A wide-ranging critical review of the International Manifesto Group’s manifesto, “Through Pluripolarity to Socialism.” The group are calling upon likeminded colleagues and comrades to sign it. Signature would indicate agreement with the broad thrust of the Manifesto, and it would indicate belief that the manifesto should be engaged and discussed by progressive forces.
By Charles McKelvey
Published on the author’s Substack column, Sept 3, 2021
The International Manifesto Group, and world-wide group of concerned activists and scholars, have emitted a manifesto, “Through Pluripolarity to Socialism.” They are calling upon likeminded colleagues and comrades to sign it. Signature would indicate agreement with the broad thrust of the Manifesto, and it would indicate belief that the manifesto should be engaged and discussed by progressive forces. The manifesto will be launched in a zoom event on September 5, 2021 at 2 pm UK time.
I have signed the manifesto, and I hope to participate, if there are no technical problems, in the September 5 zoom event. Here is the link:
The Manifesto begins with a succinct review of anti-systemic struggles in the post-World War II era, and it gives equal importance to workers’ struggles in the core and national liberation struggles in the periphery. “In capitalism’s imperial core, working people’s struggles won welfare states and regulated capitalisms after the Second World War, in its peripheries, national independence and developmental states. Meanwhile, some countries, beginning with the Russian Revolution in 1917, embarked on building socialism.”
It summarizes the destructive impact of neoliberalism on the world. “Over four decades of policies favouring capital, neoliberal financialised capitalism has lost productive dynamism and turned to unproductive plunder, created unacceptable mass poverty, shocking inequality, festering social division, draconian political repression, a growing threat of exterminist nuclear war, mass movements of population and an ecological emergency of climate warming, pollution and biodiversity loss, rendering our planet increasingly uninhabitable.”
The Manifesto recognizes the important economic, technological, ecological, and social achievements of socialist China, in which the Communist Party of China has played an important role, as well as the achievements other socialist countries. It rejects the efforts of the United States and other imperialist nations to create a new Cold War with China. Affirmation of China by the Manifesto is important, because a socialist movement today has to have a clear understanding of China, rejecting the distorted ideological attacks of the imperialist powers, just as it was important for socialist movements and organizations in the early 1920s to have a clear understanding of the significance of the October Revolution.
In reviewing the history of revolutions in the epoch of modern capitalism, the Manifesto provides a necessary balanced synthesis of class and colonialism, thereby avoid a tendency in Marxism toward Eurocentrism. “Capitalism and imperialism go together. They exploit working classes and colonial and semi-colonial nations. Both resist. Nations as well as classes struggle for socialism on the terrain of capitalism’s geopolitical as well as political economy.”
The Manifesto notes the obstacles to the goals of sovereignty that the once-colonized nations confront. “Internationally, in the dialectic between uneven and combined development, powerful states vainly sought to preserve their imperial dominance through economic, political and military means, often in competition among themselves. Those resisting them attempted to develop productive forces through protection and state direction, asserting economic sovereignty.” It correctly observes that success in overcoming these obstacles requires a people’s revolution that takes power from the national bourgeoisie and its political representatives. “Success in challenging imperialism through economic development was greatest and most sustained where a successful popular revolution displaced private capital from political power.”
The Manifesto discerns clearly the autonomous road that many Third World nations seek. “Independent Third World nations embarked on autonomous and egalitarian national development and industrialisation to break imperialist shackles, both inspired and aided by the now numerous socialisms that also had to develop their productive systems from a low level.”
The Manifesto sees socialist setbacks in context. “The Soviet Union’s demise set socialism back, but it was not the end of socialism, only the end of socialism’s beginning. The road to socialism, and eventually communism, is long. Societies embarked on it are not magically freed of class and historical contradictions. Setbacks are possible. After all, socialist revolutions to date have occurred in poor countries. Developing their productive forces is not only far harder than living off the gains of imperialism; it had to be achieved against imperialist pressure.”
The Manifesto maintains that capitalism contributed to the development of the productive forces in the stages of competitive capitalism and monopoly capitalism. But now that capitalism has reached a decadent stage of parasitic reliance on financial speculation and rentier income, it no longer invests in socially necessary forms of production. Capitalism has become a fetter on human progress, as is indicated by its stagnating profits. Capitalism is in crisis.
In my view, in its discussion of the causes of the crisis of capitalism, the Manifesto loses sight of what it earlier saw, namely, the integral relation between capitalism and colonialism. The Manifesto ought to stress that the crisis of capitalism, signaled by the increasingly parasitic character of its ruling class, is caused by the fact that global colonialism has reached its geographical limits. The world-system has run out of lands and peoples to conquer, so that it can no longer find new sources of raw materials, cheap labor, and markets, which were central to its economic expansion from its sixteenth century origins to the present. This insight into the causes of the crisis of capitalism can be seen from the vantage point of the colonized. The Manifesto does see, however, a dimension of this problem: “As highly organised Western working classes and Third World countries demanded higher wages and prices, they squeezed imperialist capital’s profits.”
As the crisis of capitalism became manifest in the 1970s, capitalist economies faced a choice between deepening socialist reforms, on the one hand, and eliminating postwar regulation of capitalist investments and financial flows, on the other hand. They chose the latter, launching an attack on the working class and the nations of the Third World, including a “massive interest rate shock” that provoked an unpayable Third World debt, destroying the limited sovereignty of nations.
And as the Manifesto correctly notes, an important factor in this imperialist attack was the weakness of the left, caused by various factors, including a historic division between reform and revolution, divisions over socialist revolutions in the world, persistent Cold War repression, and improved living conditions of the people. I would add other factors as well: the persistent definition of an industrial working-class vanguard was inconsistent with the reality of an expanding middle class, limiting the reach of socialism among youth of the petit bourgeoisie who had been radicalized by the Vietnam War; and a subtle form of Eurocentrism in socialist currents of thought, which prevented a thorough study of Third World socialisms, thereby preventing the presentation of the socialist alternative to the people as a real, emerging practical possibility.
Thus, neoliberalism was imposed on the world.
Domestically, neoliberal policies rolled back state ownership, regulation and social protection. It attacked trade unions and left working people with high unemployment, stagnant real wages, fewer benefits, a smaller welfare state, more powerful employers and fewer social services.
Internationally, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank . . . forced Third World countries to repay debt. . . . By demanding a shrunken state, they also prevented the state-directed combined development Third World countries needed to become more productive, competitive and able to repay debt with less effort. Meanwhile, in all-too-many Third World countries, imperial capital enjoyed greater access to resources, goods and labour, quashing sovereignty, people’s democracy and national development.
However, as the Manifesto observes, the neoliberal project could not resolve the crisis of capitalism, which is rooted in the fact that capitalism is no longer a progressive productive force; it has become parasitic, unproductive, and driven to financial speculation. Accordingly, the economic vitality and political stability of the world-system require a turn to investment in sustainable forms of production as well as in health and education; however, the ruling class, blinded by its short-term political-economic interests, cannot see this necessary new direction.
The Manifesto correctly notes that the post-Cold War U.S. military aggressions and endless wars, launched with the pretexts of defending “human rights” or “democracy” or protecting citizens of allegedly failed states, have compensated for the dwindling centrality of the USA in the world-economy. These militarist policies serve the interests of the U.S. arms production industry, which had become the nation’s strongest industry in the context of a neoliberal deindustrialization. The wars “left trails of destruction,” and they generated waves of emigrants.
The Manifesto notes that as neoliberalism locked the world-economy into slower growth, and as the USA experienced an economic decline relative to other core and emerging powers, the world-economy evolved from unipolarity to pluripolarity, a term coined Hugo Chávez. New centers of political-economic power have emerged, led by China and including Brazil, India, and Russia, which are creating alternative regional associations that respond to their interests. Today, two thirds of the countries of the world trade more with China than with the USA, and China seeks to expand this dynamic through its Belt and Road Initiative. At the same time, Russia’s revived military power provides greater security to the economic interests of its neighboring countries. In addition, Pan Africanism has revived; and in Latin America, a “Pink Tide” of left-wing governments have formed regional associations, such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. The Manifesto is on the mark with these observations, but it ought to develop them much further, so that the people can see that an alternative, more just world-system is emerging in practice, and it is not a utopian dream.
The Manifesto observes that the socialist countries fared far better than the capitalist countries in the battle against Covid, with much lower deaths per million persons. Social and health infrastructures in the capitalist countries were weak as a result of decades of underfunding, and they were overwhelmed by the pandemic in most of the rich countries. In contrast, the socialist countries, especially China, had well developed hospital infrastructures and community-based systems of testing, tracing, and isolation. The East Asian capitalist countries also did well, because of their traditions of state interventionism and “Confucian” social norms.
The Manifesto proceeds to observe that in the context of the crisis of capitalism and the incapacity of the ruling class to constructively respond, the left has abdicated its responsibility. It is incapable of mobilizing popular discontent that has emerged in the crisis of capitalism.
But the Third World has been a different story. The Manifesto correctly observes that many Third World nations have turned to some version of communism, because the Soviet and Chinese models of development were far more appropriate for the colonial situation than were the recommendations of Western “development” specialists. These were models of state-led development, combining forms of property in the quest for autonomous development. The model has had significant gains in practice, which the ideologies of the global powers seek to hide from their peoples.
As the Manifesto correctly observes, the institutions of global governance, with the United Nations being of special importance, were created through the lead of the United States when it was at the height of its neocolonial hegemony. Wanting to create institutions that gave the international system a façade of democracy, the United States led a codification that stressed values like the equality and sovereignty of nations and non-aggression. As the Third World movements of national and social liberation advanced, they embraced these core values of the international system, seeing them as the key to their own definitive emancipation from colonial domination. The Manifesto recognizes important moments in the organizational advances of the Third World: the Bandung conference, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77 + China, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. It acknowledges the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence – respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence – agreed by Zhou Enlai and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954.
The Manifesto notes that historic working-class parties today combine neoliberalism with social liberalism. It correctly observes that “social liberalism focuses on the struggles of individual, usually privileged members of marginalised social groups – women, ‘visible’ minorities, sexual minorities, ethnic minorities. While social liberalism prompts the ‘culture wars’ that grab headlines, it neglects the vast bulk of the working-class members of these groups. . . . The common problems of the people are not even discussed, let alone addressed.”
Social liberalism, pushed by the professional stratum, leads to the bewilderment of the people. The people are “divided along income, skill, gender, race and other social lines and politically bewildered by manipulative ‘culture wars’ between the right and left wings of the objectively reactionary and counter-revolutionary neoliberal political establishment and their common witch-hunts against genuinely radical leaders and movements.”
The precarity created by neoliberalism induces many of the educated youth and the professional stratum toward extreme right ideas. “Fictitious ‘solidarities’– ethnicisms, racisms, communalisms –demagogically turn them against other victims of the same system to prevent them from identifying those really responsible for their misfortune.”
The Manifesto observes that imperialist capitalists today are attempting to launch a new stage of neoliberalism, one with a pseudo-humanistic rhetoric. It recognizes a greater role of the state in providing for key essentials, such health care and education. But unchecked financial speculation and rentier activity will continue. Therefore, this ideological maneuver will not dissuade the people. “China’s support for an international ‘community with a shared future for humankind’ based on common values and UN principles and the Five Principles of peaceful coexistence offers a far more attractive alternative capable of addressing humanity’s common problems.” The Manifesto notes that countries like Iran, with an Islamic philosophy that differentiates it from countries influenced by socialist ideologies, are nonetheless joining the Chinese-led alternative world order, in anti-imperialist solidarity.
In the development of a more, just world order that incorporates socialist nations in leading roles, “the key is seizing control of the state from capital.” This is a matter in which there is much confusion in the left, where often the orientation is to “speak truth to power,” rather than taking power from the hands of big capitalists and their political representatives, and putting it in the hands of the delegates of the people. On this point, the Manifesto ought to explain that the taking of power in today’s world in most circumstances is going to be the electoral road, rather than armed struggle. And it ought to posit possible strategies for the taking of power by the people. The process of taking power occurs in each nation, with its characteristics shaped by the particular situation in each nation. There is international solidarity among the peoples in struggle for socialism, but the struggle unfolds in each nation as a struggle for control of the state in a particular nation.
The Manifesto correctly notes that when a socialist revolution seizes power in a particular nation, its goal is to direct the development of the economy. The extent to which a nation’s economy ought to have state-owned enterprises and worker cooperatives is a pragmatic decision based on the particular economic situation of the nation. The judgment should not be driven by dogmas.
The Manifesto is correct in observing that the transition to socialism will include the formulation of universal human values that are embraced by all of humanity, as expressed in United Nations Charter and the foundational documents of the Non-Aligned Movement. But the Manifesto ought to explain more fully these values and their social origins. The more that the proposal for socialism can demonstrate that a just and democratic world is in fact being developed in theory and practice, the more the proposal will not come across as naïve idealism.
“Through Pluripolarity to Socialism: A Manifesto” has many things right, and that is why I have signed it. However, it commits what I view as the historic error of classical Marxism, in that it views the industrial working class as the vanguard of the socialist revolution. In my study and encounter with the Cuban Revolution, I found that Fidel had another concept. In the aftermath of the galvanizing attack on the Moncada barracks in 1953, Fidel called the entire people to the taking of power, including: the unemployed; industrial workers; tenant farmers; teachers and professors; small businesspersons; and young professionals in heath, education, engineering, law, and journalism; each of which in different ways were abused by the system. This was a successful strategy, uniting the people and bringing the revolution to triumph, able to sustain itself in the face of sustained imperialist attacks. In this process, many members of the radical petit bourgeoisie were heroes and martyrs.
In contrast, the new socialism declaration of the Manifesto maintains that neoliberalism has expanded a “professional managerial stratum” which is “elevated high above the mass of working people [and] enjoys many privileges, including access to private or public resources.” In this stratum are found professionals in law, engineering, design, marketing, advertising, and finance. The Manifesto does not call these folks to revolution, unless they are of the Third World.
Here it would be relevant to point out that in the Third World popular revolutions, the petit bourgeoisie was divided between a conservative wing, which sided with the capitalist class and imperialist interests; and a radical wing, which cast its lot with the people. The reason for this ideological division was that the neocolonial situation supported and yet at the same time blocked petit bourgeois interests. An engineer or a designer, for example, could find good employment in a foreign-owned company, but good jobs for engineers and designers were limited by the neocolonial situation. Many more jobs in the professions would be created by liberation from neocolonialism and autonomous economic development, but this could not easily be seen by those with good jobs in the established order.
In contrast to the neocolonial situation, the petit bourgeoisie in the core countries possessed advantages and privileges during most of the twentieth century, and that is why petit bourgeois leaders of the socialist parties for the most part ultimately betrayed the socialist cause. However, with today’s crisis of capitalism, the privileged position of the petit bourgeoisie is no longer assured. Indeed, Fidel tapped into this phenomenon; his call to the professionals noted that many young professionals find that their recently earned degrees do not enable them to find work.
But there also is a spiritual dimension to the potential dissatisfaction of the petit bourgeoisie. A common literary theme is the phenomenon of people being successful in their work, but they find their work meaningless. The sources of discontent are not only unemployment or insufficient compensation. Many become discontented when they experience that their well-paid, high-status employment requires them to sell their souls.
A manifesto should call all discontented souls to the revolution, regardless of the reason for their discontent. It should call everyone to revolution, except the 1%. It should retake the slogan of the student anti-war movement of the late 1960s, “Power to the people!” The Manifesto should not conclude, as it does, with “Workers of all countries, oppressed peoples and nations, Unite!”, thereby excluding from the revolutionary process the white middle class of the core countries. It should conclude with “Peoples of the world, Unite!”
Charles McKelvey retired from college teaching in 2011, since then he has devoted himself to voluntary full-time reading and writing on world affairs.
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