ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Buffeted but Unbowed

In Defence of a Commitment

The Right Lesson and the Wrong Conclusion: Crisis of Socialism - Notes in Defence of a Commitment, Volume 4 by Randhir Singh (Delhi: Aakar Books), 2011; pp 278, Rs 495.

The last century started with an ­insurrection in Mexico and only the slightest hope for socialism, and ended the same way. In the interval, tens of millions died in imperialist wars, hundreds of millions succumbed to the attendant famines and plagues, billions bore lives of drudgery and disease, and the imperialists vanquished almost all contenders. For half of that century, Randhir Singh thought, taught, fought, and endured defeat. At the end of the day, he set out to meet the demand for “an explanation, an honest coming to terms” with the failure of 20th century socialism (Singh 2011a: 51). The result is his six-volume magnum opus, Crisis of Socialism: Notes in Defence of a Commitment. “The original impulse for this writing”, he explains, “lay in my long-time interest in understanding why and how things had gone wrong with socia­lism in the Soviet Union” (The Right Lesson and the Wrong Conclusion (RL): 22). Volume 4 of Crisis of Socialism, entitled The Right Lesson and the Wrong Conclusion, consists in large part of a sustained argument that the failure of Soviet socia­lism occurred essentially on the ­political terrain, as a consequence of the undemocratic politics practised in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. Looking forward, the lesson is clear: without democracy, no socialism.

But Singh insists, against the wisdom of our times, that there is “democracy”, and then there is democracy. We have recently witnessed a certain brand of ­democracy in action in Athens and Rome, those fabled cradles of demo­cracy and republicanism, where foreign ­bureaucrats unceremoniously fired elec­ted heads of state and replaced them with unelected bankers. Somehow this sort of perfunctory and revocable “demo­cracy” can sustain capitalist rule just fine, but when it comes to workers’ power it leads to ruin.

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