Academic journal article Social Justice

The New World Order and the Left

Academic journal article Social Justice

The New World Order and the Left

Article excerpt

I should like to discuss where the left stands in relation to the so-called new world order. The idea of a new world order has been widely ridiculed, rightly so if it is taken to mean the coming into being of a new era of peace and prosperity. It is true that the threat of global annihilation by nuclear war has been lifted, but the world is nevertheless as much in the grip of crisis and violence as it has ever been.

In a different sense, however, a world order that is not new does exist, but it has some significant new features, stemming from the disintegration of the Soviet Union. I must warn you that my comments paint a rather depressing picture of this world order, at least from the perspective of the Left, but this cannot be helped if one is to be realistic. Nonetheless, I will bring in some more cheerful perspectives below and suggest that the gloom and demoralization so common on the Left is greatly exaggerated.

As has often been observed, the disintegration of the Soviet Union left only one superpower standing, thus eliminating the challenge the USSR represented in various ways to U.S. hegemony and to Western hegemony in general. Ever since 1917, and particularly since 1945, the USSR had been a major presence on the world scene, a major point of reference for both the Western powers and the developing world. Soviet interventions on the world stage after 1945, as one of the two superpowers, were marked by opportunism and caution, as well as by a dedication to a Realpolitik that easily sacrificed principle to expediency. Yet after this has been registered, the fact remains that revolutionary and liberation movements in the developing world could normally count on Soviet help in various forms, as could regimes produced by such movements. Cuba is the most obvious case in point. The Cuban Revolution owed little or nothing to the Soviet Union; once the Castro regime had been established, however, it relied massively on Soviet economic and military help. So, too, did liberation movements and new regimes in Africa rely on Soviet and East European help. The existence of the Soviet Union also gave developing countries some bargaining strength vis-a-vis the United States.

In a somewhat different perspective, the Soviet Union was also widely thought to represent an alternative model of development, with comprehensive central planning and public ownership as its main features. Though it is unfashionable to recall this nowadays, it had made remarkable progress under that system in the development of its productive apparatus and became the second most powerful industrial country in the world. It was only in the 1970s and 1980s, with the faltering of Soviet economic performance, at least in comparison with the West, that this belief in the existence of a viable alternative model to capitalism was replaced by skepticism and disillusion. Even then, the coming of Mikhail Gorbachev to power in 1985 raised hopes that the Soviet Union had at long last begun the painful process of moving out of the straitjacket of Brezhnevism and that the loosening of the bureaucratic grip on the economy, allied to political democratization, would set the USSR on the road toward an approximation of socialist democracy. In fact, the Gorbachev years, despite the real advances in political and cultural terms that they registered, were marked by incoherence, uncertainty, and failure on a catastrophic scale.

Unfortunately, there was no other plausible model of a noncapitalist, socialist economy and social order available; and this meant that the ideology of the "market economy," that is to say capitalism, was left in command of the field, on a worldwide scale. It was enthusiastically adopted by the new rulers of ex-Communist countries, as in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, as well as the Soviet Union. Moreover, the new rulers often included highly placed members of the old nomenklatura, now converted to the market economy and privatization. …

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