Vol. XLIII No. 28 July 14, 2019

Technology and the Decay of Liberalism

B Arjun

LIBERALISM is on the decline. The right-wing monster has re-emerged. The global response to the migrant crisis, and the speed at which racism and communalism is gaining legitimacy are clear symptoms of the decay of liberalism.

The truth is that the dictatorship of the oligarchs is back with a vengeance, legitimising racism, communalism, censorship and the surveillance state. Everything that the liberals found wrong with communism has come back to haunt them.

Conservatism is the main ideology of most of the states. In the recently concluded G-20 summit, majority, almost all, of the global leaders belonged to the right-wing conservative variety. This reality was brought on to the global stage by President Putin who proclaimed in an interview to Financial Times, “The liberal idea has become obsolete. … (liberals) cannot simply dictate anything to anyone as they have been attempting to do over the recent decades.”

Besides, bolstering the Russian international standing, Putin was certainly taking a dig at the postwar Europe that had championed democracy and liberal values. He was distancing himself from Atlanticism (reorienting Russia towards the West) that many of his liberal opponents in Russia are asking for. Putin’s policy is rooted in Eurasianism that advocates the technical and social modernisation without abandoning the cultural roots’.

Putin is perhaps as eager to pronounce the death of an idea as the famous American commentator Francis Fukuyama was in early 1990s when he boldly proclaimed the death of Left ideology and the ultimate victory of liberalism and free markets.

Fukuyama’s celebrations were justified because one of the main aims of liberalism, throughout the cold war, was to defang and ultimately defeat communism. Fukuyama’s premature announcements on the ‘end of history’ conveniently ignored the right-wing trojan horse residing in the midst of liberals. He probably assumed that the collaboration of the right wingers and liberals, created to defeat communism, is eternal. Fukuyama was naive. He did not realise that the conservatism could not coexist with liberalism. He did not visualise that the liberals were nothing but a patsy in the whole game designed by the capitalist to ward off the communist threat. After devouring the communists, capitalism is now targeting the liberals, the social democrats.

The post-cold war shift of the liberals and conservatives towards a neoliberal socio-economic order widened the gap between the rich and the poor. The ugly inequalities have only generated hatred for the liberal centric world order.

This hatred has been smartly tapped by the conservatives. They have adroitly shifted the public wrath against the liberals, thereby saving capitalism from being the object of criticism and condemnation. And this has been achieved by fomenting an identity crisis and igniting a wave of populism.

One cannot afford to forget history. Liberalism was never the first choice of capitalism. The rise of British Fabianism and the American New Deal was merely a tactical ploy to save capitalism in the wake of great depression and advancing communism in the early 1930s.


Analysing Putin’s statement purely in liberal terms gives an eerie feeling about the future of democracy in the world. However, interpreting the death of liberalism in Marxist terms clearly indicates that capitalism doesn’t need liberalism any longer.

The question that we need to ask is: What emboldens them to jettison liberals? Why is multiculturalism anathema to conservatives? Why are they squeezing the middle classes?

To answer these questions one needs to understand the changes and disruption that robotics is bringing about.

In the early 1980s, Western capitalists seeking cheap labour shifted their factories to China and South East Asian countries. They basically shifted pollution and its worries away from the laws imposed by the liberal order to maintain tranquility within the metropole.

After shifting the factories, the Western capitalist class concentrated on earning money by liberalising the financial sector. The introduction of computers helped the rich to move money across the globe at a breakneck speed. All this came to be characterised as the fresh phase of globalisation. Country after country was either coaxed or coerced to join the liberalisation bandwagon driven by the ‘Washington consensus’. 

The American empire reached its zenith in the post cold war. However, this lasted till 2008 financial crisis attacked capitalist structures. However, despite the rise of China and the inherent contradictions of capitalism, America is confident about saving its empire mainly because it thinks that the ensuing technologies puts it in an advantageous position. 

First and foremost, technology is altering the relationship between capital and labour. Capital has always found labour to be burdensome and cumbersome to deal with. It has always considered the worker in a factory to be a necessary evil. The introduction of robots and 3D printers that can manufacture products ranging from a shoe to an aircraft engine with the aid of artificial intelligence (AI), is now giving hope to the billionaires club that manufacturing goods without local or foreign labour is possible. The management and monitoring the shop floor can now be achieved   with the click of a button.

Not only is the worker becoming redundant but the blue collar, manager is also fast disappearing from the production equation. In the near future, the capitalist will not require the educated employee to act as a buffer between the worker and the owner. Earlier an employee had to work hard to fight for leave and regulated working hours. Now, the companies are asking their employees to work from home. And the demand for three-day working is being popularised by those who once propagated ‘work is worship’.

This trend is visible in the condescending manner in which Trump and Modi treat the press. Both feel that journalists and reporters can be dispensed with, because the social media technology enables them to directly communicate with their constituency.

The conservatives’ disdain for the bureaucracy also stems for the fact that in the coming years a bureaucrat will no longer be required to implement the government schemes, because the money will be directly sent into the accounts of poor people. The middle classes are already feeling the pinch and the feeling is growing that they are being pushed down. 

Capitalism understands that the new technology is leading to joblessness. The capitalist class intends to reduce the numbers that they will have to cater to in the era of mass unemployment. Therefore, either sectarian or racist-casteist reasons are being invented to divide societies and keep as many people out of the social security net, as is possible. It is for this reason that the right wing conservatives are opposed to immigration and multiculturalism.

Lastly, why is conservative capitalism taking refuge under the rhetoric of populism? The answer lies in the fact that the capitalist class is always paranoid of an uprising. It wants peace within to protect its property.

With the new means of production firmly in the hands of the propertied classes, the world is fast heading towards the highest stage of capitalism that is likely to be more ruthless than the current authoritarianism that we are experiencing.