The collapse of the Soviet system in 1990 created a vacuum filled with illusions of Western “victory”. “Liberal democracy” (with free-market capitalism) was now “the only game in town”. The Russian economy was re-organised under Yegor Gaidar (and western “support”), with drastic consequences, including oligarchs buying up formerly state-owned industries. But the present century has seen a fight back, as President Putin’s barely legal methods began to restore government control (though retaining the new reliance on “market forces”).
And the more recent development of the emerging BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) begins to look increasingly like an alliance to counter the dominance of the USA, EU and NATO, with the possibility of others joining (Nigeria? Mexico??), and talk of an alternative international currency to the US dollar. If the US can seize Russian dollars (as they did before to Afghanistan) perhaps it is important to develop an alternative that does not run that risk. In July this year Argentina used the Chinese renminbi (yuan) to pay part of its debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund. (https://english.elpais.com/economy-and-business/2023-07-01/argentina-uses-yuan-for-the-first-time-to-settle-part-of-its-imf-debt.html). In former French African colonies recent coups have adopted a strongly anti-French tone (30 percent of French uranium comes from Niger), and the Wagner group is getting involved. “The pity of it all is that a world even more fragmented into opposing blocs and coalitions will be even less equipped than now to tackle the collective challenges of climate, poverty, sustainability and health” (Simon Tisdall in the “Observer”, Sunday Sept. 24th, 2023: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/sep/23/who-wants-to-rule-the-world-i-will-says-joe-biden-no-itll-be-me-says-xi-jinping).
Some resistance is closer to home. “Food for Life: the New Science of Eating Well” by Tim Spector (published by Jonathan Cape, paperback ed £12.99) challenges the highly processed (and unhealthy) food produced by major companies in recent decades. When these were introduced to the Amazon region of Brazil there was a catastrophic decline in children’s health, with rising obesity and new “addiction” to the processed foods (children refused the healthier food given them by parents). In the UK 60 to 80 percent of poorer people eat these highly processed foods (in France, where the companies are more tightly controlled, it is ten percent)- the companies get the profits and the NHS (and taxpayers) pick up the bill. But middle-class people find it far easier to break this cycle of poor diet and declining health.
In Luke’s version of the Transfiguration story (Luke 9, verses 28 to 36) Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus about the “exodus which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (verse 31). Exodus was the liberation of the people from slavery, a transformation (and “transfiguration”?) of their life.
In his “Transfiguring Capitalism: an Enquiry into Religion and Global Change” (published by SCM Press) the late John Atherton refers to the way Karl Marx uses the German word “Aufhebung”, which means “abolition”, but also “raising” or “lifting” (in the sense of lifting a blockade). Although this certainly stretches the meaning of the German word, Atherton suggests that what is needed is not so much an “abolition” of capitalism, but its “transformation” (“transfiguration”)- finding ways to keep the good it has done, but change what is destructive. But this requires hard thought, planning, and imagination- if that is lacking the danger is that the weaknesses and frequent breakdowns of the present system can result in a panic reaction in favour of authoritarian government, in an forlorn attempt to restore a dimly remembered past “normality” and familiar security. That challenge is a clarion call to us all.