In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, prominent political scientist Francis Fukuyama made a startling conclusion. In an essay, and later a book titled 'History and the last man', Fukuyama pronounced the 'end of history'. 'The end of history' in that democracy and capitalism had triumphed over communism and as such man's ideological evolution had come to an end. This conclusion though, appears to be getting challenged if global events are anything to go by. The year 2013 may prove a year of the resurgence of socialism locally and globally; in whatever measure. As the credit crunch has shown whatever direction the world goes Botswana goes. If the left fails to make this their year, we just may be headed to the end of history as Fukuyama had predicted still.
The continued popularity of Hugo Chavez, the election of Francois Hollande in France, the triumph of Barack Obama in America despite his offering what are clearly left-field solutions to some of their biggest problems all seem in vogue. Meanwhile, countries with strong social nets such as Saudi Arabia survived even the wrath of the Arab Spring-paying homage to the wisdom of distributive policy. The world is searching for solutions since the credit crunch and the wisdom of socialism-albeit in different dozes at different places-seems to be the 'go to' guy.
It largely began in 2008. As George Bush was nearing the end of his Presidency, trouble struck. Within a space of two weeks, Lehman Brothers filed for the largest bankruptcy in American history, meanwhile two huge housing entities Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were seized by the government to avoid catastrophe; Merrill Lynch sold under extreme pressure, duress you may say; AIG given an $85 billion loan by the Federal Government to keep it afloat; Wachovia and Washington Mutual were just on the brink of collapse. The stock market took its steepest plunge in recent memory and consumers could not borrow to buy cars or homes. The chairman of the Federal Reserve summed it up succinctly for President Bush when he said, "Mr. President, we are witnessing a financial panic"-only that it then moved from panic to melt down.
In no time, the entire system was collapsing like a house of cards. All of a sudden, what was thought to be a strong system capable of reinvention and self protection revealed its soft underbelly. As Karl Marx had predicted all those years back, the contradictions within the capitalist system had come to haunt it. It became a victim of its own success- unregulated lending, especially in the real estate markets, led to disastrous consequences as consumers failed to pay and the numbers of foreclosures shot up. On both sides of the Atlantic financial institutions were in trouble, and governments had to intervene to save 'us all'. It appeared time for the left to ride in and save the world but it was hugely caught napping, perhaps having capitulated.
That year, capitalism looked to socialism for salvation and it is a trend that seems poised to continue. Entities that shunned state regulation needed the state to inject money to revive and sustain them. Effectively, the invincibility of capitalism had proven to be a mirage. While not quite back to the tumultuous 1960s, popular movements such as 'Occupy Wall Street' began taking root. The mood of protest at the inadequacy of capitalism seems to be returning. With it could we be seeing the rebirth of socialism?
Greece, Portugal, Spain, Iceland, Italy among others all teeter on the brink of disaster. To avert that disaster the state is becoming increasingly involved and taking a leadership role. The American public chose Barack Obama's left policies over Republican Challenger Mitt Romney's pro-business and capital policies. They have chosen a President who has since succeeded at taxing the richest Americans more than the rest-letting the Bush era tax concessions lapse then replacing them with heavier taxes for the richest. Not only that, his health care policy has also been both hailed and criticized for being very 'socialist'. Despite this, he still got the nod by a wide margin.
You may say but America is still capitalist and there is no doubt it still is; comparatively though, such a leftists trajectory as we have seen with the expansion of the federal government's role is very socialist. In a country that is the ultimate capitalist state, widening social nets and increasing taxes for the rich are rather too leftist.
All these movements are understandable: the promise of democracy and capitalism has always been the promise of happiness and economic prosperity. With the failure of democracy and capitalism to provide for an increasing number of people-as signified by the credit crunch and the economies that are melting down-the people of the world naturally will seek for solutions outside these two. What the alternative will be is not exactly clear yet; socialism appears to be not too far though as governments are increasingly becoming more involved to correct the problems of the market. At best for capitalism will be a fusion of capitalism with socialism to form more social democracies. Undeniable is that the state is returning.
This is not entirely surprising, as political scientist Larry Diamond has warned the promise of liberty is not adequate unless it is coupled with better economic benefits for the vast majority of citizens. In the current scenario where poverty and inequality are the order of the day, many nations will experience democratic deficits.
Yes, democracy has been able to grant freedom and liberty to a great many people of the world but it is increasingly being lent down by its twin-capitalism- as it is failing to provide economic fulfillment to a broad majority of people. In terms of production it has been fantastic, but its rules on economic redistribution and curbing greed have been found wanting.
The global climate is in favour of socialist movements today than it ever has been before since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some, like the Americans and most of Europe are turning to leftist ideals albeit without calling them such. With the global movement increasingly pro left, one then wonders if the left in Botswana will catch the bug.
What remains in question is whether Botswana will also look left-further left since most of our policies have been leftist all along anyway. And if you take a closer look you realise that; like the Saudi rulers have been sustained by their generous redistribution of oil money and relatively nonexistent inflation, the BDP's uninterrupted rule has been courtesy of an extensive social safety net from diamond revenues. Within the context of Botswana, the signs of strain are already there. With diamond revenues falling and inflation increasingly biting in uncontrolled, the holy triad of diamond revenue, low inflation and social security may no longer hold thus lead to people looking elsewhere for salvation. The left is the likely beneficiary, as is the case globally.
The massive public sector workers strike of 2011 was a sign of discontent with the economic situation of the great majority. The fall in diamond revenue and the resultant inability of the state to cushion consumers from inflationary pressures meant there would be trouble.
Following up on this, the ranking of Botswana as one of the unhappiest places to be on earth was a pointer to discontent-discontent largely with the economic lot. Bank of Botswana statistics routinely show that the ratio of household income to debt is unhealthy as more and more households are getting so indebted they can barely survive through a month.
Such conditions naturally are opportune for socialism. Marx posited that capitalism would alienate a broad majority of people such that at some point they would get tired from being alienated from the produce of their labour and revolt. Thus, the growth of capitalism is a double edged sword that at the same time strikes at capital as it strikes at enemies of capital. The objectification of labour, that hideous thing where we give our very own lives to the products and produce we make has occurred and continues to occur. More obscene is that man is alienated from the products of his labour to which he has given his life since with every item you carve out you also wane- and has been for some time. All these were supposed to lead to a resurgence of the left and its revolutionary takeover of power.
Is the political left alive to these opportunities and is it even prepared to take them? This is a central question for Botswana as the rest of the world seems to be leaning more and more leftist in search of solutions to the mess that capitalism has created. The embodiment of the left in Botswana, the Botswana National Front is in a coalition and though they say their soul remains unchanged, it will be interesting to observe how their leftist outlook will be affected. The global climate is more favourable than ever today and the BNF should answer that call-if it is still leftist. It should rise as a key and viable alternative in 2013, more so that we are just another year away from a general election. As the year 2013 begins bringing its political silly season along, we all must watch out for the political left. It just may be resurging as people are becoming disenchanted with capital thus proving Fukuyama wrong, that we are far from the end of man's ideological evolution. The sad irony is that capitalism, forever the innovative one, seems to be running out of ideas and is now turning to socialism for salvation.
It promises to be an interesting year: only if the political left back here is to be more organised to answer the call though, if they fail to answer it, Fukuyama may sadly be proven right. Man's ideological evolution is once again on trial.