Sunday, 25 February, 2024

Dreaming Of Socialism In Neoliberal Garb

Dreaming Of Socialism In Neoliberal Garb

Ritu Raj Subedi

The term ‘socialism’ has become a catchword in the Nepali political realm. The political parties on both left and right have got stuck to it, projecting themselves as its true carrier. There are various currents of socialism ranging from utopian to scientific and democratic socialism. Generally, socialism stands for ‘social ownership and democratic control of the means of production’ and ‘control and regulation of economy by the state.’

Usually, the socialist governments, unlike the capitalist ones, are supposed to make huge investment in public sector so that people have easy access to public goods - health, education, security, rule of law, environment and culture. If the profit-making private sector is allowed to manage these areas, the people will be deprived of their fundamental rights essential for living a life with dignity and prosperity. Nepal’s constitution has envisioned building a socialism-oriented economy. It has incorporated 31 fundamental rights, including the rights to education, health, job, food sovereignty and so on.

Paradoxical posture
However, the country has been practicing neo-liberal policy based on freewheeling market, reckless privatisation and deregulation of economy since the early 1990s. There is a contradiction between the constitution’s vision and state’s policy. This incongruity often creeps into the ideology of the political parties. Their dalliance with socialism is not casual but a continuous phenomenon. Major political parties, including the ruling as well as the opposition, have promised to translate the vision of socialism into reality but they tend to display paradoxical posture that is ambigious and bewildering.

CPN-UML chairman KP Sharma Oli presented his 69-page political report at the central committee meeting the other day. The report was prepared to be discussed in its first statute convention slated for October 1-3 in Lalitpur. Oli’s report is a contradiction in terms – it dreams of embarking on a journey of socialism by riding a vehicle of privatisation. It seems, for UML and its boss Oli, private sector is the main pillar of socialism! The document calls for leaving the basic public sector – education, health and public transport – into the hands of private sector and then claims to usher in socialism. In the following paragraph, its conceptual fallacy is evident:
“It is not easy acquiring the land unhindered for development by fixing the compensation amount below the market price. The efforts to forcefully nationalise the private investment in education and health sector without proper alternative will be counterproductive. It is difficult to replace the private sector-run transportation services without preparing the infrastructure of public transport. The idea of nationalising the private industry to expand the state sector and government’s direct interference in private banks and financial services is not only inappropriate but also counterproductive.” (Page 40)

On the face of it, aforementioned arguments appear to be logical but in fact they are deeply flawed and lack the vision, planning and structure for strengthening the public sector. Chairman Oli repudiates the radical method of nationalisation of private investment to justify the role of private sector. He fails to explore other moderate and democratic instruments to bring the basic services into the public sphere. In today’s world, the concept of nationalisation of private property is not widely accepted. It is applied only in an extreme state of affairs. The forceful privatisation of national enterprises and nationalisation of private property are the two facets of the same coin in terms of coercive methods. In modern time, people’s right to property has been guaranteed to ensure their dignity and freedom. This right enables even the poor to be a stakeholder of democracy on the basis of tax they pay to the state.

Oli should have taken his cue from the socialist systems of Scandinavian countries and social democracy practiced in liberal European states which make a huge investment in public sector with a strong mechanism of social security. The states heavily subsidise public goods and services. In the time of health and economic crises, the state-funded facilities greatly help them. The experiences of Nordic countries and other European nations such as Germany amply suggest that even without nationalising the private investment and industries, the socialist programmes can be implemented in the cooperative and public-private partnership model.
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nepali people felt the importance of public health institutions as the private-run hospitals turned the COVID-19 patients away for fear of spreading the virus. As they began to treat them, they charged exorbitant amounts from the patients. Many critically ill patients succumbed to the virus despite spending all of their hard-earned savings. It were the state-run hospitals that won people’s trust for successfully handling the medical emergency. The pandemic has exposed the ills of neoliberalism that has always privatised profit and socialised the costs.

Pertinent question
The UML document has stressed expanding access of all to the means of production and realising the Marxist ideal - from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. It calls for developing self-reliant economy through the formation of national capital, guaranteeing an easy access to education, health and social services and establishing the welfare state and permanent social security system through the redistribution of income and wealth. But the pertinent question is: how can the party be able to meet these objectives by giving the market forces and private sector carte blanche? Oli’s proposition is a case of putting the cart before the horse.

Some days ago, at a UML standing committee meeting, deputy general secretary Ghanshyam Bhusal had suggested that the party CC members must not invest in schools, colleges, hospitals and other profit-making fields. Bhusal insisted that the involvement of party leaders in commercial ventures forces the party to deviate from its path and allows the brokers and comprador class to tighten their grip on the party. The leaders of different parties have made joint investments in schools, colleges and hospitals which in fact should belong to the public sphere. This is a reason why public sector creaks under the strain while the private sector seems to thrive even during the crisis.

(Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal, Subedi writes regularly on politics, foreign affairs and other contemporary issues.