With the collapse of the Soviet system a couple of decades ago, that centenary will not be much of a celebration. Some circles are now doubly reluctant to describe the seemingly cataclysmic developments that took place in November 1917 as great. One or two pundits belonging to the picky school go a step further: the beastly thing that happened around Moscow’s Winter Palace during this month that year was, they argue, no revolution at all; it was a conspiracy between a handful of Bolshevik Party bureaucrats and a handful of military officers aimed to waylay the uprising the masses were waiting for; what actually transpired was in effect a counter-revolution. Yet another formulation of this thesis travels a bit even beyond: since the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin were instrumental in putting that counter-revolution to an end, they richly deserve a place in history as true revolutionaries.
Such a daring assertion calls for careful handling. A failed enterprise in any case has few friends and suffers from a surfeit of adversaries. It would nevertheless be awesomely difficult not to admit that an elegant rationality was at work which led to the Bolshevik revolt. Throughout the 19th century, kings strewn across Europe used to fight one another for territorial control; they often also arrived at mutual understanding on how to allocate among themselves areas of influence in remote, newly conquered parts of the world. What was in order for sovereigns and, slightly later, capitalist regimes succeeding the monarchies, should have been equally valid for ordinary people not excluding the toiling classes. Certainly no reason exists on grounds of symmetry, to look askance if members of the working class too tried to join hands across national borders in furtherance of their specific interests. This was in fact the core idea germane in the Communist Manifesto written jointly by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels while they were still in their late twenties. The first step towards uniting the workers on an international scale was to unite them within a particular country. The November 1917 phenomenon, its enthusiasts will claim, did precisely that; the feeling of emancipation experienced after the event by the proletariat classes in Russia was no ersatz commodity. The next logical step, from the point of view of the ideologues, was however to build working class alliances on a global scale, a development symmetrical to the ententes reached first by feudal monarchs and subsequently by the hegemony of capitalists who supplanted the feudal order in Europe.
But no, it was ordained that what was a normal arrangement for kings and capitalists did not belong to the working classes and curtains be better drawn on airy-fairy notions of symmetry. The ruling classes had by then travelled extensively along the learning curve; it suited them to have one set of rules for themselves and another set for those antagonistically situated to them in terms of class interests. The 20th century saw the emergence of huge multinational and transnational corporations; establishment circles greeted them with open arms. The call to the workers of the world to unite, though, continued to be regarded as a heresy and a sacrilege. Leaders of nascent working class organizations in different countries refused to be cowed down, was not rationality on their side? The class war was very much on, leading to the establishment — in the metropolitan centres of Europe — of international societies with representatives of toiling masses from diverse lands. Since these societies were officially banned, they had to go underground and were duly dubbed an international conspiracy. Their leaders would meet, furtively, in Brussels or Zurich or London. As World War I was wearing itself down, all of a sudden circumstances became ripe in Russia for a workers’ uprising; one such leader-in-exile, V.I. Lenin, availed of the train in Finland to arrive in time and take charge of things.
Subsequent revolutions — or attempts at revolution-making — have followed more or less the same pattern. They occurred, or were cajoled to occur, because the ruling classes were allergic to the rationale of symmetry. Allergy tends to get integrated to the psyche. Times change, the character of national economies — and their conflagration — assumes new hues, but the psyche of the ruling order is unable to discard the irrationality it is burdened with.
One needs only to cross over to the present era for confirmation of this harsh truth. The ruling idea is of course globalization. The nations are losing fast their separate identities, goods and resources are expected to move across countries and continents without let or hindrance, tariff barriers are under instruction to wither away, any impediment to the free movement of capital and finance, it hardly needs to be added, is to be severely frowned upon. The International Monetary Fund is the stern taskmaster ready to dress down country-governments which show a lingering weakness for the heinous instrument of capital control. The World Trade Organisation is the other supranational watchdog to ensure the unhindered transit of commodities between countries. Flowery speeches on the magical qualities of that charming notion — freedom — constitute the standard menu of round-the-year discourses. Life is enhanced if free movement of concepts, commodities and services from one location to another is not sought to be interfered with in any manner. Where that freedom is lacking, living is diminished for humanity.
Beautiful blah-blah-blah. And yet, the glaring asymmetry featuring the supposedly globalized world hurts; it insults the intelligence too. A near-total replica of the story from the ending decades of the 19th century and the early beginnings of the 20th, when capitalists had begun savouring the juicy advantages flowing from the formation of multilateral corporations and the triumphal march of international finance capital, representatives of the emerging working classes were, however, not allowed the freedom to mobilize globally. The Gorbachevs and the Yeltsins have made an effective contribution to kill off the grand idea of the international brotherhood of the toiling masses; the leadership of China’s Communist Party is altogether disinterested in the matter. So no threat today exists from that end. Even so, problems refuse to disappear. In this epoch of full-blown economic liberalization, finance and capital must be permitted to move freely from affluent countries to the under-developed and developing economies; the latter are duly admonished not to exhibit reluctance to intrusions — any kind of intrusion — of external capital. The phobia against the working classes never ceases though. An altogether different set of norms applies with respect to the international movement of labour. Economic liberalization does not mean the end of national regulations governing the migration of labour. The visa regimes in the United States of America and Europe, particularly for aspiring migrants from Asia and Africa, are extraordinarily rigid, no international ombudsman is assigned the responsibility of scrutinizing or modulating them.
That holy-holy word, freedom, evidently embraces the freedom to be arbitrary. Liberalization, as is being understood at this moment, ordains unfettered movement of capital while labour is kept in fetters. How irrational, one may whimper. But is not such irrationality an integral constituent of the arbitrariness that dominates the environment? Once the Tuesday following the first Monday of November is past, global capitalism world will have a new super-spokesperson to articulate its themes over the next four years. Whether he happens to be once more Barack Obama or it is Mitt Romney, the arbitrary order will remain unhampered.