The regional democratic revolution, nicknamed The Arab Spring, is only at its first steps. After victories in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya there is a tight battle in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. And many other countries are still waiting for their time to come, not least Palestine. But, as elected governments are established after revolutionary victories, we are reminded that democracy is not an end for itself. What will those governments do and what will they bring for the people that elected them?
Lenin once said that Socialism is “Soviets plus Electricity”. To bring that concept into today’s Arab Revolution, we face the democratic tasks and the economic development tasks. On the side of democracy the soviet option is not currently proposed, but neither does anyone rely solely on the abstract forms of democratic representation. There are a lot of ways that the masses organize and they are conscious that their self organization is essential to keep the revolution going and to prevent a sellout. On the economic side the options are pretty blurred.
You could think that doing better than the old corrupt regimes should be easy enough. Put in place honest managers according to their merits, manage public assets to serve the public and not the regime’s cronies, do away with excessive repression and red tape.
But there are many real reasons why restarting the economy after the revolution is never that easy. First, some destruction and confusion is part of the revolutionary struggle – and you start below the point where the old regime left. Second, however rotten the old regime was, some things were working… Remove the corrupt managers and greedy capitalist cronies, and you may lack the knowledge or the connections to make things going, at least in first period. And this is before we speak of intentional sabotage by some that want to show that the people will not be able to live without them and the “sincere” reluctance of investors at the time of uncertainty…
The multinational companies, imperialist powers and their financial and trade institutes had an interest to keep the old subservient regimes in place. Now they may make life hard for any regime that is not doing their bid, or try to force humiliating bargains between political concessions and economic destruction.
As such an important part of the world is looking for a new economic development path, you would expect that regimes, political tendencies and experts from all over the world will be flocking to propose their solutions. But we are at a very delicate period in the historic economic and theoretical struggle between Capitalism and Socialism.
Five years into the economic crisis in the imperialist centers, which started with the Credit Crunch of 2007, the imperialist powers are still looking for a way out of the crisis themselves. They have very little to offer in advice or money.
On the other side, socialists from China to Latin America are confused by the politics of the Arab Spring. China is doing its things by itself, relies on becoming the first world economic power just by growing when the others are stumbling and tries to avoid ideological conflict. The big argument between Capitalism and Socialism tends to be reduced to a more pragmatic argument about the role of the state, cooperatives and other forms of collective ownership in a mixed economy.
For utilizing the state’s power and resources to economic development, to make them work for the people and not for the (un)chosen few, it is essential to develop the trade unions and political organizations of the working masses.
There is also a lot to learn, not only from China, but also from Latin America. Socialism made big advances in Latin America over the past ten years. It started from Argentine, which refused the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank and emerged from economic collapse to fast development. It continued with Chavez, who brought back the state’s oil company, and the oil’s money, to the service of the Venezuelan people. In country after another left wing governments proved that human development is the basic condition for real economic development.
There are as many failed experiments as there are success stories. Socialism is not a magic and not a ready-made receipt to solve all problems. It is just a conscious attempt to build the economy to serve the people. It is just calling the bluff of Capitalism, which tells you that by letting the rich follow their self interests, somehow they will make everyone’s lives better.
It is time for the new governments of the Arab Spring to start providing solutions to the acute social problems through people-oriented economic developments. The only economic method that proved itself capable of lifting hundreds of millions from poverty and liberating them from humiliation and backwardness is Socialism. If the Arab Spring is designed to blossom, we should start to see some red roses.