By Nandita Chaturvedi and Archishman Raju.
Recent reports show that inflation in the U.S. has reached a 40 year high. On the international front, the west, led by the US, has failed to mobilize most countries around its agenda. Many major non-western countries, including China, India, Iran and South Africa have rejected western attempts to isolate and attack Russia. Recently, speaking at St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin pointed clearly at the irreversible nature of the shift of the world center away from the West, “To reiterate, these changes are fundamental, groundbreaking and rigorous. It would be a mistake to assume that at a time of turbulent change, one can simply sit it out or wait it out until everything gets back on track and becomes what it was before. It will not.” The western ruling elite thus faces a crisis, on the domestic and international front, the likes of which it has not seen before.
A new era is being born, and Africa and Asia are poised now to play a central role in the shaping of the world order. This is bolstered by the rise of China on the world stage. The shaping of this new world order will necessarily involve intercivilizational dialogue. The modern civilizations of the world need to cooperate economically and politically to set up a new world system, and for this they need to understand each other unmediated by the West. This requires a return to the legacy of Afro-Asian solidarity and the Bandung movement. A step towards this took the form of an Intercivilizational Dialogue for Democracy on the 5th of June, 2022 between Chinese scholar Zhang Weiwei and Indian ex-ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar. The conversation referred to democracy in its broadest conception, not only within nations, but also in the international political and economic world order.
The dialogue between the two speakers represented the possibilities of an open and friendly relationship between India and China. Narrow unresolved issues in the relationship of India and China must not preclude the possibility of a broad dialogue between these two nations, whose relationship now matters for the future of the world. The vision of the dialogue was that “Western civilization must no longer be permitted to dominate the world” and there was a need for a renewal of “discussion of new forms of political, social and economic organization more suited to the realities of our time”.
The Ukraine War
The conflict in Ukraine has accelerated the change in the world order. Some of the shape the new world order will take will depend most immediately on the progress of this conflict. Mr. Bhadrakumar opined that the roots of the conflict go back at least to the Bolshevik revolution and the ceaseless hostility of the West to Russia. He held that the Western narrative on the Ukraine war is collapsing with even the New York Times admitting that Russia is making marked gains in Ukraine.
Further he said that Russia sees this war as an existential struggle and it will not back down. Meanwhile, the west seems unprepared to back down, also, providing rockets which the Ukranians are firing on civilians in Donetsk. Prof. Weiwei held that the conflict has divided the world into the west vs. the rest. He said that the rest may differ on their opinion on the military conflict, but support Russia’s attempts to make a multipolar world.
Mr. Bhadrakumar emphasized the immense danger of the conflict and the uncertainty associated with it. He pointed to the desperation of the West in holding on to its global image and position. However, if Russia is successful in its aims, it will create space for the democratization of the world, including de-dollarization and the creation of a new international economic order.
The Rise of China
The principal geopolitical shift which makes this democratization possible in our time is the rise of China. Rejecting the cold-war-like framing of “democracy” vs. “authoritarianism”, Prof. Weiwei suggested a paradigm shift to good vs. bad governance. He said that western style liberal democracy may not be the best system for a particular country, and does not determine the legitimacy of a state. He said that China emphasizes substantive rather than procedural democracy and has a policy of selection plus election to choose its representatives. The selection process is based on both morality and performance.
To underscore this, he talked about the extraordinary rise of China which he said was made possible by its civilizational state. He said China is today the world’s largest economy by PPP, has a life expectancy higher than the U.S. and is at the forefront of new technology. Most importantly, he said, China was a socialist country that had eradicated extreme poverty. He said that China had an old theory of the social contract, where the state is held responsible to the livelihood of people and must deliver them tangible material and non-material benefits. It was able to take long-term decisions rather than simply short-term ones.
The Civilizational State in a New Era
The event opened up several questions for the future. Does India have a civilizational state and if so, what are its similarities and differences with China? Prof. Weiwei emphasized China’s super large population, super size territory, super long tradition and super rich culture all of which India shares. In the discussion following the two presentations, the relationship of India’s democratic state with western liberal democracy was debated. It was discussed that India’s state was established as a result of a freedom movement under the leadership of Gandhi, and hence must trace itself to its anticolonial legacy rather than to European enlightenment.
Old categories no longer hold and it is necessary to rethink what democracy means in a nation saddled with poverty and a colonial legacy. In the discussion the relevance of electoral politics in addressing the needs of ordinary people was brought up. Furthermore, Mr. Bhadrakumar’s warnings on the danger of the world situation necessitate the need for a renewed peace movement. A concrete basis of this movement is given by the American population itself which has a high anti-war sentiment.
As we go into a new epoch, we will have to understand how old concepts and traditions retain their relevance in a way suited to our modern society, and what will be their role in forming a new society without poverty, illiteracy, disease and hunger. Many more broad intercivilizational dialogues of this form are necessary to shape the way for the future.