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Rediscovering socialism

Jul 08,2018 - Last updated at Jul 08,2018

Every now and then, momentous events occur, which you feel privileged to witness even though you played no part in making them happen. In my life, at the top of the list of political events was the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Shortly afterwards, I went to do post-graduate studies in France, where I discussed with students from Eastern Europe the great transformations in their part of the world. Their discourses confirmed Ben Barber’s analysis that the collapse of the Soviet Union was not about democracy; it was about shopping. 

People everywhere want a good life. East Europeans had yearned for it since World War II, and they felt that it had come at last. 

Their optimism was understandable. Capitalism stood unopposed and its message, since the Reagan years, was appealing in its simplicity: Let the rich become richer and there will be no problems left. In the prevailing spirit of optimism, people believed that everyone could become rich. 

A quarter of a century later, the situation looks different. The rich became richer everywhere, but this did not solve the problems of national economies. 

In Poland, for instance, neoliberal policies increased inequalities, causing educated and skilled Poles to emigrate to Britain in such large numbers that Polish-born residents became the UK's largest foreign-born community. Polish also became the third-most spoken language after  English  and Welsh. Meanwhile, back home, the government cracked down on private media and blamed all problems on immigrants. 

But the popularity of this government, according to Mitchell Orenstein (“Populism with a socialist character”, Jordan Times, 5 July 2018) is not entirely due to its xenophobia. Racism is strong in Eastern Europe, but xenophobic policies are just an added bonus. 

This Polish government is popular because of its socialist policies. The Family 500+ programme, for instance, gives each family 500 Zlotys ($114) for a second child and every subsequent child. 

Capitalists, particularly neoliberals, shouted “hHeresy!” at the thought, and forecast doom and gloom; but the results tell a different tale. Extreme poverty in Poland dropped by 70-80 per cent, spending on consumer goods increased, unemployment went down and the government deficit has also decreased steadily. 

In Jordan, the story is similar. Twenty years of neoliberal policies have increased inequalities, raised government debt to over 95 per cent of GDP, kept unemployment and the budget deficit stubbornly high and caused living standards to deteriorate consistently; and this is the official version of events. 

Clearly, what is proposed here is not xenophobia, but that capitalism alone, its raw form, cannot solve Jordan’s problems of poverty unemployment. Capitalism considers poverty as a personal failure. Therefore, to reward success, not failure, it frowns on helping the poor and advocates penalising them by taking more of their money to feed the inflated fortunes of the already very rich.  

One wonders if the new government will temper the unbridled neoliberal policies it inherited with elements of socialism, not only to give itself a human face, but also to preserve the country’s stability and security.


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