‘In India, it’s pathological authoritarianism’


PHOTO/Duck Duck Go

(Interview with Akeel Bilgrami. This is the final part of a two-part article. Part one is here.)

You have pointed out the role of liberalism in keeping out the New Deal and the social democratic ideals of [Bernie] Sanders and [Jeremy] Corbyn. And you were highly critical of liberalism for that reason. You also said that liberalism is ensuring that nothing in the political arena is conceptually available for a fundamental transformation of society. But you are not equating social democracy with a fundamental transformation of society, are you? We know, from your writings, that you believe that social democracy does not amount to a radical critique of capitalism. So, then, can you explain what you have in mind exactly?

That raises a whole range of very familiar and long-standing issues that have afflicted the Left, leading to debates in India (and no doubt in other places as well) between the organised Left and what has come to be called the “ultra-Left” and the insurgent Left.

I think that what is true and what everybody knows is that liberalism in the 20th century has, as I’ve put it in some of my writing, “taken social democracy in its stride”, that is, taken in its stride the social-democratic constraints that had been put on capitalism after the end of the Second World War. But the point of the expression “take in its stride” should not be seen as merely saying that liberalism is able to accommodate these constraints in its doctrinal framework because they don’t constitute a fundamental critique of capitalism. What more is connoted by “take in its stride” is very important, in fact absolutely crucial, in understanding capitalism today and the ideological role of liberalism and the exact nature of the accommodation.

So, what would be this “more” you would add to the nature of the accommodation?

It is this. Liberalism takes social democracy in its stride not only by accommodating social democracy but also by making sure that the accommodation is always constantly being undermined, even as it is allowed to be there. In other words, social democracy should not be allowed an equilibrium (leave alone strengthening) within its accommodated status. That is the point of liberalism and it recurs everywhere. Even the Scandinavian countries are subject to it, though, of course, being more peripheral than the main belt of capitalism, social democracy there has not been so recurrently subject to this disequilibrium and instability in its status as in other parts of the capitalist world. So, when one says liberalism accommodates social democracy, we must be absolutely clear that that accommodation is never stable and is never going to be allowed to be stable.

Though he does not speak of the crucial role of liberalism in maintaining this constant undermining pressure and disequilibrium, Prabhat Patnaik has made a related point about capitalism today in a very sharp and illuminating way. What he has said is that “the spontaneous tendencies of capitalism” simply do not allow constraints upon capital to be permanent. I am really relying on that fundamental point he makes. I’m taking it for granted.

It is worth getting clear about what exactly he means. Here is what I think he has in mind by this rather deep theoretical point in his analysis of capitalism.

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