Updated: September 18, 2012 02:36 IST

Change through socialism or solidarism?

Meena Menon
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IMAGINING ALTERNATIVES: Edited by Jai Sen; Daanish Books, C-502, Taj Apartments, Gazipur, Delhi-110096. Rs. 550.
IMAGINING ALTERNATIVES: Edited by Jai Sen; Daanish Books, C-502, Taj Apartments, Gazipur, Delhi-110096. Rs. 550.

The World Social Forum (WSF) since its inception in 2001 gave the hope that “Another World is Possible”, a motto that has found much favour everywhere. This book, the third in the series ‘Are Other Worlds Possible?’ tries to go beyond that and explore three areas, Socialism, Cyberspace and The University through essays and discussion. It raises a sharp critique of the existing world, articulates areas of discrimination, the need for a world where you belong and don’t have to fit in and also debates the other possible worlds.

In the section on Socialism — Is Socialism the only Possible Other World, Dunu Roy, independent Marxist scholar-practitioner kicks off with the question of the reasons one is talking of another world and says, “These questions are presumably coming up because this world has not been able to resolve the problems of militarism, trade imbalances, severe debt crunches and so on.” He points to the areas missing from the debate — the exclusion of the USA and the central issue of violence. Capitalism is marginalising not only the working class but also large sections of all classes and in all kinds of societies and populations. That is why you find fragmented struggles, fragmented conflicts happening in every corner of society, Roy explains.

To take the debate forward, he offers two simple principles, the notion of the “solidary” individual — meaning one who seeks creativity in a social context and suggests that solidarism is at the root of building all contemporary alliances. The WSF is an example of this already happening and he contends that solidarism as a notion might replace the idea of socialism.

In contrast Dipankar Bhattacharya of the CPI(ML) Liberation is firm that socialism is both necessary and desirable and, he suggests that it is high time one moved forward from only talking about the desirability of socialism — “I suggest that we must now talk of its inevitability.” The choice that faces us, Marxist thinkers say, is between socialism and barbarism, Bhattacharya remarks and goes on to expound that the lack of socialist control has resulted in a trend where capitalism is turning increasingly barbaric and predatory and throwing all notions of peace, prosperity and progress to the winds. He makes the sound point that while the rise of the WSF has given an impetus to this whole debate, the quest for other worlds has to go beyond a debate to clearer direction and firmer action as well.

New proletariat

Kumkum Sangari on the other hand talks of how the increasing mobility has created a new proletariat whose character is defined not just by the relationship among classes in the country of origin but in another and much more problematic way. Globalisation she says is a system that both divides and connects and is now redividing and reconnecting. For women, commodity relations connect them on both sides of the class divide and across national divides. Suddhabrata Sengupta’s essay “The Politics of Knowledge Sharing” must put paid to glorified notions anyone can have about unrivalled freedom in cyber space and we can ignore how it can be used as a tool of surveillance and control only at our peril. “Today cyberspace is a free space where we share information freely; where we explore the possibilities of a more equitable world. But if we do not engage with this medium we will have the next generation thinking that it is a place we can go to buy things from the huge corporations at huge prices if we have a credit card, and a tool for surveillance by the state.” At a time when surveillance is a reality and regulation of cyber media is under serious discussion, this caution has not come too soon. “A new digital proletariat is emerging which, it seems, is totally at the mercy of capitalistic forces,” he says.

The section on “University” highlights how that space is different if you are a woman, visually or physically handicapped, ‘differently abled’, a Dalit or a Muslim. Open space in the university is becoming restricted. As one of the testimonies says, confronted with a wide range of issues and demands, “But is this the new world that we are trying to create? A world divided into separate categories and each one fighting for access to resources? Is this what we want?”

And this in a way leads on to Oishik Sircar’s Open Space and Liminality: Notes on Sexualising the University where liminality is signified by the feeling of being in between and transient. Sarkar concludes that open space is here to stay and it has to be a space where you don’t have to fit in, but just belong. The book has a wide range of critical opinions in the form of essays and discussions and touches on issues that need to go beyond the idealism of the WSF to serious thought and action.

Keywords: Socialism

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