CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat's new prescription for 21st century socialism is an amorphous amalgam of showbiz Marxism and Keynesism. He accepts that the market economy has an illusion that the market will be "incorporated within the central planning" — a hint that he and other honchos at AKG Bhavan have converted into cheerleaders of reconstituted capitalists. Prabhat Patnaik, the CPI(M)'s economic ideologue, struck a different chord at a seminar on the ‘Indian Planning Experience (1938-91)' recently when he described the market as "a coercive phenomenon".
Karat argued that "after the experiences of socialism in the 20th century, corrections would have to be made, such as the inclusion of a role of the market within a planned economy". The AKG Bhavan hero then went on to refer to the so-called ‘Latin American model of socialism' in Venezuela under its petro-Peronist president, Hugo Chavez, and assurances from Chavez's near-replica, Bolivian president Evo Morales. Both the models are attuned to global Keynesism dished out by Nobel laureates such as Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman along with Jeffrey Sachs and George Soros. They just contest the neo-liberal finance capitalism of the Chicago School of monetary economics, whose sage and seer was Milton Friedman.
Speaking on ‘Occupy Wall Street Movement and the Future of the World Economy' in Kolkata in mid-January, Stiglitz claimed the ‘non-neo-liberal' market economies of the Scandinavian countries or of the US in the 1940s, as success stories. They, according to him, simultaneously achieved economic growth and stability unlike what has been happening in the US today. True, the Freidman model is much more oppressive than the previous system of global capitalism. But our own Karat conveniently forgot Fidel Castro's lament that in the ‘peripheral economies', two out of every five children suffer from growth retardation, one out of every three is underweight; 30,000 are dying everyday; two million girls are forced into prostitution, and 130 million children do not have access to elementary education. He never said it happened only after the era of neo-liberalism.
Little wonder that China and Viet-nam are models of the ‘socialist market economy' — that most ludicrous oxymoron in the lexicon of official Marxism. The comrades at AKG Bhavan refuse to learn from the protests against the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation for decommodification, and capital controls and more inward-oriented industrial strategies.
Sankar Ray is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.