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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Will the pendulum swing left?

My 500-word rant on the referendum in Greece

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1940), and George Orwell’s 1984 gave the world a glimpse of the dystopian transformation that Soviet-style communism was bringing about in the name of communism. These were among the first works of art to depict the reality of a state-controlled existence where “Big Brother is Watching” would be a matter of fact and not a disquieting aberration.

The Soviet Union, by then under the control of Stalinist ruthlessness, of course, dismissed them as propaganda. It was much later – in the 1970s, during the Brezhnev era – that Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago was published. It destroyed the last vestiges of Soviet Union’s claim that the Soviet interpretation of communism was a better and just system.

Describing the life in a Soviet labour camp between 1958 and 1968, Solzhenitsyn's book depicts the grim reality of life in Soviet Union – a life without freedom, a life of perennial scarcity and a life where equality was a mere notion. Within two decades of the publication of the book, the Soviet Union was consigned to the trash bin of history, and it wasn’t a day sooner.

The pauperization of Soviet ideology and the rise of Reagan were concomitant, and in the rapid collapse of the former lay the genesis of the rapid rise of the latter. The relentless propaganda war that the Reagan-Thatcher duo unleashed in the 1980s (Evil Empire, etc.) helped in shifting the paradigm, and the pendulum swung to the right.

Globally, fiscal conservatism became the new normal; public spending on essential services was no longer considered necessary, and was interpreted as wasteful.  Surprisingly, more than Reagan and Thatcher, it was Bill Clinton and Tony Blair who abetted this transformation.

By the mid-1990s, ideological left in the West (which was radically different from Soviet interpretation of leftism) was confined only to a few institutions and individuals. Insofar as the government policies were concerned, the left was finished. Its total obliteration also led to the rise and acceptance of globalization, the rise of China, and the Walmartization of the world economy.

Twenty years later the world is beginning to come to grips with the fallout of this process – the disparity between the haves and the have-nots has pierced the stratosphere; unsurprisingly, statistics don’t capture either the absurdity or the tragedy of this inequality. And that is only the economic manifestation of the phenomenon.

The rise of religious fundamentalism, institutionalization of racial discrimination, the utter disregard for the depletion of natural resources, the devastation of the fragile ecosystems to make the rich richer are among the political and sociocultural manifestations of the Rise of the Right. These developments have had deeply disturbing ramifications, and have left a permanent scar on people and societies.

Greece’s referendum last week, therefore, gave rise to hope to many across the world that finally the leaders of Western Europe would comprehend that the pendulum had begun to swing back, and that it was now time to understand the human cost of the myopic policies that have been followed.

Will anything concrete emerge from it? The answer is an unequivocal and emphatic no. 

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