Great divisions of global opinion on capitalism, USSR

The British Broadcasting Corporation recently held a poll in various countries of the world in which they asked the respondents’ opinions on capitalism and the fall of the Soviet Union, among other things.(1) Unsurprisingly, the opinions on the current world system were strongly divided in the world, and mostly between the rich and the poor nations. Nevertheless there were some interesting results. Only 11% of all people polled indicated the current capitalist system worked well, with many people desiring reform or regulation, and 23% indicating it was “fatally flawed”. We may take the latter position as an anti-capitalist one, meaning principled opposition to capitalism lives among a quarter of the sample polled, a better result than might be expected. Opposition to capitalism altogether was still intense in France, by far the most anti-capitalist of the Western nations: in this country 43% of the population indicated to oppose capitalism altogether, compared to 35% in Brazil and 38% in Mexico.

Opinions on the collapse and disappearance of the USSR were strongly divided by bloc. In the First World, unsurprisingly, this is overwhelmingly seen as a good thing: 79% in Germany, 76% in Britain and 74% in France feel that way. But in the former Soviet states, this is not the general opinion. In Russia only 22% feel this way, and even in the Ukraine it was only about 28% or so. In India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Egypt a strong majority of the population opposes still the fall of the USSR and sees it as a bad thing. This difference of viewpoint is analogous to the different perceptions of Soviet leaders such as Lenin and Stalin around the word. Even Lenin is generally despised in America and Britain, and Stalin is in the West altogether a byword for tyranny, absolutism and murder. But in much of the Third World Stalin is remembered mostly as an anti-imperialist and one who stood up against the colonial powers and made a weak nation strong, so opinion there is much more positive about him, and the same goes even more so for Lenin. The BBC poll makes once again clear that there is nothing ‘evident’ about the pro-capitalist, anti-Soviet mentality seen in most of the West, and that if one were to hold a global vote, much of the ‘consensus’ of Western liberals would collapse in ignominy. This is not in every way a good thing, as seen for example in the religious fanticism, the ignorance and superstition common in many of the poor nations of the world, but it does make it clear that a Westerner needs to have a broader perspective on politics than what happens in his own Parliament to understand the global division of opinion.

The survey also gives some reason for hope: when the French tradition of Communism is still strong in some form or another, also seen in the endurance of different Communist and anticapitalist parties in that country; when even in that bulwark of capital, the United States, some 15% of those polled want to abolish capitalism, and 19% see the fall of the USSR as bad; and even in a country with some strong regressive nationalist tendencies such as the Ukraine the majority of people see the collapse of the Soviet Union as a loss for the world, there is still some potential. This is all the more true because the USSR will not reappear as it was and with its fall has taken all of its flaws and troubles with it, but the lingering sentiment in its favor and against capital can be used as a valuable impetus for a new and better socialism.

(1) James Robbins, “Free market flawed, says survey”. BBC News (Nov. 9, 2009).

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